Friday, 12 October 2007

Greatest health hazard in Egypt... (Day 5) not eating local food and drinking tap water. It is not falling into the Nile. And not all those big bad terrorists (who are supposedly strolling around) either.
In my opinion the greatest threat to one's health when traveling around Egypt is driving in a protected convoy!

Some of you might think:

What could go wrong? They are protected to be safe, right?

Wrong! These convoys are a laugh by my opinion.
Every driver tries to overtake the one in front of him. And for what? To get to the finish line first? Not really. There's an army truck in front and it is a matter of minutes being the second or eighty-seventh.
Repeatedly overtaking buses in front of ours at full throttle, ignoring traffic in the opposite direction, seemed like the best idea ever. To our driver, that is.

However, if you are a tourist in Egypt you can only travel between cities in convoys. This was the government's answer to some terrorist related incidents some years ago. If anything now they have an easier job then before - more damage can be done with one blow. That's my opinion.
We had to join one of these convoys at two in the morning to get to Abu Simbel. We arrived there just after sunrise.

The most amazing thing about Abu Simbel is the fact they have moved it peace by peace from another place, which is now underwater. The water level rose after the Aswan high dam was built. This created the largest artificial lake in the World - Lake Nasser.

A funny thing is that they made a mistake in the process of moving it.
Originally it was designed in a way that twice a year at sunrise sun has shined on two of the three statues situated in the deepest chamber of the temple. It was supposed to happen on the birthday of Ramses II (February 20th) and also on the day of his coronation (October 20th).
Well since they moved the temple this doesn't happen on the same day anymore. Due to a minor miscalculation it occurs one day later. It is simply unthinkable that around 1200 BC they could calculate something like that, and today we still couldn't do it properly.

After taking a bunch of photos we continued to The high Sad el-Ali-Dam (high Aswan Dam) which was built between 1960 and 1971. Today it provides electricity for the whole country and there is still some left for export to neighboring countries.

Next on our schedule was the island temple at Philae. This one was constructed over a three-century period, by the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty, and completed by the Roman emperors. It was moved many times because of the rising Nile after the eruption of the dams.

Soon it was time for our convoy to head back to Aswan. From there we went across the Nile on one of many felukas (a feluka is an Egyptian wooden boat with a large sail). On the other bank we went off a boat and onto a ship - a desert ship.

For those of you who don't know it yet, desert ship is another name for a camel.

The camel ride took almost a whole hour. Camel guides directed us to a Nubian village, where we had a glass of tea and a snack.

We didn't know it at the time, but that's where the Curse of the Pharaohs fell upon us...


Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Night train to Aswan (Day 4)

If you want to get from Cairo to Aswan one of the easiest ways is to catch a night train. You simply buy a ticket, get on the train in the evening, get a comfortable chair, fall asleep and wake up in Aswan eight hours later.

Well that's in theory. In reality it took around 15 hours and a new locomotive to get to our destination. Well we got used to that kind of stuff at this point.

When the train stopped on a occasional train station, I tried to take a photo or two through the train window. I had quite a hard time doing that - those windows haven't been washed for a while.

As our guide wisely pointed out:

All you need to know about the way things work in the Middle-East can be represented with three letters - IBM

No, not the company, but the acronym - I.B.M.

Letter I stands for Insha'Allah - If Allah wills. People finish their promises pretty often with these words. This means that if something doesn't happen, well it wasn't meant to happen in the first place.
Letter B stands for Bokra - Tomorrow. When someone promises something will happen bokra, he usually doesn't literally mean tomorrow, but sometime in the near future.
Letter M stands for Malesh - Never mind. When Allah doesn't will and Bokra never comes, then instead of upsetting yourself you can say Malesh and forget about it.

When you accept these things, everything is much more enjoyable in Egypt. The same was with our train - Allah's plan was a bit different from our schedule, but we eventually got to Aswan, thought to ourselves: "Malesh" and were moving on.

First we settled in a hotel. This one was much better compared to the one in Cairo. We could even enjoy a beautiful view of the Nile from our balcony.

Then we went on a round walk around the city center. The walk also included a bazaar. It didn't take us long to notice the lack of rubbish laying around. That's compared to Cairo of course.

Hunger was slowly getting to us and our guide took us to a local pizza place. Not Italian kind of pizza, but its Egyptian version. It was delicious!

After that it was time to catch some sleep. Our schedule continued at 2AM the next day. Yup, that's right - at two in the morning we were moving on.


Monday, 8 October 2007

Zabbaleen - People of the rubbish (Day 3)

This is the second part of Day 3 of our Egyptian Adventure. You can read about the first part in the previous post.

When we left the Mosque of Mohammed Ali our next stop was Rubbish city. But we knew nothing about it at that moment.

Our bus dropped us at a suspiciously looking part of the city. There was a strange smell in the air, but we got used to that by then. We just thought: "We're in Cairo after all, this is something normal."

With every step, we went deeper into a strange suburb. Soon garbage of all sorts was literally piled all around us. People were going through those heaps of all sorts of stuff with a strange enthusiasm and an occasional pig was rummaging around for something eatable.
Children were playing around and looking curiously at 12 strange Slovenians. They were quite cute and some of them just wanted to say hello or introduce themself to a strange foreigner. No one asked for baksheesh.
We got used by then to be approached by people asking for baksheesh in return for some strange favor they just came up with or even just like that.

After we got through this part of the city we went uphill. Steep rocky slopes were carved with various biblical motives. We made a stop at an interesting church which was carved into the side of a hill. Our guide decided it was time for an explanation.

He explained to us a few things about the place we had just seen. First of all, those people we had seen were mostly Christians (Muslims have no need for pigs). People we had seen live there by their own choice. Sorting rubbish is what Zabbaleen (people of the rubbish in Arabic) do for a living. And they earn enough to fall into Egyptian middle class. Ground floors of their houses are used for sorting rubbish. Upper floors however are mostly well furnished. The backyards also serve as parking places for fancy cars (Mercedes, Mitsubishi or BMW is not a strange sight in those streets).
On our way back to the bus, we looked at the same things as before through a totally different pair of glasses.

Did you know that two million Egyptians live in family tombs? The bus dropped us in front of one such tomb. Our guide has even arranged for us to take a look inside. The family didn't seem to mind. They got a nice amount of Egyptian Pounds afterwards to make us feel welcome. After fifteen minutes or so we moved on.

We were slowly starting to feel hungry and a meal followed. We stopped at a local place for a meal of kushary. It is made of Egyptian lentils, rice and macaroni casserole. Served with tomato sauce and some other extra spicy sauce.

It didn't look too promising but surprisingly it was very tasty. I think most of us liked it. One portion of kushary plus half a liter bottle of water costs approximately 1/4 of a Euro. I think two such portions should be enough to take you through the day. 1/2 of a Euro to provide food for a day is a bargain by my standards.

An afternoon walk through the streets of Islamic Cairo was really picturesque. It was a shame we were in a bit of a hurry and there wasn't enough time for some serious photography. Even that couldn't spoil a couple of nice photos.
In the old days big, stone wells were built throughout the city for everyone to have access to fresh drinking water. Nowadays, small plastic water wells (the orange thing on the photo below) can be seen in the middle of busy streets.

When the night fell we had a walk through Khan el Khalili Bazaar. This was one heck of a haggling experience. It felt like we were thrown to the lions.
When time it was time to leave we were already eating those lions. Well we weren't, but it felt like that. I guess in the end we were still not buying stuff at local prices, but maybe sometimes we came close.

After leaving the Bazaar behind, we went to the train station where we caught a night train to Aswan.

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