Richard's Travel Journal, January 11th, 2009
Day 5 already! Day 4 was pretty long I woke up at 8AM so I could pack my bags and shower in time for the car that was picking me up to go to Giza. I know I planned to return to Cairo, but it didn't seem right coming that close and at least not take a look at them. Last night a couple of mosquitos kept me awake, which reminded me I might need to start taking them for my trip into Ethiopia, so I swallowed the first malaria pill. About twenty minutes later, I thought I might have elevated blood pressure form the pills, but I am at times quite suggestible in a hypochdriachal way. I left my bags at the New Palace Hotel, and all went well until the driver took a side street as we were coming up to the pyramids and introduced me to his brother who just happened to own some horses and tried to get me to sign up for a ride around the plateau with a side trip to Saqqara. I explained several times I just wanted to walk about the plateau on my own (which is really mere wishful thinking).
For some reason, there does not seem to be any reasonable Arabic translation of the word "No" in Egypt, and the phrase "What part of the word 'NO' don't you understand?" just draws a blank stare. However, I did get a chance to practice saying "No" as I wandered around, and discovered the ruse of "gift giving" as in "No, no, it's free! It is a gift for you!" ends up with a request for a "gift" of greater value being required in exchange, and, your own hanky as a replacement for the ridiculous cotton burnoose just handed you is totally inadequte, and money is the only gift in return that would satiate the donor. One unfortunate American girl beside me took a gift of a hanky and string and walked away, then finally after the donor protested, she gave the guy a dollar. After he declared a dollar wasn't enough, she quite rightly and pluckily said "OK. Give me my dollar back!" And when he refused, she rephrased it as, "OK. Give me my dollar back or I'll call the police!" He then challenged her to do so, and when she signalled one of the many tourist police, he grabbed his string and hanky, gave her the dollar with his other hand and quickly scuttled away. So anyway, it quickly becomes apparent that you never accept anything given to you to hold and that includes a camel, which I was asked to hold, and had a drawn out conversation. For some reason, Egyptians give their camels English names, and it seems to appeal to their sense of humour. A Tourist Policeman shook me down by telling me to take a picture of him and his camel “Anthony” and then asking for ten pounds. I managed to get that reduced to three, which should buy at least two tourist cups of tea, or three Egyptian cups. Once away from the front of the pyramids, things got less quiet and frenetic at the back of them, and I got to enjoy my visit. I walked out into the plateau to a panoramic viewpoint that was not entirely adeqaute, walked to the sphynx. There’s a second ticket necessary to get into the pit from which it was dug, so I satisfied myself and went to the boathouse that houses the Kafre's reconstructed funeraray boat, one of the reasons I was at the plateau. I had imagined both the pyramids as somewhat bigger than they appeared in person, but the boat comensated for that anomaly, by being larger than I expected. Unfortunately the interiors of the pyramids are closed and you can't go in, but it was an interesting visit.
The driver was waiting for me, and was going to take me to something or other, but it turne out to be the panoramic view I had visited earlier, and he had a very difficult time believing I had waked there, but did turn around before we reached the ridge I had climbed earlier in the day. I was tired and the driver asked if I wanted to stop for tea. Seemed reasonable, but he went for coffee and I was ushered into the Cairo Papyrus Museum which house the identical paintings I had been shown the day before by the art student and professor with the prenuptial daughter, only at double the price. I was brought tea, and the salesman began a very interesting demonstration of making papyrus from the plant itself. It was quite interesting, He cut the green skin from the sten ans then cut the pith inside into strips snd rooled them flat. Once rolled, they are almost unbreakable. As it takes about a week to soak it in water to remove the sugar in the pith, he took some prepared strips from a plastic basin and proceeded to lay out a weave of strips on a linen cloth, covered it with another piece of linen and put it in a press, and Voila! Wet papyrus! He then showed me that dried and finished papyrus is waterproof and strong enough to hold water. It is reusable, apparently, and the ink can just be washed of a used for some other message, it can also be folded and bent and rolled with impunity.
He took my statement that I had intended to drive back to my hotel and had no intention of buying anything quite gracefully. I thanked him for the tea and demonstration and apologized for his wasted effort, but he just smiled and said, “It is my job” I got back to the car and te driver was having coffee with the guy who ran the market next to the Papyrus Museum, and when I asked if I could order a coffee and get him one, they got me one for no charge. And the visit all in all, was remarkably more positive than the papyrus scam run on me the day before. It is apparently the old Egyptian "I am an art student and my sister is getting married" Routine, because when I got back to the New Palace Hotel, I had dinner with Jake and he described exactly the same scenario to me, right down to writing his name on the scroll, so identical, that I thought for sure he must have run into the same person I had the day before, but it happened to him in a shopping mall in a different part of town. He, however, had felt he should buy it as the guy had written his name on it. I had no idea I was so ruthless.
I learned the word "Shokhran" for "Thankyou" today, but in retrospect I should have learned the word, "No thank you". I also now only carry a few small bills in my right hand trouser pocket so I can bring it out to prove my poverty. I keep a couple of larger bills in the left front pocket, and the rest in my socks. For some reason I had neglected to pack the money belt Laurie had given me for Christmas. I have since had to recover my socks twice from the laundry to retrieve my stash.
I had a pleasant dinner and chat with Hamdji and Jake and a couple of German girls smoking hookahs and left for my flight on Ethiopian Air at the airport, where I waited drinking an incredibly overpriced cup of coffee. At 15 guinays, it was 6 times the cost of the last coffee I had.
Though the flight was supposed to leave at 2:29, it left an hour late and there was a stopover for an hour in Khartoum. My return flight also lands in Khartoum, so I'm taking it as an omen I will be able to get a stopover in Sudan. Everyone agress that getting a visa might be a bit iffy, but I'll give it a shot.
I got into Addis Abeba and have been farting quite loudly and often since I left Egypt. I am sure it must be the food, but the last few volleys have definitely tilted the planet in favour of massive global warming. Not only will Earth be hotter, but it will smell quite bad as well. I changed soome money and ended up having 3,500 Bihr which are about 10 to a US dollar. As things worked out, if I think of them as dollars and the hotel as the Sheraton, the prices in Bihr seem like prices in dollars.
Nothing in the Lonely Planet book has been useful so far except for the maps, but apparently I can get them for free locally, I had picked out Leah’s Place on the Ring Road, as it has ttwelve rooms, one for each tribe of Israel, but a guy intercepted me and guided me to a taxi and suggested I book into the Baro Hotel, but for some reason I ended up at the Itegue Taitu Hotel established in 1907 by the Empress Taitu. I had been told there were rooms here for 60 bihr, but the 60 Bihr room was a little too dirty, and opened out on the ground floor onto the back lane, so I got a 90 Bihr Room on the second floor. Cleaner with a double bed, though there doesn't seem to be any difference in the single cold water tap between "on" and “ "leaking". There is a shared shower/bath combo, but the floor is little dingy, and I have opted for handi wipes instead of a shower for today. I had a great Lamb Stew on the patio, and slept all day until around 7PM, and went into the dining/bar area. The resaturant area, though not as picturesque, reminds me of every African movie I have ever seen. Low settees with low tables, a kind of foyer feel to it, complete with Englishmen and Germans, and a few Ethiopian businessmen. The coffee here is everything I had hoped it would be, served expresso style, around 4.50 Bihr (45 cents) I had a bean stew thingy served on a giant pancake that had a vague sea sponge look to it. Food is served here without cutlery, and you have to use bread or sea sponge pancakes to pick the food up. I did bring plastic cutlery with me, bound together in a baggie and fastened with an elastic band, as I can go though the metal detectors at the airport without having them confiscated, though here, not much thought was given to the metal detectors going off. I haven't found the need to use it, but I'll take them with me tomorrow.
Quite a fascinating ride through the town from the airport, though wherever traffic slows down, beggars and streetsellers apporach the taxi looking for money. Though the street thing seems once more daunting, I will walking to the Yemeni consulate tomorrow and visiting the National Museum to go see Lucy. I am not sure if I am going to fly to Gonder or take the bus. I have booked a room here for four days, and the place seems quite pleasant and is not particularly more dirty than the Howard Johnson's in Swift Current, the latter of which I wouldn't recommend as it's more than 10 times the cost of the Hotel Taitu.
No bugs so far. Things are looking up.