Steve Watson


      Information: Travels: Egypt: Diary







Justine and Don took me out to the airport and I left without a hitch. There was a lengthy stopover in Melbourne - which, for me, doesn't really count as a foreign country. I went into Toorak (my old stomping ground,) via the Botanical Gardens (ah, memories of Melissa, Leddy, Clare, Veronica, ... .) Had a sandwich, wine , and a coffee in a little cafe. Quite pleasant. Went to the National Gallery and had a look at the exhibition of lithographs by Goya, including the famous series of 'Disasters of War' and also the etching of 'The Sleep of Reason produces Monsters'. Rather too much to take in. I also looked at the Ancient and Oriental exhibits there. Eventually I decided I really couldn't think of anything else to do so I went back to the airport and just waited there.


The Emirates flight was great. The chap who had been assigned a seat in my row agreed that the the flight crew on the first leg were some of the prettiest he'd seen. It really was quite striking. Each seat had a monitor in the seat back in front of it which allowed access to several channels using a detachable controller. This is the first time I'd seen such a system.


On the first leg the plane was almost empty so people - like me - could sleep by taking the four seats of a central row. Very nice. Couldn't do that on the second leg though. There were lots of Asians aboard after the Singapore stop.







Arrived in DUBAI.


I'm here for a one night stopover only, so I had already decided that I couldn't get out of the city. Pity; I'd have liked to take a quick side trip out into the desert or, even better, to Qatar to check out the Dilmun remains. I was so wide awake after the flight that after I'd had a shower I absolutely could not get to sleep, so I amused myself by repacking my minimal luggage. Now everything that's terminally important is in my money belt, though it's a bit difficult to get at. Waiting, waiting, waiting for the day to start...


Took the airport bus in to downtown Dubai to have a wander about and see the sights. Not much to see really, and the heat was incredible. I was wearing a tee-shirt and jacket and the sweat was just pouring off me. I had to spend most of the three hours just sitting in the shade - though I did wander down to the docks to see the dhows being loaded and unloaded.


Port of Dubai.


The flight into Egypt was again on Emirates Air, but this time it was just Hell. The first thing to know is that the a/c wasn't on in the plane so we all sweltered for a good part of it. The plane was chocka. I was seated right up by the projection screen, so there was nowhere to stretch my legs. I, nevertheless, was able to sleep - uncomfortably - most of the way, only being woken by people stumbling over me.


Arrived in CAIRO


Cairo airport was just as full of trickster as the guidebooks had led me to expect, so many people who wanted to help me. I eventually decided to get a taxi to Minerva, but what a performance that was. First I got a L25 offer accepted and was taken to a van and asked to wait while he rounded up another fare. Then after 20 minutes I had just got out of the van to leave when he turned up with a girl and a story that the price would be L30. So I left and got a taxi with from the official rank. My guide said to pay L20-25 tops, but arguing with them would not shift them from L35. Finally a tourist policeman came over and sorted out a L30 fare as fair. Even then this bugger insisted that I had to pay the L5 toll to leave the airport - I did not. Of course he wasn't able to find the hotel so I had to walk up and down searching for it and becoming more and more anxious. When I finally did find it it was booked up and I had to look for another one.


As I was walking the streets a guy called Ahmed started talking to me. At first I assumed he was just one of those types who sees a tourist and tries to do them down for a few bucks, but I couldn't figure his angle. He suggested some hotels I could try which made me think he was just a tout, but he mentioned the 'Gresham', which is one recommended by the Let's Go guide, so I'm still not sure. I booked into the Gresham for one night. Charge L60 per night for a very crappy room. I'll look for a better one tomorrow. There was also a bit of difficulty with payment since they wouldn't take Mastercard but only cash. Well, I have no intention of giving them all my money just yet, so I've organized to pay tomorrow. 


Ahmed took me to get a bit of food and refused a meal himself, and he'd already bought me a drink. He worried me when he left for a while while I was eating, but I couldn't think what he could be doing that could concern me. Still, after a while I left my meal unfinished - fried fish and rice which I didn't like much - and stepped outside. I was just about to wander off when he appeared. We then buzzed down a side alley - again making me a little nervous  -to his workshop where he apparently works making imitation papyrus hieroglyphic paintings as a way of applying what he has learnt at Cairo University where he and his friends study art. I had a cup of tea, sweet, with them in his shop and they tried to convince me to get an ISIC (student card). I'm a bit dubious about it but it might be a good idea. We also arranged to do a tour of the pyramids 'n' stuff tomorrow, including a camel ride and a sound and light show. He also wants to go to the pub afterwards. Well, well; how un-islamic. 


Back to the hotel. Note that there is no toilet paper and only a very primitive bidet system, and no towel. I'm not all that keen on this place. 


Downtown Cairo

 I spent almost all my time here east of the Nile and north of the ruined acqueduct







A very odd day. I began by getting up before 8 and looking around for another hotel. Unfortunately I had to beat off all the touts who were directing me to other places from which they would doubtless get a commission. Changed $US50 at Thomas Cooks in Mahmoud Bassioun Street, which was blessedly uncomplicated. Then went back to the hotel and tried to get breakfast. Pretty crappy food - all they gave was tea, a roll, jam, cheese, and a boiled egg. On the other hand, I talked to a South African girl in the dining room who'd been travelling for 2 years. She was very interesting. Met Ahmed, but he had to wait while I changed hotels. (suddenly they found a cheaper room available where I was - too late, mate.) Of course, the room I got was not the room they had shown me earlier and wasn't quite as good, but it was miles better than the filthy Gresham.


The hotel in Cairo


Spent quite a while at Ahmed's trying to get an ISIC card but it had arrived by about noon so we gave it up and left anyway. It was certainly interesting using the Cairo public transport system. I'm sure I would never have been able to figure out what was going on by myself. Unfortunately, it wasn't until we gt to the desert edge that I discovered that this seemed to be a rip-off operation. I was introduced to some guy Abdul blah blah who gave a ridiculous spiel about the pyramids and his wonderful guided tour to all of them - including Abu Sir and Sakkara - which would only cost me L350. I thought that was outrageous, but, being the eager-not-to-offend fool that I am, I didn't laugh in his face and immediately walk out, but endeavoured to bargain with him ... with much regret that I didn't have so much and etc. ... Eventually, I got the long trip - a camel ride to all these places with a guide - by grudgingly (really) letting him have $US60. This works out as about L200, which is still extortionate, but I was inclined to see it as doable. 


What really pissed me off, however, was the way that the guide complained incessantly about how long the trip would be if we took camels so could we take a car instead. I got quite angry when he wouldn't shut up and then pretended not to know what I was talking about when I said I'd have to ask for a refund if I wasn't going to have the tour I'd paid so much for. 


We rode for hours. The pyramids are a waste of time; there's absolutely nothing to see. I went inside one but it was just like a cave - and it cost L10 to get in and L2 for water. And everyone would say 'have a scarab, no money' 'OK' 'Now mister, you give me something'. The first time this happened I dropped the crap on the ground. After hours with a truly reluctant camel who would not move without a really vicious beating, we were stopped at a distance from Sakkara by a couple of ghastly guardians at the site who said that we couldn't go any further because it was closed. And give us baksheesh. On the guide's advice I did give 50pt and he gave L2, but for the life of me I cannot understand why they should have gotten anything. 


The Pyramids at Gizeh


Me and Joe


A large bun-shaped structure in Gizeh


Donkey working

An ass used as a water pump. 

The picture was taken hurriedly from the back of my camel heading south to Sakkara


We rode back in the dark along roads with half-witted Egyptian drivers tearing past, tooting and flashing, and one coming from behind with his lights off nearly collected the guide on his horse. The guide kept the horse because I hurt when I ride it. The camel, on the other hand, was much more comfortable, and on the way home did a much better pace.


We stopped at along the way for a tea and some water and a hubble bubble, which I tried. It didn't feel like I was smoking at all; which I suppose was a good thing. A bit pointless though. The guide had the cheeck to suggest that I should pay him for being a guide, and didn't admit to understanding that if I wasn't able to see Sakkara (which I'd paid for, remember,) and they'd known I wouldn't be able to, then I was certainly not going to give them any more money.. By this time I was quite annoyed with myself for allowing myself to be cheated by this pair of crooks - who seem to have no shame about their crookedness, but expect to continue to add charges. Ha, bloody, ha. I shall consider this a learning experience.


Still, I don't consider my money wasted: I did ride a camel for 6 hours and 20-40 km without expiring, and when I was back at their office I spent from 7pm to ~*:30pm talking to Abdul and being tutored in Arabic. That was a good experience. However ... REMEMBER TO BE OBNOXIOUS.


Caught taxis back to town which Ahmed paid for, then we sat on the street outside his shop with some of his loser mates and bothered the women. Their attitude towards women is amazing. They really, really hate them. They're all sluts and bitches who want to destroy men. Just appalling. After I'd sat for a while with them I decided that I wouldn't wish an Egyptian husband on my worst enemy. They all try (so they were saying) to marry foreign women so they can get out of the country. It's actually very sad.


Spent some time afterwards having a meal and a couple of beers with Ahmed in, apparently, his favourite pub. 'Stella' beers. Very light. And some nibbly things. Ahmed told me about how he wants to leave and women are bad, and in NZ and Australia the girls are easy. I listened politely, but I don't find the opinions very well-considered. Is the entire population of Egypt so sex-conflicted? 


Home about 12 and had a shower. One of the more pleasant surprises is that the hot water was working. Did my diary till about 1, and so to bed.


PS. Got the ISIC. Looks good


PPS. Earlier in the day Ahmed and a friend of his and myself headed off downtown where I was to buy some duty-free goods, i.e. drink and ciggies, on my passport, for them. Sounded a bit dodgy to me and I was certainly going to query what was happening when I got inside. But as it happened they were closed.







Up fairly early considering how late I got to bed. As I'm writing thi in my journal, I can hear the muezzin calling all good moslems to prayer. I suppose it's actually just a tape, but it's still a pretty romantic sort of sound. This morning I met Ahmed again and we did the duty-free thing. Everybody there seemed to think it was pretty normal. After I protested about the guy starting to write in my passport the explanation indicated that this was to show that I was bringing in goods. So that seems OK. I've let Ahmed know that I'll be coming back to Cairo before I leave for NZ and he didn't seem at all fazed - but the idea was that if this was a rip-off he could expect payback. Well, I don't actually think that there'll be a problem with this. 


I got dropped off at the museum and had a long look around - about 3 hours. If I had complained about the Italian treatment of their heritage, this certainly put it in perspective. The whole place was just a jumble of stuff. Good stuff, I'll admit; and the labels in Arabic, French, and English were pretty good; and the guides didn't talk much more tosh than you'd expect; but everything was just so dirty. You didn't dare lean against the cases or walls because of it. Certainly the guards in their pretty, tourist/fascisti uniforms who dozed or strutted singing nd tapping the cases were not interested in enforcing any DO NOT TOUCH signs. It was striking that there were scores of earnest young folk copying pictures from the monuments and papyri, and even painting them. This must be what passes in Egypt for art education - they are taught how to create touristy trash at the university.


On my way back I had to physically push off the taxi touts who were swarming outside the museum. God, they're tiresome. 


Went to the Fu Shing restaurant and had a crabmeat soup, piles of noodles with beef and egg and veges, and many teas for just L14. I forgot to tip. Delicious and familiar food, and I'm feeling quite sated. 


I took the plunge and started drinking the water straight. Such daring.

Then, changed my mind and went back to bottled. Not that brave after all, huh.


Went for a walk in the evening. I intended to cross the Nile at the 6 October Bridge but the bus station sort of pushed me past it and I wound up walking miles out of my way and going over the 26 July Bridge. I also had a quick look at a market that was going on just this side of the bridge. It's a shame that all the best sights are in places where you don't really want to pull out your camera and declare yourself to be a tourist (=target.) Walked back over the El Tahrir Bridge and then back and forth along the Corniche. This is supposed to be the strollers focus but it looked to me like a place where they tell tourists to go so that they can be bothered by felucca sharks. Not interesting. As I walked back through Qasr en Nil I saw (at the far Tahrir end of it) a sign for an internet cafe - at Cafe Paris, but I couldn't see where that was exactly. I thought it would be a nice idea if I could ping Justine fairly soon, which reminded me that I really wanted to surprise Mum with a phone call using the Telecom direct - possibly from my room tomorrow.







Not up as early as I thought I should be: I didn't actually get out of the door until 10. Walked down to the British Embassy to register (as work had insisted.) Didn't see any Britons, only their Egyptian employess - which made the whole business more of a risk than a reassurance actually. It was quite pleasant inside the compound however - comparatively clean. Only comparatively. After getting my passport stamped yet again I picked up a taxi and asked for ibn Tulun. No sweat, and he didn't even make a fuss when I gave him a L2 note as I got out. I understand why now, since he actually dropped me off outside the Rifai and Sultan Hasan. I mistook an outside tea garden for the entrance, but made the best of it and had a shaay in the shade.


El Rifa'i, Muhammad Ali, Sultan Hassan


The Hassan was the unexpected highlight of today's travels. The interior was vast.



Calling in the faithful in El Rifa'i, standing before the mihrab and beside the minbar. The mihrab is a niche that marks the direction of Mecca, and the minbar is the pulpit. The prayer leader will stand on the penultimate step. (Only Mohammed used the top step.) 



The ablution fountain. It is a custom for Moslems to ritually cleanse themselves before entering the mosque for prayer. And in the background one of the iwans.


I was able to climb around inside the building. When I first got onto the roof I made for the minaret, but some kid/guide called out to say 'no, hey, mister,' I guess he wanted me to wait or to join his group of tourists so that I'd give him money too. I wandered about the dome until he left and then went up the minaret anyway. I'm very glad I brought a torch, because in parts it was pitch black with rubbish on the steps and electric cables all over the place. The final stage was a spiral metal ladder for about 30-40 feet and then a crawl through tiny hole about 1 1/2 by 1 foot. But then you have a magnificent view over Cairo. And what a tip it is. There's absolutely no colour and all the open spaces, roofs, and streets are piled with debris and detritus.


Sultan Hassan

A view over the Sultan Hassan mosque from the minaret of the El Rifa'i.


Over Cairo

A view towards the Mosque of Ibn Tulun in the middle distance.


I spent bloody ages trying to find the way into the citadel. I walked almost all the way to the entrance (as I eventually learned) then gave up went to the gate on Baab al Gideed which was only an exit; so I started to walk back around again when I bumped into two people who were looking for another entrance, and the lady spoke Egyptian so I tagged along with them back up to the exit and she ascertained that, yes, it was indeed just an exit. So then I started up again to the main entrance (of whose existence I had now been assured) and again made it almost all the way when I met an elderly German lady tourist coming the other way and asking where the entrance was. I assumed she'd been much further around and so we both decided to get into a taxi and let the driver find the entrance. Well, more fool us. The man was an idiot. I kept saying to him 'el madkhal, el madkhal', (entrance) and he kept saying to me 'el mathaf, el mathaf' (museum). And then he took us to the blasted exit I'd just come from. I got the guard to explain to him that we wanted 'el steeking madkhal' and off we went around the citadel again. This time we found it just a little bit further on from where we'd picked the taxi up in the first place. I gave the driver L2, which was really more than he deserved, and yet he had the colossal cheek to demand more., so I took a pound off him and only gave it back after he whined some more and then walked off. He very nearly got an earful for being such a jerk, but the best policy is to just ignore them and keep walking.


Muhammad Ali


Most of the stuff in the Citadel is pretty trashy; but the Muhammad Ali was quite impressive in a ticky tacky sort of way. I had another jerk experience when I tried to buy a coke: I offered my 50pt and the boy opened the bottle and then started asking for more money. So I took back my 50 and slammed the bottle down and left ... 'hey mister! hey mister!' Cretins.



In the courtyard of the Muhammad Ali mosque


Shoeing  a horse

Just a typical street scene that I photographed at some time in my walking about on this day


Muhammad Ali's Dome


Muhammad Ali's Lamps


Anyway, after we'd finished looking over the Citadel, and it really didn't take long, we split up. She headed off to the Khan el Khalily markets (though I doubt her street sense) and I went west to look for the elusive Ibn Tulun. Here I had a bit of good luck. A very young Coptic boy called Girgis (George) showed me the way there, and also into an old madrassa. I was happy to give him 50pt baksheesh, since he performed a service which I actually required - unlike most of the rest of these scroungers. Also, he accepted the money happily but didn't beg for it.


The mosque was very impressive as a ruin. But it's not actually upposed to be a ruin. As a functioning mosque it is not impressive; just dirty and run down.


Ibn Tulun


El Moayed


On my way back I stopped again at that pleasant tea garden and had a couple of interesting experiences. First off, a pleasant one. There was much ululating and clashing of instruments and everybody in the garden ran to the gate. So I did too. It was a wedding party, all in good spirits, with the guests all well turned out and clean and quite happy to see me taking photos. 


Cairo wedding


The second experience was less pleasant. There was a fat little toad running about, who'd already been told off by an adult for pulling off the flowers in the garden, who came up to me all smiles and smarm and putting out his hand saying 'welcome', but I could see from the way he was holding himself and the way his eyes were darting about, that he only wanted me to move my hand away from my stuff so he could grab it. Instead I put hand on my bag and hat and pushed him in the chest lightly but firmly and loudly told him to go away. Both the guard at the gate and the waiter also moved towards us. I gave the waiter a good sized tip for this effort and also thanked the guard as I left. That could have been real trouble.


Walked back through the streets of Islamic Cairo to el Tahrir (liberation). Along the way I chatted to an American chap from San Francisco who'd had much the same impression of Egyptians in general as I. Had a shwarma (I think) from the Brazilian coffee shop and a coffee and then came home. I had a bit of a blister on my foot after all this activity so I won't be walking out again tonight.


Tried doing my laundry in the sink and rinsing in the shower. They're hanging on the line at the moment and I'm interested to see how it turns out. If it's OK that'll be good, but if not I'll get them redone, with my light trousers, by the hotel's laundry boy. I find that I only have one tee-shirt. I'm sure I packed two. Bugger.







Clothes weren't dry and the shirt's not so clean. Too bad. I asked about getting the trousers and green top cleaned and one old guy said yes, L2, but his friend said L35! Of course, you can't just get it done: there always has to be a problem. Tried to use the phone in my room. Of course, it didn't work.


Walked downtown to hunt down this 'internet cafe' whose sign appears opposite the Egyptian Museum. I was told by some old guy that I should walk in the direction that the sign pointed. I think that'd be a recipe for disaster. It didn't matter anyway, since there were plenty more signs as I walked on taking me further into town until they stopped and I had to ask someone where the Bousstan Centre was. Once inside I found quite a good bookshop and some good maps which I may go back and buy. The internet cafe was there but it didn't open until 11 so I made a note of its location and moved on.


Walked off then to the Museum of Islamic Art. Lots of stuff, but not really as much or as well-presented as I had expected. Still, not at all a disappointment.


As I was walking on towards the Al Azhar mosque I fell in with a friendly chap who offered to show me the way - which he did, through tiny, narrow streets and across muddy holes around working men in pits and through the Egyptian section of the market. Actually we stopped and had a shaay and sheesha at his 'local', where he explained to me the differences between the various kinds of teas. I had a Yellow, and he had a Yasmeen, and they were both good. After that I decided that we should have something to eat for lunch, so we went to a place he knew where we had a couple of beers and something called, I think, istarbok, which is meat from the lower back of a lamb (very tasty) that one eats by wrapping in pita and dipping in tahini, and with a side of vinegar cucumbers. Quite delicious. I paid for his meal, but then we had to go to the bank so I could get some more money. Again, and even more so, we took short cuts through what really looked like some pretty unsavoury areas. At one stage we were even climbing over a rubbish tip (which stank.) By way of a pleasant surprise, the bank was no trouble at all. He then showed me to Al Azhar and we parted.


Mohammed and me

Sharing fragrant teas and tobaccos at his local


I said that I would try to meet him again as I pass through Cairo on my way home. This would be sometime after the 28th. I took his address and contact details, but as it happened it did not come off.


One of the things that Mohammed was talking to me about was that he has a marriage arranged with one girl, 25, an Egyptian, and her photo shows her to be very pretty, but he has also received courting mail from a young girl in Belgium, 20, also pretty he says, and he doesn't know what to do or how not to hurt either of their feelings. Now Mohammed's a nice guy, but I really can't see the great attraction here for a foreign girl. He thinks the Belgian girl (and her mother) may be after his money because he has a bakery. I did not tell him that his great wealth simply wouldn't be significant in any modern country.


Moved on to the Al Azhar mosque, which, when I eventually found it, surprised me by being clean, without the desert dust that finds its way into every nook and cranny of Cairo - and which I thought the Egyptians had quite despaired of fighting. Beautiful marble floors and new clean carpets. This is the doctrinal centre of Sunni Islam, and has been for many centuries. It's the closest thing that Sunni Islam has to an establishment like the Catholics Vatican - to which it's often compared. I was shown around one part by a young guy to whom I offered some money for his help - again, this time it was actually help and not begging. Very much enjoyed this. 


Al Azhar co-eds

A teacher and some female students. I was surprised to see them. I had no idea this teaching mosque would accept the fair sex.


Al Azhar mihrab


Al Azhar at evening


Walked back home after after a long day out and had a bit of a rest. I bought a huge bottle of fruit juice on the way home 


Walked up to the train station but was fooled by all the signs saying 'all stops', 'Egyptian Railways', etc. into believing that I was going to the train station when, in fact, it was the metro (the underground system). Never mind: I walked in circles underground for a while, just to disorient myself (things are more exciting that way) and then found the station. What a filthy, disorganized, disaster it is! All the same, with the help of the tourist folk (who were very pleasant and understanding) I eventually tracked down the hidden ticket office and paid for my ticket to Luxor. $37 for 1st class, 9-12 hours, Pretty good I reckon. Leave at any time after 10. 


Coming out of the station I had very little idea of what direction I was going, so I walked in a bit of an expanding spiral until I hit Ramses Street (actually, see the map at the start of this diary for an overview.) I don't think I got things too wrong, so that was encouraging. The difficulty was that there was just so much dirt in the air that you couldn't see across the road to read the street signs, and you certainly couldn't make out any shapes on the skyline to orient yourself by. I kept walking down Qasr el-Nil ('Nile castle' - a name I knew previously as the origin of 'Casher O'Neill', a character in a Cordwainer Smith novel.) There I found the Estoril restaurant. Had dinner there: a filet au poivre (well done,) which was actually a tough old piece of leather - but a gratifyingly familiar taste, and a roz au lait, which I thought would be like a rice pudding but was more like a thick junket. Nice though. And so home.







For breakfast I went across the street to the Al Americaine expecting at least to see menus in English, but no such luck so I just had a cup of tea and a bit of a relax. Before this I finally managed to make the tomfool of a makhwaga understand that I needed my clothes washed. Actually, it was probably only a misunderstanding about L35 or L3.5, so I'm wrong to be too harsh. The rest of the day is just a series of excursions and stops to while away the time.


After that tea I wandered to the main post office to send off my postcards, which was pretty straightforward, and on the way there I bought a L10 Menatel card and (after some disorientation) I found my way back to Talaat Harb Square and worked my way around the public phones until I found one that worked. Parents were pleased to hear from me I think but the line at their end was not too good apparently - they didn't seem to know when I'd finished talking or had just been interrupted. 


I decided to find myself some real food, but on the way I ran into Ahmed again. I was not particularly surprised to learn that he was receiving a commission for providing tourists as fodder given the pretty obvious fact that the Egyptian Government tour he said he'd take me to was just another tourist rip-off merchant. On the other hand I was a little surprised that he wanted to tell me this. Nothing that happened later required this confession so perhaps it was just a gesture of friendship. We then went to his shop and then for a shaay (which I paid for.) Interestingly, he asked if I would do him a favour - which I hope I may interpret as his believing that I wasn't too badly ripped off by his friend. But who can tell with these people who can tell: their cheek is endless. He wants me to buy him 'traveller's shoes' from NZ. After much to-ing and fro-ing I let him persuade himself that giving me L100 when I came back to Cairo would be the easiest way of doing it. I spoke much of my uncertainty as to charges and commissions on money transfers and bank cheques which were quite outside his world. This surely provides some scope for saucing that gander. 


I tried a 'Wimpy Meal' which wasn't much good but was at least filling. Then I went back to the hotel and told them I was going and asked if they could look after my bags. Sure. Can I have a receipt? No Taking a chance, I asked them to put it in another room, which they did OK. 


Made my way back to the Cafe Paris and went through an horrendous process - with a very slow machine - to enrol as a hotmail user. The point of this, of course, was to send an email to Justine, which I did eventually. In that email I also told her that I'd try to phone her about 10 pm at home in the next few days to make sure that things are OK. I should be able to receive email replies now, but that's assuming that because the computer made success noises that it actually succeeded. I know better than to count on this.


Did a lot more walking around after this despite my feet starting to hurt. Eventually stopped at Alfy Bey for a soup and a stuffed pigeon (both ghastly.) I think that I only got 3 mouthfuls of meat from the pigeon and it still had its head on! Spent about 1 1/2 hours here and then went back to Talaat Harb to buy 'The Robe' for L4. Should help while away those boring periods.


To the hotel. Pick up bag and laundry. Off to Ramses, which made no more sense this time than it did last time. Never mind, I am at least settled without too much fuss. Writing this with some difficulty and having to listen to a truly dreadful Egyptian TV programme being blasted through the train. I declined dinner which was, naturally, an extra L27; but I will have breakfast. 


Took my shoes off - bliss! and read The Robe until the lights went out.







Had a breakfast of cheeses, bread (croissant and buns), apple juice in a sachet, and tea. L10.50, and not at all bad. It would have been nice too if the guy had picked up the dirty tray. Eventually I got fed up and put it on the chair next to me. This was actually a pretty good trip. 


Arrived in LUXOR.


It was just as the guide book said it would be in Luxor: there were people all over the place trying to get you to follow them to their hotel, and they were even more insistent than the Cairenes. I found myself in a hotel about the same crap quality as the last one (suits me) but this time for L15. (On the map below it's about halfway between the train station and the telephone office.) I was surprised, walking around, at just how filthy and squalid even a small town like this can be: even when it's the main tourist centre for this area. The streets are not particularly well marked either. I'm sure they could really make something of the place if they would only put a little effort into thinking and working rather than scheming, scamming, and skiving. 


Map of Luxor


I went 'downtown', so to speak, to get a picture of the Nile and some boats, which I thought were ery pretty. I also tried to hunt down a telephone centre in the places mentioned in the LG, but these, when I found them, wouldn't take Menatel cards. They'd take a type of card that cost L30, but I wasn't going to buy one of those. Eventually, I found a telephone service in the Old Winter Palace Hotel but I couldn't get through. The first time I got the NZ voice but when I asked for the operator nothing happened. The second time it was engagd for 20 minutes. Between these two attempts I wandered along the waterfront and thought I'd sit in the shade for a while. It was very difficult because people would keep approaching trying to sell me stuff.


Kalishes at Luxor




Having failed to phone Justine I tramped through Luxor temple. This was refreshingly free of 'guides', but just knowing that it was surrounded by a slum made it a somehow guilty pleasure. I followed this by battling my way up the Corniche to the Anubis restaurant which was clean and shady and served delicious Spaghetti Bolognese. Thank God for real food. This restaurant would prove to be a pleasant haven during my time in Luxor. So civilised! Continuing down the Corniche I discovered that the Luxor museum is closed at 1 pm and opens again in the evening, so I headed back to my hotel , keeping an eye out for the Banque de Caire because I needed to get some money out. There's one just around the corner from me but it doesn't open until 5 pm. Lay under the fan till 5:30 reading 'The Robe,' then went to the bank. No probs.


The Luxor museum was very well organized and clean and really not like anything I'd seen before in the country. Quite a credit to them. There was an American tourist there who had apparently quite a knowledge of Egyptology and he was giving a commentary to the people he was with. I hung back a little but couldn't really hear all he was saying. Walked along the dockside for a while and then dined at Anubis (which I knew was safe) and sat beside the Nile watching it flow by. Very nice. Very, very restful.






Came back via some sort of celebration being held in the Suq. I bumped into the hotel man there and sat with him for a while, but of course, it was too noisy to talk. People offered me cigarettes, but since I don't smoke I couldn't accept. I think that when you're travelling, sharing a ciggy is quite a useful way to introduce yourself to people.


Wedding party







Went to Karnak temple and wandered about for around an hour. These temples and museums and sights would be much more enjoyable without the Arabs following you around everywhere. They have an annoying habit of ordering you to do this or that, and when you ignore them they come running after you to tell you to do just what you're doing anyway. They block up entrances or pathways or steps and volunteer to let you through - for a small charge. They are, however, cowardly, and won't do anything but complain if you ignore them too. 


Karnak was magnificent all the same. Huge pieces of stone, but it's pretty obvious that the Egyptians didn't have much of a clue about spanning spaces. All the roofs are simple flat slabs which means the maximum clear space is about 5 1/2 metres. St. Peter's it ain't. Went there on a 'kalish', which I thought was just a mispronunciation of 'carriage,' but now I'm not so sure. Naturally I had to haggle about the price. Started at 10 and went down to 3 (and baksheesh makes it 3,50.) It's still a ridiculous price and to top it off he made me wait while he tried to pick up another fare. This haggling (have I mentioned this) is bloody tiresome - it takes forever to get any business done. It must be a huge brake on the economy - amongst many other practices here. 






Walked back along the Nile checking boats, but they mostly seem to be laid up or full. They are mostly going on Saturday which seemed far away, but I realised later is only the day after tomorrow. I finally found the Sinouhe II (named for the famous Egyptian literary figure) I'll leave Saturday at 2 pm. Cost for 2 days is $40 per day. Paid already.


Along the street I had a look at some shirt shops and managed to bargain down a green shirt from L25 to L15 just by pretending not to want a shirt like this really. But I did! Ha ha. Tricked! Stopped at Abu al-Ahram or some such for a good-sized mean: half a chicken and a bowl of rice, both good.


I was met by a young lad who seemed to want to befriend me. Certainly, I could see that he didn't have anything he could try to sell me. He introduced me to his uncle and they invited me into their house, which was as disgusting inside as it appeared to be from the outside. There was almost no furniture - a diwan here, a stove there, a bed, and of course a television beside the main bed. We sat there for a while drinking tea and reading letters from his girlfriend in England - some stupid tart who should really know better; but there you go. All this time he was trying to get me to smoke some 'special' cigarettes, but I thought that as a tourist it would be better if I didn't risk any illegalities. Anyway, the probable reason for that was to get me in a receptive mood for buying the carpets that he got the boy to bring out, and eventually, yes ... 'Take it. Only 35. No, no; 30. OK, 25. Please take. Which one you like?!...' It's a great shame. I thought I'd finally found someone half-way decent in this rotten, little tip. I guess there really is no-one here worth talking to. The young lad then made me promise to meet him in his shop and we'll go to the place where they have belly but don't tell anyone!


On the way back I also checked out an internet connection at the Military Club (I think it's called,) which charges L12 for the first 15 mins and each minute after that at another rate. It seemed a bit over the top after the inexpensive Cairo shop. Time was pressing so I hurried along to the telephone man from yesterday, where I managed this time to connect to Justine. Once again the connection was bad at the NZ end so talk was a little difficult, but it was certainly nice to hear her voice again. Nothing is wrong at the other end and she's gotten used to driving the car - I'll be amazed: she can park and everything! It's just been Guy Fawkes of course and they've just got back from watching the pretty fireworks. I'll bet it's raining. She hasn't received my email yet but she hasn't checked in a while. I suppose it's possible there was no problem in sending it, but I doubt it. We'll soon see, if there's a reply for me when I next log on.


Back at the hotel, the guy reckons he could have got me a cruise for for $30. I'm inclined to think that's bullshit again. He also mentioned a wedding party tonight; a continuation of the party I saw last night where there would be belly dancing. Doubtless, this is what the urchin was talking about, so I don't need to bother meeting him now. I'm sure he'll understand : as far as I've been able to make out, solemn promises mean absolutely nothing to these people.


As it happened, I didn't even get to the wedding. On the way to dinner I was greeted by some youngsters; one of whom claimed to know me from before. Obviously a pick up line, but I let him buy me a cup of tea and waited to see what he'd try to sell me. Well, his friend tried to sell me a tour of the West Bank. I said my hotel tried to sell me one for L40 (actually, it was L65.) He said he could do it for L45. I said OK later and said I'd meet him in the morning. Maybe I even will. Maybe I won't. I don't much care either way. Then Mustapha tried to interest me in a prostitute. Charming.


Dined at Anubis again. Spag. Bol. and Nescafe. L15 (inc. baksheesh.) Tried a little half-heartedly to find the belly dancer, but couldn't be bothered looking too hard, so flagged it.







Didn't make it out in time to do that tour but instead prepared myself for a long day n the sun with two bottles of water. Took the ferry over, in which I was hassled by two guys who kept asking if I wanted a taxi. Surely, after several minutes of this they should decide that their time would be better and more profitably spent elsewhere. Apparently not.


Walked to the ticket office and only there discovered that you have to decide what you are going to see before you enter the actual valley. As expected, too, there are very sparse and unhelpful descriptions posted about. Chose to visit Kings, Queens, Ramesseum, and Behri. All of these were frankly a little disappointing.. The entrance to each tomb in the Valley of the Kings was guarded by some officious twit who wanted to point at things, make me wait for a tour group to go through, or change some Korean money. Ignored all of them. Hatshepsut's edifice was basically a facade which lacked very much of interest. (Although it is interesting that there was a terrorist attack here just a  few years ago and lots of tourists were killed.) I accidentally walked in to the Habu Ramesses temple without a ticket. Well, not quite accidentally. I followed a tour group in. It was just big columns and walls. Not really 'grand' at all.


The Archaeological Sites of Thebes


Colossi of Memnon


Look the Glory the Ancient

Hatshepsut's temple at the end of this road. The sign announces this in its own special way


Deir el Bahri

A better view of Hatshepsut's temple from the mountain between it and the Valley of the Kings


The best part was walking over the mountain from Deir al Bahri to the Valley of the Kings. It wasn't as hard as I'd expected but it was pretty hot. On the way back there was shade on the climbing side, but the path is less clearly marked. Since you basically just want to go straight up that hardly matters. At the top of the hill I was accosted - amazingly - by some filthy bedouin with multi-coloured teeth who 'helped' me find my way up by shouting encouragement when I zigged towards him and shouting remonstrations when I zagged away. When I got to the top he was joyful - and then started trying to sell me some crappy alabaster cat sculptures. The whole area seems to be swarming with verminous hucksters and being out on the road makes you a prime target. There was hardly a time when I wasn't being hailed by somebody: 'Hey, hello! Where are you from? Where are you going?' Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. These people are full of it. I was also followed by two horrid little girls offering me junk (including a rock!, for God's sake) for 'One pound, please mister.' Wheedle, wheedle, wheedle, for 5- 10 minutes.


The Valley of the Kings

From the same spot. Just spin around and there it is.


The Valley of the Nobles

From a little-used donkey track across the Theban mountain


Going back, I cut through the mountain and down, which probably took an hour off the marching time, and also gave me great views over Medinet Habu and the Valleys of the Kings and Queens.


Back on the ferry and I was forced into conversation with some guy who claimed he was yet another Ahmed who taught Arabic. How many do they need, I wonder. He wasn't going to sell me anything, he swore, but eventually he asked whether I'd go to the Duty Free. So that makes it a 100% strikeout rate for decent folk in Luxor. Well, I only have to put up with them for another night and tomorrow morning and then I can blow this cesspit. The only really nice thing I've found here is the Anubis, and I'm here again writing this up. Even so the service is pretty appalling. You have to ask and ask for a waiter and he takes forever to come. Or two of them come because they haven't divided up the tables amongst themselves and every time you ask it's a different guy.


I note that I now have a whole new collection of blisters on my feet. This trip down the Nile is going to be a way of giving them quite a necessary rest I think. I hope that by Monday they'll be OK for walking again. They would've been OK today except that I think I went at it a bit hard.







Stayed in late and after breakfast took a kalish to the Luxor Museum, then looked round for my liner. Had a brief scare when I couldn't see it, but I noticed it was out in the Nile manoeuvring to get to the outside of the stack. I sat under the shade of a tree and read for a while before going aboard.


What a delightful change to have clean surroundings. The room is excellent and cool and as I was removing my shoes a waiter came to my door with a complimentary cold hibiscus tea which was absolutely delicious. Now I don't want to do anything at all.


I went onto the deck to sun myself for a while and very pleasant it was too. I couldn't help but notice that my fellow passengers are almost all fat and flabby, and really not good arguments form the superiority of the white race. I had hoped that there would be the at least the possibility of some interesting acquaintances here, but it doesn't seem very likely now.


Nile cruiser cabin


Nile cruiser pool


Had a most unpleasant meal. I was quizzed on the way in: 'England? Francais?' Apparently the idea is that we are to be seated with each other or with a waiter who speaks out language. In either case it was a failure. I got to sit in the middle of the room with a Frenchwoman whom I had to avoid - because I didn't particularly want company with my meals. It's not something I would have paid money for.


There's a disco tonight but I'm certainly not going anywhere near it. And I overheard the waiter explaining that there's a galabiyya party tomorrow night where everyone gets to buy or hire a g. What a surprise! I also resent having to pay L4 for a bottle of water when all I asked for was a glass.






Good, sizeable breakfast. Then straight up to lie in the sun, and lay there all day from ~ 10 to ~ 4:30, with a half hour break for a trip to Edfu temple and 20 minutes for lunch. 


The trip to the temple was a little annoying. I discovered that the kalish is not included in the trip's price and I had to haggle to get a good rate. They began by asking for L20 but I got mone for L5.50. This was rather less pleasant than even Luxor dealing: the 50p at the end was just a bit of baksheesh but the guy decided he wanted a L2 tip for doing nothing. Tough. So he walked off muttering and I walked off calling him names in a rather perfunctory way.


I didn't even bother going into the temple. I had a look at it from the outside, recalled that I'd forgotten my student card and decided against spending L20 to look at another pile of rocks. They're not even old rocks, they're Ptolemaic rocks! Instead, I had a shaay with the driver in a little shop and chatted with some of the other guys there.


I've just had a wander about Kom Ombo. Quite nice. Nothing special. Just more of that Ptolemaic tempelry. Sat on the deck in the evening until I decided to go down to my cabin. Gave up no the idea of dinner as I couldn't stand the idea of forced socialization for a 3rd time.


Kom Ombo by night







Arrived in ASWAN.


Had a brief look around. Went to the Tourist Office to see if he could book me on the Sharm el-Sheikh ferry. No luck. Booked in to the Abu Simbel hotel. No fans, no a/c, no bidet, no toilet paper. Hmm. Nice balcony and breezes though, which makes up for a lot.


Walking downtown in shorts I found myself being started at, and I think one old chap made a rude gesture. It was pulling two fists quickly apart, knuckles facing, like tightening a rope. I have no idea what it mean, if anything, but I decided to return and put on long trousers. Ridiculous people. I am amazed to read that kissing or embracing in public is a crime here. Gee, tell me more about how strung up the Victorians were.


Nile cruisers

The view from my hotel room balcony. My cruiser is the big one in the middle


Once again, their corniche is made unusable to tourists by the all the felucca shysters lined up along it. What really pisses me off is that they're so damned insistent. You tell them no, and yet you can spend another minute or two telling them no again and again; as if this would change anyone's mind. They all want to talk, they all want .. excuse me, just a minute, friend. 


Feluccas at Aswan




Went to the bus station to find out about their trips to Abu Simbel (the temple not my hotel.) Apparently there are no tourists allowed there any more. Therefore I have decided to leave tomorrow morning. I think that the sooner I get out of Egypt the better I'll like it.


Dined at the Aswan Moon 'Floating'. It was OK. The service was a bit slow; slower even than the Mona Lisa (why?) where I had lunch and learned that the hibiscus tea that I liked so much on the ferry was in fact karkahdeh, a specialty of Upper Egypt. It's the best thing it has going for it, by far!







Left nice and early from Aswan for Hurghada (pronounced 'erdaha' apparently.) Quite a performance : the bus office didn't open until 7, then they wouldn't sell tickets. I had to buy them on the bus. Then the bus driver tried to send me back to the office. Eventually we got going and only a long way into the trip did I discover that it was going to cost L25 rather than the L18 that the RG stated.


It was a fairly comfortable and uneventful trip. All of Egypt is uniformly filthy. I noticed that there was a coat of dried vomit on the carpeted side against which I was leaning - so I changed seats. Why couldn't they have cleaned that? Just what is so difficult in taking a little pride in things? The trip lasted about 8 1/2 hours (not 7).


Arrived in HURGHADA.


This is definitely a dive centre. Walking around  the shops, however, is just as unpleasant as anywhere else. 


Went out to dinner at the Riviera. Clean and very cheap. Good food. On the way home I bought chocolate and a bottle of water. On the advice of the shop in this hotel I spoke to a fellow in the Sea Ray Dive Centre behind the hotel about a dive trip tomorrow: L45. I'm in two minds about it and haven't decided.







Got up early and went to the Sea Ray DC to go on the dive trip as a snorkeler. Got there at 8:15. Last person arrived at 8:45. This was Rebecca, a Swiss girl (overweight, I'm afraid) who was a new diver and not very good at it. She spent most of her time with Richie, also Swiss, who was an old guy who'd done a lot of diving already. The rest of our party was two young German guys who used dry suits (and one was using a 50 year old re-breather!) and the dive master, Luke, a young English guy. I spent most of my time yakking with him.


The day started with a lot of fuss and bother about what boat we were going on and where we were going and where was the food. We were going to be put with another large group but the Teutons resisted and so we eventually boarded another boat and sat and waited for our food, which was eventually arrived, and also a party of six Russians. This was apparently their boat and we were the interlopers. Luke and I agreed that since this was pretty much a daily requirement, it should not be too difficult to organize it decently. We eventually got under way at about 10 am, which is quite ridiculous.


The seas were quite heavy, which made it a bit uncomfortable, but nothing serious. When we got to Carless we spent more time fluffing about and I waited a good long while until they had all gone before I got in. I must say, I had expected better. The reef was badly damaged coral and it seemed to lack colour. The fish were quite pretty; lots of black and white stripes, some striking blues, greens, and yellows, and just a few reds. No fish of any great size, no seaweed of any sort, not much actual life about in fact. I saw a sea snake, or perhaps it was an eel, which was quite interesting. I don't think I would have gained anything by scuba diving here, and in fact, I only did one dive for the day.


We moved to the second spot, which was Famous reef, and we had lunch there at about 2pm. Quite alte in the day really. (Lots of pasta, kofta, and salad, and a coke.) While we were eating the Russians did their dive, and after they came bac - while they were having lunch - the Swiss and Germans went off by themselves without Luke. As I say, I didn't have any really great need to see more forgettable sights. When the Germans cam back they were very angry, and shouted that it was 'a desert down there' and so on. This was obviously because they'd gone in the wrong direction, but they would not be comforted. The other two came back after an hour complaining that it was cold and they must have started too late. I found this also to be a ridiculous contention. Poor Luke just wanted the day to end. Before it could, however, we ahd to wait for the Russians to make their second dive here.


Diving in the Red Sea


Dive boats


Got back about 5:15. All in all, a pretty enjoyable way to fill in a day.


Went out to dine at the Riviera Restaurant again. Onion soup, yoghurt salad, spag. bol., Pepsi, bread: L8. Excellent value, but I didn't tip for some reason - I have no idea now why not, but it can't be undone now. Picked up laundry. Had a long talk with the Italian chap who is in the hotel too. He knows a great deal about New Zealand and seems to be of the opinion that NZ is quite well known in Italy and in Europe more generally.. They also tend to think well of us for our 'progressive' social policies, our general integrity, and other good things. All of which is quite flattering. He also had quite an interest in the Maori aspect of NZ's history, due to his acquaintance with a Maori girl some time ago.


Apart from this we talked about India - because I asked him about his trip - and he told me that it was something of a disappointment. The sights are very far apart and there is just not very much  to see. The poverty is everywhere extreme and the climate is much too hot.


I should also mention that Luke (the dive master) spent quite a lot of his time watching the other dive masters and slapping his forehead at their blunders and incompetencies. Some were quite obvious, like not using an octopus, or waiting under the boarding ladder while learners were on it with their heavy tanks, or doing try-dives in open water rather than following a mooring rope as is usual. He and I agreed that things were ordered better in other places. (Incidentally, he said that Egypt is high tech compared to Malta.)






Got up about 7 and tried to go to the toilet and have a shower. To begin with the water had been turned off and until I discovered this and the tap to fix it with I had some bad moments with the toilet half flushed and my hand dirty and with dirt dripped across the floor. Then I found that the hot water had been turned off overnight - after I had turned it on last night so that I could have a nice warm shower in the mormning rather than the cold rinse which is all I could have last night. I turned it back on and waited. 30 minutes for it to heat up. Eventually it was a pleasant, if erratic, morning wash.


Hooked up with two English and two Austrians so we'd be able to improve our bargaining position. We got a taxi out to the ferry, which we'd previously booked through the hotel (L85 rather that L100 as the RG said.) Left at 11 am and arrived at about 4:45 pm. The ferry was ok, with comfortable seats, and a pretty expensive meal, but I wouldn't complain about that.


Security checks on this stretch were pretty stringent: there were guards and passport checks and quick baggage inspections upon embarkation, and then a full security screening with airport scanners at the other end. I guess that's because Sinai and environs are still a pretty sensitive area.


After the screening there was quite a bit of haggling with the taxi drivers who would take this ferry load of passengers to Dahab for L20 - 15 - 13 - 10. This worked out pretty well and I met up with another Kiwi, Barry, and two Aussie girls, Marissa and Elisa, and hung out with them. Barry and I took a hut together for L5 per night and the girls shared another one. These huts we're staying in are real huts, made of bamboo or something like it and with just futons to lie on  - with pillows. They are sub-basic accommodation, but they do have character.




Wandered down to the Shark Club for dinner and had the hugest meal I've ever seen. The dining arrangements are fascinating: it's just a line of cafe-style outdoorsy places all along the waterfront with diwans and low tables. And cats and dogs frolicking and begging and crawling all over the place. I regret that I didn't get a photo of this, it was quite a sight. More character!







I got up early this morning so as to be able to use the toilets and showers before a crowd gathered. This didn't turn out so good. The toilets were all blocked and had neither bidet nor toilet paper. Then I found that the hot water wasn't on so I had to have a cold shower.; and this water was also so hard that I couldn't get a lather on the soap at all. 


Barry ad I buzzed off to Aladdin's for a breakfast of banana and honey pancakes - which were excellent. Following this we wandered around checking out other places to go to stay and trips to St. Catherine. When  we got back Marissa was up and lazing in the outside diwans but Elissa had opted to stay in bed. Marissa had a banana honey pancake and gave Elissa half in bed. That's pretty cool. I doubt whether I could get Barry to do the same for me.


Around lunchtime we wandered to the lighthouse point with the intention of snorkelling, but instead we just lay there in the sun in the sun loungers outside a restaurant. Stayed there for several hours, then the girls left and Barry and I walked back a little later., after a tuna/salami pizza.


Dahab in the day


We met Marissa walking back but Elissa seems to have a bit of a bug. I accompanied Marissa to the restaurant for another banana pancake. After this we all went back to the camp and messed about until dinner time conserving energy until we were due to go to Mt. Sinai. (We'd decided to go on the trip organized by the hotel manager, 'Will Smith' aka Muhammed.) At dinner we were again at the Shark restaurant with all its animals, but this time we were with a bunch of friends and acquaintances whom the other three sort of knew through previous encounters in their travels - in feluccas etc. I was a bit on the outer here but at least I had a good meal. A large dinner plate- sized meat pastie - which I finished. About 11 we dashed off for an extremely uncomfortable taxi to Mt. Sinai (L30.)


This was a very pleasant day spent lazing by the beach and on various cushions Dahab was not spoken of very highly by anyone I'd bumped into, but the experience I had was quite opposed to that word-of-mouth. I found Dahab to be a blessed relief from the constant hawking and begging of the other Egypt - including Hurghada. Dahab was not an interlude I had intended but it's been the best part so far.


Dahab evening







Tramped up Mt. Sinai in the night. The climb was pretty good but the real effort was in the stumbling in the dark. Got to the top about 1:30. Barry and I had raced off way ahead of the rest. When we got to the top it was bitterly cold, so we bought a tea and blankets from the bedouin at the top of the hill. Reasonably priced, too; thanks, I guess to the monks. We slept as best we could on this mountain, curled up on a rock ledge, huddled in my towel, but this wasn't very successful. Still, I wasn't really aware of all the people gathering around me until I 'woke up'. We waited till the sun had risen, and we ooh-ed and aah-ed at it for a little while, then we more or less jogged down the 'Steps of Repentance.'


Sinai night


Sinai day


Steps of Repentance

Marissa, Barry, and Elissa


St. Catherine's was unfortunately closed because of the celebration of the priest's name day. It wouldn't open until 11 am and we were leaving at 10.


St Catherine's Monastery


I got straight into a taxi and headed for Nuweiba and the ferry to Aqaba. I was originally going to go on the slow ferry, but I paid the extra US$10 for the fast cat and I got to Aqaba in about 1 hour. I met a new friend while I was waiting for the cat. A Jordanian chap called Jamal who'd had a bad experience trying to visit Egypt with his brother. I'll give him a call when I get to Amman. He helped me get a taxi into town.