Sunday, July 22, 2007

Egypt: Camels and Taxis and Buses, Oh My!

We landed safely in Cairo and even saw the pyramids in the sunset from our plane. Just like in Vegas! We were quickly introduced to the wildest experience that Egypt has to offer: that of a taxi into downtown. It's a wild ride of congestion, honking, and exhaust in the 90+ degree heat with zero attention paid to lanes, pedestrians, stoplights, or other deadly hazards. Fun!

In Cairo we smoked the sheesha from a hookah in a rooftop bar, ate our weight in babagnoush, and spent an afternoon deciphering the Arabic in the Egyptian Museum. It's just like Indiana Jones promised: full of sealed wooden crates (maybe one has the ark?), mummies, King Tut's death mask, and other treasures of the earth. A highlight was being in the mummy room when they wheeled in a new addition (no joke!). We saw them shuffle female Pharaoh Hatshepsut (who has been dead since 1458 BC) over to make room for a new discovery they found buried in the basement: her liver and a tooth in a keepsake box. We felt badly for this incredibly important woman who has been reduced to a sign that reads that she died 'overweight and with bad teeth.'

Next we hopped a 7-hour (supposedly) bus to Mt. Sinai made all the more exciting when it broke down, and we spent 3 hours in a sweltering garage watching the driver and mechanic climb halfway into the engine (never letting go of their cigarettes, of course). By the time we got moving it was too late for the bus to stop for food, so Eric nearly gnawed off his arm as we went nearly 12 hours without food after a breakfast of Egyptian hotdog buns. But we did make some friends en route. Nothing like 90-degree weather in an oily pitstop in the middle of nowhere to make you feel close.

After 3 hours of sleep, we got up at 2:30am to begin climbing Mt. Sinai to view the sunrise where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments. It was a surreal warm night under the stars watching a bobbing line of headlamps and camels as more than 500 people pilgramaged their way up to the peak. It was a fascinating mix of Japanese choir singers, Nigerian prayer groups, and camel-riding Russians at the top. We descended the Steps of Repentance down to St. Katherine's Monastery, the oldest continually functioning monasteries in the world (founded in 330 AD) and home to the burning bush and many sacred texts. It's chapel is one of the only surviving churches from early Christianity. The museum was fascinating, but ironically much of the collection was on loan to the Getty Museum in L.A. We wonder if the bus ride to Los Angeles is as fraught with as much excitement and police checkpoints as that to St. Katherine's. Come to think of it, maybe...

We are currently sweating profusely in Dahab on the Red Sea. Getting here was another adventure unto itself, as the bus service was cancelled due to mechanical problems, and we aligned ourselves with two feisty European ladies studying Arabic in Cairo who refused to budge on cab fare negotiations. It became a battle of wills against us and the cabbies as to who was willing to wait it out the longest. The whole mess ended with a visit to the Tourist Police, but long story short we made it to Dahab in time to relax on seaside cushions while enjoying a beer and gazing across the sea at Saudi Arabia. The requisite Bob Marley and Jack Johnson were on the stereo, while lanterns swung under palm trees. Dahab is a backpackers bohemia, and an international mix of divers and travelers are strewn about on pillows night and day, smoking sheesha and playing backgammon.

Thus far, we haven't met much in the way of Americans. It's been quite an international mix, but English has remained the common language amidst all the foreign tongues. Eric has been asked if he was Norwegian and is now proudly calling himself Eric Erickson.

Next stop is the Nile River Valley to see if we can uncover the next tomb of treasures!

2 comments:

Dan said...

one hump or two? ha ha. sorry.

Rod said...

Hey,

I'm a friend of Cat K's. It's now close to the middle of August, and you haven't posted. This must be either because you've been badly disabled in a taxi accident in Egypt, or because Uganda has less than adequate internet connectivity. Either way, I'm looking forward to reading your blog as you go about your adventuring, I hope things are well for you soon. :)

-Rod H