All Aboard

I realize that the people of Egypt are poor, and that I am rich, very rich to almost everyone I have interacted with during my sojourn in Egypt. I have been thankful every day. More thoughts about poverty in Egypt in a blog to come, inshallah.

Upon boarding the Princess Sarah (rated a “luxury” cruise ship, the highest class on the Nile) I was greeted by a man I will call Mohamed. He was the man that booked the cruise for Abdoul, the owner at the Venus Hotel. I surrendered my passport at the front desk for photocopying and looked around. Not a 5 star by western standards, but by Egyptian standards. There are 95 passengers aboard.

My backpack (left the daysack at Venus with all the unneeded crap) was on the floor at the front desk. After stowing my passport, I intentionally reached as though I was going to carry the backpack to my room – just to watch the porter jump at the thought of not getting his tip. I chuckled to myself at how swiftly he jumped. “I just be uh toyin’ with ya, son.”

The backpack was heavier than I planned, since I brought along my own water and vodka, being a spendthrift and refusing to pay $1.60 for a bottle of water or $4.50 a drink aboard when I can have Jimmy or Ali at Venus buy water in a shop for $0.40, and then I can give them $0.50 baksheesh and everyone comes out ahead. If I try to buy a bottle of water in the same store as Jimmy or Ali, I get charged $1.50 for the same water. A beer on the boat, $4.00. Jimmy bought me several for $1.20.

After my backpack was placed in my room, Mohamed said to make myself comfortable, settle in, refresh myself and then meet him in the bar. I smiled, nodded yes, said “Sure, OK.” I closed the door, gave the room a quick look around, put the ‘Do Not Disturb ‘ sign on the door handle and bolted straight for the stairs to the top deck via the door at the end of the hallway. I was not visible from the bar where Mohamed was sitting patiently, expectantly. Again, I chuckled to myself and wondered how long he would sit in the bar and wait for me and then how long it would take him to find me. I knew why he wanted to talk to me.

The Sarah was moored adjacent to another boat that was fast to the shore, so from the starboard side of the deck there was an unobstructed view of the entire river, the West Bank and the Valleys of the Queens and Kings. From the upper deck you can clearly see Theban Peak, the pyramid shaped mountain that is thought to have added a sacred relevance to the burial sites. The great pyramids of Giza preceded the burials at Valley of the Kings and doubtless there is a connection, as Theban looks almost perfectly symetrical in one dimention fromthe distance.

Past the small pool and rows of sun chairs, I moved to the starboard stern railing and watched the feluccas, ferries and other boats plying the mighty Nile at midday. The 62 year old man with a ponytail was playing hide and seek. Find me. I chuckled again at the thought of him looking for me and saying to himself “Where is that fucker?”

There was considerable flotsam, jetsam and paper trash in the river. When the river rises I bet it is full of crap since the banks of all of the interconnected irrigation canals are garbage dumps, like in the US before passage of the EPA and the environmental movement that began in the late 60’s/early 70’s. We take environmental stewardship pretty seriously now in the US but it was not always the case. Egypt is still too poor to care and many waterways are full or trash, especially around Giza.

After about 15 minutes Mohamed finally found me. We made eye contact. “The gig is up.” Sixty feet away he sat down at a table under an umbrella. I was tempted to do the same at the stern and see if he would come closer, but thought I had played with him enough. I walked over to him and stood, in the power position, as he sat. It was rude but I already knew what was coming.

“This tour, that temple, yada, yada, yada. English guide, 4 other Americans, a small personal group. $35.00. Not like the other large groups on the cruise (mostly Japanese. More about them later, as I have 5 days to dissect them and their behaviors) temples very ancient and beautiful.”

I asked how much a horse carriage would be if I did not want a guided tour. “Very expensive, very hard.” I told him I had been all over Luxor in carriages and that I would be just fine, thank you. He again said “very difficult.” I thought “perfect, that is what I like.” Realizing he was loosing the sale he said “If guided tour price is not good, I am willing……” I smiled and said “Maybe tomorrow, insha -allah.”

After several guided tours I found the unescorted wandering at the Dendura Temple most memorable.  It is difficult to concentrate and fully understand what the guide is saying while simultaneously focusing visually on the item being described. It takes too much brain power with a guide. Anyway, been there, done that. I will go solo. It will be more challenging and memorable if I do the “travelers dance” with another carriage driver, or just stay aboard and relax.

After lunch, I ran the gauntlet of touts the four short blocks from the Sarah east to Venus, crossing over the Avenue of Sphinxes, recently discovered and being excavated. The ancient road, 2.5 km long, connects the Temples of Luxor and Karnak (the second largest pharaonic monument in Egypt after the great pyramids of Giza). Buried for centuries, the avenue is being brought back life by demolishing the numerous buildings, homes, churches and sacred mosques that were built above the avenue, then removing hundreds of thousands of tons of rubble that has accumulated 30 feet deep above the avenue.  I have some great pics of the thousands of defaced sphinxes that line the entire route on both sides. It must have been spectacular.

At Venus, I had Ali buy me two 1.5 liter bottles of fresh squeezed orange juice for about $2.00 USD each. Ali is about 14 and the nephew of Abdoul. His father, the older brother of Abdoul, died; I did not ask how or when. Ali speaks very little english and is the general errand boy around the hotel for Abdoul. I then sent Jimmy, another relative of Abdoul, to buy ½ kilo of limes and lemons. Next on the list was canned carbonated pomegranate juice, but Ali did not understand. He followed as I walked to a store to show him what I wanted, 6 cans. If I bought them, $1.00 or 10 Egyptian pounds each. He can buy 3 cans for 10 pounds.

As we were walking back to Venus an argument broke out 10 feet from the door to Venus. An old man with a horse and carriage had parked on the street outside the photographer’s studio next to Venus. Rapidly the situation became heated, very heated. People stopped, gathered and stared. In less than a minute there were dozens people gawking in the crowd. I stood safely on the doorstep of Venus and watched. A woman got involved – she was an Orthodox Christian as was the studio owner. The old man, sitting in his buggy, was screaming and the studio owner was screaming. Soon ten people were screaming at each other. I wondered how it would turn out, but I had no idea about the issue or what was being said.

Abdoul, tall, confident, always smiling – the benefactor/mentor/surrogate father of Ali and the caretaker/friend/negotiator for abackpackandadaysack intervened like an experienced , mature statesman. Men tried to pull the horse away by the halter. The horse would not budge without the old man’s command from the reigns. I watched as Abdoul gently touched several men on the shoulder, the arm and once even on the butt. Slowly the yelling and tension subsided.. Abdoul continued his diplomatic efforts. Eventually, the conflict was resolved and the crowd dispersed.

I watched and thought about the United States. Someone would have thrown a punch, pulled a knife or fired a gun; but now all those involved in the argument were smiling.

I sat in the hotel lobby as Abdoul entered. “What was that about, please tell me.”

The Christian studio owner did not like having the horse parked on the doorstep of his studio, leaving piles of smelly horse shit and a big puddle of horse piss. The owners of the carriages never clean up the shit; none of them do anywhere in Luxor. You must constantly watch where you walk. This the reason everyone takes off their shoes upon entering a home in second and third world countries. Horse, donkey, sheep, goat, pig, chicken, dog shit is ubiquitos.

Wish I had the inet to up load pics. Even in remote areas of Nepal I could up load pics. Someday soon I will, inshallah.

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