August 16, 2011

Egypt, 1/11/04

The 8th journal entry from my trip to Egypt in 2004.

The 9th was not so much fun -- I was sick all day and did little more than nap in our room, eat a couple of bananas, and finally one last amazing Siwan outing.

We walked to the hill of the dead and looked at the beautiful sights. We saw some Japanese tourists and finally, the group of Italian tourists from the goat dinner came down the hill as well. They raved about the locked tombs, which we wouldn't have seen without their prompt.

They asked if we knew any of the history of the hill, so I attempted to translate the guidebook's explanation for them. Boy has my Italian deteriorated. It's sad. One of the women finally took the book from me and translated the last bits for their group. Watching her, I remembered how much easier it is to translate *into* your native language instead of *out of* it. In hindsight I should have just given them the book and let them ask me about words they didn't know.

After speaking with them, we went to the key-keeper and he took us to each of the locked tombs: one with pictures of Amon, two with mummies and skeletons and one with a picture of crocodiles. R was right when he said it twas too much to get your head around.

The history was ridiculous. The tombs and mummies were ptolemaic and 26th dynasty, the Romans had reused it, and when the Siwans had escaped to the hill during bombings in 1940, they discovered the tombs and lived there for 3 years. Italian Solders excavated many of the paintings for cheap payments to the Siwans after the bombings, and now, in 2004, we were here as tourists.

As we entered, we were invited to tea by another man, Muhammed, who by the looks of it, lived at the hill. The process was slow and careful. First, a fire was stoked in an old blackened half of a radiator. Then, the tea-maker, a blackened metal cup with a twisted wire handle was filled with tea leaves and water and placed on the fire. As it heated, serving glasses (roughly glass shot glasses) and the serving tea pot were washed with water. Muhammed ladled sugar into the serving pot, and added the tea when it boiled over the metal cup. Then, Muhammed poured the tea from the serving pot into one of the glasses in a high, long stream of liquid. The cup of tea was poured back into the pot and this process was repeated several times. Finally, when the tea was cool enough to drink, we were given our cups.

So, there we were, in an excavated tomb, on top of the hill of the dead, overlooking the sunset and enjoying the silence over tea with two men. It was peaceful and wonderful. They offered us food as well, and we tried to say no, but our refusals were ignored. R took a banana and a tangerine. I took a tangerine. They also offered us cigarettes. Unfortunately, the strong tea and acidic tangerine were too much for my stomach, so I had to leave. R followed later after paying baksheesh to both men of 10 EGP each ($1.60 USD, generous by local standards).

Apparently, the men had tried to invite R back for Siwan whiskey after the cop was gone (there was a cop observing our entire visit to the hill of the dead). He laughed and said no.

After the hill of the dead, I slept until it was time to catch the bus. We ended up on a street in the dark with no other bus-riders. Confused, we asked a shopkeeper if the bus came here. He answered yes and a few minutes later brought chairs outside for us to sit on to wait for the bus. We experienced several acts of kindness like this one in Siwa -- they were absolutely charming.

The bus ride was as expected. 9 hours, cold, and uncomfortable. But, the good news is that with the help of Immodium and rest stops, I was able to make the trip successfully.

We arrived at Sidi Gaber in Alexandria around 6 AM. We waded through a million taxi offers to get our bags from the luggage compartment. We trudged through sludge, mud and the people of Alexandria who are in the street at 6 AM (much like the street people of the night in other major cities, they were hungry, huddled, and not interested in us).

We bought our train tickets to Cairo and set out to catch a cab, which in an ironic twist after the throngs of offers earlier was very difficult. Several cabs drove by, but none of them stopped. We guessed it had something to do with the cop in the street, but who knows? Finally, a cab pulled up and nervously stopped, yelling at us to get in on the passenger side. This was the first time we'd seen a cab driver in Egypt concerned about any rules, so we assumed our cop theory was correct.

We checked into the Cecil Hotel for $120 USD (a good rate for us, as the book claimed rates ranged from $130-207). They asked our budget and we said we'd like to spend $120 USD, which they liked. In fact, they upgraded us to an executive suite and we found ourselves in a lovely, well-maintained, European-style room with an oh-so-welcoming western bathroom.

R hadn't slept on the bus, so he immediately went to bed. I showered, took a bubble bath and fell into a restful sleep. We woke around 1 pm and walked to the library. We were informed that it was open at 3 PM, so we went back to the cafe we visited last time and I calmed my stomach with sprite and bread.

While R ate, we made the acquaintance of a Quebecoise pianist who was performing classical music at the library's concert hall the next night. She was adorable and I was sorry that were weren't free to stay for another night to go to her performance.

We bid her farewell and entered the library, checking our bags at the ticket counter. The first thing we saw in the great library of Alexandria was the poster announcing her performance.

The library's greatest asset, to my mind, is the architecture. The stairs mount from the bottom to the top in a series of connected slopes, evocative of a pyramid. The supporting structures and ceiling are a modern blend of curves and angles. The book collection is small for such a large space, but I imagine that in time it will be impressive. The computer terminals were available for free to anyone with tickets, but was blocked. After an hour or so, we left.

Lazily, we walked back toward our hotel. We stopped in an Internet cafe where we used demo copies of Windows XP to check and send email, read the news, etc. Our total visit came to 3 EGP ($0.50).

We continued our walk until we saw a modern cafe where (gasp) women and men were sitting together in both pairs and groups. We entered and they all looked up, but it was not shocked looks we've gotten used to receiving. Instead, they realized we were foreigners and quickly returned to their conversations.

I had another sprite while R snacked on another croissant. He claimed he's over turkish coffee and ordered a capuccino. We briefly returned to the Sanctuary of our room and rested -- R found Italian TV and we laughed at it.

At 8 PM, we followed Lonely Planet's advice and walk to Havanna, "the Best Bar in Egypt" which also served food. It was closed.

So we set out the find Cap D'or, but were not successful. A gentlemen who was following us asked if he could help, saying that he had been in Canada 23 years ago. We followed him for a while, but I became uneasy and when a second gentlemen stepped behind us, I told R. It was probably nothing, but regardless, we thanked him and turned in the opposite direction.

We found our way back to the Corniche and a gorgeous lighted gate supported by pillars was our reward. We took a picture and then walked back toward our hotel with our sights set on another dinner for R at Denis. On the way, we saw a fancy greek-style fish restaurant and decided to go there instead. We were the only patrons seated in the gorgeous room and the service was *superb.* The food was exquisite. R ordered Meyas (which I suspect was Makerel, but I'm not certain), hummous, a greek salad and Heineken (brewed locally). The bread was actually leavened (!) and topped with sesame seeds. I was so excited to see proper bread, especially because I could eat a little bit of it. They brought us babaganoush even though we didn't order it and I made a dinner of my roll with hummous and babaganoush and a beer and a half. I actually felt okay.

We had two servers all to ourselves and they were dedicated, whisking in and out with plates, matches, ashtrays, cups, napkins, drinks, whatever you could possibly want. A camera-touting gentleman took our photo at the table and returned with it in a paper frame 10 minutes later. R bought it for his mother.

We returned to the hotel and I took *another* luxurious bubble bath and slept.

This morning, I woke to my stomach slightly upset, but nothing terrible. Definitely the best I've been feeling since I became ill. I started this entry from our balcony and enjoyed a diet coke while writing it. Also, my fingernails are clean! It's a wonderful thing.

We showered, packed, and took a taxi to the train station where we caught the train to Cairo without too much difficulty. And now, we're speeding towards our last Egyptian adventure -- the Cairo Museum and our last night in Heliopolis.

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