After an hours sleep. I got up for a twelve-hour train to Aswan. Aswan is stinking hot. Around 40 to 50 degrees most days at this time of year.
After an hours sleep. I got up for a twelve-hour train to Aswan. Aswan is stinking hot. Around 40 to 50 degrees most days at this time of year.
I saw the pyramids on the Giza Plateau. I hugged the pyramids. I climbed the pyramids and I walked through the pyramids into a burial chamber. I have wanted to do this since I first found out about their existence as a kid. I was beyond stoked.
By the time I got back from Giza at nine I was in definite need of a cold beer so a Norwegian guy called Karl and I set out to find a few cold bevies. Our search led us to a grubby Egyptian character that knew where an off licence with a fridge was.
I return for this valuable information we had to return the favour. You see his ‘brother’ was having a ‘wedding’ the ‘next day’ and he needed our help to purchase some foreign alcohol from the Sheraton in Cairo. In short he wanted to take advantage of our duty free allowance to buy some foreign piss because all the stuff you can buy locally makes petrol taste good. He offered to pay for all of our taxis and I couldn’t see any way of getting scammed (and it was going to lead to cold beer!) so we figured what the heck. 20 minutes later we were outside the Sheraton meeting Grubby’s so called brother who was a fat well dressed Egyptian man. The fat man led us into the duty free shop where he maxed out my duty free allowance on alcohol and cigarettes and paid for everything with cash from a fat roll of Egyptian notes. They couldn’t use Karl’s allowance as he had been in the country too long, which didn’t please the fat man at all. Outside again the fat man was barely bothering to keep up the pretence of the wedding story and when he opened the boot of his Mercedes it was full of bags just like the one he just bought with my passport. By this stage the ‘brothers’ were having a heated discussion as they renegotiated Grubby’s fee because of the inability to use of Karl’s passport. We didn’t give a fuck though as we were on our way to the cold beer shop :)
Back at the hostel we joined a group of travellers and settled in for a beer or two. The most interesting character in the group was an Egyptian guy who owned the hostel. He told us that he is loaded and that he is a doctor during the day and that he only set up the hostel because he saw what a rough deal the travellers in Cairo were getting and he wanted to help us out. These stories turned out to be what are called ‘Egyptian lies’ which basically means that he was full of shit. Soon it turned out that nearly every bastard in the circle has a small stash of marijuana and the joints start circulating with alarming regularity. In no time at all I am stoned as fuck and was the weakest link (goodbye). Some time after this Doctor’s minder leaves to pick up his ‘girlfriend’. Now I could be wrong on this because of my diminished mental state and because most of it happened in Arabic but I swear the Minder was popping out to pick up a hooker for the Doctor. Thirty minutes later the Minder turns up with this tartly as looking Thai woman and the first thing she says is “Hero Doctor”. I nearly cried and I looked at Karl who was laughing too but I have no idea if it was for the same reason. Around 5am I go to bed and the Asian lady has long since gone having not left the smokers circle with the Doctor or anyone.
Arrived in Cairo at 3am. Was on the lookout for hotel touts at the airport because Lonely Planet advised they work for huge commissions, which are included in the cost of your room. I was very surprised to run into them before I cleared customs. This basically means that the first big scam you come across in Egypt is sanctioned by the Egyptian Government. Not a good sign at all.
Chose the cheapest accommodation out of the Lonely Planet, which turns out to be a mistake. The place looks like it is about to collapse. The only other person there is a guy called James from Florida who tried everywhere else in a ten block radius first. We agree to seek a more suitable place first thing in the morning. By 9am our packs are relocated to a much more stable hotel.
I spent the day trying to sort out some of my visa woes (Saudi Arabia) to no avail and exploring Cairo. I probably walked around 40 kilometres and ran into the only other person I know in Egypt at this point in time, terrible Teryle. How freaky is that. During my travels I found a massive second hand book market with tens of thousands of books, many of which are in English. Despite looking through every bookstall I fail to find a copy of the Lord of the Rings to read before the movie comes out at Christmas. The search isn’t aided by the fact that none of the booksellers read, let alone speak any English so they are all in huge random piles. This doesn’t stop any of the Egyptians trying to sell me a book or two. One guy was particularly good. He would pick up a dusty old novel from the top of one of the piles and read the name of the author on the sly. Then he wound say “What about Mark Thornton?” or some other author nobody has ever heard of. This was followed by “He is pretty famous you know”. When I said no he would repeat the process with another equally unknown, unfamous author. Very fucking funny to watch.
That night we went to some Sufi dancing. This is dancing and music done by people from one of the weirder Islamic sects. It is free so demand is high and we ended up having to bribe our way to the front of the queue for 20 Egyptian pounds each. We were pretty chuffed with ourselves about the scam (when in Rome after all) when the entire rest of the queue were let in free of charge 15 minutes later. It was all worth it in the end as the music and dancing was really mental and everyone including the performers had a blast. The highlight was a dancer who spun on the spot for over 30 minutes while everything went mad around him.
Arrived in Tunis and am more than ready to get to Egypt and see the pyramids etc. Found out that the cheapest flight out of Tunis was with Egypt air at 8.45 tonight. A spot of luck. Until I tried to pay with my HSBC visa and was rejected. 25 Pounds worth of heated phone calls to the HATED STEALING BASTARDS CORPORATION themselves revealed that they have not being paying my visa off in full at the end of each month, as I asked them to before I left for Morocco. Very poor service indeed. It took twenty-five pounds of long distance phone calls to sort it out.
I quite like the local music but I realise how much I have been missing western music when the email place in Tunis put on some Craig David and I thought to myself “yeeeeeeeeeess”. Strange days indeed.
End up doing a half day tour of the local waterfalls, oasis and canyons etc, which are all choked to the limits with tourists. At the first stop I count over 100 four-wheel drives. End up back at the luxuriant Hotel Sofitel Palm Beach because if feel like another swim (also the creepy guy was pacing around outside my room).
In the evening I amuse myself with the locals in the evening by playing a couple of the locals favourite games. The first is “where you from?” which goes like this. They open with the line “hello my friend” which you are supposed to ignore because they are not your friend at all. After an initial pause whilst they realise that you have played “where you from” about 1000 times before they make a guess as to where you are from. For some reason I often get “Dutch” first followed by “English” or “American”. If they correctly guess where you are from correctly they get to try to sell you something from their shop. If they don’t get it right then you get to keep ignoring them if you should so wish. I am exceptionally good at this game and although I’m not really sure how the scoring works I think I might be the all Tozeur champ at the moment.
The other game the locals play is “where are the Tunisian women at?” this involves sitting around in the local coffee shops with large groups of Tunisian guys and wondering where all the local chicks are. During the day they make up less than the 20 percent of the street traffic and they all but disappear at night. I have to admit that I am more than a little crap at this game, as I have no idea at all where the local chicks might be. This is more than a little disappointing because as far as I can tell several hundred years of interbreeding with the Spanish, French and Italians to name a few have left some incredibly fit genes lying around.
Caught the overnight bus back to Tunis.
Up early again to louge to the desert oasis’s of Tozeur. Tozeurs 10 acres of palm trees are fed by over 200 springs that pump out over 60 million litres of water a day. I discover that dates come from palm trees. I’m not sure where I used to think they came from but it sure as hell wasn’t palm trees.
On arrival at my hotel one of the (creepy male) guests makes a pass at me. He hardly speaks any English and even after I explain about my ‘long term girlfriend’ he insists on hanging around outside my room while I sort my pack out.
I have been making the most of my newfound coffee pricing information. The local coffee shop owners obviously resent the fact that I am part of the secret Tunisian coffee club. They are so bitter in fact that I now watch them make the coffee whenever I order one. Alone again for just one day and already the paranoia has started.
Have been in Tozeur for 3 hours and already I have seen everything there is to see including the cool Dar Charait Museum. And on top of that I have got totally out of it on caffeine and done the tacky postcard thing. To make matters worse I am now gagging for a swim. Luckily Tozeur’s beautiful surroundings make it a prime stop on the Tunisia resort trail, which means that it comes with a full quota of luxury resorts – with luxury resort swimming pools. A brisk walk along the zone touristic reveal any number of choice locations just lining up to soak the skinny bald ones body. Polite enquires to a couple reveal that pools are for residents only and with rooms starting around 100 quid that’s a little over my budget.
Noticing that the next resort along, Hotel Sofitel Palm Beach, is the flashest place in town (and remembering my success with the luxuriant bogs in the hotel Sofitel Diwan in Rabat) I decide on a change of tactics. I stroll in like I own the place even though I am dressed in stinky sandals, baggy and dirty shorts, a black t-shirt with FREAK emblazoned across the front in huge white letters and a floppy hat. Pausing briefly in reception to suss the joint out (under the guise of looking at post cards) and make sure that the staff are all suitably distracted and I’m off up to the swimming pool where I confidently take a deck chair front and centre. Now I only have two hurdles left. I don’t speak anything other than English so if they speak to me in any way, even to offer me a drink, then they will know I am not with any of the tour groups in the hotel and the game will be up (I haven’t seen a single English tour group in Tunisia yet). The second hurdle is that I don’t have a swimsuit, so I have to swim in my boxer shorts, which could give me up as most punters in a 130 quid a night hotel can afford a swimming costume. A quick scan of the pool reveals some just plain embarrassing swimwear from the Europeans (Italians I think) present. If anything my boxes will look too normal. Sorted. 3 hours later I walk out the front door under my own steam (as opposed to being thrown out) complete with photo taken by a member of staff of self standing by pool in a black t-shirt with FREAK emblazoned across the front in huge white letters.
Disappointing news at Gabes. The Libyan tour guy is no fucking help at all. He says that there is no way to get visas unless we are in London and trying to bribe a border guard would be very silly indeed.
Thomas and I head down to Matmata to see the famous restaurant/hotel that was used for Luke’s uncles’ house in the film Star Wars. After that it’s back to Gabes Gabes Gabes (again) and we went our separate ways. I headed off to Tatouine to see some Berber hilltop Ksours (forts).
By 5pm I was racing along a desert highway which looks like somewhere in Arizona in a beat up old French car listening to Arab pipe music. I haven’t slept in 33 hours and the whole scene has quite a surreal feel to it. Both the Chenini and Douret Ksours are totally out of this world.
Today we adopt two Greek girls, a Scot and a Tunisian guy and head off to the beach. There are too many of us to sneak into the resort part of the beach. Especially since we have a local lad with us. The resorts make it especially clear that the locals are not welcome on the nice part of the beach. Our attempt to walk the shore front looking for a less well guarded resort nearly results in blows so we head for the public part of the beach where a good day is had by all regardless.
The Scot, Thomas, turns out to be particularly good value. He has been in Tunisia for three weeks and his stories of the Tunisian scams are funny and run along similar lines to mine. The only difference is that Thomas speaks French and has managed to get by on about 5-10 pounds a day compared to my 20. He let me in on a few secrets, like coffee should only be 10p not the 25-100p that I have been paying. I feel like a very gullible tourist twat indeed.
Back at the hostel Thomas and I are invited drinking with some Libyans at one of the resorts. The ‘disco’ is only a quarter full and 90 percent of the punters are local guys. The women fall into two groups. The very young and the middle aged. Both groups are making short work of the locals (or is it the other way around) and tongues are flying.
We strike it lucky with the Libyans, as they are able to give us the number of a Libyan tour operator who will be able to help us with Libyan visas. This is especially good for me, as it will save me 200 quid on a flight from Tunis to Cairo.
We get in so late there is no point in going to sleep so we pack and catch a 7am louge to Gabes Gabes Gabes.
Transferred to the Auberge des Junes first thing in the morning and arrange to spend the day at one of the resort beaches with a 6’1″ German girl who works at the hostel. The beaches in Jerba are strictly divided amongst the resorts that line the beaches with a shitty bit left over for the locals. Fortunately Karen and I are able to use our distinctly western looks to cruise up to one of the nicer bits and help ourselves to a couple of deck chairs and an umbrella.
A cruisey day all in all and I had to laugh when Karen tells me that her boyfriend is so insecure that he rings her every single day for a talk. Getting back to the hostel the hostel owner stares at me like I have fucking his daughter. Apparently the German boyfriend has rung twice. I suspect tonight’s talk is going to be a long one :)