Breaking my own rules, I went backwards to save money…best laid plans:( I have tried never to go anywhere that I have been before on this trip. That being said, I find that when I do go against my self imposed restrictions I usually end up enjoying myself, and this was no exception. I was invited to stay with a family in Luxor and found cheap flights there and also cheaper flights to Buenos Aires. The problem occurred when Hamdi’s wife and baby had to suddenly return to England due to her mom being sick. It’s a conservative world in Egypt and there was no way I could stay alone with him so my friends secured a flat for me. This actually turned out to be awesome. A large 2 bedroom with living room, kitchen, bath and a huge veranda all to myself. These deluxe accommodations cost me a whopping $24 a day…perfect!
As usual, I was off to a good start. Upon arriving in the Cairo airport, I went to the coffee shop and bought two little bottles of wine and water after passing the first two check points. I forgot that they actually have another checkpoint right at the gate as you board (the only place I’ve seen this). Of course my wine and water were not allowed and I embarrassingly emptied the contents of my backpack holding up the line while the rest of the passengers watched:( I then go downstairs to wait with everyone else. I meet the nicest American couple with their 9 year old daughter. They ask me if I’m leaving because of the bomb. I, of course, have no idea what they are talking about. They inform me that just a few hours earlier the Italian consulate in Cairo had been bombed. Yikes! So I’m still processing this startling news and the next thing I know the security guard that absconded with my wine was at my side and asking me to go back upstairs with him. OMG…I’m in trouble now, I thought. There are two guards and they ask me if I want my wine back. Well of course I’m beyond thrilled and say yes. No jail time plus I get my wine back:) They motion that It will be our little secret, all the while smiling and being very nice. Then the guard encourages me to give the other guard money…a bribe! So I have no clue how much to give him and only have larger bills since I just went to the ATM…suffice it to say, that was some of the most expensive wine I’ve ever drank.
I finally get to Luxor and all is well. I am there during the last week of Ramadan which proves to be interesting. Ramadan is the period where Muslims fast for 30 days. They cannot eat or drink during the day. Even water is not allowed. They can usually begin eating around 7:00 pm (the time varies depending on where you are from sunset to dawn) until 3:00 am. For most of them that are able, they sleep during the day and stay up all night. It is so quiet during the day, not to mention HOT! So this works out for them. For me, well, I could never fully adapt:)
It was great to see my Luxor friends again and as usual they took very good care of me. Khaled insisted on taking me to the market to get some grocery supplies. I told him I could make it on my own but actually it was a good thing he went with me. Suffice it to say the system there is a little different:) You grab a bag and put all the different fruits you want in the same bag and they weigh the bag and charge you. I almost made the dreadful mistake of putting some vegetables in the fruit bag…they of course go in a separate bag:) There seems to be no premium price on any particular fruit or vegetable which I thought was strange. At least I have things to eat while everyone else is starving:)
The first night I went to the coffee shop with Hamdi, Khaled and Mussa. This is really just tables and chairs spread around outside on the grass. As usual I’m the only woman anywhere in sight. I had decided that my first morning I would go jogging. They told me that women didn’t run in Luxor and I told them that this woman did. I woke up early around 5:30 and put on my spandex shorts, purple t-shirt and tennis shoes…this is akin to being naked in Egypt:) I thought since it was so early I would not see many people. Well it turns out all the women I didn’t see at night at the coffee shop were up early walking about and doing their chores. I braced myself for the reaction from the first woman I went by and surprisingly she smiled at me, said something in Egyptian to me that I didn’t understand and started laughing. I could tell she was being friendly. The same thing occurred with several other women…it was a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately it was also the last time I ran in Luxor because I didn’t get up early enough to go again and by 8:00 am it is blistering hot. Maybe that’s why women don’t run:) Another day I walked around by myself outside and in a very short time frame ran into large amounts of smiling children, met Muhammed Ali and his camel Bob Marley…he also showed me his chicken and ducks and where he made bread. I finally get away and end up meeting his brother Accacia. He also has a camel named William Shakespeare and ask if he can walk with me…He of course has ulterior motives so I finally shake him and run in to the most lovely girl named Amira. I later find out she’s 15 years old. She’s excited to see me and invites me to tea even though it’s Ramadan and she can’t drink tea during the day. I politely decline but promise to come another time. I did end up returning after Ramadan and enjoyed tea with her and her family.
The only horrible thing I saw while in Luxor was some children abusing a donkey. They first hit the poor thing with sticks and then began to throw rocks at it and at one point even a piece of brick. I ran down stairs and into the street shouting no and then realized they didn’t speak english. I started saying la (no in Egyptian) and then smiled at each of them and shook their hands. I tried to tell them they were breaking my heart and to be nice to the donkey but I’m sure they didn’t understand me. When I ran into my friends that evening I made them teach me the Egyptian phrase, “Please don’t hurt the donkey.” What is it about donkeys in the world? They truly are the beast of burden and I have witnessed their mistreatment all over the place. They work so hard for humans and these same people abuse them. I just don’t get it. As I told Robert in Spain…I’m pretty sure our future holds a donkey and a monkey in it:)
I kind of became a bit of a hermit while in Luxor. It’s just so hot during the day I couldn’t go out, when I did venture out I would sweat profusely:( I don’t know how they wear all those clothes. At night I would usually meet up with my friends. One night they came to the house and cooked dinner for me. I told them I would cook but that my skills weren’t great. They said they would cook. I guess when you don’t get to eat all day, you want to be guaranteed an edible meal at sunset. Anyway it was fun to have them all in the kitchen of my flat cooking while I peeled, chopped and sweated:) We ate dinner on the floor of the veranda on a rug…awesome!
One day Mussa (who, for unknown reasons, everyone calls the King:) took me to meet his family. This was such an honor for me. I entered his home and his family welcomed me with open arms. I had sisters and nieces all over me. So sweet. We walked to a back room and there I was introduced to his mother. She was sitting on a concrete floor with an old friend smoking a water pipe. They asked me to join them in smoking sheesha…whatever that is:) How could I refuse? I don’t think I did it right and they all laughed. She was so sweet. We took his beautiful wife and adorable 1 1/2 year old daughter to the pharmacy. It was so nice to be around some women, even if only for a short while.
Close to the last day in Luxor, Khaled, Mussa and Mustafe took me sailing on the Nile. So beautiful and so much fun. Surprisingly they all went swimming in their underwear. I told them I wanted to swim too and they all looked horrified. Khaled asked me if I was going to swim in my underwear. To allay their fears I dived into the water with all my clothes on. My mistake is that I jumped out from the boat and started to swim. I kept trying to make my way back to the boat but the current was so strong that I could not make any headway. I was getting exhausted and the boat was not getting any closer. Finally it was Mussa that came to my rescue. He told me to swim towards the reeds and there he grabbed me and helped me back to the boat…basically, the King saved my life:)
My cheap plane flew out of Hurghada on the Red Sea. Mussa and Khaled drove me the three hours there and we got to sit on the beach and watch my final sunset in Egypt. My plane left late at night. They had an apartment of a friend they would stay in for the night and they got take out and again we enjoyed our last meal together sitting on the patio floor on a rug. The favorite part of my travels has been when I really get to connect with the locals and learn a little bit about their culture. I was treated like a queen in Egypt. I so enjoyed my time with these wonderful people….again:)
From Egypt…treated like the Queen of the Nile and saved by the King…not bad for going backwards:)