Monday, May 26, 2008

Do you have the money?

Saturday morning found us in good spirits. We’d seen the best of Cairo, entered a pyramid, eaten a good lunch, and experienced a dinner for the ages. So with all that under our belts, we were ready for a domestic Air Egypt flight.

And the Maginot Line was ready for the German Army.

At nine in the morning we met the third Naggar Dwarf, Greedy. Whatever the word is that means “grasping, shifty-eyed, unfriendly son of a bitch” he was that. His travel agent training appeared to consist of shaking us down for money.

Here’s the deal: there was this extra excursion to Abu Simbel on the next to last day. We all knew we had to pay extra for it, 85 euros for the bus or 175 euros for the plane. The moment we get into the Australia Bus of Doom and go hurtling through Cairo traffic, he turns around and says “You know you have to pay extra to go to Abu Simbel, yes?”

“We have a question,” I said as the group spokesperson. “What time do you leave if you take the plane, and what time do you leave if you take the bus?”

His response: “Same time. 85 euros for the bus, 175 for the plane. Do you have the money?”

I say: “Okay, I understand. Let us talk about it.”

He says: “You can discuss it. Do you have the money?”

He then said, every two minutes, “Do you have the money?”

Remember that the drive to the airport takes an hour.

When we finally got to the airport, Chester was pissed. We got out of the bus and Greedy asked us “Do you have the money?”

Chester asked for a receipt, and Greedy told him “we don’t give receipt. When you paid for the dinner yesterday, you didn’t get a receipt, did you?”

“That dinner was inedible!” Chester said, apparently having been embarrassed last night that his wife was not a pussy. “If I don’t get a receipt I don’t pay!”

Then he stormed off, leaving me with Greedy. “I’m gonna take a chance,” I paid Greedy the money. “But remember that I’ll be flying back through Cairo in a few days.”

“No problem!” Greedy jumped in the bus and sped away. He never once asked me my name.

So there’s 170 euros flushed down the toilet, I’m thinking.

We went through the Cairo Airport security, which consisted of a group of guards waving you through the shrieking metal detector and an old beggar woman trying to guess your language and plead for money, and found ourselves waiting for the flight to Luxor.

Not that you could tell from the only domestic departure gate, which had one sign that read “ASWAN 11:00” on it.

There were no announcements, but occasionally groups of people would stand up and leave. It was like everybody was hooked into this neural network but us and somehow knew when to get on the bus.

Eventually a big group of English-speaking tourists headed to Luxor banded together to make sure that they couldn’t leave us behind without facing major trouble. With so many hostile Anglophones (as well as six confused Chinese guys), eventually they loaded us up on a bus, drove us fifteen feet, and let us get on a plane. Even better, the plane went to Luxor, which is where the boat was waiting.

There was never any announcement. Apparently local flights are handled by first angry mob come, first angry mob serve.

In Luxor, we meet Naggar Dwarf #4, Smelly. He was a nice guy, really helpful, but he could have used a squirt of deodorant. From a fire hose. For an hour.

(Small side note: in Egypt your bags arrive promptly, about ten minutes after you get off the plane. This despite the fact that it’s six hundred and forty two degrees out on the tarmac. In Atlanta it takes two hours for your bags to come up in customs, with some jackass giving you excuses all the while. And in Europe you’re lucky to see your bags the same day you arrive and there’s nobody around to help you, although there are roving bands of teens to rob you. Which of those places is the third world, again?)

Smelly quickly and efficiently conveyed us to the pier at Luxor, where our boat was waiting. It was more like an armada; there were about ten boats moored side by side, and we had to walk from one boat to another to finally reach ours, the Movenpick Royal Lotus Deluxe. Yeah, it’s a long name. I’ll just call it the SS Lotus.

The Lotus was actually a very nice boat. The first thing Wifey saw when we came on board was the deluxe ice cream menu, listing all kinds of delicious ice cream floats, shakes, sundaes, and other delicacies. She announced, “screw it, I’m eating one of those later.” I agreed and became so excited to eat a float I took a picture of the plastic ice cream demonstration on the bar.

I’ll say this much for the boat: it was nice. From the six-foot-deep pool (at least as long as three bathtubs) to the rec center to the wide-open bar, it’s a nice ship. I wouldn’t hesitate to ride on it again, if I were ever to go back to Egypt to take a Nile Cruise.

After a brief rest on the boat, we were off on our tour of the Karnak temples. When we assembled in the lounge, we met the other eight members of our tour group (in addition to Chester and Susan).

Our group ended up being the four of us, four Australians, two kiwis, and two Canadians who were bronzed like Greek Gods. They’d spent two weeks in Sinai, apparently at low heat for 8 hours a day. It was a good group and we quickly introduced ourselves and promptly forgot names.

Our guide, a very nice young man who wore jeans despite the fact that it tickled a hundred degrees everywhere we went, took us around the Luxor temples. Since it was the Temple of Karnak, I decided to do a bit from Johnny Carson:

“The answer is: ice at an Egyptian bistro. The question: what’s overpriced and full of intestinal worms?”

Without Ed McMahon’s chuckle it really doesn’t work that well.

Did you know that the ancient Egyptian priests used to carry these big, heavy gold statues of their gods down this giant causeway that stretched several kilometers? No offense, but I’d start worshiping the Balsa Wood God if I had to lug it in 110 degree heat twice a year. I guess that’s why I’m not a member of any mystery religions.

After the temples we saw the Colossi of Memnon, which I’ll put a picture of in later. Amazingly nobody in the group but me was hot to see it. I tried to pep everybody up, telling them that these statues were Antiquity’s equivalent of a Burrito with the face of Mary, Mother of Jesus, but the only person to get out of the bus to look at them was the Canadian woman, and she’d have taken a picture of a donkey turd if the guide pointed it out.

Of course, she’d have to get in line behind me. My motto is “there’s one for the album!”

Finally, we ended up back at the boat, hot, sweaty, and tired. Dinner was a buffet affair, which Wifey was thrilled with. She chose chicken, which prompted Chester to ask “do you ever eat anything but chicken?”

She smiled at him and said, “Whose dinner sucked last night again?”

Since we were on a cruise, after dinner they’d arranged for top-notch entertainment, a belly dancer/dervish combo to highlight the joy of traditional Egyptian entertainment.

As a special surprise, they’d trained a hippo to belly dance. Okay, not really, but she was a bit more zaftig than your traditional belly dancer. The ill-fitting body stocking didn’t help, either. It was almost punishment to wait through the thirty minutes of caterwauling music and repetitive boob-shaking, and not in the stripper-gyrating-on-a-pole good way.

I thought the entertainment couldn’t go downhill, but then the dervish started. He came out dressed in hot pink with various splotches of neon green and yellow on these long, black skirts. I tried to be nonjudgmental, but dang.

He must have spun for about an hour. At one point he was twirling this multicolored skirt over our heads, and somebody flashed a camera, causing a strobe effect that set off my wife’s epilepsy. She spent the rest of the performance with her eyes closed trying not to vomit and occasionally foaming at the mouth.

Needlessly to say, this is not conducive to intimacy.

So late that night, I pushed the beds together (even on the boat it’s Fred and Wilma Flintstone!) and we drifted off to sleep.

Our third day in Egypt, largely a success.

Tomorrow: the boat actually moves!

1 comment:

Kate said...

Perhaps you should have told 'em about those Pole Dance Classes the advertise online. I hear it does wonders for those extra 'shake' areas. :)