Thursday, May 29, 2008

Egypt: Even the Horses are Sick

Miraculously, the morning found both Wifey and myself in decent shape and ready to go. Unfortunately, the inebriated old man who lost at potato racing (who was in our group of 12) was stricken ill and sent his regrets and his wife.

That morning we were going to go see the temple at Edfu, the most well-preserved of all the ancient temples. As a special treat, the guide had arranged for horse-drawn carriages to take us there.

On the gangplank out of the ships, one of our tour group had what can kindly be described as a hissy fit over the treatment of animals in Egypt and the horses in particular. Declaring us all monsters for supporting the torture of these noble beasts, she ended up storming back into the boat and refusing to accompany us. Our group was further reduced, from 11 to 10.

Suddenly Agatha Christy’s “Ten Little Indians” came into my head, and I vowed that I would be the one who survived and returned to the boat, even if I had to do it riding the corpses of the other tour members.

If possible, I further resolved to keep Wifey alive with me. But I didn’t want to set my goals too high.

Just before we got into the carriage (which looked like a cross between a 1970’s pimpmobile and a Venetian gondola), the guide gave us our instructions:

“The ride costs twenty Egyptian pounds, per carriage. Not per person. Do not give the driver any money until we get back to the boat, or you will have to walk back. Have a good time.”

Our driver looked like an Egyptian version of Fat Albert. I pity the poor horse that had to take us all to the temple, but it actually looked like it was in okay shape.

I don’t know what they feed the horses in Egypt, but based on the smell, I would believe that it’s Beefaroni. And you do not want to be behind a horse that’s been eating Beefaroni. Unfortunately, if you ride in a horse-drawn carriage, you must be behind the horse. That’s kind of the idea.

Once there, the driver took a photo of the three of us sitting in the carriage (Wifey, me, and the wife of the drunken guy from the potato race). Once he’d done that, he asked for his Bakshish (this means tip).

Mindful of the guide’s warnings, I told him “when I get back to the boat, I’ll take care of you.” He didn’t seem too happy as we sprinted away. I was just glad to be away from the flies and stink of horse.

Please think of the children and donate freely

Here’s something you need to know when you visit Egyptian temples: the greatest of all Egyptian gods was Trinketta, whom they worshipped by setting up a long string of stalls full of knock-off crap from China. As you walk through this long string of stalls you will be accosted by all kinds of sellers, who will use a wide variety of methods to entice you.

I don’t begrudge these guys their living; after all, I purchased quite a few gewgaws and trinkets on my journey. But they’re very aggressive, and it gets tiring as you go through them day after day.

As we passed, one of them tried the old “hey, what’s your name?” routine. They can do this in multiple languages (French, English, German, and Spanish) so dodging through language doesn’t work.

So I decided to try the direct approach. “I’m Dick Force, and this is my wife, Pussy Galore. This is our friend, Tittius Maximus.” Fortunately he didn’t realize that Wifey was doubled over laughing at this point.

“I am Ahmed, Mr. Force. Can I interest you in something?”

I picked up a carved beetle that I’m pretty sure was pressed stone shavings. “Is this real stone?”

“Oh yes, from the granite quarries. It is one hundred and fifty Egyptian pounds, Mr. Force.”

I nodded. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll pay a hundred and fifty pounds, but only if I get to break it with a hammer. If it’s powdered stone on the inside, I then get to hit you with the hammer. Deal?”

“Um, perhaps a hundred pounds, Mr. Force?”

“No deal,” I handed him the statuette. “Five pounds and no hammer, or a hundred and fifty pounds with hammer. That’s the deal.”

“It cost me thirty to purchase, Mr. Force!”

“You were robbed, my friend.” I turned to go. “I bet Pussy here could squeeze ten of those out for a dollar.”

I walked away, with Wifey trying hard not to piss her pants. “You’re an evil man, you know that?” said the other woman.

“You must be hard to be a potato racing champion,” I told her.

This is stone; the trinkets, not so much

The temple itself is, indeed, massively impressive. There are carvings about a hundred feet high of Pharaoh holding enemies up by their hair, and the inside detail is truly awe-inspiring. I don’t know how those ancient Egyptians built all this stuff, but I suspect it has something to do with the lack of an Egyptian OSHA.

As we wandered through the temple, our guide was sure to point out how groundwater seepage is slowly causing problems, and said that “in the future Egypt will need technical and financial assistance from the other nations of the world to save our shared human heritage.”

Yeah, I notice that there’s no line item in the US budget for “Tourist Profit Sharing” from Egypt. Is it too much to ask that you reinvest some of your own money saving this “worldwide” human heritage? Or is that culturally small-minded of me?

We went back to the boat in the midmorning, and I actually paid the carriage driver 30 Egyptian pounds: 20 for the ride and 10 for the picture. I think he took back whatever curses he’d made about me earlier. I also told him to invest in horse deodorant, or at least giant pampers. He just smiled and nodded. Then I waded through the cigarette sellers back to the boat.

Small digression: everyone in Egypt smokes. I mean, everybody. I even took up smoking while I was there just to fit in. There are cigarette sellers everywhere. If I’d known, I’d have brought a case of cigarettes to dole out as tips and payment, just like in prison.

Just as we got onto the boat, Chester felt the first twinge of the Pharaoh’s wrath. “OH MY GOD!” he yelled and ran away, one hand on his butt and the other on his stomach. According to Susan, he spent the next 24 hours laying in bed trying to die, alternating which end of his body he pointed into the toilet to shoot excretions from.

Wifey leaned over to me and whispered “who’s laughing about the chicken now, bitch?”

The rest of the day was spent in transit on the boat, but there was no strip poker after my allegations of cheating against Wifey the previous day. The scenery was nice. I tried in vain to figure out how to make the movie channel work, but they were showing Lions for Lambs anyway, so it’s probably a good thing I couldn’t figure the damn thing out.

Instead of holding his enemies by the hair, he should have just served them ice

That night, Pharaoh’s revenge struck Wifey again, so she spent the entire time after dinner laying on the bed moaning. And not in a good way, in a “it feels like there’s a badger in my stomach trying to kill me” way. I skipped the Nubian entertainment, not feeling too hot myself, but the Immodium seemed to be holding me up in good stead.

In all, all but one member of our 12-person group was sick that night. No wonder Livingstone needed Stanley to come rescue him. This part of the world is a microbial deathtrap!

And the guy that didn’t get sick? He literally ate everything in sight. I think he was either an alien or a replicant.

So what did I learn? I learned three very important things:

1) Don’t eat the ice in Egypt. In fact, don’t eat anything. Just go hungry. Your ass and your laundry will thank you for it.
2) Never pay beforehand for a service for anything in Egypt.
3) Never accuse your wife of being a bad sport at a stripping game on a long trip where you’ll want to play again later. Just let her keep the damned panties and hope for better luck next time.

Tomorrow: the Aswan dam, Isis Island, and me.

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