Monday, June 2, 2008

The Bus of Doom

There are three reasons to get up at 2:30 AM: your significant other wants to get amorous, an intruder has just crashed through the window, and the house is on fire. And quite frankly, the last one is debatable: if it’s raining you might be able to ride out a localized fire from the comfort of your own bed.

Be that as it may, “taking a four hour bus ride to an Egyptian temple located on Hell’s doorstep” is not one of them. But, having heard from numerous people that Abu Simbel is “the highlight of any Egyptian trip” we dutifully got up at 2:30 AM for just such an occasion.

Sunrise: Not Part of a Normal Person's Vacation

If you’ll recall, I’d paid for this trip some time before, and I was morbidly curious to see if I’d get on a bus or be hijacked by thugs and left for dead. I also couldn’t wait to see if Chester made good on his pledge to be on the bus, what with his hissy fit back in Cairo and everything.

We got on the 3:00 AM ferry to go from Isis Island to the bus pickup spot, where Tardy had promised to meet us. I kept my eyes peeled for Chester’s body floating in the lake for refusing to pony up without a receipt.

About halfway across, Wifey pointed out that the only thing on the boat other than us and the ferry man was a bucket full of eggs and one cucumber.

“What do you suppose that is?” She asked me.

“Let’s hope it’s for breakfast and not some sort of horrible tool of tourist violation.”

When we arrived at the dock, the nice driver unloaded our luggage on the wharf, gave the bucket to the tourist policeman who was lounging in the shack, pointed to a row of chairs, and said “wait there.”

Then he was gone. It was 3:15. The four guys in the Tourist Police shack (one in uniform, three in jeans and T-Shirt) yukked it up, listened to terrible Egyptian pop music, and ate eggs.

I got more and more nervous, particularly since the cucumber went unmolested.

“Do you think it was a bribe from the hotel for them to guard us?” Wifey asked me.

“I dunno, but I suppose if somebody popped up at three AM and started shooting those guys’d vanish faster than Casper the Friend Ghost.”

At about 3:30, a rattle-trap bus appeared. Tardy jumped out and greeted us, and introduced us to our guide, who looked like he’d just got finished tying one on and had been poured out of a shot glass.

Bleary-eyed would have been a step up for him.

Also amazingly on the bus was a somewhat haggard-looking Chester and Susan.

“Finally get a receipt?” I asked him as we got on the bus.

“No,” he looked like death warmed over.

“How much did you have to pay?”

“Ninety-five euros a head. It’s robbery!”

I gestured at the otherwise-empty minibus. “It costs extra because the bus was so full.”

With that we were off, minus Tardy, who stayed behind to enjoy the feast of eggs and still-untouched cucumber. We quickly made our way to the convoy, about seventy-five giant busses and seventy-five minibuses, all lined up waiting for 4:30 so they could start on their way to Abu Simbel.

We were second in line, because we got there at about 3:45. The guide told us that we’d start in forty-five minutes and promptly passed out.

We’d picked up breakfast boxes from the hotel, but it’s hard to have an appetite at 4 AM, unless you have a late-night job like mill worker or lowlife. So we settled for just waiting in a daze until the convoy got started.

Our driver was an interesting man, a baby-faced Coptic Egyptian whose two passions in life were passing other vehicles and grinning insanely as he passed other vehicles. The moment the convoy started, we went from 2nd to 150th in the blink of an eye. But that was all part of his plan.

He quickly punched his minibus up to 100 mph and began passing the other vehicles on the bumpy two-lane road that ran the hundreds of kilometers through the desert to Abu Simbel. We were jostled so hard that my wife’s bosoms went from heaving to storm-tossed in the matter of a few seconds.

If she hadn’t been dog-tired it would have been arousing. Who am I kidding? It was arousing anyways.

The other peculiarity of our driver was that he drove with his turn signal on for the entire four hour trip. And Egyptian turn signals make a beeping noise, so it was like a watch alarm going off constantly.

If you weren’t hung over, like our guide, it was impossible to sleep. Have I mentioned that lack of sleep makes Wifey murderous?

Finally, in desperation, Wifey asked for the breakfast box. Inside it contained a smashed pastry, an inedible piece of coal, a boiled egg, dust from Pharaoh’s coffin, and a dead cockroach.

She opted for a granola bar brought from home, but upon finding it flattened to one millimeter in height, promised me that “they’ll never find your body once we get to Abu Simbel.”

I was content to eat two boiled eggs. No reason to waste them, right?

During one particularly jarring concussion, I smashed my kneecap into the seat in front of me. It turned purple and hurt for the next week.

Finally we arrived at Abu Simbel. If you’ve never been, let me briefly describe it to you:

Colossally large statues (120 feet high) fronting a tomb cut into the living rock. Only, it’s been moved up out of the sea, so the entire rock dome is fake. This makes it even more impressive, because you realize that our forefathers not only cut the damned thing in 2000 BC but then moved it in the sixties.

And seven years on the WTC site is still a crater.

Bury Me At Abu Simbel

Even more impressive was that our guide could eat with the rotting husks that he calls teeth. I was so distracted by his dentistry that to this day I can’t tell you what he said, other than that photos are not allowed.

We toured the two temples, mightily impressed by both of them, then made our way back to the giant open air gift shop. But since it was so hot, and so early, the touts really weren’t into it.

Then, it was back into the bus of doom for the long ride back to Aswan. It was excruciating: my knee throbbing, starving to death, with my wife’s heaving bosoms tantalizingly close, but for all her hostility just as well located on the far side of the moon.

Ultimately, this trip is worth it, but I advise you not to take the minibus. Take a big bus or the plane.

As we drove through Aswan, suddenly our guide perked up. “Don’t forget to tip your driver!” he yelled, then jumped out the window while the car was still rolling like he was dodging Boss Hogg or something.

This was not a comforting development. With nobody to pass, the minibus went slower and slower, finally stopping for no apparent reason. The door popped open, and Tardy stood there grinning at us. We were at the Aswan airport.

“Did you have a good time?” he asked us.

“It could have used a sound and light show,” I said.

Once we were through security, we were delighted to find a Sbarro’s Pizza in the Aswan airport. I couldn’t get in line fast enough.

Unlike Cairo’s local flight, we found Aswan airport well-run and well-announced. The only annoying thing was the dueling videos on the moving of Abu Simbel that were running, at least four of them with the volumes cranked full-blast.

Upon returning to Cairo we met the last of the Seven Dwarves of Naggar, Baldy. That’s all I wrote about him, so I can’t tell you anything else, other than he was bald.

He took us to the Hotel Meridien, a really swanky hotel. Wifey and I lucked out with great rooms on the deck, looking out at the pool. We planned a romantic evening of swimming, room service, and love-making.

Okay, that was my plan. I couldn’t tell you what her plan was, nor did it really matter. I’m pretty sure that it’s written into the marriage by-laws that she’s obligated to put out on the last night of any foreign vacation.

To complete the first step of the plan, on a hot Cairo afternoon, with the thermometer just over a hundred, we stepped confidently into the pool. Ice cracked as our feet broke the surface, and her nipples almost put my eye out (don’t ask what my face was doing there).

It was the coldest pool I’ve ever swam in, and I once went swimming in Wisconsin. We couldn’t leave fast enough.

We quickly retreated and decided to order room service. I figured that after a nice, romantic meal, the mood for love would be restored. And, sure enough, the meal was delicious. Very well-done, and not that expensive. It even came with flowers, always good for a nice romantic atmosphere.

All was in readiness. I started to put on the moves, when…


What sounded like a crazy Arabic dance party kicked up in high gear out on the patio. From 7 to 11:30, it was nothing but non-stop dance tunes turning the beat around. I don’t know which was worse: when they mangled English on the Karaoke bar, or the traditional Egyptian songs that sounded like a guy playing cat drums.

We complained, but always received the same response: “very sorry, it will be over in five minutes.”

If I Weren't a Puss, I'd Have Done This to the Dance Party

Finally, the music stopped, and I pulled out my last-ditch appeal:

“You know, it’s imperative that we have sex tonight so you don’t have to come back.”

“Why’s that?” Wifey asked me.

“Because I want to have sex on all seven continents. If we don’t do it tonight, then you’ll have to come back to Africa with me.”

“You better plan on fucking a penguin, then, because there’s no way I’m getting naked in Antarctica. Good night.”

At least I hadn’t pushed the beds together yet. Plus, it helped take my mind off the throbbing pain in my knee.

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