Sphinx in Giza, Egypt

4. Before the Bombs

January and February 2006 – Egypt

Hello. We left the stress of Aswan and Luxor behind for the far more relaxed Dahab. Travelling via Hughada. We lost our cool twice, once each, on the way to Dahab. Mine took place when buying the bus ticket and had found that a small sum had been added onto the price agreed. If you can’t even trust the bloody bus company, I thought, and actually stamped my foot like a ten year old in my efforts to get the extra fee waived.

It was such a silly amount too and I’m not proud of the foot stamping or for raising my fists in boxer style and offering all three of the middle aged ticket staff to step outside. They calmed me down by explaining what the fee was for and we all went away as friends.

Arriving in Hughada we were pounced on by the hotel touts. One followed us up the road and onto a minibus. We’d had this done before. A tout follows us to a hotel, nips ahead at the last moment and bumps up the price of our accommodation.

This time Deirdre lost her head and ordered our current annoyance off the bus. The driver backed us up and the tout slunk off. Another two guys got on and she ordered them off too until I explained that we are on public transport and she couldn’t just throw everyone off. We’re not usually such aggressive or argumentative people but too long in Egypt seems to have made us so.

In Dahab it would take an hour to walk two hundred yards to a restaurant, having to inform the touts of our names, life history, and future eating plans. We could have been rude I suppose but the touts were polite, engaging and well educated. Many had degrees and a level of knowledge about British history and literature that we couldn’t match. Yet they could earn more by standing outside a restaurant for 12 hours a day rather than teaching or doing some other job appropriate to their education.

A couple of months after we left Dahab the resort was hit by a triple nail bomb attack. One was placed in one of the restaurants we had visited. Undoubtedly among the at least 23 dead and over 80 injured were some of the polite and educated touts we had got to know.

In Cairo we visited the Pyramids. Located in the suburbs of the city we got there by subway and local bus, and first saw the remaining wonder of the world poking over a wall. As we stopped and stared a local guy we’d been chatting to wondered why we had stopped talking, thinking perhaps we had seen a friend. Walking past the Pyramids everyday he was unawed by the sight.

Sphinx and pyramids, Giza, Egypt

We visited the Egyptian Antiquities Museum, ate cheap kushari, a mixture of noodles, lentils, rice and fried onions topped with spicy tomato sauce and, while exploring the city, played with the traffic.

We have already said that, despite the stress, we loved this country. What an Egyptian will try to take from you with one hand, he’ll give with the other. He will try to get your money anyway possible but, after thousands of years as a tourist destination, seems to prefer time tested tricks and cunning rather than stooping to robbery. I felt, had the Cairo traffic claimed my life, the Egyptian finding my body would let out a terrible wail: “oh, my god, he’s dead and he’s still got money in his wallet”. He would then put the money back in my pocket and regret the lost opportunities.

On returning home to the UK, slightly traumatized by the sights, sounds and smells of the country I found it difficult to cope with a shop assistant in PC World. I just couldn’t manage the interaction of dealing with another human being and had to hide in the next aisle.

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