After driving through the occupied (and well-patrolled)
West Bank and over the bridge, we encountered the Jordan border police and the
requisite bureaucratic hassle. We
shared a taxi with JD and Karen, an acting couple from LA.
It was great to compare travel stories and swap advice – they had been
through Syria and went to Jerusalem for just a day, so our experiences were
quite different. The taxi dropped
us at the Hyatt, our next “frequent guest” hotel courtesy of our former
lives. It was an oasis of calm
after the hectic and emotional journey through Jerusalem.
We took a relaxing sauna (for a real change) and watched satellite TV.
They had some US comedy programs on, which was a very nice bonus for us.
The slice of Americana reminded us of how much Johnny Carson had been
ingrained in our lives when we were kids – like he was a member of the family.
Jay Leno and David Letterman are the equivalents today.
We did feel a bit odd not understanding the in-jokes since we’ve been
away for three months, but fortunately, making fun of politicians never goes out
of style and George ("Doofus") Bush and Al ("Phony") Gore are pretty easy targets.
It’s going to be sad to see Clinton go since he provided so much good
material. Maybe if his wife Hillary
wins the senate seat in her adopted state of New York, Dave and Jay will still
be able to make fun of them.
Day 100, Sat, Aug 12, 2000 – As indicated in
Lonely Planet, “Amman will certainly never win any prizes for the most
interesting city in the world”. Although
that sounds a bit harsh, Amman has an uneventful history compared to Cairo and
Jerusalem and is fairly nondescript, a sea of brown, gray, and white concrete
buildings spread over many (rather steep) hills. Amman is the capital of The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, a
relatively new country in an ancient land, having been created from the sordid
postwar politics in the late 1940’s. Throughout four centuries, the area had
been controlled by the Turkish Ottoman Empire.
Since the Turks were aligned with Germany, Britain assisted the Arab
revolt led by Grand Shariff Hussein, primarily through the efforts of the famous
(or infamous) Lawrence of Arabia. Despite
promises of eventual independence, Britain was also negotiating with France to
carve up the territories once the war was over and also promising Zionists a
homeland in this territory. Over the protests of Lawrence and his Arab allies, the treaty
of Paris granted Syria and Lebanon to France, while Palestine, Transjordan, and
Iraq were handed to Britain. The
British arranged for Hussein’s sons to become Kings of the new countries of
Jordan and Iraq in 1946. Hussein’s
grandson, also named Hussein, ruled Jordan until his death a few years ago.
His son, Abdullah now rules and their portraits can be seen on every
street, shop, restaurant, hotel and office in the country.
Jordan was also given administrative control of the other Palestinian
areas until they were captured by Israel in 1967.
As former administrators and current home to
41% of the 3.5 million Palestinian refugees, they have a serious vested
interest in the struggling peace process. They
are currently the only country besides Egypt to have a signed peace treaty with
Israel and the opening of borders has been a boom to the tourist industry, which
is now one of their most important industries, particularly for hard currency.
We got an idea just how hilly the city is when we tried to
walk up one to the modern King Abdullah mosque. We finally made it and donned the robes for the tour inside
– too new for our tastes since we had seen the beauties in Istanbul, Cairo and
Jerusalem (are we becoming mosque snobs?).
It took a while to find our way to the JETT bus station since the
official names on maps and signs bear no resemblance to the names people
actually use (for example everyone knows Abu Bakr as-Sadiq St. is really Rainbow
Street. Now we know).
We stopped for lunch at a kebab place near the bus station and got into a
terrible fight with the owner when he tried to charge us $30 for a $3 meal.
His staff surrounded us and we had to push our way through. He finally relented when I made a show of writing down the
name and address of the shop and demanding a receipt. The experience left a bad taste in our mouths in more ways
than one. Fortunately, it was soon
sweetened by the numerous kids saying “welcome in Jordan” as we passed by
– they actually sounded like they meant it.
We returned to the hotel, relaxed, read and wrote.
Day 101, Sun, Aug 13, 2000 –Took a taxi to Amman’s primary tourist attraction, the ancient roman ruins of the Citadel on a hill overlooking the overwhelmingly brown city. After a great falafel and chicken lunch, we continued to the impressive Roman theater downtown. We walked a little around the souk markets, where we busted an old man for short-changing us. There were laughs and waves all around from the men standing around the shop. Back at the hotel we continued our daily struggle with internet downloads and getting photos on the web.
Day 102, Mon, Aug 14, 2000 – Today we start our real tour of Jordan. We were drawn here by the amazing and romantic history of the country, including the tales of Lawrence of Arabia uniting the Arab clans against the Turks and the amazing prehistoric rock temples of Petra highlighted in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. We hired a car and driver, Abdulah, for the 5-hour drive down the scenic 5,000 year old King’s Highway. On route we passed through Bedouin villages and small agricultural towns and stopped at Mt. Nebo, the presumed sight of Moses’ death and burial, and Madaba, home of hundreds of 5th-7th century mosaics – one in the Church of St. George depicting the entire Holy Land with over 2 million pieces! We continued past Machaerus, where John the Baptist had the unfortunate interaction with Salome’s jealous mother that cost him his head (probably one of the most depicted biblical scenes besides the crucifixion). The winding, twisting road went through canyons that looked as deep as the Grand Canyon and led to the mighty castle at Kerak. The castle was fought over by crusaders and Arabs for centuries, during which time many fighters were tossed over the walls to the canyon 450 meters below. It now makes for some great hiking and exploring on the ramparts and in the vaulted corridors, rooms and cisterns.
We had an incredible
Middle Eastern buffet at a hotel near the castle and continued to Petra.
We checked into the Forum hotel, probably the best in town, but still
relatively cheap – it abuts the rugged sandstone hills that hide the Petra
canyon from view. We were
exhausted, so we collapsed after a swim and pizza.
BBC World News brought us news of the ongoing animosity in
another country on our itinerary – India.
Since their independence from Britain, Pakistan and India have been at
each other’s throats over the disputed Kashmir area. In several attacks, extremists on the Muslim side killed over
100 people, including 33 Hindus on their way to a religious shrine.
Thankfully, we have not included the Kashmir region in our itinerary.
Day 103, Tues, Aug 15, 2000 – We had to take a day
off today to take care of some administrative matters.
Mailing a package of papers and souvenirs was a riot – the postal clerk
determined the charge by measuring how many stamps would fit on the envelope
with his hands. By the time he was
finished licking dozens of individual stamps, the envelope was covered front and
back and he never did weigh it. We give it a 40% chance of arriving in
We also had to get the laptop repaired.
Yep, the old gal finally gave in after hours of use and being lugged
across thousands of miles by dozens of trains, taxis, buses and airplanes.
The screen was flickering uncontrollably like an old-fashioned UHF TV in
a thunderstorm. Unfortunately, tin
foil and rabbit ear antennas can’t handle this issue and we are thousands of
miles from the nearest Sony authorized repair shop.
We had to find the only computer shop in Wadi Musa, the town that grew up
beside the Petra ruins. The staff
at Nabatee was very helpful and showed us how to squeeze the screen to fix the
problem since they were reluctant to open it up and invalidate the warranty.
We were amazed that this worked (kind of like slapping the side of a TV
until the picture clears), but thanked them profusely and went home to write and
upload. We also arranged the next
journey to Aqaba and had a wonderful kebab dinner before visiting with our old
friend David Letterman.
Day 104, Wed, Aug 16, 2000 – Woke early to see Petra in the morning light. This ancient city was the home of the Nabateans, an ancient Arab culture that initially plundered and wandered, but settled here and taxed the caravan routes bearing African hides, ivory, Asian spices and silks. They finally succumbed to the Romans under Emperor Trajan and after the caravan route was redirected, sea trade routes became more prevalent and as other empires grew, their influence declined. Inhabitants moved or melded with other cultures and the empire fell into obscurity for centuries, apart from a brief encounter with Crusaders in the 11th century. The “rediscovery” of the fabled city is one of the great adventure stories, like that of Tut’s tomb and Machu Pichu. Until the 19th century, its existence was known only by the local Bedouin inhabitants, who wanted to keep it secret to protect their nomadic and herding way of life. In 1812, a Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, heard tales of the city from locals, but had to bluff his way to the hidden location by pretending to have a goat to slaughter in honor of the biblical Aaron, whose tomb is nearby. Some say he converted to Islam for this purpose, but his activities appear somewhat less than spiritual. He reported his findings in Europe, and Petra was never the same again. It was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1985 and the Bedouins were moved out to a new village over the hills. It is now the single biggest tourist attraction (some guidebooks say tourist trap) in Jordan. The Bedouins do have the last laugh, however, as they control all of the overpriced commerce inside the ruins, including jewelry, knick-knacks, sand bottles, camels, horses, donkeys, and the inevitable Coke stands.
We followed Burkhardt’s footsteps and walked back into time. With only a few people and animals shuffling about, it was easy to conjure ancient images. We were astounded to find that the “rose-red city” of poetry actually was red as advertised. The color does not dominate, but there is a definite pink hue to the sandstone cliffs rising above the canyons and there are red and white swirls of stone in the most amazing patterns. We hiked through the 1.2 kilometer-long “siq” walkway over 2,000 year old paving stones and an ingenious waterway carved into the side at our feet which funneled the precious rainwater through the canyon – it still has some terracotta pipe pieces stuck along the route. The Nabateans pioneered some forms of hydrology, using gravity and hydraulics with dams, canals, pipes and cisterns to make the most of just 6 inches of rainwater per year to provide for a city of 30,000 people covering 400 square miles. Unfortunately, the system had been filled over with sand throughout the centuries and could not protect 23 tourists who drowned in a flash flood in the siq in 1963. The swirling patterns of layered rock, identical on each side indicate that the siq rock was suddenly ripped apart by earthquake-like movements rather than being carved gradually by water. The siq winds its way through 100-meter cliffs that narrow to 5 meters at the ground, but nearly touch overhead in places, creating intermittent light and shadow that plays tricks on your eyes (not to mention your cameras). The walls also seem to eliminate noise, leaving just your own breath, the swish of soft camel feet and the clip-clop of horse hooves echoing around you.
After an hour of natural wonders, the first glimpse of the most famous feature of Petra through a slanted crevice in the rock is shocking. Like the Taj Mahal, the Giza pyramids, and Iguazu Falls, no amount of description or photos or repeated viewings of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” can adequately describe it - seeing is the only option. The pink facade of Al Khazneh rises up 43 meters, carved from the sheer face of a sandstone cliff. It’s difficult to imagine the kind of planning and execution it took to carve – as if the foreman stood outside and said “Ok, guys, this cliff here will look like a Greek temple when we are done with our axes and chisels – ready, go!” The façade is topped by a stone urn that was once thought to contain gold and precious stones. This led to the building’s nickname, The Treasury, but it took hundreds of gunshots and pockmarks before it was confirmed as solid rock. There is a wide plaza in front with a small café and horse and camel guides milling about, but it’s impossible to get a good photo angle. From the side, you can see how it is recessed 10 meters into the rock before opening into a chamber inside which is a bland empty square compared to the façade. It’s incredible to follow the patterns of rock layers from wall to wall to pillar to ceiling.
The Treasury is the most famous structure in Petra, but it is just one of hundreds of temples, tombs, palaces and houses, not to mention thousands of natural caves that used to house the Bedouin families. Some of the locals stubbornly return to them periodically, only to be chased out by government guards. The trail circles behind the Treasury and widens significantly, past numerous temples and eventually a 7,000 seat amphitheater, again carved from the rock, unlike any other classical theater in the world. As we walk the trail there are dozens of Bedouin children playing in the ruins or selling rocks, men and boys with horses, camels and donkeys for hire, and women selling jewelry spread out on blankets. The women look incredible, with black shawls with brightly colored necklaces, bracelets, rings, earrings and nose rings and distinctive dark eyes and face tattoos. Some put on the hard sell, but we continued on foot past a long colonnaded street to the end of the canyon. For the last leg of the hike, some 800 steps over the canyon top to the Monastery temple, we decided to be lazy and hire donkeys from Mohammed, a Bedouin in Western clothes and Nike hat and Sammy, his 12-year old nephew. The ride up was probably more dangerous and tiring than walking, as the poor beasts struggled to haul us up the tortured rock steps, around precarious hairpin curves barely the width of a person, much less a donkey with a panicked human aboard. By the time we (thankfully) reached the top, my arms were more tired from gripping the saddle horn so tightly than my legs would have been from walking. Naomi didn’t fair as well, her mount having careened into the rock face, scraping a nasty gash into her knee along the wall. We treated it with our handy first aid kit, but it will probably leave a scar. Her donkey suffered worse, however, with many whips and a few jabs in the ass with a rusty nail. With each jab they yelled something that sounded like “Heroin! Heroin!” Needless to say, although they were nice to us, we were sorry we hired these guys.
The Monastery is even bigger and more impressive than the Treasury, but gets less press because it is a harder and longer climb for the busloads of day tourists coming from Amman or Aqaba. It stands alone in this area, commanding respect from the surrounding rocks and caves. A half kilometer away, there is a slight climb to the top of a rock overlooking the surrounding hills and valleys for miles. The view is great and the slight breeze refreshing in the high dessert. At the top is Abdalah, selling his jewelry, rock carvings and the best tea we’ve had in a while – “special Bedouin tea”, as he calls it.
The walk back down was tough on the knees, but we got a chance to look closer at the incredible rock shapes and patterns, like a wonderland in stone. We met Mohammed and Sammy at the foot of the steps and they took us over the ridge to the Byzantine church with mosaics which may be the oldest discovered, and one temple with flowing waves of red, pink, white, and yellow stone patterns. When we returned to the Treasury, it had changed color in the afternoon light, so we took more photos. We were exhausted by the time we left the ruins, so we crashed in the pool then went out for a fabulous Arabian buffet at the Treasury restaurant in Wadi Musa.
Day 105, Th, Aug 17, 2000 – Our second day in the ruins we decided to go for it – all the way to the High Place of Sacrifice. We’ve yet to encounter a more appropriately named place, as we sacrificed our unfit legs and lungs to the place. The really embarrassing part was being passed dozens of times by ancient-looking Bedouin guys trotting by like mountain goats. The top of the mountain was breathtaking (in more ways than one). The sacrificial area was a circular altar carved in the rock with a canal for the blood to flow down the hill. The good news from the top is that it’s all downhill for the rest of the day. We circled back behind the mountain and wound up on deserted trails that we had all to ourselves – we went hours without seeing any other tourists. The caves and temples are just as impressive as the main group, if not more natural-looking and mysterious, with Bedouin still living in some, flouting their exile status. We stopped to get a cup of tea from a smiling old Bedouin woman who set up a tent outside her cave home – the tea was excellent and her company even better, despite our language differences. We took the back way (past the “warning – you may get lost and die of dehydration” signs) to the museum and encountered a flock of grazing goats who seemed oblivious to us until Naomi decided to play herdswoman with a big stick. They were not amused, and neither was their real herdsman when he appeared out of nowhere – Bedouin have a way of doing that. The story is, when tourists and hikers get lost in the vast desert wilderness, it’s not the government patrols that find them and nurse them back to health and civilization; it’s the local tribes.
At the museum, we saw Mohammed and Sammy again, but thought better of hiring their mounts again. We walked back through the siq for the sad last time and crashed while watching the embarrassingly schmaltzy American film Armageddon on satellite TV.
Day 106, Fri, Aug 18, 2000 - Another day of dealing with computer problems at Nabatee. Bracketing the hassles, we had a great lunch and dinner at the Treasury, which pretty much became our home away from home. The owner/manager, Ashraf, was a gracious host, seating and chatting with everyone and sharing his apple-flavored shisha pipe with us. We have to say it’s an acquired taste, especially for nonsmokers. He and his friend Hassain contributed the following thoughts:
Everybody should love everybody, that’s the first thing. Second, to have a good future with my wife and child – to teach her to love everyone.
The most important thing in life is good luck and a good wife – to have someone nice beside you.
On the way back home, we had to take a photo of the billboard of King Abdullah since he bears an uncanny resemblance to our friend Mario from New York.
Day 107, Sat, Aug 19, 2000 – When we were planning our trip to Aqaba we heard a different story about van transport from everyone we met. We decided to play it safe and show up at the traffic circle in Wadi Musa a half hour before the earliest time anyone told us to be there. This mode of transport is a riot; there’s no booking ahead and vans depart whenever they get full, regardless of the (unofficial) schedule. Of course they don’t tell anyone, so you have to keep your eyes and ears open. Sounds a bit dodgy, but we wanted to do it the local way and save some cash in the process. We found out that all of the vans to Aqaba had already left, so we had to go to Ma’an and change there. The trip was reasonably comfortable, in spite of the blaring nasal whine of Arabic pop music on the stereo. We finally arrived in Aqaba just before sunset and jumped in the Red Sea at the Movenpick hotel. For dinner, we had Chicken Tikka at a small grill joint where the owner demonstrated his peculiar “world famous” skill of telling you what day of the week you were born based on your birthday. He got Naomi’s right, but I have to ask Mom about mine since I can’t quite remember that far back. He apparently has been featured in the “Ripley’s Believe it or Not”, but it reminded us more of “Rain Man”.
Day 108, Sun, Aug 20, 200 – Toured the old town on foot. Aqaba is an ancient seaport servicing the Arab world from its strategic location for centuries. It provided a turning point in the Arab revolt, when it was captured in a daring raid by Lawrence’s hodge-podge band of warriors. Lawrence knew the fort's guns were fixed facing the sea expecting attack from that direction, so he crossed hundreds of miles of desert to surprise them from the land side. Once Aqaba fell, it was only a matter of time for Damascus. Aqaba is now Jordan’s primary seaport as well as aquatic playground and tourist destination. There’s also the unusual opportunity for visitors (and spies) to view three countries just a stone’s throw from each other – Jordan, Israel and Egypt. We added it to our itinerary for a little rest and relaxation and scuba diving in the coral of the Red Sea. The town was full of shopping opportunities - mostly carpets, jewelry, metalworks, and the ubiquitous sand bottles. I took a taxi out to the Royal Dive Center and dove on Rainbow Reef – the fish were excellent, but the coral was a little disappointing. I had heard from some other divers that the Red Sea is all it’s advertised to be, but a little further away from the ports of Aqaba, Eiliat and Nuweiba. After the dive, we went for an old-fashioned 4-way chili at a western fast food place, but it just made me long for a Super Bowl of Chicken Chili from Chili Johns in Burbank California. That will definitely be one of my first meals when we return to the US. Our homesickness was treated somewhat by watching Jay and Conan before falling asleep (just like home).
Day 109, Mon, Aug 21, 2000 – Walked around the town this morning doing a little shopping and travel arranging. All taxis honk their horns at us hoping that we really need a taxi, but we forgot to try to wave one down. Of course another reason for the honking could be Naomi’s daring ensemble that actually bares her legs below the knee. She’s not enjoying the attention in this part of the world but it’s too hot to think of wearing long pants. We bought our journey back to Cairo (a ferry/bus combination through Nuweiba) and an overnight tour of the famous Wadi Rum desert starting tomorrow. In the afternoon, I went on another dive – this time to an old tugboat wreck. Wreck dives are some of my favorites because they have an eerie tragic aura as if they are hiding the ghosts of seamen or pirates. You never know what is behind a hatch or cabin door. I swam through an opening on the deck and came face-to-face with a giant sea turtle! She didn’t seem to be nearly as surprised as I was and let me hold onto her shell for a 5 second ride. It was wonderful. After writing and battling evil internet demons, we had a Chinese dinner for a change.
Day 110, Tues, Aug. 22, 2000 – Picked up at the hotel and had a 6-hour drive through Lawrence of Arabia territory. The barren, desolate, eerie Wadi Rum desert was the staging post for his raids on the railroads and Turkish camps. We left the tarmac after the first hour and the most bone-jarring ride of our lives in a 4-wheel drive jeep. We were regularly launched to the ceiling as the driver searched for a path where there is only a vague sense of direction to guide him. We couldn’t imagine old Larry, even with saddle sores and dysentery, being any less comfortable – although I’m sure he maintained an English “stiff upper lip” throughout. The two English folks in our Jeep, Kate and Dave, certainly seemed to have a good time. The trip by this method is definitely worth the trouble however, as we passed incredible scenery – sand dunes, rock arches, mountains, caves, valleys, black goat-hair Bedouin tents and bizarre rock formations rising from the dunes to tower over our little jeep in unlikely shapes and combinations. Lawrence wrote “Our little caravan grew self-conscious and fell dead quiet, afraid to flaunt its smallness in the presence of the stupendous hills”. We talked to some locals in their unique combination of western jackets and flowing robes; visited an ancient well, wall etchings, the ruins of Lawrence’s lonely stone house, and the famous “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” before watching the slow red sunset over the awesome landscape. We eventually staggered into camp and had a grilled chicken dinner near the fire under an enormous canopy of stars and planets. After eating, we put the fire out and had Bedouin tea on sleeping mats under the stars. Some people just crashed out on the mats to sleep in the cool, fresh dessert air, but we selected a comfy corner of the huge tents. As we turned in, the guides, cooks, and drivers brought out the drums and assorted instruments and started an impromptu tribal performance. Too bad it was pitch black, because it would have made a hell of a video.
Day 111, Wed, Aug, 23, 2000 – We somehow woke at 5:15 to see the famed dessert sunrise. It was eerily quite and peaceful as we stepped over the mats near the fire and headed out before anyone else was up. We walked a half hour outside camp, looking for a break in the mountains to the East, but they went on forever. Not wanting to end up passed out on the back of a Bedouin camel, we didn’t wander far.
We missed the sun coming over the horizon, but saw the sky change colors black to gray to bright blue. Sitting on a rock, we didn’t see another soul for an hour. We imagined we could see the wiry 5’ 5” robed figure of Lawrence walking up the sand dune with a pistol in hand. He was definitely one of the more colorful, enigmatic individualists of the century; learning of his illegitimacy and assumed name when he was ten, surviving on bread and water in his room reading at Oxford, walking a thousand miles alone through the desert to research his thesis on crusader castles – which won him highest honors, donning Arab clothing to gain the confidence of his unruly partners, his much-speculated relationship with his young water boy, criticizing his country’s treatment of Arabs, enlisting in the Royal Air Force under an assumed name after the war, and dying in a freak motorcycle accident. Notwithstanding some doubts about the historical accuracy of some of his statements, he still lived more lives than most people could even dream of and Winston Churchill called him “one of the greatest beings alive in our time”. As we sat, the sun turned the rocks from black to gray to pink to red in one hour. After breakfast at camp, we headed back to Aqaba in the jeep. Our asses had barely recovered from yesterday, so we were thankful to take the less remote, smooth tarmac.
Day 112, Thur. Aug 24, 2000 – The most horrendous
travel day of our journey to date: taking
a look at 6 countries in one day. We woke in Aqaba, Jordan, took a half-hour taxi to the ferry
port and negotiated the ridiculously set-up of the port (taxis not allowed to
drop off at the terminal, making everyone walk
200 meters with their luggage, no
signs, no information, no lift, pay departure tax upstairs, check in, go through
customs, see immigration, go back downstairs, walk across the street, get on
unmarked bus (hoping it goes somewhere), get out, present tickets, passport
check again, wait, board boat, police check, leave luggage, take seat).
The one-hour boat has views of Eliat, Israel and Saudi Arabia before
landing in Nuweiba, Egypt. The
receiving end is even more ridiculous than the sending end in terms of
user-friendliness. No signs and no
information, so we walked across a huge expanse of asphalt parking lots and
storage hangars before coming to what looked like an arrival terminal.
Manual check of our bags – some poor locals had every bag gone through
with a microscope, but luckily we only had to show the video camera for some
reason. More walking to a bus
station and then paid about 50% more than the other tourists for their bus
tickets to Cairo. The bus was not
quite as modern as the Cairo-Jerusalem JETT bus, so we were glad it was only 7
hours instead of 12. The ride went
through the long, dry dusty heart of the Sinai desert, without much to look at
except thirst-inducing sandy vistas. Much
of the time, all the shades were drawn to keep the boiling sun out of the bus.
The bus showed a video of a cheesy American move about a kid
time-traveling to Aladin’s court, complete with a fair maiden, magic carpets,
Ali Baba and farting camels. It was
a cute diversion, and rather pertinent since some of the action scenes were
filmed in Petra. Naomi napped for a
while. We took a break at sunset
for snacks, restroom and evening prayers. Many of the men on the bus spread mats and knelt toward Mecca
while others puffed on shisha water pipes in the café.
I went to the washroom to try to clear my sinuses of accumulated dust of
the desert. Believe me, the irony
of cleaning my nose to improve my breathing in the midst of a fetid, filthy hole
in the floor toilet stall was not lost on me.
The porter asked us what we wanted to drink and in our fatigued state we
just said OK to the Cokes and lunch boxes he offered us, thinking it might be
included in the bus ticket, but wouldn’t kill us if it wasn’t.
When he presented us with the bill, we laughed as it was about 5 times
over a reasonable amount. We talked
to the passengers around us, and a very nice guy from Yemen told us that
everyone else paid about one fourth as much as we did for a Coke.
We argued with the porter and when we asked for an official receipt he
started to backpedal. He initially
said he would just pay, but eventually only refunded about half of the
difference. We are usually not so
adamant about scams like this, trusting karma to work things out in the end
(especially four months into this trip), but we were in the midst of a very
long, tiring day. The guy from
Yemen apologized, but we said it was nothing for him to apologize for. The guys behind us just laughed and said “welcome in
Egypt”. We finally arrived at the
Cairo bus station at 11 PM, but this was only half our trip so far. We shared a taxi (after some unnecessary drama) with an
Aussie guy and picked up Wheely Beast at the Sheraton. We got a separate taxi to the airport (passing right by the
bus station again) and arrived an hour early.
Unfortunately, the “departures” sign doesn’t really mean departures
and the people in uniform aren’t really officials who know anything.
We were directed to three different places before arriving at the correct
Egypt Air counter only to have the agent claim our ticket was cancelled because
we had not confirmed 72 hours ahead. We
made a pretty strong argument about our TWO confirmations and he said we were
“lucky there are seats left on this flight”.
We were a bit nervous flying Egypt Air anyway due to the crash last year,
and this didn’t help any. Incidentally,
the crash is still in the news as a very sore spot with Egypt since the US
researchers have implicated that one of the pilots “may have had suicidal
desires”. Egypt officials have countered that the US has not released
information on “missile tests” in the region.
These are all wonderful things to bring to mind as you buckle in for a
flight. Thankfully, we had time for
a drink and found enough room to spread out for the flight.
We touched down in Nairobi at 6:00 AM without further incident and ending
the worst travel day to date.
PS – Happy Birthday Jeff!
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