Hot or Not: Mummy Edition
December 1, 2008
Going from Jordan and Istanbul, where Rucha, Suja and I had to figure out everything for ourselves, to Egypt, where we were a part of a large tour group of about 34, was quite a shift of gears. In some ways it was a relief, in that we knew everything was going to be figured out for us, we would be in a safer environment, and we’d constantly be with someone who spoke the language fluently. But the downside, we quickly found out, was that our entire experience was much more sterile and regimented, viewed through the fishbowl that was our tourbus windows. Instead of waking up when we chose and discussing the days’s plans over a relaxing cup of coffee, we were now jolted from sleep by wake up calls, sometimes as early as 5:30, so that we could grab a quick shower and wolf down breakfast before beginning the day’s extensive itinerary. Pyramids? 45 minutes to snap some pictures, check. Sphynx? 30 minutes, then back on the bus. Rebuilt Library of Alexandria? We’ll stop the bus for 30 seconds so you can take photos from inside the bus, check. It got to the point where I lost track of the tombs, museums, and temples, and just let myslf be carried along without resistance.
But I’m getting ahead of myself! Upon landing in Cairo we were treated to an enthralling drive to our hotel and our first encounter with Cairo traffic and driving craziness. People do not use the lane dividers, instead choosing just to fit as many cars as possible. Horns sound at least every 10 seconds as people seem to use them to say “Here I come!” rather than “Look out!” and they all sound hoarse from use.
The hotel was very nice, but also very gawdy with its Las Vegas-esque over the top use of gold ornamentation. My room even had a view of the pyramids, which were vaguely visible through the thick haze of Cairo smog. My first night in the hotel I was treated to the surreal experience of Helen’s voice waking me up at 2:00 in the morning. Apparently they had accidentally put us in a room together, and this mix up combined with not having seen Helen in a year and the early hour had me very disoriented. In spite of being on the tail end of a long journey, Helen was quick to act and got another room just as I had managed to accomplish the intellectual feat of establishing that it was in fact Helen in my room and not Suja or Rucha.
The following day, we jumped into the big event: pyramids! As I mentioned before, they were practically walking distance from my hotel, which surprised me; I’d envisioned them being far away from the city, and apparently at one point they were, but the city just grew and grew until it came practically up to their footsteps. Nevertheless, I was very excited to see this monument that I had read about again and again in school.
To be honest, I came away a bit disappointed. This a probably due to a number of factors, not the least of which includes a lot of hype and high expectations to live up to. Part of it I also blame on the limited time we had, in that I just wanted to sit and stare at these things for a long time to take in how old they are, fathom the fact that I was staring at millions of multi-ton blocks of stone assembled by human beings, and imagine how it once looked not stepped and jagged such that folks could clamber to the top, but rather completely smooth, with tips capped in giant gold such that they would reflect the sun. But even if I’d had the time to sit and contemplate, it would surely be hindered by the many people trying to sell galabias, papyrus, necklaces, and other tourist trinkets.
Oh, the peddlers. They were a prominent and consistent part of our Egypt experience. They stood with their goods and blocked your path, holding up their wares. “Hello! Where you from?”. If you were Helen, it would be “Hello, China! Ni hao!” or “Japanese? Kawaii!”. If you were Rucha or Suja, “India! Namaste! Amitabh bacchan!
The joke I was subjected to throughout the tour of Egypt was comments on the fact that I was one guy travelling with three girls. “You lucky man, have three wives! How many camels for her?” (Suja at one point fetched a price of 5 million camels). Or even, “Busy man! You want to buy Viagra?” Folks in our tour group picked up on the joke too, saying “Good morning Corey, where are the wives?” or, when they heard that Helen and I got a separate room, “Sorry to hear about the divorce!”
The peddlers would say prices that would quickly drop in value as you passed by. One trick we were subjected to was a peddler offering us some scarrabs for free. “Yes, free! Please. Please, it is a gift, you will give me good luck.”. If you accept the trinket, not wishing to offend him, he will immediately say “5 Egyptian dollars, that’s all.”
While taking photos, one of the sellers kindly offered to take our photo, so Rucha gave him her camera. “Please, right this way, I know the best place to take the picture, you get the whole pyramid!” he said, and began to lead Rucha and me towards the other side of the pyramid, away from the other tourists. Feeling a scam coming on, Rucha protested, gently at first and then more strongly so that he would give her camera back.
Moments later, I noticed Helen being led away by the same guy, so I followed to make sure things were ok. Around the corner they had a resigned-looking camel set up for picture posing. Having heard horror stories from our tour guide about unsuspecting tourists placed atop camels who were told to stand and not letting the tourist down until they paid the demanded price, Helen had avoided getting on the camel and just posed with it. This too they demanded more money than initially proposed, and began crowding around her. I stepped in and just told Helen that we had to go because our you group was leaving, and thankfully we left OK.
I also treated myself to a camel ride, an experience that can be summarized by saying that it’s like riding a horse only taller and with funnier sounds of protest and looks of indignation coming from the mount. Kids waved enthusiastically to me and shouted “Hello!” as they did throughout my travels in Egypt.
Lunch was a tasty roasted chicken and a kind of lamb meatball, with really tasty Pepsi (Suja believes the better taste is due to the fact that they use real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup). Our next stop? The Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
The Egyptian Museum was amazing, containing extremely well-preserved artifacts from thousands of years ago. We were even able to see King Tut’s sandals and underwear, of all things! The highlight had to be all of the mummies, who were also remarkably well preserved to the point where the 3 girls got into a giggly debate as to which one was most “attractive” (I think Ramses II was given the dubious honor), earning them a stern “Shush!” from a museum employee.
The low point of this portion of our tour had to be the day trip to Alexandria. The city itself is nice, but most agreed not worth the 4-hour drive each way. This was compounded by the fact that we weren’t able to get “lunch” until 4:30, at which point I was contemplating the flavor of our tour bus’ upholstery. What with an earlier wake-up call and a longer commute than I usually have when home, I had to remind myself I was in vacation. We knew something was amiss when we cheered at the announcement that the following day’s wake up call would be at the late hour of 7:00.
Ok I lied about the low point. The real low point was realizing that Rucha and I would have to cancel the Thailand leg of our trip. For months we had known about the protests in Thailand, but we’d hoped it would die down by time we got there. We’d booked a flight to Bangkok (mine was even business class, a deal I’d scored for just $300 more to make the red-eye flight more bearable), three days in Bangkok (looking forward to massages and Thai food), a flight to Phuket, and a few nights stay at a beach resort where I’d splurged on a beach-front bungalow, and finally our flight to Hyderabad. And to top it all off, we were going to meet our good friend Polly there!
Alas, huddled over a computer terminal in the business center of our hotel at night, Rucha and I read horror stories in the news about tourists trapped in the Bangkok airport, sleeping on the floor. We even thought to go directly to Phuket, but no dice: the protesters had shut down that airport too. So, with a heavy heart, Rucha and I set to work cancelling our flights and determining our alternative plans. All in all I lost around $500 from making these adjustments given the 3 flights.
On the bright side, I have to commend Rucha’s attitude throughout the whole thing, as others might have just throw in the towel and headed home. Instead, we decided to take a few days in Goa (for our beach fix) before heading to Hyderabad a bit earlier than planned. It also meant I would be able to witness more of the wedding I would be attending, which I was looking forward to.
So, 8 cancellations, 7 reservations, and 2 hours later Rucha and I emerged victoriously from the business center with our updated itinerary and, exhausted as if we’d stayed up late studying for a final or working on a last-minute PRD for work, headed to our rooms to order room service for dinner. After calling in my order and grabbing an apple, I flopped on my bed to flip on the tv, and was greeted with BREAKING NEWS: TERRORIST ATTACK IN INDIA.