Monday, 31 October 2011

Backsheesh and the British Empire

In between getting visas and the like we were trying to cram in some sight seeing, when you travel with James a lot of the 'sights' are not what you expect. After we had dropped of our stuff for our Sudanese visas we had tried to go to old Cairo and look at some of the ancient Coptic Christian architecture, we failed big time because the Egyptian taxi driver didn't know where he was going (bit like the one the first day we arrived) and we also hit some intense traffic jams. Instead of oohing and ahhing at some old bit of plasterwork we ended up moaning and groaning for 2 hours in the back of a very hot taxi, we saw an old tyre dump, a stable/slaughterhouse, a welders yard and squalid tenements as we moved slowly but surely towards a very dodgy area of Cairo. After a few attempts at getting the taxi driver to admit he was lost we decided we had had enough of the twit driving us about and told him to stop the car and in true British style I said we had had enough and were going to get another taxi. We walked for about half a mile through the tuk tuks and crowds of locals who seemed rather surprised to see us and managed to get another cab. I thought it a good idea to take on the persona of my alter ego Bachoule (great lady of the British Empire) and with my nose right in the air I strode forth trying to look as I knew exactly what  I was doing, occasionally nodding at the surprised gawpers. I tried to get a photo of where we were but had switched the camera to video, in my effort to conceal my camera I managed only to film my hand...
The next day we had some free time we went to Coptic Christian Cairo, this time we walked the 4k in the heat and ended up in what James has described as 'the medieval part' of the Coptic area.I might have not used the term 'medieval' but the locals were pretty friendly and eventually we found our way in. The architecture is beautiful, we saw St. Barbara's Church, St. Mary's Church, St. George's Church, my favorite was the 'Hanging Church' built on the hanging gardens of Babylon.
 There were some odd moments, in one church a well dressed young woman sidled up to me in one of the pews and asked me to give her a dollar, we were scammed by someone 'helping' us to find our way in to the churches who showed us photos of his children then asked for baksheesh but the oddest bit was looking at the reliquaries in the churches...aka body parts of dead saints. We were triumphant though when we managed to get the underground train back to Tahrir Sqaure, on the underground women travel in the first two carriages. We didn't manage this so I got in one with all the men, that was odd too.
On Wednesday we actually managed to get our Sudanese visas, James made contact with the agent here in Alexandria and we finally had confirmation that the car is actually on the ferry so went off on a jolly to the Pyramids....
For those of you who know me will know that I was hoping to be pretty gobsmacked by these, and they are of course magnificent but the experience was marred by the amount of hassle that you get as tourist. We had taken a taxi to the pyramids driven by a chap called Amir who was honest and knew enough English to crack a few jokes with us. I took to him cos he reminded me of our friend Mikey. As you arrive on the outskirts of the area you are met by a barrage of beggars who demand money and try to stop you from driving through. Amir was having none of this, he said 'have nothing to do with these they will shit on you'....well yes I thought and kick you in the shins too. As soon as we entered the compound for the Pyramids we were met with someone who 'needed to check our ticket' yeah right, then we were asked if we wanted camel rides or carriage rides or horse rides or did we want to meditate, or want hash, or a plastic pyramid or a stuffed camel.......this went of for about 2 hours.

One man and his son followed us for a bit, he offered us horse riding out into the desert and back only 20 Egyptian pounds, but we didn't want to ride a horse, his price was very low but he dropped it further. Eventually James explained we liked his horses, it was a very good price but we just didn't want to go on his horses....he looked so sad.

He said that normally he had lots of business but after the revolution there had been no tourists and he was worried, he said 'please tell them to come to Egypt it is safe'. I think he was a good man, not a scammer, he was just trying to earn a living. Then we walked into a young man who was employed as a tourist policeman, he offered to show us the way in to the third Pyramid and also offered to take our photo's.....see below...

ah how nice I thought and how friendly....then the inevitable request for baksheesh came....mmmm getting a bit fed up of this now. When we couldn't actually get into the pyramid as the electricity had blown James went to get a refund on our tickets and I went off to find Amir to take us back to Tahrir, I was a little hot and er tired so it was not the best time for anyone else to come up and try it on so when a couple of guys offered some tour or tat or whatever it was I just held up my hand and shouted 'NO! GO AWAY!'  and stomped past them like the Queen. They stopped dead in their tracks and mumbled something about Cleopatra....result.

On Thursday 27th we left the Royal Hotel in Cairo (top place) and traveled to Alexandria on the Superjet bus, this is super posh. We arrived hassle free at the bus station and ended up sharing a taxi with an American guy on hols who was headed in our direction. We were dropped of 2 mins walk to our current residence the Transit hotel. We have a corner room with air con. The hotel is on the 4th floor of an old colonial building, again looks a bit like a derelict but ok once inside, with a fantastic view of Alexandra bay and square.
Check this place out.

We were given some orange squash on our arrival and after a bit of unpacking popped out for tea. The square is a busy place, on the first night there was a big rally that went on a fair bit, it is a main traffic thoroughfare with trams about every hour or so. The noise level is high and sometimes the furniture vibrates in the room (from the traffic!) but we kind of like it.
Friday in Egypt is like Sunday back home, so we decided we could have a day off from trying to get the trip sorted and just faff about. This morning we went to see the Roman amphitheater, which was splendid for a number of reasons. Firstly there was no hassle to buy anything or go anywhere...bliss... secondly the ruins were beautiful

and we could sit in the shade and just be there and even take a bath.....

We went for coffee and pastries at the Cafe Delicious where we got talking to a couple from San Francisco (Judy and Gerry) who gave us the contact of a women's group we might do some work with in Kenya. Then we went for walk along the corniche to see the ancient Fort, we sat by the sea (Mediterranean) and watched guys trying to catch fish,

ladies gossiping while young men broke their backs trying to row tourists out past some pretty tricky rocks and big waves for pleasure rides....
We like Alexandria, it is more chilled than Cairo, it is freindly and apart from the odd stare and occassional request to go for a horse ride we are just allowed to get on with being here.
We have met our agent and our 'fixer' and both are ok. Dina our agent is a 'modern' Alexandrian, she dresses in the western style wears her hair loose. Mr. Ahmed is a bit of a dude, he rides a scooter and about age 65 he is an old hand at sorting out officialdom.
We had to visit the Egyptian AA to get a letter of acceptance from them for the car to allow it through customs tomorrow, when we got into the office the man dealing with the letter was not in a good mood and Mr. Ahmed looked at me and made the sign of cutting your throat. Blimey. Then for no apparent reason the AA man changed his mind and Mr. Ahmed stopped mopping his now sweaty brow, kissed his hand at all smiled. The letter was duly produced and stamped and the baksheesh was paid. Progress. I am glad we have Mr. Ahmed, I have read stories of people not doing too well with the administration processes out here because they don't have a fixer.
As the boat is now delayed to an afternoon docking we had another day off, we wandered to the big public/uni library and got talking to two young students of politics. They were really nice men, interesting and interested in what we thought of the revolution, of Islam, of materialism, of the British Royal family and laughed when James told them of his prowess in cooking falafel. We spent about an hour or so with them. Here they are.

  Tomorrow is a big day as we get the car from customs, Mr Ahmed will earn his money then for sure, we plan on spending another 2 nights here then head off into the Western desert and spend a few nights at the oasis along the way to Luxor.

Thanks to all of you who have put some comments for us on the blog, I thought we could reply back to you, I don't think I can so.....Yes Giles the first few weeks have been tiring, lots to do and figuring out where places are was at times a little frustrating, No Janet I haven't thought about going knickerless I could do though as I am having to wear trousers that Simon Cowell would be proud of so I could probably go without a bra too and well Soo I bet you had some exploits in Prague that are just as eye popping as ours. Thanks to everyone for looking after things back home. Saving the best message till last this is for darling Kate who has her birthday on 4th November...HAPPY BIRTHDAY FISH....LOVE YOU ALL THE STARS IN THE SKY....xxxxxxxxxxx
Take care everyone....
Dee and James

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