Saturday, 18 July 2015

Summer of Fun: Egypt Part 2

Read Part 1 here, and the beginning of my Summer of Fun through Greece here.

20 - 22 May
The next few days all passed in a similar fashion. I was exhausted, unable to eat, unable to retain food. After the first sleepless night on the cruise ship, I attempted to be up and ready at 3am to go to Abu Simbal, one of the optional extra excursions (and quite expensive) These twin temples were carved out of the mountain for Ramesses II and his queen, Nefertari and then relocated in the 60's to stop them from being submerged by water.

My body was still aching and I felt dreadful - my lovely [and organised!] roommate let me use her thermometer - a fever. My allergy to paracetamol then reared its head, and I vowed to make sure I travel with Aspirin henceforth. I vowed to travel with a lot of things henceforth [namely bandaids, rehydrating sachets and imodium), as a result of this sickness.

I had heard so much about the temples but, disappointed, I decided I was in no state to go. I stayed behind on the boat and tried to rest. In the morning I asked the reception of the cruise ship if they had any aspirin and if not, where I could find some. They were quite willing to just let me wander out on my own in search of a chemist. Shortly after, the new Travel Talk guide arrived on board, and he kindly walked with me to find some medication. 

Without going into detail, the drugs to settle my belly did not work. I tried to eat, but I couldn't. I spent one morning by the freezing cold pool wondering how on earth they made it so icy when it was in the sun all day, wasn't deep, and was in the middle of 40+C temperatures. Most of the time I spent in bed.

The Thursday I tried to visit the Edfu temple. I thought I was feeling a little better; we caught a horse and carriage to the site and the sunshine perked me up a little. However, once there I could not stand for longer than a few minutes and had to sit down on the dusty floor. When we were given free time to roam, I made my way back to the shelter, where I purchased a white Egyptian shirt with the help of the guide Michael who made sure I wasn't being ripped off. On the way back to the boat, I was unwell all over a poor mans shop. He gave me a lemonade for free as lemon is good for upset bellies, which I accepted gratefully but in hindsight should have given him some money.

I was disappointed I was unable to party it up on the boat - it would have been good fun despite our small crew, but I was in no state. Thursday afternoon, as I lay in bed sound asleep, I was jarringly awoken by the phone ringing. 
"Hello Sasha! This is Ayman! From Reception! Can you come out into the reception? May I add you on Facebook?"
Huh? What? What's happening? I mumbled something incoherent and went back to bed.

Thursday night, we watched the boat descend through the lock; right down to ground height. Here men on the side of the road would throw their wares over the side of the ship to try to get you to purchase them. Shirts fly up, shirts fly down. 

Up here on the top deck, I was cornered again by the boy Ayman from reception who had my name from my passport, and had indeed added me on Facebook. It all clicked, what the conversation that afternoon on the phone had been about. In my disgusting state, I was being wooed by the boy on the front desk. I couldn't believe it. I stood chatting with him for a short while, promising to return later and being the horrible person I am, never did. I went to bed.

Friday afternoon we were reforming with the main group who had been on the felucca. In hindsight (and also at the time), I can not be more thankful that I was on the cruise ship and not on that felucca. Small mercies! When I boarded the coach, there was a spare seat up the front next to another poor lady who was unwell. "I do warn you, I will probably vomit," she said. "Oh do not worry," I replied, "do you have a spare plastic bag?"

Before rejoining the group that morning, I had approached Michael, the guide on board the ship. "I don't think I can catch the eight hour coach back to Cairo," I said. "Is there any way I can fly?"

Michael was instantly on the phone to Sam, and together they organised a flight for me; 1st class would have cost about £200 inc transfers, and would have left at 6pm that day. Economy, coming in at £80, would be leaving at midnight. I had initially chosen first class, but the one remaining seat sold out and so they booked the other flight for me. I was extremely grateful. 

On the bus, we visited another famous site, the name of which escapes me, and Bec and I decided we were far too unwell to traverse it. We sat (or lay down) in the relative air-conditioning inside the main building and discussed our various maladies. After what felt like an age, the tour returned and Sam came up to me. He had organised a driver to the Luxor resort, where I could stay in the lobby until it was 11pm, whereupon I would be picked up and driven to the airport.

This was a brilliant plan. My luggage went with the bus, and they would be arriving into Cairo a couple of hours ahead of me. I stayed in the Luxor resort, browsing the internet until it was sunset. I wandered out onto the balcony and watched the beautiful sunset over the Nile, with a cup of calming lemon-infused tea to try to hydrate me a little. While I was sitting out here, a gentleman and his son sat near me, also enjoying the sunset. We started chatting; they were British and the father had been living in Egypt on-off for 15 years. It was a fascinating and entertaining chat, I learnt quite a bit about Egyptian life and it was a lovely way to pass the time while I waited for my plane. They eventually left to grab some dinner, I attempted to eat - again with no luck, before napping on a sofa inside. 

Sunset over the Nile was quite spectacular.

Come 11pm, I was driven to the airport, shown through without a hitch, and it was a relatively uneventful flight. Bishu met me on the other side again - he seemed very concerned about my welfare. He insisted we stop at another chemist and he kindly purchased for me some new drugs and some snacks. I arrived back at the resort about 2.30am; luckily Emma my roommate was still awake, and I collapsed into bed.

23 May
This was the last official day of the tour. We rose early and our first stop was the Cairo museum. Earlier, I had purchased an ID card which would allow me half price access into [Europe's] major monuments. Looking at the card, it is the dodgiest piece of ID I have ever seen, and when I tried to visit the website, it failed. None-the-less, the photo was taken on the first day of the tour. I wryly showed the picture to those around me and the fat face staring out from the card was markedly different to the sunken face I now possessed. "At least I'll look good in my bikini now," I joked.

I looked about as good as I felt.

The museum was not air-conditioned. Bec and I struggled. Luckily, the tour provided headphones, so Bec and I could find a place to sit but could still hear the description of the artefact, and then make our way over to have a quick peek at it before desperately seeking out somewhere else to sit.

At lunch time, Sam lamented that if I had been on the felucca, he would have given me a remedy that would have made me better instantly! I was not convinced, but over lunch I did try his remedy. I don't know if it was the new drugs, or Sam's wonder concoction, but that afternoon I did start to feel a little more alive. The trick? A tablespoon of cumin in a glass of water. Curry taste repeated on me for the rest of the day as a result, but I do believe it helped.

This afternoon we visited the Hanging Church and a mosque, where all of the ladies had to cover up, head to toe and hair covered, with a bright green gown. Next up, the markets. With a combination of the drugs and cumin taking affect, and the adrenaline, Roxie and I traversed the markets quite well (as exhausting as they were) and haggled our way to some great and cheap purchases. Back when I visited India, I found haggling to be one of the most painful, aggravating experiences. Now, I understand how to do it, and find the challenge quite fun. All you need to do is: know roughly what you want to pay for something. Then, whatever they offer you - quarter it. Quarter it, and then work your way up to your price. If they don't want to agree with your price, walk away. Somewhere else will likely have the same wares.

That evening, dinner and drinks provided a great example of the Great Egyptian Confusion.
"May I have a gin and tonic." Goes away. 10 minutes later, returns. 
"Sorry, we don't have any tonic." "Ok, may I have a vodka and lemonade." 
Goes away. 10 minutes later, returns "Sorry, we don't have any vodka." "Ok, what do you have?" 
Goes away. 
Roughly 2 hours later, we had all the food and drink we had required, and I ate almost a full pizza. It was amazing. Saturday night - this was my first meal since Tuesday lunch time. It felt good to eat.
I hit the hay early.

24 May
4.30am. Emma's alarm goes off. "Come on, we have to get up!" she says. I laugh, as I was already awake, and said "I'm not leaving - I'm staying in Egypt until tomorrow!" She apologised profusely, as in her sleepy state she forgot that I wasn't heading off to Jordan for another tour. I bid her adieu and hoped we could meet again some day. I returned to sleep.

I spent most of Sunday by the pool, splashing around, relaxing and eating. In the evening, I joined a couple of sisters to see the Pyramids light show. It had been told that if you climbed to the top level of the KFC, you could watch the light show - with a better view - for free (or for the cost of a meal). So this is exactly what we did. We haggled a taxi driver who waited for us so we would have a drive home. The light show was kitsch but pretty, and after an hour or so we were ready to leave. On the return to the resort, we saw a boy casually riding a camel, as the driver took us through side and back streets giving us a completely different perspective on the city.

Pyramids and Sphinx at night

I had one more sleep left in Egypt before I was to be flying to Italy via Athens the next morning. That in itself was a debacle, but that's a story for the next instalment


Silver lining? The bikini had it's debut!
Farewell Egypt, you still have one curly one
left to throw at me...