A Travellerspoint blog

Post-Hummus Anecdotes 2

"Jerusalem, if I forget you, let my right hand forget what it's supposed to do"

Subtitle courtesy of Matisyahu, the Pennsylvanian Hasidic reggae singer famous for beat boxing by the Wailing Wall. Regarding any sexual connotations, you'll have to ask him.

So we arrived in Jerusalem feeling chronic. BJ was on top form as he opted to stay at the beach, and so suggested we walked from the bus station to a hostel using the old ask-around-and-perhaps-use-map method so favoured in Syria. Through majority opposition the motion was dropped and sat in comfort in a private minibus which drove us straight to the Bullshit Planet pick of my 2004 edition. It was right outside the Damascus Gate and had a convenient shwarma joint right next door - our enthusiasm literally ground to a halt at about the same time as our digestive systems as we ate some: the main issue of contention was whether the meat was ferret or dog. Even the smell of it was repugnant; so much for Israel having the best food in the Middle East. We squeezed past a row of fruit stalls which lined the alley leading towards the stairs to the hostel, found some beds and after a short discussion, Dylan and I just went straight to bed.

After our false start of the first day we were raring to go and so set off into the Old City. Never before have I been to such a surreal and strange place - such a cramped and busy place teeming and swarming with surrealism that one just becomes desensitised to - IDF soldiers parading up and down the streets armed to the teeth, next to shop owners who all sell a mixture Palestinian flags and keffiyehs alongside kippahs and t-shirts with slogans such as "Guns n' Moses" or "Don't Worry, Be Jewish", whether the owner was Israeli or Palestinian. It was really strange to see how political views go out of the window in favour of making a quick profit, I wonder whether in times of war the Israelis will still be selling keffiyehs and the Palestinians selling flags and menorahs?

The smells that we were bombarded with were all so sporadic and so enticing, huge spikes of different coloured spices next to some frying chicken, and then cages full of live chickens and lumps of fly-covered red meat, shwarma joints and offal joints and buckets of pick-n-mix sweets and huge rows of baklava - we'd by now been long accustomed to souks but this was the lord of all, and especially when lost you round a corner to be presented with a golden dome not a hundred yards away and remember where you actually are. We wandered up and down getting lost and re-lost in the maze of the old city, coming out now in the Jewish quarter with hats and jackets and curled hair everywhere, now in the Armenian quarter with their clashing flag, and then standing aside to allow a long procession of candle-holding people chanting and following the person in the front who was carrying the full-size rentable crucifixion cross and following the stations on the path of Jesus' walk on Via Dolorosa (which was decided to be the actual path walked by Jesus at some point in the 18th Century, replacing older versions..). They'd follow the road and do what was done at each of the stations - here was where Jesus fell over, here was where he put his hand, here was where he sneezed, here was where he did his shoelaces up. We were all quite entertained by this show of piety so we decided to try and visit each of the Big Three, starting with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We followed a crowd of people all wearing matching Bible caps with an inkling they'd take us there and lo and behold we arrived in no time. The outside was quite understated, with a relatively small yard and slightly engraved walls over a small door which we took to be the front entrance. So we went in and were presented grandly with the Stone of Anointing on which Jesus was lain as he was taken off the cross (added in 1810) so we immediately followed suit with all of the pilgrims and bent down to touch the miraculous pebble, but not receiving any celestial visions or sizzling blisters we left to check the rest of the place out. Throughout the time inside I kept wishing I was one of these ultra-religious types because of the grandeur and obvious reverence that these priests and pilgrims held for the place, seeing the Chapel of the Finding of the Cross, and the Actual Stone In Which The Cross Was Placed, and An Actual Piece Of The Stone That Sealed Jesus' Grave. Because there are so many different Christian sects, and this being the holiest spot for all of them, the church is split-owned by each sect depending on its size, and as a result each of them gets 15-minute slots in which to hold mass or a ceremony or whatever until they have to hand over to the next in line, so we arrived and caught the end of the Catholic monks in brown-and-white garb swinging their incense and chanting in Latin before they all shuffled away and were replaced by the Eastern Orthodox with a bloke dressed in robes and a big green hat and more singing, this time in another language. Surrealism not lost on us, we decided to queue up with everybody else for our 10-second slot inside the old Jesus tomb - he wasn't in there, though, of course - so we touched that too and said some quiet blasphemy to see what would happen ("I think this is Santa's actual grotto") but God must have been punishing someone else at the time as we got off scot-free. The decorations inside were glorious though, a real mixture of all of the different Christian cultures, with gold mosaics on the walls in the Greek chapel and old Romanesque mosaics on the floor depicting Mary and friends and a great symmetrical design on the inside of the ceiling dome. At some point we saw the Coptic Christians which I think are my favourite sect, for the sole reason that because they were initially Egyptians (and still generally are) they use the word Allah to name the Christian god, for the reason that that is just the word for God in Arabic. Culture-overlap, excellent.

The hostel was excellent. Ran by a particularly shady guy who never seemed to be around and wasn't really bothered with this whole 'checking in' malarkey, it was kept clean by a legitimately crazy American guy named Louis. Now, I assume he was American and that his name was Louis but literally nobody could understand a word that he said so it's all just guesswork. I can't explain why he was difficult to understand except that he pretty much just couldn't speak. We could understand snippets though; one of his favourite things to say was when he gave us daily plates of pastries which had gone semi-stale from being out all day in the next door bakery - "Either eat it all or don't take it" or "Don't complain when I give something to you out of the kindness of my heart", and then he'd carry on shuffling around in his slippers clearing up things into his bin bag. It was a good few days before I realised that he actually worked there, and apparently he was pretty much homeless and just spent his days sleeping in the park and his nights clearing the hotel. He was a big fan of telling jokes, and assumed that people were just too stupid to get it rather than either a) not understanding a word or b) not understanding why that combination of words was funny. He called James 'Hot Pants' because he once wore a t-shirt with an 'H' on it... But that's jumping the gun. On the corner of our street was a guy with a barbecue, some blobs of meat on skewers and a bit of bread, and it was pretty damn tasty - he kept us well fed and we kept him well paid, and it was a symbiotic relationship through and through. Nothing could beat the chicken inside the Old City though - impossible to describe except "that guy down a bit and to the left", he fried up a celestial sandwich of peace and joy. He flurried on some red mixture of spices which I asked after: he said he didn't know what they were called in English, and at that point I knew I'd never find true culinary goodness again.

Whilst before I mentioned how expensive it was - don't think I'm about to take that back - I didn't quite realise the political edge to the cost. Of course, the basic level was that of expense but depending on the area the cost varied; often this was just a matter of 100 yards from one street onto its perpendicular. In the Old City, coke in the Arab turf as standard was 3 shekels; when you were in the Jewish Quarter it was about 8. The only realistic reason we could figure out for this blatant absurdity was that it was an attempt from the two 'sides' to further segregate and distance themselves from each other - an average Arab probably wouldn't go into a Jewish store on principle, especially in Jerusalem, and especially if the cost was going to be several times more; the same applies vice versa. Of course, though, most of the Arab shops were unable to fulfil our alcohol quota - except for the occasional Taybeh beer, brewed in Ramallah, which was definitely not sold in the Jewish shops (Taybeh means 'tasty' and as we learned in Beirut, can also be used as pertaining to the attractiveness of girls..) so we regularly saw proof of this crazed pricing. Even the same products, a tub of one brand of standard hummus, could alter price by double or more. This notion of self-segregation was so common that it didn't even strike us as strange to have a wholly Jewish area immediately change into a wholly Arab one within two minutes of walking, or the fact that the buses seem to be pretty separate; of course this is also to do with where the bus was going. In Jerusalem for example, there was a station near to our hostel which housed loads of white buses which headed towards Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem and other Palestinian cities, ran and used pretty much exclusively by Arabs, whereas in the Central Bus Station which was deep in the new city, all of the buses were run by the company Egged and went to Tel Aviv, Eilat, Haifa and so on - it went without saying that Egged didn't serve Ramallah. In fact, this level of mutually assumed separation emphasises how strange it was that in the Old City you would get Arabs and Jews alike selling t-shirts saying "Peace for Palestine" next to one stamped with an IDF badge.

Posted by kmaw 10:05 Comments (0)

Post-Hummus Anecdotes 1

Play on posthumous, you see

So it's been a while but now I think is the time to reignite the blog before all the memories fade into one hazy politico-binge; and also so that when Penguin get in contact with me (any day now) I can present them with a legitimate ending. Ironically, because Israel was the most interesting country we went to, there simply wasn't the time to document all the crazy things which happened because we were too busy doing yet more crazy things to leave undocumented. I barely even kept up with the diary, but I blame that on running out of space and having to buy a new one - it just lost its poetical edge.

Well, we took the bus from Eilat to Tel Aviv after a pretty easy border crossing with a mildly yet surprisingly friendly guard and a hoard of Bible Tour matching caps. The bus cruised all the way through the Negev desert, with the journey mainly taken up by a silent battle between us and the people in front over the multiple-seat-spanning window blind. Naturally, the British aversion to confrontation got the best of us and so we spent the majority of the hours missing out on desert. Arriving in the bus station, we were struck by how Syrian it all seemed - hectic stalls and bustling people everywhere, not much of this Westernisation that we'd been preparing ourselves for; the only noticeable difference was the sheer number of soldiers generally intimidatingly gallivanting around and knocking their guns into us. Pretty tired by now, we finally made our way outside, found a taxi, agreed on some arbitrary price and arrived at the hostel, only to find out that we'd been scammed already by about double on the cost of the taxi. We were heartily cheered, though, to find out that dorm beds were only $25 each.

Our worst nightmares came to fruition as we got to know the place better. Bright yellow on the outside the hostel may have been, but the draconian buzzer-to-enter system and 24-hour reception desk meant a 1984-style ever-present administration lingered over us; cheap internet ($5/hour), cheap washing ($8 for one washload), cheap pool table ($10 deposit).. The common area was a favourite haunt of the frequently-sighted Right Wing Americans who perpetually commandeered the television set and put on Fox news, "the voice of mainstream America" as we were staunchly informed. The entertainment factor wore off quickly after another well groomed man with his busty sidekick delivered another report about another nameless heartwarming family story involving kids dominated the airtime rather than the apparently uninteresting massacre in Cumbria - well, it's only England, and besides, there aren't any kittens. I definitely remember one of the Republican Club wearing some t-shirt along the lines of "Israel and America, hand in hand, democracy over terrorism", something like that. We felt slightly outnumbered, and our longing for some good old BBC was almost always crushed by a tyranny-of-the-majority style desire for 'unbiased' news (We Report, You Decide). Forget about Al Jazeera, that's for sure.

The first few days we sheltered at the beach for some old fashioned 'liberalism', did some sustenance shopping of kilos of pasta and tomato paste, and watched our money dribble away. We met the people in our room - a guy from Chicago and was heading out to a kibbutz, and took a disliking to us after BJ informed him that actually the Rolling Stones were from Britain, despite what his t-shirt seemed to propagate. There was another guy named Ed, from Texas, who drives a truck and had recently got his citizenship and wanted to volunteer in the IDF despite being old enough not to be conscripted, for the cause, man, the cause. He accused us of being flaming liberals and we retorted that he was an ultra-right maniac, and we got along famously. Most of our conversations descended into politico-teasing, with much jocularity on either side underpinned by an astonishment at the others' beliefs (such as, "They should tear down the Dome of the Rock and melt the gold into Stars of David" - we think he was joking, but were never quite sure..). We found ourselves an ally, though, in the shape of Dylan who was from LA and had done a similar trip to us (and met all the same guys in Lebanon and Syria; more material to support the argument for a class photo of ME Travellers 2010, all of whom will know each other by at most two degrees) and was the least patriotic American I'd ever met. Being somewhat liberal, we latched onto him and travelled for about a week together.

Tel Aviv being quite the party town, we befriended Perfect Vodka - a union that lasted throughout the remaining time on the trip. We were heading to Jerusalem soon and so our final night we planned a big night with a Mexican guy we named Mexico, a Polish named Poland and a South African and her friend, South Africa and Afrikaans respectively. Dylan became LA, BJ was Lebanon on account of his multiplicity of cedar bracelets and AUB stash, and I was UK. Nicknames deployed, we prepared Perfectly and headed out for what was to be the first of many, many messy Tel Aviv nights. Only Mexico, LA and I went out as the others wanted to chill on the beach and after, for some reason, forcing my details upon the taxi driver with instruction to get in contact if he was ever in England, we headed to a club to be rejected on account of being under 27. Who can even tell the time, but the night progressed / digressed with us misidentifying a gay bar (upon arrival, a guy came up to us, put his arms around us and happily yelled "oh my god! You guys are SO gay!"); being confused by a semi-naked dancer on the bar in another place full only of men, which we swiftly left; a swim in the Med at around 6am followed by a trek to the top of a hotel to see the view of the town; and falling finally asleep to the dulcet tones of Fox at some point in the morning. It was an unpleasant bus ride but we got there in the end - another few full bag searches later and we were home and dry in a great hostel a few minutes outside the Damascus Gate, ready to collapse and prepare for the unprecedented absurdity that is Jerusalem.

Posted by kmaw 15:52 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

The 'Holy Shit! That's Expensive' Land

At $5 / hour for internet, I literally can't afford to write anything more than this:

Bloody hell it is expensive here. We can barely afford to live, both of us will no doubt be bankrupt upon return to England. We're in a pretty sweet hostel though, at only $25 a night (wallet weeps) pretty much full of right wingers and nouveau-Israeli Americans who are here to fight in the IDF, and foreigners here on the government sponsored free tour of the Holy Land. As yet we've been shopping at the supermarket, bought pasta and eggs, a bit of tomato paste and an apple. After that we had to return to the bank to withdraw a bit more cash. Best thing seen yet: a 60 shekel cheesecake. Granted, it was big, and it did look good, but even Marks & Spencer's don't charge you 15 quid for a cake!

The beach is fantastic though, glorious soft sand stretching for miles and miles, and totally clean. After months in Arab countries, it is great to see a bit of 'liberalism' going on. These Israelis are all stunning as well, we'd heard rumours and touched upon the surface at border control, but it really is unbelievable, they may as well all be models. Border control was fine, didn't take too long and we didn't have that much of an interview this time to wasn't too bad. Apologies for the organisational randomness of this entry, but I can't afford to even touch it up a notch.

Posted by kmaw 11:14 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Freewheelin' Cairo

Actually, not freewheelin' at all, a very uninformative title

For the first time in the history of the blog, I am doing all of this from memory and without the help of the diary. So, anything that's inaccurate or chronologically wrong, or even just boring, I blame on that. Got my list of 'key themes' ready, so just have to remember some sort of plausible order.

We pondered stopping off at Sharm-el-Sheikh as we got the bus pretty late, but decided to plough on to Cairo anyway, to arrive at about midnight. Not hugely ideal, it being Cairo and all, but the bus ride was worse than the arrival - hellishly cold as the air-con was blasting away despite the crazy heat of the desert, music yelling out of the speakers as well as out of a load of people's phones, and to top it all off, my ipod ran out of battery half way through and I finished my book so had to sit through it with no distractions. We stopped off at an overpriced little shack for some crisps, and I finally cracked at the bastard manning the nasty toilets who said it was 3 Egyptian pounds to use - now, not only is it supposed to be 1 anyway, but I still don't understand why anybody would want to pay to use some nasty toilet when you have the whole desert spreading out before you. We had a good yelling match in which I said I wasn't paying him anything, then as he took a short wander I took revenge by taking a piss against the wall of his toilet shack. He wasn't pleased, but I was.

Well, the journey continued as normal after that, and ready for some real scamming upon arrival, we got into a perfectly focused state of mind by sleeping. Groggily ready for anything that should come upon us, we went up to one of the taxi drivers who were hounding for business and commanded: "take us to a hostel". He looked a bit bemused, and so we narrowed it down yet further: "near downtown." Well, we collapsed into his car and drove for a while, having agreed on some price which turned out to be quite good, and he dropped us off at a huge old building instructing us to go up to the seventh floor. We went into the foyer and it was great, decrepit old marble floors and stairs, with a genuine old empire-throwback mahogany lift with tiny double doors and a dubious looking winch. We used it with mixed trepidation and delight until an Egyptian warned us that it was quite dangerous, and if an Egyptian says so then bloody hell it must be. We took the stairs once, but after seven flights of exhaustion we concluded that the danger was worth it. Well, the hostel turned out to be pretty good and cheap, the room smelled of something dead but the breakfasts were pretty good, and each time we remembered that we wanted to change rooms it was already about midnight so we never got round to it. There were some seriously mangy cats around though, nasty little kittens with wiry tails and diseased looking fur who were picked on by the equally nasty older ones - no real sympathy there. It did answer the question of why our room smelled, but we never located the culprit, probably for the best.

Well, we were pretty well set up, and we found a great pastry shop next door to supplement breakfast and even usurp it later on - hard boiled eggs get a little tiresome, but cakes never seem to. We'd heard from numerous different sources that Egypt wasn't fun, that the people were just out to make money ruthlessly and cheat you everywhere and so on, but we'd almost attributed this to sensitivity on whoever's part and assumed that as we were now officially intrepid, we'd ride the time. Well, long story short, everyone we'd spoken to was right. On our first venture out we got chatting to an old man - at our own instigation - who invited us back to his place for some tea and his card, for some 'Egyptian hospitality'. Memories of Syrian friendliness mixed with language barrier came flooding back so we took the opportunity and he led us through some streets to some perfume shop. Increasingly suspicious, we took the tea and made to leave but were verbally pushed back into our seats as the owner performed the hardsell on us about some 'international Body Shop's scam. We got the hell away but not before the same old mendaciously 'innocent' old man managed to invite us to his papyrus shop as well. Obviously not actually his, but some commission scheme going on. That was the first of many - sometimes we believed these bastards' lies when they said "I'm not going to sell you anything" (damn right) or "Don't worry, I'm not taking you to a perfume shop" before leading us to the door. In fact, quite literally, we only had about one conversation in our whole time in Cairo that wasn't fueled by trying to make a profit out of us. In the end we just decided not to go anywhere with anyone, which was a bit of a shame; anyone who came up to us we didn't even give a slight benefit of doubt, immediately assuming they were here for some olfactory moneymaking and so either ignored them or tried their own game on them - they didn't like

As a city though, the place was awesome. Obvious colonial relics from both France and England meant that pretty much every street gave reason to stop and stare at a glorious old building, half painted, or covered in grime with shops bursting out underneath it. It was absolutely fascinating but saddening at the same time - the loveliest building we saw, pillars and wings and all, that we could see from the roof of our hostel, was apparently to be demolished to make room for a shopping mall or something similar. Of course, corruption being what it is, no such thing as a listed building and whoever has the money can do what they want. Cairo was a complete maze though, not a day went by without us getting totally lost but recognising every landmark so that it was clear we were only a block away from the hostel and circling for hours on end. The Nile flowed straight through the center and aside from the touts and their glass-bottomed-boat spiel, it was totally beautiful with reeds growing out of the sides, the water opaque and brown but reflecting the sun quite well, with the skyline of the other side and Giza town rising out. It was so hot that we spent most of the time just cruising around in board shorts and flip flops, like totally culturally insensitive hippies.

Saving the best 'til last, of course, we went to the Great Pyramids and preceded it with the Egyptology museum to fuel the knowledge fire. We saw all the classic artifacts, Tutankhamen stole the show of course but the place was so packed with fascinating things that it was impossible to even take everything in. Then of course, the trip to Giza was amazing - the most interesting thing about it was that instead of the pyramids simply rising out of the desert, the city limits are within about 50 yards of the nearest one so standing a little way away you can see the juxtaposition of the ancient triangles in front of sprawling miles of Cairo. I had no idea, those sneaky photographers..

So, having been exhausted by Cairo in just a week, we decided we probably could do with some more sun and sea in Dahab so had an equally nasty bus ride back, leaving at 4pm and arriving at 4am.. Slept for free in a hammock by the beach after watching the sun rise though, so it wasn't totally bad. As things go now, just finishing my advanced diving and then tomorrow morning, we head to Israel! Well, not before they could make a little scene aboard an aid ship headed for Gaza. Typical!

Posted by kmaw 06:31 Archived in Egypt Comments (1)

The Egyptian Debacle

Trouble on the Border

We left our taxi driver and he promise to wait for half an hour in case we were denied entry - optimistic thinking on his part - and set off down the path to the Jordanian border control. It was the single most relaxed border I'd ever crossed, manned by two people. The first one gave our bags a cursory glance-search and he then pointed to 'door 7' where his wingman was waiting with the stamp already out. He took one look, bang-bang stamp-stamp, asked (for some reason) if we were going to Israel and then sent us on our way. Arriving, the differences between the borders were pretty clear - men crawling all over the place in aviators, trainers and wielding M4s, officers stationed at every point indicating where you should go next, there were even pavements with arrows drawn on and pedestrian crossings on the road. We went in to the building and there were propaganda posters all over the place, Clinton with various ex-Presidents and leaders all smiling together. We were pointed to the passport office. Grand, we thought, stamp and go. Not so, of course, we had to wait for ages after having given in our passports, sitting down whilst counting out our shekels and watching the time go by. After about twenty minutes, we were both hauled up and had to go through a huge interview - what's your father's name, what's your grandfather's name (which one? - glower), phone number, email address, why did you go to Syria so many times, do you know anyone in Syria? Who did you stay with? Talk me through your entire trip... and so on. Exhausted, we sat down only to wait again for an hour or so whilst one man in his curtained office kept our passports, obviously seeing what he could find when putting 'Kit Weaver' into Google, or whether my phone number is ex-directory and so forth. At long last he decided we weren't national threats and so we were allowed through, tentatively watched by the M4-toting lad brigade.

We picked up a taxi, and typical, it was the Shabbat, so we had to pay more to get 10 minutes away to the next border. The driver seemed saddened that on our first visit to Israel we were heading straight through, and announced that Jordan was "like Gaza" before snickering. The short drive through Israel was pretty interesting, it was only Eilat but it certainly gave off some as yet inexplicable feeling. Maybe it was just relief in road organisation after months of hecticity, or perhaps the stunning yet incredibly cold girls who were manning the border control and exchange desk, I can't pin it down. Either way, I'm pretty excited to go back there. We arrived at the next border paid a huge exit tax - apparently, it would have been cheaper to wait and get the ferry. Never mind, we were nearly there, so we plodded through to the Egyptian end.

There was even more of a difference here than before, it was absolutely crazy! The place was absolutely bustling full with confused tourists milling around, about one or two guards in little shack-offices dressed in deeply colonial uniforms and guys trying to sell us 'travel agents letters' for $50. We went straight in and walked past the bag scanning and metal detector security post as nobody was manning it, yet all the tourists were seemingly going through the motions anyway as if hoping to make the system more organised by sorting it out themselves on the receiving end. We went to the 'bank' to get our visas, $15 dollars we'd be told, and were jumped by one of those travel-agent-$50-jokers. No thanks, we know the deal, I'm not giving you anything. So back to the bank and he tells us that unless we have a visa in advance, we have to have a tour guide, and considering we're traveling alone we can get the equivalent for just $50 from one of these guys. Oh no, not government sponsored corruption, come on, this is 2010. So, a little frustrated and still swatting away the swarm of these profiteer-merchants, we head to the head officer who was stamping away and barge in front of a bunch of miffed French tourists - the British innate queuing desire had being torn out long ago - and start demanding to know what was going on, so he slowly explains to us that we need a letter, and it's only $50, and without it we can't get in. The visa costs $15, we snarl, not $65, this is a joke. We look for people higher up than the man in the office-shack but apparently there were none, so we localise it and start harassing the guys trying to sell us the letters, swearing in Arabic (half of my vocabulary is unusable until occasions like this, when it becomes masterful) and generally mouthing our dislike for such an openly corrupt system. Well, he suggests, you can go back to Eilat, stay the night (as it of course was still Shabbat, everything remains closed until Sunday) and then get a visa, pay the exit tax again, and then come here again and not pay $50, but he reckons it will be cheaper for us to just pay now. We stomped about and tore out our hair to find a way out of this totally unseen corruption-net we'd found ourselves in but there was no obvious escape except to succumb and pay. But of course, we didn't have enough dollars so we pay the ATM to let us take money out there, realise that 200 EGP is about $30 and therefore not enough so pay again to let us take out more, then be scammed on exchange rate to the $50 for the letter which we patently do not need anyway. We were raging.

Out we get, rehearsing our grievances once again with Egypt, and a man pops up and offers to take us to Dahab for just 100 each. NO we snarl, I'll give you 20 and not a fucking penny more! Several more come up and start arguing amongst themselves, so we kept it up as long as possible for entertainment's sake by baiting them with various loaded questions about distances and petrol costs and so on, until the original guy pipes up that they apparently have formed some sort of cartel and they will all only take us for 100 each. And if that wasn't enough, a kilometer up the road we get stopped to pay 'entry tax', as described on some makeshift sign by some makeshift policeman. No look, it says vehicle 35, we're in a vehicle so 35 it is, get the driver to pay. No, the policeman says, tapping his holster surreptitiously, its 35 for the vehicle AND 75 for each passenger. The steam from our ears nearly fogged up the windows, as we worked out how much more expensive it was to come this way round rather than come by ferry. Well, about 150km later and we arrive in Dahab, ready for the paradise that we'd heard so much about, and the driver asks for a tip. No chance.

Well, we calmed down quite a lot after a few days in Dahab, which turned out to be somewhat paradisiacal after all. 30 EGP for a night at the hostel, which is around $5, right on the seafront. The whole town, though incredibly touristic, is quite cool, comprised mainly of tat shops, restaurants and dive schools. By this time, about 10 days later, we know most of the restaurant proprietors and know our favourites, and have singled out one (El Mundo) for fun and games, constantly passing him by with promises of 'later, later' until he's finally cracked and now just glowers as we walk by. The sun here is fantastic, and being touristic it is always very liberal, meaning that beer is aplenty and it is perfectly normal to walk around barefoot in nothing but board shorts. We spent several days just sitting back and relaxing by the sea, tanning and reading and generally lounging around to make up for the long break from lounging we'd experienced since Talal. We looked around for a dive school who could train us and came across a place called Octopus World, classic name, and the Canadian guy who runs the joint named Bob won us over before we had a chance to even look at the other places so on a cursory walk up and down looking at the outside of other places we took a view and just went back. We swiftly got gear together and read the typically condescending manual, before taking to the water the next day. It was incredible, the combination of weightlessness and underwater breathing, as well as the proximity to coral and tropical fish, but the first dive was made up of just drills which we nailed, along with the rest, to prompt Bob to squeal with delight underwater and call us naturals. We finished the course pretty quickly and had our pictures taken for the photo-IDs (stash, of course) whilst chanting 'qualified, qualified'.

After a day off where we slept heavily after several 9am starts and did some binge reading, I decided to carry on and do the advanced, whilst BJ was to do some kiteboarding as we'd found a place that rented out gear. Agreed on a price with Bob, set off for a dive and had a bit of ear trouble so only did the one dive in the day, followed by a pub quiz in the evening which our dive school won, of course. The next day I went back, excited to be carrying on and free of the trouble but of course it began again - I aborted the dive and went to the doctor, who diagnosed me with 'otitic barotrauma' - that is to say, too congested to equalise the air in the ear so the sinus wall breaks in a body-sponsored safety measure, filling the cavity with blood which then flows freely from the nose. Medicine prescribed, diving banned for 5 days. Gah, well, to Cairo tomorrow and then back for the course!

Posted by kmaw 04:32 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

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