Two weeks in Egypt, and I'm ready to go.
Now, I hate to complain, but boy I didn't enjoy Egypt. Or, rather, though I had a good time overall here, my joy had little to do with Egypt and mostly dealt with the people I met and time alone on my laptop.
From the moment I arrived in Cairo, I was being hustled by virtually everyone I met. I mean, everyone. Perhaps things are just really bad here (though I fail to see how they could be worse than South Africa with it's 45% unemployment, and they managed to have a fun place to visit), and perhaps their culture just places absolutely no emphasis on respecting a person's solitude, but damn it gets annoying being white in this country. And to be white and a woman -- that's something I just could not imagine.
After pushing off an AK-47-toting security guard at the airport trying to get me to stay at his buddy's hotel, a fellow traveler and I find our way to downtown and split a room. At the hotel our "friendly" receptionist hooks us up with a taxi driver that will take us to all the sights, give us a tour of the museum, get us in everywhere, all for $15 US for the both of us. We fork over the money, and proceed to get drug to his friend's Papyrus "Museum" (acutually just a shop where they sell cheesy paintings on Papyrus), to his friend's horse tours of the pyramids (where we're given no option but paying a ton for an annoying man to take us around the pyramids, who then stops us in the middle of the desert to demand tips), and in general from one place to another where we get ripped off at each. The final destination is his travel agency, where I am introduced to an extremely friendly woman that hooks me up with a tour of the Nile and some of its sights.
Of course, like everyone here, she was lying to me, and the tour was more overpriced and underserviced. Despite asking whether or not I can just buy train tickets and hotel rooms on arrival ("Oh, no, you've got to do it at least two days in advance") I find that I could have arranged virtually everything myself at a much lower cost and much less hassle. I take an expensive private room on the train ("What's the cheapest train option?") I'm stuck in a crappy, desolate hotel ("I'll put you in the hotel where most of the travelers stay") away from all of the travelers.
Visiting the ruins, despite the abundance of hustlers out trying to make a buck ("Hello! You take my picture? Ahh... tips? Baksheesh? [Roughly meaning 'Share what you have', basically begging]"), is impressive. Not only are the structures themselves quite amazing, but they were drug out of the bottom of the Nile after a dam covered them completely with water: To physically chop up a huge, solid-rock temple and move it 80m away is almost as impressive as building it in the first place.
The highlight of the trip is a falucca ride down the nile: essentailly a wide, open-deck sailboat that plies the waters up and down. Alexandra, Don, Han, two French travlers, and I join Captian Cook (Abduli) and Hamed on a wonderful and lazy float down the green ribbon in the desert. Of course, this is not without its own hitches: due to cultural differences orders of magnitudes more strong that I would have thought still existed, Alexandra had exceptional trouble changing her itinerary as it offended the honor of her tourguide to be addressed by a woman and not informed in advance of her intent to change. At the point he was actually yelling at Alexandra that he wants her to be happy, he finally calmed down and was persuaded by calm reason and US dollars to let her come.
After the falucca we hop in a bus and are given military escort to Luxor, the worst (and best) city on the trip. The best part was that we managed to find fun despite the the city. The worst part is that the city itself is totally obnoxious. I now completely understand why girls get so furious when cat-called walking around, and I'm much more open to anti-sexual-harassment laws because of it. However, I'd prefer that they were expanded not to just include advances of a sexual nature, but just annoying and outright offensive behavior in general.
Everyone in Egypt knows two English phrases, "Hello!" and "What's your name?", and they insist on using them at every possible moment. Walking down the street earns you an unending stream of people yelling to and at you, ostensibly in an attempt to be friendly, but in effect making you into a total hard-faced bastard that attempts to ignore the outside world as much as possible. On top of that, the merchants are so aggressive that it takes extreme effort to pass them by unmolested. "Hello, what's your name? Hey.. [kissing noise, which is their way of getting attention] Hey, you want falucca ride? Why say no, no, say yes. You know how much? Hey.. Hello... Hey, you dropped your money! [No you didn't] Hey, You want falucca? One hour, you know how much?"
Eventually I escape Luxor and tour hell and am free to make my own decisions once again. I buy a cheap ticket on a train an hour before boarding and head to Alexandria, where I am right now.
Alexandria is really a nice place, and it's heaven on earth in comparison to the rest of Egypt. It's reasonably clean, modern, and pretty wealthy (by Egyptian standards). Because it's less visited by and dependent upon tourist dollars, it's a much more tourist friendly place (as counterproductive as that may seem). People bother you much less here, and when people appear friendly, it's usually because they actually are. It's... almost like I would expect in any other city in the world -- incredible!
I've been here for several days waiting for my boat across the Mediterranean (actually more like a cruise ship booked with one-way passage), the obtaining of which was its own adventure. Five travel agents with five different answers: "No, no passenger boat has left Alexandria, Egypt's major port city, ever in recorded history, but I'd be happy to book you a flight." "Passenger boats used to leave from here, but don't any more. I'd be happy to book you a flight." "Passenger boats don't start until July 15th, but I'd be happy to book you a flight." "I think that Nasco tours does this still, though I don't know. Would you like a flight?" "Yup, we leave on Thursdays and Sundays, but only to Cyprus. But why not fly?"
So, I leave on Sunday for Cyprus, off the Turkish coast just east of Greece. I'm looking forward to my first night on an actual cruise ship, though I expect I'm going to be a bit underdressed to take advantage of the night dancing. Until then, I'll be enjoying my time in coffeeshops, trying without a modicum of success to blend into the woodwork. I'll see you in Europe!