My flight to Ethiopia is in a few hours and I don’t feel ready. Somehow when I travel overland the transition is easier. When I fly I feel like I’m just thrown in the middle of things and have to quickly figure everything out. I printed my Oanda cheat sheet so I know that the official interbank rate is 8.55 bir to the dollar. But I don’t know how to pronounce bir or if there’s an ATM at the airport. I’m not worried though, it will all work itself out in a few days.
I should have no problem buying a visa on arrival with US dollars and the embassy here told me I wouldn’t need proof of an onward ticket (because I don’t have one!). I always think it’s funny when third world countries ask for proof of onward ticket. It’s not like many people are trying to illegally immigrate to Ethiopia.
There is internet in Addis, but I’m not sure how connected the rest of the country is. I thought I’d have more time to finish up posting on Egypt (with it’s free, fast wifi) before I left but I spent my time on things like e-filing my 2006 federal taxes and transfering money to cover my 2006 IRA contribution before the deadlines hit—not so fun for you guys.
My hostel has also been distracting, with the drama between one long-term guest who likes to watch the news (usually in Arabic) all day while the staff wants to listen to music. When I left two weeks ago they were having a fun time about their differences but it’s grown ugly with each of them complaining about the other to me. I find that a smile does wonders and they always let me watch Prison Break when it’s on.
The other woman in my room is staying for a few months to study Arabic and it was nice to come home to a friendly face. The cleaning woman has also become a good friend and seems to like me a lot. When she gives me breakfast (two rolls, jam, one boiled egg and tea) she gives my shoulder a little squeeze before leaving with a smile. This morning she peeled my egg for me, so we’re best friends now. I had to say good bye when she left work today and she told me (through a translator) that I’d be missed and then shook my hand and gave me two kisses on my cheeks. I will miss my dysfunctional Cairo family.
This morning I casually walked into the Egypt Air office and bought a one-way ticket from Cairo to Addis Ababa. Who buys a one-way ticket to Ethiopia, let alone only four days in advance? Huh, me, I guess.
The other day on my way home from dinner in Luxor I ran into a wedding party—literally—they were standing in the middle of the road. After about 15 minutes of horns and drums and a little uninspired dancing the couple went inside a photo studio. I had my little camera so I took a video. Street Wedding It’s not been edited down so it might take a while to load. Notice how all of the cars are driving by. I was standing on the traffic median.
I think a lot of you will be happy to hear that I just posted my long story about my time in Petra. Here it is, it’s long, so I hope it was worth the wait. I’m getting email notices on the new and post-dated posts so let me know if you’re signed up but didn’t get the Petra post and I’ll look into it. I’m still working on Tajikistan (I know, can you believe it?) and it’s going to be a four-part series. Part one is all ready to go but I think it’s better if I post it all at once. Hang in there, you will eventually see the infamous eyebrow-dyeing picture.
I left the cramped dorm room and free wifi of Cairo on an overnight train to Aswan almost a week ago. Although the lights were left on all night the first class car was the nicest train I’ve traveled on in a long time. Many things people have told me about Egypt have turned out to be exaggerations. I’ve figured out that a lot of people come to Egypt who aren’t exactly used to hard travel. Even my guidebook coddles it’s readers—I’m shocked by some of the obvious comments in there.
Aswan was a beautiful spot on the Nile and I found a hotel room with attached bathroom and a Nile view for only a little more than my Cairo dorm room. I sampled my first koshary there, but I also had a shocking sampling of the local male population. I was possibly the most covered foreigner in Aswan, wearing long pants, long sleeves, a scarf, socks and at times a winter coat but I still got hassled by men. Walking down the promenade along the Nile was the worst. Felucca captains would try to sell me a ride on their boat and finish with a proposition for sex. I generally ignored them, but one man, around 75 years old, wearing a traditional robe and white turban followed me when I wouldn’t speak to him. After he exhausted his felucca pleads he cornered me and asked me for sex. He continued to ask me more details about the subject while I looked down and realized he’d cornered me right in front of a garbage can. Although my first instinct was physical violence, I restrained myself and simply threw garbage in his face. He didn’t even blink.
Walking along the suq to buy some food I routinely heard kissing noises, hey baby, oooh so nice, oooh la la and so on. After a few days people started to ask me why I was so angry, smile baby, why are you alone?, are you angry because you have no boyfriend? I have to brave all of these things just to get a can of diet coke. The hassle for money isn’t so bad, it’s the blatant sexual remarks I hear whenever I’m in public.
I ran into a Canadian who I’d met in Jordan on my day trip to Abu Simbel and we booked a felucca trip together to Kom Ombo. I figured that booking through a popular hotel with a guy would help out a bit. The journey started off to a bad start when the three teenage Mexican backpackers we were grouped with were an hour late and our noble-looking old captain jumped off the boat as we sailed away. Instead of our trustworthy captain we were left with two young men as our crew. We sailed two and a half days, two nights along the Nile toward Luxor. The boat would have been more relaxing if I wasn’t the only female and the only non-smoker on board. We routinely docked on banks with no cover for me to use the bathroom and my nerves were tested.
Luxor, the so-called “hassle capital of Egypt,” has been a breeze compared to Aswan. There are a lot of comments, but they mostly stick to the sale and not my body. I am still getting cat calls, whistles and requests for sex but they’re yelled from passing cars and whispered as I walk by. In Aswan it was literally in my face.
I spent my first day on the East Bank at Karak and the Luxor Museum. Am I the only person not interested in mummies? The monuments here are massive and photos require a human figure in them for scale. I’m still surprised to see paint remaining on some of the temples and wonder what the tombs on the West Bank will look like. Tomorrow I am heading over there, possibly to The Valley of the Kings. Everything is quite spread out and almost everyone takes some sort of tour or hires a car. I like to stay for long times to admire the details and draw so my schedule doesn’t fit into this type of sightseeing. I spent four hours at Karak when most people spend one. We’ll see how it goes, I’m planning on heading over by ferry and renting a bike or picking up a shared bus on the other side. It’s not glamorous but it lets me interact with the local women and gives me the time I need to see things my way.
I finally went to the pyramids today. I took the bus there which helped me avoid the taxi touts. I hate to say this now, before I’ve been to Luxor, but Egypt isn’t such a hassle. I mean, it is, but nothing compared to India. Generally if you ignore everyone they will leave you alone. Sure, I hear all the snickers, kissing and sucking noises and comments about my backside but I can now easily let that all roll right off.
Yesterday when my hotel’s owner kept insisting I sit down on the phone I explained that I needed the exercise. He told me that I’m just Egyptian men’s type—not too big, not too small. My dormmate told me that people have commented on her being too thin. The women here are definately bigger and I feel a lot better about myself after Asia. I’m like a monster there.
In more exciting news, while I was in Cairo I found the Moleskine 2007 notebook I’ve been searching for in four countries. Only a few of you will understand how much this means to me. I can’t wait to sit down and copy the past two and a half months of expenses into it.
When I stopped by the Ethiopian Airlines office yesterday the agent put my name on a ticket. I believe it was leaving Cairo March 30th to Ethiopia with an open ticket to Nairobi. I might want to change that to Dar es Salam, but I have a week or two to confirm it with her. In any case, no money or obligation was involved but at least I have something in the works.
Although the ticket is around $510 USD I might just go with it. The cheapest ticket I can get to Ethiopia one-way is in the high $300 range and the more I research the land route between Ethiopia and Kenya the less inclined I am to take it. If I met a few people going that way it would be fine, but it’s not something I can consider on my own. With that in mind, an onward ticket would have to be less than $130 to make the Ethiopian quote overpriced and I doubt I would find a flight out of Ethiopia for anything close to $130.
Tonight I catch a first class train to Aswan on the Southern end of The Nile, in Upper Egypt. The train takes around 12 hours, but I only have a seat, no bed. The tourist train would have been nice, but at $60 USD a bed I just can’t justify it. My new student card got me a first class seat for around $11. Let’s just hope I don’t end up next to an Egyptian man that finds me just his type.
I was all ready to go to the pyramids today but it was raining. Who hears of rain in Cairo? I stopped by the Ethiopian Airlines office this afternoon when I realized that tomorrow is Friday. Everything is closed in Cairo on Fridays and I have a night train booked to Aswan. If I fly on the weekend I can fly Cairo> Addis> Dar es Salam or Cairo> Addis> Nairobi for $509. Actually, for two flights that’s not horrible.
The Ethiopian Embassy confirmed that I am allowed to fly in on a one-way ticket with no onward flight so it’s a possible solution. I’m still looking over the land route to Kenya though, which doesn’t look ideal.
Tomorrow is my last day in Cairo and it must be pyramid day. I have a night train to Aswan. Only twelve hours? After India and China that’s nothing.
I’m in Cairo, only about 10 kilometers from The Pyramids of Giza. Only I haven’t seen a single pyramid yet because I’ve been running around renewing my student card and checking into flights to any country South of Egypt.
Spending six hours in the tour group-packed Egyptian Museum was not stressful compared to figuring out where I want to go next. The four places I’ve checked so far have given me prices around $540 USD for a one way flight from Cairo to Addis (Ethiopia) to Dar es Salam (Tanzania). I could probably get to Dar for around $510. For kicks I had Casablanca quoted and it was closer to $300, even though the flight is longer.
I will be here at least a few more days, before heading to Aswan, Abu Simel and Luxor. Hopefully a revelation will come to me in the next 24 hours, along with a reasonable African airfare.
Now, firmly settled in mainland Egypt I bring you plenty of site updates. It only took a few extra days in my $3 plywood and wicker bungalow in Dahab to get done:
I’ve painfully calculated my expenses up through Jordan and realized that I spent an average of $43.42 per day there. The $45 entrance fee to Petra was a big culprit, but everything seemed more expensive there, especially after India where I somehow managed to spend $25.34 per day. It could have been much less if I ate less chocolate and was able to share hotel rooms with a travel partner. If you’re interested the table is updated on the finance page.
Finally, I had some inspiration. I spent a lot of time sketching on top of mountains in Jordan. In fact, I came up with the same amount of sketchbook pages to show you for Jordan as all of India. Considering the striking difference in time spent in the two countries I think it says something—maybe just that it’s hard to sit and draw when there’s cow shit everywhere. Take a look in the sketchbooks page.
Yes, I’ve bought a few things along the way. I admit that I sent three packages home from India. Some of my purchases are up the souvenirs page. The last package was almost only my awesome white Puma boots that I bought in Bangalore, but you won’t find them on the souvenirs page because they aren’t exactly souvenirs.
All of Jordan’s photos are up. They’re a litlte sparse aside from Petra but I didn’t have much to work with. Take a look for yourself.
Now sitting here in Cairo at a fancy coffeehouse with free wireless I’m contemplating my travel through Africa. I’m not sure where I’m off to yet, perhaps Ethiopia, perhaps all the way down to Tanzania. I’m thinking of stopping in Ethiopia for a few weeks, flying down to Dae Es Salam and then making my way through the Serengeti up to Kenya, from where I can fly to Madagascar. What do you guys think?