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February 24, 1993 to March 27, 1993

February 24, 1993 to March 27, 1993

 

 

Before the reader begins my journal I should remind him that my facts are unverified and often are my perceptions of what I was told, not necessarily fact.  The following entries are what I believe to be true as I saw it.  I acknowledge that even on occasion I misunderstood or misread or had an explanation offered to me which was either false in its basis or I mistakenly recorded an event as I interpreted it

 

Written by

Mike Richards

 

 

 

February 24, 1993        Wednesday     Cairo, Egypt

 

I arrived in Cairo thirty minutes earlier than scheduled, but I had slept easily on the uncrowded plane.  I met a young Egyptian man, Khalid Ibrahim, who just got his pilot’s license during his stay in Los  Angeles.  He was traveling the same route from L. A. to Cairo as I was, so we traveled together. 

 

I have arrived during Ramadan.   Ramadan is an important Muslim holiday.  It is a period of penance, during which Muslims abstain from “earthly pleasures” like food, water, and companionship of the opposite sex.   Alcohol is always forbidden.  They feel that this month-long holiday teaches strong moral character, but more importantly, it is demanded of the faithful to participate in this ritual.   The Koran, the holy book of Muslims, dictate the daily beginning and end of fasting.  Each day the exact time of the beginning and end of the month-long the religious leaders determine ritual.  Ramadan is over today, so all shops, banks, and museums have reopened until very late.  It is necessary to do so for Moslems after their daily period of fasting.

 

Khalid’s two brothers, who picked up Khalid and me from the airport, brought me to Hotel Baron.  They drove an older, well-maintained silver-colored Mercedes.   It is a four-star hotel that put a dent of over a hundred dollars in my slim bankroll for each of the next three nights.  The hotel is in the wealthy Heliopolis suburb about six miles outside of  Cairo.    Immediately I noticed I wasn’t the only foreigner here.  There are many Japanese, Chinese, and Germans in this hotel.  It would be difficult for most foreigners to weather the difficulties that the month long penance of Ramadan would bring and shelter in this westernized hotel is welcomed by the residents.   The period of abstinence from food, water and other comforts of life are self-denied by almost all Moslems.  The Coptics, an ancient Christian religion which is much in the minority usually consumes food or water in the privacy of their homes, not in public. 

 

I rented a cab for three hours for a fixed rate of ten dollars.  The driver was “Captain Ali,” as he introduced himself to me, retired from Egyptian Air Force.  I asked him to show me the old bazaar in Cairo.  Often he would park the yellow taxi and walk with me as if for protection through the twisted unpaved streets.  Later, we sat and talked at a small neighborhood cafe.  The patrons were playing backgammon and drinking tea.  Only rarely would one of ten patrons raise his voice as discussions among all of them seemed to be about some political issue that each of them had an opinion.  Ali had great interest in the United States and we discussed our differences and similarities in living. 

 

A young boy came over while we drank coffee.  He started to give my white leather walking shoes a shoeshine.  Captain Ali insisted that I let him continue since he would only want very little, about ten cents.  Captain Ali paid for the coffee and the shoeshine.  Because Islamic law strictly prohibits liquor, there are no bars or taverns.  Instead men usually gather in places such as we are in now for coffee while playing a game of backgammon.

 

When three hours began to stretch to four, I paid Ali generously, sixty Egyptian pounds,  and began to walk through the neon lit rows of open stores.  In this area there were no street lights so all pedestrians were dependent on the light  from the stores. Several strings of forty watt light bulbs irregularly ran across the street strung as though they had been  left behind after a street celebration. 

 

After quickly debating whether to eat here or not, I sat in a quiet corner of the restaurant where I could watch the happenings and read the menu written in Arabic and English.  I've ordered  tea and grilled pigeon. I hope this choice does not unfold to be one of those remorseful surprises. 

 

A short five minute wait was enough for the waiter to bring the food to me.  Wow! Very spicy! The tea is made from hibiscus flowers.   This drink is deep red in color and very sweet.  If I said the bird  tasted like chicken, I'd be lying -- it tastes like  pigeon, a dark and oily meat, but not unpleasant.   The combination of flavors is very good.  The small quantity served to me is not disappointing because this meal is very rich.   I took several photos of the meal so that I would remember exactly what it looked like.  I'm not eating the white vegetables, while they looked good, they appear to be uncooked and I cannot see a similarity to any vegetable I have ever eaten before.  I know to not eat uncooked vegetables or drink unbottled water.  I finished the pigeon.  It goes on my list with haggis in Scotland -- once is enough.

 

Back on the street after my meal, I am disoriented.   I hope I'll be able to find my hotel again.  It's 10:30 p.m. Cairo time.  If I were in Los Angeles right now, it would be 7:30 a.m. I am starting to feel the change of time. Fortunately I brought a compass and map with me so I should be able to get my bearings.  Even with the map, the ancient streets of Cairo twist psychedelically, rendering my compass of little value.  This area is replete with the truly poor, yet I did not sense danger as I walked past them.   Many streets in “Old” Cairo are in disrepair or not paved at all.   It requires my full attention to make certain my feet light on a level spot.   As I walk there are few such spots to find.

 

My first impression of Cairo, with a special magic about it, is that there are certain local customs that are going to be difficult for me to make adjust to.  The people freely ask for baksheesh, which is essentially a tip, even if I only took a picture of their store.   I think I'll stay longer in Cairo if I can't get a tour tomorrow either through Cairo or to Abu Simbel.  Everything is cheap except transportation.  The rest of today was spent walking through Cairo until long past midnight.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

February 25, 1993          Thursday           Cairo, Egypt

 

Today is my first full day in Cairo. To have local currency I exchanged eighty-five U.S. dollars for 260 Egyptian pounds.

 

             Expenses for the Day:

            130 Egyptian pounds for an all day private cab and “tour”

              25 Egyptian pounds for breakfast

            40 Egyptian pounds for a local guide

            10 Egyptian pounds for Baron Hotel clerk

            20 Egyptian pounds for Baron Hotel Assist/Camel boy

            10 Egyptian pounds for Post Cards & Stamps

            10 Egyptian pounds  for entrance to Pyramids

            20 Egyptian pounds for a museum entrance fee

            330 Egyptian pounds for hotel room

 

 

The driver of the taxi for today is also named “Ali.”  The Baron Hotel in Heliopolis recommended him.  Ali brought me through the Necropolis, or The City of the Dead.  Because Cairo land is expensive, many poor people moved onto a small plot of land  if they  promise to maintain this plot of land on which a wealthy family has the family graves  built.  So the poor families maintain and clean the grave site in exchange for squatter's rights to use the plot at night to sleep and cook.  I was told that over 1,500,000 people live in this fashion.  Now I can see how a new city is built over an old one. 

 

We drove into the Necropolis, and my driver picked up one of the caretakers, who for ten Egyptian pounds (baksheesh) gave me a private tour of Mahomet Ali's family entombment.  The public isn't allowed inside because the building is in bad repair.  Each casket told a story by the extensive carvings hammered into the huge gold-plated caskets.  I was led into the throne room where Pasha Ibrahim ruled.  The story is told that his father, Saladin, was a very strong ruler.  Here he had murdered 500 Marmlukes, who were his former friends and allies because he was told by one of his advisors that his friends would destroy him, so he had a meeting called.  Once all the Marmlukes had gathered in this room, he had the doors sealed and had them killed here in this room.  Only one ever escaped, who returned to murder the Pasha as revenge for this act.

 

 

 

I walked along a wide avenue, outside the Necropolis, filled with more prosperous stores than in the Bazaar.  Every Egyptian who spoke English also owns a papyrus factory or perfume store that he'd like me to see.   They all wanted only to show the store to me.  Every Egyptian I to whom I spoke, as I walked along the streets of commerce, tried the same tactics.  First they almost playfully determine your country of origin (usually they are successful if allowed two guesses).  Then the merchant will speak to me in a familiar tongue to befriend me. 

 

They will entice the unwary into their store to sell them a lot of whatever merchandise the store contains.   I watched this happen time after time.  I was sucked into a few stores regardless of my protests.  It was difficult to resist all of them.  I enjoyed hibiscus tea in two stores but bought nothing in either establishment.

 

Ali brought me, as requested, to the Giza pyramids.  I believe there is a tradition that all drivers must follow.   Ali brought me there for the standard fleecing given to all tourists who visit this important site.  Nonetheless, this was one of the best highlights of the entire trip.  The Sphinx and other pyramids, including many more recent digs, will soon be blocked from public tourism, so some of these monuments will be difficult to repeat in later years.   Finally Cheops, which I alone entered.  Twenty minute later I was mounted on a camel for a solo ride through the desert.    They let me ride off through the desert with the camel.   I found the camel as easy to control as a horse except that to turn the camel, they must be turned to the right at all times.   Even if you want to turn left, the camel is turned to the right until you are facing left.  Strange.  The walk inside the pyramid was worthwhile, because going inside it was like it must have been a hundred years ago.  Every Egyptian was ready to make money from me.  The Egyptians love Americans, maybe because they spend like crazy.   

 

I saw dead people and animals left out in public view on the edge of the street, as though they were trash, but I saw no crime.  I ate an American style hamburger for lunch at the Cairo Hilton, but they would not let me make some calls from here, probably because I was rather poorly dressed.   Weather permitting; I’ll go to the Bazaar again before I leave by train to Aswan and Luxor.   I had such great plans, which may go astray because I'll soon run short of money; at the rate I am spending now.   I may have to use credit cards to survive.

 

This is a wonder filled city.  Last night seems like a dream out of "Aladdin."  If I spent no more time in Cairo, I could easily begin to believe I've never been here except in a dream.   One more cigarette then I'll leave the restaurant.  I'm the only paying customer, everybody else seems to be a family member of some sort.

 

A twenty-pound note is worth about $7.60 give or take some cents.

One-pound Egyptian is equal to about forty cents.

My new plan is to tour Cairo.  If that is impossible, I'll take the train a short distance to the north to Alexandria or walk this city and tour it myself.  This  means I'll skip Alexandria altogether . . . who knows, I can change plans as I wish.  This is great.

 

 

February 26, 1993     Friday         Cairo, Egypt

 

My second full  day in Cairo, and other than the high cost of a hotel, in a half day, I already have spent over two hundred dollars.  I'm surviving well but, as usual, I still packed too much clothing.  I'm having great difficulty finding post cards to send home.   The people are very friendly and Cairo is a pleasant place, thus far.

 

Hopefully, I'll arrange a city tour today.  Because of Ramadan, I'm trying to not offend the Moslems by smoking, drinking (even water) or eating between seven a.m. until seven p.m.   Afterwards, this city is busy until midnight.   Even hardware stores were open and the shoe stores too!  Without question, meals are an exceptional value.  As I write, I am enjoying a huge breakfast at 5:30 a.m.   I woke around four a.m.  to Islamic holy chanting which reverberated through the narrow city streets..  It was wonderful to awake and immediately remember that I am in the ancient city of Cairo, Egypt.

 

Most people speak English well enough for me to communicate all but the most complex of ideas.  If I should attempt complex thoughts in English, the typical Egyptian would give a courteous yes and an acknowledging smile, even though the idea I tried to express may have thoroughly escaped him.  Always gracious, they will go to great lengths to avoid having visitors or travelers lose face.

 

Ramadan begins at seven a.m. today; I’ll eat at the pleasant, hotel coffee shop where breads and pastries were provided.  At breakfast, I sit alone.  The early hour and Ramadan have begun already. During the hour I ate, not one other person has come to enjoy this great buffet.   There is a wide variety of fruit, lamb with vegetables, many French and Egyptian style pastries and breads, eggs and breakfast meats offered at the hotel.

 

Now the morning sun has opened the gates of vision outward, which only minutes before were hidden by darkness.  I'm only a little tired even though I've drunk four cups of a thick dark viscous fluid they serve with aplomb called 'Neskaffe' -- supposedly coffee American style.  It more aptly resembles a drink between American and Turkish styles.

 

The weather was terrific, no rain and temperature is, maybe, 70E F at eight a.m.  I slept on the covers, not under them, with the window open all last night.  I sprayed myself with mosquito repellant (containing DEET) at night and I have no bites this morning.

Today, is Friday, an especially holy day of the week and since it occurs during Ramadan causes me to question whether it will be easy to explore Cairo since many monuments and exhibits will be closed today.  Friday is similar to how we treat Sunday in the U.S. except that most everyone is Moslem and while the state of Egypt professes to be secular, it is very strongly influenced by clerical community leaders.  

 

There exists strong conflict between the more moderate Sunni Muslims, currently in power, headed by Mubarak and the clerical influences, most strongly entrenched in southern (or upper) Egypt by the Shiite Moslems.  Before completing the plans for this trip I had to evaluate the risks posed by this problem and if it was flashing too many times in places I would travel to.  My evaluation was not correct.  Every day there is more news of pitched battles, bomb explosions, and random shootings often aimed directly at disturbing the tourist trade.   Without the tourist money, the current government would fold.  I must be vigilant. 

 

 

February 27, 1993           Saturday          Cairo, Egypt 

 

I visited several mosques and the Citadel.  I bought a train ticket to Aswan and Luxor.   My train car leaves from gate eight, at nine p.m., from the Ramses Station.  Before leaving the Sherazadeh Hotel where I had a nice room on the tenth floor overlooking the Nile at a cost of fifty dollars nightly, plus lots of Baksheesh to everyone.

 

The Citadel was fantastic.  The guide brought me through private areas, including the guest palace (for some baksheesh).  I took a lot of photos there.  Probably, this is finest example of the Ottoman Turkish architecture to witness.

 

Tonight I leave on the train to go to Luxor, Aswan and some smaller towns by second-class coach. Gate eight at nine p.m. I hope that this trip is worthwhile.  In thirty minutes the plane departs.   I've already waited an hour because I was advised to get here early.  People are friendly and the food is tasty, but poverty abounds and it is depressing.  I had a good night's sleep last night and caught up on my sluggishness from jet lag.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I arranged this train trip through upper Egypt with a budget of three hundred fifty dollars.  I have exceeded my budget and will probably go home sooner than I planned.  The money I paid covers everything except meals and the trip back.  I boarded the train and found my reserved seat quickly enough.  No animals, water pipes, or loud chanting music on this car.  The passengers in third class cars are not so restricted.  A lot of Western European travelers and few middle-class Egyptians are my companions for this overnight journey.  All upholstery is well worn and no more than any three chairs in this car have matching patterns or colors.  Upholstery is only replaced when badly ripped or torn. The paint on the walls is scuffed, but not dirty or graffiti laden.  Within twenty minutes of boarding I was sleeping and remained in that state until 1:30 a.m.   My sleep was comfortable despite the frequent jarring of the train reminiscent of Franco's Spanish trains along the Cote d'Azure/Costa del Sol area along the Mediterranean Sea.

 

Everything was quiet until a man entered the train with a wheeled tray selling very hot red hibiscus tea.  On his heels came another vendor selling a variety of flavored sodas in the bottle, rattling through the car.  It did not seem likely that many passengers could remain asleep through the musical overtures of the clattering bottles.   I might have purchased a bottle except for its obvious lack of variation from room temperature that was exceedingly warm for this hour of the morning.

 

Somehow, the wild hodgepodge of mismatched interior suddenly strikes me:  pale mustard walls, red carpeting over deep blue tiles, green Venetian blinds, aqua curtains hanging like so many dish towels, and all over the above is brought together with a gray ceiling and chairs in a clash of patterns in light brown, dark green, and yellow that I am certain the intent, if there ever was one, is to keep people awake. The toilet here on the train was not anything I would covet.  No one ventured into the toilet room unless they were prepared to get out quickly.

 

 

February 28, 1993        Sunday      Cairo to Aswan

 

As the morning sun began to rise at six a.m., the visions of Egypt began anew.   The most popular mode of transportation after autos are donkeys.  Camels were rather rare, but more common than bikes.  Skin color seems to be getting dramatically darker.  As we travel south (up the Nile), numerous water-retrieving apparatus dots the riverbanks -- primarily one cantilevered device to hook a pail on the end.  It would be balanced by the mud and straw weight that is adhering to the other end of the pole.  Labor is cheap, so even irrigation is handled manually.  Dogs are not liked by most inhabitants here; they are treated somewhat like a big rat -- almost always chased away, not kept as pets.  They roam the streets, and when they meet their death, their corpse will lie on the side of a road for far too many days.  The Quran, the Muslim Holy Bible, advises its adherents that dogs are dirty and evil.

 

At eight a.m.  I am close to Luxor.  I notice that brown seems to be a popular costume for the locals.  Women's chadors are still quite predominantly black, but a man's color, I'm told, varies by group association -- Bedouins wear white.  Western clothes are seemingly less popular in the more rural regions, yet Luxor and Aswan routes are highly touristed and as a consequence, the influence in dress exerted by Westerners is clear by an occasional Arab in European garb.

 

It is now 11 a.m., and we are truly in the desert.  With very little exception, everything is colored a very pale ocher.   Whenever a little vegetation is seen, often nearby is a small outcropping of a village. Amazingly all livestock, cows, sheep, donkeys stand stupidly out in the hot sun.  I didn't see shade they could find.  We are still about two hours until arrival. 

 

The train is moving quickly and shimmying loudly.  I slept about two hours at three different times through the night and feel rested, but my butt is sore even though the seats are soft enough to call comfortable. I am certain I must have been bumped against the black metal side rails that separate each seat.

 

Now more greenery is visible compared to what I have seen earlier.  I don't know what this crop is, but it appears to be some sort of bamboo or sugarcane, yet it seems there is little irrigation for these plants.  Clearly the poverty of these small villages resembles Mexico.  It is depressing to witness the lack of hygienic measures used.

 

The back to this car is open, and when the train paused for a moment the dust wafted in.  I could smell the agedness of the places I'm about to enter.  The weather now is a dry heat -- about 80E -- with the dust giving an appearance to the environment as though there could be smog here.  The small paved road that parallels the tracks glistens as though it has been watered or oiled.  I am relieved to note the lack of insects thus far.

 

Still on the train, but to travel about five hundred miles for about twelve dollars is a real bargain.  The conductor was checking for tickets, so he woke me up out of sound sleep shortly after we started.  Startled, I flailed my arms a bit protectively, but he stood back a proper distance.  No harm done. 

 

We haven't arrived, but we should be there soon.  It's after noon and I'm following this on a map, but since signs are posted only in Arabic at all but the largest train stops, I'm not certain where we are now.  For about a half hour I stood midway between the two rail cars and enjoyed the warm desert air with the door open. 

 

 

 

 Expenses I must pay soon:

                                    Two nights in Aswan

                                    One night in Luxor

                                    Airfare

                                    (Round trip to Abu Simbel)                                         132

 

                                    Guide Luxor

                                    Guided Aswan

                                    Pick up & Transfers                                                  100

 

Aswan

 

I spent my first evening in Aswan -- took a Nile boat trip out to the Nubian village of Elephantine.  This village island is in the middle of the Nile.  Then visited the bazaar here.  I bought several items, including a knife, an outfit, and a headscarf.  Why I bought a weird musical instrument I'm not certain, but I think it was because a young boy played it so charmingly.  I am sorry I didn't bring the pens with me.   I'm handing out baksheesh to many, especially the child beggars.  No American or English TV, only Arabic and occasionally German. 

 

For some baksheesh a baker took me in the back to see them bake bread.  He gave me a round sweet smelling disk hot out of the clay and brick oven.  It was delicious.  One shopkeeper told me to wear old or ripped clothes, then no one would be constantly trying to pull me in their shop . . .  and they are!  He also told me Aswanian people really love Americans.  It seemed true:  I was treated with great respect by most.  I finished walking about midnight, but not before the shopkeeper reminded me to not talk to Nubian men.  He said they "have bad eyes," and I should avoid any conversation or befriending them to prevent dire consequences.  As I walked down the streets, I noticed many foreigners out late, too, traversing the electrical bazaar, smaller but more lively than Cairo.

 

My room overlooks the Nile and the view, while limited by other tall buildings on both sides, still allows me to see a mile or two up the River since I'm in Room 607 (6th Floor).

 

Just before retiring for the night I washed some clothes and hung them up to dry.  It is very warm, maybe 78E, at one a.m.  I must meet the plane for Abu Simbel today at nine a.m.  Even though I'm not too tired, I'll sleep.  When I urinated, it had a very sweet perfumed smell -- weird?  What the hell did I eat for that to happen?

 

 

 

 March 1, 1993      Monday     Aswan

 

No phones are here to call Mark for his birthday.  The only way is to go to the post office, which is closed for Ramadan.  The day after tomorrow I'll be in Cairo, and I'll be able to call easily.

 

This morning I started out at 4:20 a.m.   I watched this town wake up while eating breakfast here in the hotel.  I was cautious about the street vendors and small cafes and the food they served.    I drank some Turkish coffee in a cafe about a mile away from the hotel toward the end of the bazaar. The strong coffee stirred my hunger.   My stomach grumbled for food. 

 

I washed my clothes last night, and even though the night was warm, several articles didn't dry by the time I checked on them.    I walked until eight a.m., when I was to meet Sageed, my guide.   Golden Tours in Cairo helped prearrange some of the hotels and guides thus far.  I must thank them because everything is happening as planned.

 

While I had difficulty to find Sageed this morning, he found me at 8:30 a.m.  in front of the hotel.  Breakfast fare included a carefully measured cup of plain yogurt, which was not chilled or even recently refrigerated.  I added strawberry jam to it, and it was fine.  I also had a great couple of oranges, a sugar wafer cookie, Arabic Bread And Butter.  To drink I had a simple European style tea.   I am staying away from that hibiscus tea for a while.

 

Sageed came in a taxi with me to the airport, about 15 miles out of Aswan.  He left after relating some simple directions.  When I arrived at the airport, I noticed it was almost completely filled with other non-Arabic people.  I wonder if the local residents have seen Abu Simbel?  The French, Germans, and Italians crowded in, all pushing to be first on the small plane.  I did not notice any other Americans on this flight. 

 

Because my guide was late in picking me up on time, I was the last passenger to board this plane at 9:30 a.m.   We arrived in a short thirty minutes later by Egypt Air at Abu Simbel.  I wandered into a small group of five Englishmen.  I sat next to John Crosswaite, a retired Insurance Safety Engineer.  He and his wife, Mary, have traveled a bit throughout the world.  We exchanged some travel stories during the flight.

 

When we arrived at Abu Simbel, we immediately boarded a bus.  Eight Egyptian pounds were the cost to have an English-speaking guided tour.  We entered Abu Simbel after an introduction that included a quiz.  Our guide would insist that we answered his questions, like our interpretation of hieroglyphs.  Tough stuff, and I'll admit most of us were repelled by being put on the spot.  Other than that, the journey was well worth the total cost of one hundred, thirty dollars.  The weather was very warm, maybe 85E F. and dry.

 

I asked the guide about the pyramid and monument building as to why, in the stories of its manufacture Nubian slaves are mentioned, but not Jews.  He said that it is just a myth, and Jews were not used as slaves or in the construction except for their knowledge of building.  This fact is in contrast with what I had previously believed as true. The Egyptians were very cognizant of race and recorded much of the construction of the pyramid on the interior walls.  How many of what race or sub-race was clearly defined within the pictographs I saw.    I will look more closely at the Burial chambers in Aswan and Luxor now.

 

 The Kings and pharaohs had conquered many places, so he brought slaves back from all places, so the Jews worked on them, but they were only one of many groups. They were often used as architects and masons.    Few were used as haulers.

 

After about three hours, we returned on the same plane.  I went right to my room after being greeted by a driver who brought me to my hotel.  He told me that I should notice that Nubians are different from "real" Egyptians.  “They are lazy and will only work until they have some money, and then they'll wait to work until they run out of money.”  The observations he related are similar to stereotypical casting in the U.S.

 

Once in the hotel I immediately showered because of the heavy sweating I was experiencing.  After showering, I sat recollecting my thoughts of what I had just experienced.  That three thousand plus years ago these things were created -- rather awestruck by the aura of it.  I hope my photos do it justice. 

 

I walked through town, enjoying the freshly baked, still hot, Egyptian bread and eating oranges that are so fragrant and juicy.  Often I heard a local yell out to me "Allo Amerika" . . . only pleasant thoughts and nice things to say about America.   At times I wondered if I was being too simple, maybe there was some cynical feeling hidden behind the words that I was missing.

 

I bought more trinkets and tee shirts.  Some small items, I bought only for the pleasure the sale brought to the merchant, often the seller was as young as seven years old.  The only purchases of mine that were of any consequence were forty Egyptian pounds for two tee shirts, twenty-five pounds for a necklace, and sixty pounds for a leather bag.    Because of Ramadan, women are not allowed out of the house, so I saw very few women on the street or conducting any business indoors.

 

I went alone into a cafe to eat falafel for dinner.   I hope I don't suffer consequences for having enjoyed it.  The cafe appeared to be inhabited by locals only.   I am negating important rules of diet by this act.

 

 

 

 

March 2, 1993            Tuesday           Aswan, Upper Egypt

 

I'm eating breakfast in a small cafe.  Coffee and bread before seven a.m.  While eating, as it approaches seven a.m., the heavy perfumed smell of incense fills the air to remind all of Ramadan.  I have not shaven since I left Cairo.  I think I look like Arafat -- maybe I should wear the headgear to make me resemble an Arab. 

 

An observation of noses -- first, I think when the people look at my nose (to compare to their nose), I have a cute button nose.  Hey, some really big noses here on these people.

 

The orange juice is some sort of concoction with rosewater.  I couldn't finish it.  I have finished the meal, and the restaurant will close soon until it reopens at seven p.m.  Most are closed for the season. 

 

I'm supposed to meet Sageed at 8:30 a.m. here, so while I'm waiting I'll pick out those things I want to see from my notes I scribbled last night:  Aswan Museum; obelisk; Rock Tombs; Ptolemaic Old Temple; Elephantine Island; Mileometer; Temple of Khnum; Kalabsha; Ombo (25 miles away); Philae.  I had a retired Doctor of Egyptology, Dr. Mohammed, take me around personally, a real honor he claimed.  He was terribly slow, but extremely rugged and durable for his age of eighty-three.  Several items required the use of water travel.  The island of Philae was extraordinarily beautiful and unfortunately heavily laden with European tourists.

 

The time is 2:30 p.m.  I will leave for the railroad station in an hour to go to Luxor.   A TV commercial I witnessed last night for a brand of laundry soap for clothing was “Persil.”  They showed two women on the typical Egyptian style of open-roofed home, with a fence of rebar pointing skyward.  The women were washing the long white robes in a large outdoor basin.  While I'll admit I didn't understand a word they said, the inflection and actions were so similar and yet so dissimilar to a commercial I might see on L. A.  TV.  As the final scene evolved, one woman was telling the other how wonderfully clean everything was coming out now as she was hanging the clothing on a line strung between two homes.  The words and the feeling were like any ad I’d see in L.A., but the images were very strange to me.  The long robes and the unfinished rooftops added to the exotic panorama. .

 

At eight thirty a.m.  I was met here at the hotel, then we went to the Aswan Dam, even though I told Dr. Mohammed that it’s of little interest to me.  Obviously he was proud that this dam is in his city.  The driver and the guide, Dr. Mohammed, stood in awe of the spectacular structure. I was not impressed.   I had not traveled to Aswan to see the modern dam, but to explore history.  Then we saw the unfinished obelisk.  I was educated how they wetted sycamore wedges at night to force the obelisk free from the stone.  As the rock heated during the day, the wedge expanded and broke deeper through the crevice.  The next day the wedge would be hammered deeper until the slab of rock was cut free from the hillside.

 

The air temperature was in the nineties and the conditions the Moslem faithful must follow during Ramadan made this a difficult trip for the old doctor.  He walks with a heavy carved wooden cane.  Because I took many pictures, especially at Philae, I had to catch up to him often.  He was very happy that I appreciated his knowledge of this.  He let me know he didn't like me traveling so slowly. He had a permanent scowl on his aged, leathery face.

 

I hired a private boat to take my guide and me to Philae since that's the only way it can be reached.  Immediately I could see I'll be shooting a lot of pictures here.   The pharaohs visited the small island.  Coptics, an ancient Christian religion, had conquered this site.  It was reconquered by the Egyptian Moslems, but not before the Copts defaced quite a number of the images of deities.  

Napoleon was there at the end of the eighteenth century and found the Rosetta stone, more recently explored and plundered by the English.    Each group had left its mark on the structures and somehow left definite evidence of their presence here on this small, but beautiful island. 

 

Aswan was a geographic point at which it became difficult to navigate further south toward the river source.  Consequently, many traders started their land journey from this point traveling south toward Sudan.  The trip was not an easy one.

 

I decided to take one last trip through the marketplace.   I bought more bread as it was pulled, hot, from the oven.  The bottled water I drank was cool enough.  I was extremely thirsty because I did not drink in the presence of my guide or driver.  I drank half of the liter before exiting the store.  I was feeling dizzy from the heat.   I walked through the marketplace, which was busy selling food and drink in preparation for the daily cessation of Ramadan. I passed the section of the marketplace where fish was sold by many vendors.   Carp seemed to be the most prevalent, but other smaller species were available, too.

 

The fish was usually left in the hot sun, covered with flies.  Another fish merchant had his wares dampened by the untreated sewage, which had backed up in the street, and it was pooling around his fish.  As the putrid brown water receded, his assistant merely wiped the top fish in the display and continued to sell them without another care.    To add to this malodorous situation the sewers had overflowed, causing a stench that will be embedded in my mind forever.  I had to cross this river of filth -- even as I write these words, my nose can well recollect the vile, gagging smell.

 

I was anxious to get back to the hotel, where I am now taking a much-needed rest and cooling my feet.  Even though it is not yet night I appreciate the darkened room.  While waiting for the train, I met Yossif, the guide I hired from Isis Hotel in the city of Aswan.  He served well as my coordinator.  He brought me to the train, and then he purchased a ticket for my first class passage to Luxor.  He helped me find the right car and carried my bag aboard. 

 

On the train I met Kaspar and Sheila.  He's from Great Britain; she's from Montreal.  They are traveling around the world together.  This is the first stop of a long two-year trip for them.

 

When I arrived in Luxor, I hired a young local man, Nasser, to be my guide.  He seems to be nervous, yet sincere about showing me all that I had on my list.   I’d see everything, and then some.   I arrived at about 12:15 p.m., which was twenty minutes later than scheduled.  The trip was very comfortable because I was able to turn the seat in front of me around to make a long “bed.”  Nasser brought me to the hotel.   Tired and sunburned, I walked to my room with a porter to carry my bag.  The room was pleasantly cool but the view was the side of an old building with chipped pale yellow paint over plaster.  I washed my clothes then sat writing out some postcards.  Instead, I fell asleep until 5:15 p.m. and slept for four hours.  Plus I had dozed often during the six-hour train ride from Aswan so I’m really well rested now.

 

 

March 3, 1993          Tuesday        Luxor

 

The Nile boat leaving Luxor to cross to the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, has pulled away from the dock.  There are many tourist boats here, but the tourist trade is really down and the local economy depends heavily on the infusion of the foreign money.  The local unemployment must have been high.  There were often ragtag groups of Arabs lingering around tourist spots especially.  It looked like some sort of social gathering, but I imagine they discussed job prospects or they could have been part of the political unrest.

 

I only had dollars in my pocket at the moment, so my guide, Nasser, spent five pounds for water and cigarettes for me, then he lent me forty pounds for film and baksheesh as the need would arise; It always arose often, for the tourist economy was based heavily on tipping.  I settled with him later.  He preferred dollars to Egyptian pounds and it made little difference to me.

 

The ferry cruised slowly into the bay.  Already at 10 in the morning it is about 80E F. Today will be very hot and it is frequently difficult to find shelter from the sun when I am on foot. Most of the pale tourists are wearing hats, but I didn’t bring one, nor do I intend to buy one.  Americans are known by their red faces and I intend to continue the tradition.  I’m certain to go home with a deep tan . . . or sunstroke. 

 

Nasser brought me to a group for English people to make this brief cruise.  After disembarking the boat, like sheep, we board one of the waiting large tour buses waiting for us on the banks.   I realize the value of traveling alone.  I've temporarily lost control and am at the mercy of the tour leaders, lost within the flock.  All of the other passengers seem to be used to this treatment.  I imagine that their “tour” of Egypt has been like this for the brief period they intend to remain here in Luxor.  To be shuttled here and there is not my cup of tea. The very pale white, almost translucent color of the legs of all tourists in this group means they haven’t been in the bright sunlight very much.   After speaking with one of the participants, he explained that this is all one group from England on a seven-day tour of Egypt’s upper area, around Luxor and then back to Great Britain.

 

On the bus to the complex of temples and tombs, I examined my camera and counted  the remaining exposures I have left. Only forty pictures left before all film I brought to this region is gone.  Dust swirls through the open windows of the bus and fills the air.  I feel a sudden urge to sneeze.  The bus halted less than fifty feet from the Arabesque Hotel, where I stayed the first night.  The Egyptian rating system for hotels accepts much lower standards than those in the U.S. 

 

Arabesque is rated three-star, but by US standards it was a small step above the YMCA.  My best comfort here is I have a private room.  The second night I will be transferring to Luxor Wene Hotel which has attained a rating of five stars.  The hot sun burns down hard.  It is difficult to remain outside for much longer than an hour.

 

After taking off in the bus, we visited a number of tombs at the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens, but smaller tombs of lesser-known pharaohs predominate our tour.  If one is willing to part with an extra ten Egyptian pounds, passage is opened to the tomb of  King Tutankhamen. Almost every article has been removed from Tut’s entombment, so it is among the less spectacular sites.

 

Our guide was good.  He provided thorough explanations of most everything as he brought me with about twenty Brits through the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens.  We were so active I had no time to take notes.  So many books have been written about this region, I imagine I don’t really need to add any.   We were not allowed to take photographs, but the outer terraces were littered with locals attempting to sell as many postcards as possible.   They took advantage of the unsuspecting, who unfortunately took a slight glance at one vendor’s goods.  The merchant started with a high price of five pounds but, if he saw the interest of the tourist wane he would lower the price, ultimately willing to sell at one pound.

 

Our guide did supplement his fee by taking us to two places to buy more stuff.  The guides are paid in various ways to deliver living bodies who might buy something.  First, we were delivered to a shop where they make alabaster jugs.  While the tourists browsed through the shop, I wandered out of the store with some difficulty.  Since the tour guide wanted as many souls to remain and possibly purchase something, he stood gently in front of the door pretending not to notice my efforts to escape.  I had to fake him to the right.  The shopkeeper’s home was behind and above the business area.  The best way I could document a visit into the home of the shopkeeper was with a few photographs. 

 

If the shopkeeper truly resides here, it is simple and Spartan conditions.  While the family of six did have electricity, lights, and a TV, they didn't have plumbing or refrigeration of any kind.  The clay brick construction was very cool within the interior and ventilated in such a way as to take advantage of normal desert conditions.   I found it  to be comfortable.

 

After what appeared to be hundreds of dollars of merchandise was sold and wrapped carefully in brown paper and tied with a thick soft twine, we were loaded back on the bus and told we would continue the journey to the Valley of Queens about ten miles away. 

 

The guide remarked that normally there would be thirty or more buses, but today there were only three.  The recent terrorist activity by the Shiite Muslims has curtailed much travel into these fascinating lands.  Almost all of the members of my group trudged through the almost unbearable heat and dust.  Only the most aged, or unfit people stayed behind in the shelter of the air conditioned bus.  Those who didn't go missed some fantastic sights.  The tombs often had narrow passageways which were roughed out to allow larger erect bodies to journey into the neon lit interior chambers. 

 

The walls were painted with hieroglyphics to tell stories about  the life and deeds of the primary inhabitant of this entombment.   The artists used all primary and secondary colors  vividly.  Because of the protection offered in the almost eternal desert underground darkness, the colors have not faded and only rarely had any part of the murals chipped or peeled away from the wall.  The neon light brought the colors to life.

 

 With just brief explanation of some of the symbols used, I was able to comprehend the meaning of several sections of the drawings.  While most of the tombs were grouped together by the craftsmen that built them, each one had a separate entrance and never opened out to another tomb. 

As I had expected, the Valley of the Kings was much grander than the female counterpart, Valley of the Queens.  All tombs had been broken into and almost all items had been purloined many years ago.   This is why the tomb of Tutankhamen was such a great find.  The grave robbers had missed this tomb and when it was discovered everything was still intact inside.  This helped Egyptologists understand, more completely, what the lives of the pharaohs was like and at what level the craftsmen of that period had attained.

 

Next we went to a papyrus factory.  Again, I felt as though I was cargo.  I went along to see what was said.  My alternative was to sit on the air-conditioned bus with a rapidly growing group of disenchanted that numbered now at least a score of people who, like me, chose not to go.  On every street corner and practically every shop have sheets of papyrus, body oil, or alabaster jugs for sale.   All claiming that their product is the properly produced item and not made from banana leaves, like the other cheap ones.

 

Most of the Brits fell prey to one or another method used to separate the tourist from his money.  Most of them were here on a sedentary, vacation of relaxation and stayed for their one week in Luxor within the safety of their homogenous group wherever they went.  So it was Valley of the Queens next.  I was harassed by a street vendor, who surreptitiously showed me a small blue and black rusted icon, which he insisted he had stolen from one of the Queen's tombs.   On two counts I elected to not even consider its purchase.  It's highly illegal and would be enough cause to be expelled or jailed.  Secondly, it more clearly had a strong resemblance to items I have seen from India or Indochina.  Its marking seemed to be Chinese characters not something resembling, even remotely, the figures drawn on the walls and understood to be hieroglyphics.    My suspicion was reinforced when I resisted his insistence I buy it, the price dropped from 150 English pounds to 10 Egyptian pounds before I got on the bus.  Still, no sale.

 

We went back to the boat by bus.  I decided to take a felucca which is a boat made of reeds.  It holds four, but two of those were the boat owner and his assistant.  It moved much slower than the passenger ferry that took me to this side of the Nile.  The river was about half a kilometer wide at this point, but I enjoyed the rugged passage and could feel the inherent danger with using this mode of transportation.   I chose to walk the one-mile to the Hotel Luxor, where I was told my things would be carefully moved to another room with a better view.  A bag was missing, but it arrived shortly by way of a running errand boy.

 

The walk to the hotel was very interesting because so many of the people here are (like in Aswan) fluent in many other languages.  I was given directions by one of the shopkeepers.  He had misguided me away from my destination, not intentionally (possibly), but only because he did not know the right answer and felt it would be considered rude to not respond to my question.    

 

I met an Egyptian woman who was determined to speak with me about how America feels about Egypt.  As I see it, the press has played up a few bad incidents to the public in order to sell newspapers.  Western Europe and the U.S. generally portray the Arabs in one untrustworthy lot.   The Arabs I met, coupled with my brief education in laws of the Quran, which most Arabs follow literally, make me think quite differently. 

 

As I understand it, you need not respect your promise to an infidel or to someone who has broken his word to you.  This is the basis for distrust of Arabs.  I have not been able to confirm the truth of this statement with all Arabs.  Apparently it is interpreted differently by different factions or groups.  Some say “yes,” others respond “no.”

 

Here, too, like Aswan, the people are extremely helpful and truly want friendship with Americans.  She said Egypt loved Bush and especially Carter.  It's too soon to evaluate Clinton, but they all seem to have a rudimentary knowledge of American government.

 

At the hotel, Nasser said it was too late to visit other important monuments, including Dendra and Karnak today.  I was scheduled to leave Luxor tomorrow night for Cairo, so I added another day and changed my schedule to have time for this.  Nasser, a thin very black man in his late twenties had piercing black eyes that made me a bit nervous at our first meeting.  Later I realized they reflected an intensity of life not common here.   He had been in Luxor for six years after spending four years traveling through Upper Egypt Nubian areas earning a living by trading goods.  Ultimately he married and decided he should stay in one place.  Nasser took me around town.

 

 We ate at a small shop at six o'clock sharp because Ramadan ends earlier now.  I was served falafel in pita bread with olives and a sort of sour cream cheese, more like liquefied feta.  Normally available is "salat,” which is pickled tomato and other vegetables to go into it.    The black flies are everywhere;  all over the food, on me, just everywhere.   If it were not for the flies, I would have enjoyed the food more, but I was constantly swatting at them, even though I was trying to ignore them.  It was very tasty and other patrons were mystified by the novelty of seeing an American eating there.

 

 Sanitary conditions, as I am used to having, were lacking here. There were two oil drums filled with water.   One to clean your hands and rinse the dirt off, however no soap was provided.  The other drum was used for drinking water in which I had to dip a metal cup to pour myself a drink.   Napkins or eating utensils were not used. 

 

The hot fresh pita bread was placed directly on the ragged, green and white checked, plastic tablecloth that covered the wooden table.  We sat in rickety wooden chairs that had been deeply parched by the heat of the Sun. 

 

The  thick, green half-dollar sized cakes of fried garbanzo beans were served on a separate plate.  The oil used to fry them was old, but it didn’t affect the taste badly.  I liked the vegetarian sandwiches.   It is customary to pick a section of the block of soft white cheese with your hand to put it into the bread pocket.  Then I ate this with what appeared to be refried fava beans covered in a thin brown sauce.  It was cooked until the mixture is a lumpy black and brown paste with swirls of steam flying above the huge pot.  The mixture is scooped onto each plate as a condiment.

 

Three Egyptian pounds were paid for both meals.  No tip was to be offered according to Nasser.  We went over to smoke tobacco from the water pipe.  Ten pipes or more were placed all around this open room. I had sweet red hibiscus tea with a small dollop of sugar.  Even the sugar was different because it was sprinkled with a spice to keep flies away.

 

The waterpipe was filled and lit for us.   The tobacco leaves glowed brightly as we shared a smoke.  After a leisurely smoke with Nasser I bought a couple of tee shirts.  I needed to change U.S. dollars, but the first money changer I encountered wouldn't take my money because he said it didn't look real.  I had given him a regular one hundred dollar bill.

 

As I walked through town, I noticed no prices are posted at any shop.  Everything must be bargained for, everything.  The tourists from Western Europe (which represents about ninety-five per cent of all foreign tourists I've seen)  have been advised to avoid the local tap water and only drink bottled mineral water.  I noticed that the expiration date printed on  water bottle labels of the water sold in local shops has long since passed.   As I walked through the bazaar, I noticed a young Western European couple eating in a small corner restaurant sitting at the table and drinking water from a bottle very safely.   Exposed to all who stood on the street, behind a ragged curtain, concealed from the drinking tourists, was a man blatantly pouring water from a large tub, by way of a tin cup and funnel into the plastic water bottles to refill them.  The exact same type of bottle like the couple was drinking from.

 

 

March 4, 1993            Wednesday         Luxor, Egypt

As I eat the restaurant's version of a continental breakfast, I hear similarities between the Egyptian music and the music I heard in India.  The breakfast was okay, but that is not enough to justify the extra money it costs to stay here, but the view is much more impressive.  The room  and the hotel lobby are fancier and the service better, but all of these things still don’t make this a better choice for my money.

 

 

 

Today, while reading the local English newspaper, I read about some terrorist shootings in Cairo.  The Shiites killed several foreigners in a  nearby restaurant during Ramadan.      Amazingly, I've noticed no mention on either government run TV station.  My gout is starting to bother me in my right foot, probably because I haven't been eating very well.    I've really stuck to a basic diet generally.  It has been difficult to find good Egyptian cuisine that is healthy.

 

I awoke at four a.m. and watched the city slowly wake up.  The sun had already begun to cast long dark shadows across the city.   I remember hearing what seemed to be the familiar sound of water rushing through the pipes from the Playa del Rey condo above mine; in fact, it was a horse drawn carriage bringing sugar cane to the market.  It was eerie to realize how similar the sound was yet how different the sources.

 

                    In a few minutes I was dressed and out to the very plain Continental breakfast served in the hotel.  I was to meet Mr. Nasser at 8:30 a.m. so I walked only a short time.  I went to Dendra with a driver called Mohammed.  The driver was hired by Nasser to chauffeur me for the day.   We drove about forty miles through an area principalled by many small farm communities dotting both sides of this Nile tributary.  The dam at Aswan has prevented the annual flooding that the farmers anticipated only a few years ago.

 

                   The farmers have replaced mud and straw dams over which is balanced a long sturdy branch with a pail attached firmly to one end.  This fulcrum is used to scoop water from the Nile, lift it, bucket by bucket, over the earthen dam, to irrigate their parcel of land.  As I traveled closer toward the urbanized areas along the Nile, I more frequently saw farmers irrigating their land with an electric sump pump.  I was told that many use a horse-powered water wheel, but I saw very few of them in use.  Most of these were in varying states of disrepair.

 

The farmers and their families lived in mud brick, or even simpler mud plastered homes.  Most homes had sugar cane thatching but periodically I noticed a small outcropping of one or two story modern buildings.  This sight destroyed a vision that somehow I was transported back in time.  If the modern buildings had not existed, it would be easy to believe that today was two hundred years ago.   I tried to document it well with the camera, because the detail is too much for my mind to retain accurately.

 

At Dendra, each new  monument is thrilling to look at.  Each one of the many was, itself, a gargantuan monolith.   The splendid "spare no cost or efforts" work by the pharaohs' subjects was damaged by the Coptics, who were the first wave of Christianity to sweep Egypt demolishing or defacing all ancient deities.  The Copts justified the massive waves of destruction as an attempt to rid the country of the blaspheming idols.    Later still came the Moslems to continue the destruction, but most of the necessary defilement had been done.

 

I ran out of film and there was no place nearby to purchase a roll.      It was well worth the 135LE I spent for this trip alone.  The driver had stopped for water and oranges earlier, so I wasn’t hungry.

 

We then returned to the hotel after I got some more money changed.  Next time I would like to stay in the Winter Palace.  It would be about one hundred fifty dollars a night but it really looked nice.  I noticed many attractive women warming themselves in the hot sun around the large pool.

 

Mr. Nasser met me at three p.m. and brought Dr. Mohammed with him.  The old doctor was to take me through Karnak, which was the largest court, built in the early period of Egypt.  It is about one kilometer from Luxor, which is also splendid, but the glitz is starting to wear off.  There is only so much of this stuff you can see before you start thinking "OK, here's another one."  I am amazed that I am not in total awe at each of these erections.  I decided to walk on my own through this.  Many older Europeans are around me, especially English and French tourists. 

 

I walked back to the hotel after giving some baksheesh to Dr. Mohammed, who, again, served as my guide, but he seemed rather distant while I asked questions.  He was more intent on bringing me to a gift shop.  Nonetheless he is a very knowledgeable fellow; none of his information conflicted with the books on Egypt that I brought with me.

 

Mr. Nasser had arranged my bus trip.  I am writing this in retrospect, but I'll never take a bus again.  The people were certainly pleasant, but I was crowded into a small seat while some sort of round metal protrusion caused a painful bruise on my knee.  There was not enough room for me to bend down to retrieve my bottle of water without turning my head sideways and contorting my body like a discus thrower by stretching my arm to its maximum.  All of this frequent activity on the cramped hot bus usually caused my face to redden in the effort.  Because I looked so out of place, a pretty young Egyptian girl looked -- no! stared -- at me, as though I was a monkey in the zoo. 

 

All in all, the overnight trip was very unpleasant.  The bus played movies, very bad movies, which I had not an inkling of an idea what was happening but thankful when each drama ended. Each time I anticipated a wondrous moment of silence, the driver put in a cassette tape and played the acrimonious music loud enough to have the small  speakers (one of which was located twelve inches from my face) rasp tinny tunes to bring me to the brink of insanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 5, 1993       Thursday         Cairo

 

Now I am back in the Sherazdeh Hotel, in Cairo, where my goods were safely stashed.  Washing clothes, shaving, other important stuff like that and writing out postcards to mail must be done.  First I intend to thank Ashraf for his assistance in planning part of the trip.

 

I walked through the bazaar again today.  I was not feeling right.   After seeing the amazing crowds of people, incredible swarms of them pushing and shoving made me dizzier.  Everybody was trying to squeeze through the bloody meat market. All parts of many different animals were for sale.   I watched as a young female butcher took a live, fat pigeon and filet it for a waiting patron.  She took it and deftly removed its head with a quick twist.  Hanging huge quarters of beef dripped blood onto the sidewalk, people, impervious to the masses of flies tasting the dead flesh, walked through the narrow lanes of the marketplace.  Women gathered around the cloth vendors, who were loudly hawking the material from bolts, and they freely flashed examples of the finished goods from the large wooden slat-walled platform at the rear of the trucks.

 

I called to arrange a bus or train trip through the Sinai, so I'll be able to scuba in the Red Sea, supposedly the best in the world.  Then go through Jordan into Israel.  No trains make this trip, but a bus would do it okay.  I’m not happy about the prospect of bus travel, but I must be adaptive and make a sacrifice of comfort if I really want to go there.

 

I am still up at two a.m. because I had a long nap during the day.   I tried to find a good restaurant but instead I went to the Casino for a few minutes.  The restaurant, Felfela, was closed even though I asked the hotel clerk.  He assured me it would be open.  The better part of my nutrition has come in the form of falafel and I have found the ingredients fresh and the restaurant clean at Felfela, my Egyptian favorite. 

Each call to the U.S. cost twenty-two pounds for three minutes, whether I contact the other party or not.  The exchange rate is posted as  3.33LE = $1 US.  When I spoke with Mom, she said everybody was worried because I hadn't called recently and the news of terrorist activity plaguing Egypt was big news in L.A.   I couldn't get a call through from Aswan, Luxor, and Abu Simbel was too small to even think of it.  Mom said there was a bombing at the Cairo Nile Hilton.  I asked the Hotel Manager, and it was apparent that he didn't want to talk about it.  He said, "You know, everywhere there are problems."  But more details he wouldn't divulge.  I took a taxi for five pounds to get there and back from my hotel.  There did not appear to be any problem now, but one patron, British, said he'd heard there was a problem last week at a restaurant.  The hotel lost all power while I sat in the lobby a moment ago.  During my fumbling search, in the dark, for my small flashlight that I always keep with me, I lost my pen.

 

During my trip in the bazaar, I realized what good deals I got on the camel skin briefcase for ninety pounds and a bag for forty.    Both were purchased in Aswan.  I am totally amazed by lack of use of auto headlights at night.  It seems use is optional all over Egypt.  It can turn a frightening trip into a real white-knuckler.  No regard for stoplights or street signs by impervious drivers.   With no headlights on, its amazing there isn't a pile of cars every two blocks.   I've witnessed very few accidents, but pedestrians head out into whizzing traffic with the aplomb of a Spanish matador avoiding speeding cars with such grace.  I saw a cyclist carrying about fifty loaves of uncovered bread get knocked down by a car.  The bicyclist picked up all the loaves and put all the bread back in the baskets after exchanging angry words with the driver.  No loaves were lost, albeit some loaves were flatter or stained with street scum.

 

 

MARCH 6, 1993    Saturday     Cairo

 

I have just returned from spending one hundred pounds to have a driver take me an hour  out of Cairo to Memphis and Saqqarah.  Something happened to my camera, I'm not certain what since it was not struck or dropped.  Nonetheless the shutter isn’t moving, as it must to properly expose the film.  I must find a camera shop to have it repaired.  I hope I didn't lose photos because this site is extremely photogenic and historic.   Saqqarah is believed to be the old know pyramid.  There are many tombs around here.  The most abundant are those of political importance buried in deeply trenched tunnels most of which have several chambers for loved ones who were interred with them. 

 

The pyramid itself is crumbling and closed to the public.  I think if I found the right guard that he’d let me make close inspection for baksheesh.  Other “guards” have tried to taunt me into looking at several, supposedly, off-limits tombs . . . for baksheesh.  

 

As I walk along the dusty trails throughout this burial ground, there are shards of pottery and bone at my feet.  Anyone could scoop up a handful if they had any desire to do so.   

 

Saqqarah was especially of interest.  Since one guide passed me to the next, working me for all that I was worth.  It was worthwhile, but they would bring me to a point then say the tour is over after baksheesh changes hands.  So did mine now pulled by a new "sheif," meaning Bedouin chief.  Frankly, these guys looked more like a short order chef than a "sheif" or chief.

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 7, 1993      Sunday               Cairo, Egypt

 

I awoke at seven in the morning, but I had to wait for my tickets to Aqaba, Jordan until 10:30.  I checked out of the hotel and delivered the expected, but appreciated, baksheesh to all of those who most deserved it.   I stowed my bags until tonight when I will meet Ashraf.  He will drive me to the bus station to help me get a ticket and board the right bus.

 

It's four p.m.  now, and my guide (actually he's just a driver) awaits outside the restaurant.  He has informed me that Ashraf has instructed him to bring me here.  These are my last moments in Cairo.  Tonight I leave on the bus, I know I wrote "never again," regarding a bus ride, but is the only way to get out from here if I want to travel to Jordan.

 

I decided to travel to the bus station to see if I could get an earlier bus direct to Nueva, Egypt, the port to Aqaba in Jordan.  Politics have determined that I must travel this way.  A sliver of Israel extends down to the Red Sea and is sandwiched between Egypt and Jordan.  Israel’s resort city of Elat sits perilously at the southernmost port.  If I drove into Israel, Jordan would not allow me to enter, so I had to take the ferry to go around this thirty-mile stretch of Israeli beach.   I arrived at 3:30 a.m. after a dangerous journey through the moonlit Sinai desert, with rough roads almost all the way.  Many calamities occurred while aboard which I'll account for soon.  All events aboard the bus only added discomfort to misery.  Since it is now after midnight I will put the continued entry under the new day and date to follow.

 

 

March 8, 1993     Monday      Cairo   to   Aqaba, Jordan

 

The trip to Jordan had exceeded all expected obstacles.  The people I have met continued in the kind and friendly pattern I have experienced in Egypt.  Since yesterday at six a.m. sleep for me has been rare.  The bus left the station at approximately 9:30 p.m. for Nueva, Egypt.  Two quick stops for more passengers, three big bumps, one huge backfire then the bus, forty Arabs and I were on our way across the Sinai desert.   For this trip I paid forty pounds, and I was driven in a bus that was equipped with a video player and Arabic tapes.  It also had a volume control that was permanently stuck on loud.  The cacophonic music was played so loudly that you could  notice the speed variations in the tapes.  The good fortune I had in finding this bus is yet to be told.  It had a toilet, a rarity in Egyptian buses.  Unfortunately for me it lacked a light or a lock.  While that didn't diminish its rustic charm, the dank malodorous newspaper flooring in the toilet room did adversely affect my ability to relieve myself in such environs.  Halfway through the nine-hour journey I felt that I must make an attempt to use the toilet. 

 

 

Holding the door slightly ajar, I began what I set out to do.  As the bus lurched and leaped, I found myself unable to continue with any accuracy and had new appreciation for the necessity of a newspaper floor covering.   In fact, every several moments I would make a brief appearance to the other riders as I clung to the swinging door.  Everyone pretended not to notice.

 

At 3:30 a.m.  we arrived at Nueva hoping to board the ferry immediately.  No such luck.  All passengers hopeful to board the twice-daily ferry were crowded into huge lines that twisted and turned like the streets of Cairo.  The first notice I had of a gathering line came as everyone, including a brace of crying children standing too close for me to ignore, began to run in random directions. 

 

I swept up my luggage and continued to gain a secure spot in the cue as soon as its shape became apparent to me.  I noticed a disheartening similarity between the manner in which people pushed, shoved, cajoled their singular place in line and the cars in Cairo traffic.  As a stranger in this land, I was not so adroit at maneuvering.  I did get into the line successfully, however the line changed from resembling a snake to a giant squid in its final death throws.  The line had an evil, wicked heart.  The people pushed and pressed with a growing fervor as the line began to move forward, with everyone eager to pass through the gated portals of the ferry landing.  I could feel each throb, pushing me through its jowls like a voracious behemoth, letting me land in a huge area which was enclosed.  No morning light yet, but it would come soon.    

 

Everybody was instructed to wait in specific areas.  I was watching as the Police Lieutenant took a supple strip of belt leather and walked along the yellow perimeter line painted on the asphalt. The Arabs were instructed to sit on the pavement cross-legged. Occasionally he would stop and snap the strap as he passed an Arab offender. Once he told a middle-aged man to move into the crowded perimeter, but because of a lack of space, the man could not get his knee within the line.  The soldier brutally snapped the strap at the offending knee.  Immediately, almost electrically, the Arab was able to find space, where space did not exist before, to move within the perimeter with his fresh knee welt.

 

The first call was for all foreigners, extending official preferential treatment to me as an American with others from Europe and Asia.   After several long hours the light of dawn began.   After two hours more we pushed through another gate to leave luggage.  My new associates were squeezed into a land vessel resembling a bus without a roof.    It was a short drive to the boat.   On the bus, a woman cried.  Her child, one of five, was missing.  The driver heard her moans, but paid no heed.  The vehicle was so crowded that it was possible the child was aboard, just not visible.  I couldn’t understand what exactly had happened or how the child was eventually returned to the mother.

 

There must be a thousand people aboard the boat.  I spent my time with the Europeans. Most of the non-Arabs were young backpacking adventurers.   I struck up a conversation with John, a young English photographer who, like me, hopes to visit Petra, Jordan tomorrow. 

 

While we were talking, I saw a little barefooted black-haired Arab girl putting my water bottle down. John said he didn't see her pick up my bottle nor had I noticed the innocent theft.  In a few minutes the four-year-old girl returned with her younger sister for a drink, I gave the children the bottle of water while several members of the Arab crowd watched intently to see my reaction.

 

Because we had to surrender our passports prior to embarking, I asked the policeman when they would return my passport.  He replied in English it would be returned after we stopped and disembarked. 

 

When the bus left the station in Cairo, I remember watching the children and parents as they parted with loved ones on this journey and the children are the same worldwide.  No difference.  The crying, the kissing, the sadness.  It's the same all over.  People are alike; no matter where it is I am in the world.

 

Now it is 8:30 p.m.  What was to be a three-hour trip is yet to be over.  We are at a standstill; at anchor in the water.  The word is that the captain feels the water is too rough to continue travel or return to port.   I am so overly tired I can recognize the humor in this juggernaut.  I pass my biscuits among my new traveling friends.  We all share what food we have carried with us.  Fortunately I have adequate water which I drink while I watched the Arab Moslems break fast at the end of their daily fasting of Ramadan.  They have baskets of fragrant and pungent fruits and pastries. The aromas mix in the air, filling every corner and crevice of the ship.

 

 

March 9, 1993   Tuesday     Aqaba, Jordan

 

The boat finally arrived at about 10 p.m., and I immediately disembarked.  One Jordanian shipmate offered me invaluable advice on where to go to get the passport back and get my luggage.  I was one of the first to get off, and I was second to get my passport approved.  I had some thorough questioning by one of the guards as to whether I intended to go to Israel.  I said no.  Any other response would risk not being able to enter Jordan. 

 

After a long wait and a scurry for my bags too complex and perplexing to completely explain, but I will try.  I was quickly and efficiently issued my passport, but the luggage -- now that was a story.  The people pushed and shoved me with all of the other Arabs desperately trying to retrieve their goods.  Mine, being first in, were last out and not without ripping the handle off one piece. 

As I was about to lay my hands upon it, I was violently struck back by a guard who was trying to maintain order amidst the pandemonium by keeping most of the people behind a line drawn on the pavement.  His blow was aimed at me, not as an American but, in the darkness of night, I looked much like many of the passengers.  He pushed me backwards, over some suitcases.  I didn't think I'd ever get up because Arabs were scrambling over me keeping me pinned down for a minute or two.  It seemed to last much longer.   I saw no opening to make my escape.  When I did, make no mistake about it, I listened much more obediently to the guards next time much to the humorous delight of my new friends.  They had the foreknowledge to keep their goods with them and did not allow their backpacks to be separated from them.

 

We found the Jerusalem Hotel in downtown Aqaba, which charges one and a half dinars nightly (roughly equivalent to two dollars).   We traveled as a group:  Toko, a Japanese girl; Jon, a British photographer; Thomas and Silkie, two German social workers from Nuremberg.  Together we rode to the Hotel at sixty miles an hour on roads that were intermittently asphalt and dirt.  A safe speed might have been fifteen MPH, but our taxi driver had traveled this road many times and knew every obstacle in it.

 

I quickly fell asleep but awoke early because I was anxious to see this historic town.  While walking through the small center of town I saw a car that had a California license.  While staring at it, I was closely observed by the owner, Mohammed, who left California two months ago to return here to his home.  We talked for an hour then he invited me to meet later that night.  He drove me around town showing me all of Aqaba.  We drank coffee together and talked for long hours.  In a way, he missed California.   He asked me to drive with him to Amman tomorrow, but I would not have been able to see anything in Jordan if I had done so.  I declined his generous offer.  He brought me to his friend's restaurant, where I had a delicious lamb stew cooked with rice, pine nuts and raisins for one dinar.   The good conversation -- again, was my greatest pleasure.

 

 

March 10, 1993   Wednesday   Aqaba, Jordan

 

This morning I awoke at six a.m.  I was unable to shower in the communal bath with the Turkish toilet because it had a long line of waiting residents.   I only could wash and shave within its motley walls in a basin.  I walked a few kilometers to find how I may travel to Petra.

 

 

 

 

 

Buses leave when full, regardless of time.  But since they are designed to hold only eight or ten people it shouldn't seem to take long.  I purchased some mangoes, sold in abundance in Egypt and Jordan, and some heavily sugared cookies.   Jordan is more conservative with its expectation that everybody observes Ramadan and all restaurants are closed.  As I was walking back to the hotel, a policeman whisked my cigarette out of my mouth only uttering "Ramadan" and wagged his finger at me.  I ground the cigarette out on the cracked pavement where it lay and walked on.   I remembered the lesson I learned while traveling on the ferry from Egypt.

 

The bus toward Petra started moving, packed with Egyptian workers filling low paying jobs that Jordanians won't take.   Nonetheless the Jordanians resent the importation of cheap labor and the Egyptians much in the same way that Mexican laborers are looked upon in California.  Because I missed the bus, I decided to spend the day in Aqaba.

 

I hired a Palestinian taxi driver who brought me to the Jordanian Royal Diving Club where I made arrangements to dive in the afternoon.  The weather was warm, about 80E.  Scuba diving through the coral reef was well worth the extra time taken.  It cost ten dinar and the dive lasted forty minutes through some beautiful coral reefs with colorful fish.

 

After the dive we went to the border of Saudi Arabia that was only another five miles away.  The driver said there is no way to pass without a visa, but I wanted to hear the border guard say "No."  They let me through without any problem.  They wouldn't let the taxi through, so he waited for me on the Jordanian side of the crossing.  After walking the short distance across the border I hired a Saudi taxi so I could go to Hagl, a small town east of the border by five kilometers.  No taxi service beyond that town the driver explained with head nods or shakes and a variety of hand signals.    After twenty minutes in town I tried to return, but I had gotten to see Hagl by way of an inquisitive private driver who spoke some English.  He also drove me back to the border.  All I saw was a tiny fruit market, a small grocery, and about four buildings under construction.  There were more buildings further in but the driver said it wasn’t safe to go there.  That heightened my interest, but I could not coerce the driver to take me there. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back at the border crossing, the guard made it quite a difficult time since he, the Saudi guard, wanted one hundred dollars to allow me to cross again.  While talking I noticed everyone who made the crossing from Saudi Arabia to Jordan gave the guard something.  The usual gifts he got were cartons of American cigarettes, cash, a new radio still in the box.    I refused, then arrangements to pay him five dollars were made without my request for help.  I ultimately did not pay him, instead I had the official passport stamp canceled.   When I finally returned to Jordan, the waiting driver was amazed.  He said that it was impossible, and he had never seen this happen before.  He brought me to get my swim trunks and towel at the hotel.  A few minutes later we went to have the camel hide bag repaired for one dinar at a small leather shop he knew outside of the town.   Not a great job, but it's fixed.  I was taken for a great fish lunch. 

 

The taxi driver claimed this is the best fish restaurant in the seaport city of Aqaba.  His cousin owns it, but it was truly good.  I photographed the meal, eating on the beach of the Red Sea.    I easily could see all the countries that meet at this point.  Elat, Israel looked highly westernized and four times bigger than Aqaba.   It was only a few miles away and very visible.

 

 

March 10, 1993     Wednesday    Aqaba, Jordan

 

I awoke at 5:30 a.m. in time to hear the morning prayers being broadcasted through three old metal speaker horns placed high in the minarets.   I went to the bus station because I intend to go to Petra today.  I witnessed the only bus leaving Aqaba to go to Ma'an.  The next bus leaves in two hours.  I could see I'll miss the trip to Wadi Rum offered to me if I would return to Aqaba before sunset today.   I paid my one dinar to ride through some spectacular desert that rivaled the Sinai and St. Catherine's.  I sat quietly until I disembarked at  Ma'an with half of the twenty Arab passengers.

 

Now I had to search for the correct Petra bus, and it was at this point that I noticed I only had twelve dinar left.  I walked to one bank who wouldn't change the travelers’ check without my passport which was left at the Jerusalem Hotel.  They were kind enough to contact another bank close by if they might cash the check.   I was successful, but not without several mysterious questions being posed to me.  Am I married? Where do I plan to go next?  What hotel am I staying at?  Soon I returned to find an empty bus waiting to go to Petra as soon as it had enough passengers.  After a thirty-minute wait, another likely passenger asked me if I was willing to pay four dinar to encourage the driver to leave with fewer passengers.  I was ready to go, so I paid.

 

Arriving near to Petra, I was encouraged by another traveler on the bus to go to the I Mousa House.  It was very inexpensive, only three dinar, and it provided good company again.  I must be getting lucky.   I had to get a taxi to go to Petra which is four miles downhill.

 

At the entrance to Petra I was convinced by a Finnish family of four that I should hire an English-speaking guide and share the expense with them so they could travel along.  Eight dinar for a guide per person in our small group of five.  I paid the fee, and she gave me back five.  That was the deal we struck, otherwise I would have gone without a guide.  The Finnish family had only the mother who spoke and understood English so she had to translate for the entire family. The guide, Mohammed, said he was going to take us through an incredible city that was the opening shot in an Indiana Jones movie.

 

My camera lost power in the battery, and I had to remove it. Fortunately the camera will operate without a battery at all at 1/125 shutter speed.   We traveled down a very stony path through cracks, deep ones, in the sandstone.  Without knowing where the passageway was, a wanderer would never find this ancient ghost town. The spectacular sights were much more than I had expected.  The ornate homes cut into the sandstone formations had brilliant coloration due to  mineral deposits of blue (aluminum), red (iron), yellow (copper) and miscellaneous other mineral deposits. 

 

Jordan has generated interest in Petra as a tourist attraction.  There were bus loads of Japanese, Italians and Germans arriving and leaving frequently.   I noticed the Finnish family had gone off on their own and no longer wanted the guide because it became too difficult for the mother to continue to translate for the whole family, field their questions, and interpret what had been said while Mohammed was speaking.

 

Mohammed and I began discussing many things:  religion, problems of the Palestinians, primarily their attitude reflected a deeply religious nature, very Islamic and how it conflicts with non-Muslims, especially how it affects their desire to have land which they were dispossed from.

 

 We discussed the Palestinian question.  He said he is Jordanian, but many Palestinians live in Jordan.  They are taking away jobs from the local residents, but he understands how they feel.  How would you feel, he says, if someone took your home away without any legal reparations . . . The authorities in power (the Israelis) just said if you stay you'll die.  This is why the Palestinians fight for their sandy desert homeland (according to Mohammed).

 

After a while, I walked on my own and climbed some steps up to a colorful palace carved in the sandstone mountain.  I was rather tired and anticipated a tough uphill climb to the main visitors’ center.  One of the Bedouins asked me to ride his horse to the entrance . . . for a price.  Two dinar was my counter offer to his initial request for ten.  He accepted.  I rode the horse and was relieved that I didn't have to make that uphill journey to get back to the entrance.  When we arrived, he said, “three dinar.”  “What?  We agreed on two!”, I replied.   He shook his head and finger to indicate “No,” he insisted on three dinar which I gave him rather than spend a great deal of time arguing.  I didn't realize how hard the trip back would be, and the road was littered with rosy-cheeked Germans and British constantly out of breath in the hot sun.   I had no problem understanding their exhaustion because the tour was long, dusty, and hot, but walking uphill over a gravel path was a tough trip, one that I was happy to be taking the easy way out.

 

I waited for the local bus.  None appeared during two hours of waiting at the bus stop.   I began to talk to Mohammed, my Petra guide.  After his prayer break with several other Moslems, we talked for a while.  He convinced me that I should share a taxi with him.  He would show me a good restaurant in the town of Wadi Moussa close by.  None were open.  He brought me to his house where his wife prepared "Upside Down," the Arabic name escapes me, but that is the literal translation for a chicken and rice dinner.  I met his son and his youngest daughter of six.  Later I met his wife and the rest of the family. His son's house was built atop his, and both overlooked the city.  We watched the sun set.  It was a natural 'light show'.  Here it was explained to me that the name Petra means red sunset.  The entire town and surrounding valley were bathed in the late sun red glow. 

 

Before they could break fast at the nightly conclusion of Ramadan, they brought Neskafe for me.  I drank it.  We sat, with shoes off in the living room and talked for hours, the three of us Mohammed, his son, Jihad, and me.  The women all would eat separately in the kitchen and only appeared to serve us. 

 

The living room where we ate was bare except for a large blue and tan oriental rug on the floor. One wall was decorated with another rug with the image of Mecca weaved in it.  Dinner was served to just Jihad and me because Mohammed had to go to the house of one of his nine brothers to break the Ramadan fast as a family ritual.   I ate with pleasure.  I ate no uncooked vegetables and drank no water.  The food was wonderful, like most Egyptian food.

 

The bread was partially leavened and was an eight-inch diameter and one inch thick.    We had tea and spoke some more.  I agreed to meet them tomorrow for a hike.  He called a cab for me, which delivered me to my hotel.  Before l left the house I thanked the family and got into the taxi.

 

 

 

 March 11, 1993      Thursday        Petra, Jordan

   

Back in the hostel at three a.m., not able to sleep, I decided to write this entry.  I have reconsidered about going on the hike tomorrow and I will try to leave, instead, for Amman so I will have a few days in Israel.  Also, I must buy a special camera battery.  I haven't shaved or showered in two days now, going on three.  I enjoyed this wondrous trip so far.  While I wrote, daybreak came quickly, so fast that I didn’t even notice.  The morning is very cold, very biting.   I was happy to have come here to Petra and I’m sad to leave.  Everyone else is still asleep, but I must prepare to go.  Without hardship, I carried my backpack and camel hide suitcase out by the bus stop.

 

I put all my stuff together and left the hotel "I Mousa."  The bus comes right to the door of the hotel, stopped, then just as quickly, it was gone!  I did not even have a chance to wave or yell.  I went to my room for a while since the next bus isn't expected for an hour or longer.  Surprisingly, in about seven minutes another bus appeared, so I was prepared this time and left without goodbyes to the UK travelers I had met while there.  In a short while after I fell asleep on the shoulder of the Arab I shared the cramped bus seat with.  We arrived in Aqaba at the bus station, three blocks from my hotel.  I needed a new battery for my camera and I was able to buy it in Aqaba for three dollars.  The shutter wasn't operating electronically without it.  I took my bags and left the bus after thanking the Arab for not waking me.  I swear I don't remember starting to sleep. But the extra sleep was needed to fortify me for the next bus trip. 

 

I spent less than an hour going to the Jerusalem Hotel in Aqaba to shower, shave, and change clothes. I lost my rubber swim boots in the shower-Turkish toilet combination room.  This was established like many cheaper hotels or hostels maintain.  Each wall in this enclosed room is about four feet wide with a tiled floor.  Mounted on one wall are the showerhead and knob adjustments for hot or cold water.  Closer to the center of the room, built into the floor is a white porcelain basin with a large mouth for the drain.  The basin has two raised rectangular squares that are designed for each foot.   The mouth of the basin is directly between the small platforms, and slightly to the rear. 

At the base of the water pipes is a spigot with a three-foot length of rubber hose (used to “flush”).  

The Jordanian bus going to Amman, the Capitol of Jordan arrived and picked me up at the noon hour.  I paid two and a half dinar for my luggage since it took a spare too.  I was the only non-Arab aboard even though no train or plane passage is possible between these two cities.   About three hours later we arrive at the main bus station in town.    It is the gateway city to Israel. 

 

(Amman)  I feel somewhat cut off from the world.  I thought getting to Jerusalem wouldn't be difficult, but I have experienced events that have taught me differently now.  The taxi driver, a heavyset man in his late fifties with a greasy look about him, insisted on bringing his friend along to a place clearly out of the way to my hostel then charging me full fare on the meter.   I had paid him two dinar, which was half of what he wanted and should have been a generous price for the circuitous method he used to bring me to this hotel.  He angrily shouted some words at me as he drove away waving his hand wildly. 

 

In the hotel it is warmer than the forty-five degrees outside but the proprietor keeps it cold always I am told, so it’s not much warmer.  I keep my jacket on.  The hostel is on the third floor in the center of town.  There is plenty of good company, other travelers with great stories, and the bed is soft.  What more could I ask for?  I fell asleep for an hour laying across the bed fully clothed, exhausted.

 

Amman is very similar to other Arab cities, except it is bigger and the homes built on the cliff side add some charm to another quagmire of streets and shops. The watch I purchased in Aqaba, to replace the one I destroyed while diving, said seven p.m., it seemed much later.  I bought some local cheese and bread since ALL restaurants are closed for Ramadan still.  I ate it quietly and discreetly in my room.

 

My guide book says I should expect to spend three days to get out of Jordan, but I'll try to leave tomorrow.  If I can't get out, I'll have to stick it out here even though this is a business town, not a touristy place at all.  Maybe I’ll take a day trip or two, but I’ll have to read more detail than my guidebook offers.  There’s little it says (positive) about Amman.    The room is clean and the surroundings are pleasant, but it's simply that I foresee a quixotic dilemma before me.  How to get out?!  I hope I can quickly untie the morass of paperwork necessary to straighten this Gordian knot of “travel papers to Gaza” (the Jordanians do not officially recognize Israel). 

 

 I may regret my rapid departure without having explored the Amman environs if I discover there WAS something noteworthy here.  I guess my answers will unfold tomorrow, since the Ministry of Tourism is open from eight a.m. to two p.m. only on certain days.  I'd better not dally.  If I am fortunate, I'll find the Post Office where I might be able to place a call to the U.S.  I wish good luck to me.  With every hour that passes, something else of mine gets ripped, torn or broken.  I'm ready to throw some of it out the window.

 

March 12, 1993   Friday      Amman, Jordan

 

I awoke at four a.m., but I must also point out the trip is beginning to wear on me.  I went to sleep at eight or nine p.m. last night, and didn't wake up at all till morning.  For me, that’s a long time to sleep.   I was prepared to go on my quest for the visa, but I needed two photos and the photo store didn't open until nine a.m.  I sat talking with the busy proprietor of this hotel sporadically confirming directions he issued to me how I should go about arranging the visa quickly.  I got a shared taxi for eight hundred fil to go across town to the Ministry of the Interior.  In the interest of time I will confess that I answered the question about religion as “Catholic.”  I chose that because I wasn't certain how to spell "Presbyterian" (is that spelled right?).   I didn't want to be stuck here for a week or, worse yet, have my passport lost, misplaced or any other calamity.

 

While I didn’t want to deny that I am a Jew, while in the hostel I was advised, that I wouldn’t be treated well nor quickly if I said I’m Jewish.  This contradicts what I was told in Petra.   I want to keep a truthful log of events, so it is necessary I admit to something I wish to forget.  In any case, I filled the form and delivered it to the department manager, who was angrily barking orders to other Arabs who argued back vehemently.  I was told to come back after one p.m. (they are closed on Friday).

 

I felt a great deal of relief just hearing that the visa would be ready then.  I left, and as I passed the guard station, I retrieved my camera and binoculars that I had to surrender when I entered this military compound.  I got out my compass and map to plot my return to the Cliff Hotel where I could have a bite to eat and get more film from my backpack.  I took many pictures of store windows and other things of minor note as I walked back.  I got to the Citadel, the museum in Amman, and was surprised to see it open during hours that many shops and banks were closed in the afternoon for Ramadan.  Nothing of note in this somewhat barren and certainly unfinished, rather blase parody of a museum.

 

The weather was very dark and cloudy.  I hailed a cab, and for two dinars, rode the rest of the way back to the hostel.  The rain had been coming down lightly since I left the Ministry, but paused briefly until I was outside the Citadel at the top of the hill.  I wasn't on the mark using my compass.  I had overshot the Hotel in my walk, but since almost all street signs were in Arabic and the labyrinth of streets twisted so, I felt justified that I fell off track as I did. 

 

I had walked about six miles but overshot my target by a mile.  When I observed the taxi driver maneuver through the twisted roads, it was easy to see how I never would have meandered across the proper street.  They had even changed the name of several key streets in certain districts of Amman.  Today I ate some dates after having thoroughly washed and soaked them in boiling water.  I have a slight case of diarrhea, but not bad enough to prevent travel or make me uncomfortable.

 

I had the good fortune to have met other residents of this hostel.  Among them was Emmanuel, a young French architectural student, and John, a white haired eighty year old retired medical doctor who stated he owns several large estates in Great Britain and Scotland.  We developed a bond which is often formed in the hostel environment.

 

I left the hotel to trek back to the Ministry office to retrieve my passport.  Now that it is almost one p.m.,  I want the visa in my hand.  I went back by shared cab and got close by.  A Jordanian offered to take me to it, and he walked out of his way to help me find it.  So many helpful English-speaking people here.  I  must  say  how wonderful it is, and I must remember to return the favor when I am host in my country.

 

I quickly got my visa, one photocopied sheet with about ten names on it.  My name had a red mark by it to distinguish it from the visa issued to the other nine.

 

The rain was coming down much harder now, and I looked for a cab.  I wasn't going to walk in the recurring rainstorm.  Before I was able to get a cab, I was a witness to an accident -- a man was going to pull across heavy traffic to turn left, but because of the high cement island he should have turned right.  Instead of backing up, he chose to attempt to make a U turn to go the other direction on a side street which was also one way.  The first car  on the main street stopped, but the car behind him couldn't stop because they both were traveling at fifty mph.  

 

Normally fifty miles an hour would be okay, but when a light rain is combined with slick cobblestones, it makes for a dangerous situation.  The second car was pacing the first, separated by less than four feet and lots of rain.  The first car had to quickly apply the brakes to avoid a collision with the fellow trying to cross the street.   Rear-ender! Then the two drivers got out and pulled the U-turner out of his car!  Everybody was okay, so I left.

 

Back in the hotel room I found I had a young Japanese man staying here who spoke  English.  He's going to Kenya on a safari tomorrow night.  I went out with John and Emmanuel to have dinner and coffee, two separate events.  We had chicken with fried rice on a communal center plate.  I had fava beans with bread.   They ladle the olive oil over it; I hate that part.  We sat to a table to try to eat this.  John tried to taste the beans, and he remarked "they don't taste right," so typically British-phrased.  He lays claim to having lived eighty-six years, but looks exceptionally young.  We paid the innkeeper and walked outside into the rain.   The three of us smelled coffee brewing and the warm aroma of pastries baking.  We almost floated into the little shop to escape the biting cold wind and rain.  The hot pastry was soaking in a dark red fruit syrup on the bottom.  The top was covered with slivers of toasted coconut, and in between the two thin layers of yellow cake were hundreds of pistachio nuts held in place by white sugar icing.  I washed my piece of this delicious cake down with hot, dark, and gritty Turkish coffee.

 

We walked back the short distance to the hotel through flooded streets.  The air conditioning was locked on making the rooms even colder than they would have been anyway.  We had a few parting remarks, exchanged addresses, then each of us left for our respective rooms.  I look forward to the twentieth century in Israel tomorrow.  I must be out by five a.m. or I’ll be spending the weekend here.

 

 

March 13, 1993     Saturday    Amman to Jerusalem

 

I have gotten the proper transportation up to the Allenby Bridge.  I have seen no bus go over the bridge yet, and no bus is due here until 10 a.m. according to the timetable.  The gates close till Sunday.  I am waiting alone at the station for over ninety minutes.  A couple of buses stop across the street and fill with Arabs.  After an hour, I became concerned whether I would arrive in Jerusalem today or not.   In my concern, I ran across the street and attempted to board this old, dirty, smelly bus. 

 

The Israeli soldier prevented me from doing so.  He didn’t get into a long conversation with me to explain the reasons.  He just stubbornly refused to allow me passage on the Arab bus.     Moments later, two young Japanese tourists joined me.  The empty bus arrived and brought the three of us further toward the ancient city of Jerusalem.   I spent four Jordanian dinar and twenty shekels for the car to drive us to the bus station.  I was very tired when we finally stopped in the Arab section of Jerusalem, just outside the Damascus Gate.  I had been handed some little leaflet which suggested I go to the Palm Hotel.  The flyer suggested that the hostel was both cheap and clean.  The paper said that it was really close by.  I did an about-face and walked straight toward it.  It was close by, so I walked about fifty steps then up two flights of stairs.  Now that I'm missing my soap and rubber booties, I had to go out to buy some.  I bought some Arab soap, smelling of cinnamon and in a ball, handmade and red with white splotches.  The toothbrush, toothpaste, and razor were English or American brands.

After washing up, I felt rejuvenated and wanted to walk around.  Since I am in the Arab section I still felt like I had not left the Arabic countries.  It's just like being in Jordan.

 

I felt the spirituality of this holiest of cities as I stood on a street corner, across from the Damascus Gate of the ancient wall of Jerusalem waiting for the streetlight to change from red to green.  I may not have expressed that correctly.  I mean, for the first time in my life, a truly spiritual feeling gushed over me, from head to toe, just something that I had never expected.  I have never felt anything like that before that particular moment.    The flood of pedestrian Arabs leaving for Ramadan pushed me here and there.  The crowds were overwhelming, even so much as to block my view of the City.  I turned around and moved with the flow, like rafting a river.

 

I developed an overwhelming urge to sleep so I quickly found the Hotel and made arrangements to venture out tomorrow for the Masada trip that left the hostel at three a.m.  Tired as I am, I should prepare for the trip.  Since I couldn't send out my laundry, the washing had to be done by hand . . . my hand.  I laid out a line and after washing a small load of clothes, I rung them out and hung them on the roof to dry.   Ramadan and the Jewish Sabbath coincide today, so everything is closed.

 

The weather has been extraordinarily cold at night, and today was no exception, about fifty degrees and that deep cold where even the floors became frigid.  I've met and talked with many people in this hostel.  I'll stay here a couple of days, then move onto the Jewish section. 

 

I know I have found real pleasure in this lighthearted, lightweight, heavy-duty traveling.  I know some things I should bring on my travels in the future:  a sturdy, but light internal frame backpack; a large handkerchief; thin, strong rope; a good compass; more maps; two pairs of shoes (tennis and lightweight hiking), towel, snack food.   I should also consider bringing chewing gum, a bag to hold a liter of water, a cup, Swiss Army knife, a hat, plenty of socks and underwear, two jackets (one must be weatherproof), a body bag, a good camera, a watch, extra glasses, booties, wool socks, money, gloves.

 

Because of the Sabbath, many Jews were at the Wailing Wall, and there were even more tourists watching this truly spiritual experience for anyone.  The sky was becoming dark quickly now,  there was enough light to see.  Eerie shadows and darkened corners changed how I perceived the city; it would have been a different experience in daylight. 

 

I walked back through the darkly lit Damascus Gate.  I found it thrilling to travel alone through the cat-infested passageway and finding the opening to the main street at its end.  I would not miss the opportunity to photograph the narrow ancient and foreboding path upon which I walked.  It was devoid of all traffic, save four other souls who were either brave or just ignorant of the dangers of which we were advised.   The failing light encouraged me to stop and quickly compose a picture to remind me how a street character can change with the loss of people and light.  It's not the street; it's those two elements that make up the personality of a street.

 

March 14, 1993    Sunday  Jerusalem

 

I awoke at one a.m., partly because there was an argument down the hall which would have been difficult to sleep through.  I was anticipating the Masada journey starting at three a.m.  Several people were still up and talking loudly of their travels.  Japanese, German, and English were the primary languages I was able to perceive.    The conversation was lively, and then punctuated with political verbiage about the Arab situation.  I tried to interject my comments about the Arab side of the issue; weak as it may be, it still deserves to be heard.

 

A minibus designed to hold eight comfortably arrived a half-hour late. Instead, this early morning, it held ten people uncomfortably.  The moon cast a faint shadow, but all the stars were out to flitter their shiniest on those who cared to look.  The quiet wind hardly issued a breath during our moment of travel. 

 

We hurried the seventy kilometers to Masada, our first stop. I don't know exactly when, but I recall the British man sitting tightly next to me, kindly moved head that was on his shoulder after I fell asleep.  The Masada was laying in wait to capture my very soul.  The trip (as it was explained to me) would be a "walk up a hill-- not very long."  I enjoyed the beginning.   The "hill" was still hidden in the darkness of night.  After awhile, my first vision of the “hill” opened through the curtain of darkness and I saw the Snake Trail wind upwards for a very long distance.  The hike was much more than an effort. I was wearing two jackets to hold back the morning chill. I lagged behind, wondering whether I should give up my attempt to climb this long trail.   I was spurred on by the majestic boldness of a monument to ancient attempts of human determination to remain undominated. 

 

My struggle continued until I finally arrived in the Masada.  The craggy path opened out to a huge field with few buildings left in recognizable tact.  The buildings along all the walls stood as they did at the time of the Roman storming of the city-fortress.  We had about two hours to remain within these walls but I felt I needed more time.  I sat, trying to feel the feelings they felt thousands of years ago.  Almost -- but almost I thought I would feel something in just a moment more of deep concentration  . . .  then the feeling was gone.  I couldn't catch it as it wafted through the air and momentarily touched us all.

 

The trip down, other than each step being rather bone jarring, was easy.  The company of a woman backpacker made the trip short work.  Her name was forgotten, but her light conversation was most welcomed.

 

We rode in the bus for a ten minute trip to the Dead Sea, where I braved the very cold air and even colder water so that I could say I have done it.  The photos proved it.  The salt and chemicals were so strong, it was difficult for me to ignore the eyeful I got almost immediately.  After a few minutes I exited the huge lake and attempted to dry myself with some aplomb.   Standing on the beach in my white jockey shorts was not a moment that I was impressive to anyone.

 

After drying off, I went to get some coffee to warm up a bit.  Back to the bus.  Next was Ein Gedi I poorly chose to enter at seven shekels.  Not worth two shekels.  Some nice brook, a couple of nice little waterfalls, some ibex in a fenced yard, but that was it.  I imagine the importance of this place is that it is like an oasis in the middle of the dessert.

 

Jericho was next.  Little of note to see except for some yet not completely explored mounds which are the only remnants of the oldest and (altitude-wise) lowest city in the world . . .  uneventful is the word.  We stopped to see a beautiful monastery -- very scenic, but we only looked from afar.  We returned to the hotel.  Because I was unable to shower was encouragement enough for me to wander the streets of the Old City where I bought a few small gifts.  The clouds filled the cold sky.   I lost my bearing, but luckily I departed the Old City, as businesses closed on Saturday night about five p.m. through the New Gate, which I stumbled upon.  Israeli soldiers with submachine guns or pistols are everywhere.  After returning to the hotel, I made arrangements to take a walking tour of the Old City at 11 a.m.  I'm very tired now.

 

 

March 14, 1993    Sunday,  Jerusalem

 

I still want to go to Caesarea, then I’ll leave for Tel Aviv and Haifa by train.  After I visit Bethlehem tomorrow, I will get my reservations for the flight home. 

 

I woke very late because of the conversation last night that lasted till late in the night with other travelers.  After a hot shower in a very cold room, I shaved and left for a walking tour of the City at 11 a.m., but since no one else was there, I was asked to come back at two p.m. 

 

I walked across the street to the Tower of David Museum.   For eleven shekels I would join an English-speaking tour of the history of Jerusalem.  I saw how this City had been sought after by many, but conquered by many.  As I had expected, the Israelis have many opinions that stand in juxtaposition to the Palestinians, especially as plutocrats.  Everywhere land is a big issue.  And no solution that would satisfy a quorum.   So it goes on -- without an answer, worse yet, no one has a clear vision if an answer exists.

 

My clothes, especially my jeans, are close to encrustment, and no easily accessible laundry, compounded by poor weather conditions mean I’ll have to wear these stiff jeans another day.    I revisited the origination point for the walking tour after some wandering through the Old City on my own.  First I wandered upon the Dome of the Rock, a point where Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all consider a very Holy spot.   Aesthetically, it was beautiful.  First, in order to enter I must buy a ticket between eight and 10 a.m., when it is open to non-Muslims.  Other times only Muslims may enter and nobody else.  The beauty of this shrine (not a mosque) was easy to sense.  The walls were coated in many areas with pure gold and stained glass mosaics.  The people were praying, women in the outer green rugged areas and the men were in the center area of red carpets.  Tourists walked in ragged patterns looking at everything -- examining, photographing, moving . . . everything.   Forgetting, momentarily, the mystical religious values beholden to this place by the faithful of this shrine, I could feel the undercurrents of resentment by the people who were deeply in prayer, watching me and other tourists with the anger of a caged man looking out at his observers.   Nonetheless, curiosity overwhelmed me.  

 

When I exited the shrine, I quickly found my shoes and camera untouched.  Quickly I put on my shoes for the marble squares surrounding this monument were exceedingly cold.  Rather than a contrast, I found the Jewish quarter populated by Jews, who acted similarly to the Moslems in showing the world their devoutness. I mean it was as though they wore their religious attitudes on their sleeve. They were following the written word of their religious doctrines to the fullest letter of its gospels, without question and without adaption to modern times.  Living life like this seems to be so utterly without original thought, offering little beyond the hypnotic value of repetition and creating an orderly existence.  To me, this is too high a price to pay.

 

I took only a light jacket and my camera when I left the hostel, a serious error in judgment.  Ten minutes before the tour was to begin, the air chilled briskly and the clouds darkened deeper.  I walked up the hill to the Jaffa Gate inside the walls of the Old City. This is where the walking tour began.   Because I had an hour before the tour was to start, I had an opportunity to go into the Jewish quarter to eat a twin pair of falafel sandwiches which are, amazingly, entirely vegetarian.

 

The other tourists and I massed together tightly for warmth and to hear as we started to explore the four quarters of Jerusalem.  First the Armenian.  Next, we saw the Jewish quarter and the Wailing Wall, now referred to as the Western Wall.   Then we visited the Christian section, where St. Anne's Church is.  To Christians it is an important structure because the body of Jesus was laid here after he died from the crucifixion.  From walking through this fractious church divided among five different factions.   It stood as a monument to how even the religious leaders have never come to terms with each other -- forget for the moment the secular world -- the priests can't even pull it together.  All over the Church work has stopped because of various arguments within each of the groups. 

 

I could only describe as astounding amazement when I was a witness to problems plaguing church administration.   An example was the placement of a ladder out front on the church eves and never moved because of dispute between these factions since 1935.  I saw it!   There were many other such issues plaguing this church, I would have thought they could figure out how to get along together.

 

At the Wailing Wall, now commonly referred to as the Western Wall, I couldn’t help but feel a kindred spirit with the pious men and women davening at the wall.  Apparently the custom began when the Temple was torn down and desecrated by its use as a dump.  The Jews were only allowed to come within city walls two days a year for prayer here at one of the most sacred sites for Jews.  One of those two days was to commemorate the destruction of the Temple. The men are only allowed on one side of the wall and women must go to the other.  This was the only place where I saw Orthodox Jews buzzing around the men who visited the wall and attempted to get alms, not for maintenance of the Wall, but to perpetuate their own Order.  I was ashamed of them, for I am a Jew too. 

 

While the five-person tour group in which I belonged saw quite a bit of the city, I was happy to hear it was over.  The rain and cold permeated the light jacket and other light clothing I had chosen to wear.  I was soaked. I was happy to get back to the hostel and dry off.  I sat in the communal main room and shared stories of exotic travel with others.

 

 

March 15, 1993    Monday      Jerusalem

 

This morning my intention was to see the Holocaust Museum, Bethlehem and Rachel's Tomb.  Later I would leave by train in the afternoon.  In fact that isn't what happened.  I did journey to the Museum of the Holocaust and walked the grounds to witness the small but emotionally powerful monuments noting those people and groups responsible for helping the survival of many Jews.  The Children's Monument of Mirrors and Lights was especially touching to me.  Alone I was, since it would be twenty minutes before the Museum would open.   Even though there was no admission charge, I quickly noticed that many exhibits were primarily photos.  There were many original documents.   Clothing, magazines, and armbands stood as silent reminders of a horrific time.  It was a small exhibit.

 

I was trying to get to Bethlehem, but I was lost, so I took a taxi for twelve shekels to Rachel's Tomb. I walked the remaining two miles to the women’s’ shrine.  Rachel's Tomb was within the Palestinian area.  I entered and saw only women around a 7' x 8' red draped casket, praying.  The women were making a mother’s prayer for their children.

 

Arriving by foot in Bethlehem about two miles away, I looked through the Arab Market section and bought a huge three pound block of halvah for one U.S. dollar.  I carried it the rest of the day, nibbling on it periodically until I felt ill from ingesting so much of this oily sweet.

 

I saw Andreas, a young German man whom I first formally met at the hostel.  Actually we've bumped into each other many times primarily here in Jerusalem.  We traveled together for the remainder of the day.  I decided to get twenty silver crosses, which I laid on the spot where Jesus was born.  To serve as perfunctory proof of this, I photographed the crosses lying there.   Cold and rain was outside, and there was no shortage of either.  The weather was even worse than yesterday.

 

Andreas and I went to the Israeli Museum, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls.  While the outer exhibit appeared as originals it was only later I was able to confirm with a museum docent that these were really the original documents and not 1:1 photographs of the scrolls.

 

We walked down a street populated with ultra Orthodox Jews.  The style of living could easily replicate the mode of living during the 1920's maybe in Holland, Poland, Russia, or Germany except that all writing on posters and store fronts (with very little exception) was in Hebrew.  I purchased a pastry in a busy bakery.  I wanted to photograph the scene within the bakery, but the proprietor adamantly refused.  The pastry I bought was filled with nuts, raisins, and cinnamon, then rolled into a long, flaky tube which was shellacked with egg white before baking.  This gave a very healthy golden sheen to this delightful, but filling, confection. 

 

We next stopped at a falafel stand.  So many of these things around, just like hot dog stands in the U.S.  This one had an open display of the seasonal and local favorite vegetables that you can stuff in the falafel, akin to relish tray.   I put a big red bell pepper and a miscellaneous assortment of other unidentified vegetables, then I doloped a soupspoon full of humus, a sauce that resembles thinned mayonnaise.   I put some thin red, sugar powdered slices of oranges in my sandwich, but they conflicted with the flavor of the falafel and were removed quickly.   I tasted several other vegetables.  After consuming the healthy food, and licking my sticky fingers, I was ready to (burp) go.  I thought about how successful a falafel stand might be in Venice on the Boardwalk.

 

The walk back was just too long to walk in the inclimate weather. Andreas and I had no real idea where we exactly were, so finally gave up and took a cab for twelve shekels each.  It was a welcomed relief just to sit in the cab.

 

Back at the hotel, the fireplace was burning heartily, and I quickly defrosted.  Since the trip was so cold, it was a true pleasure to stand by the fire, but weather usually intimidates travel in some way.  I am looking forward to leaving inclement Jerusalem for, what I am told is a much warmer Tel Aviv.  I must arrange my flight back to Los Angeles soon.

 

 

 March 16, 1993   Tuesday    Jerusalem to Tel Aviv

 

With all my luggage I chose to take a taxi to the train station.  Nobody in the hostel knew anything about the train to Tel Aviv, so I just went to the station and asked. “ Next train at 8:30 a.m., pay on the train.”  I was told by an official looking man dressed in a dark blue uniform.   That was enough to get me in the right direction.   Since there is only one train and the passenger rail system is only between these two cities, I am certain this is the correct train.  Further, there are only two cars attached to the engine.  

At this very moment I have boarded the train for Jerusalem. I took a walk around the engine while it will continue to idle for another half hour.  It is exceptionally cold in the rain, almost as cold as my room was last night.    The communal living of the hostels is rather enjoyable with the pleasure of interesting conversation integrated with this cheap, and very friendly, style of vagabondsmanship fit me well.

 

The train has not begun to move, but as I sit here I can, all too easily, see my breath.  My feet are numb.  I want to get to Tel Aviv and conclude flight arrangements to get home.   I have always felt a tugging of my heart at the point of a trip that I must say, "No further, the adventure must cease now!"  The special fondness I hold for those dear to me, pull me home.

 

I see why the trip by train is seldom used.  Rarely is a beautiful scene opened before me as we travel along the coast.  The chill in the air leaves when we are a half hour outside of Jerusalem.  The train is so empty that I can stretch out in full comfort.  The molded plastic seats do not let me take advantage of all this space.  The trip is over within four hours, traveling at a slow pace.  Stopping at the main station just outside Tel Aviv I take my goods and find a cabbie who speaks English and who is willing to take me around the area.

 

I spent an exciting day in Tel Aviv.  The guide told little of this modern city which, it seems, is almost diametrically opposite of Jerusalem.  This vibrant city is searching out life, not losing sight of the future.  Jerusalem lives in the past, a wondrously colorful past, but it's the past just the same.  The excitement of Tel Aviv is around every corner.  It resembles other important metropolises in the Western world.  It naturally loses charm without the advantage of an abundance of history like the nearby town of Jaffa.  It has let its tentacles reach out to swallow Old Jaffa, an important seaport I visited on the way to Jerusalem. 

 

Some remnants of this ancient landmark still exist, but as far as I saw, the best thing about Old Jaffa was the panoramic view of Tel Aviv.  Buses emptied their guts, filled with jittery and wobbly old tourists who venture forth from the same countries I have noted before -- Germany, France, and Great Britain.  These tourists are almost wholly the young (under 25) and the elders (over 65).   I wonder where my peers are?  This is a city, which has high level of luxury I do not seek.  I can find it well enough in Los Angeles and throughout America.

 

The drive of the taxi, Yacobe, has not been married yet, but he hopes to be soon.  He is bewildered by my lack of an ability to speak Hebrew.  I offer no defense.  Other than a mild admonishing, shown by the furling of his brow, I drew no harsher criticism.  He thought I should "return" to Israel.  This is not something I would consider with a great deal of seriousness.  Fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry, and meat in this city looked good.  The foods looked like something I would eat.  The weather was temperate.  Housing seemed fine.  A comfortable city to live in.

 

A snarling traffic jam was caused by a car occupied by one man.   He had the misfortune to have his old, battered, blue car fail to crest a gentle, wide mound in the asphalt roadway.  He was forced to turn around while cars had to wait more than ten minutes on both sides of the hill.  The taxi brought me down a street where the high fashions of Israel are found. I have been jaded by other more impressive streets in the world and this boulevard stood little chance of stunning me.

 

I did want to see the signs of Israel's injury resulting from the 1991 Iraqi Scud missiles.  We couldn't see any, but Yacobe said it destroyed his front door and a window.  In our brief search, all the repairs had been made from what we saw.  He left me about six short blocks from the beach and near a place where I could get, according to him, the best falafel in the city.  The approach to selling falafel which this shop took was similar to a plethora of other shops all over the Middle East. The shop rules allow me to build a sandwich with all I can put into or on it.  If I can eat enough of the monstrous creation (I saw many people build) without devouring the pita bread, I would be entitled to fill the remaining bread pocket to its limit.  On many occasions people would taste this or that without raising the ire of the proprietor even if they elected not to buy a sandwich at all. They were occasionally visited by schnorers that would pocket food and "palm" it into their jacket pocket.  I witnessed this.

 

I walked from this eatery to the beach, where because it was a little chilly sixty-five degrees at three p.m., few people populated the very soft white sand within the city beaches.  So I strolled along the sand between the water's edge and the buildings that encroached the beach.  They had created some sort of artificial recreational bay that was clearly manmade by its geometrically rectangular shape.  I walked for two hours then I sat and had some ice cream at a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream parlor and a glass of very cold water.  I walked through a section of the city streets that bustled with swap meet/flea market scenery.  I was happy to see the prices were more fixed and more of them than not they were posted.  Bargaining was still de rigor here.

 

Because it was my last night, I decided to stay at a fancy hotel, the Carlton.   I had traveled well under my budget and I had enough scrimping here and there -- I need a good night's sleep.  The room on the sixth floor was pleasant, with a long view to the north of the Mediterranean.  The bed was firm, the room was warm, and I had plenty of hot water.  It gave me the right kind of environment to write.

 

The taxi I took brought me to the water's edge of the Mediterranean.  Not the spectacular sea I observed years ago when by the Cote d'Azure in France.   The weather was pleasantly warm and no rain.  Just the warm would have been enough to take away the Jerusalem chill. 

 

Even while I was showering, I could hear the sounds below of a bustling city not ready to give up this day, but preparing for the new one coming just the same.  I went downstairs and walked along the beach. Since I have to be at the airport at four a.m. there isn't much time for sleep but there is time for reflection.  My return flight leaves at 6:20 a.m., direct to LA with stops in Paris and New York/JFK.

 

I want to reflect back on the trip.  What particular locations or incidents are most memorable to me?  I will list from my thoughts as they come to me this early morning.  Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Petra, Cairo, Abu Simbel, Luxor, the Valleys of the Kings and Queens, Aswan, the island Philae, and Dendra were wonderful.  Also without equal were Giza and the Pyramids, Sacquara and the bones and shards of pottery.  I loved the experience of the ferry trip to Aqaba, scuba diving the Red Sea, and Bethlehem. 

I found great pleasure in the hostels, eating endless falafel, grilled pigeon, seeing the Masada, swimming in the Dead Sea, the people I've met and talked with, riding the camel in the desert, the Citadel and Necropolis in Cairo, and the border crossing of Saudi Arabia.

 

My dinner with the Palestinian family in Petra will never be forgotten. Egypt and Israel were certainly countries that I would strongly suggest traveling for the historical value especially.

But above all, the one shinning moment that I will recall with my greatest joy was that one simple minute when I was standing across the street from the old wall of Jerusalem.  I was swept with the warm flush of spirituality.  I felt, maybe for the first time, my kinship to the people of this holy land.  I felt how my roots go back eons, way back.

 

I didn't read other than local newspapers.  I didn't watch American television.  I didn't stay in tune with local, national, or global events except, through dialogue with other people or travelers.  I hope that some of the friendships that I forged out of necessity or opportunity may flourish and that I may cross their path again. 

 

To reflect on future events may be somewhat startling to me, having been "out of touch" for a while.  I'll refrain from opening these journals to the eyes of others.  Many personal feelings went into these recordings.   I tried to be generally accurate (except in my spelling and punctuation).  I am seized with the desire to purchase several different newspapers to reestablish my understanding of world events from a perspective I did not have before. 

 

Some notable observations I should record is that I see that Israel has an agreement on paper with Egypt, but a strong popular undercurrent of anti-Israeli sentiment runs deep within the Egyptians.  They feel that while Sadat was able to regain the Sinai Peninsula from Israel after losing it to Israel in the 1967 War, the Camp David Accord opened diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt.  Still, popular feeling is that there is no true camaraderie between the two.  Both people of these two nations distrust and dislike the other.

 

Palestinians are, generally, more staunch in their sentiments.  They are clearly capable and willing to cause destruction and terror if that might bring them closer to their impossible dream of regaining Palestine and eliminating the state of Israel.  At the time, in current events, there are others which affected my security in travel.  The conditions, especially in Egypt, such as bombings by the Shiite Muslims who are intent on overthrowing the Sunni Muslims in Egypt for two purposes.  To install a government that they feel resembles the clerical governing system in Iran.  The second purpose is to topple the current system by crippling the country's primary source of income, which is represented under the heading of "Tourism" at about 80% of the GNP.

 

 By bombing and anti-tourism activities, they discourage travelers from visiting Egypt and weakening the general economic health of the fragile (to begin with) economy.

 

Jordan, in contrast with Egypt, has no treaty of peace, but its situation is rather different.  Because Jordan obtains financial aid from the US, it is encouraged to have to have stable relations with Israel, and I believe it does.  Jordan also gets aid from the United Arab Emirates so it must play for that side also.  I am saddened by the observation that while each side has reasonable arguments to support its position, there doesn't appear to be real peace in the Middle East for another five years or more before peaceful coexistence will be resolved.  They are just too far apart, not from a diplomatic, but personal level is what I observe.  Naturally, since Israel was attacked through the Golan Heights, it would be foolish to surrender it to Syria.  It is a strategic strong point.  Palestinians want their land back, but these are the spoils of war.  If Nasser had pushed the Israelis, as he said, into the sea, I'm certain there still would have been plenty for Palestinians to be unhappy about. 

 

The land was barren and yielded little of value.  I truly would have liked to find otherwise, but my observations are clear, and it was demonstrated time after time.

March 17, 1993   Wednesday   Tel Aviv

 

At 3:30 a.m. I wanted to check in at the airport, but I had to go through a very strict exit inspection as I walked through the gates.  Certainly no one can say that the Israelis are not being careful.  The ticket that I hold meant that I must wait till 5:30 a.m. before I can leave my luggage.  It may have been a mistake to rush here to be early.   If I were to try to shut my eyes for ten minutes I know it would be hours after the plane had departed when I awoke to discover this.  So no more even thinking of sleep till I'm on the plane.  Some time passes and I board, then the plane took off.

 

We disembarked to the same waiting room I visited on the trip to Egypt.  It was a dreaded moment when I heard that I was paged.  It meant I was bumped. Ouch. They advised me that my new flight would go to Boston and land at about 4:40 p.m. on Thursday, Boston time.  I sporadically was able to shut my eyes for a moment, here and there

 

I'm in Paris with a full plane on my way to New York.  Flight 803 to L.A. was sold out, so I rescheduled to go to Boston in two hours.  With all the bad weather, I'll be fortunate not to have a layover but if I do, I'll rent a car and go to No Name Cafe.  

 

I'm dirty, tired, and hungry -- all the wonderful things that heap misery on the traveler.   I hardly napped on the way to Paris because I had the misfortune of being seated in the very middle of a row of five.  To both sides of me were crying children.   My diminished pleasure was amplified to a new low when, seated one row in front of me, a heavyset bearded young man began throwing up shortly before landing.  The flight was good, and the pilot steady, but the odor permeated every breath I dared breathe.

 

 

March 18, 1993    Thursday    Boston, America

 

Now the plane should be landing soon.  I am happy to be back in the U.S.  Boston is about 40E, and I have to go through Customs. Still, to make the third leg of the trip, I must look forward to it.  Time zones have changed three times already, but at this point I am leaving chilly 28E Boston without going to No Name Cafe or having some great pizza on the South Side, the Italian section of Boston.  Instead, I had to quickly board a plane to St. Louis to link with an L.A. flight.

 

The cramped DC-9 seems so small compared to all other flights I've taken.  I have to stay overnight because I am not able to arrange a flight.  I have been flying or waiting for  thirty-five hours, and I still have the St. Louis to L.A. flight to make. In the morning I catch the first flight of the day to Orange County then take a shared cab to LAX and go home.  And so it was.