Tuesday night Mark and I went on a Nile Cruise. It was a classic boat tour with mediocre food, a cheesy show and an even worse keyboard player/singer. First we thought we would have the huge boat to ourselves but then a tour bus pulled up and dropped off a Malaysian and an Indian group off, and a bunch of local families joined as well.
There was a food buffet and we did well by stocking up on everything early as the Malaysians were piling on food to their plates and eating it while they were still in line. By the time I had finished with my starter there were already no desserts left.
No alcoholic drinks were served so we ordered ‘birell’ which is a disgusting non alcoholic malt beer that tastes like a foul apple cider. I had no problem nursing it all night, especially after I heard that it was 40 pounds ($7), something the waiter didn’t even want to tell me until after the cruise was over and it was paying time. Luckily I had already expected overpriced beverages, if not that outrageous though.
There was a keyboard player and singer combo but you wouldn’t have known that they worked there because they were so uninterested, didn’t ever look up and most of the work was done by the automatic keyboard anyway. They butchered some fine songs though, it was quite amusing.
After dinner the obligatory show came on, a belly dancer that looked like Octomom and that spent more time posing for pictures with passengers than dancing. I never saw the display of official photos when I left so they missed out on my 10 pounds.
There were also two dancing dervishes, one of them a midget…it was painful as he also looked as if he had down syndrome. The dervishes basically spin around in a circle for hours and lift their long skirts to create shapes. It looks great but I wondered how they didn’t hurl in the audience a few times. The second dancer looked a bit like Robert Downey Jr. and he was quite the clown. The Indians had the most fun.
We didn’t really spend much time on the water, maybe a little over an hour or so. The boat didn’t get far but it was still nice.
We returned to the hotel at 9.30pm and saw beginnings of a demonstration forming on Tahrir Square. I didn’t think much of it and went into my room to watch tv but an hour later the more loud than usual traffic made me open my window and check what was going on again. They were in the process of closing the square for traffic, hence the horns, and tons of people were yelling slogans at this point.
I basically ended up watching these new demonstrations until 2 am from various windows and the roof along with hotel staff and other guests. We saw molotov cocktails being thrown, lots of smoke, injured people being carried away, protesters throwing rocks, the police marching in but not doing much else, ambulances appearing on the scene, people running towards a building – then running away from it when shots were fired – then running back in again right away. There were tons of bystanders and even people who sold coffee and tea. TV crews came in and at some point I even felt the tear gas on my face. That stuff must be strong if I can even feel it up the on the 10th floor.
I never felt like this would escalate or it would get dangerous for me.
None of the guys in the hotel approved of the protests, in fact nobody I met had had a problem with Mubarak or the previous government. Maybe that’s because all of them had jobs that are now badly affected by the decrease in tourism as a result of it.
The protests went on all night and I poked my head out of the window every hour or so. On Wednesday morning I bought some bread across the road and surveyed the area. There were traffic barriers, tons of rocks and trash everywhere and a mix of protesters and people going to work. For once nobody bothered me.
Mark had booked a private car to take us on a day trip to Alexandria. I wanted to take a coach there but we would have had to organize transportation in Alex then, and I had no desire to drive here myself although the boys thought that would be a good idea. In the end the boys didn’t come along anyway so we split the car and it wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately the driver had a different idea of what a relaxing day break would be so we spent pretty much all day in the car and saw almost nothing.
For starters we were 90 minutes late which then put us in traffic and it took longer than expected to get to Alex. We arrived at noon and were dropped off at the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa. (They are considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages.)
“The necropolis consists of a series of Alexandrian tombs, statues and archaeological objects of the Pharaonic funeral cult with Hellenistic and early Imperial Roman influences. Due to the time period, many of the features of the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa merge Roman, Greek and Egyptian cultural points; some statues are Egyptian in style, yet bear Roman clothes and hair style whilst other features share a similar style. A circular staircase, which was often used to transport deceased bodies down the middle of it, leads down into the tombs that were tunneled into the bedrock during the age of the Antonine emperors (2nd century AD). The facility was then used as a burial chamber from the 2nd century to the 4th century, before being rediscovered in 1900 when a donkey accidentally fell into the access shaft. To date, three sarcophagi have been found, along with other human and animal remains which were added later. It is believed that the catacombs were only intended for a single family, but it is unclear why the site was expanded in order to house numerous other individuals. One of the more gruesome features of the catacombs is the so called Hall of Caracalla. According to tradition, this is a mass burial chamber for the humans and animals massacred by order of the Emperor Caracalla.”
It was a must see site, very erie!
Right afterwards we went to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a new very modern looking building right by the university, that is supposed to house 9 million books but so far only has a few thousand. It is right by the corniche, so we saw the Alexandria waterfront as well and I was hoping we could spent some more time here as it is beautiful. Alas, we only had 30 minutes to check out the library from inside before we hopped in the car again and were unexpectedly taken away to go to El Alamein.
Reflecting pool in front of library
Library from the inside
It wasn’t unexpected that we were to go there, but we kinda thought that we would have more time in Alexandria. Since tourism is down many things close at 4pm hence the mad rush to make it in time. Unfortunately El Alamein was another 150 km or so away so we had to drive again and couldn’t stay. Had I been given a choice I would have skipped it altogether. The driver was also keen to get us back to Cairo at a certain time as he wanted to watch a football match at 8.30pm. Another misunderstanding, my expectation was to be back in the city at midnight.
So basically Alexandria gave me the impression that I should return because it looks beautiful and despite the mad traffic a little more relaxed than Cairo. There is plenty to see but I would need a dayor two for it, not just an hour. I will have to come back.
So we raced on. The driver called himself ‘Schuhmacher’ (after Michael, the German race car driver) and indeed he was nuts. 180km/h all the way, no seat belt, on a hand held phone most of the time, zooming in and out of lanes and squeezing in where there was hardly any space, honking at everyone. He was very proud of his skills and kept mentioning them to us numerous times with both of us almost begging him to slow down. I had my eyes shut for most of the trip as I was scared shitless. It was not a pleasant experience at all. We also saw bad accidents, in one of them a car was in two pieces on opposite ends of the lanes with a second car, totaled, on the side and a human hand hanging out of the window on the driver’s side. There was no ambulance or police around and nobody stopped for them either, so it had either just happened or these kind of accidents are normal here.
“El Alamein has a war museum with collectibles from “the civil war” and other North African battles. Visitors can also go to the Italian and German Military Cemetery on Tel el-Eisa Hill just outside the town. The German cemetery is an ossuary with the remains of 4,200 German soldiers, built in the style of a medieval fortress. The Italian cemetery is a mausoleum containing many galleries of tombs. Many tombs bear the soldier’s name; many are simply marked “IGNOTO”, unknown.
There is also a Commonwealth war cemetery with graves of soldiers from various countries who fought on the British side. This has monuments commemorating Greek, New Zealand, Australia, South African, Indian and Canadian forces. The names of 213 Canadian airmen appear on the El Alamein Memorial in Egypt. Two important World War II battles were fought in the area. At the First Battle of El Alamein (July 1 – July 27, 1942) the advance of Axis troops on Alexandria was blunted by the Allies, when the German Panzers tried to outflank the allied position. At the Second Battle of El Alamein (October 23 – November 4, 1942) Allied forces broke the Axis line and forced them all the way back to Tunisia. Winston Churchill said of this victory: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” After the war, he wrote: “Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein, we never had a defeat.”
I could have done without this stop. The city looks like the extension of the Las Vegas strip, new plasticky looking apartment buildings in the middle of the desert along the highway (with the Mediterranean in the distance though) and no signs of life anywhere. We made it in time for the Military Museum and I needed all of one minute for it, I had zero interest. I waited for Mark outside and then we raced back to Cairo, 280km in less than two hours, and this includes the city jams we were stuck in for a while.
The protests at Tahrir Square were still going on all night, but parts of traffic was going through the square again.