North Africa 2006: Ambulances, Police Motorcades, and Random Experiences in Egypt

Aug 22, 2006
Bookmark and Share

Sand dunes outside of the Siwa Oasis in Egypt
Above: Sand dunes outside of the Siwa Oasis in Egypt.

Just thought I would send out an update on my trip while I had some free time... I am back in Cairo for the night and heading to Morocco tomorrow morning. My stay in Egypt has been very interesting to say the least. Let me start with the main excitement and go from there...

The last time I wrote was the night before I left Cairo on the Night train to Luxor. Well, we made the train, but unfortunately we were unable to complete the trip down the Nile until much later... Ashley, one of the girls I have been traveling with, threw up just before boarding but we figured she could just sleep it off on the train. Wrong. Instead, she continued to throw up 8 time over about 5 hours... Around 3AM she woke me up and took the opportunity to inform me that this has happened several times in the last few years of college and she needed to get to a hospital.... Good time to let me know! Anyway, a passenger that spoke some limited english knew something was wrong and alerted the conductor of the train. Long story short, we were met at the next train station (a small town called Asyut) by an ambulance and about 20 people of various offices and duties... She spent about an hour in the ER until she was eventually admitted for the night and Araceli and I were given complimentary rooms at the University hotel. The next morning we decided that the best option was to continue down to Luxor where she could either just rest for a few days or get to a real hospital if she still needed one. Well after signing a release form stating that she was leaving against the doctor's recommendation, we left for the noon train. But this was not going to be an ordinary trip to the train station... Oh no.... We were in a taxi that was escorted through the town by not one, not two, but three police cars with sirens and horns at full blast. A four car police motorcade with about 11 police officers total! The best was that all we paid for the whole experience was 6 pounds (about $1) and that included two trips to the store to buy bottled waters! They never even asked for contact or insurance info! Only our names, ages, and nationalities.... Anyways, there is a lot more to that story and if anyone is interested I will be glad to share at another time over a nice cold beer.

We made the trip to Luxor and spent the next to days going around to numerous sites (sans Ashley of course and Araceli managed to get sick shortly after). Luxor temple, Karnak, the Valley of the Kings.... They are all within 20 minutes distance of one another. The valley of the Kings was really impressive. Walking through all the tombs was pretty erie... And yes, I finally saw King tut - well the sarcophagus in his tomb that supposedly still holds his remains at least...

After Luxor, we headed down to Aswan and Abu Simbel. Ashley and Araceli took turns being sick on this leg of the trip (A theme that has been my life for the last two weeks). Araceli made it down to Abu Simbel with me. This is the temple that Ramses II had built that had to be raised straight up a cliff when the dam was built that flooded the area. Then later on, Ashley made it out of the room to go on a sunset Fallucca ride with me along the Nile. This trip took us by a 3000 year old nubian village that we got a tour of from one of the locals. He was very confused however, when we were more fascinated by the community oven used for cooking bread and an area used for making mud bricks than any of the common tourists attractions like the architecture or colored walls... We tried to explain that we study archaeology, but I think that was a little over his head.

After Aswan, we headed up to Alexandria on another night train... I have to say I was a little worried as to who would need to stop at a hospital in the middle of the night this time... Luckily we all made it in one piece -- well sorta, Araceli was sick the whole time we were in this city ;-) Alexandria was a hard city for us cause nothing went our way right at first... The taxi couldn't find our hotel (Largely because the name of the street it was on had been changed) and after a long fight he let us out somewhere in the middle of alexandria saying that that is where we needed to be... Uh huh.... Well, after walking around we finally found our hotel and they wanted to charge twice what they had originally told me.... Back to the streets... We finally found a pretty nice one and settled in. The city itself was nice though. Right along the mediterranean so it had a nice breeze and was all in all the coolest place that we had been. Ashley and I went to the Quatbey Fortress (Where the lighthouse of Alexandria once stood) and then headed to the Library. The library was absolutely amazing. Describing it can hardly do it justice so I will just wait to put some pictures up on my website.

The next day, we were off to the Siwa Oasis near the border of Libya. This little town ended up being by far the coolest experience of the trip! It was tiny, about 24,000 inhabitants total, and there were no tourists cause I guess we were the only ones stupid enough to go into the middle of the Sahara Desert in the peak of summer. But anyways it felt like we had the town to ourselves (we definitely had the hotel to ourselves as we were the only guests staying there for one of the nights)! The first full day we had, we hired a guide who took us out into the desert for an afternoon tour of some sites and overnight camping. It was amazing! We walked on a beautiful salt lake, went swimming in some natural springs, visited a bedouin village and then headed for the real desert.... Once there, our driver had a little fun with the 4 wheel drive vehicle and the sand dunes.... It was pretty crazy. We also stopped at an ancient dried up river bed where you could pick up sand dollars and other fossils by the handful. The best stop was where we headed next... A sand dune with about a 100ft drop that we proceeded to strap a board to our feet and sand surf to the bottom of! Crazy! And all of you that have been trying to get me to go snow boarding - I think I am finally ready... The camping experience itself was pretty amazing as well. And for the record if anyone is keeping count, Araceli spent the evening sick here.

The next day we headed back to our hotel and just spent the day relaxing in Siwa. I realized during that day that Siwa is by far the most conservative Islamic town I have ever been to. During the call to prayer, everything - and I mean everything - closed down. There was no one on the street except for a couple quiet donkey drawn taxi's and all the shops were completely shut down. I had to just go back to my hotel and wait for everyone to return from the mosque. Also, I quickly noticed that there were no women anywhere... I finally saw two being shuttled somewhere by donkey taxi and they were 100% covered in black from head to toe. It is very common for women to be relatively covered in these regions and almost all of them wear head scarves. In some of the more conservative regions that I have been to, they cover there faces so that only a slit is open for there eyes... The women here though were far more intense. The were 100% covered, with a black veil over there face so not even a slit was visible. It was actually creepy seeing them. Almost like death itself was riding around on a donkey taxi...

Anyways, we caught the first bus out the following morning heading to Cairo with a stop in Marsa Matruh. Ashley spent the night throwing up this time, so I was very worried about this trip...

Quick note on Marsa Matruh... This has to be the most violent city in Egypt! On our way to Siwa, our bus broke down here, and while waiting at the bus repair area, a fight broke out at the main entrance. Apparently, a 12 year old boy was being beaten and when a man came to his aide, the rescuer's ear was almost completely ripped of by the other man! By the time I came out to see what the commotion was all about, all I saw was a man with blood rushing down his head being taken into an ambulance! Then, on the way back through this town, the man that works for the bus company loading bags on to the buses exploded about something or other.... He tore up all the baggage tickets and through them into the street and walked away.... He returned about a minute later with a large wooden club, walked over to the sidewalk cafe right by the bus, and started throwing their chairs and tables into the street! And then trying to break them with his club! It took a good 10 people to calm him down and get him to walk away.... I don't know what it was about or what calmed him down, but he finally returned 10 minutes later with a cigarette in his mouth and resumed loading the bus! Lesson to be learned - avoid Marsa Matruh!

So today was a nice relaxing day for me... I did most of what I wanted to do in Cairo the first time around, so I have just spent the day lounging around the hostel... And, if your reading this Professor Cody, working on my thesis ;-)

Tomorrow I leave for Morocco and I am definitely looking forward to a change of locale... Egypt has definitely been a challenge for me for various reasons, but it was an amazing experience nonetheless. I'll let you know how Morocco goes!

Sand dunes outside of the Siwa Oasis in Egypt

Bookmark and Share

Leave a comment