I wrote two stories today! Without even the random words. I'm on fire. One was inspired by old people at the bus stop (maybe getting out of the house helped?) and I titled it An Inconvenient Youth. I'm still in debates with myself about this. The second was a ten minute jobby that I started two paragraphs before I finished the first (indeed, on the same document) and I called Whut is Lurve Anyhaw?. It similarly takes place on a bus, but is a primarily a monologue in what I hope is a southern US accent.
Both of these stories are currently on an adventure along with the conspicuously absent Ethel and Jake, which should take no longer than two months or so to complete. Depending on the outcome of the adventure, they may arrive here.
[This one was tough. Two two-hundred-word false starts, at least twenty four hours of unproductivity and a session on 750words to force extraction of every thought that drifted through my mind, however insignificant, later...]
[Disclaimer: All persons and scenarios portrayed her are fictional, and any resemblance to real people and places is entirely coincidental.]
Life circumstances twisted and turned, times changed, redundancies occurred, and one way or another, I found myself living with my mother again. I'd been back in the family home for two whole weeks before I became suspicious. The house routine had changed little in the years I'd been away. My mother worked her way through consistent mountains of laundry and ironing, courtesy of my siblings. She cooked and cleaned and tended the garden. She complained that the house was always a mess and that she never had time to read or play the piano. She claimed to relish rainy days because she could resist the allure of the outside world, and do chores in the house.
She incorporated my laundry into the household cycle and it was easy to let her take over. She ironed clothes of mine that I hadn't ironed in years, insisting it was necessary. She was critical in conversations with neighbours and family friends about having to 'look after' me again now I was home, but wouldn't let me cook for myself and swore she loved having me around the house.
She was at home all the time during the summer. She had a job change to look forward to at the beginning of the next school year. It involved fewer hours and less responsibility. To her, this was a promotion, and she frequently mentioned how much she anticipated creating a new routine around her work, finishing chores in the afternoons and having weekends free for gardening and baking.
Her hobbies truly were the household tasks, and she was always engaged with them. But she was right. The house was always a mess. Not dirty, just untidy. Disorganised, cluttered, in a way that is entirely excusable for a family with toddlers, for example. It had been in this state for my entire life, so it took a while for me to notice. I confined my own mess to my bedroom, and my slothful brother and workaholic sister had organised their lifestyles to create barely a ripple in our mother's day-to-day running of the home. So as a lifelong and proud homemaker with near-enough grown up children... why wasn't every room spotless? I'm not just criticising. She regularly bemoaned this fact. She had time and inclination and no-one to hinder her. In addition, the hours she spent in the garden resulted in fresh vegetables and endless fresh floral arrangements in the kitchen. Yet the garden was in a similar state of disarray to the house. There were weeds; vine plants spreading well beyond their allocated area; paving slabs misaligned; borders overflowing onto footpaths.
I reiterate that I never had a problem with this habitat. The place was homely rather than cold and inhuman as an immaculate room can be, and the garden had character. I was simply baffled by her unexplainable inability to control this entirely normal environment, despite an obvious desire to do so.
That's when I started to wonder if my mother was not all she appeared to be. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that she was concealing something.
From my bedroom window one morning, I watched her make her way slowly down the garden path, stopping every now and again to turn the head of a flower, or pull up a weed. She made it to the vegetable patch at the bottom of the garden and spent five minutes hunched over the cabbages; I assumed, picking off the caterpillars.
Then she vanished.
I blinked, and squinted at the spot where she had been kneeling. There was no corner for her to have disappeared round, and no mysterious hole in the earth through which she could have fallen. I figured if I was ever going to find out what was going on, now was the time.
I noticed nothing unusual as I approached the vegetable patch. Crouching down in the same place my mother had been, I peered at the leaves of the first cabbage, mostly shredded to lace by the caterpillars that were creeping over the surface. I remember thinking how big some of the caterpillars seemed to be. Then how big the cabbage was, then all at once the ground beneath me had transformed from soil to some kind of soft, green, fibrous fabric.
I froze as I realised I had materialised in the midst of a hub of bustling activity. People... creatures... flurried around me, mostly carrying things, sometimes dragging things. Seconds passed, and my presence didn't appear to have altered anyone's course so I relaxed a little.
Ahead of me, the green expanse stretched out for perhaps a mile before the ground started to curve upwards, becoming almost vertical before disappearing from view into a tangle of vine-like tendrils. The surface itself was divided into sections by smooth, pale green elevations that looked a bit like really long, curving speed bumps, and it was between - never over - these divisions that the residents of this populous land scurried. And as for those residents... My first assumption had been that they were oversized bugs, but surreptitious closer inspection made apparent various more humanoid features, exaggerated into insect-like shapes. Human hands on the end of an elongated arm with a backward elbow joint; an extra pair of otherwise perfectly ordinary jean-clad legs; shining organic body armour; curling antennae; uncomfortable looking food pipes replacing noses and mouths. I observed all of this as an aside, however, as my primary focus at that moment was locating my mother, who I assumed had to be here somewhere. Seeing nothing in the immediate vicinity, I rotated one-hundred-and-eighty degrees and was confronted by an infinitely more explorable landscape. I appeared to be at the end of an enormous driveway, lined on either side by slim, but unsymmetrical, strips of partially polished tree bark. Each strip was about twelve feet tall (twelve feet, that is, relative to my current scale) and angled a little outwards. At the end of this driveway stood a grand, turreted structure; immense, green, and in places, shimmering. It was a palace for sure, and it was in that direction I headed.
Surrounding the entrance there were no guards, just an increase in the density of busy looking individuals. I crept through easily, taking care not to bump anyone, and entered through an open archway. This entrance hall was at least the size of a football field and had a floor of polished tiles which contained animated patterns of swirling green and white. Matching flights of similarly extravagant stairs to my left and right spiralled upward to meet a balcony above the doorway, and above my head. A small and oddly proportioned crowd was gathered at the other side of the hall, and in the centre of them I could see the back of a familiar head. I darted left and climbed a little, both to hide behind stair railings and to gain a better vantage point from which to watch the scene before me unfold.
My mother was flapping and flustering and apparently issuing instructions to those around her, as every few seconds a creature would stand to attention and scuttle off purposefully, and mum would relax for a moment. I wanted to hear what was being said before I made my presence known. At the top of the stairs it became apparent that the balcony continued inside the walls of the room, and was connected to an opening at the top of another flight of stairs I could see further in, almost above my mother and her entourage. This passageway was unlit, and I encountered no opposition. I stuck my head out of the final, smaller, doorway, and was able to hear everything. But by this time, only five insect-men remained, and she appeared to have finished her list of commands. She had had a list, as well. I saw her tucking it into her apron's front pocket, before sighing, placing her hands on her hips, and surveying the room.
"I wish that mess was cleaned up," she tutted, frowning at a vase in the corner. The vase had been upturned, and shards of porcelain poked out from a heap of soil and scattered petals. Muddy water was starting to pool across the glossy floor.
Nothing's different then, I started to think; she still hates untidiness here, but still can't find the time to cl... But it was clean. My mum was leaving the chamber, entourage in tow, through a small doorway nearby, and the vase was intact again, back in place upon its table. Jaw still hanging, I scrambled down from my hiding place and crossed the now deserted chamber to peer through after her.
Her pace was fast, and she was almost at the far end of a dimly lit corridor by the time I got there. Her posse and she turned a corner and the light disappeared completely; I ran on tip-toes to catch up, and realised that the green glow illuminating the area around her was provided by the bulbous rear end of one of her minions. Keeping my distance, I followed the now silent party through corridors for a few more minutes. They stopped, and I couldn't see why until I heard the turning of a key in a lock, and a heavy sounding door creaked open. They entered swiftly and the door clicked closed; there was no way I could have manoeuvred through it in that time without being seen. I contented myself with peering through the amply sized keyhole.
The room beyond was high-ceilinged and decorated with luxurious red upholstery. Several of the squishiest looking armchairs I have ever seen were arranged around an empty fireplace, and a huge and intricate tapestry adorned one wall.
"I wish someone had arranged my cushions for me," I heard my mother whine. Nobody in the room moved, but a satisfied smile appeared on her face, so I could only presume the cushions had just arranged themselves. She slumped into one of the chairs and groaned "there's a whole stack of old books that need sorting out and getting rid of, that bookshelf is just overflowing with junk."
The bookshelf in question was also out of my sight line, but three bin liners appeared behind my mother's chair, packed full of angular objects that looked suspiciously like books. One was labelled 'Charity Shop', one 'Car Boot Sale' and one 'Recycling'. One of the insect-men who had been on standby reached for them all with three of his six arms, and heaved them over three of his six shoulders.
I leapt back from the door as he approached and spun around, backing against the wall and holding my breath. If he saw me, he gave no indication, and continued down the corridor, back the way they had entered.
I pressed my face to the keyhole once again, in time to hear my mother complain that a fire had not been prepared nor lit, and to see one spring into life in the fireplace. She leaned back into the chair and reached around to a coffee table by her side. Her hand met with a bare glass surface and she moaned. "Oh, no-one fetched the post in!"
A stack of unopened mail materialised on the table, and she flicked through, extracting a magazine sealed in plastic wrap. The wrap was removed, tossed aside, and taken care of by a plea for her floor to be litter-free. I heard her slowly turning the pages of the magazine, and decided I'd seen enough.
The grazes on Kip's palms stung, pressed tightly against the icy cold rock. Water seeped into the belly of his tshirt and front of his tattered pants as he scraped his body along the unforgiving stone. Though the crevasse through which he crawled was getting smaller, he continued to inch onward.
Kip had an inkling that his father's life depended on his progress, and the several tonnes of grey rock closing in on him from every direction did nothing to persuade him to give in. For the tenth time in as many minutes, the boy swallowed his fear and crept forward another arms length.
His breaths became shallower as space in which to expand his lungs decreased; cheek pressed against stone, a single tear merged with the veins of water already tracing the surface.
He tried to move again, an inch, a millimetre. He squeezed his eyes closed and pushed his head until his temples groaned, but the barrier would not yield.
[Words were generated randomly. I swear I didn't expect them to be this topical.]
Little Steve poked at the pile of circuitry in front of him with a screwdriver the length of his forearm. His nose wrinkled with concentration as he carefully extracted a string of spaghetti. His father would not be pleased.
As usual, the aliens had come whilst his parents were sleeping. Last time it had only been the TV remote that they'd abducted. The time before that it was a standing lamp. This time, it was his father's brand new Macintosh computer. Steve did not want to be around for his dad's reaction, but being four-years-and-seven-months old, he struggled to find excuses to be absent from the house. So he would have to face the consequences.
They always blamed him of course; not when things went missing, but when they came back. Because most of the time, things came back having been partially transformed into something tasty. The lamp had been embedded with chocolate chips. The insides of the remote, filled with ice cream. They never believed him when he explained about the aliens and their faulty teleporter. His mother just eyed him with suspicious terror, and his father talked in a stern voice about respecting peoples' things, and the cost of psychological counselling.
Steve reached for tweezers in an attempt to extract flecks of bolognese. The machine had been quite literally turned inside out before being dosed with a hearty Italian meal. It may well be beyond salvation.
He sighed, rolling his eyes at the spot in the night sky in which he knew their mothership resided. If their pattern of taking increasingly sophisticated devices was to continue, something must be done.
Steve crept through the dark house and reached a tiny hand onto the desk in the study. The hand withdrew with his father's billfold clutched firmly inside. He extracted all of the notes, and returned the wallet to its previous position. Tiptoeing through the kitchen, tiles chilling his bare feet, Steve tucked the money between his lips and shrunk to all fours to squeeze through the dog-flap in the back door.
The plantpot where he made his offerings was beside the door; Steve squashed the cash into the mud, making sure it was covered, then popped a marble on top so they'd know.
"Fix your teleporter," he hissed into the darkness.
Steve returned to bed, hoping sincerely that the aliens would deal with their technical problems before it was his turn.
The concept of forced fiction is well known and popular, but I've never heard it called that before. I think it's an appropriate name. Normally I write because I have an idea. When I don't have many ideas, or I'm preoccupied with other things, I go for enormous stretches of time without a word of fiction leaving my pen. Recent events have made me realise that there exists an upward spiral; writing often both improves the quality of prose, and the frequency of ideas generated. But ideas from nowhere are a blessing, and not to be taken for granted.
Thus, forced fiction. A minimum of every two days, if I haven't written anything idea-based, I will generate five random words using this, for example, and not move until I've written a piece of flash (or longer, if the mood takes me) containing them all.
And in a crazy and unforeseen turn of events, I'm going to post them on here. Unless I really like them, then I'm going to keep them to myself.
We got up early on the final morning with the intention of cramming as much of Cairo in before our flight as possible. No-one would take us to Tahrir Square, and the Metro wasn't running. Taxis claimed to drop us off at the famous market, but we struggled to find anything much... We wandered many backstreets, and concluded that it was just early (for Ramadan) and everyone was probably not quite up yet. Cairo streets are covered in gunk and litter and smelly things, and they're tight and winding. I love them. The high walls and narrow paths created an effect the closest to being hugged by a city I have ever felt.
We visited a couple of churches that we were ushered into by locals, before stumbling across the Mohammed Ali Sibel and learnt about its history. We climbed down a ten metre shaft too, and wandered around in the dark beneath the building. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Heather and I had to head back for midday, and we enjoyed a whirlwind taxi ride. Our driver stopped to ask directions from pizza delivery boys, other taxis, policemen, passers by... We saw a huge amount of the city in the hour it took us to find the hotel, with criss-crossing, elevated main roads providing the perfect viewing platform.
Cairo has perhaps the best cityscape I have ever seen. Sprawling and uneven and huge. Bright colours, haphazard shapes, buildings that are jostling for attention. Windows that churn out flapping bedsheets, streamers of electrical wires; low roofs beside high walls, supporting slouching heaps of sand, bricks and mud. The feeling that everything is always moving and the overriding sensation that something is always happening in your peripherals.
Needless to say, a half day was not enough. I will be back.
Our predicted hour-and-a-half journey to the aiport took barely half an hour. Free wifi at Cairo International could sure teach Heathrow a thing or two... The airport was near enough a ghost town during the late afternoon. Staff were laid back and friendly, and most of the queues we stood in were probably unnecessary. I walked the wrong way down a conveyor. I had THE BEST TIME. One lifetime ambition fulfilled.
The flight, which left a bit after 5pm, was uneventful and we landed at 2125 in Heathrow, to 15 degrees, or what the pilot described as 'a standard British summer evening'.
I am counting down to my next adventure.
It's not planned yet. Donations welcome. Watch this space.
We had plenty of space on the train; big seats and air conditioning. I was woken often by jolting starts and slamming doors, but all in all it wasn't too bad.
Carrying all of our stuff, we stumbled out of the station and onto a minibus in Giza. Dave left us in the hands of a new guide, who was distinctly more interested in getting us to the pyramids than letting us eat or use the loo. We comprimised with pastries and juice from a fuel station shop and recovered enough to be on our way.
We wandered around the pyramids, and then the Sphinx. Underwhelming, all things considered, and the Valley of the Kings is far more impressive. Also, definitely aliens.
Most people did the cheesy holding-the-pyramids photo thing. I took pictures from the wrong angles of people posing these. This is far more entertaining.
We had streetside falafel for lunch before visiting the enormous Egyptian Museum. There's
some cool stuff in here, again with the giant walls of heiroglyphics, and I lost everyone
else for a while.
We were dropped at the Havannah Hotel. We thought there must be some mistake. This place was SHINY. Huge rooms, clean, functioning bathroom facilities... (for about £10pppn) A classy end to the trip. I passed out for a couple of hours before we all met downstairs again at 6. The place Dave wanted to take us for dinner was absolutely packed, but we were directed to another restaurant a few doors down who promised to serve us food from the first place. Interesting business technique, but it did the job. I had the vegetarian version of f.... I can't remember what it was called but it definitely began with f. Might have been fattah. Someone help me out please, the Internet isn't doing yet. It was an extremely filling rice yogurty dish with fried flat bread and peas in it. Suuuper tasty, and almost equal to kushari. The non-vegetarian versions had liberal amounts of shredded beef or chicken on top.
After hanging out at the hotel for a bit, thus concluded the final night in Egypt.
Our felucca was a small boat covered in a foam matress, a few cushions and little else. There was a cabin at the front for the guys who were both sailing the thing, and cooking our food.
Thus, we lounged around.
That is all.
The toilet was amongst riverbank bushes, and the shower was the Nile. The Nile is exceptionally refreshing, by the way. We moored for breakfast, lunch and dinner; local food, prepared and cooked by the felucca crew, was among the best we'd had on the trip.
Lounging, for those wanting more detail, consisted of reading, writing, sleeping, playing cards, listening to music, sleeping, reading, playing cards and sleeping. This challenging routine was broken up by jumping into the Nile and holding onto a rope that trailed behind the boat. Then climbing back onto the boat to dry off in the sun and resume the lounging.
The morning after the second night on the felucca, we had arrived about an hour's drive away from Aswan. Nev picked us up with the truck, and we drove all the way back to Luxor. En route, we stopped at Edfu Temple for an hour. This quickly ranked as my favourite one. It was huge, plenty of places to get lost in, and enormous walls covered in heiroglyphics.
After lunch in Luxor, we spent a few hours at Rezeiky Camp (where we stayed previously) thoroughly cleaning the truck. When that was done we headed into town for dinner - more kushari! Without getting lost, this time.
Back at the camp we jumped in the pool for a bit (the pool which is distinctly more of a funny colour than the Nile, and into which you cannot see further than a few inches). we cleaned up, packed everything, and headed to Luxor train station, saying goodbye to Nev and the truck for the last time.
An hour later than scheduled, the eight-hour overnight train journey commenced.
We were all excited by massive the lie in we got for a 9am start that morning. We saw Philae Temple, with Hatshepsut's cool obelisk. Another place where those darn Christians ruined a lot of carvings.
After lunch on the waterfront, I slept for a few hours. It was good.
We regrouped at 4 and took a boat to a beach on Elephantine Island. Took a dip in the Nile and survived. It's clean and clear around Aswan, contrary to popular rumour. We had a tour of a family home in the Nubian village, and Mona, lady of the house, cooked us a fantastic dinner. The houses are made of mud brick, but painted brightly and strategically in yellows, blues and greens to maximise heat and light potential year round. The house we saw was also enormous, even for a family of five. During the summer months, they all sleep on the roof, but there are an excess of indoor bedrooms for guests, and two huge reception areas. In the village, there are no locks on doors, and the sense of community is such that friends can wander in and out of each others' homes at leisure. While we were there we had a few drop-ins from neighbors and local kids, including a woman who henna'd up everyone except me. Even Al got a hardcore eye-pyramid thing on his arm. Manly :)
An enjoyable and stress free day, in preparation for the next few days of uber-chilling on a felucca...
SOMEONE* ordered a wakeup call for everyone without telling us. At 4am, a phone you don't recognise ringing next to your head from a table of all of your charging electricals is one of the most confusing phenomena known to man.
*It was Dave.
We drove three hours to Abu Simbel and marvelled at giant representations of Ramses II and his cohorts. The whole lot had been moved to save it from the rising Nile a few decades ago, which is pretty impressive. At quarter to ten we regrouped to join the return convoy (they don't trust tourists driving alone in the desert).
Lunch was even shadier than last night's dinner. There was no written menu so the guy reeled off what he had. Not feeling particularly hungry, Kathryn and I ordered spinach soup. It had the texture of dried spinach, herbs and garlic in oil. Our resident professional chef (Al, for those of you not keeping up) whisked it for a bit and concluded it was egg white. It tasted sort of okay with bread dipped in. But I wouldn't recommend it.
At 4, a local gave us a tour of Elephantine Island. The place is so chilled out. There is an enormous sense of community and 'the simple life' amoung the Nubian people.
After dinner on the waterfront we went for an aimless wander that turned into getting lost in the winding streets of Aswan. It was nice to see some entirely tourist free areas, but we were also knackered. Eventual collapse at the hotel.
We started our day at 4am by catching a hot air balloon from the other side of the Nile. On the boat across, we were unexpectadly supplied with coffee and Twinkys. We shared the balloon with Japanese tourists and a pilot with a sense of humour. I hadn't expected the fire part of the balloon to be so close to our heads, nor so loud.
The wind took us away from the Valley of the Kings and across the Nile. We upped and downed a bit, with the pilot explaining that flying close to things (the Nile, tops of trees...) is more fun. We saw the sunrise, and lots of Luxor from above. We almost landed in someone's field but a disgruntled looking chap on a donkey waved us away. So we landed in the next field, with a ground crew of local kids, who had been chasing the balloon's progress for the past ten minutes. The pilot warned us not to tip the kids or we'd have to pay them all, and to keep hold of our bags. We stayed in the basket whilst the balloon was haphazardly bundled away before traipsing through mud to the waiting minibus. An experience of a lifetime. I got some cool photos.
Back at the hotel we slept for an hour before digging in to the remaining birthday cake and heading out to Karnak Temple by horse and carriage. Karnak is huuuuge. Afterwards we went back to bed again before lunch.
Al and I set out on a hunt for the kushari shop, which should have been a couple of minutes walk from where everyone else went for lunch. En route we encountered a young man desperate to sell his shoe cleaning services to Al, who had jut stepped in something disgusting. This proved to be at a crucial point in the journey as the distraction meant we missed the turning we were looking for. Next we met the infamous Christian Mike, a toothless carriage driver wwho misdirected us and we walked for a further forty minutes or so into a distinctly tourist free area. Fortunately we didn't get charged for this pleasure.
Eventually we circled back and found an enormous tourist information centre. The friendly staff directed us around the corner where finally! Kushari. A big takeaway tub for 10LE. That's about a quid. As expected, finding our way back to the cafe where the girls' were took two minutes and we all returned to the truck.
Cue: four hour drive to Aswan.
We checked into the Orchida St George Hotel, where they welcomed us with cold karkarde. Score.
That evening we ventured into Aswan town. The tourist stuff is mixed in with the locals' stuff and veryone is much more laid back. We still got about the smae number of 'hello!', 'where from?', 'welcome!', 'spice girls!', and Al got plenty of 'lucky man, five wives!', but people seemed marginally less desperate to sell us things.
We did struggle to find somewhere to eat though. Eventually we went into a dogy looking cafe which we decided was definitely a front for a secret mafia related organisation. It was run by a stoney-faced fellow who didn't seem as thrilld about having customers as other places have been. The food arrived incredibly fast and there was definitely evidence of it being fetched from down the street. It was hella cheap too though, and by the end the guy running the joint seemed to have cheered up. Out of nowhere his mate arrived with something sweet on a fork and inserted it into Lizzie's mouth. He had a small selection of apparently complimentary sweet coconutty things which he insisted we finish off. They were tasty.
And thus ended the longest birthday ever. I was starting to get depressed about the impending end to the trip, especially with all of the UK riots news that was trickling through. Everyone we had encountered in Egypt was friendly and welcoming, providing contrast to what at the time felt like the country full of thugs to which I belonged. But let's not dwell. We went to bed early for yet another 4am wake up.
A 6am start for the Valley of the Kings, where a ticket allows entry to three tombs. We saw those of Ramses third, fifth, and ninth. Pro tip: EVERYTHING is half price with an international NUS card.
The quality of the preserved colours and carvings in the tomb is stunning, especially upon remembering that they are thousands of years old. Colours in the tombs in the Valley of the Workers were even more intense - the workers had one day off a month to work on their own family tombs, and put much more effort into the art.
After napping for a couple of hours we regrouped for lunch at a cafe in town. My growing karkade addiction (did I mention this yet?) was satisfied and more shopping commenced. We spent a while in a no-haggle statue shop and learnt how to tell machine- or Chinese-made from handcrafted Egyptian wares, as well as getting a demo on holding a naked flame to the black statues to prove they are plastic and not the stone they are sold as on the street. We hung out in the jewellers again, and were given more karkade. I then bought a ton of dried hibiscus so I can make my own every day for the next year.
Later that afternoon, H, Lizzie and I joined Dave on a visit to the SunShine Orphanage, a charity sponsored by Oasis. Wewere covered in adorable drooling toddlers for a couple of hours before our return.
We all ate dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Nile. At the end of the meal, an enormous chocolate cream birthday cake appeared bearing the message 'HAPPY BIRTDAY AMY' (sic). Thanks everyone! The best surprise. We ate about a third of it then stored it in the hotel's freezer.
After our sandy night, we had another drive day. We were all pretty grimy. We spent a majority of this journey learning interesting and enthralling 'facts' from a quiz book we found on the truck. This consumed hours.
We stopped for lunch and supplies at La Senza Mall; made up for some great purchases at a super cheap Carrefour by spending the same amount on a single coffee at an overpriced chain. Totally worth it.
We arrived at Rezieky Camp in Luxor late afternoon. First things first, we all upgraded to hotel rooms instead of the campsite. Secondly, we got in the swimming pool. Slightly disturbing that we couldn't see deeper than a few inches into the cloudy water, but we were all so filthy ourselves we were well beyond caring. After showering and cleaning up properly, Dave took us into town.
Luxor may be the hassle capital of Egypt (reserving judgement on Cairo for now). In a jewellers shop, the owner of which was known to the crew, we were brought kushari and cold hibiscus (karkade). This may be my new favourite meal in the world, and sparked the beginning of a slight addiction to karkade from this point onwards. Unfortunately we were told that the ability to make kushari well is a rare skill indeed. But I'm going to damn well try.
Later we met our Luxor guide who took us that evening to Luxor temple. The temple sits in the middle of the city, integrated with the local surroundings like no other. A lot of Luxor is currently being demolished by the government to make way for new excavations, as there is still apparently plenty left to be found.
Luxor temple at night was stunning, particularly due to the distinct lack of other tourists in an area that we were told would usually be packed. Notably we learnt about Hatshepsut, the only female Pharaoh, and why lots of her likenesses have been erased in various temples. (Hint: her stepson hated her).
Afterwards we walked back through the market and did some shopping. We got no end of attention from sellers and locals alike. As we haggled here, we quietly realised how royally ripped off we had all been in Dahab.
Overlanding means lots of driving, and driving means a vehicle. A vehice means a confined space, which in turn means patience and cooperation. The Oasis trucks are built to house 24 people, plus a tour leader and driver. We are fortunate in that there have been only eight to nine of us in total on this trip. We've been able to spread out,sleep across the seats and have had plenty of storage space to ourselves.
Storage is in an overhead rack and in space below which we access by removing our seats. Seats are along the edge of the truck facing inwards. Beneath the floor in the central walkway, food and various communal things are stored. There is also a selection of books and games. The truck is air oinditioned by means of entirely open windows. Plastic sheets roll down the side in the event that it does need sealing. In our current location, these have a serious greenhouse effect.
When we tire of sitting or lying on the regular seats, there's the beach. This is an open space behind and just above the truck's cab. It is usually both really hot and windy up there and is a great spot for a view. It can get violently bouncy up there on desert roads; of course we are strictly not allowed up there whilst we're moving..
When the truck stops, the kitchen unfolds. Sheets of metal surround a blackened, gas-powwered hob, and cooking is generally done in a series of enormous saucepans. The kettle is usually boiled over an open campfire for tea and coffee. Stuff is prepared on a foldup table, and three washing up bowls are ritualistically laid out (water, bubbles, disinfectant). Food is brought locally or taken from the stash of tins or dried food on the truck. Cook groups (pairs in our case) were assigned at the start and everyone pitches in with their own washing up, which operates a lot like a production line and is extremely efficient. Travellers may often be seen waving plates and pans and cutlery around for minutes at a time. This is a highly sophisticated pot drying technique known as 'flapping'.
So far we've managed to not get in each others' way and have clicked wonderfully. It doesn't take long to adapt to living like this and I think adjusting back to 'normal' life may be harder.
This trip, and my new friends, have opened my eyes to a world of new travelling possibilities and cemented my desire to explore. When the time comes, I won't be ready to come home; but when I do, I'll start planning my next adventure.
H returned from her kitesurfing course mid-afternoon and we had a mosey around town. We regrouped with everyone else for dinner in a nice sea-front restaurant that was a lot like all of the other nice sea-front restaurants we had eaten at. Apple moussaka was good.
Then we drove to Sinai. About an hour from Dahab.
And we climbed the mountain.
Our local guide consitently told us to take it easy. We were all already exhaisted, so the climb was slow and steady and probably took about two hours. The night was hot and thirsty and our way was was lit only by our torches. The trail consited mostly of a gentle slope with steeper parts being roughly stepped. There are a number of huts selling cold drinks at gradually escalating prices en route.
At the top, our guide reccommended to us his favourite rock and we settled for a bit. Sitting still in a high place became chilly but we al fell asleep for an hour or so. Based on what we had learnt was possible in Israel, we decided that we were napping in the EXACT spot that Moses recieved the Ten Commandments.
The sunrise took ages, and by this time a massive group of Australian and Italian pilgrims had arrived at the top, singing and praying obnoxiously (in my opinion) and somewhat disrupting the notion of a nice peaceful sunrise.. Many also seemed to be intrigued by the fact we were camped out on a ledge below the peak, to the extent that they started taking photos.
Once the sun was firmly above the horizon our guide summoned us and we opted for the 3000 steps route to the bottom. This meant no other annoying tourists, and plenty of shade. Not to mention some awesome views of heaps of rocks.
We got back to the truck around 7am where Dave and Nev had French toast and beans waiting for us. Then, we drove. And almost exclusively slept.
We stopped for lunch at Pizza Hut (vastly superiour food and prices compared to the UK) as next to nothing was open because of Ramadan.
We camped in the desert that night. I opted to sleep outside again although it was particularly windy. Heather and Kathryn made a concoction with soya mince and vegetables and pasta. Worse things have happened.
The night was disrupted firstly when a potentially crazy Bedouin chap appeared and shook all of our hands enthusiastically and, we think, tried to invite us to sleep in his hut. We politely declined.
Much later I was woken by Lizzie dragging all of her belongings back into the truck. It emerged that the Bedouin man and his friend had decided that outside the girls' tents would be a great place for a lengthy chat. After some persuasion by Dave, they ledt eventually. In hindsight this incident was hilarious.
I woke up with sand ingrained in my skin. Mmm. But so did everyone who had been in a tent. So I had been no worse off.
We drove to the Israel border on a coach full of Russians, two Italian-Romanians,two Italians and a French-Moroccan family with two impossibly well behaved knee high children. Us Europeans teamed up and were delivered approximately one tenth of the information that the Russian-speakers recieved. Being in the language minority was definitely a unique experience.
At the border, after queuing for an age, we queued some more, then did some queuing. We made it through eventually, with only the minor incident of Alan's passport being temporarily confiscated.
We continued to drive, until we were suddenly unloaded at the Dead Sea. We sat around blearily whilst other tourists set to work covering themselves in mud they had just bought from a shop. This Dead Sea beach was long and white, with showers and seating and shops. From the people in it, the water appeaered less buoyant than we had seen in Jordan; we could see pipes pumping in fresh waste water from the showers, and there was a whole section signposted for no swimming, with the implication that they were polluting that specific bit. All in all, I think we preferred our off the beaten track, clamboring down a cliffside, Jordanian experience.
Back on the coach, our English-speaking guide arrived. He was friendly and knowledgable, if less talkative than the Russian one. He also had some weird affliction of the skin that caused random patches on his arms and then head to bleed unprovoked. He seemed fine, though.
We stopped at a high place to see all of Jerusalem before visiting the Wailing Wall (pro tip: you don't turn your back on it, evem whilst walking away). We spied on some praying Jewish people for a while, before moving on.
We followed a Jesus-related trail of locations, conveniently sequenced for the maximum touristic experience, in both Jerusalem and Bethlehem. These included the slab on which Jesus was lain after crucifixion, his tomb, and the patch of mud on which he was born. I may have become even more skeptical about certain aspects of Christianity as a result of this tour. What was far more interesting and inspiring were our walks through the streets, seeing markets and people, and such a crossover of cultures and religions side by side. At one point our guide mentioned how tolerant and accepting the people of Bethlehem are. When cultures coexist it seems understanding is crucial; disputes spring from ignorance and an inability to empathise with beliefs and people that are not your own.
Despite having not yet been provided with a promised lunch by 4pm (the Russians were becoming cranky) we entertained ourselves at a horrendously tacky souvenir shop, where our fellow tourists spent a small fortune on bizarre crap. Finally we were ushered into a restaurant and consumed a mediocre buffet that didn't sit right with anyone. Falafel off the street is probably a much better bet in future.
And thus we returned. After, of course, losing a number of Russians in the duty free at the border crossing for far longer than was polite. We got back to Dahab around midnight and a few of us checked out the pizza shop opposite the hotel. The guy had to go buy most of his ingredients fresh as he was about to pack up shop and visit his parents in Cairo for a month. But he as glad of the custom, and showed us how he makes Egyptian style pizza - superior to Italian in my opinion. Not to mention vastly cheaper. Sweet pizza was on the menu and I enjoyed a peanut one with sugar and milk. Curious.
I woke up in the early hours of the morning with a gecko on me.
Another fantastically lazy day, with everyone doing their own thing. H went to learn to kitesurf, and Al, Lizzie and I caught camels for half an hour to The Blue Hole, a prime scuba diving and snorkling spot.
My camel was distinctly tetchy and easily distracted,but overall highly entertaining.
I snorkled for a bit, but had a dodgy mask so it wasn't nearly as enjoyable as last time. I think we were all a little underwhelmed by the Blue Hole. It can't have helped that it was brimming with tourists.
H joined us later and we lazed about, eating, drinking and sleeping until we were collected at 5. For anyone still reading this because Chris pointed you here, he was diving all day. You'll have to ask him about that.
We regrouped for dinner at a classy looking Indian/Thai/Chinese place.
At ten, six of us were picked up from the hotel on a minibus for our next grand adventure...
We spent our first day in Dahab chilling out in restaurants by the beach, splashing about by the Red Sea and recovering from the ferry. Contrary to first impression, Dahab turned out to be fantastic. Locals are friendly and welcoming, food is incredibly cheap and the sea is warm and salty.
We're staying at Bishbishi hotel with clean and comfortable grounds and excessively friendly thoughtful staff. There are cats everywhere. Breakfast is good. Aircon costs extra and H initially refused to contribute. She changed her mind after waking up at 4am melted to the bed. (Only about £1.50 per day). It's been around 47 degrees here during the day, but a continuous breeze has made it entirely bearable.
In the evenings we enjoyed copious amounts of food (and shisha for those who chose to partake) with massive discounts due to the highly competitive atmosphere. We then hit the cocktail bars and drinking and dancing commenced. More than one person ended the night a little worse for the wear.
During day eight we were driven to the Three Pools for snorkling which I really enjoyed. Many many colourful fish and not-quite-healthy reef. Plus a good amount of lazing about in the sun was indulged in.
We're making the most out of not living on the road while we can.
Helen, Chris and I made scrambled eggs and beans for breakfast before we packed up camp and drove the short distance to the Wadi Rum visitor centre. It was the first day of Ramadan, but one shop and the restaurant were still open to sell food and drink to tourists.
We enjoyed the air conditioning, drinks and sandwiches for a couple of hours before a local guide arrived in a 4x4 to show us round the most famous sights in the Wadi Rum desert. We stopped at some choice climbing spots - heads up: desert rocks are hot!
We also investigated Lawrence of Arabia's old hangout, some water control he helped the locals build,and many ancient inscriptions in rock. We stopped at a Bedouin camp where we were guided through a small sheltered gorge by an enthusiastic nine year old, who presented each of us individually and at carefully chosen moments with gifts of small pebbles. On our return to his tent, his family made us a delicious herby tea and showed great hospitality.
We drove to the port town of Aqaba which looks pretty modern and appears to be constantly under construction. There was a nice beach but it was far too conservative a place for us to enjoy properly that afternoon. We chose a Syrian restaurant for a drink (about fifty percent of places were closed because of Ramadan) and ended up eating there as well. Portions in the Middle East are huge and we all ended up bloated. Good food and great juices.
We borrowed MacDonalds wifi for a little while before preparing to board the ferry. Our access to the ferry consisted of one deck of seating and two levels of outdoor decks. Most people attempted to sleep,with varying success. I didnt even try.
We reached land ahead of schedule but made up for that by waiting outside the immigration office for a few hours whilst staff did everything but their jobs. We were sitting in pretty grimy sand; a lucky few passed out and awoke when the sun came up. Nuweiba in the daylight was a sight for sore eyes. I may even go so far as to eloquently describe the place as an absolute shithole. Pro tip: the public toilets there are great - approaching them has the effect that you suddenly realise you can actually hold it for another two and a half hours after all.
So my first impressions of Egypt weren't the best as we travelled to Dahab. Again, most people used this journey for sleeping but I neglected to.
The day started with a nice easy morning of packing and chilling out by the pool. This was followed by an exhaustingly violent match of water polo, at which Al and I were proven the indisputable champions. (We won nine-two against H and Chris).
We hit Wadi Moussa for a cheap (1JOD) and tasty falafel lunch. I have decided that fresh lemon with mint is my drink of choice for the Middle East.
A couple of hours drive took us to the Wadi Rum desert. The truck got slightly stuck en route which is always exciting. Eventually we found a good spot and pitched our tents. Al, H and I climbed to the highest rock we could physically get to. It took a while. The view was awesome but getting bak down was a minor disaster. Mostly for Heather. We made it eventually.
After dinner and sunset we relaxed in the gradually cooling surroundings. Speculation abot what was coming through the desert to get us definitely didn't freak anyone out. Shortly after settling for the night, screams erupted as Kath and Helen found a spider THIS big in their tent.
I slept under the stars that night,and was still unaffected by this apparently mythical 'cold' I have heard mentioned. I woke up with tiny little crabby spiders everywhere, but with no additional bites. Which is always a sign of a succesful camp.