Inhuman Swill : Page 52
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.

Forced to resort

| No Comments
            

Cat at internet cafe in Dahab, Egypt
[Writing in Cairo hotel room, hoping to stay up all night in preparation for sleeping through our 7:35 am flight to Paris.]

According to the original plan, we shouldn't have been on that overnight train back to Cairo at all. This was the first leg of our two-day journey from Luxor to Petra, and it was supposed to have started first thing Tuesday with a drive east to Hurghada, a resort city on the western shore of the Red Sea. From there we were to take a ferry to Sharm al-Sheikh, another Egyptian resort city, this one on the western shore of the Gulf of Aqaba. We would spend the night in Dahab (yes, another resort city), and then continue on our way from there.

We had been informed of the change in plan on Friday evening, our first evening in Cairo. We were sitting at an outdoor cafe near the train station at the end of our sightseeing day with Shiko our guide and our three new Australian friends. I was smoking a shisha, and Shiko was favoring a distinctly reluctant Jemima with a rather flirtatious palm-reading when the Egyptian agent of our tour company showed up. He had some news for Laura and me.

It seemed he had just learned that the ferry from Hurghada to Sharm al-Sheikh would not be running the day we needed it. It seemed, also, that he had known this might be a possibility, but hadn't let us know any sooner. His alternate plan would be for us to take a train back to Cairo from Luxor, then ride a bus from Cairo to Dahab. He said the bus would take six hours.

Full entry
            

I've been doing a little uploading to YouTube tonight, and I keep seeing ads for its new Scientology Video Channel. This reminds me, though, that about three weeks ago Laura and I were startled to see an actual demonstration against Scientology down in Grant Park in Chicago. Some of the picketers carried signs demanding the Church of Scientology be taxed. We cheered them on. Protesting that behemoth takes some guts.

Full entry

Luxor deluxe

| No Comments
            

[Writing in our hotel room back in Cairo again. I have an internet connection, but can't seem to reach the mail relay server that will let me send email.]

After about four hours on the train Sunday evening, we reached Luxor. It was not exactly a comfortable train ride, since we didn't have a private sleeper car and we were hot and cramped. But we were determined to put the bad and discouraging aspects of our trip behind us.

As soon as our new guide Ibram met us at the station (and, by the way, I am certain that I am massacring even the loose art of transliteration with all our guides' names), we felt the tide had turned. Young, short, and rotund, Ibram was nonetheless filled with a contagious enthusiasm about Luxor. Laura asked him if we could stop for fast food on the way to the hotel, and he and our driver were more than happy to accommodate our wish. We scored some tasty falafel and shawarma sandwiches from a walk-up cafe, and we polished them off long before reaching the hotel.

The hotel itself was beautiful, and from the balcony—yes, balcony!—of our spacious fifth-floor room we could see out across the Nile. When we awoke on Monday, colorful hot-air balloons were drifting through that view, over a glistening, glimmering green landscape on the far side of the river. Our morning itinerary was set, but the for the afternoon itinerary we had three options to choose from, one of which was a balloon ride. Seeing the balloons there in the morning light made me a little sad that we hadn't selected that option. But not too sad, because I really had no desire to see Laura huddled in an acrophobic lump on the floor of a gondola.

Full entry

Red, red sea

| No Comments
            

No time for a long post, but Laura and I are having an utterly relaxing day in Dahab, which is on the Sinai Peninsula, on the shore of the Red Sea. Our hotel is amazingly beautiful, and the water of the Red Sea is the most amazing blue I have ever seen in my life. ([info]asphalteden, the diving here is supposed to be amazing, although according to the book in our hotel room, almost everything in the water is poisonous.)

You can see mountains directly across the water, ten to twelve miles away. That, I am told, is Saudi Arabia. Tomorrow we drive north, then cross the water in a catamaran, landing in Aqaba, Jordan.

A full account of yesterday in Luxor will come, as will an account of our adventures crossing the Sinai today. In the meantime, before Laura drags me out of this internet cafe, I will try to upload a couple of our videos to YouTube, especially the one of the baby camel wandering through our petrol station in the desert.

Full entry

Relaxed in Luxor

| No Comments
            

Not to say that we're relaxing. We've been to a hell of a lot of different sites today. But Luxor has been a most pleasant surprise, and we've had a terrific time here.

First, my apologies for that flurry of posts. I've been typing them up on the laptop and saving them for when I found an internet connection. The wi-fi seems to be on the blink not just in our hotel but in the hotel next door too. But that hotel has an internet cafe, so I'm at one of the workstations frantically trying to get a lot of work done online in under an hour (66 Egyptian pounds).

We hope everyone at Wiscon had a great weekend, we wish everyone in the U.S. a happy Memorial Day, and I hope I'll be back in a few days to post some more. Next stop, Petra in Jordan!

Full entry

Death race 2008

| No Comments
            

[Written Sunday afternoon in the Sara Hotel, Aswan.]

We awoke at 2:45 am today. Well, I awoke earlier to deal with the unsavory consequences of our delicious meal at Makka. Sorry, Ali! I promise my heart will never stray again!

The reason for the early hour was to meet our guide Ahmet at 3:30 am, and thence to meet the Abu Simbel convoy at 4:00 am. Access to Abu Simbel is restricted to certain hours of the day, so buses and cars collect at the entry point to the route in Aswan, then are released to proceed at either 4:00 or 4:30, depending on how many vehicles have gathered.

When we heard the word "convoy," we thought of a rather stately, sedate procession. What actually transpired was a road race. For three white-knuckled hours, Ahmet piloted our van through the desert like the utter fucking lunatic he is, using whichever lane was most convenient, overtaking other drivers, tailgating another van for miles at a distance of a couple of feet at I-shit-you-not what had to be eighty miles and hour or more. I'm sure there were times we hit a hundred. Laura and I were each locked in our own private hells. All we could do was try to keep our eyes closed and pretend to be asleep.

Full entry

Oh, what a Philae!

| No Comments
            

[Written Sunday afternoon in the Sara Hotel, Aswan.]

Saturday morning we slept in. Conveniently, our train had had some engine trouble during the night, so we wouldn't be reaching Aswan in the south of Egypt until after 11:00 am, which put us over two hours behind schedule. But this was good news for the exhausted lazyheads from Friday, who didn't have to be up at the asscrack of dawn.

In Aswan, at last, after more than fifteen hours on the train, our local tour representatives installed us in the Sara Hotel, a lovely hotel in a dusty, hilly neighborhood that's either half built or half decayed. Our guide that afternoon was a woman whose English was so thickly accented she was hard to understand for a while. (We were spoiled by Shiko's perfect English in Cairo.) She took us to the Aswan High Dam, rattling off facts and figures at a pace that was hard to follow.

After that, we drove a ways and then sailed by fellukah down the waters of Lake Nasser to the island site of Philae Temple. Philae is a temple from the Ptolemaic period, unmistakably Egyptian but with unmistakable Greek influences. It is one of the many temples and monuments that were relocated by UNESCO during the building of the Aswan Dam in the '60s. Otherwise they would have been flooded and lost.

Full entry
            

William Shunn and the Curse of the Second Pyramid
[Written Sunday afternoon in the Sara Hotel, Aswan.]

What's most distinctive about driving the expressways of Cairo by night, at least compared to the cities I've visited, is the number of minarets you see, all lit up from within in eerie greens and oranges, or from without by gaudy neon. What impresses you once you enter heavier traffic is how Egyptians can turn a three-lane road into a five-lane road just by willing it so.

We were punchy when we came off the plane from Rome. A travel facilitator from our tour company helped us acquire visas quickly and pass through customs, then our first day's tour guide, Shiko, took over and bustled us into a van. At 4:00 am, we were settling into our room at the Zayed Hotel, and we had only three hours of sleep to look forward to before the day would begin.

At 9:15 am, we hopped back into the van with our luggage and joined three Australian travelers. Our first stop was the Egyptian Museum. I would like to describe and lovingly linger over everything we saw and learned there, but that would take days. With this, as with the monuments and temples and other sights I will mention over the next few days, you can generally assume an inverse relationship between how cool and awe-inspiring something is and how many words I spend on it. You know what most of this stuff looks like already, and otherwise I'll never catch up.

Full entry

The amazing race

| No Comments
            

Colosseum, Rome
[Still in the Sara Hotel coffee shop.]

Laura and I slept in Thursday and set off for the airport without benefit of breakfast. We were second in line at the Alitalia counter when it opened, and we got booked in prime seats all the way through to Cairo. For both flights, we were in the first row of the economy cabin, left of the aisle. Instead of three across, that row on that side had two seats with a baby-sized seat in between. We had plenty of elbow room between us.

This, for Laura, was the real beginning of the vacation. We landed in Rome at about 3:45 in the afternoon. Our flight for Cairo would leave at 10:15 pm. That gave us six and a half hours to play with. At Laura's suggestion, we spent it on a Roman excursion. It was probably ill-advised, but we managed to pull it off.

Once we found the airport train station, we learned that the Leonardo Express would take us from Fiumicino Airport to Termini Station in Rome in thirty minutes. We bought tickets for both directions. We made it into Rome at about 5:10 pm. We explained to a young man at a tourist information kiosk that we wanted to know what we could see nearby at still be back to catch the 6:52 train to the airport. He pulled out a map and quickly sketched out a route for us.

Full entry

Parchment and penalties

| No Comments
            

[Still on the train to Aswan.]

Wednesday morning Laura and I again tried the room-service breakfast. Her bagels seemed fine, but I knew ordering my "American pancakes with syrup" would be something of a gamble. What I found when I lifted the lid from my tray were French crepes with a tub of honey. This was fine. At least the crepes were browned all the way through.

As an added bonus, every room-service cart (as opposed to the trays) comes decorated with a Gerbera daisy in a white stem vase. We now had three sitting around the room, including the one that came with our dessert of tirimisu and creme brulee on Sunday night: one red, one pink, and one orange. It made the cheerful room even more so.

Laura needed to be at the conference all day, so after doing some work in the morning, I set off on the nearly two-hour bus journey to the south shore of Malta and the ancient temple sites of Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra. Malta is not that large, but to get most places you must transfer in Valletta and then wend your way slowly through every hamlet and burg along the way. This made for much rapturous gazing out the bus window at narrow streets, yellow-washed walls, startling churches in hidden plazas, and hills divided by low walls of rough fieldstone—when my nose wasn't stuck in my copy of Culture Shock! Egypt, that is, as I crammed for the upcoming phase of our trip.

Full entry

Featured Book

William Shunn

Archives