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Harmonious Transmissions From A Small Blue Planet Inspirations, reflections, creations, and spontaneous ramblings as my soul permeates all time and space.

Walk Like An Egyptian

EGYPT | Sunday, 13 January 2008 | Views [4474]

If the overcrowded confusion of the ferry from Jordan to Egypt was any foretelling indication of my travels in Egypt, I knew I was in for a rollercoaster of fast-paced chaos. Arriving at port, I left behind a sea of stationwagons, with every piece of furniture needed for a 3-bedroom apartment tied by twine to the roof. The horns were on continuous blast as each wagon vied for their golden opportunity to nudge up one car length to escape the rat maze onto the desolate Egyptian highway.
As for our transportation, Jake and I were cramped into some kind of ancient herse-mobile with 4 other backpacking comrades, the driver, and our collective hundreds of liters of backpack cargo. But the drive was a splendid welcome into Egypt with the windows down, open desert road, and the Fugees belting out their brand new single, "Killing Me Softly" with Jake on background vocals.
I have a permanent image of Dahab, jewel of the Sinai, etched into my memory. Picture if you will: Jake, Tim (our new Kiwi partner in crime since Wadi Rum in Jordan), and I entered the famous Funny Mummy restaurant with the type of appetite you get from eating one falafel sandwich 6 hours ago. So we tore ourselves from drooling over the fresh snapper, squid, and prawns on ice display...and by the time we sat down we already had cold beers and a freshly prepared sheesha on its way, to alleviate the hallucinations of fresh grilled seafood prepared with mango salsa. What hit me next was a mezmerizing full milk white moon rising over the dead still Red Sea and distant Saudi Arabian highlands. I looked across the water and couldn't find a ripple as the moon mirrored a perfect identical on the surface. Sloowww doooowwwwwnnnnnn. The atmosphere sucked me into a timeless dream world, where mere imagination seemed to physically manifest a free flow of food, drink, smoke, and laughter. Below the dining balcony dozens of bohemian travellers lay strewn across blankets and pillows in every imaginable reclining posture. Some drank banana-mango milkshakes, others tranced out to the hypnotic lullaby of bubbling sheesha and Marley dub. And of course there were the divers and snorkellers...easily recognized because they still aren't wearing a shirt at 8 pm. They told stories, sometimes in sign, of majestic underwater beasts...and I knew I had to have a go.
I soon experienced firsthand the excitement behind all the late night diving chatter I overheard during dinner every night. After the first practice dive in open water (which I mostly spent akwardly trying to bend my body into proper swimming position), I was instantly hooked. The rhythmic sounds of a clean inhalation of compressed air, followed by the gurgled release of CO2 into the great blue puts one into a calming trance. Combine the sensation when you actually realize that you are BREATHING underwater with the euphoric sense of weightlessness as you hover between the sandy floor and ocean surface...and you can imagine the exhiliration of rookie divers like Jake and I.
The icing on the cake for me was the abundance of life the Red Sea possessed. On land, the Sinai is dry and inhospitable...but only a couple meters into the water and one is immersed in an a truly living, breathing, dynamic ecosystem. The changing light patterns refracting through the moving ocean surface produce a kaleidoscope of color, texture, and light over the neon corals. Upon closer inspection, one can find equally flamboyantly colored fish species hiding and interacting with their diverse environment. Schools of large fish would shuttle by, performing an underwater synchronized dance performance. A clownfish ("Hi Nemo") would ceaselessly protect its anenome territory from predators over twice its size...the small fish with the big heart. And a million other beautiful creatures of all shape, size, and color including pufferfish, eels, lobsters, slugs, and octopi also performed their own unique behavioral rituals for the stealthy observer.
A personal diving highlight was the 25 m plunge into the famous canyon of Dahab. On the sandy floor, both Jake and I were feeling the light-headed giddiness that a mild case of nitrogen narcosis produces in the brain at such depths. I had to pay careful attention to not lose my respirator amidst a fit of hysterical laughter during our underwater "paper, scissors, rock" battle. 25m down, I flipped onto my tank, laid back and watched the sun's rays dance through the aqueous ether that engulfed me. The rays seemed to illuminate the canyon walls in a constantly transforming neon light show while the haunting shadows of fish effortlessly hovered overhead. As I lay there, I truly felt I could pass my remaining days right there on the sea floor, to watch the ocean play out its timeless theatrics.
Dahab was definitely one of the more difficult places to leave behind. But alas, Jake and I had ancient Egypt to rediscover. In the back of my mind I knew Petra (see Jordan entry) would be a tough act to follow. But the temples at Luxor and around Aswan did disappoint. Sphinxes, obelisks, and ancient Egyptian gods dwarfed the droves of tourists that scampered througout their labrynths. The interior decoration of the temples must have taken centuries to complete as not one square inch was left naked without an eye of Rah, ibis, or other typical hieroglyph. I felt proud to live in an age where people devoted their life's efforts deciphering and retelling the millions of stories and secrets etched into those sandstone walls. However, the best translation I receieved, was from the couple of unofficial tour guides eager to earn a little baksheesh (note: this word means tip for the locals and must not be whispered over a half decibel while traveling through Egypt). My taste of ancient Egyptology went something like: "These here...crocodiles....very dangerous....this...sun...touch...holy...brings good luck!" After a few Egyptian history lessons like these, I felt more satisfied make my own sort of hieroglyph Mad Libs...using the glyphs to conjure a grand fairy tale of kings and queens, gods and goddesses, and old wolf-men with long goatees. A felucca cruise from Aswan to Luxor was enough to leave me a happy camper in Egypt, but we still had our final stop in the Middle East...chaotic Cairo.
Actually, all the travel "horror" stories I was told leading up to my visit to Cairo left me craving a little more madness.  True, there were tons of traffic, and even more people...but the city seemed just as charming as the rest of the Middle East with its mosques, sheesha cafes, and spice markets...only it seemed to continue for a dozen miles in all directions, jampacked into a megacity metropolis.
Cairo has it all, and hits your middle eastern sensory organ (yeah everyone has one) with full force.  Muslim calls to prayer are echoed from every direction at any time of the day.  Walking through its street, one is greeted with an olfactory extravaganza of lingering cardamon, incense, and grilling kebabs.  The city's streets are packed with highrises, and the architecture is intricately ornamented with flowing arabic script chiseled in stone.  And for the real feel of bustling Cairo, Jake and I ventured to the central market, where pedestrian-only alleys are flooded with walkers and hawkers alike.  Managing to find the hidden gem historic cafe, Fishbaw's, we nestled down with the obligatory sheesha, sweet tea, and backgammon board...content to observe the infinite hoardes flow like a human river through a concrete jungle.
My final Middle Eastern memory is as fitting as Indy riding away from Petra into the sunset on his trusty steed.  Well, my steed was a grumpy, mistreated camel.  And instead of sunset, Jake and I decided to brave the sweltering noonday desert heat in the heart of summer.  But the location was unequivocable, the quintessential Egyptian icons: the great pyramids and the Sphinx.  What a grand introduction like that, it must be noted that the Sphinx left me yearning for something bigger and more impressive We had actually seen dozens, if not hundreds, of equivalent sphinxes along the way in Egypt.  The pyramids, on the other hand, were quite awe-inspiring.  Walking up to one of the goliaths, the visitor is instantly dwarfed and left in wonder as to who and how these architectural beauties ended up in such physically demanding construction site.  Actually, there were pyramids scattered about everywhere in the outskirts of town.  In between farming and cattle villages along the way, one can catch glimpses of a distant pyramid almost as frequently as McDonald's are found along stretches of American highway.
With a full day walking and riding around under the desert sun, I felt complete with my taste of the Middle East.  I know I've only scratched the surface in the three, blink of an eye months I spent.  And actually I now have a longer list of Middle Eastern countries I'd like to visit than I've visited.  The food, mosques, sun, sheesha, tea, sand, deserts, landscapes, and cities all blew my mind.  But more importantly, the people opened my heart.  They welcomed me into their homes, religions, and cultures.  They showed the simplicity and reflective nature of the desert as well as the sensory indulgence of their major cities.  I was introduced to a new auquatic universe, which I know will never cease to amaze me.  I even danced under the stars with in a circle of teenage boys to "Barbie World".  I've come to realize that you don't get to see and experience every sight, city, and event that any place has to offer while traveling...you just get enough to leave you amazed and thankful.

Tags: Relaxation


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