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November 19, 2006

one of my worst-case scenarios

i arrived this evening at Cairo airport. but my luggage didn't. the baggage claim belt shut down, the last passengers had filed away through customs, and my backpack was nowhere to be found.

it felt like one of those movie scenes where the director of the special project says "gentlemen, we all knew this day would come. we couldn't constantly play the odds like this without SOME sort of consequences coming down on us."

and so, as in the classic 80s movie Warning Sign, when the Protocol One envelope had to be opened when one of the worst-case scenarios had occurred, i had to remember three of the worst-case trip scenarios i'd envisioned at the start of the trip, and what i'd planned to do when they occurred:

1.) loss of my main backpack and/or daypack
2.) loss of my passport and wallet
3.) loss of all of the above

so scenario #1 had now occurred.

first step: don't panic.

second step: contact the airline's personnel at the airport. they (no surprise) had no idea why my bag hadn't arrived. they provided forms and an overnight bag with the world's most painful razor, basic toiletries, a single t-shirt, a pair of socks, and one pair of boxer shorts.

third step: settle in at my chosen cairo hotel, and begin the next morning to constantly call the airline's representatives both at cairo and their headquarters until my bag is located and delivered to me.

not the most auspicious beginning to my time in cairo, but after some of the cities i've encountered, it's been surprisingly easy to arrive at my chosen hotel and begin to settle into town. they even provided me with a slightly out-of-date Footprint Egypt guidebook to use while I plan my upcoming days in Cairo.

November 22, 2006

cairo, my luggage, pyramids, king tut, and pierre cardin

my luggage has now been located -- evidently the airline decided to give my bags a few days of vacation, and flew them to bombay, India. but they'll be reaching me on thursday evening, when i'll finally get a chance to pick them up from the airport (they refuse to deliver them to my hotel directly). of course i'll take all this outrageousness up with their US office when i return home and demand recompense, but for now i'm not letting it phase me and just enjoying my time around town.

cairo is full of friendly chaos -- the streets are thronged with cars, the traffic lights are mostly deactivated and blinking yellow, with traffic being directed by uniformed police officers standing perilously in the middle of it all. my usual method of crossing the street is to attach myself limpet-like to an egyptian pedestrian who is about to cross the street, and stay within a 2-foot radius of them at all times to avoid being run over. when nobody else is crossing, i enter traffic at a steady pace, my arms swinging at my sides, watching traffic from the sides of my eyes without making eye contact with the drivers (eye contact usually puts the pedestrian at a disadvantage), only slowing or speeding up my pace slightly if a car is actually about to hit me. (N.B. This is also the way to walk down the sidewalk as a pedestrian in Moscow without being hassled, although i usually add a slightly upset scowl to my face like the rest of the muscovites around me.) As an added bonus, cars in cairo at night usually keep their lights turned off, only flashing them briefly if they're about to hit a pedestrian. why cars keep their lights off is beyond me, but i imagine they're either trying to save headlamp life or somehow trying to save power. "guess i forgot to put the foglights in..."

lacking any changes of clothing without my luggage, i stopped in at a few stores in my hotel's neighborhood catering to the well-dressed egyptian gentleman, and came out dressed from head-to-toe in some oh-so-1970s pierre cardin clothing that i picked up for only a few USD. after topping that off this morning with a fake north face baseball cap that i shelled out LE 20 / USD $4 for (i knew i was paying too much and started instinctively searching for a hat that i could get for LE 10-15 before realizing that it's worth it to save the time and spend the extra USD $1-2, rather than waste lots of time trying to find the absolute lowest possible price.), i was ready to hit the town.

after having the perfect addition to my morning, a delicious fresh-baked croissant from a local p√Ętisserie for only LE 2 / USD $0.40, i'm reading to catch a taxi over to the pyramids of giza and finally see the pyramids that i've waited so long to see. my day yesterday over at the egyptian museum was already fantastic enough, seeing the treasures of ancient egypt and the famous items from king tut's tomb, such as his golden mask and throne. i've wanted to make this journey since i read my first book about king tut in 5th grade, and am absolutely overjoyed to be here and finally making this all happen.

there is nothing like living out one of your lifelong dreams to make little things like losing your luggage seem like nothing at all.

November 24, 2006

looking forward to tanzania

my next stop on this trip is tanzania, where my wonderful friend fiona connected me with the most excellent mr. remmy who lives out there. while remmy and i were discussing possible safaris to do while i'm in Tanzania in a few week's time, he sent me these notes (slightly paraphrased by me):

"The parks to visit are Ngorongoro Crater which is one of the worlds heritage sites, decorated with lakes where you can find find thousands of flamingos, hippos, rhinos, elephants, buffaloes & other game birds. There are also swamps with underground spring water. Here you can find a lot of water birds.

Another park i would suggest you visit is Serengeti national park. By this time you'll likely be able to see big numbers of migrants, like thousands of wildebeest, Zebras, Buffaloes being followed by the predators like lions, cheetah, jackals, hyenas, etc. Currently this migration is from north masai mara heading to south serengeti."

wow. that just sounds incredible.

in other news, i had a totally amazing thanksgiving thanks to the american/german couple i met at a cairo-area korean bbq restaurant two nights ago and who invited me over to their flat for thanksgiving dinner. it was delicious (and the german red cabbage instead of cranberry sauce worked surprisingly well), and was exactly what i needed on a thanksgiving where i'm halfway around the world and nine months from home. for my american readers, i hope your thanksgivings were just as good!

i also saw the pyramids at memphis and giza. fantastic. amazing. cool. i'll back-post some blogging about them when i have a chance to catch up on my blog around christmas (along with detail on the UAE, oman, and jordan).

i'm on a midnight bus tonight to dahab, where the plan is to do not much for several days except scuba dive in the red sea and laze about town. just what i need after escaping the air pollution of cairo!

ps. my backpack has (at last) been returned to me by the airline, minus the locks and a few items. no major losses, though!

November 27, 2006

caught up at last with Lost

thanks to the excellent iTunes store, my season pass to Season 3 of Lost has yielded a full download to my iPod of all the episodes i've missed while travelling overseas, and so I'm now finally caught up with the videos that all of you have been seeing at home.

now that i've caught up with all of the televised content, i assume that you've also seen the sri lanka video as well? if not, you'll definitely want to see the youtube embedded video below.

and in the vein of continuing Lost propaganda, the people making Lost decided to run Google text ads on Lostpedia.org for "The Hanson Legal Foundation". you've got to love this postmodern world of online/offline tie-ins...

November 28, 2006

what's that pain in my right side?

today i dove down through The Bells to the famous Blue Hole here in Dahab, which is an absolutely spectacular dive. coral walls dropping down into infinity, schools of neon-colored florescent fish parting just in front of my mask, giant fish with iridescent markings, even an octopus. just amazing.

when i came back up and was stowing my gear on the truck, i felt increasing twinges in my right side, where i'd been having pain since a fall from horseback a few days ago in cairo. let me explain...

4 days ago i was galloping on horseback (although not in the most heroic of styles) across the giza plateau to the pyramids at sunset, thanks to a sketchy connection to a horse/camel tour company whom my taxi driver referred me to. my guide on horseback gained us access to the normally forbidden-to-enter-at-sunset plateau by the application of baksheesh to the guard at the back gate near the bedouin compounds. we were making great time to the great pyramid in time for a good photo op, when the saddle (which wasn't properly secured, as it turns out) on my horse started sliding to the right, and i was suddenly (and very briefly) riding at right angles to my horse while he was continuing to gallop.

i fell off of the horse onto the desert, and somehow managed to avoid breaking, spraining, twisting, getting trampled, dragged, or having anything happen to me other than getting the wind severely knocked out of me. i even managed to not fall on the side that contains my camera, which has been damaged, repaired/patched, and survived more times on this trip than would seem possible for a piece of modern consumer electronics.

after i recovered from the shock of getting dropped on my side several feet onto the desert floor, i thought everything was ok, and we rode on across the plateau to get the photo ops as dusk settled onto the plateau. however, that spot on the right side of my chest had been bothering me ever since.

after i started getting increasing pain in that spot after this morning's dive, i headed to the local dive doctor to be sure that the additional pain wasn't related to my dive, and maybe figure out just what the source of the pain actually is while i'm there. after arriving in a gleaming, brand-new dive medical facility, complete with decompression chamber (only 3 months old, according to the doctor), i saw a doctor who diagnosed me as not having any decompression-related problems (always a relief!), but sent me over to the local hospital to have a chest x-ray to inspect the rib.

by contrast, the dahab local hospital was severely impoverished and understaffed. the walls were stained with ancient drips, the doctors were too busy to deal with me, the administrative staff were nonexistent, and the technician in the x-ray room was getting ready to pocket the money from my x-ray without logging it in the actual hospital books. i couldn't help but think that this is the standard of care that the people receive here who are even lucky enough to afford medical care, and that i really need to think about doing something to try and improve the situation of other people in this world, rather than just cruising along as a western tourist who is normally shielded from anything other than high-quality tourist medical care.

after i returned to the divers medical center, the doctor, who really was an excellent, well-spoken professional, peered at what he could make out of my blurred chest x-ray, and diagnosed a bruised rib, prescribing me muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory drugs for the next few weeks, in addition to no diving for the next 2-3 weeks, and no lifting heavy objects. (i'll do a followup with another doctor in tanzania in 10 days to see how the healing is coming along.)

not diving is easy to do. not lifting heavy objects is difficult when you're backpacking with two heavy backpacks.

stop. think. re-evaluate my plans.

i was planning to go to luxor tonight (via the bus from dahab to sharm, the ferry from sharm to hurghada, and then the bus from hurgada to luxor), so i could have 3 days seeing the museum at luxor and the surrounding tombs before heading on to tanzania. did i really want to be wincing under my backpacks in another pollution-and-noise plagued city trying to see every site in egypt in the shortest possible time? or did i want to slow down for a while and just give this thing some time to heal?

healing is good. resting is ok. not seeing everything is ok... it's a long life ahead, and i already have a long list of things i want to do in future trips. visiting luxor may be one of those things.

and for gods sake, i'm in one of the best backpacker beach resort towns in the world. even without doing more diving (thank god i got a chance to dive the blue hole before getting denied on more diving), there's plenty of opportunity to lie out in the sun, snorkel over fantastic reefs just off of the shore, and generally enjoy lazing about and taking it easy while my rib heals up.

so here i am, still in dahab, watching orange county projected on a massive screen with the english soundtrack along with arabic subtitles for the evening's entertainment in the back of the Tota bar, eating chicken shish at a beachside restaurant next to a portable bbq filled with burning wood to keep the evening chill at bay, and walking down the moonlit beach. i think i'll stay here for a while longer, and just figure out my new plans a day at a time.

and as it happens, that is what dahab is all about.

December 1, 2006

backpacker product of the year: the microfiber beach towel

when backpacking my way around the world, i've found that it doesn't pay to buy beach towels as you go. even though they can be acquired cheaply in many places, the cost does add up eventually, and the cheapie towels tend to bleed colors all over your favorite t-shirts (or if you're not wearing a t-shirt, it will add some goofy colors to your back). as a result, about one month into my trip, i bought a good-quality normal beach towel and started lugging it around with me, despite the added bulk and weight of that much cotton. that changed when i was at a surf-supply store in dubai and discovered billabong's microfiber beach towel.

while microfiber towels are nothing new (REI has a great lineup of them, and i use the REI MultiTowel Lite - Large every day on the road) especially for backpackers and hikers looking to reduce the bulk and weight of the always-necessary towel in their pack, but the microfiber beach towel is a whole other thing. (while you can always use regular microfiber towels as bath towels, they look pretty damn dorky on the beach, and they tend not to be as comfortable as regular towels.)

but then billabong had to release their own microfiber beach towels which feel like regular beach towels, look like regular beach towels, but are lightweight, pack down into a small ball, and come with their own mesh bag to stash them in your backpack with. i don't see a lot of them available online yet, but these are really great for backpacking your way around the world's beaches.

December 2, 2006

leaving dahab

after about a week relaxing in dahab, this morning i had my final breakfast of turkish coffee and banana pancakes on the beach, burned my latest photos to CD, and packed up my backpack.

it's time to head out to luxor via an all-day set of connections via a bus, a ferry, and then a bus again (dahab -> sharm el sheik -> hurghada -> luxor). i'll spend a few days exploring the famous tombs (including, i hope, king tut's tomb) for my last few days in egypt. i've changed my onward plane tickets to tanzania a bit to allow this extra time in egypt -- luckily i have a great travel agent who is really flexible about these things!

looking forward to reporting online the results of my adventures in luxor (and steeling myself for egyptian city life after a week where the biggest pressure i've encountered was from overzealous restaurant touts).

December 3, 2006

desperately seeking lonely planet

if anyone is reading this blog who can give me any tips on where in cairo i can find a bookstore that sells english-language lonely planet books on africa (especially tanzania and/or east africa), please post a comment to this entry and let me know!

i'm headed to tanzania in a few days, and have no guidebooks on the country and would love to have a guidebook in hand before i arrive. all english-language bookstores that i've found so far in egypt only sell guidebooks on egypt, not on other countries. it's the first time i've had trouble finding guidebooks in a major city, and could use any advice you have. i've got a few possible leads from web searching to check, but nothing that looks very promising. thanks!

P.S. That's "desperate" as in "desperately seeking susan", not "desperate" as in "oh dear GOD, what am i going to do?". There's always a Plan B in my travels... ;)

December 4, 2006

where to find lonely planet guidebooks in cairo

thanks to everyone who gave suggestions about where to find lonely planet guidebooks here in cairo! after working my way through the various suggestions, i've posted what is evidently the best LP guidebook source, in case anyone else ends up in the same situation:

The American University in Cairo Main Bookstore. This sounds like the best option (and fodor's likes them too!), although I ran out of time to visit them. I've heard they have a full supply of Lonely Planet guidebooks.

i did not have good success at Cairo used bookstores. While most bookstores in Cairo only sell guidebooks on Egypt, i did find one bookstore that sold Lonely Planet guidebooks on other countries. however, their 3x markup over the USD cover price for guidebooks that were usually one edition out of date was, in my opinion, beyond any shade of reasonableness. i recommend you send your business to the bookstore listed above instead!

About Egypt

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