Thursday, July 03, 2008

Day 4 Of 7 - Journey To Way Over There

When Lebowski finally woke up, he did so with two ideas. One was to hop on a bus to Iskanderun, commonly known as Alexandria, and the other was to hop on a bus to a place called Dahab. Both of them involved a bus. Only one of them, however, involved a ten-hour bus ride. So I voted Iskanderun, because a) he said it had cool antiquities to look at, b) it has a funny name, and c) it did not involve a ten-hour bus ride. We packed our backpacks and headed out.

Again, we hoofed it past Talat Harb square, because it's on the way to everything. Eventually we found the bus station. I'm sure he knew where it was, but I didn't. Like I said, our original plan was to tackle Iskanderun, but for reasons I never quite de-Egyptified, we couldn't get on that bus. I just remember Lebowski cursing up a storm at the ticket agent, and the two Egyptian Army soldiers behind him smiling at me and mouthing the F-word making fun of him. So, plan B... Dahab.

You'll notice the bereted fellow in the lower left corner. He's tourist police. Here he is again.

They kind of hang out in large concentrations of tourists so they can be on hand to make sure nothing untoward happens, like you accidentally getting on a bus to Sudan. I was particularly interested in the way they all seem to have different models of weaponry. This guy here had what I suspect was some variant of AK-47, but some police had MP-5s or even Mauser-looking pistols. In the U.S. you get accustomed to authority figures having the same uniforms and equipment, but over there, I guess you just go to work with whatever they issue you, or whatever you have lying around the house. Also, U.S. police usually have their smoke wagons holstered... Egyptian police twirl theirs around when they're bored. A touch unsettling. Lebowski was kind enough to wait till the fourth day among them to tell me that most of them probably don't know how to use a rifle. Jerk. These guys also direct traffic occasionally, but whereas U.S. cops use these big cheerleader movements to tell you when to go, tourist police rarely raise their arms past their sides. Most of the 'come here,' 'stop,' and 'go that way' occurs very subtly at thigh-level, and looks like nothing more than a nervous tic. Pretty amazing to watch it at work, but I can't even imagine having to be legally held to those microscopic signals.

We hopped on the bus at maybe two PM. This is our view of the bus. I had to look at it for ten hours, so you have to look at it too. On the way, Lebowski filled me in on what Dahab was and why we were going.
I was unaware of this, but there's a second part to Egypt. I had always thought it was a vertical block with a northeastern chip missing, kinda like Missouri. Turns out that not only is there a piece there, it's shaped like a falling piece of pizza. This is the Sinai Peninsula, home of Mount Sinai, which is where Charlton Heston was given the bylaws of the National Rifle Association on stone tablets. It's also the site of the 1967 war between Egypt and Israel. We didn't see this, but Lebowski assures me that there are stretches of desert there strewn with dead tanks. Sinai is also across the continental shelf, so technically I hit Asia on this journey too. Ha ha.

There's Egypt, and Sinai. We cruised along that WTHIP-colored line past a lot of arid terrain (always wanted to chart my adventures on a map like in the Indy movies). Looked a lot like Tatooine for more reasons than just my wanting it to... they filmed the Star Wars movies in Tunisia, which is just a few countries west of Egypt. The Suez Canal was off to the right for a while. Dahab, Lebowski explained, is a dive town halfway up the other side of the peninsula, and by dive, he meant 'go in the water.' He'd been there once before, and said it had instantly become his haven from the chaos of Cairo.
There were TVs on this bus, and soon into the trip, they began playing an Egyptian movie called Morgan Ahmed Morgan. The only way you'll be able to fathom the insanity of this movie is by following that link to the trailer on YouTube. From what I was able to piece together from my limited understanding of Egyptian Arabic and what I was able to blatantly make up, Morgan Ahmed Morgan is an Egyptian goofball living a bumbling sort of double life; rich corporate mogul sometimes, unassuming college student other times. With the help of his friend Afro, he gets in over his head in one situation after another, and only manages to get out of them by virtue of the fact that his full name spoken aloud has a tendency to spur dance sequences. Seriously, no one ever calls him Morgan, Ahmed, or M.A, or Buddy. "Hey, is that Morgan Ahmed Morgan?" "Why yes, it is Morgan Ahmed Morgan!" "Morgan Ahmed Morgan? Where?" "That's him over there, Morgan Ahmed Morgan." "No way! Let's have a crazy New Delhi-style dance sequence!" Armed with Afro's ability to start food fights and a song called 'Oh Shee Wah Wah,' Morgan Ahmed Morgan chases modestly after the lovely Hot Teacher, and generally wins over everyone with his so-bad-it's-good dancing and his full name. At the end, there's a dance-off between opposing factions of students (the good guys have cool moves, and the bad guys have just as cool but choppy robot moves), and Morgan Ahmed Morgan brings them all together literally, rising up out of a crowd of them as if he were on a mechanical pedestal. At the time, I was annoyed by this movie (partly, I'm sure, because the driver had the volume turned up to DISINTIGRATE), but the more I watch the trailer, the more I want to go out and rent it.
That got followed by some Tom and Jerry. These particular ones were so old that I think I actually saw Tom meet Jerry in one of them.
The sun went down. We passed what I'm pretty sure was the much-invoked B.F.E. We stopped in a town at the point of the peninsula called Sharm El Sheikh. The only thing that was there was a cigarrette store and a bathroom, and there were kids outside charging one pound for admission.
We finally rolled into Dahab at about midnight. Lebowski and I had struck up conversations on the bus with Darrin and Freeman, two journeying Canadians, and so we all took a cab to the beach section. By cab, I mean we all jumped in the the bed of some Egyptian's truck for a pound each. Knowing that that was what 'cab' meant, I should have reasoned what Lebowski meant when he said we would be staying at a 'hotel.'

This entire room, including the bed, is made of concrete. The Hotel Sindbad is a former bedouin camp, and was re-made into a beachside hostel/hotel when the originally bedouin-settled town of Dahab went legit. This place was, and I mean barely, a north-south row of concrete boxes loosely connected to an east-west row of concrete boxes, across a gravel sidewalk from a set of camp showers. It's funny that how well you handle scary things is usually directly proportionate to how far from home you are... I opened the squeaky wooden door to this rough-hewn prison cell and, instead of running far far away, I said, "Great, I'll bring in my stuff!" Might have been because it wasn't a damn bus.
Lebowski moved his gear into the next cell and then we sat outside for a while listening to the surf and the absolute quiet. I watched the froth of the sea in the dark while he imbibed a certain commodity. He admitted several times during my visit that he had regrettably become jaded to the things Egypt had to offer while living there, and was enjoying seeing me see things for the first time. One of them, he said, was the way I reacted to how he put our new location in perspective:
"See that water?" he asked.
"Yes," I said, because I was looking at it.
"That's the Red Sea." Then he pointed out over it. "See those lights on the other side?"
"Yes," I said, because he was pointing at them.
"That's Saudi Arabia."
BOOP I am way elsewhere.
We caught up with our stout Canadian allies at the hotel next door, who were on quest for Sakara. We met some girls from Barcelona, who were staying in the concrete boxes across from Darrin and Freeman, and in halting English, slightly better Spanish, and abysmal Arabic, made introductions. We invited them to join our quest, and they declined, which was the sensible thing to do, because saying Sakara is better than Stella is still not saying much. The beach section of Dahab is basically a riverwalk-type street along the beach, crowded with restaurants and shops. The design of these places is great; you'll see depictions of ancient Egyptian gods goofing around with Nemo the fish and characters from Disney's Aladdin. We found a tent that was still open, settled out on the beach with drink and shisha for a while, and then we headed back and hit the concrete.
I had some rest to get... I had found the Red Sea, and tomorrow, I was going to get in it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not that I want to be picky (well actually I want). Your map shows Cairo as close to the Suez canal. But in reality it is by the Nile significantly further west.

12:05 AM  
Blogger amulbunny said...

Sharm el Sheikh is a big tourist resort popular with Europeans. Has a decent airport too.


1:12 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Anon: I noticed that too. Sure felt like Suez was further away from Cairo. Don't worry... a more accurate and even cooler map is in the works.
Amul: I think next time I'll fly into Sharm and halve the ride to Dahab. But I'll have to bring lots of cash so they let me into the bathroom.

7:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Description found on youtube:

""Morgan" follows the fortunes of a rich Egyptian businessman who is convinced by his children to complete his university degree before embarking on a run for parliament."

5:16 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

Anon: Wow... so I at least had the college part right. The things you miss when you're bus-drunk and submerged in another country. I have since found that Morgan's name is Adel Imam, and is apparently one of Egypt's finer actors, up there with Omar Sharif. Can't wait for the Hollywood action remake.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can watch the whole film of Morgan Ahmed Morgan here:


But seriously, it sucked. Each and every one of the 7 f-word-ing times I saw it on those f-word-ing Dahab-Cairo buses.


10:07 PM  

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