EGYPT, DECEMBER 2003

Nile Valley

After a lengthy journey out of the desert and down the Nile valley, I arrived in the southernmost city of Aswan. The only thing of note that I did in this tourist bazaar was spend a couple of peaceful hours on the Nile in a felucca, which is a standard, flat-bottomed sail boat, on which the main sail and jib are combined into a single, rhomboidal sail, easily operated by a single pilot.

The next day I took the train up to Luxor, formerly known as Thebes, which hosts, of course, many of the most glorious monuments to ancient Egypt. Here I am at Karnak temple, an enormous collection of ruins covering over 100 acres. Youíre looking here at the most fully restored portion of the temple.

This is the red pyramid at the Dashur field. I declined to go to the largest pyramid (Cheops), because itís apparently a tourist circus without parallel. This is the second largest, and it is so remote that my taxi driver had to stop and ask for directions. 

Alexandria (or Alex, as itís called by the natives) is a coastal town on the Mediterranean with a distinctly European look to it (as the seat of the British colonization). There, I met Mohammed (shown here), who befriended me for the afternoon and showed me around. His sincere friendliness was not at all uncommon; I made two other such friends during my short time there. I can say without hesitation that Arabs are some of the warmest, kindest people I know.

This picture was taken from the Citadel, a vast fortress on the southern edge of Cairo, looking northward in towards the center of the city. Aside from impressive beauty of these two mosques, part of what I was trying to show was the thick grey haze obscuring the view into town. Being in Cairo, it is said, is like smoking 30 cigarettes a day; it out-pollutes LA every day of the week. I still have a souvenir hack from my time there.

I ate the vast majority of my meals standing at the narrow, aluminum counters of food stands just like this one, pointing at what I wanted and paying the number of pounds they signaled with their fingers (rarely more than 50 cents for a full meal). Almost everything is a sandwich in a sort of whole-wheat pita bread. As its contents, you get everything from kofta (lamb meat balls) to falafel to fried shrimp to beans and eggs.

Service Taxis: My favorite means of transportation were these collective taxis, which were usually minivans.  They would be crammed with as many passengers as possible (upwards of 20), and simply leave as soon as they were full. You were at (extremely) close proximity with the natives; the ride was quick; and there was no risk of being cheated, because you could see what everyone else was paying (rarely more than a dollar for a two-hour ride). They werenít always comfortable, but you donít travel outside of the Occident for comfort.