Showing posts from 2009

The City of a Thousand Hopes

Jerusalem was a squalid town, which every Semitic religion had made holy. Christians and Mohammedans came there on pilgrimage to the shrines of its past, and some Jews looked to it for the political future of their race. These united forces of the past and the future were so strong that the city almost failed to have a present. Its people, with rare exceptions, were characterless as hotel servants, living on the crowd of visitors passing through. —Lawrence of Arabia On Christmas Eve, as our taxi drove to the bridge across the River Jordan, we passed a convoy of fifty pick-ups, vans, ambulances, and tractor trailer trucks. They bore the flags of Palestine and Turkey, were filled with waving men and desperate supplies, and honked in return to welcoming Jordanians. The murals called them a “Lifeline to Gaza.” The obese Palestinian man sitting next to us in the taxi said they were sent by George Galloway, an Englishman. They would drive to that Red Sea corner where Jordan, Israel, and Egy

The Return Journey

I wore my boots out walkin', Poured my heart out talkin', I felt the pain and I broke the chain, But I still got a long way to go. Been on the road ‘til tomorrow, Been through the joys and the sorrows, Came through the flood, And I pulled through the mud, But I still got a long way to go. —Railroad Earth So we sat on a train back to the filth and ochre splendor of Cairo. We were afraid, since Denniz on his trip north had sat in a seat full of bedbugs that left 200 marks on his ass, and we were cold, since the Egyptians blast air conditioning all times of the year and all hours of the day. I had on my new jeans, long-legged to fit the Nubians of Aswan, and slightly flared at the bottoms, as was the local style—and had discarded those denim cut-offs that served me from the second-hand store in Varna all the way to the border of Sudan. Alas, and farewell! Sven, Amelia, and I intended to go on from Cairo to the Siwa Oasis, where Alexander was confirmed into godhood. The picturesq

All Along the River Nile

I hear a voice you cannot hear, __ Which says, I must not stay; I see a hand you cannot see, __ Which beckons me away. —Tickell Abdullah drove a fifty-year old-Peugeot 504, a smurf blue station wagon, with a Qur'an on the dash and a luggage rack and seats for eight. He was a jolly, grinning man in a moustache and a robe, who picked us up at the Tourist Rest House in Al-Qasr just after breakfast. He drove us through a desolation of crags and dust and powerlines, towards the Kharga Oasis and Luxor. In Kharga Town we picked up a police escort, on account of the American in the vehicle, and Abdullah told us in his pidgin English not to pay them any backsheesh when they asked. We picked up food and drove it 15 minutes out of town, to a little tea house with a television. Our driver wanted Amelia to dance like the women on television, but she said No and pointed to her anguished stomach—“Baby?” As it got dark we entered a smoggy world of rubble and canals and palm trees. They still c

The Western Desert

I'm on the pursuit of happiness and I know Everything that shine ain't always gonna be gold. I'll be fine once I get it. I'll be good. —KiD CuDi We had to stand on the bus , since we had no tickets. The 7 a.m. was full to bursting with Cairenes and their belongings, and we waited with Yashar, who had just returned from Aswan, for the 8 a.m. departure to Bahariyya in the Western Desert. Three of our gang got seats on the bus, and we alternated between these and the aisle for the five hour trip. We were six, including myself: Jean of Paris, Amelia of Melbourne, Sven the East German, Denniz from Copenhagen, and Yashar of Vancouver, B.C. This diversity confused the Egyptians when they asked, “Where are you from?” They called us a cocktail or the United Nations. A mob of them met us when we stepped off the bus in dusty Bawiti, chief township of the Bahariyya Oasis. They shouted at us in a pack, then picked us out individually as we moved to get our baggage—touts for desert

The City of a Thousand Minarets

There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign. —Robert Louis Stevenson We waited morbidly in the Seven Heaven lounge, morbid because we were finally about to leave after a three week stay, and because the road to Cairo put us one step closer to inevitable separation. My arm still hurt from Richie of New Zealand's Tae Kwon Do twist. The lanky second-degree blackbelt, third in the world in the senior division before he discovered alcohol, had been drunk when he showed me some holds. He taught English in Leipzig and regularly patroned the English pub there for rugby matches up until a few months ago, when he came to Dahab and got a job in the Seven Heaven dive shop. “Glory?” scoffed the Kiwi, swinging his leg around in the air to show a power move. “There's no such thing as glory. It's all ego, mate.” While Jean attended his Facebook, Amelia and I listened to a wild tale from Maria of Denmark, which I will here relate. Maria first arrived in Dahab four mo