November 4th, 2009


LJ Idol - Topic 3 - Smile

Hurghada, Egypt, last night, 2:25am - "Dude, that's a 200!" Mark informed me impatiently
"Yes, that is a 200," also sounding impatient, the taxi driver weighed in on the subject. I, however, hate to take anyone's word for anything, much less how much money I'm pulling out of my wallet, so I continued to hold the bill in the dim light of the window looking for clues. Because I'm OCD like that I always arrange the bills in my wallet largest to smallest, and had pulled it from the back, so everything pointed to it in fact being a 200 but still, when pulling a bill worth 50 USD out of my wallet I'm going to need visual verification on that.
   Being as the digits we use with the latin alphabet (123 etc) are "arabic numerals" I was surprised to learn that apparently modern arabic has new, utterly different, "arabic" numerals. So the money in Egypt is printed with "arabic numerals" on one side and "arabic" numerals on the other. Additionally the numbers are written small and in only two corners of each side, so I had to turn the bill over several times and really squint before I could see for myself that it did, in fact, have a 2 followed by two 0s on it. I handed it over to Mark who impatiently forwarded it to the taxi driver and it disappeared behind the front seat.

   The original fare my local friend Michael had negotiated with the driver was 20 pounds. Because taxi drivers try to scam us every time practically without fail I make it a point to clarify the rate the moment I'm in the car. Unfortunately this time it was too late. Michael said 20, we got in the car, the door closed, I asked "20 right?" and as the car pulled away the driver said "no, 50!"

   Mark tried arguing with the driver the entire drive back (which wasn't more than 10 minutes, definitely no more than a 20 pound fare in these parts) but only managed to get it down to 40. Still ridiculous but $10 isn't goign to kill me and I knew it wasn't worth getting my blood in a boil over something that wasn't going to change.
   Egyptians for some reason HATE making change. It is their least favourite thing. They would rather you asked them to eat a pineapple whole than make change for a 100 or 200 pound bill. Incidentally ATMs only dispense 100 or 200 pound bills.
   Mark had smaller bills but for some reason in order to make change with what the driver had he wanted a 200 from me. I wasn't really sure what kind of silly math he was up to, I was tired and anxious to get back to the hotel to pack my stuff in the 20 minutes we had before the bus left for Cairo, and not entirely sober because we'd spent one last evening at a club with our local friends.

   "Dude you gave him a 20!" admonishes Mark disapprovingly, as a bill comes back over the seat. The first thing I notice is that even in the dim light I can tell its not the same colour bill I just handed over. The driver is insisting that I handed him a 20 and not a 200. Between the two of them telling me it was a 200 originally and pulling it out of the back of my wallet and seeing the 200 with my own eyes before handing it over I don't think I could possibly be more certain I'd handed him a 200. Egypt!
   Funny thing, we can make correct change now that there's a 20 mysteriously floating about. Arguing that it was a 200 is utterly fruitless so I just count it as a loss and proceed to the hotel more or less totally pissed off.

   Arriving at the hotel we are met by our companion Aaron coming out with several bags, including mine. "Fuck you guys, I had to pack your stuff for you" he says in as friendly a manner as one can say that.
   Now, like with my wallet, I don't ever like to have to take anyone's word for that my stuff is packed, and like having my bills in a certain order, I like to have my stuff packed in a certain order (stuff I'm less likely to need on the bottom). Now recall also that I was already totally pissed off.
"What?! Why'd you do that???"
"You guys weren't here, the bus leaves in 20 minutes!"
"I could pack my stuff TWICE in twenty minutes!!
Aaron's wife Amalie chimes in: "Well we have to check out fifteen minutes before we leave, and that is now"
"Well I could pack while you check out then!"
"No you couldn't
" says she. If she were a dude I think I might have punched her. Instead I go do exactly what she said I couldn't possibly be able to do. I go to the room. Inside I look everywhere I've put anything and it all seems to not be left behind at least.
   But between being cheated out of $50 for a $5 cab ride, having my stuff packed by someone else, and being given attitude about it, I'm veritably seething at this point.

   Throughout the trip we'd heard about what a miserably filthy place Cairo is. As we drove towards it this morning you could tell where it was on the horizon by the black smog around it. However to get to this internet cafe (computer use: 3 egyptian pounds an hour -- that's 68 cents!!) I walked maybe a mile down a crowded street alone at night (well 10pm) and no one bothered me. Cars and taxis (all 80s era volkswagon vans painted white, and they drive with the sliding passenger door open) share the road with donkey carts and herds of sheep and goats (yes in the middle of Cairo!) (no pigs though, apparently they had them ALL killed due to misplaced swine-flu fears. Trash they normally ate is consequently building up on the streets), and pedestrians. (Michael commented on once traveling to Amsterdam and finding "there are so many rules! About when you can cross the street and where you can walk...")

   Despite the shenanigans of this morning and dire warnings about this city from everyone we'd talked to earlier in the trip who'd been here, and especially despite that I ordinarily HATE big cities, I found myself walking down the crowded street an hour ago (composing this entry in my head while doing so ;) ) and smiling.

   Sometimes I think the best part about a vacation is when the plan goes completely out the window and things go haywire. When I drove around three states in New England by myself during Epic Roadtrip 2007, when the itinerary was already totally out the window by day 3 of Epic Roadtrip 2008, unplanned marooning in Portland last October, when Kerri an I accidentally became separated in Zaragoza, Spain, last May ... these were all some of my favourite times of the trips.
   Some people hate to travel because they're stressed out about what they'll do if their plans go awry. Some people travel but then are miserably upset when plans DO go awry. Some people stress about staying on itinerary and make their companions miserable in so doing. I think the secret to enjoying your vacation is remembering that you're on vacation. Don't stress. Remember that the very reason you travel is to experience things. (:

Cairo, Egypt, the next day, 23:45 - I wash my hands and the bathroom attendant hands me a paper towel. I mumble "shukren" (sp? Arabic for thank-you) and turn to exit the airport bathroom, but the attendant blocks my path in a "none shall pass!" manner and puts out his hand for a tip.
   I place a 1 pound bill in his hand and start to step forward but he doesn't budge, making another "give me money" gesture and holding up two fingers. This is a bit saucy since I know one pound is an entirely acceptable tip for handing me paper towels. I open my wallet and show him I don't HAVE any more one pound bills -- the smallest I have is a ten. He points at it eagerly. HAH. "Can you give me nine back in change?" I ask him. I don't even know why I was humouring him this much, I guess I was in a good mood, and anyway I didn't expect him to be able to (recall, they loathe making change). He nods enthusiastically so I skeptically hand him the ten. He hands me back 5 shiny one pound coins. "Hah are you serious?!" I exclaim, followed by "whatever dude" and I go on my way shaking my head, and smiling. It's only about $1.10 anyway.
   As counterintuitive as it may seem, because of it I had a smile all the way back to my gate. It was just.. so Egypt. Such a fitting end for my stay.

Picture that Should Have Been Posted Last Week of the Day

Sunrise over Mt Sinai. I finally managed to upload some pictures at an internet cafe so I put up the ones pertaining to the trek up Mt Sinai I described last week.

Unrelated to LJ Idol Entry, but to those who care -- I'll be arriving in NYC around 6am this Friday (the 6th). I'll be in the general area for about a week (by "general area" I mean I'm liable to rent a car and show up anywhere within say 12 hours driving distance) and have no solid plans (its sort of a vacation from my vacation (which will be followed by a two week vacation from my vacation vacation before I start my next endeavour). So if you want to meet up drop me a line.
   In particular, the person I'm probably crashing with this first weekend presumably has work during the day on Friday so it might be nice if someone who lives in the city has a place I can stop by during the day and not feel totally homeless all day (: