Egypt: A land of unanswered cellphones and ignored metal detectors

Two things I have noticed in Egypt – one is that almost every metal detector you walk through – at temples, train stations, hotel lobbies – is completely ignored when it beeps. They often have someone sitting at them, and you must walk through them, not around, but when they beep, no-one does anything. There is not often any way to pass your bags around them, usually there are no scanners. The first couple of times you go through, you stop and look around after the beep, expecting someone to do something – and you get knocked over by the person behind you charging through. After a while you just carry on through all the metal detectors, with all your bags, not even blinking when it beeps. You then act all shocked on the odd occasion they actually do something about it.

The second thing is that no-one answers their mobile when it rings – instead, they let it ring for about 30s, until the ring is starting to get really annoying, then casually reach down and pull out their phone. This seems to apply particularly on trains, buses and ferries. It’s not that they haven’t noticed it ringing, it’s more that people seem to want to let everyone know that they have a mobile, and that they are receiving a call. It gets very annoying after a while.

I’ve been thinking though that these may be related. As anyone who has been here knows, it is a very noisy place, with little concept of personal space. The beeping of car horns is endless – for people who haven’t experienced it, just think about every time you use anything like the indicator, or lights, or brakes, or wave, or pass someone – here you just use the horn instead. Lights may occasionally be used at night – not on all the time, of course, you just might flash them once if you see another car coming.

So the conclusion I’m reaching is that people get so used to the constant noise around them, that things like phones don’t make an impact until it’s been the same noise for a good 30s or so. Similarly with metal detectors, only beeping for a few seconds – no-one even registered it.

It is however a little quieter where I am tonight, in Dahab. Yes, that Dahab. Yes I am very close to where the bombs went off – i.e. just a little down the road. It’s been quite a change to come here, with far, far less hassle than the rest of Egypt. It’s like a different country almost. Very different in terms of what the tourists wear here too – a lot of bikinis.

I was laid up for a couple of days in Hurghada, due to a ferry cancellation. A pretty dull place, full of Russians, and I would have rather not stopped there. However, I’ve been sick since Tuesday, and a couple of days doing nothing was exactly what I needed. I’m still only just getting over it now – hopefully the Nifuroxazide will have fully kicked in tomorrow, and I’ll be fully right. Not being able to eat properly for days starts to take it out of you. If I’m not, I’ll have to hunt down a doctor somewhere.

The plan is to get a bus to Nuweiba tomorrow, followed by a ferry to Aqaba in Jordan. All going well, I will be in either Aqaba or maybe Wadi Musa tomorrow night. If I’m still sick, I’ll stop in Aqaba instead – better chance of doctors there.

Hope everyone out there is feeling a little better than I am.

Alexandria is a Love Wave on the Egyptian Land

At least that’s what the sign said. I have no idea what it means, perhaps something was lost in the translation. I would upload the photo of it, but I can’t be bothered transferring my photos onto this computer.

I’m currently in Alexandria, killing time before my train leaves for Cairo. After getting to Cairo, I transfer to a sleeper train, to take me to Aswan by tomorrow morning.

I arrived in Cairo on Sunday, and spent a couple of days there before coming up to Alexandria for a couple of nights, mainly to see El Alamein. I went out there yesterday, to visit the war graves. Just rows and rows of the silver fern on gravestones. Very few other people around – there was no-one else at the German memorial, and a couple of other people were leaving the Commonwealth one as I arrived.

Egypt has been interesting, but I am starting to get very annoyed with people endlessly trying to rip you off, and not answering simple questions without trying to sell you something first. The baksheesh is pretty bad too – tipping someone for providing a useful service is one thing, but having to bribe uniformed police just to visit war graves is basically corruption. I was speaking to an Egyptian the other day who told me that corruption in Egypt is not some remote thing, it is something that walks beside you all the time.

That’s a large part of what the recent bombings were about – it’s not religion, it’s money and corruption. I hadn’t really planned on spending much time in the Sinai area, and I can’t see those plans changing. I’ll probably have to be there one or two nights though, while I am in transit on my way to Jordan.

Libya was an interesting place, but I think I’d had enough by the time we left. I could stay longer in the desert, but the small towns were just truly depressing. The towns had so much rubbish everywhere, and so many half-finished buildings, with people just sitting around, nothing to do. I guess some places didn’t get reached by the Revolution. Or perhaps the Great Leader never sees those places.

The desert was more than worth the ticket price, and I’m glad I didn’t just go on a tour of the coastline. It’s quite crazy when you’re driving through sand seas, where all you can see is sand dunes, in every direction, and no tracks, no sign of human habitation. The desert is not just all sand though – I was surprised at the large rocky areas, and the clumps of trees scattered through the desert. A tough environment though, one that you need to be tough to survive in. A peaceful place though – intense stillness and quiet in the early morning, while it’s still cool, before the sun rises and pushes the temperature up to 40.

The Gadhafi culture is quite disturbing. Everywhere you go there are billboards with pictures of the Great Leader, looking like the elder statesman of Africa, with some pithy slogan “Partners not Wage Workers.” I bought the Green Book, but after reading it I am not really any closer to understanding what it all means for Libya. Things have been loosening up for the last few years, maybe Gadhafi will move on, and they can get a proper government. There is no reason for the poverty there, with the huge amount of oil they are sitting on.

I met an interesting man last night, who was a connoisseur of fake watches. His supplier came in with many watches, which he pored over for an hour or two, before selecting one to add to his collection. Apparently the Italian-sourced fake Rolexes are better than the China-sourced ones. The best seem to be the ones in the Philippines – they are even waterproof. We were having a few drinks at the Spitfire bar, an Alexandria institution, and I’m feeling a bit fragile this morning. Not sure if it’s just a hangover, or a reaction to something I’ve eaten or drunk. Probably a bit of both.

Not sure when I’ll get around to uploading photos. Maybe if I’ve got some downtime in Nuweiba or Sharm El Sheikh. I’ll try and write another post before I leave Egypt too.