Trip Reports

Night Train To Cario (24-Apr-2002-08-00):
8:00 AM local time, Thursday, April 18 (0600 April 18 UTC) 27 24 N 033 40 E. Temp. 77, Humidity 39%, Cloud Cover 0%. Stiff breeze. Abu Tig Marina, El-Gouna Resort, near Hurghada, Egypt.

Theresa and I departed Luxor at 9:30 in the evening, and boarded the train taking us north, which on the Nile is of course downstream. We had booked our own sleeping cabin and the rather steep price included dinner, so I had naively envisioned something like the Orient Express. Instead we got airplane meals that we took in our compartment. Although the trip didn't live up to my fantasy, it was nonetheless memorable. The next morning we were awakened to tea and soon thereafter arrived at the Giza station, where we hailed a cab to our hotel. James Brown doesn't mention Cairo in his litany of cities, but for us it would be the home of the blues, because after a visit to the pyramids Theresa would end her brief stay and fly home.

When I saw the pyramids for the first time, the scales fell from my eyes and I realized why they are called the pyramids, and that is because they have an exactly pyramidical shape!! Wow. And big and old and hard to lift. Little has changed since Mark Twain said over 100 years ago that you have to do your meditating on their impressive age and size either before you get here or after you leave, because while you're there you are constantly importuned by guides, postcard dealers, and people trying to get you, that is, me, to ride a camel or a horse or a carriage, as if I looked like I was too old to walk, which I do. I was damned if I was going to give in to the hard sell, so I beg the forgiveness of those back home for skipping the traditional photo on the beast in front of the pyramid.

Since even with a strong recommendation from as highly respected a man of letters as the Captain, the reader, let's face it, is too lazy to find and read "Innocents Abroad," I'll relate, with apologies to the author, one of Twain's stories about his experience here. He was approached by a local who told him he could run up and down, or was it down and up, the great pyramid of Cheops, in less than nine minutes, for a dollar. Twain thought this was an interesting bet and took him up on it, only to find that the man did it with twenty seconds to spare. So, feeling he had the best of him as he was now winded, Twain made the same bet again. And again, and again. But dollar after dollar, the man prevailed. Then Twain decided to up the ante and offered $100 if the man would jump off the pyramid. While this was being contemplated and negotiated, the athlete's mother appeared, and, discovering the nature of the bet, began to cry. Twain, admitting that like most men he turns to mush at the sight of a woman crying, quit trying to persuade her son to try the jump. He offered her the $100 to do it.

The baksheesh, the haggling, and the scams visited upon the tourist to Egypt are no less annoying just because one has been prepared for them. Actually, the baksheesh and the haggling can be gotten used to as part of local custom, at least if you stay long enough, which of course you can't. But a scam is a scam and a false pretense of warm friendship when one has nothing but cold cash in mind is a corruption of human intercourse. The average Egyptian has a tendency towards sweetness that is irresistible, and when the counterfeit of this is proffered, it constitutes a corrosive perversion of the currency of understanding. The unfortunate result is that when the honest man offers his hospitality, one is immediately put on his guard, and it is this, rather than the money one might lose, that is the essence of the crime.

I cannot think about the pyramids without thinking of the great steel guitar player, Bobby "Blue" Black. Bobby actually backed up Hank Williams when he was a teenager, and has played with many of the greats. He's also an incredibly nice guy, but the pertinent point here is that he has mastered hieroglyphics. If anyone else knows of another country and western musician, or any kind of musician, who can make the same claim, I'd be most interested, and he probably would be too. Bobby bribed a guard when he was in Egypt a while back and was able to spend a night inside the great pyramid, like Napoleon.

While at the pyramids I visited the museum of the so-called "solar boat," a sleek wooden boat that was interred next to the great pyramid and perhaps carried the pharaoh's mummy from the Nile to its resting place. The claim is that this is the oldest boat in the world, although, typically for an Egyptian museum, no dates are given. Apparently, the Egyptians also made ships on this same general plan from papyrus and/or reeds, and Thor Heyerdahl made an Atlantic crossing in 1970 attempting to prove that an Egyptian voyage to the new world would have been possible.

It is very likely that boats are among the very oldest of human technologies, along with stone tools. The reader may remember that when we were in Kumai we found that Orangutans were able to visualize the utility of boats, as they would untie a painter on local craft to float across the river. There is no reason to believe that Homo habilis, the first of our genus according to current theory and the original "Handy Man" (was that Jimmy Jones?), whose floruit was 2.5 million years ago, was less clever than an Orangutan. Perhaps even Australopithecus robustus, a still earlier species predating the genus Homo, could float his own boat; all it took was jumping on a log. It really doesn't seem necessary that the idea had to await the evolution of our species about 125,000 years ago, and so boating is very likely more ancient than what we know as human beings, and was practiced by proto-humans. It's interesting to note that neither ancient Egyptians nor native North Americans had the wheel, but both had developed sophisticated watercraft. Since until the middle of the 19th century, all barges, canoes, and ships were made out of cellulose, no ancient remains survive. They Egyptian claim on this one is impressive, if true, therefore.

Mr. Shrode and the Captain had agreed to meet at the Cairo airport after dropping off Caroline and Theresa very early in the morning. We gloomily found our way to the bus which was to transport us back to El-Gouna, but as we had a few hours to kill, I visited the famous Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo which was nearby. Many of the best antiquities of Egypt have been raided by France, England, and the US, and the displays in those countries often are properly labeled, something you won't find here. The British Museum and the Louvre have impressive collections and the British Museum has tons of mummies, although Cairo has some big names, like Ramses II. The Metropolitan Museum in New York has an excellent exhibit. True, there is more Tutankhamen stuff in Cairo than there was on the exhibit that traveled to the US, so if you must see more of that, this is the place to go.

On the bus ride back we observed sedimentary layers of limestone, which is of course calcium carbonate usually formed on a shallow seabed as the result of millions of years of raining down of the remains of shelled marine life, and microorganisms like foraminifera, that become compacted and ossified. These guys, living beings far older than the ancient Egyptians, are also immortalized in the pyramids, the stone for which was quarried near where the monuments now attract the tourists. The earth is an old, old place, and for the geologists, the pyramids' age is barely worth measuring. Their forms will still tower above the desert, however, long after the great dam at Aswan, a modern engineering feat, has silted up and disappeared.

Soon our bus came to the shores of the Red Sea, where a fresh northeasterly whipped up whitecaps beyond the sand, and we turned south towards our harbor, and poor Maverick.

Next report from this location: Condo Made of Stona-The Sequel

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