In which Baji meets Gojira

Happy Anniversary, my dear Gojira!  Well, it’s actually not on this date and it’s not even a milestone year, but it just occurred to me last night that we’ve known each other for more than a decade now.  In honor of our duodecennial anniversary, I give you some highlights of my notes (I can’t even dignify them as a “travelogue” because they really need some cleaning up and lack my usual pizazz) from back then.  Feel free to add, delete, or embellish as you see fit.

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LB and I got into a fight with some ass at the Hilton who was trying to sell us 80 cent stamps for a dollar (we are such cheapskates).   LB muttered under her breath, “this is so stupid” and then told him that we didn’t want them after all and he got very offended because he thought she said HE was stupid.  So LB told him to calm down and he charged us for the postcards, tossed the change towards us, and went off in a huff.  Nice.

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We had to ward off some aggressive vendors at the pyramids.  They kept harassing us with the identical catchphrases “Hello?  Hello?  You like postcards?  You want good price on camel ride?  Hello?  You Spanish?  You Indian?  Hello?  Hello?  Taxi Taxi? Mr. Clinton?  Mr. Bush?”  The only way we could shake them was to speak our caveman Urdu to each other because none of them could figure out what we were saying (even if, or especially if, they were fluent in Urdu).

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After spending several hours in the claustrophobic museum, we caught a taxi to take us back home.  On the bridge connecting Cairo to the island of Zamalek, LB argued with the taxi driver about the fare.  After some heated words, she forced us to get out and hoof it back to her dorm through the hottest part of the day under a brutal sun because of “the principle of the matter” which, after converting it into dollars, I realized was over a few cents.

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Since LB was still a beginner in the Arabic language, we asked her friend Gojira to purchase our bus tickets for the three of us to visit Sharm el-Sheikh, a coastal city near the Red Sea.  In her fluent Arabic, she secured our tickets: one full price “tourist” ticket for her Euro-looking self and a drastically reduced “local” ticket for us swarthy sisters.  The eight-hour ride was predictably bumpy, hot, and mostly packed with men except for us and one lady with her three kids who shared a row (and some curry flavored potato chips) with us.  Relying on Lonely Planet’s map, we watched almost everyone disembark at a well-lit, populated stop near the end but stayed on the bus because the instructions were that our stop was the last one.  When we reached the last stop, we realized the error in our ways.  The bus terminal we ended up at was built after the guidebook had been published and was a few miles away from our hotel, The Tropicana.

By this time, it was late at night and some well-meaning but still suspicious-looking men asked us if we needed a lift.  We were prepared to walk but had no idea where we were or where we were headed.  They all had trucks. This meant either we had to split up into two vehicles or the three of us had to cram into the front seat with one driver.  As you can guess, we chose the latter.  LB was pressed against the driver’s side while Gojira, whom I had only met a few days ago and even then for only a handful of hours, was sitting on my lap with her forehead pressed against the windshield.  Naturally, we didn’t want to leave our backpacks in the cab in case someone swiped them while we were wedged inside, so not only did I have Gojira on my lap, but I also had most of our luggage under my legs.

When we arrived safely at our CLEARLY budget hotel, we found out that there was something wrong with the reservation.  They tried to charge us for an extra bed but Gojira threatened to sleep out in the garden rather than pay and perhaps realizing it was after midnight and way too late to argue with this exhausted and potentially stinky trio, they relented.  The toilet didn’t work, the water came out in a trickle, and the a/c was on the fritz.  We collapsed and hoped for a better tomorrow.

The next morning, we were treated to a horrendous continental breakfast: limp toast, watery eggs, and tepid coffee.  We caught the attention of some fellow tourists who, also foolishly following Lonely Planet’s advice, ended up there as well.  After a quick look around at the desolate landscape and without any view of the Sea or, for that matter, Civilization, we canceled our reservations for the next day and decided to leave that afternoon.  We called for a taxi to take us to the bus terminal to book our tickets back to Cairo that day.  With some hours to kill, we asked around and found out that the scuba and snorkeling area was actually nearby.  We took another taxi to the beach and asked the driver to return to pick us up.  There, LB and I enjoyed ourselves snorkeling and splashing in the water while Gojira worked on her tan.  All the drama we endured was worth it to swim in the crystal clear and incredibly warm waters and see all the aquatic wildlife up close.  I could actually hear some of the fish crunching on the coral.  Mind-blowing.

Our taxi driver never showed up (I was starting to understand and get used to this way of life) but we hailed another one who took us to the bus stop.  There, amid the luxury and opulence and sumptuousness expected of a five-star resort area, we saw what we were missing.  THERE were the hotels.  THERE were the swimming pools.  THERE were the people!  We were still early for the bus so we mingled our filthy selves with the filthy rich in the air-conditioned lobby of a hotel.  We stealthy helped ourselves to the hotel’s beach showers to wash up properly, get some refreshments, and bask in what we should have been treated to in the first place.  Less than 36 hours from the time we left, we returned to the blinding lights, ear-piercing traffic, so polluted that a tissue swipe of our nose and ears came away black, manic, sketchy Cairo, a.k.a. home sweet home.

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So, there you have it.  Truthfully, though, only the first two entries were written down.  For some reason, I can’t find the Sharm debacle anywhere (on paper, on disc, or on file) so the whole thing is just from memory.  Who’d have thought that I would have so successfully stolen you away from LB and kept you for so long.  *mwah*

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One response to “In which Baji meets Gojira

  1. Multiply the first three by eight thousand, and you’ve summed up the rest of my time there.

    I’m not surprised you remembered the Sharm incident so well because I too have a vivid memory of it. Specifically of having my forehead pressed up against the glass in that pickup truck and idly thinking of how death was imminent (although that time in the van from the Reykjavik airport when you nearly went through the windshield was worse; ah, youth). Incidentally, the Sharm debacle was the only time the Lonely Planet Egypt guide failed me during the entire year.

    Getting off the bus after an eight-hour ride from Sharm was the only time I was ever glad to be back in Cairo except for the second time I arrived there from the states when I still liked it and hadn’t realized what a tragedy the absence of Lil Baji and friends was going to be. I remember how absolutely thrilled I was to be there on that one day in August or September of 1997. The next morning two soldiers with machine guns followed me across Zamalek making hissing noises. (Truth be told, I still liked Cairo for several more months after that.)

    But anyway, proof that every cloud has a silver baji (or two!).

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