My personal camel-chasing season approaches—soon the Maghreb—and I haven't shared all of last year's adventures.
SPOILER ALERT: NO CAMEL RIDE
In the fall of 2011, the effects of the Arab Spring were widely felt in Egypt. Tourism had dropped off dramatically. Their economy happens to be heavily dependent on it. For instance, transiting the Suez Canal there were no cruise ships in the northbound convoy. And then, election signs were everywhere. In our travels we experienced gratitude in one form or another that tourists were beginning to return.
|Port Said from southbound ship|
In Port Said, a lively city (centre of recent and future unrest), we had an exciting, blaring police escort in and out of town. Nothing like being thrust into the spotlight. We were from a British ship but did it make a difference, did it matter? On a Saturday night, the smiling cheers and waves for us were happily reminiscent of a Mexican festival night.
Also, wherever we went, our buses had a mandatory plain-clothes security guard, making us feel safe, right? Ours had a shoulder holster under his jacket, but certainly more discreet than the heavily armed soldier on Jordan tourist buses. Discreet?! He was either sleeping all the time or yakking on his cell phone, earning the scornful contempt of our city guide; she shared her antipathy freely and frequently in several languages with us and the bus driver. Mr. Cop was late for departure at one point and she instructed the driver to leave without him.
Giza was always a hub of almost frenzied activity, a carnival, probably the most visited site in the country. The boys with their trinkets to sell would spring into action as each tour bus arrives to disgorge pale Europeans and North Americans. They chatter and pursue aggressively, intimidating the unprepared.
Camel hire guys want your business. They have their marketing ploys; sitting their kids on the camel is better than the one where they constantly rush and jump to block your path. The tactic ensures a slow zigzag progress on your part while you miss whatever information your guide is imparting to the group.
This time is a little different. Far less foreign tourists. The mounted camel cops have completely disappeared. At least half the sightseers are Egyptian—because it is a holiday. And thank Allah, no sandstorm this time.
Camel handlers at the pyramids simply want to get you on, lead you around a bit, and then start the bargaining process at oh, about 50 euros, LOL. Giza is not the place for a ride. The young men with souvenirs are still true to form: “I have a gift for you, free .. free ...” They have become more tactile, it seems to me. I settle for posing with a good beast for a photograph. They don’t want $1 bills .. “no good at the bank (new ploy), give me $5, $10.” Offering cigarettes as part of the haggling is satisfactory, although one of them makes off with my lighter. Hey, it wasn't my camera. That and a few dollars is little enough to contribute in desperate times.
Because it's a family holiday, local activity swirls at the market below. A few camels and horses are saddled for the real people. It was a chance to examine a variety of homemade camel tattooing (not pictured here--did it on Facebook) that involves shaving the animal's hair for design.
Who can resist the beaded headdresses? Surely there will be occasions to wear them back home, the eternal romantic tries to justify. The vendor is wearing gloves because the day is waning, the desert temperature drops fast, and for her, anything less than 25 degrees celsius is chilly.
I'm not immune to the ploy of get-the-kids-out-to-sell.
How could you not buy postcards from a face like that?
A traditional family passing me smiled in greeting and the man shyly said in English, “Welcome to Egypt.” Made my day.
© BDM; all photographs BDM, November 2011