After the disappointment in Bahrain, I decided that it would be a good idea to rock down to Alex pronto to make sure that I wasn’t stuck again.
The weather gods obviously were feeling that they had been a bit harsh, and I was able to go diving in Alex without any weather delays. Alex has been around for a while, and because of that, and the assistance of the geology gods, has a few interesting things under the sea.
Around 1000 AD, the locals were getting a bit worried that they were going to get to host a home game of the crusades. So to make things that little bit more difficult for the away team, they decided to get a whole lot of those columns and things that were lying about and drop them in all of the little beaches where it would be easiest to land a boat full of crusaders.
Things were pretty quiet for about 400 years. Then it was noisy. Probably very noisy, and peoples worlds were rocked. Literally. In more than one way. There was a bit of an earthquake. This made the lighthouse, all 100m of it, fall down. It also dropped the level of the land in the area drop by 6 or so meters. This meant that as well as all of the columns and such scattered around to greet the crusaders, a reasonable portion of the city, including the ruins of the queens palace, was now under the sea.
Some people have said that there are easier ways of going to look at ruins than strapping 25kg of kit, including a tin can filled with 3000psi of air to your back. But these reports are often unreliable, and besides, I had the kit with me, and had not had a dive in over a week, so down I went. And besides, I have never seen real ruins before, so it isn’t the sort of thing you want to miss.
Now you are going to be wondering what they were like. I am not sure. They were pretty cool. These old people were big on columns. Very big. Those big pink granite blocks down there came from Aswan (way south), and then from way up there when it was part of the lighthouse. Those cobbles were part of the queens courtyard, and that was the queens wharf. There was some seriously old stuff down there.
But despite being very old and cool, they were, well, kindof ruined. They just weren’t what they used to be. With a sense of romance and imagination you could imagine what it must have been like here in the heyday of the city. But romance and imagination rarely inflict themselves upon me.
But there were some pretty cool points. In the middle of Alex harbour there is a WW2 aircraft. It crash landed right on the courtyard and ended up a bit over a meter from the base of a column. In other places, the plane would be the dive, but in Alex they don’t even know what sort it is. It was also pretty ironic that lots of the artefacts that we were looking at were simply rubbish. And of course besides the 2000 year old rubbish there was early 21st century rubbish. Though I think in another 1000 years the amphoras will still look cooler than the coke bottles.
Other things about the dive were less thought provoking. There was a very distinct layer of very murky water on the surface. At 6m the visibility was pretty good, but at 3, you couldn’t see your hand if you stretched your arm out. Now the nice easy explanation for this is that it is simply the silt laden waters of the Nile, before they have been able to mix with the salt water of the Med. I did not confirm that this was the case, as I find that sometimes optimism works best if it is not made to compete with cynicism and questions about such matters as sewerage treatment facilities in developing nations.
So after diving in Alex, it was back to Cairo where such famous attractions as Cairo taxi drivers, perfume sellers, the pyramids, camels, the Egyptian museum and papyrus merchants awaited. As well as a few less famous ones.
I was fast learning that in Egypt your scam sensors need to be operating at least 150%. These people have had 2000 years of experience with fleecing tourists. Unfortunately all of the best comeones start with people being friendly. Though some of locals are refreshingly bad. Just when I had decided that other than “Taxi, want a taxi?”, “hey, nice shirt (it was one of my white(ish) t shirts)” was the worst comeone line I had heard, along came one which made them look good. “You walk like an Egyptian”.
Most of them were pretty good though. While attempting to cross the street, I suddenly found myself inside a perfume shop, drinking coffee with a man who had married a Kiwi, and used to live in London, and had a shop in Auckland. It seems that this is the standard career path for an Egyptian perfume seller, as they all had a similar story. And after it became apparent that you really were not the perfume buying type, it was lucky that they had a brother/cousin/uncle who owned a papyrus shop that you just had to visit. Beam me up Scottie, I am in trouble down here.
But they were pretty friendly though. One guy was kind enough to stop me getting on a big flash new airconditioned bus, which stopped quite a way from the pyramids, to take me on a great journey including one local bus, two microbuses (like minivans, but with less doors and more people) which was cheaper, more fun, and lead directly to the pyramids. Or at least directly to his brother/cousin/uncles camel stable, where I was able to rent a camel for my trip around the pyramids. Wasn’t that nice of him?
For those of you who were wondering, yes, the pyramids do look as big in real life as in the pictures, but no the sphinx doesn’t. And for something that big, the pyramids really shouldn’t be able to jump out like they do. One minute you will be minding your own business, the next minute, there will be some big triangles in the way. And personally the navigation beacons for alien spaceships ideas sound a whole lot more reasonable than those screwy tomb theories. I mean who is going to go to all of the effort make 2.5 million big blocks of stone, then pile them up, just to be buried below a triangle? It just isn’t credible. And despite being one of the biggest cliches around, viewing said triangles from the collection of random movements on legs known as a camel sure beats walking.
But thankfully, not all of the people you meet in Egypt want to sell you things. While I was trying to decipher the Metro map, I met a nice young man who wanted to marry a western woman, and decided that I could help him. Why, he decided I could help him I am not sure. But he also decided that the best way to ensure that I helped him was to impress upon me the advantages of Egyptian men in general, and him in particular, in matters of the bed. In some detail. On the tube. Alas I wasn’t able to help him as we married my youngest sister off last month, but if any of you girls are interested, I am sure I have his email address around here somewhere.
No visit to Cairo would be complete without a taxi driver story. Mine is as follows. I grab a cab to go to the airport. I manage to beat off the person who attempts to negotiate a higher fare for the driver and claim his cut. We then set off. After a short distance he asks if I smoke, or if I mind him smoking. I reply no to both, having spent too much time around Jen to object to the latter, but not enough to say less to the former. He pulls out a cigarette, which remains unlit. This confuses me a little, but what do I care? A little while later we get onto the freeway and are driving along when he starts talking to the person in the bus beside him. I am reminded of the scene in Speed, where they are trying to warn the bus not to drop below 50. The reason for the conversation soon becomes clear. At the next intersection the taxi driver next to us, after a similar exchange (albeit one which takes place while stationary), produces a box of matches, which are then passed back and forwards allowing my driver to finally get his smoke.
Egypt did however leave me with one unanswered question, which if solved, would give great happiness to the world. Why is it that the odds of remembering that the blue colour on the tap does not mean that it is cold is inversely related to your need for a hot shower?
That, and what is it about Iberia planes which makes them the only airline I have ever flown on where they don’t let you play your discman. Not a good introduction to Spanish hospitality…