Hawkes Bay NZ Water trail

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Hot as blazes and an archetypal experience as an independent traveler

We'd left Luxor at 6:45am and taken nearly 3 tiresome hours to reach Abydos, not the 1.5 hours optimistically volunteered by our guesthouse's manager. The road was bumpy and narrow with many obstructions: potholes, intersections by narrow gauge rails for sugarcane trains, donkey carts hauling enormous horizontal mounds of reeds, sanity-defying tuk tuk drivers, random traffic control barricades, dusty police checkpoints staffed by bored uniformed men holding rifles. Hassan, our designated driver, did the best he could, which we expected as we'd paid €45, or E£890 for the day's transport, easily twice as much as we might have done with a non-guesthouse-organized taxi. Still, as my guidebook wrote: "Because of the bargaining and hassle involved, some people find independent travel challenging at times..."
No s**t.
Local travel in 3rd world countries is an acquired taste, one that's definitely a bit difficult in Luxor. I suspect that our trip took an hour longer than needed because at police checkpoints Hassan insisted on telling every god-dammed passel of cops that he was taking 2 American women to Abydos. I don't need much command of Arabic to hear that loud and clear. Finally, after we told him we had to find a rest stop, (an ambulance station with 3rd world plumbing but you can't be choosy here), we did try to tell him to knock it off, showing him my Australian passport to underline the point. But we couldn't put that particular genie back in the bottle. I suspect that news of our approach spread via cell phone up the road all the way to Abydos, so he couldn't really correct the error.
Now, this is the crux of the issue about coming to an Islamic country during a time of widespread ignorance and political grandstanding. Barely a month ago, I was naively amused by reports of President Trump's rudeness to the Australian prime minister. The US media were delighted to ridicule this undiplomatic outburst against one of the US's staunchest allies. I know from experience that Australians can give it right back to boneheads, no matter how high and mighty they think they are. As far as I know, Australia doesn't receive US government aid for anything, and in general, Americans and Australians like each other a lot. However, for this trip, given the instability both at home and here, and the specious bans on travelers from 7, then 6 predominantly Muslim countries into the US, we'd agreed to travel with our alternate nationalities: British and Aussie, as well as stay out of obviously American-branded hotels, like Hilton or Sheraton.
This is our "abundance of caution" approach to adventure independent travel. It's what I do when I travel solo. It's wise not to deliberately draw attention to yourself in a place where some crazy f**k might suddenly decide to let it rip. It's not foolproof but every little helps. Still, let's face it, s**t can happen anyway. However,
I didn't count on Hassan's braggadocio. Now, he can't help it, being an Egyptian guy in a macho country, a place where local women must get permission from male relatives in order to travel. We represent sorely needed income in a very poor country. Definitely a WTF moment for this single older woman and a younger woman very happily married to a nice, educated western man. Fortunately, all it meant was that we were handed off from town to town for an unnecessary police escort by a van of young googly-eyed cops all trying to look into the back of the taxi to check out the pair of exotic moneybags riding inside. What they saw was a colorful headscarfed woman in a floppy straw hat wearing sunglasses, and a Chinese woman in a hospital issue face mask, also wearing a super large sunhat, one she usually reserves for hiking in Arizona.
From inside the taxi I got to see vignettes of rural life. I saw lots of men herding goats, cooking pita bread in clay ovens, cutting sugar cane with machetes, men selling pumpkins and loofah gourds, or clay oven proof cookware, called tagens, on the street. The best two were the young boy practicing gymnast moves on his saddled donkey, and the donkey-riding, turban-wearing guy carrying a petrol can into a gas station and pulling up to the pump.
Fill 'er up.

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