Triplogue - Egypt


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Pharoh's island on the road to Basata

Fifth hut on the left, our home for nearly two weeks (pyramid view)

17 November, Eilat to Basata, 70km (a)

"The Nile is Egypt and Egypt is the Nile" Practically everyone we met told us this, incanting it like a mantra. --That was ten years ago, during my first and only other trip to Egypt, which was really just a long weekend in and around Cairo. It seems that this ancient adage still applies however, even in an Egypt hundreds of miles from the Nile.

Only ten kilometers of nasty Israeli coastline separated our beds in Eilat from the Egyptian border. Propelled by a killer tailwind, we were there in two shakes of a camel’s tail. The exit process was precisely the same as the two that we had endured on our way to Jordan: lots of steps, lots of shekels to be dispensed, lots of suspicious, gun-toting teenage girls, lots of questions. We met two Italians coming the other way on a motorcycle. They informed us that the road ahead would be hilly but nicely-graded ("Yeah, if you’ve got 1000cc between your legs," I thought) and that the Egyptian authorities would demand a bribe, plus a lot of our time. It had cost them in excess of $400 to bring their motorcycle in, they explained. Groaning, we headed toward the massive building comprising the Egyptian customs and immigration.

While the Italians had been correct about the amount of time it would take, crossing the border didn’t cost us a dime. We entered the vast, empty hall and wandered about aimlessly for a while. The place was full of uniformed immigrations and customs inspectors, but they seemed to exist in another dimension, turning their heads away from us as we approached, and looking straight through us when we asked questions regarding the procedure. It was as if we were invisible. Only the money-changing guy seemed aware of our existence, when we started giving little kicks to the non-functioning ATM machine. "There’s another one at the Hilton," he informed us. He also pointed the way to the person in charge, a balding, rotund and self-important man who told us we couldn’t obtain a visa for Egypt here. "You mean you won’t let us across?" He shook his head and told us we could enter the Sinai without an Egyptian visa. "But I thought the Sinai was in Egypt," I said, to which he responded with a blank look. How would we get to Luxor? I wondered. "You can get a visa in Eilat," the man told us. But neither the thought of riding against the wind nor having evidence of my visit to Israel appealed to me. Besides, at the Egyptian embassy in Aqaba they told us we’d be able to get visas at the border. When I asked if we could get one further down the road in Shar’m El Sheikh, he said he wasn’t sure. Reliable information was apparently a rare commodity in this country.

Fred and I had a brief consultation on the subject and decided to push our luck. At the very worst, we could take the boat from Nuweiba to Aqaba, an absurd idea, but feasible. Or maybe this was just a sign that we weren’t meant to go all the way to Luxor, I thought aloud, having no idea that the worst massacre in the country’s history was occurring at that very moment, in precisely the place we had chosen as our destination.

There were still many formalities to take care of, but we only discovered these when we unknowingly broke the rules. The silent, laconic border guards, for instance, flew into a frenzy when we began pushing our bikes towards the exit. In irritated pantomime, they instructed us to put all of our possessions –including the bikes—through an x-ray machine. Somewhere during this process we encountered what appeared to be the only other traveler crossing into Egypt that day. A tall, skinny Brit, he was traveling on a moped, on his way to Eritrea and points east. Later, at Basata (where there are no secrets) we learned that this eccentric person was sponsored by Honda, and had already covered absurd amounts of distance on his little scooter.

Stopping to change money at the Taba Hilton --constructed by the Israelis when they controlled the Sinai and just meters from the border—we ran into him again. He assumed we were stopping to spend the night, apparently having pegged us for the princessi that we are. No, I explained, we were pushing on, through the desert and hopefully to the Nile, to "Egypt."

Downtown Taba materialized only a couple of minutes’ pedal further, and while it may not be the real Egypt, we definitely weren’t in Kansas anymore. The village consists of a ramshackle collection of cement structures organized around a central "square" filled with diseased-looking camels and randomly-strewn piles of garbage. It was already well past noon and we were hungry from all the strenuous immigration hassles, so we stopped at a gritty, fly-infested "café." While a little brown boy assiduously attended to the task of grilling our chicken, we absorbed the ambiance. I thought how different this place was than Israel, and how we’d be spending the better part of the following year in the developing world. After an interminable wait, the chicken finally appeared, and it turned out to be as delicious as it was cheap. "I could get used to this," I thought to myself as we straddled our bikes once again, heading for the open road.

Alas, one more bureaucratic hurdle remained before we could plunge into the rugged countryside. A scruffy-looking guy holding a gate said we had to pay a tax to leave Taba, forcing us to retreat to a filthy cubbyhole on the main square, where another unsavory character lurked, shaking us down for five bucks apiece.

A few pushes of the pedals put Taba behind us. Multihued faces of rock rose above us on our right side, while on the right the azure Gulf of Aqaba glistened invitingly. Parts of this pristine coastline were hideously marred by giant resorts under construction. I wondered who would ever fill these places up. Most Israelis would never consider vacationing in Sinai, and visitors from the rest of the world grow increasingly allergic to Egypt with each new terrorist attack. The whole thing smelt of a Mubarekian boondoggle.

The supposedly flat road grew quite hilly. We played leapfrog with trucks for the rest of the day. They groaned slowly past us on the way up the steep slopes, and we’d scream by them on the way back down. Predictably, our tailwind had shifted 180 degrees, so even some of the downhills required straining. And the picture-perfect day had given way to brewing storm clouds.

The first big drops started falling just as we arrived at a place to stay on the beach, called Basata. From the road it looked like a godforsaken rathole, a random assembly of reed shacks on a rocky shingle. But for tonight it would have to do, the only shelter for miles around. A German woman –whom we took for the manager—showed us around the place while rattling off a long list of do’s and dont’s. Other guests were milling about the main "building", where rain was already pouring in through the reed roof, looking miserable in the gathering darkness. Checking in at the same time as us were an odd trio of hippies: a young German girl called Verena; her Israeli admirer, Yaron; and a standoffish, head-in-the-clouds American trustafarian whom we called "jingle belt" for the string of bells she had tied around her bare midriff. We guessed correctly that they had met at the rainbow gathering up the road in Ein Yehov, and that Yaron had brought them here.

"It’s the fifth hut down the beach, if you want to look at it," our hostess explained, noting that it might be a little wet inside, but that "it never rains here, so it probably won’t last." Our other option was to pitch our tent on the beach, which I thought would be drier. Fred’s idea was to set up the tent inside the hut, making me wonder if the ride through the desert had baked his brain.

The hut itself was very simple indeed, just a bunch of reeds (obviously imported from an area of Egypt that had plants) tied loosely together and threatening to blow away in the increasingly blustery wind, a couple of mattresses without sheets, and a blanket for a door. No electricity, no running water, not even a window. I could feel Fred’s dismay and promised we’d only spend a night here, and would reward ourselves the next day with a "princess fix" at a glam resort.

For want of activity and light, we headed back to the common hut and tried valiantly to play backgammon by the light of a single candle. Other guests –primarily brooding Israelis—lounged around and whispered conspiratorially, no doubt commenting on our inappropriateness. The place had the feeling of a meditation retreat, and we felt distinctly out of place. Dinner –served family-style at a long, low table-- helped us break the ice a little. Miraculously some electric lights came on, and we warmed up to a German family through playing with their two-year-old, Phillipe. Then an Arab with dazzling green eyes and an infectious smile appeared, decked out in a jelaba and a kefiya. His name was Sherif, whom we discovered the next day to be the owner of the place. Feeling a bit like intruders in an ashram, we slunk back to our hut not long after dinner, and sat in the damp, sand-blown darkness until beset by fatigue.

17-23 November, Basata (a)

We had every intention of pushing southwards the next day. I woke before sunrise and headed to the kitchen area for a do-it-yourself breakfast, competing with legions of flies. A couple of fresh-faced Americans were there with a much older chaperone. They said they were part of a program called "semester at sea", that their ship was docked in Port Said, and that they’d arrived in the middle of the night. Steve, with a long white beard, was their geography professor, and it was from him that we learned of the previous day’s events at Luxor. "But that’s where we’re headed," I told him. "You might want to reconsider," came his grave reply. Coupled with my persistent sinus troubles (no doubt acquired in dusty Petra), this news caused me to reconsider: maybe we should stay an extra day or two. It certainly was refreshing to have some other Americans around to talk to, and to break up the somber Teutonic atmosphere of the place. When Fred showed up, I instructed him that we were staying an extra day, which didn’t seem to bother him at all.

It turned out to be a fantastic day, too. The snorkeling was superb; we yoga’d on the beach with a couple of the young boat people (including the tall and charming Andy, for whom Fred fell like a stone in water); I dozed on our hut’s verandah, and soon it was time for dinner. The staff had seen fit to stick all of the Americans together, and our loud talk drowned out even the Israelis. I couldn’t remember the last time we’d been able to speak pure and unfettered American, and their exuberance, their irreverence and lack of pretense was like finding water in the desert –I couldn’t get enough of it. They told us of their previous adventures in places like China and India, as well as the vicissitudes of life at sea with a few hundred hormonally-charged students.

Two days later, the Americans all had to be back on board their ship, yet we remained at Basata. The place had grown on us, and the unaccustomed rest felt heavenly. Each passing day melted serenely into the next. We’d contemplate leaving every morning, then push our departure off until the afternoon, or the next day, or perhaps the day after that.

A big part of what made us want to stay at Basata was the people we met there. Yaron, whom we steered clear of at first, fearing him overtalkative, revealed himself to be a charming and erudite fellow. He spoke a half dozen languages perfectly, and maintained a consistently positive attitude towards everything. Verena turned out to be pretty tolerable, too, in love with San Francisco and things American, while Jinglebelt remained curiously aloof, perhaps wanting to avoid her compatriots. After the American group left, we finally made inroads with the mysterious homo Egyptian couple, Yusef and Mahmoud. Yusef was from a wealthy Cairo family, yet even his fellow countrymen assume he’s an outsider for his pink skin and yellow hair. Not quite albino, Yusef bears an astonishing resemblance to Harpo Marx, though he’s far more articulate and cultivated. He has been involved with Mahmoud for over two years, but the two have yet to consummate their love for one another. Yusef says he doesn’t want to press his handsome Nubian beloved into anything he didn’t want to do. The whole arrangement reminded me of "Ballad of the Sad Café."

When Yusef and Mahmoud invited us to join them on an excursion to Nuweiba to buy duty-free booze and swim with a tame dolphin, we agreed instantly. Not only would we get to see Nuweiba’s dubious (and much-discussed at Basata) tourist attraction, we’d also hopefully get a better glimpse into the weird workings of our Egyptian friends’ relationship. Besides, it was Fred’s birthday, and maybe the duty-free shop would have champagne. After several delays, we all piled into Yusef’s bright yellow car (to match his hair?) and headed southward. Mahmoud was at the wheel, swerving randomly from one lane to the other, at varying speeds. Fred and I kept looking at each other, silently praying that Yusef would drive on the way back. Up to that point, it was the longest and tensest 23 kilometers I’d ever experienced in a car.

The duty-free shop was an ordeal, overseen by several fat bureaucrats who had a scam going wherein they only let you buy three of the alotted four bottles per person, so they could sneak the last one out and sell it on the black market. Our passports were perused –and even stamped—several times, and it took forever to calculate the bill. Yusef, indecisive on the bottles he wanted us to get for him, only complicated matters –his modus operendi, it quickly became clear. In the end, what ought to have taken five minutes used up the better part of an hour, but everyone walked away satisfied.

Not so at the dolphin beach, where Fred said he’d rather watch from land while we went swimming, at two bucks a head. The Bedouin selling tickets insisted that Fred pay as well, which sent Yusef into a frenzy. "Would you have this man pay to look at the sun, the sky, things made by God?" he asked, spitting lots more high-volume hyperbole in Arabic, and nearly coming to blows with the flustered ticket-seller. As the famous dolphin rolled languidly in the surf, Yusef drove us away in a huff, the rest of us laughing at the overly dramatic episode.

Yes, Yusef was behind the wheel now, causing me to revise my opinion of Mahmoud as the worst driver in Egypt. Yusef is quite simply the worst driver in the world. The road that led us to lunch was only a couple of kilometers long, but it took forever and was as much a white-knuckled ride as anything at Disneyland. He drove along at walking speed, sometimes slower, carrying on a conversation with us with us in the back seat, looking straight at us. We kept having to tell him to steer left or right in order to avoid careening into a ditch, another car, or a camel.

Lunch was another interminable affair, full of confusion and torpor on the service side. We drank some of the warm beers purchased duty-free, watched an adorable little boy play with a knife and then climb aboard a camel dozens of times his size, and waited for our food to appear. Afterwards, we made a shopping stop in a gritty tourist strip, where Mahmoud bought something or other while Yusef flirted shamelessly with a young Bedouin selling tacky souvenirs.

"Now let’s go find some marijuana," announced Yusef, saying that he knew a Bedouin at a beach hotel who might have some. He drove through the parking lot and onto the beach to get to the place, causing some commotion among the staff. Fred wisely chose this moment to go for a walk on the beach while Mahmoud and I stood sheepishly beside Yusef, ranting on in Arabic. Again, we piled into the car, and, miraculously, our driver and host found his way to the road. His driving technique remained unchanged, and here on the highway passing trucks would lay on their horns in protest; but Yusef remained oblivious. At one point he was looking at the cliffs to our left, indicating them with both hands to Mahmoud and then stopping the car in the absolute center of the road. Fred looked at me, panic-stricken, and said, "IDWD," meaning "I don’t wanna die." Moving again, he swerved without warning to the left, stopping in front of a concrete bunker-like structure advertising "Camel Turst." Thinking it the ideal place to purchase some weed, he entered and asked around while the rest of us stayed near the car. Sure enough, a Bedouin guy popped out of the desert and provided Yusef with what he wanted. With about a thirty minute wait, it was by far the quickest transaction of the day.

By some miracle we made it back to Basata in one piece. It was already getting dark. After hurriedly thanking our hosts, we hightailed it back to our shack for a little respite before dinner. Of course we’d have to stay another day now, if only to recover from the drive back from Nuweiba.

Fred’s birthday was a success. We shared our two bottles of champagne with everyone at dinner, and the cook had baked a huge, delicious cake. Yusef provided further party treats, which were enjoyed while sitting in a beached boat, looking up at the stars and listening to Mahmoud’s fluid voice singing Nubian love songs.

We met plenty of other people, too. Like the divorced and forty-ish Lindsay from England, there for six months on a sort of spiritual quest. Marianne was Danish and also divorced, after many years living in California with her American husband. Rounding out the trio of single ladies was a tall German woman with remarkable poise, visiting from Lucknow, India, where she has lived for many years on an ashram. Another German, York, was there with his hilarious Japanese fiancee, Kao-li. They met in Berkeley but were now living in Cairo, where York was studying Egyptian politics. We never did figure out the story of Dr. Ethan and his close friend, two older Israeli men who both had wives back in Tel Aviv, yet remained curiously intimate with each other. Then there were the French: adorable Alain was actually half-Egyptian, living in Cairo, disappointing Fred terribly when he began expressing an interest in the two German girls who manage Basata, Katherine and Caroline. Dodic and Daniele were a pair of older women from St. Malo, and had arrived directly from Luxor, where they had visited the "temple of blood" the day after the massacre. "It was great," spouted Daniele, "we had the whole place to ourselves. You should go too, you silly scared American. I mean, we’ve all gotta die someday." I told her that I’d prefer my death to be something other than being splattered over ancient columns and cut open like a fish, but she had planted a seed in my brain. Why couldn’t we continue on to Luxor? Our family would kill us of course, but they didn’t have to know.

Just when things had achieved a sort of stasis at Basata, falling comfortably into a slow, languid routine, Borg Hornemann showed up, right in the middle of dinner. Everyone was sitting crosslegged at the their respective tables, carrying on hushed conversations, when a man looking amazingly like Santa Claus (only wearing far fewer clothes) strode in and announced in his booming Danish voice: "Hello, everyone, I am Hornyman." The guy was out of control, a font of useless information that he wasn’t shy to share with you. But you couldn’t help but admire his enthusiasm towards practically everything and everyone. You came across him everywhere –on the way to the shower, out snorkeling on the reef, up on the hill people climbed to watch the sunset— and once you engaged in conversation (more like a monologue, actually), he had you trapped there for at least forty-five minutes.

It was tempting to stay on at Basata, but our bikes were beginning to look lonely all by themselves. After six nights in this magical place, we decided definitively to hit the road south, to Dahab, famous for hippies, diving and dope.

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Welcome to the Yusef School of Driving

Mahmoud taking a break from a tough day's drive

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Lindsay, Marianne and their mounts

Mikko says "Kiitos"

23 November 1997, Basata to Dahab, 100km (f)

Leaving Basata was as appealing to me as getting out of a sauna to roll around in the snow or crawling out from beneath the covers on a cold rainy day. It put everyone off their guard to see us carry our last bags over to our bikes in preparation for departure. Caroline and Catherine who managed Basata’s guest relations nearly lost consciousness when we asked for a final accounting of what we owed. They’d become accustomed to us beginning each day by asking sheepishly if we could rest another day at Basata. Today we were determined to continue our journey. It was a nearly tearful goodbye for us; we’d bonded so with our hosts and the other guests.

Our departure was an especially difficult for Andy, who began his day by changing yet another tire. We finally pedaled onto the highway sometime after ten and were soon riding the two lane blacktop south to Dahab. Within few kilometers down the Sinai’s coastal road --sandwiched between the crystal blue Red Sea and craggy exfoliated peaks-- we heard the horn of a Peugeot 505. The 505 is the preferred vehicle for service taxis that shuttle folks from place to place in the Sinai and operate like group shuttle services. One of our paranoid Israeli friends from Basata told us that they were all stolen from Israel, which made me wonder why I hadn’t seen a single one north of the border.

From within the passing cab Marianne and Lindsay (the Dane and Brit we spoke of in the last section) waved frenetically at us from inside the taxi on their way to embark upon their overnight camel trek. Later we learned that their taxi driver had taken an immediate liking to Marianne. He’d popped Frank Sinatra into the tape deck to get her in the mood and began to fondle her knee just as soon as they entered the cab. We stopped to wish them a camelside bon voyage and witnessed Lindsay bonding with her mount as their Bedouin guides prepared for departure. Her camel moaned and bared its teeth each time it was burdened with a new package or parcel. We’d decided that a group photo was in order and were surprised when Marianne’s friend the taxi driver grabbed her and mugged for the camera instead of reaching for the camera to snap a shot for us.

Even with the stop it seemed like we reached Nuweiba faster by bike than by car with Yusef and Mahmoud a few days before. We zipped through the dirty sprawling port town without hesitation. Just as we were riding out of Nuweiba a grinning Northern European on Motor cycle zoomed up beside me. I looked at his motorized transport with disdain at first, but his smile won me over and we began to chatter with me about our respective trips. Mikko from Finland was on his way to Cairo and then further south into Africa. We stopped and took photos of one another before parting. Mikko validated my perception that the Finnish are among the kindest and coolest folks we’d met on our trip.

Mikko was, however, not good enough to offer to tow us up one of the most vicious hills of our trip. Before us lay an 8% grade over 17 kilometers. At the base of the hill a slow moving truck struggled to pass me. Just as I saw its taillights I thought to sprint up to it and get a tow up the hill but I glanced back and saw Andy pumping behind me and let it pass. Just after the truck’s plume of smoke faded, Yusef and Mahmoud rode up next to us, honked, waved and parked their car in the shoulder on the incline. They’d decided to wish us farewell once more. Mahmoud and Yusef jumped from their little yellow Fiat and walked back down the road towards us. At first I laughed and then scrambled for safety as I watched the little car roll down the hill in our direction. Mahmoud sprinted to the car and pulled the hand break just before it gained terminal velocity. We laughed together about our adventures and they were off to Cairo.

A river of sweat poured off of me and I began to miss the comfort and convenience of Basata. My stomach churned for one of their lunch time fresh-baked vegetarian pizzas. Bob’s Bedouin village popped into my line of vision as my stomach’s growling began to drown out all other thought. At Bob’s we snarfed a nutritious meal of soft drinks, cold water, potato chips and cookies. All the while yet another Middle Eastern kitty found a friend in Andy. This one had a taste for Andy’s curry-chicken chips and ate more of them than we did. Refreshed and sated we were ready to venture onward. Bob counseled us on the terrain that lay ahead telling us that it was basically downhill all the way to Dahab from his perch at the top of the steep Wadi that led to the sea.

The remainder of the day was spent in a wide inland valley with abrupt walls formed by more decomposing granite. Marred only by the huge power poles that were being installed to supply electricity to the ugly resorts we’d seen riding to Basata, the barren and largely pristine path was glorious -- no traffic, well paved, downhill, bright blue sky overhead. The only sound we heard for the next 40k was the wind through our hair and our tires whirring beneath the bikes.

We arrived at the checkpoint outside of Dahab to find that this one was far better staffed than those a few days before near Basata. This left me wondering if the events at Luxor were making the Egyptians more security conscious. This time the soldiers actually stopped us and looked at our passports while their gun’s bayonets gleamed in the afternoon sun. We were waved on and began the final descent into town. Only now our "glorious" downhill was now difficult to pedal for the huge headwind that met us.

The closer we got to Dahab the less appealing it looked. Its setting by the Red Sea is pretty enough, but the rampant construction of downmarket tourist traps made it all the less interesting. The first hotel we stopped at didn’t help to make our impression of Dahab a positive one. Andy looked at a room, had been quoted a price and started the patented BikeBrats’ bargaining regime. "Have a cyclists discount?" he asked. The retort was swift and merciless: the clerk raised the price a few dollars. We left wandering into the Inmo Diving Center. We were quoted a fair price, shown a comfortable room and treated with respect and kindness by our hostess Ingrid.

A few moments after checking in, Mohammed --Ingrid’s husband-- greeted us warmly and offered to do anything he could to help us. It seems that Sharif from Basata had been there the night before and told them all about us. Mohammed helped us log-on to AOL to get our mail, invited us to dinner and made us feel at home. INgrid and MOhammed (get it? INMO diving center…) run a first-class diving resort.

The town of Dahab itself is not exactly my tasse du thé. Restaurant after restaurant next to bar after bar line the waterfront walk where touts try to entice you into their establishments making a relaxing stroll along the coast less than. The one thing that all of these little places had going for them is that everyone had a backgammon board. We whiled away the night playing backgammon and drinking beer at a nearly empty place near our hotel. The funny thing about the tavern was that each time we’d order a round, -a delivery boy would arrive from the market next door with two beers to replenish their stock. Sort of a just in time warehousing of beverages.

The next day we worked on our website, trying to finally finish Israel before going on to lower Egypt. We still didn’t have a plan for how to get to the Nile and were facing increasing pressure from our friends and family not to go down to Luxor. We finally gave up the idea completely when inquiries about flights from Sh’arm el Sheik to Luxor revealed that all had been cancelled. We were both disappointed but decided to push on down to Sh’arm el Sheik anyway and then make our way back to Israel for the trip home.

25 November, Dahab to Point Zero, 46 km (f)

The next day we loaded up Siegfried and Roy and cranked our way up to the checkpoint to head south. From the start Andy was less than energetic. His cold had taken a toll on him and he was not well rested. About 15 kilometers past the checkpoint we rounded a bend and met a sturdy head wind blowing constantly from the direction we were headed. Andy lagged behind and was clearly not up to going any further. He wanted to end our journey and made me promise not to blame him for turning around. I have to admit that I was a little relieved that he had given up. The idea of another 80 kilometers in the heat, against the wind only to arrive in an Egyptian version of Eilat hadn’t really seemed very appealing.

We parked the bikes in the middle of the empty road and shot our last BikeBrats cover photo for the year. Then we mounted and turned on our heals for the checkpoint. Within a few minutes of arriving we’d found a service cab, loaded the bikes on top and were motoring at a furious pace back to, where else but, Basata.

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End of the line

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Hornemann sparks up

Adam taking a break from artistic endeavors

Basata revisited (f)

The folks at Basata were less surprised to see us than we were to see Mohammed and Ingrid at Basata. They’d decided that they needed a break from Inmo and that Basata was the place. They told us of the turmoil the massacre had caused, and how their conservative German clientele had canceled reservation after reservation. Mohammed was considering aloud what other business he could go into if he couldn’t make ends meet at the resort. He was fearful for the future of his 65 employees and their families. It looked as though the terrorists in Luxor were having their way with the Egyptians.

Sharif, on the other end of the spectrum, was expecting a banner weekend. The American University of Cairo was celebrating Thanksgiving and was planning their annual Basata invasion. Luckily for us we’d made a good impression on the fair folks there and they found the most luxurious hut on the property for us. Save Lindsay and Hornyman, all of our favorite guests had gone, and even they were ready to part company. The languid Egyptian youth, though something else to look at, were nowhere near as interesting as our other friends at Basata. Hornyman, not willing to go unnoticed went out with a bang. He paid a visit to the common area wearing only "butt floss" (a g-string) at the same time the Egyptian television station arrived to detail the problems the tourist industry was encountering post massacre. Imagine the fundamentalists’ dismay upon seeing Santa’s full moon on national TV?!

Thanksgiving was to be upon us within a few days and we’d heard legend of some Americans coming to Basata from Cairo to celebrate. Connie Johnson was on her way and bringing a pack of friends and family. Andy and I were secretly planning an assault on their T-day gathering. Within a few hours of our arrival we’d secured an invitation to their table and to share in their home made pecan pie for dessert. It took only a few sentences to find out that they were rabid Catholics; fortunately we didn’t put our feet in our mouths. They had been to all of our pilgrimage points (save Notre Dame des Cyclistes) to commune with the Virgin as opposed to doubting her existence as we had.

There was one truly tragic moment during our return to Basata. Our favorite two-year-old’s mother and father were expecting a little brother or sister for Philippe. They were so happy to have a second and seemed to celebrate the upcoming event each day. There was a hushed atmosphere the day after thanksgiving, the family rushed off to Cairo cutting their vacation a few days short because the mother suffered a miscarriage. Everyone at Basata mourned for her loss. Another pair of unhappy campers turned up on our last night there. Phillipe and Kiki, from Brussels, appeared at our dinner table looking a bit shell-shocked. They had come up from Luxor and had been at the temple during the massacre. Fortunately for them, they had gotten an early start and were in the upper reaches of the site when the shooting began, en route to the Valley of Kings. From their hiding place behind a rock, they heard the shots and screams that lasted over an hour. To add insult to injury, their charter flight back to Europe was cancelled (since no flights were coming in), forcing them to find another way back home. My guess is that they’ll be taking their next vacation in Switzerland, or maybe Luxembourg.

Our last day at Basata was a fine one, snorkeling in the coral reefs with Lindsay, munching one last lunchtime pizza and relaxing at night playing backgammon and drinking scotch. We’d slipped into the easy pattern again and the momentum to leave was not there. Somehow we overcame the gravity that pulls you into a most relaxed state and headed by service taxi to the border.

Heading stateside (f)

Once back in Eilat we paused amongst the Russian tourists only long enough to grab a bus ticket and lunch. We made it to Tel Aviv that night in the company of two fellow Basata guests. They were darling girls, really charming, but clearly had an agenda to get us to their house and hog-tie us. We had to graciously refuse their hospitality and arrange to get the heck out of the mid east. We both were bitten with a fever to get home. Arriving in Tel Aviv, we ran into our stinky but cute friend Matthieu (from Petra) on his way home for a shower after work washing dishes. The next day we rendezvoused with the Rotbards again for a scrumptious Indian dinner, where young Adam practically passed out in his chicken tikka. It was a school night and way past his bedtime.

A number of options lay before us. One – we could take the Nissos Kypros back to Athens and fly on our existing reservation. Two - fly directly from Tel Aviv to New York. Three - fly to Athens. We decided on the last because it would be the simplest logistic and the cheapest option. The one thing neither of us will ever forget is our interrogation at the Tel Aviv Airport. The agents separated us and quizzed us about every detail of our journey. Finally we proved everything by giving them a tour of the website and they waved scanning our bags in the xray machine. Within 36 hours of arriving in Tel Aviv, we were on our flight and headed back to the States.

At the airport in Athens neither of us was very surprised to find that the Greeks wouldn’t be able to get our baggage onto our Delta flight in time. When we arrived in NYC we turned this misfortune to our advantage. We had Delta deliver the bikes and our bulky bags directly to Phoenix where we planned to stage the next segments of our journey.

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