Thursday, May 28, 2009

Egypt 1

The first site we stopped at on the trip to Egypt (we were still in the state of Israel at the time) was an overlook/park/memorial for David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel. It is a lush little park overlooking the Judean wilderness in the area that the camp of the ancient Israelites probably stayed for 38 of their 40 years of wandering. It was desolate, utterly devoid of water, with few plants and lots of rocks. It was beautiful, in its own way, and I am thinking of putting up pictures against the rules of the center, because this diaogue really could use some multimedia and everyone else is putting up pictures on their blogs. Hrm.

Anyways, it was beautiful and not as important or interesting as some of our other stops. The second one was a stop at the ruins of a fortress that was built in the third century BC on an important trade route. I do not recall the civilization that built it (and consequently got that question wrong on my quiz today), but the Romans took it over when they got into power and then it became Byzantine when the Roman Empire split. It remained Byzantine and an important waystation for travelers because of the aridity of the climate and complete lack of water. The ruins were massive, because each new group built onto the existing structures and built their own to complement them. The most impressive were two large churches built by Byzantine Christians-- they were large and had much still standing from about 1700-2000 years ago. We were still in Israel at this point.

The border crossing going into Egypt was not difficult at all. About 90ish people in our group (79 students and a dozen or so adults) got through together in about an hour, maybe a little more, without mishap or standing in too many lines. Both sides were kind and willing, and US airport security is probably a little bit tighter than what we had to go through to get into Egypt. Once accross, Egyptian security for tourists is intense. Much of their economy relies on tourism, and when there was a terrorist act against a fairly random bus many years ago, GDP was affected in a huge way as people stopped coming to Egypt for a time. So now, the buses travel in caravans for long trips, guarded by a dozen men in trucks ahead and behind, each man with an AK-47. On the bus, there was a handsome gentleman in the front with a larg submachine gun at his hip, poking out under his suit coat. This is standard for all tour busses in Egypt. Ironically, travel in Egypt is very safe compared to travel in many places around the world, and places like Los Angeles have many, many times the homicide rate as Egypt does for tourists, even without security. There are two professional drivers on each bus, and how professinal they were. Driving is . . . crazy in Egypt. There are no stop lights and many busy intersections, and bus drivers treat their vehicles like taxis, pushing into traffic and flooring it and driving against traffic on the freeway (no kidding, I have video footage of us doing it) and doing whatever else they need to do to get people where they want to go on time. Everyone was incredibly nice to us. Touching of women was rarer then we expected and not at all as bad as it could have been (unwanted shoulder contact is better than contact elsewhere), but that could have been because we were diligent and very very loud when it did happen. A small part of me wants to have an excuse to punch someone in the face for something like that, but I am very glad I did not have need to resort to such drastic measures.

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