(The last and final installment of the Egypt Trilogy…as can be deduced from the “Part III.” But that’s not the point.)
As we rowed towards shore, the guy rowing next to me started to get, shall we say, a little too touchy-feely. Moving my foot away after accidentally brushing his foot with mine, he said, “No, it’s okay, no big deal.” Unsure how to react, I just said “Ok, thanks,” and continued rowing. A second later, I felt him put his foot on top of mine; when I gave him an “um, excuse me, but what the hell are you doing?” look, he just smiled toothlessly and said “See, no big deal!” Claiming that my toes were getting squashed, I moved my foot out from under his, only to feel him wrap his arm around my waist and pull me closer to him. “You’re warm, I’m cold,” he said.
Claiming that this time I needed room for my elbows while I rowed, I scooted away from him and tried to discreetly examine the blisters forming on my fingers from only 10 minutes of rowing. Of course, he saw this. As he grabbed my hand and planted wet, slobbery kisses on both my fingers, I briefly considered throwing myself into the Nile and swimming back to shore. However, I thought better of it when I remembered the intestine-shredding parasites that live in Nile water. I shuddered, said I was tired of rowing, and sat back down with Audra.
Finally we reached the shore, and we beelined for the hostel. We couldn’t get out of Luxor fast enough, and were practically chewing off our arms in anticipation of our train out of town. We ate dinner on the roof, and in the middle of feeding my hummus addiction, I started showing signs of heat exhaustion (nausea, fatigue, sweating). I started chugging bottled water (the only kind you can drink in Egypt), but the stomachache wasn’t going away. And that was when I realized: dysentary. Suddenly the travel warnings, friends’ stories, and the phrase “if you go to Egypt, you will get sick,” oft-repeated in this part of the world, hit me like a truck. Oh no, I thought, please don’t let it really hit me until I’m back in Israel.
About an hour later, we set out for the train station. Having been unable to buy tickets for normal tourist class seats (they miraculously “sold out” when we got to the ticket window), we’d purchased tickets for the second-class train to Cairo. We boarded the train at midnight, and having drank so much water, my first stop was the bathroom.
The problem was, you needed a HAZMAT suit to go in.
A hole in the ground would’ve been better, because at least then I wouldn’t have had to worry about staying at least 5 inches from a toilet seat covered in feces. Or from a wall that was also covered in feces. Or had to watch as a roach as big as my thumb crawled across the wall while I gripped a handlebar for balance. I was horrified, but I’d consumed a liter of water in the last 2 hours. I had no choice.
As soon as I was back at my seat, I started to really stress about the dysentary. I broke out the Immodium, and started popping pills like mad in an effort to pre-empt the misery that I knew was inevitable. I just have to hold it off until I cross the border, I thought to myself.
We arrived in Cairo at 9:30 the next morning, and set out trying to find the bus station that operated rides to the Tabaa crossing. We went on a bit of a wild goose chase, and wound up finding the right station at 10:15. “Sorry, the bus left at 10. The next one is at 10 tonight,” said the ticket agent. Looking at each other in horror, we eventually decided to go back to the hostel we’d stayed at earlier in the week. We’d loved the hostel itself, the staff was fabulous, and we’d be able to take showers: a very popular idea. They wound up letting us stay there all day, charged us half-rate to rent a room for 12 hours (also a popular idea), and after showers, naps and lunch, we took one last stroll around Cairo.
We wound up in Khan-al-Khalili, Cairo’s main bazaar/shopping district, and were able to do some excellent shopping. At dusk, we ate dinner on an outdoor terrace in between two massive mosques, and listened to the evening call to prayer as the two muezzins competed for who could deliver the most elaborate “Allahu akbar.” It was a perfect ending to our Cairo experience, and it’s something I’ll never forget.
Later on, we boarded the bus for Tabaa. More compact and with far less leg room than the train, I knew I was going to be a hurtin’ cowgirl when I got to the border. Sure enough, we got on the road around 11, and just as I started to doze off, my right leg started cramping. Muttering words that I shouldn’t repeat here, I tried to contort myself enough to be able to stretch my leg out without kicking other passengers. I had to do this a lot, and wound up nailing the poor guy across the aisle from me more than once. My leg cramps finally stopped, and I was able to go to sleep (despite the fact that they were playing what can only be described as an Egyptian kung-foo movie featuring a very large Pharonic-looking man who does nothing but scream and beat people up, at full volume, for two hours).
An hour later, the bus nearly rolled over. I don’t know how this came about, but one second we were chugging along, and the next, the bus was in a full spin and lurching to the side. We were very much in the middle of nowhere, and it was pitch black outside. Hmmm, I thought, this’ll be a good one: the headline will read “three American women, ages 24, 25, and 26, disappear in Sinai when bus falls off cliff.” Thank God I registered with the U.S. Embassy. But then I realized that the mountainous part of the Sinai wasn’t until we got near the border, and that it was probably still flat outside.
I finally fell asleep again an hour later (after the other leg cramped), only to be awoken by a snarky checkpoint officer poking me in the shoulder with his walkie-talkie antenna.
“Mforr,” he said.
“Pardon me?” I said, perplexed and groggy.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Can you please speak more slowly?”
At this point I was slightly more awake, but still had no idea what was going on. Thankfully, the guy who’d endured my accidental leg-stretching kicks throughout the night bailed me out. “He needs to see your passport,” he said.
“Ah, okay!” I said, thankful to have avoided a run-in with the Egyptian authorities.
We arrived at the border at 5 a.m., and I’ve never been so thrilled to see the Israeli flag.
“Ani aohevet et haaretz hazeh,” I said to myself in Hebrew when we walked through the Israeli checkpoint.
“You love this country, huh?” Said the borderguard who overheard me. “Well then, welcome back to Israel.”