MOTORCYCLES ET AL

Motorcycles! Ah, yes, motorcycles! If I can call Amsterdam the city of bicycles, Luxor must be the city of motorcycles. They are used for everything; they swarm the roadways with their myriad of colors and noises, some belching smoke, others merely making a racket. Almost all of the them are cheaply made machines from China, and have so many different names on the tanks that I can’t remember any real trends in popularity. I’ve yet to see a Harley, and have only spied one Yamaha, two Kawasakis, and one Honda Shadow (that doesn’t count, it was in Cairo). Most of them are about 125cc.

Before I go on, just a note about cliché’s. Think about how they got to be cliché’s, it’s because they were highly adequate to their task of communicating effectively some perspective, concept, or description. I am not ashamed to use them, nor do I spend time thinking I can significantly improve upon them. And so, with that having been said, I continue—-Many of the drivers travel at breakneck speed through areas crowded with pedestrians, donkey carts, horse carriages, and automobiles and trucks. Most of them seem as though there is a new slalom event at the Olympics, involving bikes, and they’re practicing! I’ve learned to adopt an “outside observer” stance from the back seat of whichever vehicle I’m in, and only cringe slightly when it appears that we are going to hit something solid.

You are familiar with the ladies wearing the black burkha, the head-to-toe robe ubiquitously seen throughout every Middle Eastern town. When they ride as passengers on the motorcycles, they sit sidesaddle so their garment doesn’t get caught in the rear wheel. And they must have great balance for some of their rides; I saw one yesterday that had a small child in front, the driver, another toddler, and then burkhad mom clutching an infant—five folks on a small bike! And of course, no helmets.  I wasn’t quick enough to get a picture, it would have been a real keepsake.

Another extreme example was seen in Cairo, in the midst of a major traffic battle at a popular intersection where people were playing the game, “Every man for himself”. The driver was alone, but operating the bike with his right hand while talking on a cell phone held with his left ear and shoulder, and an ice cream cone in his left hand.  And he was successful! It brought a memory of one of my failures, that of trying to eat a Maverik chili dog while shifting a five speed manual transmission in my 300ZX. A poor choice.

Not to ignore other forms of transportation. Lots of donkey-drawn carts, transporting Allah knows what here and there, often piled 10 feet high with something, and maybe a person riding on top. The best of those was a double team, on one side a full-sized horse, and its partner in the harness was a donkey. Again, I had left my camera on the boat, but had I been able to capture that scene, it would have been titled “1 ½ horsepower”. Extensive fields of clover between the banana and sugar cane farms are used to feed the animals; the area around Luxor, as well as in Aswan, has lots of agricultural goods from Mother Nile. Most of the animals look healthy, as the owner’s income is directly affected if the animal is ill, but I did see some donkeys that didn’t look long for this world.

Last evening, my guide and I took a carriage ride all the way through and around Luxor, seeing the contrasting areas of poor to upper middle class. In almost every area, small children would yell “Hello”, with big smiles; even the adults in the less fortunate sections smiled and wave at us. More ruins of more temples are here and there, lots of small sphinxes lined up for about a kilometer or so, near the Luxor Temple on the direct route between Karnak and Luxor. These had the head of a king, the other options have the head of a ram (probably a Tar Heel) or a falcon.

Our evening out ended when the driver went off for a while to pray, while we visited Fast Ali at his carpet and curio shop, so he could prey. Yes, I succumbed, and bought a small wall hanging, even more tightly handwoven than the one I bought last year in Istanbul,  for one fifth of the price! The shop itself was a replica of my father’s flea market booths, stuff piled high and mixed, in close quarters. The whole upper floor was filled with various textiles, especially finely-made silk rugs made in Egypt. Fast Ali (I don’t know his real name but many of you would recognize our beloved Eddo in his mannerisms) spoke English well and enthusiastically, and our negotiations were finally settled after I had left the shop, leaving behind my best offer. My guide acted as a go-between for the final agreement.

A problem ensued when we stopped at an ATM on the way back to the boat, I needed cash for gratuities and to pay a small beverage bill. After inserting my card, in the same machine I had use the day before, I heard the usual whirring and clicking, a screen appeared instruction me to take my cash and card. Instead, the receipt slot belched a receipt that wasn’t for my transaction, and the card and cash remained inside. My guide called the night number and explained the problem; we were to come to the bank in the a.m. when it opened. Subsequently, that’s what we did, but had to return later after the mechanic guy came to retrieve my card. I checked my account online, and noted that the money had been removed from the account. The final arrangement was that they did retrieve the card, but will credit my account at Meridian Trust if their daily accounting shows they have 700 Egyptian pounds too much (that’s about $100). So I’m waiting to be picked up in an hour or so to go to the Luxor airport for my flight to Cairo, and tomorrow afternoon to London.

One further note: everyone, educated or not, rich or poor, is excited about the upcoming election in three days. Emotions run very high, with strong suspicions that the Muslim Brotherhood candidate does not intend to support anything but an Islamic government. Opponents opine, probably correctly, that such a government would kill the tourism industry, Egypt’s main source of revenue. My guide is rooting for Shafek, a former Minister under Mubarek and one of the three favorites. He has supported a secular government concept, when the new Constitution is drafted, and has strong support in the Military and Police as a former general. I hope whatever violence occurs next week is kept to minimum, if it has to occur at all.

Always Be Happy                                                                                                                                            To Our Youth Everyday!

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