Follow That Shawl!


This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, June 09, 2004 was originally posted on June 14, 2004.

DAY 235:  Like the mummies of ancient Egypt, seven backpackers lay in polyester and nylon sarcophagi until the sun god Ra woke them up.  No, it wasn’t the afterlife; it was breakfast time.

The seven of us thought we’d be sailing soon afterwards en route to the town of Edfu, but our felucca wasn’t going any farther.  We were to go to Edfu overland, by the private minivan taxi that the friendly Nubian Captain Mohammed called in for us.  Next to our minivan was another — one to transport our opposing team, Team Shawl, the snobby English and Australian thirty-somethings from the other felucca.

The two teams raced up the west bank of the Nile, passed villagers working fertile farmlands, villagers with mules, villagers welling underground water, and young villagers running to us from their houses in little towns to wave “Hello!”  Rural turned into urban and we found ourselves in an unlabeled town — well, unlabeled in characters we could understand.  Wondering if we had reached Edfu, I opened the window and called out to any Western-looking person, “Hey!  Where are we?!  Is this Edfu?!”

No responses as we drove by.  The Canadians Denise, Angie and I started making kissy pucker noises and hisses — the sounds that Egyptians used to catch our attention all over the country — but nothing.  The pucker sounds and hisses did catch the attention of a group of young begging boys, who rushed over to our minivan.  Greg slipped them a bag with a couple of apples in it through the window, and they all fought over who would get to have them.

We did make it to Edfu after all, and were dropped off at the entrance of Edfu’s main highlight, the Temple of Horus, a “must-see” according to my Let’s Go guidebook.  Completed in 57 B.C. after a 200-year construction by the Ptolemies, it honored the god Horus, the falcon-headed protector of Egypt, son of Osiris and Isis.  Our group “Team Barracuda” wandered the grounds for a while, observing its hypostyle hall, its columns, its hieroglyphics and (for Denise and I) its locals posing for photos (for money of course). 

After, we wandered into the town market until our meeting time of 11:15 back at the minivan.  When our driver Mohammed (yes, another one) didn’t show, we thought it might have been a ploy since a cafe owner urged us to eat at his place while waiting since “your driver is there.”  Soon we realized it wasn’t a scam; waiting was legitimate because the road between Edfu and Luxor required a police convoy, one that we were waiting for.  Other buses and minivans were waiting along with us, including the one of Team Shawl.  Just like they had been waiting on a felucca to move, they didn’t look too happy waiting in a minivan.

“I’m happy that they’re not having a good time,” I said.

THE SOUND OF MULTIPLE ENGINES was the cue that it was time to go.  Four coups in a single Toyota pickup truck led the charge for the half dozen vehicles northbound en route to Luxor.  Downtown Edfu was bustling with people and mule-pulled wagons, but the cops parted them all like Moses parting the Red Sea, with the sound of a siren.  Whrrrrrrrrrr!  Whrrrrrrrrr!  Wio! Wio! Wio!

“It’s a presidential convoy,” Jake said, finally in good spirits after feeling under the weather the past couple of days.

Presidential convoy was right.  While the sound of a siren usually registers in my mind as “pull over,”  this time sirens were on my side, working for us, with us.  We were finally on the right side of the law and I celebrated by yelping out the window to passersby as the sirens blared.  “Wooo!”

Luckily for us, our police escort was a bit more personal; our driver Mohammed was friends with them, so they always drove near us, evidently just as celebratory as I was; their radio blasting sitar music, one officer sang out to the street with his P.A. system. (picture above)

We led the presidential cavalcade out of Edfu and over the bridge to the east bank.  Other vehicles fell behind and we stopped to wait up.  While standing on the shoulder, a familiar minivan passed us by.  “Oh no, it’s Team Shawl!” Angie gasped. 

With the authorities on our side, there was only one thing for me to say:

“Follow that shawl!”

WHILE A POLICE ESCORT is meant to keep you out of harm’s way, in our case it was quite the opposite.  Mohammed our driver leapfrogged the police truck; back and forth we’d alternate pole position by overtaking the other using the other lane of oncoming traffic.  Each overtake was a game of chicken and with the side of the law on ours, we wouldn’t slow down for anyone headed straight for us.  What made it worse (or more exciting, depending on how you look at it) was the fact that Mohammed was clapping to the rhythm of the music between swerves.

“Oh my God,” Denise said.

“Hey, both hands on the wheel,” Greg ordered, but Mohammed would continue to speed — sometimes in the narrow middle space between the cops’ truck on the right and oncoming traffic on the left — clapping his hands, exclaiming “HA!” to the climactic points in the song.

Needless to say, it was no problem catching up to and passing Team Shawl.

THE SIRENS OF THE POLICE CONVOY whirred and wooed, but it ended about halfway to Luxor, the end of Edfu PD’s jurisdiction, conveniently at a checkpoint with vendors selling food and souvenirs at non-competitive prices.  We continued about an hour more to Luxor, where Mohammed upped the taxi far from E£15 each to E£25.  No surprise there; usually the Egyptian strategy is to state a deal with a client accepts and then found some way to alter the deal or charge me when before the deal is done.  The Canadians and Aussies paid up anyway, just happy they had made it to Luxor in one piece. 

I didn’t have to bother with paying; after Mohammed dropped the six off at the inexpensive yet decent backpacker Happy Land Hotel, he brought me to the destination written on the voucher I got in Aswan:  the Windsor Hotel, a nice three-star place with a pool, cable TV, private shower and A/C.  You get what you pay for I guess, and in this case it was a good thing.  An agent there was waiting for me to pay off the taxi and the hotel room.

“What’s your name?” I asked the agent.


“Oh, another Mohammed?”

“If it makes it easier, call me ‘Mimi.’”

I kept myself from snickering.

AFTER A NICE THREE-HOUR BREAK to read and eat, the baton was passed from Mimi to Akmed, a young official guide who picked me up in a taxi with a random taxi driver from Luxor, Egypt for a tour.  With a lack of other tourists that late afternoon, it turned out to be a private one-on-one engagement.

The Temple of Karnak was the first destination of my two-temple east bank tour of Luxor.  A temple compound of different elements constructed by many pharaohs over generations who tried to outdo the previous, it was dedicated to honor the ram-headed Amun-Ra, king of the gods, and the holy family.  Most evident of this homage was the Avenue of the Rams, a street lined with ram statues, which led into the temple entrance.

Akmed, a very knowledgeable guide, took me around the compound, explaining how Ramses II built the harbor that was connected to the Nile via a canal and how the alabaster alter in the center of the Pavilion of Taharq was used by Seti II to make offerings to the sun god Ra.  He pointed out the Obelisk of Queen Hatshepsut (the only female pharaoh), which had been covered halfway by a wall constructed by jealous Tuthmosis III, who believed he had the right to the throne.

The most striking element of Karnak was the Great Hypostyle Hall, a grand pavilion of 134 towering columns reaching up to 22 meters high.  A roof used to enclose the hall, but it collapsed in a 10th century earthquake.  All that remained of its architectural marvel was its “basilica” windows, which pre-dated the Greeks or Romans.

In the Sanctuary of Sacred Boats, built by Alexander the Great’s half brother Phillip, Akmed explained the value of building a temple to honor the Egyptian gods, especially if you were an outsider.  Like Bartolome’s Temple of Philae near Aswan, parts of Karnak were built by non-Egyptians to honor Amun-Ra to elevate their social status in Egyptian civilization.  “How many non-Egyptians ruled Egypt?” I asked Akmed.  I struck a nerve.

“You know between 332 B.C. and 1952 A.D. there was no Egyptian ruler,” he lectured.  “That’s two thousand years!”  He explained that after Ramses II, Alexander the Great ruled, followed by Greeks, Romans, Christians, Arabs, Asians, British, French — it wasn’t until Muhammed Naguib’s election as prime minister in 1952 that an actual Egyptian ruled Egypt.  Two thousand years man; in a way it was almost justifiable of Egyptians trying to rip off foreigners as retribution.

AFTER A GLIMPSE OF THE SACRED LAKE and the sacred scarab of Amenhotep II, we walked out the Avenue of the Rams, which in ancient times, continued all the way to our next destination, the Temple of Luxor, a smaller scale compound similar to Karnack, built as a “love nest of the gods” (says Let’s Go) mostly by Amenhotep III in 1380 B.C.  Ramses II made his contribution afterwards with two big statues at the entrance, built in his own narcissist image, along with two obelisks, one still standing on site at Luxor, and the other given to France as a gift — it now stands in Paris in the center of La Place de la Concorde.

Akmed took me through the courtyard, explaining the different column designs, some in the shape of a papyrus (to represent Lower Egypt) and some in the shape of a lotus plant (to represent Upper Egypt) — it was important for a pharaoh to maintain both to show unification and his power in all of Egypt.  My guide also pointed out the parts of the temple grounds that were re-purposed for Coptic Christianity and the arrival of Islam, both of which never really took away from the original Egyptian grandeur of Luxor as a whole.

I decided to have Akmed and the driver leave me there so I could leisurely explore the temple and town of Luxor alone on foot — and take another paid photo of a local — which was a good thing because within ten minutes I bumped into the rest of my felucca Team Barracuda.  We wandered around the Luxor compound — keeping track of each other by use of pucker noises and hisses — and I gave them an informal lecture on the temple by regurgitating what I had just heard from Akmed.  This lasted only about twenty minutes until we got bored and just hung out on the Nile’s east bank promenade to watch the sunset amidst the aggressive felucca touts who pretty much said anything to get our business.  One guy, after the usual pitches, resorted to the family-event card out of nowhere.  “Oh, my sister is having a wedding,” I said.  “I can take you there, across the river.”

“Sister’s wedding?  When?” I asked.

“In an hour.”

“An hour?  Shouldn’t you be there already?  It’s an important event.”

“I can take you there across the river.  You can see dancing and playing music.  Very nice.  You can smoke hash and drink.”

Smoke hash and drink at a Muslim wedding?  (He was wearing the traditional Islamic galabiyya outfit.)

Another tout played the romance card and targeted it on Angie, using cheesy romantic pick-up lines like “Please, five minutes to talk to you would make my life complete” and nonsense like that.  (To be fair, it was a lot less crass than the line J.J. got in Aswan:  “Come on, fucking is better than friends.”)  After a while we noticed Angie needed a rescue and so we rescued, taking her with us down to the pub away from the touts.  On the way, more touts approached us, but Butch figured a way to get rid of them:  just act like an idiot and yell random things so they think you’re the crazy one that shouldn’t be talked to.

The rest of the night was spent at the King’s Head Pub, an English pob [sic] that, according to their printed coasters, was for those “tired of temples and tomps” [sic].  With local brew Stella beers, Sex on the Felucca cocktails and a concoction Butch, Greg and I invented that we called the “Barracuda,” the night went by.  Others we remembered from other feluccas from our journey down the Nile came in and they were a lot more open than the passengers of the Sail Away, i.e. Team Shawl.  Angie told me that right after the six of them checked into the Happy Land Hotel, Team Shawl walked in and looked at them with a slight look of disgust.  In the end, it was Team Shawl that was following us instead of the other way around like during our mid-day car chase on the west bank — although I’m sure if they caught up with us that night, they wouldn’t be much for conversation.

Next entry: Valley Boy

Previous entry: The Special Felucca

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments for “Follow That Shawl!”

  • Wow, I had no idea there was a female pharaoh, kind of like Deborah in the bible (the only female judge).

    Love the sunset with Felucca pic. Don’t worry about Team Shawl, they are worse than tourists, they are people who should’ve STAYED HOME! I mean really, why would you stay wrapped up in mosquito netting instead of meeting new people?

    Then again. Yall are “special”.

    oh, and I’m number 1 today!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  03:23 AM

  • funchilde, 
    love, mom is still around. just chillin’, but it is nice to be missed by someone.  thanks…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  03:45 AM

  • The Pharoahs didn’t do anything small, did they? It was “Go big, or go home!”

    Amazing - especially seeing the outside of Temple of Luxor with the tourists in the distance. It’s fascinating how the pictures of the columns remind me of the Greek columns - only those are whiter.

    Anyway, glad you got to find some cool people to drink in a pob with. Did they have ANY Brit beers? Wankers.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  04:44 AM

  • BLOG READERS - check out the reader poll under the “Student from Babylon” entry in case you missed it. 

    Erik - your pics rock as always.

    Posted by Liz  on  06/14  at  02:24 PM

  • You know…the one thing that sprang to mind when you said that you were glad that Team Shawl was not having a good time - was how the two families in the movie ‘Shirley Valentine’ just kept complaining about anything while vacationning in Greece.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  04:41 PM

  • wow.  the shawl lady is like your traveling arch nemesis….sort of like how neo is to agent smith.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  05:02 PM

  • coo sunset pic ... DOWN wit’ TEAM SHAWL!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  05:38 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Valley Boy

Previous entry:
The Special Felucca


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