March 1 - Apollonia, Sifnos - All over Sifnos, there are little
churches. Inside, they have a little wooden wall between the main church
and a little back room. Sometimes there's swinging doors and sometime
curtains and sometimes both that separate the main church from the little
room. On the wall are tons of pictures and some religious icons. Also,
usually on a window sill, is an oil lamp with all the stuff for it - wicks
and matches and oil and water. There's also a little cup in front of the
wooden wall where you burn your incense. Dad tried to burn some incense
and instead burned his finger. There's also usually a pedestal filled
with sand, and you light candles and put them in the sand. -- Tote
March 2 - Apollonia, Sifnos - Duncan offered me a dollar to pull
a rope we found inside a church. When I looked outside, I realized it
was connected to one of the church bells. I didn't pull it. -- Tote
One of the things Monica enjoys most is sampling local food and wine.
Today, we walked into Kamares for lunch, and she ordered a local retsina
wine. Retsina has a strong taste of pine sap that often provokes gags
and allusions to turpentine among the uninitiated. This version combined
the unique taste of retsina with a distinct yeasty smell, reminiscent
of African palm wine. The cloudy cast indicated either that the wine was
spoiled or that it was truly authentic. We pronounced it authentic and
enjoyed it. -- Mark
March 3 - Apollonia, Sifnos - I venture to say I have been in
25 churches here on Sifnos. I have never yet met another person in any
of them. One guidebook says there are 365 churches and 2500 residents.
Come Easter, the tourist season begins. According to one of the island's
three doctors, there may be 21,000 people here during the summer. -- Monica
March 4- Apollonia, Sifnos - I played with my friend Crispin,
today. Crispin is a four-year-old boy who lives here. We play a bunch
of games, and they change every day. He speaks in Greek and says in English
"Good Morning!," when he kicks the soccer ball. -- Maggie
March 5 - Apollonia, Sifnos - Yesterday, we went to Artemonas.
Artemonas is practically the same city as Apollonia. We walked up the
main stairs which is the old road. They lead past a lot of churches. On
the way we passed a huge wall of a succulent bush. Maggie has been using
the same kind of bush to make pretend "fishes." Duncan attempted
to climb the bush, but slid down, because they were succulent. When we
got to the cafe, we ordered a soft drink and Cheetos. -- Tote
From the semi-whitewashed monastery atop the highest hill on the island,
we could see the white towns of Sifnos sprawled below us on the terraced
hills. Beyond the island, we could see other isles nearby in the low,
distant, sea-shrouding clouds. -- Duncan.
This morning we climbed up to the highest point on the island . . . the
deserted monastery and Profit Elias church. After the hot climb, the dark,
cool inside of the church was very welcome. We ran into a couple of local
young men and their two friendly dogs. They told us locals go up there
in the summer, on weekends, and do restoration work.
I truly enjoyed our hike down. I like to hang back in the quiet
of an afternoon hike. . . Mark and Maggie telling "Gaba Stories";
Tote and Duncan deep in plans, ideas, and conversations. I get to revel
in the birdsongs and wildflowers. Right now, there are many spring wildflowers
. . . purple, yellow, blue, white, and pink. -- Monica
There is a wall around the monastery, and in the wall, there are rooms
for monks to stay overnight. There is a kitchen where you are invited
to make coffee. In the middle is a church. Inside, the church is like
all the other churches but is a little bigger. On either side of the church
are stairs so you can get on the roof of the walls. Mom cut apples and
drank coffee up there, while we learned it was okay to ring the bells.
So, we rang them hard. -- Tote
March 6- Apollonia, Sifnos - Today we went to the beach. The
public bus is also a school bus, so the driver arranged some of the troublemaking
kids in seats up front. He also waved a stick at one of them, but he was
smiling. The water was really cool, it was blue with black lines moving
on it. The black was the shadows of small waves. When we were ready to
go, Dad and I skipped rocks. I had one that skipped really far. Then we
smashed my sand buildings and went home. -- Tote
March 7- Apollonia, Sifnos - Today was unusual because it was
overcast and cooler. In the evening we walked up to Artemonas to play
hearts in a taverna. -- Monica
Tote and I go to the bakery every day to buy cookies and bread and sometimes
baklava. I like the cookies the best. They are chocolate chip cookies
with holes in the middle. The chocolate chips are on the top. Today we
are going to get 10 cookies of one kind, ten of another, and bread. Tote
talks in Greek. He says "ten" and points to the cookies. He
doesn't say "thank you" all the time but I do it. He also says
"good morning" or "hello." -- Maggie
March 8 - Apollonia, Sifnos - As we walked along the ancient stone
pathways of Kastro in the late afternoon, the syrupy, sweet smell of baklava
alerted us to a nearby bakery. It was the only open door we'd seen. The
few times I've been to Kastro were eerie reminders that the island has
few permanent residents and, until the tourists return, people generally
remain shuttered in their houses. Inside the bakery we startled the young
man listening to his radio . . . the children bought delicious cookies
(including a local specialty, amigdalota . . . an almond cookie . . .
almonds are so much more flavorful here than I've ever tasted before),
different from the ones they buy daily at our local bakery in Apollonia.
After hiking hillside paths along the cliffs north of Kastro
in the strong winds and overcast skies, we stopped again at the cafe in
Artemonas for a "special drink" and a chance to play hearts
together. Then we traipsed home in the dark, illuminated by the almost
full moon. -- Monica
Try this in front of a mirror. Nod to yourself. Now, tilt your head about
30 degrees toward one shoulder and nod again. Didn't the second way look
friendlier than the first? That's the way people greet us around here.
March 9 - Apollonia, Sifnos - The milk is white and creamy and
makes a milk mustache. When I look out the window, I see olive trees.
I see the water and the waves crashing against the rocks. I can feel bumpy
brick and soft leaves on my fingers. I smell sea water. I can smell flowers.
I can smell mud and dirt that I want to play in. I can hear birds chirping,
and I can hear motors from the road. I hear goats and roosters, and I
can hear goat bells. -- Maggie
We went to the beach. Tote and Mom and I ran. Maggie and Dad took the
taxi to meet us and bring food. When we got there we walked along the
beach, because Mom insisted that we check out what the town was like before
we played. Of course Mom had to stop to check out the church on the shore
right in front of the clump of buildings that are the town. On the way
to check out the town, we passed the coolest silver sand, like it had
mica in it. When we got it on our hands and looked at it in the right
light some pieces of it were clear. The beach had the clearest water ever.
It was so clear it didn't even make sense how clear it was. When you looked
at the water from far above, the water was just really light blue. There
were also patches of seaweed that made these dark splotches in odd shapes.
They looked kind of like ripped up clouds. We took the bus home. He was
a little early so he waited in case anyone else was coming. -- Duncan
Maggie and I took the taxi to Vathi. Neither the driver nor I had the
correct change, so the driver said "Pay tomorrow," as if it
is the most natural thing in the world and drove off with a smile. --
March 10 - Apollonia, Sifnos - The past two weeks have sped by.
Tomorrow is our last day on Sifnos. I've loved it here. . . the bright
sunshine, white clouds, blue sky and water; whitewashed houses with lemon
trees, terraced hillsides with small flocks of goats or sheep amidst olive
trees . . . tiny orthodox churches, larger blue-domed churches, and deserted
monasteries on hilltops or cliffs overlooking the sea. The sounds of goat
bells, braying donkeys, church bells, the greeting honks of buses and
cars. -- Monica
Today we went to Christopigi, a monastery right at the end of a peninsula.
Actually, it's an island but a bridge connects it to the mainland. The
first thing we did was go down to the swimming area. We felt the water,
and it was really cold, but Dad didn't hesitate and jumped in. His face
totally changed and he swam back to the platform really fast. Then we
said "1,2,3" and Dad and I jumped in, but Duncan didn't. Later
Duncan and I jumped in together and claimed an island for ourselves. --
March 11 - Athens - We took the "Flying Cat 4" back
to Athens. The Flying Cat is a catamaran. It has two hulls. It goes superfast.
When we went to Sifnos, the ferry took us five and a half hours to get
there, but coming back it was only two and a half. Despite its speed the
Flying Cat was one of my least favorite ships. It had nothing but seats
on board, and the only entertainment was slapstick comedy and soap operas
in Greek on TV. I read my book Kim by Rudyard Kipling. It is very
good and well-written. -- Duncan
Back at our hotel near the construction site, the only question is whether
the linoleum, sheets, or walls are thinnner. The kids have a beautiful
terrace with a really nice view of the Acropolis, though as Tote points
out, when the crane passes overhead the giant cement counterweights swing
lightly to and fro. It is now after midnight. I am hoping the fellow next
door, who sounds like he is from Alabama, will get his personal life in
order and get off the phone. -- Mark
March 12 - Athens - One of the places that I end up meeting locals
is at internet cafes. Most of the "cafes" are not cafes at all.
They don't serve tea or coffee or anything else. They are usually just
collections of computers in a room or two, though some, like some in Barcelona,
are huge collections of flat screens with the computers tucked away in
some clumsy looking, but supposedly more secure, cabinet. (With one or
two exceptions, it seemed like Barcelona's cafes were set up by some paranoid
who believes Netscape is the only program worth running on a computer.)
The room is typically relatively new, just like the cafe itself. The places
are also used by locals, not just by tourists. In bigger cities, tourists
wander in, check their e-mail, and wander out but usually don't stay long.
The people in internet cafes and the people who run them are
interesting to talk with. They are usually young, ambitious, and speak
English. They also tend to be a bit bored. The patrons, too, generally
speak English. In fact, internet cafes are one of those places where you
routinely find non-native English speakers, usually students, chatting
in English. Here in Greece, I can overhear a conversation between two
Greeks and an Italian student about the relative merits of girls from
France, Italy, and Greece.
March 13 - Athens - On the way home from dinner, we began passing
rows of police in riot gear. As we continued along embassy row toward the
parliament building, the police presence increased, as did the tension in
the air. We asked a couple of policemen what was going on and whether we
could walk toward Syndagma Square toward our hotel. Two guys were so tight-lipped
and tense, we just walked on. One guy told us to go right and avoid the
Square. The number of police was amazing. They pretty well had the demonstrators
surrounded. -- Monica
Another nice thing about internet places is that the people in them can
often give good advice to a tourist. They rarely have a "brother,"
"cousin," or "friend" who is a guide or runs tours,
a restaurant, a hotel, or a souvenir stand. They come from a different
background, and as students or recent students, they are cheap and assume
everybody else is too. -- Mark
Man: Albanians! Phew!
Man: Albanians! We give them freedom and everything else, now they want
At the War Museum, I liked the models of the boats. One had smoke coming
from it. The boat was on fire. The other boat had people leaning off the
sides using Greek flame throwers, called Greek fire. -- Maggie
It is amazing that Athens will host the 2004 Olympics. Athens is a wonderful
place, but I cannot comprehend how it will ever be ready. Simply to patch
the dangerous holes in the squares and sidewalks might take years. Syndagma
Square, the one in front of the Parliament Building and arguably the center
of the city has chunks of missing marble and at least a few narrow, foot-deep
holes randomly scattered about. Some blocks in the modern part of town might
have sidewalks of six different vintages, all in tatters. Some of the buses
are new, but some - like the one we took from the bus terminal - are of
50s or 60s vintage. The hotel rooms we saw are the sort that people write
home about. Once the Olympic prize gouging starts, there will be world records
set for highest price ever paid for a crummy hotel room. But the biggest
puzzle is the air. Air is something athletes cannot do without, and Athens
is rather short on it. This evening we climbed a big hill in the center
of Athens. The whole city spread out around us, and all of it was covered
by a ghastly yellowish-brown haze. The airborne muck obscured buildings
only a few kilometers away. Although the sea is close, it was invisible
behind a grey-blue cloud. It wouldn't surprise me if some athletes decide
not to compete in Athens just to avoid the air. -- Mark
March 14 - Athens - I'm sitting at a cafe drinking my good orange
juice. It's fresh orange juice, and it's all pulpy and not sweet. I know
a lot of people in my class would not like this juice . . . they like
sweet orange juice with no pulp. There must be a rule here about how to
drink orange juice. It has to be in a tall glass with a rounded bottom.
And you drink it with a black, plastic straw. I'm wondering how many oranges
were squeezed for my drink. I saw a lady make my drink with three oranges
the first time I ordered it. I think when I'm finished, I will go over
and play on the square. -- Maggie
Mark: How are you doing?
Restaurant Owner Near Entrance to Our Hotel: Tired.
Mark: Isn't that what coffee is for?
Owner: Have you tried one of these?
Mark: It's a frappé, isn't it?
Mark: No. But I've seen people drinking them everywhere. It's Nescafe
and some other things, right?
Owner: Yes, with sugar and cream or ice cream and sugar. It's very, very
popular now. It's for lazy people.
Mark: Lazy people?
Owner: Yes. A guy orders one of these and he can read the paper for an
hour or so. A greek coffee . . . five minutes and it's gone. So, it's
for people who aren't in a hurry to get to work.
March 15 - Athens to Cairo - We arrived in Cairo at sunset.
Maggie saw the pyramids out the plane's window at dusk. Disembarking at
the airport, getting our visas, and going through customs was totally
painless. Then we went outside to find a bus to downtown Cairo. There
was a bit of confusion, but we were soon on our way. And what a way it
was! I went through a range of emotions. First, I was excited: "OhmygoodnessI'minEgypt!Cairo!
This is so fun. The kids are tired, but we've got our hotel reservation
at the famous Windsor Hotel . . . this is great!" The driver drove
the big, air-conditioned bus like a taxi driver. We drove fast, the horn
constantly alerting all other drivers and pedestrians, braked suddenly,
almost hit all the other cars and buses, and almost hit all the people
trying to cross the roads. I watched, sometimes I laughed in disbelief
. . . then I found it sobering . . . the throngs of people, the noise,
the pollution, the number of vehicles, the pace, the stimulation. We saw
two kids riding outside on the back of a commuter train, smiling from
ear to ear, while two older kids sprinted to catch the train and then
jumped inside the open door. Finally we arrived. We hopped out, as well
as one can hop with a full, heavy backpack on one's back carrying a full,
bulging daypack up front. We trudged a few blocks from the bus stop to
the Windsor. I thought the Windsor would be old and charming like the
Continental in Tangiers. Instead it was just tattered and frayed. We had
to dicker over the price for our rooms - a matter we thought we had settled
on the phone. -- Monica
Every time we leave Athens, Maggie gets a gift. This time she it was a
set of worry beads and a foil flower (folded from cigarette wrappers)
from the owner of the restaurant next to our hotel. -- Mark
March 16 - Cairo -
Maggie: Mom, how do you flush this toilet?
Monica: I think it's the same way as at home.
Maggie: How's that?
Monica: There's a handle right on it.
Maggie: Oh yeah. Thanks.
Mark: How do you say "yes" and "no" in Arabic?
Monica: "No" is "la." I don't know what "yes"
Duncan: That's because we never needed to say yes in Morocco!
I am in a felucca sailing down the middle of the Nile. The children are
discussing pirate ships and watching three Laser sailboats race. I am
trying to think about what it means to be the longest river in the world,
the explorers who found the headwaters below the equator, the annual floods,
the origin of irrigation, or something, anything edifying, but the cool
breeze, the quiet, the creaking boat, and the sun sparkling on the water
keep getting in the way. -- Mark
March 17 - Cairo - My favorite thing in the Egyptian Museum was
a small decoration in the middle of a large necklace. It was a small scarab
with the wings of Horus sticking out and the tail of Horus sticking out.
It was all made of gold and lapiz lazuli and some light blue stone and
some red stone. I liked it because it was different. There were lots of
good scarabs in the museum and lots of statues of Horus, but no others
showed the two of them put together. I liked the way it looked like a
robed person, because it had sleeves on the back of the falcons arms and
the tail feathers looked like the bottom of a robe. -- Duncan
They use real arabic numerals here. -- Mark
March 18 - Cairo - The streets of Cairo are dirty but have a
friendly atmosphere. Sometimes people ask if you need a taxi, but they
are not persistant. Cairo is a lot more modern than I thought and a lot
more dirty. It is in the middle of the desert, but you can't see the desert.
Can you believe that? -- Tote
We didn't do all that much. First we walked through a really dirty part
of town on the way to the Indian Embassy for visas. When we got there
they told us that the office that issues them is right next to our hotel.
Mom and Dad were smiling. Then we went to the American Embassy library
to work, but they wouldn't let us take the computer in. We said we wanted
to do schoolwork. They said we should watch movies or TV instead. We spent
the rest of the day at the American University in a courtyard. It didn't
look like it would be that nice, but when we walked out into the courtyard,
there were birds singing, a fountain, and flowers. So we wrote and read
and visited the well-stocked bookstore. -- Duncan
Every block in downtown Cairo has a handful of soldiers guarding various
things. Soldiers guard banks (fundamentalists have bombed those that charge
interest), important buildings, buildings that might be targets (the Goethe
Institute?), places where tourists congregate --markets and museums (a
bomb blew up tourists and their bus outside the Egyptian museum), train
stations, some ticket counters, and every hotel. (All hotels have metal
detectors, though only in the fancy ones does anyone pay attention when
the buzzer goes off.) -- Mark
March 19 - Cairo - I liked seeing the pyramids and looking inside
them, but I hated being surrounded by touts. They mostly tried to sell
drinks, camel rides, horse rides, and fake blue scarabs. Inside the big
pyramid, the only one we could go inside, was a low tunnel that went sharply
up to a split letting you go up the main passage on a steep passage to
the King's Chamber or a lower tunnel into what is called the Queen's Chamber.
The queens weren't actually buried there. They just called it the Queen's
Chamber for some stupid reason unknown to me. The queens were buried in
smaller pyramids alongside the main one. -- Duncan
We're sitting in a large, street-level coffeehouse, late afternoon sun
streaming in the windows, haze from the Cairo dust and grime dancing between
shadows. Chess players hang out here. The kids immediately went to find
a chess board but were told people brought their own. Several minutes
later, a man appeared beside our table and began extracting a tattered
bundle from his weathered leather bag. Mark immediately began, "no,
no, no, thank you . . . " (We were at the pyramids today and were
inundated with camel touts, hourse touts, soda touts, postcard/souvenir
touts.) Seeing this old fellow pulling something out of a bag, we assumed
someone was again trying to sell us something. But no, he had a very well-used
chess set to lend and the children are now playing and drinking 7-Up.
A well-dressed fellow from a neighboring table is teaching Maggie how
the pieces move.
The pyramids themselves were stunning . . . immense, powerful,
awe-inspiring, quiet, ancient, somewhat like mountains . . . only created
by man, for a purpose, with meaning, with beauty. As we climbed into the
chambers at the Great Pyramid, I tried to picture them filled with the
incredible treasures we've seen in museums. What's left there at Giza
are the empty, powerful shells.
I was surprised to see Cairo, or at least an extension of the city, crowded
right up to the plateau. For some reason, I pictured in my mind the whole
plateau and pyramid site farther out. Beyond is desert, but I guess I
thought it would be desert before and after. After reading the guidebooks,
I imagined more intense touts than we encountered, and I also expected
greater hoards of tourists than we saw today. Perhaps there were fewer
than usual, but all in all, it was a welcome surprise. In fact, the whole
day was much calmer, quieter, more pleasant, and less overwhelming than
I expected. -- Monica
The first pyramid I saw was the Great Pyramid. I saw it from the taxi.
It was towering above the buildings in the haze. It was big. When we got
there, we went past the biggest one (the Great Pyramid) to a ruined temple
right next to my favorite pyramid. My favorite is the second biggest.
It still has some of its original limestone covering on the top. The first
temple we went into was the one where the guy buried in the second pyramid
was mummified. The blocks inside that temple were huge, and they fit together
so well. The Sphinx was not as big as I had thought, and from the side
it looked like a monkey. It would have been amazing to see the Sphinx
all painted up. We went inside the giant pyramid. They were so amazing.
Another great pyramid mystery is why the best view of the pyramids is
from the windows of a Pizza Hut. -- Mark
March 20 - Cairo - Mom wants to go somewhere today. I think we
should just hang out. We haven't had a stay home day in Cairo yet. I'm
annoyed when Mom wants us to do our writing, because it seems to just
appear, or get brought up, right when we're about to do something fun
like when Tote and I were going to make D&D characters. Tote threw
his rock-solid pillow at the floor. We wandered around the hotel complaining.
I hope we get lunch soon; we didn't get much breakfast. -- Duncan
When we went to the mosque, the first thing we had to do was take our
shoes off, because they weren't allowed in the mosque. It was like walking
around barefoot. The rooms we went into didn't have much in them. The
praying room was really big. -- Maggie
Our visit to the Al-Azhar Mosque was our first mosque tour. In Morocco,
non-muslims were not welcome. Here in Egypt, it's different. As we sat
in the shade of the courtyard awaiting the end of 3:30 prayers in the
haram, we chatted with a man who took it on himself to be our guide. We
reviewed some of the things we learned at the Chester Beatty Museum in
Dublin, the one with the huge collection of holy books from around the
world - the five pillars of Islam, the five daily prayer times, the niche
or mihrab indicating the direction of Mecca, the roles of the imam and
muezzin, the wooden minbar, etc. After prayers, we saw the imam and the
muezzin emerge and stroll across the courtyard. Our guide told us that
the imam would hang out in his office for the rest of the afternoon, available
to counsel anyone - worldly or other-worldly - either in person or by
I've noticed that although women must cover most, if not all,
of their bodies, they almost all distinguish themselves with a particular
touch that gives them each a personal style, whether it is the cloth used
as the head covering, the way the head covering is wrapped, their shoes,
their glasses, etc. -- Monica
There are two things that make Cairo different than anywhere else we have
visited. First is the dirt. The air, when it is still, is filthy. When the
air moves, it is dirtier still, picking up grit and feeling as if it has
become semi-solid. The sidewalks are grimy. In fact, everyplace two surfaces
meet, there is a coal-black patch or line of grime. At the end of the day,
my hair is stiff with dirt. My socks are grey with grime. When I smooth
their wrinkles, my socks look striped. Even after I scrub my head, a Q-tip
run over my ears comes up grey. Soot collects on windowsills and in the
corners of lobbies. On stairwells, the common way is outlined by dirt. The
details of the white chessmen are highlighted with grit. At night, I dream
of black drifts of coal dust blowing in under the doors.
Yet, despite the grime, I love this place. The people in Cairo
seem constitutionally friendly, and they love Cairo. If we need directions,
no one refuses to help or says they don't know the way. They either tell
us -- several times people have walked a block or two, leaving business
unattended, to make sure we find the way -- or they go in search of someone
who might know or might know English well enough to translate. Yesterday,
we closed the security checkpoint at Bank of Cairo and tied up half the
counter personnel for ten minutes while we sorted out an address 3 blocks
away. Unlike Morocco, no one expects to receive pay for helping in this
way. They usually say good-bye, then "Welcome to Egypt," and
then walk away. At the local internet cafe, the owner refuses to take
my money, because he enjoyed talking about computers with me. The Cairo
Library bends the rules and lets us in with computer and books and then
the children's librarian produces toys, colored pencils, and paper for
the kids to use. Today we visited Al Azhar Mosque and spent about an hour
walking around with a guide. We then spent another hour just sitting around
with some students talking about religion, television, movies, and of
course, the Palestinians. -- Mark
March 21 - Cairo -
Monica: This money is so filthy, it's just absolutely gross to touch.
I need to wash my hands before I cut up the apples.
We went to the Great Cairo Library today. The children's librarian took
us all into a little room where all the foreign books were. They had a
wonderful collection of Eyewitness books and visual dictionaries. When
we were leaving, we gave the librarian some pictures we had drawn, and
she told Mom it's Mother's Day today. Mom got nice and excited. -- Duncan
I have never seen driving like the driving in Cairo. It is something different
than what we call driving. In the United States, we drive mainly with
our eyes and the goal is to get one's own car from one place to another
as fast as possible. We watch the road and our mirrors. If there's an
open spot, we grab it. Most people take delight in a victory of inches
over the "jerks" in the other cars. In Cairo, drivers watch
their mirrors and the road, but they also use their ears. Nearly every
maneuver is signaled by a beep or two. Moving through a blind spot? Give
a couple beeps. Moving fast through an intersection? A long hard honk.
Impatient? A short hard honk. At night, flashing headlights are added
to the mix. Most people drive around with their lights off. They seem
to use them merely to signal other drivers and pedestrians. After wandering
around in traffic for a few days (there's no other way to wander around
Cairo) and taking several taxi rides, I have yet to see anyone genuinely
angry with another driver or any accidents, though the streets are jammed,
and the cars often move within inches of each other. Driving seems to
be some sort of cooperative process. It's like the traffic is a giant
collective organism that uses horns and flashing lights as neurons. If
Cairo drivers behaved like U.S. drivers the whole town would instantly
seize up in a massive case of blood boiling gridlock. -- Mark
March 22 - Cairo to Luxor - I waited with Duncan and our bags
while Mark, Tote, and Maggie went hotel hunting. Mahmoud, a machine gun
toting guard, sat in his chair beside us. (Later, Mark chuckled and told
me it looked like we had our own private guard.) Mahmoud and I communicated
until he exhausted his English and I, my Arabic. Finally, out of desperation
to speak English, he sang "Happy Birthday" to me. -- Monica
The train trip was marvelous. Drinking tea while watching farmers, fields,
and garbage piles pass. The fields are full of people - very different
than the vast, vacant, monocultures in the United States. The garbage
piles flow down the banks and into the Nile - bright, multi-colored plastics
mixed in with the dirty mass. There's enough legroom between our seats
to accomodate one's legs and even to recline the seat without crippling
a neighbor -- why haven't the airlines thought of this? The floor is not
too dirty - not as dirty as the train from London to Calais. There are
venetian blinds and curtains on the windows. The seats vibrate and something
nearby in the car chatters with the staccato characteristic of old equipment.
A red-headed German tourist comes on board, insisting that this train
- which is very definitely on platform 8 - is not on platform 8. She demands
that the porter, who speaks enough English to get by, find her "someone
who speaks English!" -- Mark
March 23 - Luxor -
(At the English language Luxor Light show, attended mainly by tour groups)
Maggie: Mom, these guys keep bumping into me with their stomachs.
Having been a tourist town for hundreds of years has not helped Luxor.
Trying to admire the Nile (genuinely beautiful) while a tout stands a
yard from you repeating the same sales pitch again and again for fifteen
minutes, though you have already said no and displayed not an iota of
interest, is difficult. Duncan has decided there is a school for touts
in which they are all issued the same phrasebook. With only a single exception,
their pitches are identical. I am disappointed. They are so unoriginal,
humorless, pervasive, and persistent. (I wonder whether I am the only
tourist in the world who loves Cairo?) Maggie learned the pitch by heart
in a few minutes and put the hotel people into hysterics when she repeated
it. Do some people actually change their mind after hearing the same pitch
six or seven times or is it just some sort of tout mantra?
The exception is a fellow who asks us whether we want a boat
ride. When we say no, he says sorry, falls silent, and lets us pass in
peace. The next time we walk past him, he tells us, "Look, I just
want to make a few bucks from you. So, if there is anything you need,
let me know. If you're not interested, okay. I'd be happy to answer other
questions, practice my English - I can do American or British - or just
recite Shakespeare. I can do it, too. Shall I compare thee to a Summer's
day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate." -- Mark
Partly because of her age, perhaps because she is a girl, at least in
part because of her personality, Maggie has had the easiest time making
new "friends" along the way. People are always asking her name,
ruffling her hair, smiling at her, giving her little things, doing magic
tricks for her, making jokes with her, etc. She certainly has come out
of her stranger anxiety phase. She loves to go off and do errands. (She
asks to go by herself, but I rarely allow it . . . except in Casa Castalda
and Apollonia.) -- Monica
March 24 - Luxor -
Tout: How many times have you been asked about a felucca ride today?
Mark: About 35.
Tout: Then let me make it 36.
The Karnak Temple was amazing, almost as amazing as the Giza pyramids.
When you first walk through the giant wall, you stand in a courtyard with
small temples on either side of you. Then you walk toward a large doorway.
On the doorway, you see some of your first hieroglyphics. Inside the doorway,
there are huge pillars everywhere. They are covered in hieroglyphics and
still have some original paint. All around the room the walls are covered
in stories. Farther into the temple, which every pharoah seems to have
added to, is a room covered in smaller pillars. The ceiling is blue with
stars and the pillars are also painted. Painted over some of the pictures
are pictures of Jesus that the Christians painted on. Past that room is
the botanical gardens, covered in reliefs of wildlife and two papyrus
pillars. There is a huge picture of a heron or crane. Farther on is a
very detailed picture of a duck - the feathers are amazing. After we walked
past the sacred lake, we went back to the room of giant pillars and played
an assassination game. We secretly followed Dad and when we tapped him
on the shoulder, he was assassinated. The whole place was just so amazing.
I expected that if we stayed in cheaper places, we would be closer to
the countries we were visiting. I was wrong. The places at the low end
of the scale are filled with backpacking tourists not locals. You meet
similar people in a budget place in Luxor as you would meet in Edinburgh
-- young, cheerful, excited, and typically on a two or three week trip
that involves four or five countries. The crowd and the atmosphere are
more uniform than that in the McDonald's that you can find down the street
in each place. The signs, even if they weren't all in English, say the
same things. If you didn't notice the pictures on the wall, you'd be hard-pressed
to tell which country you were in.
In Cairo and in Luxor, we seem to have fallen into a slightly
different system. In both places we have shared hotels with Egyptian tour
groups and Arabic businessmen and tourists. At breakfast we ran into a
family from Tunisia that we had originally met in one of our hotels in
Cairo. (Curiously, and despite our preconceptions, we seem to be get a
better deal on our room and the hotel restaurant than they do -- probably
because we have established that we are outrageously cheap.) We also realized
at breakfast that we could escape the semi-stale rolls, butter, and jam
of the omnipresent continental breakfast by asking for an Egyptian breakfast
- pita, local cheese, bean stew. (If that actually sounds worse than rolls
and jam, you haven't been traveling as long as we have.) -- Mark
March 25 - Luxor - The first two tombs we visited in the Valley
of the Kings were the most impressive. Ramses IV's tomb has retained much
of its vivid color. Two figures of Nut, the sky goddess, stretched across
the ceiling of his burial chamber. The walls, columns, and ceilings of
Tuthmosis III's tomb had a very different style. They looked like a first
draft in black magic marker. The walls resembled an animated flip book
with its pages laid end to end.
After checking out tombs, we scrambled up a steep climb to a
ridge at the edge of the valley. It was the middle of the day and very
hot, but there was a breeze, so we drank lots of water and took it slowly.
The children had been wanting to hike in the desert since we arrived in
Egypt. It wasn't the sandy, dune desert we envision when we think of the
Sahara but a dusty place strewn with small rocks and crumbling outcrops.
We took the wrong route and ended up overlooking Deir al-Medina (the coptic
Monastery of the Town). It was named by early Christian monks who occupied
a temple there. It includes the ruins of the village in which some of
the workmen and artists who created the royal tombs lived. We headed back
up the mountain, found the correct path and descended to the Temple of
Hatshepsut -- Queen Hatshepsut's mortuary temple. She was the third woman
ruler of Egypt, the first to declare herself divine and a pharoah. She
reigned as "king" for 20 peaceful years, assuming the manner
and dress of a man. She even depicted herself with the traditional false
beard of the pharoahs. Her successor, Thutmosis III defaced many of her
images. -- Monica
We seem to be a bit of a tourist attraction. Some men shout "nice
family" when we pass. I am a bit puzzled by it. (Perhaps, what sounds
to me like "nice family" is actually Arabic for "Want a
felucca ride?") There's never any follow-up, save a smile. Young
Egyptian tourists often ask us where we are from and stop to chat with
us. I enjoy this, and I am starting to know a fair amount about Egyptian
soccer teams. The oddest thing though is the frequent request for photographs.
Young people, usually visiting from northern Egypt, ask whether they can
take our picture. Sometimes we've chatted with them a bit; sometimes they
are just passing us on the street. They pose in the midst of us, as if
we are old friends. I told Monica that I am starting to feel like one
of the pyramids. Monica says we will appear in scrapbooks right alongside
the Temple of Karnak and the Tomb of Ramses IV. One good thing: I now
understand much better how odd it must feel to the woman selling spices
or the sweet potato salesman, when tourists continually snap their photos.
They must ask themselves, just as I do, "Are we really that strange
looking?" -- Mark
March 26 - Luxor - There are certain streets in Luxor that are
not where the tourists go. They are not paved and have trash all along
the edges. The grafitti in Luxor is written in chalk. Duncan says it doesn't
matter, because it never rains, but someone could just wash it off. They
apparently don't. If you're in one of those side streets and turn a certain
corner, you appear in tourist row. It really is funny how tourists only
follow certain paths. -- Tote
March 27 - Luxor - The hotel's evening receptionist, Ragab, has
become a friend over the past week and asked us to come to his house for
tea. Ragab lives on the West Bank and met us at the ferry. We walked through
the brown, mud-brick village to the primary school. It was two stories
and looked much like Liberian schools, well worn and tattered. The children,
with big shy smiles, were seated at their benches learning lessons or
playing soccer on the packed dirt playground. Two of Ragab's best friends
are teachers at the school. We were able to ask questions. I think everyone
was delighted with the diversion.
We stopped for cold soft drinks at the house of one of the teachers. It
was a fine house with big couches, a wall of shelves containing books
and a big tv. It was cool. We chatted, asking questions about schools,
teaching, courtship and marriage. They asked us about politics in the
Afterwards we walked out of town on the sunny road through fields of wheat,
sugar cane, okra, cabbage, cucumbers, fava beans, and onions. Carts pulled
by donkeys passed us. We stopped at a dark colored mud brick house beside
the road between fields. Ragab introduced us to his mom, his father, his
teenage nephew, and his 3-year old nephew. Then he led us to his room.
He excused himself for a moment and reappeared wearing a gelabayya. His
room contained two beds, clothes hung above the beds against the mud brick
wall, a refrigerator, a window into another room, a ceiling fan, a tape
player, and several mats. We sat on the beds - made from palm branches
- and Ragab sat barefooted on one of the mats. We chatted, drank tea,
joked, played with 3-year old Ahmed, went out to the yard to learn about
the bread oven, about crops, about grain storage, about traditional construction,
about goats, sheep, pigeons, and chickens. Ahmed showed the children three
tiny, new kittens. Later we washed up and sat down to a low table of delicious
lunch: traditional bread, chunks of salted tomatoes, fuul, baked egg,
pickled vegetables, and roasted and salted sesame seeds.
After lunch we chatted with Ragab's brother and sister who had
come home by this time. Ragab's brother works cleaning tomb paintings.
His sister has a university degree in philosophy and is now an English
teacher in a primary school in the village next to El Coom. She was absolutely
delightful. She and I sat beside each other and chatted together as if
we had know each other for years. -- Monica
That was the best meal of the trip. -- Maggie
After visiting El Coom, the hotel seems close and dirty and artificial.
This is the first time that I have noticed that all the staff is thin,
and only the manager is fat. -- Mark
March 28 - Luxor - In a dingy alley, there is nice building being
built next to a touristy hotel row. I wonder how the new hotel will transform
the block or if tourists will need to search up the trash-filled back
alley, as we have done a few times. Next to the construction site were
some kids who put up their hands for money as if they had been told to
do so and didn't quite understand what they were doing. -- Duncan
Most of the buildings here are not complete. Their roofs aren't done.
Maybe they will finish later or add another level. Maybe it is just cheaper.
I could have a wonderful time in Egypt without ever going near a pyramid
or pharaoh. I go along to the tombs and temples and am genuinely impressed.
But just walking around town, chatting with people, or drinking a cup
of tea is much, much more interesting and fun. Butchers hang a quarter
of a cow, dark red and white, from a hook in front of their shop, amidst
the street dust and the heat, and simply hack off what someone wants.
When I passed a butcher shop last night I heard bones cracking and saw
the butcher, a pile of absolutely white bones at his feet and brown tripe
hanging from a hook above his head, working tiny scraps of meat from ribs.
White and blue mini-buses ferry us around town, packed shoulder to shoulder
with anyone else who wants onboard, in exchange for 25 piastres (the equivalent
of 6 cents) apiece. People move over to make room for each other and for
us. When I pass the mini-bus driver a 50 piastre note, he dutifully passes
me the change. (The hotel manager wants to charge me for the lights, if
I want to use an empty office at night.) Use and reuse and accumulated
grime have made the banknotes grow until they feel three times as thick
as a dollar. To make sure we don't get lost, a pharmacist abandons his
store, without locking it, and leads us for blocks. Barbers trim facial
hair and eyebrows with grey thread strung between their hands and teeth
in a triangular pattern which they work like some sort of nightmarish
cat's cradle over the surface of your face. At the bread shop, women and
men wait in different lines for the soft flat bread to come out of the
oven and cool in a cage made from split sticks. Maggie has learned the
system and insists I come with her so I can see how well she does. On
a mini-bus we sit next to a man with a huge, bushy, grey and white mustache
wearing a brilliant white turban and an olive drab wool robe. He is clearly
pleased with himself when he threads his way, leading all of us, past
the tourist-hungry touts. He never says a word in English. A bicyclist
rides between cars while carrying a long tray - made of split palm branches
- of bread on his head. -- Mark
I've noticed how hotels have very fake touristy names like Papyrus and
how the buildings themselves seem to be studded with pictures of hieroglyphics,
scarabs, and pharaohs. -- Duncan
March 29 - Luxor to Cairo -
Maggie: "Want to know my favorite places so far."
Mark: "Okay. I'll bet one of them is Luxor."
Maggie: "Yep. Luxor and Siphnos and Venice and Francis and David's house."
As we get closer to Cairo, more people wearing suits get on. I automatically
scan them to see how their jackets hang. I feel a bit surprised when I
discover the jackets fit naturally. They are missing that subtle but odd
flat spot just above their waist caused by a folded submachine gun. In
1997, islamic fundamentalists massacred 60 tourists at the Temple of Hatshepsut
on the West Bank. The terrorists apparently descended from the ridge we
climbed earlier in the week. (At night, when we looked across at the cliffs
surrounding the Valley of the Kings, we could see the lights of guard
houses, linked by irregular strings of lights. It looked like a ski lift.)
For the last few days, just about the only people we have seen wearing
suits have been tourist police carrying machine guns slung beneath one
arm. I got rather used to them.
I suppose it is not a coincidence that the eight tourists in
our train car are all assigned seats surrounding a plainclothes security
guard. No one says anything about the policemen or the semi-automatic
pistols they wear at their waists. Soldiers and other policemen check
in periodically with our guard. (I think we may have a whole carload of
soldiers with us.) He seems to be running the show. Unlike many of the
soldiers we have seen, these fellows are alert. At one stop, the guards
move to the door and pull a submachine gun from their gym bag. We don't
know why. Perhaps it's routine, but they are very serious. The precautions
make me edgy, but I have grown accustomed to them. -- Mark
We saw Mahmoud on the platform standing with a bunch of other soldiers.
We all greeted him like old friends and shook hands. He beamed. His friends
stared in amazement. -- Monica
March 30 - Cairo - When we arrived again in Cairo, it was so
different from Luxor. It was way more crowded and less touristy. When
we were in Luxor, if there wasn't someone bugging you about a felucca,
someone was bugging you about a carriage ride. When we were in the Valley
of the Kings, we saw people from Cairo. They laughed, joked, and wanted
us to be in pictures with them. They were altogether nicer. -- Tote
March 31 - Cairo
Monica: Wow. For the first time I saw a silver anthropoid coffin in
the room full of stuff from Tanis.
Tote: Seti I. My favorite mummy in the mummy room.
Duncan: He was totally pitch black and his chin was so sharp it looked
like you could cut leather with it.
Monica: Duncan. That's so gross because he looked like leather himself.
Did you see Nut? Under someone's coffin.
Maggie: I liked the blue hippo with black designs on it.
Duncan: The Nut thing was cool because she had stars all over because
she was the sky god.
Monica: I have a picture of her naked with stars all over her.
Duncan: Good. We can put that in our ancient Egyptian pornography section.
Monica: Maggie found a whole section of little guys with erect penises.
Duncan: She said, "Come on Duncan, here's a whole bunch of those
Tote: I hate those. Everything is so detailed until after their thing,
then it just isn't detailed by their legs and feet.
Monica: When we left, one of the guards said "Good-bye Maggie"
and patted her on the head. How does she do that?
(Lobby of the Cairo Hilton - No, we're not staying there!)
Mark: Hello. Do you mind if I sit down here, so I can work for a bit?
Ex-Pat: No. Not at all.
Mark: Where are you from?
Ex-Pat: Well. I live here. I teach at a school here.
Mark: How do you like it?
Ex-Pat: Well. We've gotten to travel quite a bit. That's been great. I
have liked some of my students, too. But, this is our last year. We've
been here a year and that's enough. Education here is a mess. Don't get
me started on that. The attitude toward education is shocking. I teach
kids that are driven to school by chauffeurs. When they're late, they
say, "My driver was late." And private schools are big business
here. There's loads of money in it, and when there's a conflict between
education and making money, money wins.
Mark: We have some of those in the States, too.
Ex-Pat: Yeah, but not as many. It's just unbelievable. There's no way
this school should be accredited but . . . baksheesh . . . you know. That
takes care of it. I think I am teaching maybe the top 2% that has everything
in this country. They dress in Gap clothing and want to be just like Americans.
They get these nubians up here to work for them and put them in, well,
literally a shack - no water, no toilet. It just sits next to their house.
The public schools have 50 or 60 in a class. I cannot tell you how difficult
it is to be an American here. I've been making a list of the things I
like about Egypt and the things I don't. The list of the things I like
is pretty short - potato chips, these plastic folders . . . and the beer
. . . I think that's pretty much it. The fights I've had with cab drivers
and the hustlers. In October during this Palestinian thing, we had to
be really careful. There was a commotion outside my window at school in
October, and my students were burning an Israeli flag. Outside the supermarket,
you have to run the gauntlet of these urchins dressed in rags that are
trying to do something for you, so you feel guilty enough to give them
some money. And the muslim culture. . . women are just nobodies here.
At a certain time they just disappear and the men sit around drinking
tea and smoking. Every male smokes here. Sometimes you get in a taxi and
the guy will offer you a cigarette, a Cleopatra. That would knock your
socks off. I cannot believe these are the same people who created the
pyramids and pharonic art. Something must have happened to the gene pool.
They just put up a huge metal tower next to Cheops . . . communications
. . . I said, "You couldn't find a better place for it than right
next to one of the greatest landmarks in the world?" My wife is a
runner, and she would run in the morning with a couple other girls that
live in our building. They finally had to stop because of the harassment.
. . .
Mark: Harassment, like yelling or harassment like grabbing?
Ex-Pat: Both. Grabbing and yelling. These street urchins would just come
up and grab their breasts and yell things. People would try to trip them.
They finally ended up living like prisoners. They'd only go out when someone
like me would go along with them. . . It's not like we haven't met some
nice Egyptians. I've met some. When I was interviewing, I had an offer
from a suburb here that is just like living in the States. I didn't want
to do it, because I wanted something more exotic. I didn't really expect
this though. I am not a big fan of muslim culture.
After talking with an expatriate in the lobby of the Hilton, I wonder
whether I am blind, naive, or too much of a newcomer to see what he sees.
Are our perceptions different, because we are different? Or is he simply
right about this country, and I am wrong? -- Mark
April 1 - Cairo - I smell the immense dusty pollution cloud that
silently drifts over Cairo. I feel the cool night air as it soothes what
the desert inferno does to my face. I hear the call to prayer, as it streams
through the city, sounding like an ancient death song. I see the sun's
shadow on the moon, sideways. I see the dim red desert glow under the
dark blue sky. Suddenly there's a swift wind, and I hear the rustle of
paper and plastic on the next roof. -- Tote
We visited christian churches and a synagogue in the Coptic Christian
part of Cairo. Today Egypt is so overwhelmingly islamic that I have trouble
remembering that the Christians were in Egypt before the Arab invasion.
Egyptian christians now speak Arabic and dress just as other Arabs dress.
Some churches are decorated with Arabic writing. It is disconcerting to
realize that the cases full of things that look like velvet bolster pillows
contain the relics of Christian martyrs. We visited the place where Mary
and Joseph supposedly hid Jesus from Herod, tried on St. George's chains
(after removing our shoes as a sign of respect, just like in a mosque),
and walked around where Moses was plucked from the Nile by the pharaoh's
daughter. There was a guy on the sidewalk who would tattoo a murky blue
cross on your hand for a small amount. -- Mark
There was a lot of restoration work going on at the Hanging Church (Al-Muallaqa'
The Suspended)(dedicated to the Virgin Mary) so called because it was
built on top of the Roman water gate . . . so it is suspended without
a foundation. I like the wooden, barrel-vaulted ceiling. Our guide named
three styles of roof on Coptic churches and claimed this one represented
an upside down Noah's ark. The church had over 100 icons but only a couple
dozen were visible to me. A steady stream of visitors came in and kissed
and touched the displayed icons, as in Greek Orthodox churches. -- Monica
Mark: Is there discrimination against Coptics in Egypt?
Coptic guide: "Discrimination"? I don't understand. Do you mean
Mark: Yes. Persecution.
Guide: Nothing in the open. For finding a job it might be harder.
Mark: How do you get along with the muslims?
Guide: I don't. At school all my friends are christians and then I come
here. And I don't have job yet. So, I don't associate with them at all.
In the hanging church there were wood and ivory wall covers/carvings with
patterns of 10 for the commandments and 12 for the apostles. There were
lots of icons made of silver or painted with glass coverings. The ceiling
was like a boat - for Noah's ark. -- Duncan
April 2 - Cairo - My favorite thing was seeing the Princess Bride
at the American University. We went to American University to do some
of our math and writing. I want to go there again, because I liked running
up and down all the pathways. I talked to someone who asked me if I were
lost, I said I wasn't I just needed to know where the toilet is, so she
showed me. -- Maggie
All the children love Karkadey (hibiscus tea); Duncan particularly likes
kushari (a mix of noodles, rice, lentils, garbanzo beans, fried onions,
in a red sauce); Mark and I especially like comparing the many versions
of ta'amiyya and fuul (falafel and beans). Maggie likes grilled chicken
and rice, and Tote mainly eats cheese sandwiches. -- Monica
I am sitting on the edge of a false leather couch that, because of the
humidity is somewhat sticky. A rug in front of me adds to the dusty scent
in the air. The heat ripples over to me from the window on the edge of
my sight. Cooler gusts periodically rush from the building's interior
to battle the heat where I am. Cars are continually honking on the roundabout
just outside - honks in bunches or long continuous ones. With the warm
gusts of air come wafts signaling the alley garbage piles. -- Duncan
April 3 - Cairo - Maggie has discovered that Fanta sells for 60
piastres. This is good because no one has small change, so she often gets
Chiclets gum as change if she gives the man 75 or 100 piastres. Good thing
she doesn't have too many permanent teeth yet. -- Mark
I thought City of the Dead seemed like a cross between walking between
the graves in Chefchauen and walking around in a market and walking around
in El Koom. The graves were brightly-colored like in Chefchauen and periodically
we walked into what would be a courtyard in some cities but here it was
just a graveyard. It seemed like one of the big markets, because we sometimes
just followed paths and had to look for footprints to show us the most
traveled paths which were the ways out.In one of these courtyards, there
was a coffin-sized pit. The buildings in El Koom seemed incomplete, like
the buildings in the City of the Dead. I had mental pictures of grave
robbers at work. People live in some of the tombs, and we saw a shop in
one of them. -- Duncan
One afternoon, when we were hiking along the cliffs north of Kastro on
Sifnos, Maggie told me she liked to talk to imaginary friends . . . holding
long dialogues and playing games and making up scenarios. Of course I
knew this because I have listened to her murmur since Scotland. Today
we were walking through the noisy Cairo streets, and Maggie was having
one of those in-depth conversations. The funny thing, to me, was that
Maggie was having this dialogue at the top of her voice. She had to be
able to hear herself over the traffic and people.
We've just spent the last few hours wandering around the Norther
cemetary of Cairo . . . also known as the City of the Dead. When people
buried their relatives there, they built mausoleums that included rooms
in which to stay overnight when they visited to show their respect. Many
mausoleums and graves are the basis of a living squatters' residence.
There were a few shops, tea houses, a butcher, several mosques, quite
a few car parts shops. We found two men who were using traditional thread-making
machines, twisting long strands to sell to galabiyya makers for decorative
stitching. -- Monica
We went to a necropolis. A long time ago people turned part of it into a
town. We wandered through the labyrinth of graves and mausoleums. The town
was very dirty. Trash was everywhere, and it was really dusty. There were
stores but it was not touristy. I know it wasn't touristy for two reasons.
One, the people could not speak English. When we are in a touristy place,
such as Venice, everybody spoke English. Two, kids followed us, and they
weren't asking for money. -- Tote
April 4 - Cairo - We saw sufi dancers. They spun in circles. There
were two dancers that did the most spinning. The first dancer only had
two skirts that he could take off, but he had his jacket and four tambourine-like
drums. It looked so fun, I wanted to do it too. The dancers were sweating
so hard, it reminded me of the Winnie the Pooh play that I was in, because
we wore sweat pants and the lights were so hot. It also reminded me of
spinning around in circles in the living room at home. It looked like
it was a place that wasn't always used for sufi dancing. It looked like
a mosque. The second twirler had three skirts, but one he lifted up and
there was another part tucked in so that when he twirled it looked like
he was inside a diamond. -- Maggie
We went to a Sufi dancing performance by the Al-Tannoura Egyptian Heritage
Dance Troupe. It was held in the Mausoleum of al-Ghouri, near Cairo's
main bazaar, Khan al-Khalili. Both the mausoleum and the nearby mosque-madrassa
date from 1505. Qansuh Al-Ghouri was the second to last Mamluk ruler who
in old age went to battle the Ottoman Turks in Syria. Following his defeat,
the Turks ruled Egypt for 281 years. The performance was spectacular!
The music was loud, riveting, and marvelous...horns with reeds (reminding
me of bagpipes and Greek gaida), tambourines, small finger-cymbals, several
kinds of drums, and one-stringed lute-like drone instruments. The musicians
played for close to two hours, sometimes accompanied by one of two singers
whose voices sounded like the addition of a new instrument. There were
two dance performances, colorful twirling, smiling whirling, each lasting
well over a half hour. I was mesmerized. I loved it! -- Monica
Duncan: I've just started to appreciate Greece. I don't think I will start
to appreciate Egypt until we're in the middle of India.
We saw Sufi dancing. At first all it was were a couple of musicians playing.
Then some of them stepped forward and turned in slow circles. I thought
that this was all it was, just a guy with an instrument playing and turning.
This went on for about 15 minutes, but then some dancers came out with
tambourines. The dancers danced for a while, until someone came out in
a colorful robe and some tambourine-looking things. He twirled. Mom called
him a whirling dervish. After turning for about 15 minutes, he took off
the bottom of his robe and it had a smaller one under it. There was a
while when no one spun, then another whirling dervish came out. He didn't
have the tambourine things. He had 3 robe bottoms. -- Tote
April 5 - Cairo - We went to see a free concert by Herbie Hancock
and some other people. I liked it best when Herbie Hancock was playing
without the singer. My favorite part was when the two piano players switched
really fast in the middle of a song. -- Maggie
I feel like I've reached a new plateau on the trip . . . it's a subtle
feeling. I feel more relaxed. I like the warmth. Even though Cairo is
a hugely sprawling, filthy, noisy city, I like it a lot. I like its sense
of exotic, Arabic Africa. People everywhere; friendliness, wanting to
chat, smile, make connections. Even the constant haggling and bargaining
seems familiar, something to be taken in stride. -- Monica
Mark: It will be really interesting to be back where people speak English
Duncan: You mean, like in Ireland, where you were almost the only one
who could understand what Mike was saying?
Maggie: I could understand Mike AND I can understand English.
The boys loved running up and down the hills and mounds of Saqquara amidst
ruins and mounds which might be ruins. It's a good place to get some sense
of what the pyramids were like when they were seen by only a trickle of
tourists. From Saqquara, you can see lots of other pyramids out in the
desert. Tote and I even walked past pieces of a human skeleton. -- Mark
April 6 - Cairo to Bombay - At a Cairo Telecom office, another
customer helped me explain to the clerk that I was looking for a fax.
When I thanked him, he asked where I was from. I told him. Then he told
me he was from Iraq. I had no idea what to say next. "How's life
back home?" didn't seem like a good conversation starter. -- Mark
April 7 - Bombay - The flight from Cairo to Mumbai (the new name
for Bombay) left at 2:00 AM. It went smoothly. We were very fortunate
to have met an Indian couple who live in Bombay (Anil and Nita Gujral)
and their son (Vidur). They want to help us in any way they can. They
told us the best way to get from the airport to downtown and had all sorts
of tips and suggestions for southern India. They must have really thought
we needed help when we joined the line to go through customs without claiming
our baggage. We took a taxi to the Fort area of Bombay - about 1 1/2 hours.
The taxi stalled once in the midst of belching trucks, but with help from
some people from a nearby shop, he was able to get us going again in about
10 minutes. Looking out the hotel window this afternoon, I saw a busker
make a little boy disappear from a basket with a lid. The all-male audience
looked in the basket and around the area, but no one appeared able to
find the child. -- Monica
Tonight I saw a scene which to me summed up the battle I've been fighting
for the last decade and a half and one which predicted the winner. In
front of the offices of the World Wildlife Federation I saw a family living
on the sidewalk. Two children were already asleep in a single bed. Beneath
a blue plastic awning, which sheltered all their possessions, save the
bed, the parents and two smaller children watched an enormous television
set. -- Mark
Duncan: I liked that there wasn't just one kind of tree. There were hundreds
of kinds of trees - the kind with yellow flowers, that looked like different
shades of green sheets draped over the branches. There were just so many
different kinds. My favorite thing was looking at them as we went by.
Monica: More poverty.
Duncan: It just shows more. In Egypt, I think it was there but it wasn't
Tote: I thought our luggage would come out of the back of the taxi. It
wasn't shut all the way, and he had to tie it.
Monica: Did you see the stretch along the road where everyone was washing
clothes and bathing? Maybe the water had just been turned on in that part
Tote: It looks sort of like Cairo until you get to those sections where
there were shanties packed together. We didn't see those sections in Cairo.
Monica: Mark, what did you think?
Mark: I know happiness doesn't depend on how much you have, and in Liberia
it was clear that people can be happy in conditions that look pretty bad
to someone just passing through. But I really wondered about the people
in the shanty towns. Did you see that section where a strip of places
was wedged between the road and the railroad tracks? I cannot imagine
living there. I also thought the sections we went through were interesting
- big truck section ("goods carrier trucks"), tour bus parking
and washing section. I liked the people we met at the airport very much.
Monica: I thought the women looked like flowers, very beautiful, brightly-colored
clothing, walking erect with such poise, even in the squalor.
Maggie: I saw cows with painted red horns walking down the street.
Mark: That reminded me of the flock of goats we saw being herded through
downtown Cairo last night.
April 8 - Bombay - We have seen very few usual tourists here (European,
Australian, American, etc.) When we were sitting next to the Gateway to
India arch, there were Indian tourists everywhere but no usual ones. All
over this part of Bombay there are trees: bright green ones. My favorites
are the ones with vines growing down from them, but some cool ones have
fern-like leaves. The food here is good. It is all hot peppery. My favorite
food is butter naan - pancake-like bread soaked in butter. It is sooo
good. I like dipping bread in all the sauces. -- Tote
We don't always know what we are ordering, but it is invariably delicious.
There's usually rice, some kinds of bread, various sauces - vegetarian,
chicken, mutton, or fish -- and many condiments. Afterwards we are always
given a little tray containing fennel seeds (good for digestion) and toothpicks.
There's always a sink in the back for washing up afterwards. -- Monica
It seems we are still a tourist attraction. Here it's a bit more abrupt
than in Egypt, perhaps because there's less English spoken. At the Gateway,
one fellow simply walked up to me, handed me a camera, and plopped himself
into the middle of the rest of the family. I snapped the photo, and, without
a word, he took the camera back and walked off. Nearly everybody else
at least said thanks. -- Mark
Man who works at a tiny combination laundry and telephone call store:
So, this is my plan to get to the United States. I want to marry an American
girl with some money, and she will pay for us to go there. Then, I will
work and pay this sum that we have spent . . . I will pay it back. Then
we can go our own way. That wouldn't be so bad, I think.
Man: You see, I can make lots more money there than here. Here, I work
10 or 12 hours, and I make 1000 rupees for a day. How much would I make
Mark: Well, you might make . . . 26 or 27 hundred rupees a day, and it's
expensive to live there, too. Here you can eat a good meal in a restaurant
for 30 rupees; there you might, might, be able to buy a tiny hamburger
and eat it on a park bench. And there's taxes.
Man: But that's for 8 hours, right?
Man: So, that's better.
Mark: Yes, but not that much better, and you'd need to pay for the divorce.
Man: Would that be necessary?
Mark: I suppose you could split it.
After a half hour in a line at the train reservation center, I had advanced
perhaps a foot. Although there may be fifty windows in the reservation
center, and one must carefully fill in every blank in the reservation
form before arriving at the window, the lines are long. They are also
deceptively short. For one thing, to improve efficiency, clerks ask customers
who need a moment to think or to search for change or to fill in a blank
on the reservation form to step to one side while they wait on the next
person in line. In theory this means a clerk is waiting on several people
simultaneously. It also avoids the very real punishment of banishing someone
to the end of the line to stand for another hour or two. For another,
it is apparently customary to say to the person behind you something like,
"I'm coming back" and disappear for a quarter of an hour or
so. This is obviously a necessity.
Since I only had an hour and a half to get our reservations,
I asked one of the fellows in front of me whether one could book tickets
through a travel agent or over the phone. He said there is no way to do
it over the phone and that, in his opinion, travel agents were dangerous:
"You pay your money, and they say 'come tomorrow,' but sometimes
they don't give." He did point out that there were two windows reserved
for credit card purchases and observed that the lines were much shorter.
(I would have known this if I had read the inch tall printing on the 6
foot high sign listing the function of every single window on the second
floor of the reservations center, instead I had read the five foot one
with two inch printing which described how to make a reservation. It urged
the customer to make a quick decision since the agent can only hold a
reservation for 20 seconds.)
The lines were much shorter at the credit card window. I reached the window
after only 30 minutes. Our tickets were booked and paid for about 90 seconds
later. (I had, as signs posted on the credit card window instructed, written
my card number and home address and phone number on my completed and signed
reservation form.) By this time I was rather disappointed to be leaving.
The credit card line was filled with English speakers, and we were in
the middle of a rousing discussion of whether India would have a better
government school system if there were less corruption. We had already
addressed the shortcomings of American elementary school education ("In
second form all they do is paint and draw. Paint and draw! Maybe they
sing a little bit."), the virtues of American universities, the problems
of India's government schools, and whether there was more corruption in
India's government or America's. As I was leaving, four people handed
me business cards - a pharmacist, door manufacturer, government official,
and popcorn machine distributor - and I handed out my e-mail address,
so perhaps I will eventually hear the end of the discussion. Ah, it's
great to be back in a democracy. -- Mark
April 9 - Bombay to Kanyakumari Express -
Air India Captain Anil Gujral: The first important thing is to enjoy your
holiday. The second important thing is not to get rooked.
Mark: Do you know what time we will get to Kochi?
Passenger: 6 o'clock.
Mark: So, tomorrow night?
Passenger: No. The next day.
Mark: Today is Monday. You mean Tuesday, right?
Passenger: No. Today is Monday. We sleep here tonight. Tomorrow, Tuesday,
we travel and sleep here again. We arrive in Kochi the next day, Wednesday,
at 6 AM.
April 10 - On the Kanyakumari Express -
Maggie: When do we get there?
Mark: Tomorrow morning.
Maggie: We sleep here again?
Mark: Yes. Remember, I told you that yesterday.
Maggie: I thought that was another of your stupid April Fools jokes.
On Sunday, when we went to Victoria Terminus to get tickets on the Netravati
Express to Kochi, it was totally booked -- it's school vacation time.
That's a 28-hour express train. Instead we got two tickets in a four-bed
air-conditioned berth, one wait list reservation, and two beds in a six-bed
non-air-conditioned berth on the Kanyakumari Express. We assumed it would
take a similar route in a similar amount of time. After a few hours on
the train, we learned we were taking a different route and that it will
take about 40 hours. But it's going marvelously. Mark managed to get Duncan
and himself switched to our compartment. It's quite comfortable and wonderfully
It's 3 PM and guys in red jackets are parading through selling
snacks they've cooked up in the very hot, open-sided pantry car. I checked
it out yesterday - big steaming pots over big fires while the car hurtles
down the tracks. We've bought samosas, which the boys are dipping in ketchup,
and Mark and I are drinking chai. We drink water from our 4 filter water
bottles . . . these we refill at drinking water taps at the station stops.
Mark is reading Zorba the Greek, Tote and Duncan are playing a game they've
made up, and Maggie is playing with her 3 stuffed animal friends - Tea
(a bear she was given by Grandma Avis to talk to along the trip - when
she needed "someone else" to talk to), Inch (a colorful worm
given to her at Christmas by Grandma Hughes), and Metro Bug (given to
her by the owner of the Metropolis Hotel in Athens.) -- Monica
Every place we go, kids are playing cricket. Wickets might be sticks
in a box, stones on a box, or stones on a big stone. I have yet to see
anyone playing any other sport - no basketball and no soccer. -- Mark
April 11 - Kanyakumari Express to Kochi - We left Bombay in the
afternoon two days ago. We spent that night and the whole next day and
night on the train. Kochi is so different It is hotter. It has a different
language. It is smaller. We are currently in a fancy hotel, because we
met a family on the plane from Cairo to Mumbai, and the dad, an Air India
pilot, knew people here and arranged it for us. This afternoon we went
on a boat tour. We stopped at three places: a palace, now a museum; a
church with cool manually-operated fans; and another palace, currently
a hotel. We also saw some Chinese fishing nets. The fishing nets were
made of four poles which held open a net to catch prawns. These poles
were connected to a dock-like thing. They had counterweights to pull it
up. -- Tote
Engineering student on tour boat: So, do you like Bush or Gore?
Mark: Well, neither very much but I would have preferred Gore.
Second student: What do you think of Vajpayee?
Second Student: Our Prime Minister.
Mark: I think he has a very difficult job. I read what he said in Iran,
and it sounded sensible. Do you like him?
Second Student: Yes.
Mark: I think he has a more difficult job than the U.S. President.
Second Student: Undoubtedly. He has 20 plus political parties in his coalition.
First Student: And so many regional parties. We have so many languages.
. . .
Second Student: . . . And religious parties. And you cannot change where
someone lives or their religion.
Third Student: It is very difficult to govern this country.
44-year old man: It is interesting to see these children.
Mark: You mean the way they play together?
Man: No, that you brought them with you. Americans think of children as
Man: I have a friend there. He is a pathologist and his wife is an American,
a doctor. He tells me she says that one child is enough and that she is
finished. They put the child in daycare because it is a nuisance. Here,
my wife and I both work, but we still care for the children. My brother-in-law
in the U.S. pays $33,000 for one kid and $33,000 for another kid there.
What kind of money must they make to do that?
Mark: I don't think that's the way most people in America think. Maybe
some professional couples at the upper end but not most people.
Man: And you don't care for your parents either. You just send them to
the old age home. Here, I care for my mother.
Mark: What are you talking about? How do you know what I do with my parents?
Man: I didn't mean "you." I meant Americans generally. Of course,
I have six sisters and an older brother, and they won't help either. I
had to hire a woman to help, and I pay the entire cost.
Monica: I don't think I've had a bad Indian meal yet.
Maggie: Did the captain tell us to go here?
Maggie: And he found the hotel for us, right?
Mark: Yes. He also suggested the boat tour.
Maggie: I think you should listen to him. What did he say we should do
Mark: He said you should go home to bed.
Maggie: No he didn't!
Upstairs the Mattancherry Palace contains intricate murals depicting scenes
from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Puranic legends. Downstairs in what
our guidebook calls the "ladies' bedchamber" are murals depicting
horny forest animals and a cheerful Krishna using his six hands and two
feet to engage in foreplay with eight women. Without the hint of a smile
our guide explained that the mural demonstrated that worship of Krishna
is not confined to any particular caste. -- Mark
April 12 - Kochi - We are in Kochi, a small city down in the Malabar
coast. I think the language here, Malayalam, is more loopy than Hindi.
It looks like someone scribbled and turned it into letters. It's odd.
I liked both restaurants we went to here. Last night we had tons of butter
naan - flat soft butter-flooded bread, chinese-style noodles, crunchy
vegetables, mini prawns, chicken, and lamb. This afternoon, I had mutton
with fried rice, peas, and vegetables. -- Duncan
Monica: These Indian dresses are so beautiful.
Mark: They really are beautiful. The styles really show off these nice
pieces of fabric. Remember how horrible we thought all the stylish young
Englishwoman looked? They seemed to accentuate all their bad features?
Monica: These woman all look so beautiful.
Mark: Yes. Even those who you know aren't.
Monica: The clothes seem to complement the women.
The boys have decided that this is the place for me. Around our hotel
are a dozen bookstores, half a dozen "lending libraries," and
four or five bike shops. I love the bookstores. The ones I visited are
filled with books on dauntingly serious subjects. (One had four different
volumes on graph theory.) But they also contain wonderfully odd little
treasures written by enthusiasts. "All along I have cherished a desire
to show those who think mathematics boring and dull just how beautiful
it can be" says Sakuntala Devi about her own book. The book contains
such gems as the "relationship between 7 and the number 142857"
and how to find the square roots of perfect squares up to 40000 in one's
head. A local physician's story of a sojourn in Africa, containing "excerpts
from the author's forthcoming bestselling autobiography." Several
books on how to eliminate errors in English. One advises that "May
I know our good name?" is incorrect and suggests "May I know
your good name?" as the preferred alternative. -- Mark
There are about 18 million christians in India today. About 3/4 of them
live in south India. St. Thomas the apostle supposedly came here in 52
AD, though scholars say Christianity probably arrived during the 4th Century
with about 400 families who later became the Syrian Orthodox Church. --
This is a country of signs. In the airport, there is a huge lighted sign
with instructions for the escalator - in three languages. It seems everything
is labelled. Ticket windows have lists and lunch hours painted on them.
If one had time to read them all, one might have find it very easy to
understand what is going on. Here's a sampling:
Chance takers are accident makers.
To avoid AIDS don't change beds.
Clean outside is clean inside.
Drunkards are forewarned.
Prevent AIDS - Love All.
Less luggage. More travel pleasure.
Left is right.
Don't save time by shaving your life. Drive carefully.
April 13 - Kochi - Today we went in a wood boat. I liked to stick
my hand in the water. My hand was like a grate. All the leaves got stuck
in my hand. We saw a lady making rope. She showed us a chain that she
made. It connected a razor blade, a pen, and a needle. The chains and
rope were made out of coconut fibers. The coconut husk was put in water
and then whacked with a stick. When they dried, the lady wove them into
rope. I liked watching the lady weave rope and pound coconut. -- Maggie
While touring the backwaters, we stopped our canoe for a drink of palm
wine! I haven't tasted it since the Peace Corps. Our palm wine came from
a tiny thatched hut along a canal. In keeping with the Indian passion
to organize everything, the hut bore a sign identifying it as a licensed
and numbered "Toddy Shop." -- Mark
In the evening we went to a demonstration performance of Kathakali, an
ancient dance and musical story-telling tradition here in Kerala. Director
Devan, in his dramatic colorfully rhythmic style of speech, explained
the significance of the elaborate make-up we watched the two dancers apply.
Then he introduced the few of us in the audience to the gestures of the
dancing - how emotions and animals and actions are conveyed through very
stylized movements of eyes, eyebrows, cheeks, mouth, head, hands, fingers,
body, and feet. The exquisitely costumed and made up actors danced a story
of hunting, life and death, of temptation, deceit, love, and hate to the
accompaniment of a drum, finger cymbals, and lyrics sung in Malayalam.
Afterwards, Devan shared his theories on Hindu stories, dance, and philosophy
of life. The evening was utterly delightful. -- Monica
April 14 - Kochi to Munnar - Today is an Indian holiday called
Vishu. We bought fireworks and celebrated Vishu and Easter. -- Maggie
The local bus ride all afternoon was harrowing, but fun as we barreled
along at top speed, engine roaring, horn blasting, wind rushing in the
windows with no glass. We made many stops, the bus crowded with people
getting on and off. About halfway up to Munnar, a hill station people
go to in order to get out of the heat of the plains, we bounced into a
changing landscape from towns with rice fields and banana trees, pineapples
and papaya, to forests of rubber trees, towering hardwood trees, waterfalls,
rows and rows of tea plants, and cool air. -- Monica
I am convinced that the best travel bargain is public transportation.
Today we toured Kerala State from the seaside to a mile high on a 4-hour
public bus trip that cost less than $5 for all of us. There are people
to look at and chat with, towns to examine (since the bus has no glass
in the windows, you really feel as if you are visiting), and a variety
of terrifying encounters with trucks, other buses, auto rickshaws, and
cliff edges. The spaces between villages grew and the trees grew more
plentiful as we climbed into the hills. Maggie and I picked out the new
plants we have learned - coconut palms, papaya, cassava, mango, rubber
trees, and finally, tea. We watched how men tie their dothis -- a skirt-like
wrap that is sometimes ankle-length and sometimes shortened to the length
of shorts with a couple quick folds and a tuck -- and watched the prints
change from plain to brightly colored. The boys commented on how efficiently
the conductor signalled the driver using a bell operated by pulling a
cord. One ring to stop, a couple rings to go, and a steady ringing in
tight spots to say "keep going." We learned how to put down
the folding screens that fill the windows when it is raining - and how
dark it is inside a bus careening through the rain on a winding, narrow
road. -- Mark
April 15 - Munnar - We arrived last night as it was turning dark.
In the pouring rain, we took a land rover the last 19 km further up from
Munnar into the cloud enshrouded hills covered with tea plants. This morning
as I look from this little balcony, the panorama is stunning. The sun
illuminates the many shades of green: undulating neatly groomed carpet
of tea plants interspersed with trees and large boulders; in the distance
are layers of mountains, clad in dark forests; a wide river slides quietly
through the valley lined with snaking dirt roads and paths. -- Monica
The area around Munnar is really cool. It is up high, and there are tea
fields around. I really like the tea fields because they are just green
bushes that slide over the hills in slightly uneven rows. -- Tote
April 16 - Munnar - We went in a jeep today up to a National Park,
and we saw Nilgiri Tahr, an endangered mountain goat with horns. -- Maggie
Today we went to Eravikulam National Park. I was disappointed, because
I expected better, but I had a good time. About 5 minutes before we got
there it started raining. This happened just before we stopped to see
some people who pick tea. When we got there we hopped out of the jeep
taxi and got going. We had to walk on the road, but there were few vehicles.
The hike was not miserable because the rain was relatively warm. We had
to walk on the road, which made me a little mad, but it was okay. On the
drive down, we saw people picking tea leaves. They had clear plastic over
their backs and heads, for rain. -- Tote
Both going and coming we saw a small group of women picking tea. On our
way up we stopped and greeted the women who were handing in their bundles
of leaves to the driver of a truck. I introduced myself to a few women
who wanted to greet me and tell me their names. On the way down we stopped
again to take some photos. As I emerged from the jeep, I heard "Hello
Monica!" shouted from up on the hillside. -- Monica
April 17 - Munnar to Thekkady - Another wonderful bus ride. Unfortunately,
we have ended up in an overpriced, run down, and government run hotel,
and it's too late to find another or even to find a ride out of the Wildlife
Sanctuary. The one good thing about the hotel is that monkeys try to get
in through the windows. -- Mark
Monica: Did I hear that?
Mark: Yeah, a monkey. That's cool.
Monica: It's a hoot.
April 18 - Thekkady - We took a boat farther into the Peryiyar
Tiger Reserve to see animals by water. We saw lots of boars, lots of birds
(my favorites were the cormorants and a really blue bird), four turtles,
and six elephants (one was a baby.) All the animals were wild.
We walked down to a temple in the Reserve because we heard something
going on. People were crowded around the really small, shrine-like temple.
People were putting dots on their foreheads and waving their hands over
fire and putting their hands to their eyes. Then drummers came. The drums
were so different from each other. They all made different sounds. Then
suddenly a guy fell back twitching, and people caught him. He was in a
trance. The people held him. Then the guy came out of the trance and danced
around waving leaves. Then another guy fell back twitching, but people
put a tall hat made of flowers on his head. People threw bananas at him.
The drummers led all the people away. We followed, and they walked down
the street and picked up a bunch of girls and women. Some had baskets
with white sprouts in layers - fatter, skinnier, skinnier. They had tissue
paper decorating it. The second group had white sprouts in the shape of
an ovoid dome. We had a break for dinner, because the procession was going
to come back.
After dinner, when we caught it, the front people had pyramids with cut
up palm leave on it. Everybody in the whole parade was dancing in a spinny,
swaying way except for the sprout girls. The next in line had colored,
small Christmas trees with a stand which they sometimes put on one shoulder
or both (behind their backs.) They had small tridents going through their
cheeks. Some people had things going through their eyebrows and into a
lemon on the trident. The next was a guy dressed up with a giant halo
made from palm leaves. He had a long paper tongue hanging out of his mouth.
I think he was demon. Then there was a different group of drummers, followed
by people with small Christmas trees. With them was a little kid. He had
the trident thing. Next came the drummers which we met at the temple and
then the guy with the white flower hat with the people still dancing around
him with the leaves, followed by the people with the sprouts. -- Tote
We saw a parade with a bunch of dancers in it. They all had funny hats.
The girls in the back had hats made out of sprouts with a small stick
at the top with a tissue paper flower on it. There were also two guys
ahead of them who were dancing alot with no shirts on, with warpaint on
their backs and all over their faces. -- Maggie
April 19 - Thekkady
- We went to a spice garden and saw cinnamon, "bubble plant,"
pineapple, nutmeg, cardamon, ginger, vanilla, cocoa, cat's tail, shrimp
flower, coffee beans, betel nut, giant lemons, bitter leaf, and tumeric
and tapioca and that henna plant. We also saw a tea plantation. It was real
big and some ladies came by, and we saw how their clipper tea things worked.
And then we went into the tea factory and saw how they made the tea.
I had a half of a seed pod and a whole seed pod that I used
as boats. I kicked them along the cement road of our hotel, and when it
rained I pushed them along in the puddles. The half seed pod was supposed
to show the big seed pod where it could dock and to give him a lift, to
tow him, and to be their emergency boat. -- Maggie
Dad found a really good hotel, Ambadi. Our room has a staircase leading
up to another floor where Mom and Dad's bed is. The floor ends a little
more than midway, so it's kind of like an elongated balcony. -- Tote
Our guide mentions "tribal people." Kerala is home to some of
India's most isolated tribes. -- Mark
April 20 - Thekkady - The kids spent a large part of today's hike
fighting off leeches - mostly successfully -- and a large part of the
rest of the day talking about them. -- Mark
This morning we got up early, because we were going on a jungle trek.
When we got to the starting point we looked at a 3D map while we waited
for the guide to come. After he arrived, we started hiking along the road.
After just a minute, a troupe of monkeys came onto the road. They played
in the trees and skittered around. The guide said they are white bonneted
macaques or white monkeys. After we passed the monkeys, we stopped to
put tobacco powder on our shoes to keep the leeches off. Then we started
down the trail. After a while, I saw a huge brown animal was in the path
ahead. On the boat ride I had seen wild elephants and all of them were
brown. For a split second, I thought the beast in front of us was an elephant,
but it was the wrong shape. After stating that lone boars could be dangerous,
our guide led us down a side path and picked up a walking staff. Later
we saw a whole bunch of boars. The guide clapped a few times and all but
one of them ran away. It took a few claps while advancing to frighten
him off. Then the guide led us through a field, across a stream with a
leap, and to our first encounter with the leeches. We stopped and our
guide whacked two leeches off of Tote's shoe with a stick. Then we hiked
to a stream where we smacked leeches off our shoes with our own sticks.
We added a new bunch of tobacco powder and set off. Then we came to cross
the stream and stopped to whack leeches off for a second. On the other
side we found some of yesterday's elephant footprints. We soon came to
a "night patrol road" where they watch for poachers. This track
gave us a break from the persistent leeches. Then we left the track and
hiked through some of the worst leaches yet to a rock where we removed
our shoes to check for intruders. Two were on my sock inside my shoe,
but they were paralyzed by the powder. Our guide found blood between his
toes and a bloated leech in his sock. The rest of us were clean. After
burning the leech with a bit of newspaper, we got hiking into undoubtedly
the worst leeches ever. By the time we stopped, at an enormous tree, leeches
were crowded onto the fabric sections of my sneakers. After scraping off
the horde, we hiked on. It was not until we came home in an auto rickshaw,
checked our shoes, and came inside that I found a leech bite on my ankle.
After I washed the blood off, I saw that only a small hole had been cut.
The leech must have gone in my shoe, bit me, and gone back out. Mom got
three bites, and Tote found some of the larger leeches (2 inches) in his
shoes but no bites. -- Duncan
My favorite part of the trek was listening to the rich and varied sounds
of the jungle. My least favorite part of the trek was having to stop so
often and remove the many leeches which had attached themselves to our
sneakers. -- Monica
Mom got three leeches on her, and Duncan got one. They were bleeding a
real lot. They got them on our trek in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary today.
The leeches looked like they dug a little hole in my shoes and socks.
We put tobacco powder on our shoes and socks and whacked them off with
our sticks. When mom got home, Tote put salt on the leech that came off
mom's leg to kill it. We saw wild boars. And we also saw deer. We didn't
see alot of birds, but we heard them. Our socks got all dirty, but that's
not unusual. We saw monkeys. They were gray. They were jumping around.
They were playing "Follow the Leader." I saw a little monkey
on its mommy's chest. I told mom that that was me on mommy's tummy. I
liked seeing the big tree with all the buttresses. -- Maggie
Mom felt very proud of her three leech bites. I have a good souvenir:
my leech stick. -- Tote
April 21 - Thekkady to Madurai - The main draw to Madurai is the
Sri Meenakshi Temple - a popular pilgrimage site. It's a huge complex
in the old city with many, many shrines. As many as 10,000 pilgrims come
here each day. We took our shoes off, stuffed them in our daypacks and
walked through the West entrance. Lots and lots of people, all ages, rich
to poor, almost all Indians. I walked around wide-eyed, trying hard to
observe as much as I could; trying hard to understand what was going on.
People were praying, standing, and kneeling before shrines, others sitting.
People were making offerings: flowers, food, money, incense, oils . .
. people were putting bindi and ashes on their foreheads. In front of
one shrine to Ganesh, there was a live elephant. You held out a coin,
the elephant took it with his trunk, he blessed your head with his trunk
and later gave the coins to his owner. There were stalls with people selling
postcards, junk, and all sorts of offertory things - flowers, foods, incense,
tiny terra-cotta oil-flame lamps, etc. -- Monica
Heat, hustlers, hotel hunting, and hindu temples. We ate lunch in a restaurant
from banana leaves instead of plates. We ate it with our hands. At the
temple, no one settles for lighting a candle, they buy food to anoint
the statues and occasionally pay an elephant to bestow a blessing. --
Tote: I like the mountains better than the valley. I like being higher
. . . it's cooler. It's mistier . . . lots of tea plantations.
Duncan: I saw big brick barns with large, pyramid of thatch roofs.
Tote: I hate flies. I hate leeches. I hate mosquitos. I love Mom. I like
the Hindu temples. I like the Christian and Hindu shrines. I hate headaches.
I hate sweat. I like thatch roofs. I like mud bricks. I like the brick-making
Duncan: I hate leeches. I hate this heat. I like the mountains. I hate
the flies. I want biscuits.
Monica: I like heat. I like the tropics . . . Did you know that we are
about 9 degrees above the equator here?
Duncan: My favorite part of the ride was the green of the mountains .
. . the beginning of the trip . . . the area before our driver stopped
at the shrine to Maria where he put the coins in the box and prayed.
Monica: There's a breeze coming into this station right now.
Duncan: It's ever so slight.
Monica: Look how the women here look like jewels walking so erect in their
beautiful, colorful saris.
Tote: Hers is brown, Mom.
Monica: Yes, but the decorations are lovely . . . look . . . the other
women right near us . . . purple, orange, blue, red, gold, yellow . .
. like jewels scattered in a train station.
My favorite part of the trip was the bullocks . . . ploughing fields or
more often pulling carts. Their horns were often painted blue or green,
but sometimes they were striped red, black, and white. One had horns painted
red with white spots. -- Monica
Maggie and I got blessed by an elephant in the temple. I stuck a coin
in the end of his trunk. The elephant accepted it. The elephant lifted
his trunk and put his trunk on my head and on Maggie's head. Like someone
would put their hands on your head. It was sort of soft but heavy. --
April 22 - Madurai - In the 1940s Madurai was the center of the
civil disobedience movement. Perhaps this is why the Ghandi Museum is
in Madurai. The sweltering museum contains Ghandi's blood stained cloak
and many panels of text, some of murky black and white photos, and some
of text and murky photos and murky paintings together. The panels relate
the story of Indian independence, downplaying the differences between
Hindus and Muslims, and the second half concentrates on Ghandi's life.
The presentation would be drier without the photographs. The grounds are
pleasant, being largely free of garbage and the nattering harangues of
rickshaw drivers. -- Mark
April 23 - Madurai to Kodaikanal - The auto rickshaws here have
non-electric horns with big blue rubber bulbs on the end. The streets
sound like a huge clown convention. And that may be the best thing about
this town. Munnar was a blot on a beautiful landscape; Madurai is simply
a blot. -- Mark
April 24 - Kodaikanal - Today we got a tour of Kodaikanal International
School. It was founded 100 years ago by Americans for the education of
missionary kids living in India. Today there are about 500 students -
about 50% christians; 50% girls; 50% boys. We had lunch at the only pizza
restaurant in Kodai . . . owned by quite a character. It was like stepping
into a hippie restaurant that could have been in any country. The owner/chef
(Indian, originally from Madras) could have been in that restaurant in
any country. He was colorful, entertaining, witty, and somewhat buzzed.
"Mr. Come-back" lived several years in Venice. I think his wife
it Italian. His two children remain there. He told us of the Deep Purple
concert he went to in Bangalore on April 1st. We told him of seeing Herbie
Hancock in Cairo. Before the electricity went out, we listened to an old
jazz CD. -- Monica
April 25 - Kodaikanal - Today we went on a 9-mile hike to see
the Rock Pillars. You could hardly see any of the Rock Pillars, because
of the clouds that were there all day. We saw a bunch of people and a
lot of monkeys. Once we got back, we ate lunch (I had cheese naan and
Chicken 65. After lunch our dessert was a bag full of homemade chocolate
for all 3 of us kids.) Earlier in the day, with my 12 rupees, I bought
12 candies. -- Maggie
We flew paper airplanes in Bryant Park. Bryant Park was like the botanical
gardens. The boys had planes with lots of tears in them to help them fly
better, but I just had two folds on each wing, and it flew just as good
as the boys'. Lots of people in the park wanted to take our picture. I
was in the most pictures. The last picture was by a family that was sort
of goofballish, like Dad. They played "Truth and Dare" and a
boy came over to ask whether he could spin one of us around, because he
was dared. -- Maggie
I think the park we went to today was fun to play in, but all in all it
was a pretty dirty park. On the edges, trash fires threw a whitish, putrid
haze over the park. Sections of flower garden were zoned off with barbed
wire. Despite these things, many families had gathered in the park. The
park was an improvement from the town, even though bits of trash rested
on the fringes of overtrodden paths. We've gotten used to all this. --
April 26 - Kodaikanal to Chennai - Before heading to the Kodai
Road train station to take the train Monica thought I should pay a visit
to the local hospital. Since I could only walk 6 feet before stopping
to gasp for breath, this seemed like a good idea. Though the hospital
was not particularly clean, it was well swept and the staff was friendly.
They gave me a shot that helped me breath, and I sat around for a couple
hours in the garden watching the mist move through the beautiful green
valleys and reading Ghandi's autobiography. I felt better when I left.
I could walk about twenty yards without gasping, and I had a bunch of
anti-asthma medicine stuffed in my pockets. This illness makes us all
incredibly vulnerable - and I am incredibly frustrated and angry with
myself. Duncan is carrying my pack as well as his own. -- Mark
I had a coconut milk. It was an actual coconut with the top cut off. Then
they cut the coconut up so you can eat the coconut meat. That was my second
one. It was good coconut, because I liked the coconut meat. When they
cut my coconut up, they cut part of it like a little paddle to dig out
the coconut meat. Then, I bet if people had a ropemaking machine at their
house they would take the coconuts they had eaten that day home to make
rope. Probably, if the rope gets worn out they would use it for something
else. There must be coconut fibers that have been around 1 million years.
This time getting on the train went like clockwork. I tucked in Duncan,
Tote, and Maggie and went to sleep. -- Monica
April 27 - Chennai - When we arrived, we quickly jumped in a taxi
and rode to a hotel that we thought we were going to stay in. It seemed
pretty expensive for what they had. So, Mom, Tote, and I went out to search
for a different place. We looked first at a big fancy suite in a big fancy
hotel, and it was more than the other hotel, so we couldn't do it. We
left and searched for another hotel, but all we could find in our price
range were dirty, damp places. We finally went back to where Dad and Maggie
were waiting by walking and auto rickshaw. We intended to get rooms in
the first hotel, but the price was higher than we thought they told us
the first time, so we decided to try the fancy suite for a night. Unfortunately,
when we got back to the fancy hotel, the suite we looked at wasn't available.
They said that it had never been available, but that isn't what they told
Mom and us. We were all tired and frustrated and sat down in the lobby,
while Dad spent a long time arguing with the hotel people and trying to
figure things out. We finally ended up with a pair of nice rooms - one
with a computer and internet connection - and free breakfasts and a free
extra bed. Dad and I watched kids playing cricket on top of a five-storey
building, in an area smaller than out backyard. Tonight, we're going to
watch Episode I on television. -- Duncan
Sunlight is very, very sweet after a night spent gasping for breath, in
a coffin-sized, individual berth on an Indian train. In the middle of
the night, I shuffled down to the middle of the car where Monica and the
kids are sleeping. Pushing the curtains aside, I can see them sleeping
peacefully. It is reassuring but brings tears to my eyes. -- Mark
April 28 - Chennai - The zoological section of the Government
Museum looks like a necromancer's lair. It's filled with stuffed rotting
carcasses of animals, formaldehyde filled jars containing sickly bleached
snakes and salamanders, and skeletons of various animals, including humans.
The crew is in a nice safe place. The antibiotics are working, and I am
on the mend. We're even catching up on stuff. Cool. -- Mark
April 29 - Chennai - We got to Sri Thiagaraja Sangeetha Vidwath
Samajam temple around noon; our rickshaw driver stopped and asked directions
five times. This is a festival to commemorate the birthday of Thiagaraja
(which is May 1). Thiagaraja (1767 - 1847) was one of three famous composers
of kirtanas and ragas in Telugu, the state language of the next state
over - Andhra Pradesh. Many of them are in praise of Rama, an incarnation
of Vishnu. He (and his devotees) believe you can reach salvation through
devotional music. He is not a god or a deity or a "saint", but this temple
is dedicated to him, and his image was in at least three places that I
saw, so it seemed to me he was treated like a "saint" by his devotees.
We stayed for about 3 hours listening to many different performers, all
members of the community of this temple and school of music. Hardly anyone
was there but the three people on stage: the singer, the drummer, and
the violin player (playing the Indian way.) They also had an electric
drone going in the background. Each devotee was allowed to perform only
two pieces (so everyone would get a chance), and they were all versions
of compositions by Thiagaraja. We were the only "outsiders", but as the
afternoon progressed, more and more people came. It was very relaxing
and meditative to sit there comfortably listening to this traditional
carnatic Indian music in the shade of a giant roofed structure that covered
the stage, the area for the audience, the temple, and various other out-buildings.
Duncan: We just had the worst rickshaw drive in the world. We went 40
rupees distance - and it was really that far -- in two minutes. And he
hit a guy!
Monica: Not very hard. I just saw a flash of white.
Duncan: Just a glancing blow.
April 30 - Chennai to Tirupathi - Located at the foot of a sacred
hill with Venkateshwara Temple complex at the top, Tirupathi is the "service
town" down below. The town at the top is Tirumala, a mix of devotional
sites (aside from the temple complex), souvenir sellers, food stalls,
barbers (many devotees get their heads shaved), and a constant milling
about of cheerful, patient devotees. Our guidebook claims that the number
of pilgrims visiting Tirumala (up to 60,000 per day) is greater than those
visiting Jerusalem, Mecca, or the Vatican. -- Monica