Old Friends

Gouna Egypt

Old Friends

They started coming again last night.

Even though all the big Egyptian holidays are over, they still come on weekends, which here start a day early.

By tonight, Gouna will be full of them.

They drive down from Cairo, or take the GO buses, or other, more luxurious transportation.

Through the dusk and smog and checkpoints, they arrive in droves.


Now they can at last shed the shackles of Cairo and become party animals — or haiwanat el zeita, in common Arabic.


There was a a buzz late in the evening yesterday in Abu Tig, which has been sleepy all week; for there’s money to be made now.

Not so much from the Cairenes, for their tips are usually crap.

The real money is to be made from the aganib, the foreigners, who have also been arriving.

The drunken boat captains punching out their first mates along the dock.

The Inglizi couples with baladi North Country accents and heavy perfume to cover their Manchester pong, all here on a marvelous package deal and taking it all in.

The serious young Germans looking for a decent place to smoke hookahs and meet some local talent.

Even the viperous ones who linger, yet have little but contempt, underneath it all.


dowtown gouna mural

A mural in downtown Gouna


The haiwanat walk around the marina in clusters, eyes flashing, looking for action.

Let’s go to Aulola! — a pseudo Westernized Egyptian woman says in a fleshy accent.

She is with three men.

None of them care if anyone who lives here might be disturbed by loud talking in the street in the middle of the night.

Abu Tig to them is party town.

Where they can groove to mad beats, as if they were not in Egypt.

But they are here, in Masr; even here.

This derivative DJ shit  is not their music.

That is not their culture.

Theirs has become a gypsum culture, a layer of inauthentic plaster slapped over their uncertainties and pretensions.

Just think how megatron this sort of thing gets in places like Abu Dhabi.

Maybe mongrel dreams are the new global way of life, as the wind from the desert blows the sand dunes in ever closer.


With me taking the pic, this is the first time since 1977 that 3 of the original Mass (a pioneering Egyptian band) were together in one place

But has it not always been so?

What is authentic Egyptian culture?

The Book of the Dead?

The crumbling minarets?

Using Life?

The vanished movies stars that are always on TV?

Egypt’s New Rich?

The language of the young fleeing the desperate villages along the Nile?

Culture, in a land where there is no more room for cultivation.


Tarek Nour’s fabu house in Gouna !

And now at Aulola, the fleshy bodies move and ready themselves

Like the good haiwanat that they are

For more.


Today is Thursday.

I will spend the day by the water, reading my book.

My right knee aches a bit, perhaps from climbing the tower yesterday.


Today I will read my book, and do nothing else.

I don’t have to accomplish anything, or do anything, although I feel that getting the 6 month visa this week was a minor triumph.


Last night when Aulola started up with the groove beats, I walked to the place I am going to be renting next month.

As I had hoped, the fact that it’s nestled in a back alley protects it from the sound of the haiwanat vampires — the ones who do not seem to need sleep or at least the need to keep regular hours.


I don’t care.  Tonight will be bad, for already Club Doodoo, across the street from my current flat, is ramping up for a Thursday night of hell.

But I will manage; I am getting used to it.

Soon the nights will be too cold — already you can seem the haiwanat draping light sweaters over their shoulders when they do the Abu Tig crawl — and the much of the outside dawsha, or noise, will abate. Perhaps someday they will realize that the moon risen over an inky sea is all one needs for a night of wonder.


What a lovely view!

But today, at this particular moment in my life, all I have to do is finish doing the weekly laundry — it is important to keep a routine, and not let things get untidy in the desert —  then go read a novel on a beach and swim in the Red Sea when I get too hot.


Not such a bad life.

Exactly what I had envisioned when I decided to leave America and its moronic orange emperor behind.


UPDATE:   I didn’t end up going to the beach.  Tarek and Mourad, two old friends showed up at my flat, and we all ended up going to Tarek’s house in Abydos for a few hours.


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The Last Time


Visa extension?


I now have an Egyptian visa extension that’s good till April ‘18.

Here’s how the day played out

7AM; Wednesday morning in Gouna. I have to AGAIN schlep to Hurghada to pick up my passport. Presumably my 6-month visa extension will be approved, and that will be the end of these forced treks to dreadful Hurghada. My back is killing me again, and I deeply resent this borderline state-approved arrogance toward the supposedly desired tourist.

The hijabi clerk told me yesterday (see previous post) to be back at 1PM today,  In the teeth of the heat of the day.  So I have to kill some time before taking the bus from Gouna at around, say, noon.  Plus I have to make sure I do all my business beforehand, for there are no bathrooms available to the public.  You basically have to hold it all in for 4 or 5 hours. Because of that, I will not drink anything (in the boiling desert heat, no less) during this long, forced march from hell.



I wonder if it you would consider investing in the following:  

Build a new Visa Center in Hurghada  in a more central location, far away form the slums that surround the current Visa building.  Have signage in English around town indicating where it is.  Have air conditioning:  why make the tourists who comes here risk heat stroke to take care of a simple formality?

ALSO… Have clear signage inside the building as to what line to stand in, with clear instructions printed in large type on a sign that everyone can see. Don’t have garbage strewn about inside the building. Have an information desk manned by someone with manners who is fluent in several languages.  Enforce line waiting protocol (boors just cut the line now, and no one says anything about it). Have public bathrooms.  

Forbid taxi drivers parked outside from blocking the entrance to the building.  Have a cheap  or free photo taking booth available.  Ditch this ridiculous system of having to pass security over and over because the photocopying “facility” (it’s a girl in a booth in hijab who speaks no English, and you have to wait in line in the sun, as various officials cut in line while you stand there like an idiot) is OUTSIDE the building.  

Or better yet, have the visa staff make the copies; do not play games with tourists about the number of copies needed, or which pages in the passport need to be copied:  just do it for them, and spare them the hassle, and bake it into the cost of the visa. 

FINALLY… Above all, do not ask tourists about their religion in the application form. IT IS NOT YOUR BUSINESS. This is an outrageous question — what difference does it make what religion — or not (after all, many foreigners are agnostic or atheists) — someone is?  And never, NEVER allow some clerk to hassle a tourist like me with insolent questions about what country or religion his or her parents or grandparents came from.


Well, that’s it for the unwanted suggestions rant.  I had some time to kill, so I climbed one of the towers behind Abu Tig marina and took some pics. It was not yet 9AM, and already the day was a scorcher. I was pursued by persistent biting flies, and returned drenched with sweat to my flat.

No way am I going to Cairo tomorrow. I’m going to need the whole weekend to recover. When is this bloody heat going to go away? At least I can take my easements in my AC cooled flat  and watch movies like Farid El Atrash in Afreeta Hanem.  What a sexy movie!

The actual trip was somewhat anticlimactic.

I took a tuc-tuc around 11am to the Hurghada bus stop.  Sat in the middle of the bus,  Big difference re bumpiness.  Arrived at the visa place around 12:45.  No one there.  I guess they told everyone to pick up their passports at 1pm.  Mine was sitting there behind the counter, face down.  A clerk gave it to me after I pointed at it.  No sign of the hijabi bitch.


On the way back I just missed the service bus but took the GO bus which leaves from the same place.  Very hot, no AC, but much better suspension.  Bus was filled with school kids and Egyptians going to work in Gouna. It was a total zoo, with kids hanging out by the open back door (for ventilation) and one had his pass confiscated by the bus driver for that.

When I finally got to Downtown Gouna, I had lunch at Kan Zaman, an authentic Egyptian food restaurant, glassed in, AC, nice linens and silverware, and impeccable service.  I ordered mollokheyia, rice with sha’riya, and bamia.  Delicious!  And it only cost 5 dollars with tip.

My visa ordeal is over.

Next stop, on Tuesday,,,, Cairo!

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the trap door on the floor starting flapping in the wind when the bus hit the service road

I went to Hurghada today to get my visa renewed. Took the 26 (Marina Line) Gouna bus down to the Downtown bus station area (20 LEs for a day long pass) then the bus to Hurghada. That only cost 6 LE (about 30 cents) one way, for a ride that is about 30Km long.


The last time I was in Hurghada was in the early 90s with my wife. That Hurghada had no resemblance to this one, which I will say made me feel for the first time on this trip that I was in a foreign country, for this was not the Egypt I know:  I looked like what I imagine a dusty town in Somalia might look like:  lots of full body veils, lots of Nubian looking folk, lots a sleepy looking policemen in white uniforms, some with machine guns, lots of destroyed buildings, as if from a war, lots of garbage strewn in the streets, and lots of visible poverty.  


Then it struck me.  It was Gouna that was the foreign country; this was a real Egyptian town.  I was complaining about the noise from the clubs in the Marina, and most of these people were staring at a very hard life ahead of them with few options.


The ride down was one of the most back-breaking bus rides I have ever been in; far worse than the primitive bus ride I used to take to Sharm in the early 90s, when the bus used to stop in the middle of nowhere to pick up Bedu who got in silently, did not purchase a ticket, and were left off again in the middle of nowhere at the foot of daunting mountains. This Hurghada bus essentially had no suspension system. No AC. The seat cushions were thin and a number of seats were broken. You couldn’t fully open the windows to let the air in, and the bus sat under the sun in the Downtown bus stop for quite a while.


Did I mention the peanut shells strewn about the floor, and the aisle trap door that start to flip open in the wind as the bus took off and pick up speed (on the ride back, that bus had a stone on top of the trap door to keep it in place)?


The main problem for me was the very large number of speed bumps along the way. This bus is essentially a service bus, meaning it transports people who work in Gouna (and some of the hotels along the way) back and forth on what is a service road, and not the main Red Sea highway which is parallel to it and it looked like a smoother ride, judging by the flow of traffic there.


Because the driver did not really slow down on the speed bumps, I was in agony by the time I got to Hurghada. By the way I was pleased to notice a number of wind  turbine farms along the way, but unfortunately many of the towers did not seem to work.


When the bus came to a stop, it was not clear that this was actually a bus stop:  it was after all the front of a store on a very very busy road.  I got out, not knowing where the passport office was (no signs of any sort) and asked a long haired older guy who looked like might speak English. He did, and directed me to cross the road and walk straight down and turn right.  


Easy for him to say.  


The road in front of the bus stop was the service one that comes down from Gouna.  Lots of fast-moving traffic, then there was another feeder road that turned into it, where I was supposed to cross. Lots of traffic there too. And finally there was another feeder road from behind the store where lots of fast traffic was also merging into the main service road.


I was supposed to cross this, and there were no traffic lights. It was harrowing to attempt to be an Egyptian and assess the distance and likelihood of being hit by lots of very fast-moving cars as I crossed the street, but I did it.


Then I walked down the street toward the visa place (no sidewalk), which was a one way street with lots of traffic, and then was almost run over by a car that decided to go in reverse against the traffic in order to park in front of bakery to get some freshly baked bread.  It nearly ran me over, and this was not the only car that went against the traffic. I had to ask around quite a bit, and after many left and right turns under a cloudless sky with a pitiless sun, I finally got to the visa place.  


I knew about having to photocopy the passport, and about needed a passport sized photo.  I was told by a woman wearing a burka behind a glassed off counter and speaking no English that I had to produce this photo.  I tried to explain that my photo was already on the photocopy of the passport but that was against the rules.  No. I had to get a photo.  I had been told there photo booths outside the visa place; there were none. I asked the woman with the burka where I could get a photo taken, and she replied from “da heart.”  I could not understand this. Was she joking? On the bus ride back, I discovered that there was an area in Hurghada that is called Darhar, or something that sounds like that.  You know, with thousands of tourists every year coming to this place, you would think they might have a photo taking booth.


I left the place and the sun was now getting very hot and high in the sky.  I  decided to return to Gouna and find a way to have a picture taken, and return on Tuesday to try this again.  I took the forms with me that I needed to fill out, so — apart from killing my back again on the service bus ride — I should be able to renew for 3 months no problem.


As the crowded service bus entered Gouna and stopped at the gated entrance that is manned by security, I noticed everyone pulling out blue cards.  I asked the guy next to me who I was talking to about things what these were, and he said that ordinary Egyptians have to have a special ID to get into Gouna using this bus (unless they are wealthy Egyptians coming in from Cairo on the GO bus).  So Gouna is an Egyptian town, but off-limits to ordinary Egyptians, unless they have a blue work pass.


I hate to say this, but when I got off the bus and walked the empty downtown main drag to Zomba to get a bite to eat, I was glad that it was so. The owner of the place shook my hand, and I ordered a coke and two sandwiches, one fool with eggs, the other ta’miyya (felafel) with eggplant.


I was home, sorta.

Now all I have to do is find a place where I can have a visa photo taken. It won’t be easy, because — guess what? — there isn’t one in Gouna either.

Memo to Egypt:  If you want to more tourists to come here, how about making things easier for them?


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