16/10/91

WEDNESDAY 16 OCTOBER – THE PYRAMIDS

There’s a pyramid in my head,
There’s one underneath my bed,
And my lady’s getting cranky… 
– The Alan Parsons Project, Pyramania

We were away from the hotel by 7:15 AM and after spending a frustrating hour cashing a traveller’s cheque, we caught a minibus from Maidan Tahir out to Giza. A guy on the bus showed us a quick way to get to the pyramids area and although he had a Tourist Friends ID¹ and seemed genuinely interested in helping us, we didn’t trust his motives. Sure enough, he took us to a perfume shop. However, as we had intended to buy some perfume (Egypt is one of the world’s leading producers of natural fragrances) we took the opportunity to purchase some Jasmine oil for E£100. Our “guide” then introduced us to a livery stable owner who hired out horses so we paid E£30 each for a 2-hour ride around the pyramids.

We set off on a couple of very skinny horses, accompanied by an equally skinny guide on a lame mount. As we started up the first sandy hill to a viewpoint overlooking the pyramids, the guide’s horse broke down so we told him in no uncertain terms to take the poor thing back to the stables and we would wait at the top of the hill for him to return. 

And what a sight from the top of that hill! Before us, standing rigid in the heat and dust as they have done for 4 ½ millennia, were the great pyramids of Cheops, Chephren and Mycerenus. There is no sight on Earth to compare with them – monuments to the achievements of a civilization that thrived while Britain and Europe we’re still populated by savages living in mud huts and hunting mammoths to survive. While the future brokers of power and culture languished in the faceless squalor of prehistory, the people of the Nile were writing and inventing and building lives that no men have seen or will ever see again. And now it is all lost save for this giant legacy of stone.

Our gallop around the base of the pyramids was pretty uninspiring, our guide not being able to tell us much we didn’t already know. The  sphinx was surprisingly small and we were only able to view it from a distance before we asked for tips and hustled back to the stables.

 We sat in a chay [tea] house for a couple of hours then, as afternoon began to give way to evening, we walked out of town and climbed the low hill near the pyramids. It was quite hot but it soon began to cool as the sun dipped towards the hazy horizon.  The sunset wasn’t much but just to sit there and watch darkness fall on the pyramids was pure magic.

A wheezing old bus took us back into town for 50 piastres each and we had a Coke at a sidewalk chay house on the way back to the hotel. We ate at the Falafel Garden again in the evening.

¹Tourist officials had badges to identify themselves but, as with almost everything else in Egypt, these could be easily forged.

15/10/91

We wasted a whole day trying to find the Kenyan Embassy which had moved from the address given in our Lonely Planet Egypt guidebook. We eventually tracked it down after about 3½ hours of searching and by the time we had been granted our visas, and then walked back to Talab Haab, most of the day was gone.

We rested for a while in our room then went out to a restaurant called The Falafel Garden for ice cold beers and some vegetarian food.

14/10/91

MONDAY – CAIRO We were up fairly early and after a showered packed our gear and left. We walked up to Midan Tahir, the transport centre of Cairo where buses and taxis whirled and roared in an endless stream , then up to Midan Talab Haab. After a bit of a search we found a hotel with rooms for E£11 and checked in. The Hotel Minerva was old and quaint, each room having a balcony and several pieces of timber furniture.

CAIRO

We relaxed for a while then went out to attend to some business. At the EgyptAir office we confirmed our onward flights to Nairobi on the 4th of November then we entered the formidable Mogamma Building to register with the police. 

We spent the rest of the day in the Egyptian Museum after using the trusty old “student” scam with our YHA cards to get in for half price. The museum is huge. Its ground floor is filled with stone statues, tomb facades, solar barques and myriad things taken from the cities of the great civilization that ruled Egypt 4½ thousand years ago.  

But on the second floor there is treasure! The tomb of the boy-king Tut-Ankh-Amun was excavated in 1922 and its incredible contents can only make one wonder about the fabulous, long-gone wealth looted from the tombs of far greater Pharaohs. The two main features of the 1,700 funerary items are Tut’s famous gold mask, inlaid with jewels and precious stones and the inner coffin (there were 3 coffins, 4 gilded wooden shrines and a stone sarcophagus) which is made of an incredible 110.4 kg of solid gold inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones.

When we left the museum, we wandered back up to the hotel and showered then went down to the restaurant where we had an unexciting meal and a few cold Cokes. We finished our first day in Egypt sitting out on our room’s balcony, talking and swatting mosquitoes while the orange ball of the sun subsided into the hazy pall of dust and smog hanging over Cairo.

13/10/91

SUNDAY – LONDON TO CAIRO We were up early packing our gear and sorting out our money. Gabriel [the boy Linda had been nanny for over the summer] was running around like a mad thing getting in the way but we managed to get it all packed up in the end. I have got almost 30kg of gear!

We pottered about for an hour or so watching TV then bundled our stuff into the car for Angie to drive us out to Heathrow. It was strange and somehow sad to drive out of London for the last time – almost like leaving home or taking leave of an old friend never to return. As we drove out along Chiswick Road I thought of all the things we had done in the city since we first arrived on a cold and rainy spring day 2½  years ago. The air was hazy with heat and smog as we sped along the M4 and turned off towards Terminal Three.

We checked our packs in then went to the bar for a few drinks and to wait for Jules [our friend Juliet] who had said she would come out to see us off. I changed some pounds for US dollars, rang Ann and said goodbye and we had a couple of Burger King cheeseburgers. When Jules arrived we talked over drinks but all too soon it was time for us to go. Juliet was quite upset and in tears again so we said our goodbyes quickly and lined up at the departure gates. Angela and Gabriel waved us through and we weren’t without tears in our eyes either at the last sight of our English friends.

But then we had to concentrate on the exit formalities; bags x-rayed, then finally, the immigration officials. A hastily made up excuse about why our visits had expired (“THE HOME OFFICE TOLD US NOT TO WORRY ABOUT EXTENDING THEM BECAUSE WE ALREADY HAD OUR DEPARTURE ARRANGED”) mollified the office who questioned us and just like that we were in the no man’s land of the departure area and we were officially out of England.

Our phone card still had 16 units left on it so we rang all the people we could think of and said goodbye or left goodbye messages. I tried to get a VAT refund on the cost of Linda’s engagement ring but we’d been in the country too long to qualify. 

Finally, we boarded the EgyptAir Boeing 600-A300 and 20 minutes later we lifted off the runway and were gone from England. As the jet climbed into the haze we looked down for the last time on the green and pleasant land of Southern England. The M4 motorway snaked off towards the West Country while below us, the small lakes surrounding Heathrow sparkled in the sun.

We crossed the coast high above Bournemouth, the town’s twin piers clearly visible jutting out from the long sweep of white sand, and soon the island that had been our home for 2 1/2 years was lost from view – swallowed up in the haze and gone forever.

The flight was good. There was a good movie – James Belushi in Filofax – and the food was excellent. A bit of turbulence over Southern Europe had a few people reaching for the spew bags but we were fine. We crossed the Pyrenees at 33,000 feet: a spectacular sight with fresh snow covering the granite bulk of the mountains, then flew down the western side of Italy as darkness fell.

We landed at Cairo Airport at 9:00PM local time and went swiftly through customs. We are met by the usual crowd of dishonest touts peddling “cheap” hotel rooms and taxi rides but as it was late we accepted one of their offers and spent the night in a a tiny, pokey, cramped, oven-hot room in some half-built shit-hole hotel which cost us E20 each. Such are the joys of travel!

21/5/90

After a large dose of sun yesterday (Linda’s back was bright crimson!) we decided to give the beach a miss and go up to the hilltop village of Lefkos¹ for the day.

After an hour or so of waiting, during which time a mad old lady, talking to herself ten to the dozen, came past and gave us some stale bread which we pretended to eat then threw away, a bus came along and we made the 10-minute trip up to Lefkos. It is a true Greek village with a maze of narrow, white-washed streets, most of which led to the church standing on a point overlooking the valley. 

Most of the village is closed to traffic which lends it an even more quiet and peaceful air and the only sounds to be heard were those of the wind and hidden conversations in Greek echoing down from the open windows.

We sat on the steps of the church debating whether or not to go in but then a party of Germans stomped in so we decided that it must, indeed, be open to the public. I picked up the words “Renaissance” and “Napoleon” amongst the speil of their guide so they probably pertain to the history of the church, but how I don’t know.

Before we entered the church we walked around its outer walls. Beyond an iron gate, a graveyard ran steeply down into the valley behind the church. Many of the graves were ornamented with photographs of their occupants. The church is built from glittering white marble and the main door is set below the twin bell towers, each tower containing several bells. Above the door, the date 1845 was carved into the lintel, perhaps the date that the church was either built or rebuilt².

Inside, in the cool and quiet, an old man, barely able to see, gave us each a small candle to light and place in a small stand. I gave him 100DR for the upkeep of the church. The interior was exquisite. Although not very big, it was full of paintings, chandeliers, ornately carved wood and marble friezes. The ceiling was decorated with paintings of the life of Christ and on the wall near the door was a picture of the 12 Disciples beside the body of Jesus woven from threads of gold.

Leaving the church we wandered the streets, now quiet for the siesta, and ended up at a small square where we had drinks and watched a bunch of German tourists – some of them dressed in knickerbockers, knee socks and mountain boots – shoving cameras into the faces of passing locals.

9CEB1B5A-9134-4D9C-B735-FAB9EED819CF

Lefkes, Paros, Greece. (photo supplied)

We bought some bread and chips in a couple of shops and set out to walk back to Marpissa (the town overlooking Piso Livadi) via the ancient Byzantine pathway running down the valley. The sun was blazing hot by now but there was a cool breeze blowing which made walking quite pleasant. 

The path was paved with cobblestones of hewn marble in places and led down the valley on the right-hand side then gradually climbed up over a shoulder running down from the hills behind Lefkos. The way led through olive groves and tiny fields marked out with stone walls. The opposite sunny side of the valley was entirely cultivated but on the shady side where we were walking the fields were scrubby and disused. None of the rocky creek beds we crossed had water in them.

We stopped for a snack in the shade of a gnarled olive tree then carried on up over a rounded ridge which led down to flat land and the sea. We had passed several stone huts on the way down from Lefkos and I had a look into one built right on the ridge. It was only a few feet square inside but would have offered shelter from wind and rain to a farmer or a shepherd when it was in use.

The path was almost entirely paved with cobblestones down to the plain which made walking easy and we arrived back down at the island’s main circular road after about an hour. That only left about a mile to walk to get back to camp.

In the evening we once again headed for the Flotilla Club and had a meal of fish for tea. We were the only guests there and the waiter shouted us a glass of Ouzo each. Linda couldn’t drink much of hers so in order to please the waiter I downed mine then finished hers. We paid the bill and began walking back up to the camp but after about 5 minutes the Ouzo took my legs from under me and Linda had to half carry, half drag me all the way back!

¹I misspelt the name of the town in my diary. It is actually called Lefkes.

²The church is actually called Agia Triada and was built between 1830 and 1845. The stone used to build the church is a semi-translucent marble known as lychnitis and is only found on Paros.

6/12/89

And that was that. From the plains of Kenya, over the Mountains of the Moon, through the jungles of the Congo and down the Zaire River, across the Desert of Thirst, the atlas, the Med, Spain and back to Olde England. The four months seem to have rushed past and now we were back down to Earth with a thump. We were faced with the grim reality of being in London in winter with no money and no jobs.

We checked out of the hotel but left our gear there and I rang Joyce¹ to tell her we would be out to stay later on that day. We went to a local Bengy’s² for breakfast which was included in the price of the hotel, and just as we were finishing, Mike and Scotty walked in so we sat back down and drank tea while they had their breakfast.

After we left them, we went to New Zealand House³ and started job-hunting, without much success.

Later in the day, we collected our gear from The Hunter’s Lodge and caught a train from Liverpool Street out to Broxbourne. as we passed through the grey, dreary jumble of London, and the boring sameness of the commuter suburbs, I thought of the peaceful silence of the jungle…

Lake Victoria, Kenya.

TO BE CONTINUED

¹Our acquaintance in Hertfordshire at whose place we had left most of our stuff when we set off for Africa.

²A restaurant chain specializing in breakfasts

³The New Zealand Embassy in London where there was an office where New Zealanders could look through job advertisments.

5/12/89

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND TWO. The sea was quite rough when I woke in the morning. Everyone else in our cabin was still asleep so I lay there looking out the porthole at the green waves rolling around the ship with the wind whipping spray off the whitecaps.

The last photo from our African adventure. Me looking tired and thin in the cabin of the ferry Bretagne.

After showers we went up to the cafe for a huge breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausages and chips. There were quite a few green faces around, not all of them due to the rough sea. Pullar & Skip were well under the weather after a night of drinking whiskey with some of the ship’s crew and Skip decided that he didn’t want his breakfast after he’d ordered it so he gave it to me. While I was eating this second brekkie a kid spewed right behind us so that did it for Skip and he headed for the dunnys!!

After breakfast we went and packed our gear then spent the remaining two hours of the voyage wandering round the ship or sitting in the lounge watching the swells.

At around 10:00 we sailed past a lighthouse and half an hour later we were sailing into Plymouth Harbour. The sea calmed as we came in past the headlands and sailed up the harbour past more lighthouses and the many old, stone maritime buildings built on the cliffs above the water.

We docked on schedule at 12:30 and drove the truck off the ship, once again back in England. Immigration and Customs were pretty straightforward. They put a drug dog through the druck which gave druggie Skip another fright, especially when it started barking at Chris and Bron’s stuff. The customs man went through it and found nothing so we were free to go.

The weather as we had sailed up Plymouth Harbour had been beautifully clear and cold, with a calm blue sea under a bright blue sky. But as we drove out of Plymouth, the fog came down and turned the day into a bleak and miserable one. We spent the day wrapped in our sleeping bags as the cold and wet, but never-the-less beautiful landscape of Devon rolled past.

We stopped for lunch at a Happy Eater¹ then later on for a coffee at a roadside cafe. Darkness was on us by 4:00 and it was bitterly cold.

We drove into London at about 10:00 and dropped Sale off then headed for Earl’s Court². We parked the truck on a corner and unloaded our gear onto the footpath.

One by one everyone drifted away in taxis or on foot to their friend’s flats nearby or in other areas of town. I walked up the street to a hotel called The Hunter’s Lodge where the police were busy rescuing a drunken Aussie who had passed out on the fourth floor parapet.

Linda and I lugged our heavy packs, our day bags, the camera tripod, the Tuareg sword, our treasures from Africa, down to the hotel and booked in, went upstairs, showered and went to bed.

¹The Happy Eater was a motorway restaurant chain in England. It’s logo, a happy round face with a comma for a tongue brought to mind a Pacman. The food was dreadful – tepid, greasy and expensive – and so Linda and I always referred to these places as The Spewing Pacman.

² The inner London suburb popular with backpackers and antipodeans.

4/12/89

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND ONE. Linda and I got up at 6:00 and got the fire going. There had been a good sort of frost during the night and everything had a white film of ice on it. We cooked up scrambled eggs with onion and tomato for brekkie then packed up the camp for the last time.

We drove down to the ferry terminal and hung around there all morning. The ferry “Bretagne” berthed at about 11:00 and we drove on at 12:15.

The ferry Bretagne which took us home to England.

The Bretagne is nearly brand new and is very well appointed. We shared a cabin with Rob and Pete and although it was small it was comfortable and warm, with a shower and toilet cubicle and 4 bunk beds.

Once we were settle in and had had a lovely hot shower we went up to the cafe and had a huge feed of chicken and chips, orange juice and lots of other greasy English delicacies! After lunch, we went for a wander around the ship then went and had a rest until 5:30.

The Bay of Biscay was calm as we sailed north-east away from the setting sun. Linda and I went and had a few drinks at the bar while we waited for 9:00 to roll around. That was movie time and we paid two quid each to see Batman in one of the three cinemas on board. It was a good film, with Jack Nicholson putting in a totally over-the-top performance as The Joker.

After the pictures, Linda and I went out onto the stern deck and watched the wake froth and shimmer as it disappeared into the darkness but it was very cold so we didn’t spend long there.

When we got back to the cabin, Rob and Pete were both asleep so we hopped into our bunks & were rocked to sleep by the gentle motion of the ship.

3/12/89

The sun shining into the truck woke me up at about 8:00 before anyone else was awake. I got up and took my camera and went for a walk out to the headland near our camp. The sea was calm with a light swell rolling in onto the beach and the head of a small cove. The sun shimmered on the water and a gentle breeze blew in off the sea. I clambered over the sharp white rocks to a point and sat watching the sea and the passing ships for a while then wandered back over to the camp where most of the gear was already packed up ready to go.

Our final overland lunch, Santander, Spain.

We drove into town, stopping for a coffee on the way, and spent 2 hours driving round looking for an open camping ground. We eventually found one on the peninsula on the opposite side of the bay, about 20 minutes drive from the ferry terminal.

We had some lunch then Scotty, Mike, Bron, Pullar & I went back into town to try and change money to pay for the campsite. After a fruitless search we discovered that we could scrape up enough money between us so we returned to the camp.

The rest of the afternoon was spent cleaning out the truck and packing all of our gear and souvenirs into our packs. Once Linda and I had finished, I sat down with Mike, Scotty and Sale and had a few beers while Rob and Pete cooked tea and bitched at each other! I went to be (a seat in the truck) at about 11 but Mike, Scotty & Sale carried on drinking and arguing round the fire which they kept going by pouring diesel on it.

Packing Up, Santander, Spain. NB: the red and black backpack, centre left, with the New Zealand flag stitched onto it, accompanied me through all of our travels.

2/12/89

DAY NINETY NINE. We got up with the sun, which was rising bright and golden through the mist and packed up the sodden camp. We drove north out of Madrid without the hassle of rush-hour traffic which was all going into the city in the opposite direction.

About 9:30 we stopped at a Servicio for our customary breakfast but found that i was too expensive so we had to settle for a bag of taco chips and a Coke. We were heading for the hills behind Madrid where the monument and shrine to the people killed in the Civil War, known as Los Valle de los Caidos” is situated. We stopped to photograph the huge cross showing through the mist high up on the pine-clad hill upon which the shine sits and as we were pulling back out onto the roadway, a a car hit us at full-speed from behind. The only damage the truck suffered was a bent wood-rack but the car, a Ford Granada, was fucked! The driver and his wife were alright, however, so after Scotty had taken some photographs and given them Kumuka’s address in London we carried on.

The Basilica of the Valley of Heroes is a massive cavern carved into the face of the hill beneath the huge cross. We spent 3/4 of an hour there looking around but it was bitterly cold and once we’d seen the interior there wasn’t much else to detain us. So, we spent the rest of the day driving towards Santander and at about 4:30 we pulled into a field beside a ruined farmhouse on the side of the road, intending to camp. However, the weight of the truck was too much for the sodden ground and we got stuck! It took about 10 minutes to dig and sand-mat it out (just as we had done in the Congo jungle all those weeks ago!), keeping a nervous eye out for the farmer and by the time we were free there was a dreadful muddy mess on the edge of his wheatfield. We beat a hasty retreat!

After that little faux pas, we decided to drive right to Santander so we settled into our sleeping bags and caught a couple of hour’s kip.

We got to Santander at about 9:30 and after 1/2 an hour of driving around, found that most of the camping grounds were closed for the winter. So, we drove down to the beach and set up camp in a carpark! We cooked up a feed of de-hy and soup for tea then spent the night in the truck.