Monday, April 1, 2013

The Shot Putter


Typical Nile Cruise Boat

            While trying to decide the subject for a post, I happened to look through some things I had written eight years ago, after a long trip to Italy and Egypt. At the time I'm sure I had some specific goal in mind but eventually decided the market for caustic travel writing was probably somewhat limited. This stuff has been gathering cyber-dust ever since and rather than just delete it, I've decided to periodically inflict some of it on you.            
             I considered the monumental changes in Egypt since 2005 and wondered if I couldn't draw on some of our experiences to pose some thoughtful, timely questions about what life might now be like for some of the Egyptians we met. But nothing I wrote at the time really lends itself to that so instead, I'm going to go off on a few of the bizarre tourists we ran into.

            When Cynthia planned the Egypt extension of this trip, she booked a package that meant we would be traveling with ten others.  We, mainly I, had always shied away from groups because we like the freedom of going off on our own and, besides, there is always one, isn't there? Either I was wrong or we got lucky but the eight others in our group were perfectly lovely, which was a good thing since we were together almost constantly for the next ten days.
            About half of this time was spent on a boat cruising up the Nile from Luxor to Aswan and, while pleasant enough, being forced into the company of strangers in a confined area just isn't a good idea to me. With a riverboat, at least there aren't a whole lot of people to begin with and our bunch, fortunately, didn't contain anyone that made you long for the days of keelhauling. It did, however, produce a few memorable characters including the most unpleasant couple I've ever encountered.
             Couple Number 1 were English and around 75 years old. She was notable for appearing at the pool area in an incredibly skimpy bikini and we hadn't lived in Florida long enough for me to not be unnerved by it. He was possibly the world's most boring human and, no kidding, told me in so many words that Britain's former status as a colonial power gave him certain insights on how to deal with the natives. I think it was more likely his justification for being an insufferable prick that treated the boat's crew like shit. In any case, The Major and Mrs. as we called were more a source of amusement but I'm betting the crew lamented the absence of crocodiles in this part of the Nile.
            Couple Number 2 first came to my attention while the three of us happened to be the only ones on the top deck of our boat early one morning.  Although I would have noticed them for that reason alone, what really made them stand out was that for the half our we were within ten feet of each other, they said nothing, didn’t acknowledge my presence and spent the entire time sitting nearly motionless and expressionless.  They didn’t even to talk to each other but simply stared straight ahead.  Both were middle aged and overweight, the woman being especially beefy and at first I thought maybe they just didn't speak English.  In fact, the woman's severe bearing and physical appearance gave me the impression she might once have been a member of the East German Olympic shot put team.  
            Later, some of the others in our group mentioned that they had noticed this couple, too, and that they were actually Americans. Someone had tired to engage them in conversation but this only unleashed a torrent of complaints, starting with the arrangements of their tour, the state of the Egyptian economy, the heat of the desert, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  I have always had a reputation for chronic complaining but these two sounded like candidates for the Bitching Hall of Fame . 
               The next time we ran into them was while the boat was waiting its turn to pass through the locks at Esna.  Each cruise ship was approached by large rowboats full of Egyptian traders and their wares, mainly small throw rugs.  Whatever they were trying to sell was put in a plastic bag that was then tossed up 4 decks to the top, where passengers could inspect things.  Everyone had a great time either haggling, watching or helping to throw things back and forth - well, almost everyone.  The Sphinxes, who had installed themselves near the festivities, continued their staring marathon except when a package landed within arms reach.  Then the woman, whose face went from merely stern to sheer, teeth-gnashing hatred, grabbed the thing and, without moving her head, chucked it back over the side with a force that reinforced my original thoughts on her ability to heave 4 kilos of lead.             
             It made me wonder why these folks bothered to leave home and for the next few days I toyed with the idea of finding out.  In the end, it wasn't worth the effort to me but one of the others decided to try and found out he worked for the Post Office, no surprise, and she was a schoolteacher in some place like Ann Arbor.  They never did find out why these two wanted to visit Egypt but I think one thing's pretty sure - some kids in Michigan will be having nightmares for the rest of their lives.
 Our friend looked a lot like 312 so maybe she was Czech.

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