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  The Chatter Box : Travel
Egypt! A place I have not been to jail in! by belushi on 10 September 2007 10:34am
In 1997, whilst holidaying in Luxor, in the Nile Valley 60 European holidaymakers were killed. They were not just shot by the Islamic Fundamentalists, they were butchered. Their heads were cut off and their torsos and bodies were mutilated. The police took over two hours to arrive and when they did arrive all the terrorists had escaped into the mountains. The police followed but most of the fundamentalists had hidden.

This quite rightly caused uproar in the international diplomatic circles. The Egyptian police were berated very badly in the international press. So much so that now on every street corner is a four-wheel drive vehicle with four soldiers inside. All armed with Kalashnikov automatic rifles and wearing body armour, some of them actually have ammunition in the weapons! On some of the desert roads, there is a police roadblock almost every 10 kilometres. Since this time there have been no more attacks on the tourists. But not because of the police. When the news about Luxor got out, the scuba diving centres in Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh emptied. The number of tourists coming to the region dropped to an all time low. This enraged the local people. The local Egyptians helped the police to find the fundamentalists. Then the fundamentalists, realising popular opinion was against them, declared that any action that they would undertake would be directed at the government and not the money-giving tourists. Since then the numbers of tourists have steadily risen back to pre-1997 levels. Egypt generally has once again become a very safe place to stay. Unless you are a blonde woman wearing very little walking down the street.

Hurghada itself was once a sleepy little fishing village. In just over 10 years, it has turned into the Benidorm of Egypt. Saudi princes' come over to sample Hurghada's hedonistic delights and with the shout of "The Russians are coming" there is a very cosmopolitan look to Hurghada now. But if you do not like scuba diving, sand or sex, then Hurghada would be about as popular as pork at a Jewish wedding. It is divided into three main areas. Downtown, where most of the Egyptians in Hurghada live. It is a great place for shopping and drinking coffee and watching the locals fleece the unsuspecting tourist. Then there is Sekalla; this is where most of the nightlife is. Good restaurants, bad restaurants and Macdonald’s. Also there is a good food market and Papa's bar. Papa's is mostly frequented by expats from the diving centres. Finally there is the north hotel section. Very boring and nothing to do.

The major difference to Hurghada from Phuket, Phi Phi, Koh Samui and even Langkawi is that the diving centres are separate entities and no mixing of instructors occurs. I was only in Phuket for two months before I knew where all the dive centres were and most of the instructors and I were on first name terms. In Sharm El-Sheikh, due to some good friends, I got to know lots of people very quickly. But Hurghada is so spread out and the diving centres are all actively working against each other. There are a few centres with new managers who have obviously been in the business long enough to know that we all need someone to help us at one time or another. Scratching of backs has to be inevitable in this industry.

While I was in Greece I was exposed to Greek music, after a while I could differentiate between new music and older music. In Malaysia I failed to spot any difference because there was Malay music, screeching string-type instruments and wooden blocks, there was Chinese music, the sort that sounds like a musical box being opened and then there was Indian music, this was easy to spot as I heard most of it when I was dining out in the UK. In Thailand, I discovered that although I could not understand the words, the music was excellent. There was a big selection for all ages. They even had the equivalent to Jimmy Hendrix; a guy called Laem Morrison. He could make his guitar sing. A popular group called Loso was also a favourite amongst the young and after listening to it for long enough, a sort of resigned enjoyment came from watching the younger Thais sing along to it.

But the art of Egyptian music is special. More correctly the popular Arabic music is special. It has a younger cousin which also has to be appreciated - Minibus Arabic music! In order to enjoy the full delights of this very different form of musical murder, you have to be enlightened to its composition.

It differs to any other form of music in that each musical instrument is played in no particular tempo, in no particular key and in no particular order. So each musician starts and stops whenever he or she feels like it. The fact that there is no particular tempo is vital to the listener. When the guitarist plays he will, for example, pick a rock and roll beat. The drummer hearing this will automatically find a rhythm and blues tempo to follow. The violinist will have a waltz on his mind and the pianist will play a march. So if the song is 10 minutes long, and each musician starts at 25 second intervals, then every eighth time the music will be synchronised for approximately 1 minute and 28 seconds in the middle section and this will be the bit that everyone will sing along to, allegedly. But then if it is a "live" performance, the chances of hearing the same version of a song on two separate occasions are so small that all popular arabic musicians only learn two songs in their whole life and then play them with different musicians each time.

To avoid the clashing of a 1 minute and 28 second burst of the same song twice in one performance, when it is recorded, the minibus tape machine has an extra button on the front. It is marked U/R It stands for unravel. If you are in the minibus for more than on hour, the driver hits this button and it automatically delivers a full cassette of spaghetti in to the tape player. If his cassette player is of the older variety and he does not have this function, the player will double as an ashtray.

Now remember the version of Arabic music called minibus music? Well here goes. It can only be appreciated when hurtling down a busy market street at 90 km/h played at maximum volume, with the driver's head out of the window and his right hand firmly glued to the vehicle's horn. Alternatively, if you are on the open road, the minibuses are specially designed with no air-conditioning, and glued windows at 40 degrees Celsius (110 deg F) at 120 km/h. But the elite of these travelling musical coffins, is when you are moving at 160 km/h in total darkness with the driver turning off his lights in the desert so he will not disturb the local camel tribes. In this case the temperature has no bearing on the matter at all.

So that is Arabic music. What about the words? Malay music has also love as it's central theme. Thai songs are generally about cheating men or about the unallowable love between two 12 year olds. A normal state of affairs in Thailand! Greek songs involve plate smashing and crouching down to alleviate stomach cramps. Arabic music has only four basic words in its make-up.
Habbibi - Darling
Yanni - Eyes
Ya Ayn - Tonight
Ya Layl - OK.

So the song could be "Darling your eyes are beautiful tonight" "Tonight Darling, eye, eye" " Eyes, OK tonight darling?" then the chorus of Habbibi, Habbibi, Habbibi repeated 45 times.

The buses cost only one Egyptian pound anywhere. When you decide that the time has come and you do not want to walk through small alleyways with small children coming up to you and offering to polish your open toed sandals, or henna tatooists offering to colour all of your body in an ancient Egyptian style, then it is on to the minibuses.

They come in two forms; there is the truck-style bus with no conductor to collect your money. In this case you have to hand it to the driver, in between his lighting a cigarette and hooting at some poor tourists obviously walking in the opposite direction.

The other form of minibus has a collector at the back. He will open the door for you and wait until you sit down before asking "where you go?" When you tell him, he will state a price that would pay off the Egyptian national debt. Your best bet is to ignore this person. But even if you try to ignore him, he will still continue to strike some conversation, with the favourite line "Where you from” You used to be safe by saying you are from Russia, but now the little shits' have learnt to haggle in Russian, so your best bet is to say nothing. He will continue to state the astronomical price in all the languages he knows. It annoys me that I am always mistaken for German. They will always try to haggle with me in German. When you finally arrive and you pay him the One Egyptian pound, he will try and get some more money out of you. There are two magic words that will silence any minibus haggler. When mentioned they are guaranteed to get him to leave you alone. They are "Tourist Police"
Re: Egypt! A place I have not been to jail in! by Ginnyp on 12 September 2007 12:48am
You're getting bitter. It's not the PhD in travel and journalism you need, it's a holiday!
Re: Egypt! A place I have not been to jail in! by Ginnyp on 12 September 2007 1:12am
I try not to read the papers every day. We had the Cold War(I was born 1961). By the 70's everything was nuclear. Aged 10 that frightened me. Then it disappeared. My children have to see everything on the news and discussion at school and I keep wishing it would disappear again. Is that a bit shallow?

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