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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Our Trip to Fayyum

Our trip to the Fayyum Oasis to visit the Hawara pyramid turned out to be very interesting in itself.

Many people ask us, "is it safe in Egypt?" Well, yes, it is very safe. Women and small children stroll the streets at night. Street crime is virtually unheard of. There are no burglar bars on the doors of shops and no one here has heard of a "stewmaker." In short, this isn't Chicago or Philadelphia, much less Tijuana.

But the government wants tourists to feel safe as well as be safe. When tourists leave their hotels in Luxor for their visit to the monuments, buses and vans form a convoy with a police escort. Everyone heads out together to the Valley of the Kings or Abydos, etc. While it does make people feel safer, it also crowds the sites with everyone arriving at about the same time.

When we arrived at the Fayyum Oasis today, we were greeted at a police checkpoint by the Fayyum Tourist Police. Since we were Westerners traveling alone, (just our friend and the two of us in a private car) the police assigned us an escort consisting of five officers. A driver and an armed commander sat in the front of this pickup truck and three armed police sat in the rear.

That shell covering the bed of the pickup is made of about an inch of steel.

They were very nice folks, like all Egyptians. When we stopped to buy ourselves some water, we bought two large bottles for the police. Since we didn't want to feed them too, we didn't stop for lunch while we were with the escort.

Besides making us "feel safe" they knew the route to the pyramid and bumped the siren occasionally to help gain us a right of way. Very handy. We should have this service back in the states. Have you tried to get through Yellowstone in July?

While we were at the Pyramid, our escorts stayed in the parking lot. Guard duty was picked up by two monument Tourist Police who accompanied our guide and helped him out by pointing out stones and signs as he talked. About a hundred yards out from the pyramid in three directions stood armed guards.

No, they weren't fending off any terrorists. They were preventing any locals from coming to steal the rest of the bricks or other antiquities on the site.

As it turned out, the police escort came in very handy, though. As we left the pyramid area, our friend (and Linda) heard a high-pitched squealing from under the hood. We stopped at a mechanic's shop and soon had five heads from the neighborhood under the hood. After some pushing and pulling, a verdict was rendered. "Loose fan belt. I'll have it tightened after we get back to Giza."

After about ten miles, the noise grew much louder, the idler pulley flew off, and belts quit turning. I got to take some nice pictures of an agricultural area while everyone else studied the problem.

Fortunately our friend always carries a rope. I've noticed the same equipment in the trunk of several taxis. Soon we were tied onto the back of the police escort.

They towed us about ten miles to the edge of the Fayyum district that is their base. From there we made a few phone calls but finally settled on getting a tow from another passing truck. That truck towed us the remaining 35 miles into Giza. This was my view for that part of the ride. We are about eight feet behind the truck.

We got into pretty heavy traffic on Pyramids Street. People trying the "dodge and weave" technique to cross the street between the truck and us were surprised to find that rope. At least three successfully jumped it and no one was run over.

Breakdowns are more common here than at home. You probably don't appreciate just how reliable your car is. If I recall correctly, we experienced three flat tires and one "run out of gas" situation during three weeks here last November. And those were all in taxis except one of the flats. On a previous trip, a couple of years ago, our driver lost a u-joint and dropped the drive shaft right in the middle of Pyramids Street in very heavy traffic at around midnight.

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