Tag Archives: tourism

Sneaky Tourist Traps

And we were married in the morning.

We all know of the geographical tourist trap, in which suckers are lured somewhere and forced to buy a chewed pyramid eraser for five dollars.

Though this is the most common understanding of the phrase “tourist trap,” there are other, non-geographical tourist traps. This picture, taken at an ancient Egyptian temple in Aswan, demonstrates two of them.

Trap #1: Looking like a fool

If you’ll notice, the man standing next to me in this picture is wearing a pith helmet and a long sleeved khaki shirt that is ideal for archaeological excavation or rainforest trail beating. I can’t remember what he was wearing on his bottom or feet, but for the purpose of this discussion, let us believe he was sporting long shorts and thick soled boots.

Carefully selected according to internet research and documentaries based in the early 1900’s, this man’s attire clearly identifies him as a colonizer, an imperialist, and an unpleasant reminder of a confusing and difficult time in Egyptian history.

Though the costume is well chosen for archaeological excavation circa 1920, not only it is horribly outdated, but it is also ill-suited for his main tourist tasks, which are taking pictures and eating out 3 times a day.

Many tourists, when traveling to areas perceived as “exotic” or “developing,” will unfortunately resort to donning adventure wear. The reality is that even countries like Egypt, Ecuador, Morocco, and Jordan—to name a few—have major cities in which the inhabitants wear clothes that resemble the latest H&M threads more than the outfits European explorers wore a century ago.

The entire adventure clothes industry thrives off of selling people the very cargo pants, shirts with zip-off pockets, and shoes with built-in canteens that will make them look like idiots. In order to drive home the point that these people are clueless, the travel wear company might as well sell big foam fingers for more noticeable pointing and ankle bells to alert locals when a tourist is coming so they can look “native.”

Trap #2: Tourism-Induced-Sleepiness

Another lesser known tourist trap is the trap of tourism-induced-sleepiness, as exhibited by the young people on either side of my head. In my own experience, drowsiness attacks me the very second I enter a historical site, particularly one with open spaces, marble floors, and an appropriately cool atmosphere—museums are particularly perilous. After three historical visits in a row, I enter a very sleepy danger zone. The only way to cure this condition is by taking a long nap on a soft, white, hotel bed, or getting a latte. Either way it’s a win.

The sleepiness is not necessarily a bad thing. On the other hand, adventure wear—except for joke purposes–is always ill-advised.

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Traveling: Useful for Watching the Humans

Oh you know, I was just floating down the Nile on a ship.

On April 16th, 2012, at approximately 12:03 pm, I returned at last from a journey that spanned a total of 1190 miles (1927 kilometers), and approximately 4 millennia, stretching from Istanbul in the north to Aswan, Egypt in the south, from the time of the mysterious Pharaohs to the more familiar civilizations of modern Turkey and Egypt.

Though I remain pale as an alabaster rose I do, however, sport the beginnings of a shapely frecklestash.

I saw the sultans’ puffy pants and the bare breasts of ancient Egyptians; the pith helmets of eager yet uninformed tourists, and the North Face jackets of unhappy American families. I sampled the modern cruise cuisine of Egypt, tasted the street fare of Istanbul, dined from the secret recipes of palace chefs, and ate starches whenever possible.

My sperries received a beating from all of the walking and then another lashing from me for being a mediocre shoe. My clothes are stinky and there is multinational grit in my purse.

So what did I do after all, in the grand scheme of time and space? What did it mean to travel to distant lands, even farther from my already distant home and sleep in beds that were not my own in places where I didn’t know who washed the sheets?

What does it mean to sit in a shady park full of blooming tulips and look out over the Bosporus, commenting on the rooftops of strangers in a country where I could not pronounce anything correctly?

For me, as an alien, these journeys give me a chance to deepen my understanding of human culture, helping me to better imitate it in my own life. Witnessing other humans acting in a way similar to humans in my region increases my functional knowledge of their kind. As I view the holy places of civilizations long past and watch others imagine the hope and desperation of those who surrounded the temple walls, I learn the act of historical empathy from the humans themselves, one of the most difficult emotions to mimic.

I am more than a little humbled by the grace of the mother queen, who granted me the privilege of leaving my base and seeing a timeline of human history that spans four thousand years. It is also fascinating to think that I am in some ways a continuation of that same history, because we plan to wipe out the entire human race and bring all of it to an end.

More on the trip and its starches to come soon.

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A Lunchtime Revolution

You know you’re in Egypt when you’re surrounded by Russians in Hurghada and see this walking in front of you on the beach.

Based on a true story that happened last weekend.

We’re on vacation and it’s lunch time.

We’ve all had a hard morning. After sleeping in and enjoying a leisurely breakfast, some students ventured to the beach, where they were subjected to a blazing sun and gorgeous views of the red sea. Unfortunately, their fragile psyches were scarred by the unreasonably high ratio of body mass to swimsuit size, and they saw more Russian butt cheeks than anyone should have to see in a lifetime. They need nourishment.

Others of us suffered equally in the lobby, where we were tortured with 90s pop music, cigarette smoke, and slow wireless internet.  Our applications did not load quickly, and people we did not want to see came and sat next to us. We are exhausted from the effort of maintaining simple sanity in the face of such hardship. We need refreshment.

It’s 1:24. According to the itinerary, lunch is in six minutes. We seat ourselves at a dining table, preparing to renew our souls. Silverware is fidgeted with, glasses filled with water. We are ready.

But something’s wrong. The staff is still setting out the food. The buffet is yet incomplete, and only the salad bar looks prepared. This does not bode well.

A few minutes pass. It is now 1:30. The staff gives us no signal. Do we sit like dumb beasts? Do we help ourselves to salad? Do we drink water and laugh as if everything were fine even though our stomachs cry out for salvation?

Unable to wait any longer, I decide to go for the salad bar. Just as I’m about to grab a tong-ful of cucumber slices, the staff member in charge of fruit arrangement stops me and says firmly “You wait five minutes. Please,” and points to my seat with disdain. This was not a request. I turn away, starving and indignant.

“Excuse me?” I think to myself,  “Are we not on vacation? Is this not an all inclusive resort? Can we not act as we please? Is the salad bar not sitting in front of me, waiting to be devoured? Are there not hungry students behind me, waiting to eat? What kind of a cruel topsy turvy upside downy hell is this?”

I sit down. The time is 1:35. Angry mutterings rise from the table, “What did he say?” “Why can’t we eat the salad?” “I’m so hungry.” “What does it matter to him? They’re not even doing anything to it.” “grumble grumble complain grumble.”

And so we sit, staring at each other, grousing from every end, the buffet a mere 10 feet to the right.

Finally I could take it no more. What was this madness? It is lunchtime, the time in which we eat the lunch.

“Colleagues,” I said. “My peers, friends, brothers, sisters, acquaintances,  enemies, and Steve, will you stand for this, that we should be deprived of eating lunch at the appointed hour? Will you submit to the arbitrary tyranny of the hotel staff? Will you cower and recoil in fear from a single man? No, dear friends. This is our lunch time, and lunch we shall, a great lunch, one that shall go down in history as the greatest resort lunch ever taken. Brothers, sisters, Steve, let us lunch!”

And with that I rose and went to the salad bar. A great cheer erupted and the others followed. Lunch we did, and I learned that the taste of victory is only as good as the food at the hotel.

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Hydration Makes All the Difference


This past weekend, I traveled to Ain Sukhna, a popular beach on the Red Sea, with the Arabic Language Institute on one of their egregiously swanky trips. Though I was initially excited to experience  an Egypt other than Cairo, I realized shortly after arriving at the resort that Ain Sukhna is neither a part of Egypt, nor a part of civilization in general. As a resort, it belongs to a class of places that is removed from time and space as well as sterilized of both culture and reality. Indeed, the whole point of a resort is cultivating a state of complete relaxation that closely resembles death. If it seems like I’m complaining about a free weekend at a five star resort on the cobalt waters of the Red Sea, my response is, “Yes. I am doing exactly that.” And I think you’ll see my complaints are legitimate.

1. Our stay at the resort did not include the elixir of life itself: water. The breakfast and dinner buffets were almost completely dry, and did not offer alcohol, juice, water, sugar water, etc. Since I was not willing to spend extra money, I subsisted off of the 4 cups of coffee at breakfast and dew I licked off the grass in the early morning. As a result of the crippling dehydration, I was plagued by bizarre thoughts about wanting to be a sea creature, leading to many  ill-advised attempts at settling permanently under water.

2. Resorts are creepy places. This particular one was about 40 kilometers from the nearest city, and it was an entirely enclosed compound, a world unto itself.  The longer I stayed, the more I felt my humanity leaking from me as I slowly forgot my former life, the one where I drank water. Furthermore, Ain Sukhna falls where the Eastern Desert meets the Red Sea. This isn’t one of those wacky deserts full of vegetation and animals. It is barren.  Despite this, at the resort one can find blossoming gardens, twittering birds, and broiling humans. None of this should be here. It is a desert. We should just call this whole thing quits and go back to fertile land.

3. The weather was too hot. I simply can’t understand how people find self-roasting (immolation) pleasant. Don’t they know they’re dying? I wanted to understand the others, and so I spent an entire day outside in the scalding heat, cowering from the sun under an umbrella.  However, probably due to the dehydration as well as the heat, I felt weaker than I ever have in my entire life and remained plastered to the lounge chair like a deflated beached animal, drifting in and out of consciousness and trying to remember what it was like to have thoughts. Next time, I will have no shame in embracing indoors and air conditioning.

One might say I should have expected all of this from the words “resort vacation on the beach,” but I had yearned for more. May my next trip outside of Cairo be a fount of creativity and not a sinkhole of lethargy.

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Sowing, Winnowing, and Manuring

Today we went to the Egyptian Museum of Agriculture, a gem that has and will be overlooked by hordes of tourists for

Hands on learning.

years to come. In this context, the word museum is misleading since the Agricultural museum is, in fact, more like a playground. Here are some of the differences between a “normal” museum, and the Egyptian Museum (playground) of Agriculture:

1) A museum has guests.

The Museum of Agriculture does not have guests. From the disbelieving looks on the employees’ faces, we were the first foreigners visiting the museum since the woman or man from Lonely Planet discovered it. The other few museum patrons were there for picnicking or loitering purposes, but certainly not to see the museum itself.

2) A museum requires and undergoes regular upkeep.

The Museum of Agriculture requires but does not undergo regular upkeep. It is set up similar to the National Mall in that the museum is a group of five buildings centered around a green space that has trees and statues in it, but the comparison ends there. The statues are placed without any apparent design and the lawn and trees have been left to their own devices ever since they were planted. The museum employees are hired to be present at the museum but not to do anything to it, in order to preserve the natural deterioration process. Thus, a thick layer of dust and one case bird droppings coat all display cases, broken exhibits remain unrepaired, and all textiles within the museum are in danger of turning into dust at the touch of a finger.

3) Some museum employees are knowledgeable about the museum and its contents. There is a curator.

From what we saw, no museum employee knew anything about Egyptian agriculture or this museum dedicated to its existence aside from its hours of operation. The Agricultural museum employee’s job is this: “Sit or stand near the entrance of the hall. Should anyone walk in, stare at them. Open and close the doors at the appointed time. Avoid dusting or improving the museum in any way.” As for the curator–should he exist– he is either dead or has been on vacation for the past three decades.

The star museum employees assist people in entering the exhibits and taking pictures with the mannequins while sweating on them and gesturing wildly, afterwards demanding extra money for having clearly gone above and beyond his normal call of duty.

4) The museum exhibits are educational.

Are you getting the dusty attic feeling?

In theory, the Museum of Agriculture is filled with educational material, and yet it would be an Olympic feat to actually learn anything from it. Aside from the fact most things are unorganized and poorly labeled, you will be too distracted by the ridiculousness of the place in order to do anything besides contemplate the museum’s existence itself and the thickness of the cobwebs on the windows. The two things I took away from the Horticulture hall, for example, after seeing dusty glass case after dusty glass case of different kinds of wheat stalks and seeds, corn stalks and seeds, bread, fruits, vegetables, stages of growing of wheat, etc, were: “There is a lot of variety in the world” and “This took a long time to assemble.”

5) The museum exhibits are not to be touched so as to preserve them for the next visitors. For this reason, there is surveillance of some kind to prevent the most curious from overstepping their bounds.

In the Museum of Egyptian Agriculture, you are almost completely alone and can do whatever you want. The entire place feels forgotten if not yet abandoned. Climbing into the exhibits and taking pictures is encouraged, as well as exploring blocked off parts of the halls and rifling through anything that isn’t encased in glass.

6) The opportunity to interact with material not yet put on display is minimal.

At the Museum of Egyptian Agriculture, there is a cabinet full of documents and photos as well as bin full of antique cigarettes on the second floor of the Hall of Horticulture in a nook on the landing with some agricultural tools in it. Feel free to look at the photos and guess what they might be. Consider the very slim odds of them every being used or seen by someone who might actually be interested in the information.

7) The only fun to be had is through the joy of learning.

The best part of the agriculture museum experience was being able to run around in it like kids and cause a ruckus, feeling like we were breaking all the rules even though there were no rules to be broken in the first place. Also, the green space within the complex was a real joy, complete with nice trees, cool birds, and two little pergolas. Though using the word paradise might be too strong, it certainly felt like a land preserved outside of time and space, which I suppose is the purpose of a museum though in this case it was achieved accidentally.

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