Sunday, March 11, 2007

Have Camcorder, Will Travel

All credit to my father who has taken to budget conditions with aplomb. He seems to be reliving the halcyon days of his youth when he hitched round eastern Europe. Although in those days he didn't have a camcorder, otherwise he wouldn't have gotten very far as he is continually stopping to film local street scenes of hawkers, shoppers and people going about their daily business. Although the constant stopping and starting can be rather vexing it is also interesting to see the aspects of life in developing countries that I have become accustomed to and now regard as normal but are a different world for newcomers, such as the packed, chaotic markets a copious piles of rubbish on the streets. It's always good to get a different point of view so that you can reassess your own ideas.

I had left a couple of things in Cairo to see with my father, the most notable of which was the Egyptian museum. Its enormous collection contains the jewels of ancient Egyptian art, culture and technology with, as its centrepiece, the incredible funerary relics of Tutankhamun. The giant building was purpose-built 100 years ago to house the country's growing collection of antiquities, but the numerous archaeological finds since then (that continue to this day) have caused it to start bursting at the seams. In fact the place is more reminiscent of a neglected and musty old bric-a-brac store with poor lighting, creaking wooden cases and faded yellowing labels. But none of that can detract from the staggering age and superb artefacts - jewels of intricate craftsmanship and paintings as vivid as the day they were drawn. There is just so much to see that visiting the museum is a whole-day operation that needs to be carried out with military precision otherwise you'll only be halfway round gazing at a 4000 year-old coloured bas-relief when the dour guards will already be shooing you out. Though I was a little gutted that photography was not permitted inside, even without a flash. I would like to think this is a measure that has been taken to preserve the objects, but the cynic in me says that it's more likely to be a policy so that the museum can sell more books and postcards at grossly inflated prices in its souvenir shops (for example a postcard bought at the museum costs $1, whereas you can buy one in a shop just across the road for a twentieth of the price).

Also, as a little break from things pharaonic, we headed out to Egypt's main camel market about an hour's drive out of Cairo. The drive out there proved to be a bit of an eye-opener, passing some of the poorer slums of Cairo on the way, and then intensively cultivated farmland packed full of cereals and vegetables. I did slightly fluff the timing and we went out on a rather calm day when there wasn't much trading going on, but it was still cool to see camels from as far afield as Somali and Sudan. We were shown around a bit by a local guy whose sole mastery of English stretched to the mantra of "sit down", which, depending on the circumstances, meant "come here", "look at this", "thank you", "watch out, that camel bites" and, on one occasion, "sit down". Oddities at the market included a rabid camel (or at least one that had gone nuts) with a bizarrely inflated tongue and a bit of a temper, and a strange, yet incredibly effective, way of hobbling camels making them look like quadruped flamingos (see picture below). But what perhaps surprised me the most was that even a cheap, bottom-of-the-range, no frills camel retails for almost $1000 whereas luxury models sell for twice that. Pretty pricey for an animal that won't be winning many beauty contests and whose meat is rather chewy.

P.S. By the way, I have finally gotten round to putting some more pictures up on my album, this time mostly from my time in Yemen. They're at the usual place, so just follow the links on the left-hand side of my blog (New Photo Album).

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