Thursday, March 29, 2007

Snow In The Desert

The New Valley. That is the name given to a string of oases that stretch westwards in a loop from Cairo south to Luxor. I think the idea behind the name is to imply that this is an area that will be like the Nile to entice people to move there. And enticement they need because apart from sand and date palms there's not much out there. But that's exactly what I was looking for in the form of the White Desert.

At some point a long time ago there must have been a shallow sea covering at least what is today's northern Egypt. Over the millennia the sediments produced by the small organisms built up and formed a layer of chalk. Over time the sea dried up and the land became covered by the sands of the desert, but in places the chalk has resurfaced and, not being a particularly hard substance, has been eroded by the wind. One such place is some 500km west of Cairo close to the Farafra Oasis and has been dubbed the White Desert for obvious reasons. Here the wind has worked like a master sculptor shaping the chalk into many weird and improbable shapes - there are many top-heavy mushroom formations as well as sphinxes, owls, chickens and pretty much anything else your imagination can conjure up. As far as the eye can see the entire landscape is an unending series of surreal shapes and snowscapes (the closest most Egyptians are going to get to snow anyway). Spending the night under the stars in such as place is truly magical. OK, the magic is slightly diminished by knowing that there are some 200 other people dotted around the desert at the same time, but that couldn't be helped, and anyway, in the middle of the night it was easy to imagine being the only person there as there wasn't a single artificial light to be seen.

Our guide/driver was a rather unhelpful sod. I suppose that's what happens when you go for the cheapest option, although I still think it's the best strategy because if your expectations are already low and everything goes pear-shaped then it's not such a big deal. Wahid, which was this guy's name, didn't talk much about what we were seeing, the whys and wherefore's, the geological processes or the history. Instead he would talk about money and his numerous foreign girlfriends. The latter subject is rather common amongst young Egyptian men who work with tourists and many have stories of long-term girlfriends abroad and a good number have even been married to foreign women. More often than not these unions do not last, the most common reason cited being "Western women are too free", and in a nutshell that sums up the attitude of Egyptian men in general and (this time) Wahid in particular. He would boast that he would soon be off to Paris to visit one of his girlfriends, and from there it would be on to Switzerland, Italy and then Japan (I think he was getting carried away by this point) and that the tab would be picked up by his many swooning conquests. Now, that in itself didn't bother me as I'm sure many people like a bit of holiday romance and all that, but just out of curiosity I asked him whether his sisters also go out with tourists like he does. "Of course not!" was the reply, "because Egyptian girls like to only do it one or two times a week, whereas Egyptian men three or four times a day." I didn't bother trying to ask him where he got his statistics from but went on to ask him how Egyptian men manage with their wives if there is such a discrepancy between the needs of one party and another. "Easy," he said, "you just hit them until they agree." It's good to see that he's managed to retain his traditional customs despite the exposure to Western decadence.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Dad Discovers The Dangers Of A Dodgy Diet

I've had my fair share of Delhi Belly on this trip but have had no real problems since leaving India (almost a whole year!) despite eating anything and everything I can find from the cheapest street vendors. Dad has kept up with my frugal tastes and managed to get by on my ful and koshary diet no problem. (Now would be an opportune moment for a brief aside about Egyptian cuisine. By and large it is identical to Levantine Arab food i.e. felafel, ful and flat bread, however they do have one unique speciality and that is koshary. It is the poor man's food par excellence. It's a mixture of pasta, rice, lentils and chick peas with a tomato sauce and is served lukewarm and a big bowl costs less than half a dollar. Koshary joints are easily recognisable by their large silver tureens of pasta sitting in the window. Cordon bleu it may not be, but it's certainly what the doctor ordered.) But it seems that what they say about acclimatising to food is indeed true because, despite eating exactly the same foods, my bowel movements have been impeccable whereas Dad has spent the last couple of days chained to the toilet. It has particularly flummoxed my father because he can't even remember the last time he had diarrhoea. He's OK now so we can continue after our slight delay. At least he's getting the full-on budget travelling experience!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Police Protection In The Land Of The Pharaohs

The pyramids may be the iconic image of ancient Egypt, but the real pharaonic heart lies in the town of Luxor, situated on the site of ancient Thebes. Although the temporal capital may have migrated to Memphis and then Alexandria (amongst others) the spiritual centre of the country was always Thebes. It was here that the greatest temples to the ancient gods were erected, each pharaoh trying to outdo his predecessors with ever more grandiose constructions. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the temple complex of Karnak where successive rulers added halls, altars, obelisks and statues until the whole ensemble grew to over 100 acres (it's the largest ancient religious site in the world). The scale, the still-visible colours and the craftsmanship are all an immortal declaration of power designed to impress, and impress they do.

The city of Thebes restricted itself to the eastern bank of the Nile whereas the west bank - the direction of the setting sun dropping into the underworld - was reserved for the dead. It is here, in a dry, barren wadi surrounded by cliffs that one finds the famous Valley of the Kings, the final resting place (at least until their mummies were moved to the museum in Cairo) of some 65 New Kingdom (roughly 1500 B.C. to 1000 B.C.) pharaohs, including Tutankhamun. Despite their best efforts at concealment most of these tombs were pillaged in ancient times (hence the reason why Tut, despite being a relatively insignificant monarch with no lasting achievements to his name, has become so famous) and so all that is left are the wall-paintings and perhaps a sarcophagus as well. But it wasn't just kings that were buried with pomp in the old days, there are over 400 tombs of queens, nobles and high-ranking officials dotted around. In fact it is the tombs of these officials and nobles that are perhaps the most interesting as they had fewer valuables but more vividly colourful decorations. Although the pharaohs made sure to hide their graves they made up for it by building ostentatious funerary temples to themselves though they don't seem to have withstood the test of time as well as their counterparts on the opposite bank.

It was at one of these west bank temples (the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut at Deir al Bahri) 10 years ago that a group of 62 tourists were massacred by Islamist militants. The attack caused the number of visitors to Egypt to plummet and so the government quickly stepped in (because without its income from the tourist industry Egypt would be a complete basket case).There was a crackdown on domestic Muslim groups, security was tightened around tourist sites and visitors were severely restricted in their transport options and a good deal of places were off limits altogether. The tactic worked and in the ensuing years there have only been a few minor incidents and so the tourists have come flooding back. And although there has been calm for some time now the police presence has remained. Ordinary package tourists may not notice it but south of Cairo there is a tangible security buffer between them and the locals. Just as there are walls and fences around historical monuments, to keep vandals out and to ensure people pay the entry fee, there are further walls and barriers around these to restrict access for locals to the roads around these very sites. On top of that there are sentry posts, where police officers armed with machine guns lurk behind bullet-proof protectors, all around these sites as well. And if a tourist should somehow manage to make it through these cordons (designed not only to keep locals out but also foreigners in) and turn up alone and unannounced in a provincial town they will immediately be given a police escort to wherever they are planning to visit, and then quickly bundled onto the next available train the nearest "safe" town. It means that there is even less contact between foreigners and ordinary locals. All this seems paradoxical to me from a safety point of view because if there was to be a terrorist attack then it would be far more likely to be against a train full of foreign tourists than a local service with a couple of ajnabis aboard.

Finally I ought to make a quick comment about the touts. For quite some time now I've been warned by other travellers about the Luxor touts and how merciless they can be and so I was preparing myself mentally for the onslaught. However they were not as fierce as I had feared. For anyone who has braved Agra on foot or gotten off the Siem Reap bus at Phnom Penh and survived they do not pose an insurmountable obstacle.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Gently Down The Stream

Apart from the dam and Abu Simbel there are other things to see and do in Aswan such as taking a stroll through the trafficless peace of Elephantine island in the middle of the Nile, cross over to the other bank completely for desert exploration or check out some of the old temples. Of the latter, the temple of Isis at Philae is another structure that was rescued from the rising waters of lake Nasser, although the glue-job wasn't as artfully done as at Abu Simbel. It certainly merits a visit due to the fascinating reliefs and their graffiti. Now in general I'm against graffiti, it's neither clever nor funny, but this particular graffiti dates from the 6th century AD and documents the final death throes of paganism in Egypt. Although much of Egypt had become Christian in the 4th century the ancient gods were still revered in Philae for another300 years until the Greek emperors finally pulled the plug on religious tolerance. So the peaceable Christians went down to Philae and ransacked the temple, scratching out images of pagan gods (especially the faces), gouging crosses over hieroglyphs and leaving Greek and Coptic slogans on the shrines saying "Osiris is a big sissy!" and "Ra sucks big time!" (OK, so I made that up, but I'd really love to know what is actually written there)

Seeing as the Nile is the longest river in the world and that, to all intents and purposes, is Egypt, no visit would be complete without a cruise down the majestic artery. And Aswan is the perfect place to organise such a trip - innumerable cruise ships are moored on the bank along the Corniche, with on board lounges, cabins, restaurants and every conceivable amenity. But you know me, no way am I going to let comfort get in the way of saving money, and so we opted for a felucca instead. Feluccas are traditional, single-sailed lateen boats that can easily be seen plying the waters up and down the length of the Nile. It may be a particularly touristy thing to do, but then again in Egypt there is very little to do that isn't, and so we found a boat to take us down to KomOmbo (what a great name) for two days (to get an idea of how slow a means of transport the felucca is, Kom Ombo is only 45km downstream of Aswan). As with all situations where one is in a confined space for a length of time the enjoyment to be had often depends on the company, and we were lucky to to share our boat with five funny and friendly people (a quick cheer for Faye, Tom, Adam, Fred and Joanne) that made the time pass very quickly and enjoyably with conversations about travel, films, food and politics. Part of the reason the trip takes so long is because the prevailing wind along the river is always from the north and so we had to constantly tack (all the time watching out for the hulking cruise ships that would bulldoze past) to make any progress. Not that we did any of the sailing, we just sat back, chatted, dozed and watched the river bank slip past. But I believe the brief spell of R&R was merited and necessary as we steel ourselves for the uber-toutfest that is Luxor.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Like A Good Toupee

From Cairo we took the overnight train south along the Nile to Aswan. Aswan is Egypt's most southerly own of any note despite being some 300km from the border and is where customs and immigration formalities are conducted if you want to push on into Sudan. I'm not planning on going that far, but there are reasons for visiting nevertheless. A few kilometres downstream is the Aswan High Dam, a monster of a dam built between 1960 and 1970. The dam produces a whopping percentage of the country's electricity and has allowed a huge surge in agriculture by taming the annual floods and increasing irrigation. All good then? Well, perhaps not for the Nubians who used to live upstream of Aswan and whose land has now become lake Nasser. Forced from their ancestral homes and with little support for their language and traditions the Nubians have generally not had a great time in Egypt, although things are slowly improving as the government tries desperately to spread its ballooning population a bit more evenly away from the heavily crowded Cairo-delta area.

Other victims of the rising waters of the Nile lacked the mobility of the Nubians and had to be helped to survive drowning. Altogether about a dozen temples spanning the entire ancient Egyptian civilisation were cut into manageable blocks, transported to above the new water level, and faithfully reassembled in an archaeological and engineering race against time. The most famous of these is undoubtedly the temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel. The colossal rock-cut temple was shifted 55m uphill along with its own personal cliff. As equally impressive as the four imposing statues of Ramses at the entrance (each 20m tall), and the undeniable technical feat of the temple teleportation is the fact that it's almost impossible to see the joins between the pieces, even up close, like a particularly good, made-to-measure toupee. Visiting Abu Simbel is a whole day affair, mainly because it's 4 hours by bus from Aswan one way. Most people visit on organised tours that leave in the wee hours of the morning in a large convoy, but that wasn't for me. Not only is 4am far too early for me (I need my beauty sleep), but I'm stubborn and will insist on doing things independently even if they end up costing more, taking longer and causing serious aggravation. This time everything went OK and we arrived at the temple at noon and had the whole place to ourselves (which allowed me to take a few surreptitious photos inside). Getting back proved simple enough too as we managed to find a microbus going our way relatively quickly. When it came for us to pay we managed to seriously annoy the driver by insisting on paying the standard fare and not the inflated foreigner one. Luckily we were already in Aswan and had exact change so there was little he could do. And this leads me nicely to today's rant (it's been a while since my last rant and I thought you deserved another one).

I have become used to paying an order of magnitude more than locals to visit tourist sites. I still don't like it but I've made my peace and come to grudgingly accept it (as there's not much else I can do). Here in Egypt, however, this concept has been taken to a whole new level and in places that are frequented by tourists (most notably here in Aswan and from what I hear also in Luxor) even the most basic services and provisions are often charged at several times the going rate. It's particularly galling when the correct price is displayed in Arabic and yet you're still quoted a ridiculous even after pointing out to them that you can read Arabic. On several occasions I've been treated with outright hostility for wanting to pay the same as a local would for a cup of tea or some dates. On one occasion Dad and I bought a couple of ice-creams where the displayed price was £1.75. I handed over £10 and the server had the nerve to ask me for the rest of the money. After a good deal of arguing and me almost losing my cool I finally managed to get another £4 off of him (he acted as if it was him doing me the favour). What possibly angered me more was the fact that when a group of Egyptians came to buy ice-creams from the same shop not only did they pay the correct price, but they seemed to think it normal that I was being charged three times as much as them and that I was somehow brutish to be getting upset about it.

And so, travelling on a budget the way I do, I've had to become a person I don't particularly like: I'm automatically mistrustful of everyone I meet, I always have to ask the price of even the most trivial thing in advance, and my first, automatic answer if anyone approaches me on the street is always no. It's a real shame as there are certainly many honest and interesting people that I would love to talk to (the most fascinating aspect of travelling is never the temples but the local people), but how does one distinguish them from the hordes of others pestering you and tugging at your sleeve to sell you a plastic pyramid, scarab paperweight made in China, or ugly papyrus scroll that you neither want nor need. Who is to blame for this state of affairs? Is it the tourists who come in their droves on pre-paid, organised tours, stay in resorts owned by large companies, don't have any contact with the locals and contribute little to the local economy? Or is it the locals who see foreigners not as people, but money on legs, to be relentlessly hounded and exploited at every possible opportunity? The reality probably lies somewhere in the middle, but it is a truly sad state of affairs when travelling, instead of bringing people of different cultures together, only causes them to view each other as less than human.

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).

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Route Canal

Ismailia is a town not particularly frequented by tourists. Not surprising really given that the town is only 150 years old and that, as far as historical monuments go, nothing of interest has been constructed in the country since 1500. Except for one thing that is, which is the reason for Ismailia's very existence, the Suez canal. Undoubtedly the greatest feat of engineering of the 19th century, and possibly even the entire Industrial Age. 160km long, 11 years in the making and costing the lives of tens of thousands of people, welcome to the largest ditch in the world, dug mainly by hand and without the aid of modern machinery. The costs might have been very high in both human lives and financial terms (the debts incurred by the Egyptian state were used as an excuse by the British to effectively take control of the country for some 80 years until they were finally kicked out) but it changed world trade dramatically cutting the sea passage time from Europe to India by more than half and thereby boosting world trade. To this day some 7.5% of world sea cargo passes through it (at a rate of 50 ships a day) and it contributes a significantly to the country's coffers, bringing in almost $3.5 billion last year.

As I approached the canal I would catch glimpses of ships' bridges gliding along behind some buildings, looking eerily out of place and sending shivers down my spine. As I crossed a small rise there it was in front of me, and right on cue a gigantic container ship (I calculated that it carried over 1000 containers) eased in front of my eyes acting all nonchalant and yet looking as out of place as an elephant in a tutu. I was mesmerised and spent about an hour watching the different types of ship drift silently by whilst two little ferries chugged back and forth playing chicken with their bigger cousins. But then it got chilly and I walked back to town with a spring in my step.

And now I'm back in Cairo hanging out at my hotel. Actually the building has three separate hotels and is almost the sole preserve of Japanese backpackers, which is a good sign as the Japanese (and Koreans as well) are fantastically efficient at winkling out the cheapest places to stay (though they then get shafted by touts who overcharge them even more than white tourists). Anyway, why am I back in Cairo? Well it seems like I have become my family's mobile holiday destination and this time it is my father who is coming out to brave the backpacker life to spend some time with his son (personally I would have preferred it if he joined me in a more expensive country to lessen my financial burden rather than Egypt where $10 is enough to see you through the day). But no, I am glad he is coming as I haven't seen him since last Summer and there would be something wrong with me if I didn't want to see him. Let's see how long we will last.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sand Sea And Sun

Some 90% of Egypt's population lives within 50km of the Nile and its delta. OK, I'm not sure whether the number is strictly correct, it could just be one of those accepted truths, but at any rate a lot of people in Egypt live in the thin strip of land along the Nile. And it's not surprising when you leave the fertile, irrigated Nile valley you soon hit upon sand, and lots of it. The entire western two thirds of the country are taken up by the Sahara and its tributaries (such as the Libyan desert). I therefore took the opportunity to head out to one of Egypt's more remote oases called Siwa, only some 100km distant from the Libyan border.

The oasis is the last outpost before the Great Sand Sea of the Sahara begins. As soon as the intensely irrigated cultivated land stops the dunes begin, and do not stop for another 2000km or so (as long as you go in the right, or wrong, direction). I wandered in for about 6km until I was almost out of sight of "civilisation" before heading back again before the sun set (for this outing into the desert I was more prepared than last time and even took some water with me!). The oasis must have been a true little haven of peace, unspoilt by the big bad world, but the influx of tourists has changed that. Not that it isn't a pleasant place to kick up your heels and relax, but it's not as genuine as it used to be. Mud brick buildings are being replaced by breeze block boxes, every other shop rents out bicycles and everyone speaks English. But I wasn't going to let that deter me, I've been to Vang Vieng and survived. For the history buffs there are the ruins of a couple of pharaonic temples, namely the Temple of the Oracle which, for some reason, the Persian emperor Cambyses decided to attack only for his army to get lost in the sand en route, never to be heard from again (to this day archaeologists are hunting for the lost army). For those with a less ardent desire to see all things old and crumbly it's fun to cycle round the less touristified villages of the oasis seeing a slightly more traditional way of life among the groves of date palms, perhaps even getting a glimpse of the elusive women dressed up as Nazguls, and to take a dip in the numerous springs that dot the area. A truly strange thought to be lounging in a pool only hundreds of metres from the largest desert in the world. Perhaps just as odd is the fact that one of the biggest exports of the oasis is water. Aqua Siwa is one of the biggest brands of bottled water in the country. It just makes me think that our world truly has gone crazy when we are taking water out of the desert, putting it in bottles, shipping it hundreds of kilometres and then selling it to people who have decent drinking water coming out of their household taps.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Out Cold In Alex

Egypt's second city is Alexandria. Founded by Alexander the Great (him again) and famed for its giant lighthouse, or Pharos (another world wonder), and even bigger library the city was, in its heyday, the greatest of the ancient world. Since then the library has burnt down, the lighthouse was toppled by an earthquake and the capital has moved to Cairo. In fact the only pre-Islamic structure still standing is a single measly column (which the authorities have the gall of charging $3 to see). Why then visit this place at all? Well, there is a largish (and overpriced) 15th century fort on the site of the Pharos which, if you look carefully, incorporates some of its predecessor's masonry, and there's a new library with aspirations of greatness, though it requires more books and less empty space to achieve that. Plus, close by, is the largest Coptic monastery in the country. I didn't know this as I was intending to visit the ruins of an old Christian complex. Apparently 50 years ago the Coptic patriarch decided to take the remains of the saint, around which the ancient pilgrimage site had been built, and build a new monastery complex. Lucky for me as the ruins were distinctly unremarkable, my entertainment being provided by watching local Copts spending their weekend with an outing to the new monastery, having picnics and playing football in the grounds.

Just sitting by and watching people and their lives pass by is certainly the best thing to do in Alex (and only partly because it's free). I would set myself up on the seafront Corniche around sunset and contemplate the anglers sporadically casting their long lines into the bay without much apparent success; young parents trying desperately to stop their progeny from running amok by placating them with candy floss; and courting couples sharing a laugh and a discreet holding of hands. Sartorially, at least, women here seem far more emancipated than their Arab sisters elsewhere. Although many wear headscarves in deference to their beliefs they make no such compromises from the neck down, sporting trendy, sassy clothes that would easily be at home north of the Med (I even saw a couple of girls wearing boob tubes, though with a tight, thin T-shirt underneath to maintain their modesty). Egyptian men, on the other hand, spend a lot of time at the local ahwa (cafe) smoking sheeshas and playing dominoes. Although, to be fair, that's pretty much what all men everywhere do. The relaxed, open, al fresco way of life possibly has something to do with the city's pre-independence cosmopolitan character when over a third of the population were foreigners: Greeks, Italians, Turks, French, British and Jews forming the eclectic mix.

Now if only they could be so civilised when it comes to their public transport. (I know I harp on a lot about buses, planes and trains, but getting around, and figuring out how to get around, takes up a lot of my time and is an area of everyday life with which I am in close contact in every country I visit.) Local minibuses have neither numbers nor destinations displayed, instead Alexandrians have devised a series of hand signals for each of the major destinations in town. That's possibly a good thing because although I thought I was making good progress with my Arabic I'm having trouble understanding, and making myself understood by, Egyptians, as their garbled dialect of Arabic is so different from standard Arabic as to be a different language altogether. For example instead of calling the "new station" (where I wanted to get to) mahattat jadideh in Egyptian it becomes mawfak gedi. So, thumbing my nose at linguistic barriers, there I stood by the side of the road, my right arm held vertically, palm forwards at head height, fingers outstretched, intermittently jabbing at the sky and slowly turning red from embarrassment. It did work though and after 15 minutes of looking ridiculous I was picked up. I just wished I had been going to the place where the signal was a surreptitious pointing towards the ground; at least I wouldn't have felt like such a pillock then.