Trouble in Alex
09.01.1965 - 11.01.1965
Saturday 9-1-65 PM
At 8.05 pm exactly, the Esperia docked in Alexandria, and I promptly did the most stupid thing I have ever done in my life. Having been told time and again not to declare my Egyptian currency, and seeing a plain notice on the ship stating that the entry of it was forbidden, I went ahead and declared the 11.75 E.L. I had bought in Beirut, because, on the back of the declaration form it clearly stated that I could bring it in. It was promptly seized and I was given a receipt. Two hours of arguing did no good, and I feel such an idiot. I have done some stupid things in my life, but to hand away 15 dollars at this stage of the game, after all I have been through in the way of borders and customs, and in my present financial state! It was a slap in the face I will never forget. I guess I will get over it, but MY GOD!!! The whole business at the customs shed was a backwards and forwards game that nearly drove me insane. I was prepared to get back on the ship and go to Italy. I would have if I had not already sunk so much money into North African visas and currency. It was a hell of an arrival, and has completely soured my attitude to Egyptians. We got to the local Alexandria Youth Hostel, a filthy hole, the dirtiest I have seen, but at least they don’t give a damn about rules and regulations.
I woke up still feeling miserable about last night, but having resigned myself to some extent. The worst thing about being down $15 is that I could have lived like a king in Egypt on that 11.75 Pounds, and with the flash of a pen I signed it over to some snivelling, giggling functionary. I get no comeback either. The whole business depresses me. Still, at least I have an immediate knowledge of what I am dealing with here. I only want to see the ancient monuments, and then the whole country can drown itself in the Nile for all I care. We went around Alexandria today, an averagely uninteresting city, especially in my mood, but we will have a better look when we come back, if we do. Our immediate aim is to go down the Nile to Luxor and then see things on the way back. We won’t be able to go as far as Abu Simbel, since Wadi Halfa is now evacuated because of the Aswan Dam, and the Sudan Aswan boats no longer run. Egyptian hydrofoils still take you there, but they are too expensive for us. We changed some money with a girl at the hostel and set off in pouring rain for the central railway station, to take a train to Cairo. We were soaked when we got to the station, but fortunately the train was fast, and we were in Cairo in three hours. After much frustration we finally reached the Garden City Youth Hostel, which is the best we have stayed in, but also the most regimented. All in all, not a very good day, and I am still shat off.
We went round to the Australian Embassy first thing and got student letters without difficulty, read some home newspapers, and heard tales of woe from other Australian travellers, one of whom was there because all her luggage had been stolen. I have not met a person yet who thinks highly of Egypt. Got a crowded bus to the station and had to really push our way out. Bought some nougat and somehow got more than we paid for, so that’s 5 piastre back. Spent a hell of an hour trying to find out where to buy rail tickets for Luxor, and eventually got our student concession forms. Had a fairly cheap lunch and bussed to the Egyptian Museum, where we could only spend an hour before it closed, but we saw the King Tut room and it was superb. The gold and jewels and precious objects are endless. I must return and spend a whole day there when I come back to Cairo. We will get a guide book and really do the place; it is absolutely fantastic, and the size of the collection is immense. Walked around a bit afterwards, still in a daze, and then headed back to the hostel.
Cairo by itself is not a bad city. It is well planned, clean and spacious, and the Nile is broad and picturesque. We are staying tonight, and leaving for Luxor tomorrow. I think we can see enough of Egypt in ten days. We might have fun at the border though.
Like most other young travellers we encountered we took full advantage of unofficial exchange rates wherever possible, thus supplementing our meagre budget. Usually this only posed a problem at borders if we had to account for the difference between what we had brought in and what we were taking out, and show where we had exchanged money officially. Mostly our currency declaration forms weren’t even looked at, but it was always a possibility that they would be, and we used to get quite nervous approaching a border if we had been creatively manipulating the figures, which was usually the case.
Fifteen dollars seems a very small amount to make such a fuss about today, but that was my budget for our entire visit to Egypt. I had managed to live and travel for four months, from Bombay to Beirut, on $US200, but then had to pay $US30 for the passage to Alexandria, on top of which I then lost the $US15, so I had gone through $US45 in a matter of days and was running very short. From now on, that shortage of funds would prove the major factor in most of our decisions.