Travel

Climbing Cotopaxi, That Volcano In Ecuador

A view of Cotopaxi from the top of Ruminahui.

Two years ago I was in Quito when I heard about Cotopaxi (5,897 meters, or, 19,347 feet). I booked the trip and successfully climbed it. My camera froze at the top, however, and I didn’t have any photos of my victory. I like having photos of my victories. So, to spite the wickedness of the world, I decided I would climb it again.

For the straight-forward stuff about Cotopaxi, go the “Straight-forward Stuff About Cotopaxi” section at the end of this post. For the exciting story with fun photos, read along.

Story Time!

With two weeks in Quito to visit my mom, I had some time to kill. So, I joined a gym. After the second day at the gym, I concluded that I should climb Cotopaxi again. It would make going to the gym purposeful.

The gym is kinda retro, but cool.

I worked out 5 days in a row and called that “good enough.” I skipped the weekend. On Monday, I went to Condor Trekk, the agency I used two years prior and I booked the trip. They asked me if I wanted to join a hike of Ruminahui, a 4721 meter peak. (I knew it would be good for acclimatization, something I neglected for my first hike, which gave me an ear-splitter of a headache.) The trip would be on Tuesday, leaving Quito at 8am. I was in.

Next day, we drove to some random Hacienda to pick up some other people who were hiking with Condor Trekk. The hacienda happened to be around 300 years old.

The view as you drive up to the Hacienda.

Fast forward, this is Ruminahui:

On the way up Ruminahui.

This is me sitting on top of Ruminahui:

And this is me standing on top of Ruminahui:

It took 3.5 hours to climb up and 1.5 hours to climb down. Climbing mountains is obviously easier with proper trekking shoes and pants, but to hell with proper. There was a fun section of the mountain that was soft sand, which you could run down as fast as you wanted, leaping down 10+ feet at a time.

End result: lots of dirt in shoes and an equitable amount of fun.

For the evening, we stayed at cabanas in the Cotopaxi National Park. The bathroom facilities were second to none:

I think that white stuff is toilet paper. Used?

The food was good though, and our group went back to the cabana for sleepy time. The next morning, it was time to pack our bags for the Cotopaxi excursion which would begin at 12:00 a.m. on Thursday. Don’t forget the toilet paper:

Then we drove to Cotopaxi. It’s a dirt road. There’s a lot of dirt everywhere. If you are smart, you’ll have something to cover your nose and mouth with. When dust kicked up, I tried to hold my breath until it settled. Sometimes it takes dust a long time to settle. It’s easy to see the mountain:

Driving towards our destination.

Now, Cotopaxi

When you go to climb Cotopaxi, tour companies will drive you to the Jose Rivas Refuge camp at 4,810 meters (15,780.8 feet). In fact, they will drop you off at the parking lot, which is about 200 to 250 meters below the actual Refuge building. This is a good warmup for Cotopaxi, hauling all of your gear (ice axe, sleeping bag, Beach Barbie Doll and baseball hat) up a dirt hill for 200+ meters. It’s good that it’s a warmup, though, because there is no heater in the Jose Rivas Refuge Camp. There is also no running water. This is Sparta (minus the abs).

Outside of the refuge.

Once at the refuge in the early afternoon, the guides will load you up on food, which includes a guaranteed serving (x 5) of starch. Did your food digest? No? “Perfect, ‘cause we’re going to go hike 30 minutes to the glacier to practice using crampons and ice axe.” So, you’re hiking to go practice. Keep in mind, you already hiked up 200+ meters with all of your gear about an hour ago. In addition, in roughly 9 hours, you will be waking up at 12:00 a.m. to begin climbing Cotopaxi at 1:00 a.m.  It’s a tough itinerary – made more challenging because of the altitude.

Congratulations, you passed, and now you know how to perform a self-arrest with an ice axe, which isn’t totally irrelevant if you are walking around gaping crevasses like this one:

By the time we got back to the refuge, it was dinner time. I ate, not necessarily because I was hungry, but because I wanted to stockpile energy. I went to bed around 7:00 p.m., along with 20 other people. The refuge doesn’t have heat, and they have dorm-style cots in two large rooms upstairs. The place can sleep around 90 people. As you can imagine, it can be quite difficult to sleep in this type of environment with the wind also howling. I managed to get about 4 hours of sleep and woke up at 11:30 a.m.

I unzipped my sleeping bag and started getting ready for the climb. Our group of 4 met downstairs for breakfast. I skipped anything big and just had two pieces of bread. I didn’t want to feel stuffed for the next hour or so.

We left at 1:00 a.m. First, you must hike up through dirt until you get to the glacier. Once there, you attach your crampons and get roped up to your guide via your harness. It makes you feel safer. Then the guides take the lead, walking up the snow/ice in the dark.

At times, they say “cuidado” or “careful,” and they look back at a crevasse they just stepped over – where you’ll be walking next. The sizes of the crevasses you pass over range from 6 inches to 2.5 feet. Pretend you are a cat. Do not meow.

Climb. Climb. Climb. Up above, hundreds of meters, you can see the glow of headlamps of individuals who left an hour before you. They look like stars.

Raul, my guide, and I passed many people around the fourth hour of the climb and we were going to be first to summit. For some reason, he then said to me and pointed, “nosotros vamos por aca, en el hielo.” Translation: We are going to go there, in the ice. He took me into an ice field, which was a wind-blown section of hundreds of cone-shaped, pointy mounds throughout it. He was using his ice axe to climb up. It was time to put the training to use. I smashed my axe into the ice, it didn’t stick. I smashed it again, harder; it made a happier sound: success. I pulled down on it, testing the hold. It felt good.

And I crawled out into the field of ice, surrounded in darkness everywhere my headlamp did not illuminate. I jammed the sharp edges of my crampons into the ice. This is probably how Spiderman feels, I thought. The guide then moved up to new positions and I would follow him, using my ice axe and crampons to shimmy up the hardened face. Already exhausted, this was a test of my endurance, in addition to my balls. Good thing I packed them.

We get out of the ice face and continued hiking up. By now, people had passed us by going a separate route. I didn’t care that much about being first this time around – going through that icy face was exhilarating. This is what it looks like during the day:

No problem for Spiderman, that dick.

And then, there was first sign of light, peaking over the clouds:

With 20 minutes left to the summit, we were moving quickly. It was clear out and I didn’t want to miss the window.

When we reached the top, I was elated.

I had been there once before, but the top was covered in thick clouds. On this day, I could see many of the nearby mountains. I was surrounded in natural beauty. And I took plenty of photos.

Raul and I at the top.

The volcano crater.

Victory.

After spending 10-15 minutes at the top, we started to head down. This is arguably the hardest part of the climb because you are exhausted. Walking downhill on snow and ice while exhausted is dangerous.

We stopped for more photos.

Near the ice field.

Cool icicles.

Inside a “crevasse.”

Raul looks comfortable.

I spy something pretty.

Chillin’ above the clouds.

And as far as interesting things go, that’s about it. That’s Cotopaxi.

Straight-forward Stuff About Cotopaxi

  • $200-220 to climb with a partner and guide. $300-350 to climb solo with a guide. If your partner has to go down, you have to go with them.
  • Acclimatization is important if you want to experience less pain. Headaches happen. Some people get sick and vomit from the altitude. It depends on the person.
  • I booked my trip (both times) with Condor Trekk, located on Reina Victoria and Cordero — in the Mariscal District of Quito
  • Jose Rivas Refuge: 4,810 meters. Cotopaxi Summit: 5,897 meters.
  • Bring sunscreen for the way down; the sun can be brutal and it can take 3 hours to get down.
  • Physical condition is not to be taken lightly. I was running 3.4 kilometers in about 15 minutes before I went on the trip. That translates to about 2 miles in 15 minutes. I was training in Quito, at an altitude of 2,850 meters. That’s not exactly fast, but it was enough training for this trip.
  • Ask me about anything else.
Standard
Travel

Cartagena, a (the) Historic Port City of Colombia

Day One

I flew from Bogota to Cartagena and immediately found myself unprepared for the weather. It was so damn hot, and so hellishly humid. Instant sweat, just add Cartagena. Jeans were a bad choice. I rolled ‘em up and got to the hostel.

The Makko Hostel, the place I was staying, was in fact full of unpleasant surprises – and it had really high reviews on hostelworld.com. But sometimes, you just have to say fuck it, and that’s exactly what I said.

There were some peculiar characters in the hostel – to be sure, let’s call them the two dumb biatches from Cali, Colombia (TDBFCC). This acronym seems easy enough to remember. The TDBFCC were cute, but they might have been 15? I couldn’t really tell, and I wasn’t going to find out – they smelled like Los Angeles. Why were they peculiar? Well, for starters, they were sleeping on the couches in the common room of the hostel for a few days before I even got there. One of them seemed to have two levels of volume to her voice: talking and screaming. She was adorable, really. Anyway, these purposeless individuals found out how to liken themselves to the mosquitoes – seemingly always there, not impossible to deal with, but definitely annoying.

It wasn’t too long in that first afternoon that I met a girl from Germany (Tina). She was coming out of the dorm’s bathroom in a towel – I started talking to her. I figured that it would be worse if I just sat there in silence? Anyway, she and her two friends (Connie and Nastassja) invited me to dinner, one thing to note: there would be six girls.

No dudes.

This was a first for me while traveling in hostels. I think the ratio at this particular hostel leaned more heavily toward men than women. How could I say no? I was curious, hungry and hadn’t seen any of Cartagena yet. At worst, people would think I was gay; somewhere in the middle: a pimp; and at best: a bodyguard. Most people probably thought I was a body guard, with certainty.

We strolled around the old city and made it to one of the city’s walls. Beers were bought, sunsets were watched, pictures were taken (I was basically Ansel Adams).

Then, dinner: I had chuleta – which I believe is the side of a pig, or something like that. By the time the food arrived, I was ready to eat my own foot, but decided against it, since I wanted to walk back to the hostel.

Our little mob then proceeded to a quaint little plaza area close to the hostel. I had an aguardiente and a mojito. I only had to sit down to sweat; mind you, it was 9 p.m. – the sun had long ago descended. As the table exchanged stories, I felt a painful sting on my neck. I couldn’t cry like a baby, so instead, I slapped my neck and caught the bastard in my fingers. It was a flying ant, and he looked kinda like this:

I said “ow” a few times, inspected the insect, put him on an ashtray and then burned him to death. I called it retribution.

And this was the first night. You don’t have to read on if you want, but the details of the second day will inform you on where to get absolutely fantastic empanadas in Cartagena, so if you are ever there, maybe you should give a shit.

Day Two

I had woken up a few times during the night due to the sweet mouths of my bloodsucking friends, the mosquitoes. In addition it was a bit warm for my liking, and while we had an air conditioned room, the wall-AC was deemed insufficient for the 10 or 12 sleeping humans. Advice: if in Cartagena, make sure you get a room with an AC — unless you like bikram yoga, dehydration or just, well, sweating.

I got my bearings and met with three of the girls (Merel, Catharine and Kristy) from the night before to cruise around town and visit the fort/castle: Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. It looks like this:

Yeah, that’s it. It comes with an enormous flag, as you can see:

We ate ice cream. It melted in our hands. I thought about the small child, crying because his ice cream was melting all over his hand and he couldn’t eat it fast enough. I didn’t want to be that child.

More walking, more sweating, and then, by the good grace of some higher power, Kristy found the empanada place she had heard about. It’s called Ciudad Movil, and the building also supposedly holds yoga lessons, acts as an art gallery, and serves amazing pizzas – the full kitchen wasn’t open when we visited, so we had to “make do” with the empanadas. Find this place:

We kept cruising around, and there was a general consensus among the group that Playa Blanca would be visited in the near future, namely, the next day. I added myself to the group, in the most polite way as possible, and we headed to the grocery store to buy supplies. I’ll make the list short for the sake of time: 4 liters of water, 1.5 liters of Coke and 2 liters of Rum. There was food, but that’s not important.

Merel and Catharine cooked a damn good salad – Kristy and I ate it.

After dinner, Rogier, a good guy from the Netherlands became a +1 for a our trip to Playa Blanca the next day.

We would be waking up around 7 a.m. to get to the port by 7:30 a.m., an early-morning wakeup that would pay great dividends.

Standard
Travel

Bogota is Badass

For the title of this post, I was going to make a joke about Pablo Escobar, but that just didn’t feel creative enough. Instead, I decided to make an assertion and swear. Don’t forgive me.

I arrived in Bogota on the evening of August 3rd after a long day of travel that started with a 7 a.m. flight from JFK to Miami. The airport is much different than I remembered it from the last time I was in Colombia, which I believe was 1993 or 1994. Back then, walking through the airport was like getting a free show of all sorts of machine guns and those who wielded them; there were a ton of police. This time around, not so much. The terminal was fairly new looking and it was easy to get around. I made it through customs with no problem and when went to exchange my dollars. I handed them $200 USD, and in return, I received 360,000 Colombian Pesos. I wished they were USD. The whole inflated currency thing can be daunting at first. Example: I take the cab to the hostel, and the driver reports that it will cost me “trenta mil.” Thirty thousand. THIRTY THOUSAND? But, I could buy a boat with that. Then my mind snapped back into place after exhaustion: 30,000/1800 = $16.7 USD.

I chose the Cranky Croc hostel in la Candelaria neighborhood in Bogota for my stay. It is easily one of the best hostels I have stayed in, ever. Beer, Internet, great travelers, great food, and organized party trips. Yes, the best hostels do this for you. When I entered the lobby, they asked me if I was interested in the party bus that evening. “Yes.” I slept about 4 hours in the last 32 hours of my existence.

I fell asleep in my room around 7 p.m. and woke up 10 minutes before the bus was supposed to leave at 11:30 p.m. The bus left. I was not on it. I brushed my teeth and went back to sleep.

The next morning, I woke up and started reading “Atlas Shrugged,” and I did this for 3 hours before I decided it was time to do something else with my life and see the city I came to see. I got up, grabbed a map, and headed to the mountain, Montserrate. There are two ways up, by ground or by air — Funiculare o Teleferico. I took to the air. Mountain tops are known for their shitty views, as you can see below.

Yeah. I then took lunch at the top of this here mountain at a place called Casa Santa Clara Restaurant. The food was good enough, but I was really there for the view. I wrote this down on a spare sheet of paper I had with me at the time:

“It is not often that you can sit and observe a city for the blood, sweat and tears that went into building it. From the sky, at a fair distance, this task becomes easy.”

Standard
Travel

Is Egypt Safe to Visit Now?

The short answer is yes, as of July, 2012. The longer answer is below.

When I first arrived in Cairo, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I don’t do a ton of travel research before heading out, but I provide myself the tools to figure it out when I get there. In this case, I had a scheduled pickup organized for when I landed. This way, I wouldn’t have to struggle with providing an address, an area, and I wouldn’t have to haggle the price.

I stayed in Downtown Cairo, right on Talaat Harb Street. This is a main street in the downtown area (which hosted my hostel, Brother’s Hostel); there are many stores on this street, and very close by is the famous koshari restaurant, Abu Tarek. Additionally, this street is not far from the famous Tahrir Square.

Since I arrived at night, I explored minimally and got some great rest on the first night. The next day, I took off for the pyramids. I did not sense much danger anywhere on the grounds of the pyramids; however, you have to be prepared for relentless pestering for camel rides or guided tours. Relentless = one guy asked me 7 times and followed me on his camel as I continued walking before finally giving up. People tried to trick me into thinking that they were professional guides or worked for the pyramids; they never had any ID – one guy showed me his driver’s license. Importantly, in many ways, I am the quintessential tourist-target, standing at 6 ft tall, with fair skin, blonde hair and blue eyes. Other people may not experience it as heavily as me – I can’t speak from alternative experience, I look what I look like.

After returning from the pyramids, I walked on Talaat Harb Street, up and down a bit, staying within the brightest lights. There wasn’t any aggression on the streets. I ate dinner at a place called Gad, which I later found out is a chain.

The next day, I met an Aussie and we walked together to the Egyptian Museum from the hostel. The Egyptian Museum is actually right near Tahrir Square. The square was empty of people/protests and other things that would cause fear in any wise tourist who isn’t getting paid to take photos or document that type of experience.

There is a large building overlooking the museum, which was burned in January, 2011. It’s empty, and it serves as a reminder of the troubled times of the past. We walked onward to the Nile and were continually pestered for felucca rides or other wares. It was as if our “no” had only a slight temporal effect. We returned to the hostel with no problem.

I also traveled down to Aswan, visited the High Dam and Abu Simbel – again, not finding any problems. The way the tour was organized, they set up numerous tourist buses to depart in a caravan, so during the trip to Abu Simbel, we were never far from other individuals.

My final touristic visits were to Old Cairo and the cathedral. Again, I experienced no problems. There were large tour buses filled with Russians at each site that I visited. Nothing out of the ordinary – the pestering remained the same everywhere I went.

I can say that not speaking Arabic can lend itself to inducing fear in a certain situations because you don’t know what people are talking about around you. However, just because you don’t understand what people are saying, doesn’t mean they are saying something bad. Avoid fear, but keep your wits about you, and you will be fine. I would recommend Egypt as a destination to any seasoned travelers who have good instincts, but I wouldn’t recommend Egypt as a place to learn them.

Enjoy it if you go!

Standard
Travel

The Pyramids in Egypt (or, the Egyptian Pyramids)

I had an opportunity to go anywhere in the world for 7 days, and I picked Egypt, largely because of the luster and my wonder of the pyramids. Sometimes, when traveling, I’ve gone to a tourist destination and been largely unimpressed, and during those times I’ll think to myself: “damn, it’s just another church,” or “damn, it’s just another museum.” However, the Giza Pyramids warrant an authentic stamp of approval – these things are worth seeing, and they are made even better when one has historical context.

So, let’s start.

The night before, I organized a driver for the trip to the pyramids through my hostel. The morning of, the driver picks me up around 8:30 and we head off. Somewhere along the way, we stop at a papyrus paper museum. At first, I was confused, but then I remembered some of the blogs I read before getting to Egypt (“drivers will occasionally take you to their friend’s or family’s restaurant or gift shop because they are trying to help them earn a few bucks, and the drivers will earn commission on any sale”)…

The brief visit to the museum included a brief description of ancient egypt and papyrus paper by a local Egyptian. A few minutes in, he asks me to look around to see if there is anything I would like. He tries to sell me. I say no. I cite my philosophical reason: “I only try to buy things that I need, not things that I want.” He doesn’t understand. I tell the driver I’m ready to go see the pyramids. We get in the car.

The driver tries to take me to the camel stables. I tell him I’m going to walk the pyramids, not ride them. He says OK and points me to the entrance. I pay 50 or something Egyptian Pounds (8-10 USD) to enter. And then the unending harassment began.

I walk out of the metal detector and a guy grabs my ticket. He walks next to me and tells me that he is going to be taking me to see the Sphinx and the inside of the pyramids. I ask for my ticket back. He counters, “I work here. Come, we are going. I will take you.” I tell him I don’t want to do either of those things, and, “give me my ticket.” (Because I didn’t believe that he worked there.) He repeats his earlier line with some variation that sounds like a bull taking a shit. At this point, I just put my hand out in front of his body, with an open palm, awaiting my ticket to arrive in my hand; I say nothing, and start to walk at a slower pace so that he walks into my hand. He finally hands me the ticket, and I walk away. This was my first experience at the Giza Pyramids.

There’s the Sphinx! I walk toward it. On my way, I am hit with a barrage of people asking me if I want a camel ride. No, I don’t want to ride a camel right now. I get closer to the Sphinx and take a photo. Someone else asks me if I want to ride a camel. No, I don’t want to ride a camel. They ask again, this time, half price. No. “Maybe later,” he asks. I say nothing and continue walking. There is a man in front of an entrance, blocking it. He asks to see my ticket. I look at him and give him a face of disapproval. I physically hold my ticket and show it to his face. He tries to grab it out of my hands and I don’t let him. (I didn’t think he worked there.) He then states, in an authoritative way, “I work here!” He opens up his wallet and pulls out a photo ID of him, fully written in Arabic. It’s probably his fucking driver’s license, but I don’t know how to read Arabic. I let go of  my ticket. He then asks me if I want a camel ride. No, I don’t want a camel ride. Immediately, I put my hand out for my ticket. I’m pretty frustrated. He hands it back to me. I walk off to the largest pyramid.

As I walk around the pyramids, trudging through the sand, I realize something: I’m in a desert! And it’s hot. I notice these things especially because I do not have sunglasses with me; this is a mistake.

Speaking on the overall facilities: The Giza Pyramids area is horribly maintained. Paint is peeling. Fences are broken. Boundary ropes are non-existent, and of course, they clearly have no sort of method for preventing harassment of tourists by fake tour guides and people trying to sell camel rides.

But the pyramids are still spectacular. I walked up and around them, marveling at the size of the stones. Again, I was constantly being interrupted by someone trying to sell me a camel ride. At a point, I started counting the number of approaches. By the end, I had lost count, but it was somewhere over 30.

Last, I go inside to see the Sphinx (it’s actually pretty small — smaller than you’d think). While there, I talk to a nice guy from Japan. We take photos for each other and I call it a day. On my way out, someone asks me if I want a camel ride. I thought about saying yes, and having the guy take me to my hostel — 15+ miles away. I didn’t say yes. Instead, I said No. NO. NOO. NOOOO. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

Standard
Travel

Bathrooms (and Using Them) in Egypt

Have you ever used an airplane bathroom? A bathroom on a boat? How about on a train? How about an Egyptian train? How about an Egyptian train that, when built, had its tracks lined up by an army of blind people. Trains can get bumpy in Egypt. And when I was taking the overnight train from Cairo to Aswan, and then back from Aswan to Cairo, it was a 12 hour ride (each way). I couldn’t laugh at the time, but I’m close now. Let me give you a purposefully undetailed description of my pleasant bathroom jaunt.

I wake up. My nipples are hard. No they’re not. Where am I? I’m on a train, right. Where am I? Egypt, right. OK. Ow, my back. This mattress sucks. What time is it? 5 a.m. That’s, like, 11 p.m. in New York.

(pause)

I have to pee. Yeah. Let’s do this. Sandals? Where are my sandals. Aha, there those little chestnuts are! Here we go, open the cabin door, and WOAH!

The train shifts heavily in one direction and throws me off balance into the window. 

How about that. Ah yes, to the bathroom I continue! I walk down the hall and open the bathroom door. The trashcan is overturned and a layer of black doom is covering every inch of this formerly pristine, beautiful bathroom. Perhaps I shall try the other bathroom? Indeed I shall. I back out, as if I was leaving the scene of a crime. I turn around, another door awaits me. I grab the handle. What’s behind door number two? It opens.

It’s no ivory palace, but it’s a step up from satan’s shithouse (door number one). I’ll take it.

Alrighty. I lift the seat up. I do this intentionally, since I want to set a good moral example. “You see, Americans lift the seat, even in Egypt, because we care!”

As my bladder starts to feel relief, my train decides it is time to dodge imaginary boulders on the track — that’s what it felt like. The first bump sends me wildly off balance and the toilet seat shifts — it’s thinking about falling down. This is not good. Before I have time to react, the train shifts again (dodges another imaginary boulder), again throwing me off balance and flipping the toilet seat from a standing, vertical position to a sitting position.

In an objective-achieving environment, this fulfills the goal of breaking my once-beautiful stream and splashing pee all over the seat, my leg, and of course, my khaki shorts. To hell with it: I finish.

Had I left then, this would have been my crime scene that I fled. I can’t. I seek out the white toilet paper of the heavens and begin to dry up my disgraceful splash damage. I imagine what this experience would have been like if I had a gun in my hand. This lightens my mood.

The place is basically clean when I realize my shorts are still wet. How should I clean…

(pause)

Fuck it. I’m going back to sleep. And that’s exactly what I did, because I’m in Egypt (and that seemed like SOP here).

 

Pro Tip: When the going gets tough. JUST FUCKING GO.

Standard
Travel

Egyptian (Not Exclusive) Sales Techniques

There aren’t a lot of tourists in Egypt right now. Every traveler I’ve met has said the same thing: “my friends thought I was crazy when I told them I was going to Egypt.” Maybe all of us travelers are crazy, but there really aren’t many of us, at least in Cairo. And what that means is that tourism in the country is suffering right now. For street vendors, tourists appear as an opportunity, and when there are fewer tourists walking around, there are fewer opportunities. This, in turn, has shown me many different sales techniques and borderline scams. Some are more effective than others, but I think they’re worth talking about.

The Paper Pusher. His story: Detailed. His demeanor: Highly Instructive and friendly. His English: 8/10

This guy was the best of the best. On my way to the pyramids, my driver dropped me off at a papyrus paper museum. (Drivers will often do shit like this because they will earn commission on any sale made. They will also often take you to their preferred camel stable if you head to the pyramids.) Once I arrived at the “museum”, I noticed papyrus artwork on the walls with pricetags on them. I saw what was about to happen — sales pitch number 7,341, or was it 42? Fuck it, I thought. I’ll listen. The Paper Pusher proceeded to teach me about papyrus and showed me how to cut the plant, wet it, and ultimately, how to turn it into paper. I learned a lot from this guy. He then taught me about some of the Egyptian stories that were painted onto the paper works throughout the museum; he was dropping Egyptian knowledge all over my sweaty head/back. (Yes, my back was sweating.)

By the time he got to asking me if I was interested in anything here, I told him “not really.” He then gave me about 5 offers I couldn’t refuse. I refused them all; I almost bought some legit papyrus paper and artwork of “The Final Judgment” but didn’t because I couldn’t justify it. Dragging that paper around for another 5 days would have pissed me off. Even though it was just 200 Egyptian Pounds (200/6 = 33.3 USD). “Good price, my friend. I give you good price.” 

The Stubborn Toe. His story: Non-existent. His demeanor: Old. His English: 8/10

A fellow traveler (Dan) and I are walking around Tahrir square and are heading to the Nile river, it’s not far now. We are ready to cross the road and an old man approaches us. He is selling papyrus paper with Egyptian art on it. I had already turned this down back at the pyramids. He asks how I am. He asks where I’m from. I make something up. He shows me the papyrus and says “good deal.” I say I’m not interested. He says “look, I am old man, this is good deal.” I say la shokran (“no thank you”) and my mate and I start across the street (which is really a busy highway). The old man takes it upon himself to attempt to act as a guide and tries to stop traffic for us to pass. He follows us across the street. As we get across, the old man asks again if I want papyrus paper – I do not know why he continues to ask me and asks Dan nothing. Why does he also assume that something has changed since we crossed the busy-ass highway? At this moment, we are in front of the famous Egyptian museum and I see a middle-aged man in decent clothes walking at a fast pace in our direction. He stops us and talks to Dan. The man is known as the Egyptologist, and his sales technique is listed below.

 The Egyptologist. His story: Detailed. His demeanor: Calm and Instructive. His English: 8/10

The Egyptologist was seemingly self-proclaimed. He introduced himself as Dr. Shieik. This man told us he worked at the Egyptian Museum – the very building we were in front of – as an Egyptologist. Meanwhile, I’m still fending off the Stubborn Toe who continues to attempt to sell me papyrus paper; he has become a fly I wish I could swat. The Egyptologist, meanwhile, tells an elaborate story about how he works on the 2nd floor and was trapped inside the Museum for three weeks during the protests in Tahrir Square. “We stayed to protect the museum. On the 2nd week, people raided the museum and stole everything from the gift shop. They thought they were stealing priceless pieces of history, but they were really only stealing the bad stuff,” he said. At this point, the man’s story is so far from having any connection to selling any goods that I am half-believing. Nor was I at the gift shop during the revolution to confirm anything. He continues to provide us his contact information, and even wrote Dr. Shieik on the piece of paper. At that point, he asks, “you guys want to see where the best place for drinks and food is, it’s right across the highway.” We walk over to the highway and he begins to cross – the same place we just came from. Aha, the jig is finally up. He wanted to bring us somewhere, maybe the aforementioned store, but maybe somewhere else. We decline on reason that we were heading the Nile – the exact opposite way, and that we were in a bit of a hurry. And on we walked away from him – he seemed to give up.

The Artist. His story: Straightforward. His demeanor: Friendly. His English: 7/10

After seeing the Nile, and being constantly harassed by individuals offering Felucca boat rides, we started back towards the hostel. On the way, a guy is walking quickly and actually walks past us. Once ahead, he turns back, “where you guys from?” I said California, Dan said Australia (both true). “Welcome to Cairo! Los Angeles?” I just replied with “yes.” He asked what we were doing and we told him – heading back to the main street to the hostel. He asked if we had been south, “it is a fun area by the water, with lots of shops and things to do.” We replied, “no.” He took this as an invitation to attempt to show us. “It’s right around the corner,” he pointed. We couldn’t see anything. “I know it’s hard to see,” he said, and started to walk backwards, pointing. He stopped. “I’m an artist, you know? I am a great artist. You should see my work. It’s just around the corner.” We were running tight on time and told him we had to get going. He gave up.

Standard