After my 4th calamity of my Egypt tour, a concerned fellow traveller asked if I was ok. “Oh yes”, I assured her, “This is normal for me. My friends in London call me Calamity Jane, and I think you can see why”. She looked at me, and nodded understandingly.
I walked into my single hotel room in Aswan, closed the door, and looked around. I needed to have a shower and rest after a long overnight train journey from Cairo, in time to regroup with my tour in an hour. My luggage was being taken to my room by a porter, so I went to reopen the door to see if they were almost there, when the door handle came off in my hand. Mmm… I tried to put it back in and turn the handle, but to no avail. I jostled a bit further, and realised quickly it was going to be a futile exercise to open it from the inside. The porter then arrived with my luggage, and I had to explain through a thick wooden door that I couldn’t open my door, could he please try? He finally understood, and went to get someone. Meanwhile I call reception to tell them, and they also arrange to get someone.
Shortly, I had a congregation of Egyptians outside my hotel room, all trying to jostle open the door with a spare key, but to no avail. Occasionally they would drift out of my field of vision from the spy-hole in my door, and I would panic and call out ‘Any luck? Pleeease!’. 30 minutes passed with no success.
Finally, one of the troupe called out that they could only open the door by dismantling the mechanism from the inside, so they were going to get someone to climb in through my room window. I ran to open the window and looked out. A sheer drop presented itself, with no ledge other than a very old and dusty air conditioning unit, that looked like it would drop with the weight of a pigeon. I ran back to my door spy-hole, and saw convexically the troupe explaining to my next-door-neighbours that they had to access their window to climb through it to get to my window. I couldn’t help but laugh at the insanity of it all. I ran back to my window, and called out to no one in particular “Its madness to try! You’ll die!”. Eventually I saw the smiling face of an Egyptian porter sticking his head out the neighbouring window. We laughed, looked down, and I said “Don’t even try, its not worth the risk!”. He disappeared.
I ran back to the door spy-hole and one of the troupe called out that they were going to try accessing my window through the elevator shaft. What?! I ran back to the window, and sure enough, right by my window was the elevator shaft. In a few minutes, my friend the Egyptian porter could be seen suspended from the scaffolding-type structure encasing the elevator shaft. With quasi-acrobatic skill, he leveraged himself across the yawning gap between shaft and window, and propelled himself into my room. Hooray! Within another few minutes, he had unscrewed the door handle mechanism, and I was free! I was kindly moved to another room with working door handles, and rushed to have a shower. Unsurprisingly, I was a little late to my group briefing, but they understood (although were a little shocked) when I told them the reason.
My tour included a 3-day cruise down the Nile from Aswan to Luxor. It was truly splendid. We stopped off along the way to visit temples and tombs. One morning, we stopped off to visit Komombo temple, by docking against another docked cruiseship, and walking through it to reach the gangway to the shore. The temple was beautiful, and I lost myself gazing at the 4000-year old hieroglyphics and architecture. We had to be back on the cruiseship before 2pm as our boat would sail off at that time, and at 1:55pm, I thought to myself “Oh, one last look around…”, so I sprinted round, gathering the ambience one last time, and then headed back to the shore. That was when I realised I had no idea which boat I had to get through to get to my boat. There were dozens docked along the shore, and it was 1:58pm. I started to panic. I ran down the shore to where I thought it was, but realised I had no clue, and was utterly disoriented. I broke out in a cold sweat. I asked a guard where the ‘Nile Jewel’ was, and he looked confused into the distance. A passing local noticed my panic, and said ‘Nile Jewel? Follow me, I know where it is’. So I followed him down the shore, but when I got to where he pointed, I found it wasn’t my boat. It was now past 2pm, and things were looking grim. To make matters worse, the little man asked for a baksheesh, the Egyptian equivalent of a tip, but which apparently has no relationship whatsoever to quality or accuracy of service. I refused, and ran the other way up the shore, asking other guards. The little man followed me, saying ‘Nile Jewel, its this way’, and pointing in entirely the opposite direction to where he initially had taken me. I was getting annoyed. I said ‘Look, you don’t know where it is, I am not paying you anything, please leave me alone’, but undeterred, he kept following me, pointing at random points and saying confidently ‘Nile Jewel!’. Eventually, I found a guard who had an idea, and found my boat. The guards kept the little man away from me, and I arrived breathless and relieved in the reception area of my cruiseship, just as it undocked to leave. Phew!
I began my trip by approaching potentially dodgy food with suspicion. Very quickly that evaporated, as I am hopeless when it comes to self-control and food. Particularly on a cruiseship, with a gorgeous buffet for lunch and dinner. So I gorged myself constantly. It came to haunt me on Christmas morning, as I awoke early to the vibration of my stomach. I knew what that gurgle sensation meant, and ran to the toilet. Oh yes, after a week save from harm, I finally was struck by tummy troubles on Christmas Day of all days. But in typical me-fashion, it wasn’t to be normal diarrhoea… no, that would be too convenient. Instead, it was accompanied by what I will describe as child-birth contractions. Searing galling stomach cramps that came in waves, with a pain so acute that I literally was screaming and writhing in pain. Literally. It was horrific. The diarrhoea was nothing, it was treated with a little Imodium. The stomach cramps kept me in unbelievable agony all day. I couldn’t even stand up, because if I did and a wave hit me, I would collapse. I was so miserable – I was homesick and lonely sitting in my little cabin all by myself while my fellow tour group members toured Karnak in Luxor. But I experienced true Christmas kindnesses. One of my tour friends came and kept me company for an hour, and read to me from a tour book so I could take my mind off the pain. He kindly looked away or closed his eyes when I moaned in agony, and didn’t mind when I ran to the bathroom to throw-up. Eventually I fell asleep, and that seemed to heal the pain a little. One of the other guys on my tour came back from the visit to Karnak with a Christmas present for me, wrapped in National Geographic magazine pages! It was two little papyrus paintings, really sweet and pretty. I was so touched I started to cry. It was my only present that Christmas, and for it to come from a little Taiwanese boy who felt sorry for my agony, was a true Christmas blessing.
Eventually the pain subsided a little, and now, two days later, the waves of cramps come only every 30 minutes or so, and with significantly less intensity than before. Its just a shame I missed Christmas, but words cannot describe how grateful I was to be in my own little sweet cabin, with my own bathroom, and a 24 hour English movie channel on my own TV. Heaven!
After visiting the tomb of Queen Hetshepsut (where terrorists had a killing spree on tourists in 1997), we were walking back to our tour bus, and I was laughing at a fellow tour leader for carrying such heavy bag, when my laugh was cut short by a plank of wood splintering against my head. Turns out by not looking where I was walking – not terribly unusual for me, I agree – I had walked into a plank of wood that was at head height along my path. Other people walk under it, but I had to smash it against my forehead.
So you can see why after so many calamities in the space of a week, my fellow tour members could already see why I was dubbed Calamity Jane. Nevertheless, I am fine, alive and happy. I am heading up to Cairo on the overnight train tonight, and then head to Dahab for a week of diving and beach relaxation. Fingers crossed I don’t get the bends!
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