Categoria: Frumpy Middle-Aged Mom

Frumpy Mom: Traveling To Egypt To Explore Its Wonders And Buy Stuff

By the time you read this, I’ll be flying to Egypt on vacation. Yes, it’s true. I’ve been spending way too much time traveling lately, but this is the last one. Because now I’m broke.

I don’t really know why I’m going to Egypt. The last thing I remember is that I was talking to my friend Jamie last year about going whale watching in Baja in February, and the next thing you know, she’s convinced me to go back to Egypt.

Swimming in the Nile River, Aswan, Egypt, 2010. Photo by Marla Jo Fisher/SCNG

Marla Jo Fisher/SCNG

Frumpy Middle-aged Mom and her offspring at the great pyramid in Giza, Egypt, 2010. Photo by Marla Jo Fisher/SCNG

Egyptian entry visa in 2010. Marla Jo Fisher/SCNG

Haze over Cairo, 2010. Photo by Marla Jo Fisher/SCNG

Studying the inscriptions with guide at the step pyramid at Sakkara, Egypt. Photo by Marla Jo Fisher/SCNG

Temple of Karnak, Egypt, 2010. Photo by Marla Jo Fisher/SCNG

Cheetah Boy and Curly Girl chatting with our private guide at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt. 2010. Unlike the tour group behind them, our private guide allowed us to go where we wanted when we wanted, for $60 a day. Money well spent, (Courtesy of Marla Jo Fisher, SCNG)

On the Red Sea beach at Dahab, Egypt, 2010. Photo by Marla Jo Fisher/SCNG

At a cafe overlooking the Red Sea, Dahab, Egypt, 2010. Photo by Marla Jo Fisher/SCNG

Cheetah Boy and Curly Girl take diving lessons in the Red Sea at Dahab, Egypt, 2010. Photo by Marla Jo Fisher/SCNG

Which is expensive. And I’ve already been. Well, actually, once you endure the long grueling flights to get there, Egypt is fairly cheap, due to the favorable exchange rate. But it costs a pretty penny to get there. Almost as much as a carton of eggs.

I allowed myself to be persuaded to go again because I can do the trip differently than I did 13 years ago when I traveled by myself with two little kids. This time, I can spend more than 20 minutes in a museum without enduring an endless litany of complaints from miniature humans whose feet hurt and who are starving to death.

On that trip, I hardly bought any souvenirs, because of the culture clash. You’d walk down the streets browsing, and see some key chains that might make small nice gifts for the folks back home.

So you ask the proprietor how much they cost. Now, in our part of the world, this transaction would take, what, 15 seconds? He tells you, you decide whether it’s affordable, and either buy it or move on.

But this is not how things work in Egypt. Instead, the owner says, “Come into my shop and have some mint tea.” Everything in Egypt starts with mint tea. If you allow yourself to be drawn into the shop, you sit on a low stool and a ritual ensues that involves bargaining over the price of the keychain.

Yes, you might say, “I’m not thirsty! I just want to know how much the doggone keychain costs so I can decide if I want to buy one for Aunt Frida!”

But that’s not the culture here. Egyptians have been merchants for millennia, and they do it brilliantly. They quickly move you away from any idea of the paltry keychain, which is from China anyway, and onto other items for sale. They ask you how much you want to pay for the handsome rug in front of you.

You say, “Nothing, because I don’t even want a rug.” And, yes, then you foolishly think you will escape. But, no, you will not. That is considered to be your first bargaining maneuver. The objective of the merchant is to get you to name your first price, so he knows how much you’re willing to spend.

Should you actually want to buy the rug, you should name a price that is about 30 percent of what you would really be willing to pay. Then, a look of shock and outrage will come over the face of the proprietor, in which he assures you that he couldn’t even buy the item for that.

He will counter at a price that is twice as much as he will actually accept, looking at you eagerly to see if you’re stupid or naive enough to bite.

Eventually, if you’re smart, you will settle on half of what his original offer was. Once you agree on a price, there is great rejoicing and more mint tea, and the store owner instantly becomes your best friend.

This is why I bought no keychains in Egypt. It was just too exhausting.

At the end of our trip, when we were at a resort town on the Red Sea, I realized I had bought nothing in Egypt to bring home. This just seemed morally and spiritually wrong. Cheetah Boy, who was 13 years old at the time, said, “I want a hoodie from Egypt.”

Now, everything tends to be inexpensive there, so I saw a hoodie I thought he’d like at a tent store on the ocean boardwalk, and stopped to ask how much it cost.

Somehow, in the blink of an eye, I was sitting in the tent drinking mint tea. No idea how I got there. I refused to bargain with the owner, and just kept asking him how much the hoodie cost. Finally, he told me $80. Now, this was absurd, and I was so outraged that I jumped up and tried to walk out of the tent.

“But it’s Egyptian cotton,” he argued, barring me from leaving the shop, having realized that he’d made a grave miscalculation as to my naivete.

“Let me out,” I told him, furiously, as he stood in front of the entrance, blocking the way. The kids were in the shop with me, watching with interest.

He kept trying to persuade me to sit back down, but I was just too insulted. So I started yelling “Police! Police!” at the top of my lungs. This quickly drew a crowd.

At this, the proprietor stepped aside and allowed me to leave his shop. When I walked out, all the local people were laughing. And one man walked up to me and said, “Come to my shop. I’ll sell you a hoodie.”

So, I followed him and bought one for $20. It was still too expensive, but at least it wasn’t an insult. The zipper broke as soon as we got home.

To this day, occasionally the kids will remember that experience, and just start giggling and shouting “Police! Police!” at me. Evil little creatures.

So, yeah, on this trip I would actually like to buy some souvenirs. We’ll see how much mint tea I have to drink to do it.

Frumpy Mom: Scenes From The Weekend Booze Cruise

I did something this weekend that I hadn’t for a long time: I went to sea on a weekend Baja cruise conducted by the fine people who bring you the “fun ships.”

I haven’t been on a fun ship for approximately 41.5 years, so I was interested to see how things have changed.

Here’s an update: Most everyone is still drunk. My friends and I estimated that people must have spent an average of $500 per person on their cruise cabin and $1.28 kazillion on adult beverages.

This was not due to any extremely scientific (or accurate) survey, but rather our personal observations of people stumbling acrobatically around the ship. Now, sometimes the ship was pitching slightly, so that could explain a bit of the stumbling, but, trust me, this was critically recognized official drunken stumbling, of which I am well acquainted from my youth.

Now that I’m an antique, I’m not around a lot of drunken stumbling and I can’t say I miss it much.

Now, people did have the opportunity to pay $60 a day for a beverage package which gave you up to 15 drinks a day for free. Seriously. Fifteen alcoholic beverages. In 24 hours. Apparently, that’s what the cruise line considers an appropriate limit. And, clearly, some people on this ship were trying to get their money’s worth. There were families with kids on the ship, but not many.

There was a lot of good live music everywhere. You could never find a place to sit down and enjoy it because the ship was so crowded, but we would stand and wave our arms and sing along as long as we could until I had to find a place to crash.

I don’t mind drunken people when they’re having fun and singing along to music I like. After all, I go to Jimmy Buffet concerts. I just mind when they’re careening into me as I walk through the casino to my cabin.

The entire ambiance of the cruise could be summed up, I think, by watching the cruise director singing “Brick House” atop the lobby bar. Everyone within earshot was laughing and singing along, including me. It was hilarious.

My friends and I spent big bucks on a cabin suite with a large balcony, which was great for meditating on the open sea. I recommend this. It was also a haven to escape from the thundering hordes.

The food was surprisingly good, We enjoyed everything and I had dessert with every meal, even though I knew I shouldn’t. Shh. Don’t tell my doctor.

Most of the food you’re offered on a cruise is free and tasty. They always have some premium restaurants that cost extra. As you know, I’m a cheapskate so I didn’t see any reason to pay extra for food when we could get it for free, except for one special “Chef’s Table” dinner that we did splurge on.

On Sunday, the ship docked in Ensenada and most people got off to either walk around the town, or go on an excursion.

I’ve been to Ensenada many times, and I’d arranged for a local guide named Fernando Cuevas to pick us up and take us to the nearby wine country for the day.

I love the Baja wine country, even though it’s gotten expensive now since all the snooty publications Back East started writing about it. It’s always nice when editors in New York find things we’ve known about all along and trumpet them as if they’d just discovered them.

Anyway, Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe is now more expensive, but it’s still so chock-full of delicious restaurants that I just can’t resist visiting whenever I can. Even though it’s the wine country, wherever wine is foodies follow, and so do gourmet chefs.

I didn’t want to rent a car and drive, so Fernando took us on a fun tour that lasted all day. We stopped at a couple of gorgeous rustic restaurants that get talked about constantly and admired the rocky scenery, and, oh yeah: We drank some wine. You can find Fernando at Tours in Baja, and I recommend him.

There was drama on the ship, involving our sons. I’m not going to say any more about that, but let’s just say they’ve been banned from Carnival Cruise Lines for life. I’m not thinking this is going to put a huge crimp on their futures, and it’s already starting to seem funny. It made me wonder how many people get banned, considering some of the behavior we saw on board. At least no one fell overboard.

There was one particular guy who my friend dubbed “Elvis” who could be seen dancing, um, vigorously, everywhere we went. Apparently, he was part of a bachelor party and on board with his mother. Yes, his mother. He was a huge hit with the other drunken cruisers so he may have a formerly unsuspected career out there.

I also met a couple of readers who stopped to say hi – and let me say right off that they were not drunk.

Meanwhile, now that I’m old and crusty as French bread, I guess I need a cruise that’s more sedate. As you know, I have cancer. But preferably one that’s not full of people in hospital beds, because I do still want to get up and party, even though I need my walker to do it. But maybe where only, say, 30 percent of the cruisers are drunk.

I’m open to suggestions.