February 17, 2003:
SIck as the proverbial dog.
We tried heading off into Luxor today on our own,
and made it as far as walking around the main part
of town and visiting the Mummification Museum. It's
not quite what I expected, not as much about how
things are done, but some really interesting examples
of mummified animals and tools that were used to perform
the rituals. Definitely worth the cost to see.
We sat on the corniche and watched the ferries and the seabirds for awhile. Then
I surrendered to the sickness and went back to the
hotel to sleep all day. Very sick.
Mark went out and wandered around Luxor, just walking.
He brought back diet pop and ordered room service
again for lunch. I slept through it completely. I don't think I moved for six hours.
Don't Drink the Water, a cautionary tale
Call it what you will -- Pharaoh's Curse, Gyppy Tummy, Travelers whatever -- By the end of our stay in Luxor (at the lovely and comfortable Old Winter Palace) I had been sick for two or three days-- not actually confined to bed with some sort of deadly disease, but "very delicate" (and you can read into *that* what you will!). A few days of food poisoning from a brief moment of weakness involving ripe, fresh tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil.
There are so many fresh vegetables and fruits available that it is really hard to follow the basic rules of the traveler in foreign lands: "Only eat peelable stuff you peel yourself, only eat cooked stuff fully cooked, if you can't wash it yourself, don't eat it at all" -- to paraphrase. But the food stalls and roadside stands are overflowing with just about everything you can imagine -- citrus fruit, carrots, guava, tomatoes, bananas, grapes, figs, apricots, onions, fresh juices, fresh spices...Egypt grows literally everything under the sun except coffee and tobacco. (coffee doesn't grow in the moist nile valley well, and tobacco is prohibited because people were growing marijuana in the fields).
With all the fresh fruits tempting us from over-stuffed bins, the backs of carts, hawked by people with big sacks in the streets, and served on heaping plates at local restaurants -- I finally succumbed and ate the fresh tomatoes. I couldn't resist them -- they were lush and warm and smelled so wonderful drizzled with olive oil and garlic, that I ate them before I even thought about whether it was a good idea. I followed them with pickled vegetables, and I sealed my fate.
The next morning, I' felt quite nauseous, but a healthy dose of Imodium and light breakfast and I was ok for the day. As long as I avoided food, it was fine. Anything ingested -- from the most benign piece of white bread to a glass of tea -- was distinctly bad. I lasted three full days out and about visiting the sites in Luxor before I succumbed and stayed in bed for the day. Luckily, it was our "free day" in Luxor, so Mark spent the day wandering around in town while I slept the whole time.
I should have known, though. I had plenty of warnings. Twenty years ago, when Mark's family visited Egypt, his mother spent three days in a german hospital with food poisoning from eating a salad in the 5-star hotel they were staying in. It's not that the food is bad, or that people take less care with things -- for the most part, delicate traveler stomach troubles are the result of "different" food and different bugs than we're used to. Traveling is stressful, jet lag messes you up, and you start eating different kinds of food -- no wonder nearly everyone gets sick at some point or another. Food (and sometimes utensils) are washed in water from the nile, which contains all sorts of things we shouldn't be eating. If you eat them avery day, you are used to them and you won't get sick...add them to our unexpected chemistries and it fells most tourists to Egypt at some time. I got sick drinking the water at our new house in Colorado for the first few weeks -- it had different stuff in it than the water in Minnesota, so it's not just travelers that are affected!
In search of something bland and easy (like, potatoes or soup) we decide to head to one of the restaurants in the hotel -- most are pretty much aimed at tourists, and the food is ok, if not very interesting. The buffet has a range of stuff, so I can eat mashed potatoes and Mark can eat whatever he wants (since he wasn't stupid enough to eat anything icky).
Yo-Ho, Yo-Ho, A Pirate's Life for Me!
Now that i've given you the gory details of *how* we ended up in the buffet restaurant at the hotel, you can get to the real meat of the story.
We walked across the gardens and to the restaurant. Standing in the doorway is a very dour, very grumpy waiter...dressed in a sailor suit. Blue bell-bottom pants,, white shirt, white sailor hat. Very big frown. Oh, yeah, it's "Theme Night"...seafood, we gather from the mermaids and nettings draped around the restaurant.
In retrospect, we should have turned around and run right then.
To be fair, dinner was fine -- I ate potatoes and rolls and Mark had gumbo and pasta and who-knows what else. Maybe not the most exciting dinner that we'd had in Egypt, but it was just what the doctor ordered. Bland. Easy.
And then, the evening got a bit surreal:
The manager of the restaurant -- a short, troll-like individual if there ever was one -- wandered through asking if we were ok. We were sitting a the table, considering our desserts -- Mark had a piece of cake on the table in front of him, but had pushed it away.
"Not dessert?" the manager asked.
"No, we ate too much." Mark said slowly.
"Very good" Mark said, "Too much." (everyone speaks in 2 word sentences when you don't share a language in common. It seems to work)
"Eat dessert!" the manager said, picking up Mark's fork and spearing a bite of cake. He held it up to Mark's mouth. "Good!"
He poked the cake at Mark's face with a short, jabbing motion.
"No dessert." Mark said, looking around a bit wild-eyed. "Thank you."
"Good cake!" Jab. Mark opened his mouth and took the bite of cake to avoid getting pronged by the fork.
Satisfied, the manager put down the fork and beamed at us, quite pleased with himself. Then he spied Mark's pen, laying on the table -- it's nothing special, just one of the freebies he always gets from the hospital. Picking up the pen, he clicked it a few times and admired the soft jelly grip...then pulled out his own pen (a Bic) and put Mark's pen in his pocket.
"Nice pen." And walked away.
I nearly fell out of my chair, I was laughing so hard. Mark dragged me out of the restaurant and I started into a loud and almost hysterical rendition of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, "Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate's Life for Me!" while Mark tried to shush me.
"We should have turned around and left when we saw Mr. Grumpy-pants Sailor-Waiter", he said finally, thoughtfully, which sparked another round of deranged laughter. I reached the "silent wheezing" stage of laughter. . Mark hauled me unceremoniously down the hall by my arm, all the while I'm shrieking with laughter. "Good cake! Eat!! Eat!!"
It still makes me laugh. A little hysterically, but it does make me laugh.