19 October, 2006

Ice-Cold in El Alamien 6364miles

And so I arrived in El Alamein. I went to buy some food before looking for a place to stay and the friendly Muslim shopkeeper with the huge beard made a phone call on his mobile. I have to confess (sorry!) to a certain amount of paranoia at this point. "Who is he calling? Why? Best just give him the money and go!" Then I was given the mobile. I spoke to the telephone and in good English was directed to the first motel with a 'Heineken' sign outside it that I'd seen since Italy. But of course it was still Ramadan and this sign must be for the summertime tourists. I jokingly asked the barman about the sign, expecting the usual response about it being Ramadan. "Yes, in the fridge. You would like?" In Muslim countries they sell non-alcoholic 'Malt' drinks made by many of the famous beer companies. This was the real thing. I even (pathetic I know) ran my finger down the condensation on the cold glass BEFORE drinking it! Were there tears in my eyes? I wouldn't say so, but I WAS John Mills! I was glad of the authentic, justifying dusting of Sahara on my boots. The really very friendly shopkeeper had sent me to the only Christian-owned bar!

My grandfather had a bit of a dust-up with some Germans here a few years ago as both he and Spike Milligan played their respective parts in Adolf Hitler's downfall. Some of their mates are undoubtedly buried among the 8000 Commonwealth graves neatly maintained in a huge plot of land gifted to the Commonwealth by the people of Egypt. The graveyard itself is something of a monument to the struggle of all types of different people against tyranny. Muslim and Hindu Indians, Africans, Greeks, Jewish, Polish and Czechoslovakian graves here outnumber those of the British alone. And for the most part they are all intermingled, some choosing to be buried together in groups of up to five. The comments put on some of the gravestones by their surviving relatives, many young wives and not-so-old parents (most of the dead are in their 20s) are touching. Politicians contemplating wars from the safety of their capital-city bunkers should be dragged around places like this before being allowed to make such daft decisions. There can't be much doubt that this war needed to be fought but I struggle to think of one since that was worth the bother.

There was one other visitor that day. Dave and I had a good old blether - my first in English since Germany three (?) weeks ago! We shared similar views and found we'd been born in the same year. He was travelling around the Middle East alone mainly by bus, having given up on an 'adventure tour' when he realised it was a 'pre-packaged adventure'. He was going to write a book. He was very excited about my trip and had a well-thumbed copy of Ted Simon's 'Jupiter's Travels' on his shelves at home.

After he had returned to Alexandria, I was treated to a slap-up meal by the young lads who ran the place. Lots of rice and vegetables - all washed down with - oh, okay then, Heineken. Well, after so many sweetie soft drinks, I thought I might indulge in one or two.

I hear the driving in Cairo's really bad!


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