|Issue 67||July 2001||Volume 6 - Number 8|
A Web page is available at: www.candoer.org.
This site has the current and two previous issues of the CANDOER News available to read, or download. Also, two downloadable versions are available: an Adobe Acrobat format and a WordPerfect format. Both are accessible to members who have donated to the CANDOER funds and have received their password. If you do not have a password, or have forgotten yours, send me an email request and it will be furnished.
I am on my soap box, again. I have exactly two stories left to publish after this issue; Jim and Mary's trip around the world, and a story from Jim Steeves.
If I do not receive more stories soon, I am going to have to go to a quarterly publication. I prefer not to do this, but will have no choice.
PLEASE, SEND ME YOUR STORIES.
With deep regret I inform you of the death of Guy Blount.
Guy's mother in Dothan, Alabama informed Ray Norris that Guy had died in May of acute liver failure.
I have no further information as to date, etc., or on how to contact the Blount family.
Note: This information was received from Ray Norris who forwarded it to Bob Surprise.
With deep sadness, I inform you of the death of a long time retiree from DC/T and OC/T, Don Prince. Don died on June 6, 2001. He was the beloved husband of the late Eleanor May Prince; devoted father of Richard G. and Roger H. Prince, loving grandfather of Deanne, Debbie, and Mary Katherine and great grandfather of eight. He was also survived by his daughter-in-law, Rita Prince.
Thanks to Mel Maples for furnishing the above information.
On June 1, I received word that Bill Headrick, on the advice of his doctors, has stopped all treatment of his cancer of the pancreas. Hospice is coming in twice a week to assist Margaret in Bill's care.
Both Margaret and Bill would love to hear from their many friends and colleagues. The contact information is:
Kathleen Emmons joined the CANDOERs on June 03. Welcome aboard Kathleen.
Norris Watts has joined the ranks of those CANDOERs who are on-line. See you on the air Norris.
All CANDOERs are cordially invited to a retirement luncheon for CCO Chief Ed Lewis on July 26, 2001 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Phillips Seafood Restaurant, 900 Water Street, S.W. in Washington, DC.
The charge per person is $18, which will include the Phillip's Waterman's Harvest Lunch Buffet (and all that goes with it), coffee, tea, ice tea, Pepsi, Slice, tax, and gratuity.
If you wish to attend, please contact Shera Powell, (202) 647-8222, no later than July 20, 2001.
Monday, March 13
Opening the window drapes at dawn, we hardly had to get out of bed to observe the historic silhouette of Gibraltar in front of the sunrise. At 0700 the ship moved from the overnight anchorage across the bay to the Algeciras container port. By 0900, we were docked and ready to begin cargo operations.
It certainly appears MAERSK Lines is the predominant player in the container port of Algeciras. Two MAERSK ships were anchored overnight in the bay, while two more were being loaded at the terminal. One of the latter, the Soro MAERSK, 95,000 tons, was considerably larger than our ship.
The first thing which happened to our ship even before a container was moved was for the ESSO fuel barge to pull up alongside. The last time we took on fuel (called bunker) was in Singapore, and then just a sufficient amount to get to Algeciras. When purchasing fuel in such large quantities, minor price differentials and the future contracts of the "spot market" make it worthwhile to carefully observe where, when, and how much a ship refuels.
Here the vessel's tanks were topped off with approximately 4,000 tons of bunker fuel. This would take the ship to North America, back to Europe, the Middle East, and Singapore where it will be refueled again at a price more competitive than Algeciras at that time. Wouldn't it be nice to know a month ahead of time what the price of fuel will be at a given location? A lot of investors dealing in futures contracts make fortunes by successfully playing that game.
The fuel barge pumped 450 tons per hour through a hose with an eight-inch internal diameter. Observing the hookup of the hose was a very intricate operation, for the ship's intake valve is on the "A" deck, approximately 50 feet above the sea level of the fuel barge. Now, that is a powerful pump! The seamen pride themselves when not a drop is spilled as was the case today. The black fuel has the consistency of light olive oil.
That both the fuel barge and our ship were not immolated in a mammoth ball of fire is certainly due in no small part to the protection of that famous Italian-Spanish saint, San Nicotino, the patron saint of fuel pump operators. He certainly worked overtime today.
Observing the fuel barge workers down below, it seemed everyone was puffing away on their cigarettes! Notwithstanding the "No Smoking" signs posted everywhere! When common sense was given out, those guys definitely came away with a deficit. Granted, bunker fuel has a very low flash point. It will not ignite if one puts a match directly on it. But, heat it up to the proper temperature and it performs nicely as diesel fuel.
With some personal tasks to take care of, we went ashore. Catching a taxi at the terminal gate, we headed into Algeciras only to find that everything was closed! It was a local holiday just in this town. The purpose was to get over the effects of Carnival vigorously celebrated the previous week. That must have been some celebration! Adding considerably to this frustration was our inability to send/receive our accumulated E-mail messages.
Ah ha! Algeciras is in Spain, but just a 30 minute taxi ride away on the other side of the bay is Gibraltar, which is British territory. We dashed over there, also to find everything closed! Here they were celebrating "Commonwealth Day"! Doesn't anyone want our money?
Actually, we had a splendid day in Gibraltar notwithstanding. At the Spain/Gibraltar frontier (Spain and Britain are barely civil with each other over the subject of Gibraltar), we had to change taxis. Neither country will allow the others taxis across the line.
Surprised at also finding everything in Gibraltar closed, Daniel, our very knowledgeable taxi driver offered, and we accepted, his guided tour of "The Rock". His commentaries were excellent. Without him, the tour would have been impossible as even the tour agencies were closed!
Just after crossing into Gibraltar, where there is no flat space, we came upon the airport. It has very limited commercial and military use. You see, the short single runway runs right across the thin peninsula of land through the north end of the town! Both ends extend into the ocean. When there is to be a landing or takeoff, the gates on the road come down you turn off the motor, and watch this plane zoom past your nose. If you happen to live in a nearby apartment building, and there are many, each flight probably stops all dinner table conversation.
According to Daniel, the population of the city is now about 30,000, thanks to the reclamation project of part of the old harbor which was converted into luxury apartment blocks. The old sea walls now are almost in the city center, perhaps a kilometer away. The apartments are occupied by owners in the United Kingdom who use them as a second or vacation home.
The only industry in Gibraltar is tourism. Daniel said there are a number of "off shore" banks, law firms, etc., but nothing else which creates jobs. Everyone here is involved in the tourism or leisure industry. The British military presence formerly was very large, but is almost non-existent now.
Along, under, and over the old sea walls Daniel took us through the city, and eventually up on the historic rock itself, almost to the top. The road is very narrow, serpentine, with incredible views at every bend. At one lookout point was the Columns of Hercules monument. There were many Moorish forts which acted as lighthouses for vessels crossing the straits to and from Africa. Each fort maintained a fire that was visible to the next, as well as for several miles out to sea.
We came across three different troops of the famous Barbary apes. They are very photogenic up close, but one cannot get out of a vehicle with food in hand. It would be gone in a flash!
Gibraltar's famous exterior needs no description. What we found to be amazing is the fact there are more kilometers of tunnels in "The Rock" than roads on the surface! For hundreds of years the tunnels were constructed by the Moors, Spaniards and British.
The caves of St. Michael's were extraordinary. Inside they are quite extensive, with two separate and very large chambers. The stalactites and stalagmites created over the centuries left a memorable display of color to be enjoyed today. One of the chambers is so large, concerts or stage performances are held there. It seats about 300 in nature's perfect air conditioning. Amazingly, Gibraltar is as beautiful inside as outside.
Walking through the Siege Tunnels in the rock is like taking a tour through the different periods of history in which Gibraltar was involved. The Moors, Spanish, and British all played their individual parts over the centuries.
What we found today is an extensive labyrinth of tunnels, galleries, and gun ports facing outwardly. It was fascinating to learn how they were built, maintained, and operated during the various periods of history. Donkeys even played key roles in the lifting of heavy guns, equipment, and supplies vertically up the then road less slopes on the rear of the mountain.
Back down in the center of the town, Mary luckily found one tourist shop open, where she obtained some souvenirs. But all the pubs and coffee shops were closed. However, on a narrow side street we did stumble upon one little shop which sold postcards, stamps, and beverages. So we were able to at least take care of our mail and thirst.
After an enjoyable day touring in Gibraltar, we went through the silly taxi exchange routine again at the border and returned to Algeciras. There we found a telephone, made a few AT&T Direct calls and pondered where to eat dinner. The owner of the Tangier Ferry ticket office advised the restaurant on the fourth floor of the adjacent hotel was quite good. He was right.
It was 1930. We were tired and hungry. But this is Spain, and the dining habits here are considerably different than in the rest of the world. The hotel desk clerk said the dining room would open at 2000. In the interim we sat in the lounge for a brief period. A few moments before 2000, we went up to the restaurant to find the doors locked and total darkness within. But at precisely 2000, the lights came on, and the doors opened.
The Spanish employee, with a quizzical expression on his face, seemed to indicate, "You want to eat, NOW?" After a considerable period, we were served tasty meals of fish and seafood. When leaving at 2200, the restaurant's evening dining clientele were just arriving. Such is life in Spain.
We returned to the ship late and collapsed into bed after a very pleasant, but strenuous day of walking and touring.
Tuesday, March 14
A waking this morning and going out on deck before breakfast, imagine our surprise to find the gantry cranes all finished with their work. The ship was going to sail shortly! Drat! It had been our intention to go ashore again after breakfast to make a few purchases and try once more to exchange E-mails. No such luck!
We sailed at 0800 for our next port of call across the Atlantic Ocean, Halifax, Nova Scotia. The day was beautiful, with the temperature in the low 70's and a slight sea.
Just as the ship was passing through the mouth of the Bay of Gibraltar, the British Marines put on an unexpected show for our close-up enjoyment. We watched as a C-130 plane took off from Gibraltar airport and flew overhead. It then dropped a pontoon boat by parachute a mile off our port side bow. After circling around, four parachutists floated down into the bay, landing quite close to their objective, the pontoon boat. This was supervised by two small British Naval vessels standing by.
As we were heading west out the Strait of Gibraltar, something took place which brought to memory those old swashbuckling films of Errol Flynn and sails on the high seas. Sailors were sent to the highest point on the mast to furl, or unfurl, the sails standing precariously on just a rope over the deck or sea far below.
This ship has a horizontal crane which operates across its breadth with folding booms extending 30 feet past either side. The crane is used for lifting heavy machinery aboard and then to drop directly into hatches for the engine or ship supply rooms below. The booms are folded up vertically when the ship is at sea or not in use. At the end of each boom there is a flashing lamp for when it is deployed. Today, the electrician had to climb of him out 30 feet past the side of the ship and 85 feet above the sea! But the electrician cheated. He was wearing a safety harness (He was no fool!).
Just prior to sunset, we sighted one whale performing his "blowing" routine several times. It was a bit distant from this ship to get a good view without the binoculars.
Wednesday, March 15
It was another nice day, but with the temperature still in the 70F range. That probably won't last too much longer. The ship was on a track which would take us just north of the Azores Islands.
The deck hands were everywhere with high pressure hoses giving the ship another desperately needed washing, from bridge to upper deck, bow to stem. No one has satisfactorily explained why the upper deck is the lowest one on this ship.
Thursday, March 16
For the first time since Singapore, we had an overcast day. We hadn't experienced any rain since then, either. It was still 70F.
In Algeciras, Spain, the ship took on a new load of food provisions. We had ice cream today for the first time in quite a while. That made everyone happy, especially the captain, who really likes it. He has had trouble keeping enough on hand. There are certain things he takes personal control over, and the ice cream supply is one of them.
After supper, we had a change of weather for the worse. Some pretty good-sized swells were coming straight from Greenland to our starboard side. While we couldn't call this a storm (the moon was visible much of the time), they caused the captain to slow the speed of the ship.
After spending the decade of the 80's in Europe, my family and I were transferred to Jakarta, Indonesia to begin the 90's. Europe was clean! Jakarta was exotic! Basic living conditions in Europe were similar to the U.S. Sure, there was usually the language thing, and customs in some European countries took a little adjustment; but you didn't have to worry about the different and dangerous flora and fauna that were prevalent in Indonesia.
Even going to work in Jakarta sometimes took on the feel of a safari. The Embassy compound consisted of a series of spread-out buildings. They had all been there for a while by the time the 90's rolled around. The Information Programs Center, where I worked, was located in the chancery building with most of the other substantive sections. The chancery was overrun with wildlife. The teeming population of rats, who we all understood were really in charge of the building, was an especially bad problem. They were kind enough to allow us humans to work during the daylight hours but they ruled the darkness. Jakarta wasn't a place you wanted to stay late and work in the dim light and quiet solitude. If you were called in after dark it was advisable to crank up all the lights and make as much noise as you could to keep the rat hordes at bay. There were periodic attempts to poison the rat population, but that normally just made them mad and culled out the old and feeble from their midst. Worse, the poisoned rodents would crawl in some inaccessible air vent before dying, where they smelled like dead rats for weeks. Believe me, live rats smell much better than dead ones. The healthy rats even took a liking to the rat pellets we left out and would eat them with gusto. Instead of killing them as advertised, I think it only made them bigger and smarter. We were growing a strain of mutant super rats. Likewise, any food or snacks left out overnight were gone the next day. No matter how hard you tried to hide your goodies, the rats would find a way to get at them, unless they were locked up in a safe or bar lock cabinet. They even perfected the art of opening desk drawers. So help me - I'm not lying! This ability was demonstrated to me conclusively one day when I, as was my habit, took my candy dish off my desk before going home, and put it in my desk drawer. When I came to work the next day, the drawer was open, the candy was eaten, and the wrappers scattered around my office. I had been the last person to leave that night, so no human had opened the drawer after I left. A careful examination revealed that there was no possible way to get into the drawer without pulling it open. There was only one explanation - the rats had learned how to open the drawer to get at the candy. To test this theory, I put candy in the drawer a second night and, sure enough, they got it a second time. From that day on, if I wanted to assure that my snacks were untouched, I had to put them in the safe. I'm convinced that, in time, the rat population would have learned the combination to our safes and taught themselves to open them, if the rewards were worthwhile. I left Jakarta before this happened, however.
One of my co-workers became particularly obsessed with trying to eradicate the rats from our office. He devised several clever traps to try to catch them, which worked with limited success. One of his more ingenious schemes was to try to electrocute the rat herds as they descended from the false ceiling each night to cavort (do rats cavort?) through our office. It was their habit to use the same path and they had nearly worn a groove in the wall where their claws had clicked their way down during their nightly procession. Across this path, our hero installed a metal plate. To the metal plate, he attached 110 volts. Before going home at night, he would plug in the wires and the plate would be electrified. The hope was that any rat crossing the plate would be fried. It didn't work. He killed no rats but did manage to trip the breaker one night when, we could only surmise, a giant rat, too tough to electrocute, tried to cross over this killing ground. Mostly, the rat population deduced that their normal route was no longer safe and used an alternate route. As I think back on this incident, I'm surprised he didn't burn down the building with his electric rattrap. While the electrocution method didn't work, he was able to catch a few rats with the standard industrial-strength spring-type rat traps provided by the General Services Office. Whenever he set them out he would always try to be the first one into the office the next morning so he could check his traps_ No one else wanted this honor anyway so he had no challengers for this duty. Whenever he was successful, he would hang his catch up by their tail so we could all share in his good luck. I've never cared that much for rats, so this dead rat display never thrilled me very much. It thrilled a couple of the others even less. Needless to say, this became a subject of some consternation whenever a rat from the low end of the intelligence pool became stupid enough to allow itself to be caught. For office unity, I quickly convinced our great rat hunter that the others in the office didn't need to see his kill. Subdued, but not beaten, our hero continued to hunt rats until his tour in Jakarta ended and he managed to cull a few more of the weaker animals from the herd, much improving their gene pool.
Rats were not the only wildlife overrunning the communications office. Probably a worse predator was the deadly concrete-eating termite swarm that inhabited our walls. To this day, I still don't really believe that termites can eat concrete but how could I dispute this fact in Jakarta where the concrete walls around our disintegrator were riddled with termite holes. When I was finally able to convince the right people to send a construction Seabee before the walls came down around us, I learned that termites had, indeed, done all the damage. According to the Seabee, there is a species of termites, in Indonesia at least, that eats concrete, as well as wood, and this is what had destroyed our walls. Maybe it had to do with inferior concrete and/or the saltwater the Indonesians had used to build the wall but whatever it was, I was never again quite so skeptical when hearing of the exploits of the wildlife of Indonesia.
There are more Muslims in Indonesia than in any other country. They are moderate Muslims, however, and have adapted parts of their previous religions to moderate the stricter tenets of Islam. While in Jakarta we lived in Galuh, a sleepy street with 14-Embassy townhouses, all in a row, on one side of the block. One block over was the neighborhood mosque that provided for the religious needs of the Muslims living in our area. Because it served a well-to-do neighborhood, the mosque was very low-key and had a conservative sound system to call the faithful to prayer six times each day. Despite our closeness to the mosque, we soon became accustomed to hearing the prayers being broadcast in the background. Besides, with the doors and windows shut and the air-conditioning running, anything happening outside was only a low murmur. Then, the day the mosque roared, that all changed.
It all happened one fine morning just before Ramadan in 1992. It was just after 0400 in the morning. I was sound asleep when the hand of God shot me straight up in my bed and nearly blew out the windows of our townhouse. The gentle, low-key mosque had gone high-tech. Maybe some rich donor had died and willed a sum of money to the mosque or maybe the wealthier members of the congregation had tithed well that year - whatever the case, someone had made a decision to purchase a new sound system and the finest set of Bose (at least in my mind they were Bose) speakers money could buy. From that moment on, the mosque speakers drowned out all ambient noise in our home six times each day as the faithful were loudly called to prayer. Before Ramadan, they must have been using a record because you could clearly hear the occasional pop and scratch as every torturous but reverent moment rang throughout our residence. Then, during the month of Ramadan, a human voice was added and the melodious tones of Allah Akbahr were heard even more vividly. The hue and cry of protest from the non-Muslim Galuh townhouses was instantly forthcoming and the Embassy quickly approached the mosque about lowering the decibel level. Eventually, the volume was lowered a bit, but things were never quite the same as they were before those pre-Bose days. But, the Foreign Service is about learning how to adapt to new surroundings and we learned to turn up the volume on the TV during evening prayers and we even got used to the early morning wake ups with the guy shouting in our ears. We were not, however, unhappy to learn that when we left Indonesia for India, our new home did not come with its own mosque.
Long before I ever went to Indonesia, I heard that Bali was one of the most beautiful places in the world. The beaches and countryside, people said, were wonderful and the Balinese were delightful. Naturally, after we settled into our new home and job in Jakarta, my family and I made arrangements to visit this island paradise. Bali was about what we expected. The beaches were beautiful and the countryside even more lovely than we had heard. The Balinese people were gentle and beautiful just as we had been led to believe. What a great place. Of course we hadn't expected the hordes of low-budget Australian back-packers that swarmed through the streets of the capital city of Denpasaar looking for magic mushrooms and the next party, but they were mostly harmless and almost non-existent outside the cities. So, after checking into our hotel, my wife Pat, son Kevin, and I set out to look at the beach we had heard so much about. After a short walk, we arrived at a beautiful large sandy public beach inhabited by tourists and vendors offering everything from a massage, to bows and arrows for sale. Aside from the vendors, there were very few locals at the beach - just a few on the periphery. As we walked along the water's edge, Kevin, who was 7 at the time, kept pestering us to let him go for a swim. Looking around, we saw we were equidistant between two red flags. In our hotel room, we had read that the undertow was bad on this particular beach and bathers should swim only between the red flags. Thinking we were in the right spot, we told Kevin he could wade out a little way but to not go into the deep water. We felt good that we were in a safe area but just a little wary at hearing that the undertow was close-by. At first, everything was fine, the water stayed shallow for a great distance and Kevin enjoyed the warm water splashing and playing the way 7-year olds do. Even though he was still in water no deeper than his waist, we noticed that Kevin had gone out a long way. Concerned, Pat started shouting at him to come in closer to the beach. At first nothing happened but soon we could hear him tell us that he couldn't, the water was too strong. I, in my ignorance, thought he was just playing around. After all, he was still in shallow water and between the flags in the safe water. Pat's motherly instincts told her immediately that things were not right and she made it very plain that I needed to go get Kevin. Still skeptical of this always over-protective mother, f finally decided I'd better do something to right a situation that seemed to be deteriorating. So, slipping off my sandals, I started wading out to convince Kevin to stop screwing around and come back in before his mother had a fit. To my surprise, I almost immediately felt the grip of the current as it tried to pull me away from shore. As I continued to plow toward where Kevin was getting farther from shore, understanding began to dawn on me that I was getting into something that I might not be able to control. Sure I knew how to swim, as did Kevin, but neither of us was a real strong swimmer who could risk being carried out to sea. I might be able to reach him, and I was certainly going to try, but with the current getting stronger and stronger I had real doubts about being able to shore when I did. All these thoughts and many more coursed through my head as I struggled to reach Kevin. Suddenly, out of nowhere two surf boarders sailed past me directly towards the area where Kevin had been pulled. The current had continued to pull him out and the water, by this time, was over his head. He had to tread water to stay afloat. Hollering at me to the beach, the surfers soon reached Kevin and pulled him aboard one of their boards. Overcome with relief and gratitude, I struggled mightily to make it back to the beach. Exhausted but elated, I finally managed to reach the shore just about the time that the surfers brought Kevin back from his brush with the sea's awesome power.
Thinking about this incident 11 years later, I am still overwhelmed by how lucky we were not to have drowned. There was a point that day, where I felt the power of the current and saw Kevin being dragged further out that I really thought we wouldn't survive. How lucky were we to have those surfers nearby and willing to come to our rescue. I suspect they supplemented their livelihood by assisting swimmers in danger on this treacherous stretch of beach but they appeared genuinely grateful for the money I gave them for their heroic efforts., Reliving this event many years later makes me appreciate, once again, how truly fortunate we were that beautiful day in Bali. I hope it also made me stop and think a little more when confronted with new and possibly dangerous situations. Certainly, it made me reflect on how my stupidity nearly cost me my life and the life of my son.
And, finally, Jakarta is where I learned that Americans smelled like cheese! Actually, I learned it indirectly, from Jerry Jennings. Jerry was a U.S. Navy doctor assigned to the Naval Unit (NAMRU) that was looking for cures to malaria and other tropical diseases passed by mosquitoes. Jerry learned this oliphactory information when he and another Navy doctor and their secretaries attended the annual Secretary's Day celebration at a swank local hotel. Prior to the ceremony, the mistress of ceremony mingled with the attendees and spoke briefly with Jerry in the course of her mingling. Then, during her welcoming speech, she asked Jerry and his colleague to stand up, acknowledging the fact that foreigners were attending the festivities. She told the audience that she had spoken briefly with Jerry and "knew he was an American because he smelled like cheese and, as everyone knows, all Americans smell like cheese". Political correctness was obviously a concept unknown in Indonesia at that time. Many of the Indonesians in the audience nodded in agreement, smug in their belief that this was indeed the case. For Jerry, the remainder of the afternoon was mostly a blur. But, only when he returned to work and the story made the rounds of NAMRU, did the full brunt of this statement hit him. NAMRU personnel rode to and from work on a bus. From that day forward, someone was almost certain to remark, when Jerry got on the bus, "Boy, it sure smells like cheese in here".
In the course of our assignment to Israel, it came time to take our second "rest and recreation" trip. One R&R trip was allowed for a two-year assignment and two trips were allowed for a three-year assignment. Our first such trip had been to Cyprus. This was the spring of 1979 and this time our minds were on Egypt.
My wife and I consulted our friend and my colleague, Mr. Joseph P. Cooke with regard to an R&R to Egypt. Joe and his family had taken their R&R to Egypt within the past year, so we thought he'd have some good advice. He said "GO!" Since his trip, Egypt and Israel had agreed to some sort of peace agreement, thus it was possible to fly directly from Tel Aviv to Cairo. Before the agreement, most of those who visited Egypt from Israel had to transit Athens. This meant a trip way north to Athens and then another trip way south to Cairo. I must admit, we were partly intrigued by the prospect of flying into Egypt with an Israeli flight crew, at least part of which had previous experience flying in Egypt in a different kind of plane.
An important piece of Joe's advice concerned the temple and other attractions at Luxor, which is a city that is adjacent to the Nile some several hundred miles upstream from Cairo. It would have been folly to go to Egypt without having visited Luxor but, Joe explained, do it the smart way, not as he and his family did it.
This he detailed, as follows: List Luxor as your destination, not Cairo. After his trip, his travel voucher showed that he had gone to CAIRO on R&R and from Cairo took a tour to Luxor, therefore, he was only reimbursed for the trip to Cairo. In our case, Joe explained, list Luxor as your R&R point and, of course, you'll have to go through Cairo to get to Luxor so you'll be reimbursed for seeing both. We took that advice and were happy to learn that he was right.
The hard part was leaving our girls with a family who was to stay in our house during our trip. We knew we would probably not be able to phone them but that any serious problem would be relayed to our Embassy in Cairo and on to us wherever we might be in country.
The flight to Cairo from Ben Gurion (Lod) in Tel Aviv was less than an hour, if I remember correctly. Flying up the Nile was very turbulent but we had the utmost confidence in the flight crew. We arrived into a sea of humanity at Cairo airport without incident.
The taxi ride to our hotel was fairly quick. The following morning we walked to the Embassy; checked in and found the office that provided, at our expense, an off-duty Embassy chauffeur and an old vehicle to drive us out to see the pyramids at Giza. Again, following Joe's advice, we arrived at Giza before the tourist busses pulled in and thus we were able to get up the long, very narrow series of steps in an inclined tunnel into the burial chamber. The smell of urine was hard to deal with but at least we had got there and could back down the several hundred steps without having to squeeze past the new arrivals working their way up the steps. The only thing to I didn't look to see if there was any other disgusting material which added to the odor. It was wonderful to get back outside and breathe fresh air. In retrospect, about the best I can say about going into the burial chamber is that I'm probably one of the few people from my dinky hometown in Maine whoever got there. What a feeling of accomplishment!
We wandered over to the Sphinx; said hello and then wandered toward the road across which was located, I think, Mena House. Someone will probably correct me on this but I think that's the name of the joint that is the official Egyptian residence for big wheel visitors. Whatever it is, it was also a hotel in which we had a beer and admired the palm trees surrounding the building complex. Across the street were pyramids, the Sphinx, and dirt; on our side, a nice hotel complex, lawns, and palm trees.
After returning to the Embassy and dismissing the driver and car, we wandered around the city with the thought of visiting the Egyptian museum. Along the way to the museum about 40 Egyptian "official greeters" welcomed us to Cairo and Egypt. One persuaded us to come have tea in his shop which was just around the corner and fourteen blocks down the street. As we expected, this wonderful chap who wanted us to enjoy our visit also wanted us to buy some perfume from his uncle's shop. So we eventually did. We bought a quart of some lotus blossom scented stuff with the delicate whiff of Pharoe fumes for a buck. Eventually we arrived at the outdoor market known through the Middle East - I'll misspell it here - the Kahn el Kalili. I've always enjoyed wandering around and getting lost in such places and smelling the food and drink being prepared in the countless small cafes. Later we taxied back to the Embassy and walked the block to our hotel where we had a fine meal followed by a walk along the Nile.
Since we hadn't actually made it to the Egyptian Museum, it was our top priority on the following day. We got some pleasure seeing the exhibits in spite of every guard in the place holding his hand out for a donation in return for worthless information.
That afternoon we took a taxi to the train station to catch our overnight train to Luxor. The train pulled out of the station around 5:00 p.m. and we sat back in our compartment to relax for a bit before heading for the dining car. The compartment, however, was so small and uncomfortable, with two pull-down bunks that we decided to go to the dining car, thinking it would be more comfortable. We got to the dining car just as the first sitting was moving into place at a table, though we had had no idea there had been any sort of schedule. Lucky us. Wouldn't one think it would be open whenever there are customers? I can be really silly at times.
There were perhaps ten tables which could seat four people each. We got to one at about the same time as another couple who, as we learned soon after, were Australian. We agreed to sit together. Very soon we were engaged in animated conversation when a waiter came and plunked bowls of some kind of soup in front of us. We hadn't ordered anything but it was plain to see that they didn't have a menu. We ordered wine and actually got a bottle. I seem to recall there was also a small bowl of bread that was brought with the soup.
We were enjoying our new acquaintances and getting well into conversation with them when we were interrupted by the waiter again who whisked away our partially eaten bowls of soup. No protest was even listened too much less considered. Moments later out came plates of spaghetti. There was no semblance of grace or polish involved with this serving. We could have been cattle as far as the staff was concerned.
I remember having stuffed one or two handfuls of spaghetti into my mouth when someone announced that the first seating was at an end and everyone would have to leave the dining car immediately so that the second seating could begin.
We all heard the words clearly but something made it impossible for us to process this information. Everyone objected to such nonsense but the staffs were determined to clear the dining car and proceeded to hustle everyone out the door. We emptied our glasses of wine and grabbed the bottle which still had enough for another small round. Outside the dining car we headed back toward our car, which was about ten cars toward the rear of the train. Along the way we got to the Australian's car. We stopped at their compartment and somehow found some paper cups to drink the last of our bottle of wine. We repeatedly tried to get someone to get us something alcoholic - beer, wine, vodka ... we'd even have accepted American beer but the few employees we saw of this railroad ignored our requests.
After half an hour or so standing in the corridor of their car, we decided to say goodnight to our new friends and head on back to our car where we foolishly assumed that at least we could spend the rest of the evening sleeping. As we proceeded back through the train to our compartment, we practiced the skill we had gained going forward through the train earlier, which was jumping from car to car! I should explain that the train had been manufactured somewhere in eastern Europe 30 years earlier in compliance with the only communist quality work reasonably well for at least a week. Well, I'm sure the cars in that train were built on a day when everyone in communist countries was hung over (normally Mondays through Saturdays and sometimes Sunday's). It was shoddy workmanship at the best. If that didn't make the ride rough, the rail bed seemed like it was many years overdue for leveling work or perhaps it was the rails - the ones on the left being almost but not quite parallel to the ones on the right. Anyway, every car lurched and leaped along at about 40 mph; it was dark between the cars except where sparks from the wheels below provided enough light to see the platform of the car onto which we were about to jump. I'm not making this up. I've no doubt that a great many travelers on that train never left their car except out the side door onto a platform and, after making one trip to the dining car, that wouldn't be a bad choice either.
We got back to our car without loss of limb by some form of dumb luck and started the process of getting ready for bed. Things didn't look good. The wash basin was a flip-down little thing that could hold perhaps a quart of water. Then, when we considered trying to get water from it to brush our teeth we let caution take precedence and skipped the tooth brushing routine figuring the hazard of sleeping with dirty teeth was preferable to getting any liquid from that contraption into our mouths.
Flipping down the top bunk was easy but the promise of sleep was not looking very good. The mattresses were about an inch thick and we had no idea when the sheets had last been washed. We couldn't actually see them well because the 20 watt bulb in the ceiling didn't provide enough light, either to examine the sheets or read a book. We climbed into the bunks and said goodnight. That was the funniest part of the whole trip. Like, we'd have to get a firm grip on this bunk or be tossed out of it by the movement and noise of the train.
We didn't sleep at all except possibly at one point where the train stopped. I think it had stopped for perhaps an hour or half an hour. Being numb from exhaustion didn't qualify me well to time it. Anyway, we actually dozed off briefly but then were awakened by someone passing down through the train banging on the doors. Was this a high-jacking, government coup or just a run-of-the-mill Egyptian-type train robbery? The pounding on our door was accompanied by the order to prepare to get off the train in Luxor! We've arrived? In the middle of the night?
I looked out the window and saw nothing but darkness. If this was Luxor it was a very small town indeed. My suspicion was confirmed after we sat up and maybe splashed water into our faces though 1'm not sure we even trusted the water for that. The sensation of having been shaken for an interminable length of time was all I could muster. We waited, sitting on the lower bunk, for something to happen. In a while it did. The train started up again and ran for fifteen minutes or thereabouts and then pulled in to Luxor's rail siding. It was around 6 in the morning and only the taxi drivers with their horse and buggies were about. I think the train just waited out in the boonies for the taxi drivers to get a decent night's sleep.
We rode a carriage to our hotel expecting to be told we couldn't even get through the front door until a decent hour but they were kind enough to stash our luggage in a special room just off the reception area. We gave no thought at all of possibly never seeing the luggage again such was our state of weariness. The answer to the question "Could we get into our room or any room or the toilet area to wash up a bit?" was, "The toilets are over there. You cannot check into your room until 1 p.m." My desire to weep was growing by the hour but my stalwart wife restrained me from going berserk or breaking down into a sobbing lump. She said we should get into a toilet and freshen up as well as we could and then make use of our time until we could check in.
This done we discovered that there was a tour crossing the Nile to visit the Valley of the Kings in half an hour. Her advice was sound. Why be there for one full day and spend a big part of it risking being picked up as a vagrant, or worse, while sleeping under a palm? We went to the V of the K and I vaguely recall going down into chambers which had been dug in the desert to reveal these ancient burial places. I took the pictures and alertly got a lot of light reflecting straight back at me from glass panels. The weather was quite warm though it was not during the high heat of summer and I struggled constantly not to fall over or slide down to the floor in a heap where I'd have been trampled by wide awake tourists who might have confused my body for one of the Egyptian workers.
When the tour was mercifully over, we returned to the other side of the river and went straight to the hotel. Our baggage was surprisingly still there and we got into our room and started the process of freshening up. We had traveled sufficiently to know better than to "take a nap". Had we done that we'd have perhaps awakened in time the next day to Cairo. So after freshening up we got out of the hotel and sought first to find the representative of the company through which we had made the tour arrangements. Our objective was to cancel our return trip on the train. There was no way on God's green earth I would think of taking the train back. I didn't care if we would have to throw the tickets into the trash I'd have tried hitchhiking but a return trip on that train was beyond consideration. Expecting some more Egyptian tourist-gouging with a smile, it was astonishing to discover that there would be no trouble exchanging the train ticket for air tickets with a small amount of extra cash. Little did the agent realize that I was so grateful for this news that I felt like crying again. So it was set: We'd be at the airport, two miles away, for the flight to Cairo around 4 p.m. next day. Then it was time to seek food.
That evening we had tickets to see the sound and light show at the temple of Karnak - Kamak the Great was the name Johnnie Carson gave the character he played who gave the answers to unseen questions. The temple was quite an exhibit of stone pillars. I give those responsible for the sound and light show, and who maintained the facilities, top marks for a job well done. The production was spectacular. They intended to give the audience the sense of being there several thousand years earlier and succeeded.
After breakfast the following day we wandered around the rather small town of Luxor, looking for ways to pass a few hours until lunch and then a few more hours until our plane was to leave. Already we being distracted by our absence from our children and had had enough of Luxor. We thought we already had enough to write about for a while but were we in for a surprise.
Around 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. we boarded the bus for the airport. Flight time was around 4:00 p.m. and we wanted to be on that plane. Accordingly we were among the first to walk out to the plane and strap ourselves in, willing everyone else to get in, get settled and get that baby in the air. An hour later, nearly crazy for want of knowing why the engines hadn't even been started, there was an announcement telling everyone to get off! Incredulous, we all got off and sullenly moved toward the passenger terminal. There we tried to find out what was going on. Someone got the story that there was a flat tire. As nutty as that sounds, an even nuttier aspect is that it was not only true but they couldn't repair or replace it until a spare was brought in from ... I don't know ... Warsaw maybe. We remained in the passenger terminal for hours. Eventually a bus came and took us all back into Luxor. I remember thinking we'd get something to eat at a decent hotel then the airport where someone would have looked up how to repair a fiat tire or maybe got the phone number for Sears and had a new tire on order. We were taken to a flea bag hotel and got all the bread we could eat and a bottle of beer. I know it sounds ridiculous but that essentially was what they gave us. Hours later we were awakened from our various postures in the hotel's reception room and driven back to the airport where we boarded our flight and headed for Cairo.
At 2:00 a.m., instead of 5:00 p.m., we arrived at Cairo airport. Since we had planned on arriving back in Cairo in the late afternoon we had made no effort to get a hotel reservation, thinking also that we could always go to the Embassy guest house. We were almost right in that regard too but the guest house was full so all they could do was let us sleep in the reception room. Well, on the bright side, at least we were off the streets.
The remainder of the trip was either uneventful or I was too numb to register any of it. So we saw a bit of Egypt; had fun wandering around the Kahn el Kaili; saw the pyramids and the Spins; visited with some friends from the Embassy, slept in the Valley of the Kings, and saw Great Karnal's temple. Oh, and the memorable overnight train ride to Luxor. Every once in a while I'd comment on Cairo or Egypt; telling a friend that I wouldn't mind an assignment there only to see my wife shake her head and tell us all that it would a split assignment because she and our girls wouldn't go. She would have though. She'd never ride that train again but she'd go. We would have visited Alexandria too, where they supposedly have half pound shrimp. I'm ready!
The following was received from Gerry Gendron.
One evening a boy was talking to his grandfather about current events. He asked him what he thought about the shootings at schools, the computer age, and just things in general.
The granddad replied, "Well, let me think a minute ... I was born before television, penicillin, polio shots, frozen foods, Xerox, contact lenses, Frisbees, and the pill. There weren't things like radar, credit cards, laser beams, or ball-point pens. Man had not invented pantyhose, dishwashers, clothes dryers, electric blankets, air conditioners, and he hadn't walked on the moon.
Your grandma and I got married first - then lived together. Every family had a father and a mother, and every boy over 14 had a rifle that his dad taught him how to use and respect.
Until I was 25, I called every man older than I, 'Sir' -- and after I turned 25, I still called policemen and every man with a title, 'Sir.'
In our time, closets were for clothes - not for 'coming out of.'
Sundays were set aside for going to church as a family, helping those in need, and just visiting with family or neighbors.
We were before gay-rights, computer-dating, dual careers, daycare centers, and group therapy.
We thought fast food was what people ate during Lent.
Having a meaningful relationship meant getting along with your cousins. Draft dodgers were people who closed their front doors when the evening breeze started.
Time-sharing meant time the family spent together in the evenings and weekends --- not condominiums.
We never heard of FM radios, tape decks, CDs, electric typewriters, yogurt, or guys wearing earrings.
We listened to the Big Bands, Jack Benny, and the President's speeches on radio. I don't ever remember any kid blowing his brains out listening to Tommy Dorsey.
If you saw anything with 'Made in Japan' on it, it was junk.
The term 'making out' referred to how you did on your school exam.
Pizza Hut, McDonald's, and instant coffee were unheard of.
We had 5 & 10-cent stores where you could actually buy things for 5 and 10 cents. Ice cream cones, phone calls, rides on a streetcar, and a Pepsi were all a nickel. And if you didn't want to splurge, you could spend your nickel on enough stamps to mail 1 letter and 2 postcards.
You could buy a new Chevy Coupe for $600, but who could afford one? Too bad, because gas was 11 cents a gallon.
In my day, 'grass' was mowed, 'coke' was a cold drink, 'pot' was something your mother cooked in, and 'rock music' was your grandmother's lullaby.
'Aids' were helpers in the Principal's office, 'chip' meant apiece of wood, 'hardware' was found in a hardware store, and 'software' wasn't even a word.
And we were the last generation that was so dumb as to think a lady needed a husband to have a baby. No wonder people call us old and confused -- and say there is such a generation gap.
And I'm only 56 years old!