Monday, December 20, 2004

El Alamein, Egypt: Telepathic Travelling

Today I took a bus along Egypt's Mediterranean Coast to El Alamein, site of a decisive World War Two battle between Germany and the Allies. The battle has particular significance to me because my grandfather, while serving in the New Zealand army, was captured in this battle by the Germans, thus beginning three years of POW life.

El Alamein itself is barely worth mentioning. The village was small and nondescript. The Military Museum at El Alamein is pretty ordinary too. However the Commonwealth War cemetery moved me. As I walked into the most orderly and clean place I have seen in Egypt, except perhaps the Bibliotheca Alexandria, a soldier asked me what country I was from. I answered New Zealand, and he showed me to the New Zealand section. Row upon row of Kiwi graves are here. It seemed so...stupid that these young guys died in battle where the desert meets the sea in North Africa, so far away from the cities and towns where they grew up. I had the preconception that soldiers are mostly 18 or 19, but the age of each soldier was shown and they tended to be between 25 and 40 at the time they died.

The bus ride was around 100 kilometres, and once we left Alexandria almost the entire coastline was built up with holiday villages, resorts for rich Egyptians I guess. As it is now winter in Egypt, these were all completely empty and closed, together with the restaurants, fast food outlets, and shops they contain. It looked like an abandoned city.

The bus dropped me off on the side of the highway, a 10 minute walk from the museum. I realised that I had no idea how to get a bus back to Alexandria when I was finished. This bothered me somewhat during my visit. When I had finished and was walking back to the highway, I figured I would just wait by the side of the highway and try to flag down nice looking buses. If all else failed, the fact that I am a tourist with money to spend made me feel confident that someone would soon enough help me spend that money on a fare to Alexandria.

I needn't have worried. Before I even made it to the highway a mini-van driver must have sensed my thoughts and stopped on the highway when he saw me walking down the intersecting road. The ride I was worried about finding was actually there waiting for me! A quick piece of negotiation and I had a ride back for a third of the bus fare on the way there. If only all travelling was so easy.

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