NO SWANK RESORTS, BUT NOBODY GOES TO EGYPT FOR FUN

By Bob Schwabach

EGYPT —

Originally printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer,  March 16, 1975

Ramses II, Valley of the Kings

Luxor is what the Greeks called Ancient Thebes, to distinguish it from modern Thebes in Greece itself, and everybody who was anybody built a temple here. Across the river, on the western bank of the Nile, is the Valley of the Kings. The  dead live on the west bank of the Nile, where the sun sets, and the living on the east, where the sun rises.

It is all planned out that way and has been that way for six or seven thousand years. Death is the business of Egypt; it is what tourists come to see and what they have come to see ever since the first millennium before Christ, when Herodotus complained that the tour guides were selling fake antiques to the Athenians.  Now Americans, Frenchmen and Scandinavians gawk where Caesar did, and we are the new Romans.

Nile boats

The Egyptians are as prepared for us as they were for them. Hotel rooms are scarce, the Nile boats are booked months in advance, the food is spotty, the service poor, and nobody speaks the language very well. It probably wouldn’t matter if they put people up in tents and fed them K-rations. Because this is Egypt, and nobody comes here for the resort cum fun and sun atmosphere of the Riviera and the Costa del Sol or even to sample the native food and rummage the bazaars for brass plates. This is The Land of the Pharaohs, as Cecil B. DeMille kept reminding us, and by gum it really is.

Sphinx

A lot of it has the air of some leftover movie set. The pyramids, the Sphinx, the great temples of Karnak and Abu Simbel, look disappointingly just like their pictures and everything is instantly recognizable. The Great Pyramids of Giza are just on the edge of Cairo, a one dollar taxi ride from the center of town. Turn right at the “Pirate’s Cove” nightclub. Continue reading

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THE ROAD TO RONDA LEADS TO A DIFFERENT SPAIN

By Bob Schwabach

RONDA, Spain

Originally printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, June 23, 1974. 

The Road to Ronda starts on the Costa del Sol and winds through the Sierra Blanca mountains for 50 kilometers. That’s about 30 miles.

The Bridge to Ronda

A fast driver can make the trip in just under two hours. The road should never, under any circumstances, be taken when wet.

Under normal conditions the trip is a heart stopper. Six-inch high guardrails are placed at random spots to caution the unwary, and occasionally one glances down the thousand-foot drops and sees far below the rusting hulk of some crumpled automobile whose driver just made one mistake.

For mile after mile of baking sun, split rock and scrub growth, one sees no houses, no people. It is a journey from the frenetic resort hotel, night club, go-go, ga-ga, ersatz-flamenco-cafe-world of the Costa del Sol– where half the signs are written in German and English, not Spanish, where hawkers hail you off the street and say, “Hey, buddy! Have your name printed on a bullfight poster. Surprise your friends.”  Where sound trucks tour the streets of Torremolinos, blaring in English: “If you haven’t seen the Tivoli (a nightclub), you haven’t seen the Costa del Sol!” Where  “The Log Cabin” serves pizza and chicken chow mein; and 50,000 arteriosclerotic geezers stroke out along the beach in striped cabanas and Hawaiian trunks, order another Sangria, and sneer back at the 50,000 teenage hippies who are sneering at them — it is a journey from all that, into old Spain Hardly anyone makes the trip. Continue reading