I went to Egypt to see the treasured outpost of the Roman Empire. But, I also went because I wanted to see the traffic. Is that weird? Yes, and thank you. I had heard people say that the traffic in Cairo is the worst in the world. I have been in LA, Dhaka, Lima, Bogota, New Delhi, and NY traffic. Of all those places, I still vote that Dhaka has the worst traffic. Could Cairo take the crown?
Yes, it can. The reason is that the traffic in Cairo is lethal. Cairo is much bigger than Dhaka and there are many roads where one can gain a great amount of speed, thus making traffic accidents more likely to be lethal.
So, I would have to agree that Cairo has the worst traffic, but Dhaka has possibly the most interesting? In Dhaka one saw all kinds of things in traffic, from half a million rickshaws to elephants.
With those words, Augustus (as Octavian was known from 27 BCE) declared the Roman Empire’s conquest of Egypt. As I was considering the end of my Roman adventure, I felt like I needed to go to Egypt so see that important part of the Roman world. Although Rome is modern, it seems to live on as the Rome of 2,000 years ago. Back then, Alexandria was the Roman capital of Egypt. I hear that modern day Alexandria is a very mediterranean city. I did not go there. I went to Cairo.
Cairo reminded me a lot of Dhaka. But a scarier, more aggressive Dhaka. In Cairo, I could see how as a single woman, one would feel danger. I didn’t feel scared but I was also never alone. When my friend and I were in the souk, she wouldn’t let us go into the long narrow stalls because it was too dangerous. She made the vendors bring things out to the street for us to look at. Maybe I was more oblivious back then, but in Dhaka, I never felt that the men were too aggressive. They tended to want to take photos and stare but I was not too worried about getting mugged or molested. Maybe it’s my memory changing the reality or maybe I was more naive. I was also almost never alone in Dhaka.
The first day, my friend took me to the souk, the Khan el-Khalili market, as that was my wish. It was hot so that trip was fast. I got my postcards and we left. We ate lunch at a place in the souk. It is a very touristy place and my friend had to insist on some of the local dishes rather than the grilled meat platters being pushed on all the other tourists. I had the falafel which in Egypt is made with fava/broad bean rather than chickpea/garbanzo, and I had the baba ganoush, and the other dips. I liked the stretchy flat bread. There was always too much food and I could see that the Egyptians are extremely hospitable. The next day, we went to a cosmopolitan bakery in the Maadi and that was also nice. That neighborhood had the same dusty streets and dusty buildings of Dhaka.
The next day, the sun was out and the sky was a pale blue color. Sort of. Another Egyptian friend, Mohamed, a former colleague who had worked with me in Dhaka, and a colleague from that time picked me up with a driver for a day out. When my friend picked me up, he had to come in and have a bit of fruit and coffee. Hospitality is king. The day turned out to be like one of those days in Dhaka which went from 9 am to 11 pm. The driver was filled with facts and his English was good. I told him that he should be a guide. He said that he was! My friends had hired him for the day. We went to the Coptic Cairo (Old Cairo). On this street, there is a famous ruin from Roman occupation times, 2,000 years ago (30 BCE when Augustus conquered Egypt). The fort was built in Babylon and years later, the Hanging Church is built on top of the Roman fortress.
Finally, I had to see the pyramids. They recommended the ring road. The pyramids looked quite nice from the distance and from an air conditioned car. I remarked so. At one point, the guide slowed down so that I could get the ultimate photo of a lush green field, a camel and donkey under two palm trees, and in the distance, the only remaining wonder of the ancient world, the pyramids. For breakfast, around noon, we went to a place that my Egyptian friend chose. It was a place where they make “Egyptian pizza” or “fatayer” which is thin layers of dough with filling. One was with honey and others were savory. We had one with mozzarella, bell peppers, and thin slices of dried meat. Then we had another with smoked sausage. All beef. This dish is my favorite Egyptian food so far. The dough is fried in clarified butter and the pastry takes on the sheen of golden stain glass windows. Yummy.
Later in the day, Mohamed asked if we were ready for dinner. My other friend recommended “Hagooga” a local place. Very local. So new and local that even Mohamed had never been. We went around 6 pm and it was not to busy but most of the 40 tables inside were filled with families and others. Only Egyptians. We sat indoors. This restaurant was so local that even the locals ignored us, the only foreigners.
I got to try the famous “whisky” which is the salad dressing water from making the salad. We got the grilled meats, and other dips or “mezze” – not sure what it’s called in Egypt. I still preferred the breakfast pizza. At one point, Mohamed told me not to fill up on bread because we still had dessert. When were stepped outside, the courtyard was light with string lights and every table was filled with diners. There were twenty people waiting for tables. Another entertaining thing about Hagooga’s is that everything is branded with her smiling face and name. Even the brass lamps had her name stamped out.
Most of the local women I saw in Cairo had their hair covered. I asked if this was law and although it is not, they cover their hair. It is windy, sunny, and dusty in Cairo, so I could see why it would make sense to keep one’s head covered. My friend also told me that most of them go and have their hair washed once per week, so maybe that is another reason.
For dessert, we went into Rehab City, a gated city. It was like entering Miami. We went to an outdoor mall/market and Mohamed got us platters of sweets. I recognized baklava but I don’t know the names of the others. I teased Mohamed that this, the eating of dessert, was the most serious I had seen him all day. The weather was quite pleasant at this point and I can see why the Egyptians are night people. I also saw a chicken shawarma that was at least 200 pounds. After the sweets, Mohamed said that it was time for gelato. We protested but then he mentioned that they have mastic/mistica. I had to try it. I first tried mistica 20 years ago in Greece. In Greece, the mistica, a white honey like textured resin from a mediterranean bush, is served on a teaspoon in a glass of water. One licks a bit of the mistica off and sips a bit of water, each sweetening the other. This gelato was not like that.
Finally, the fun day out was over. Just like my tour of the ancient Roman empire, and Rome.
Eating at La Tagliata Fattoria (the slice factory) in Positano will make you feel like you are eating at the home of the Gods’ farmstead. Positano is a cute but touristy town on the Amalfi Coast. There is a walk on the coast called the Walk of the Gods. One can see why. (Another place that looks like a film location is the town of Ravello, famous as a wedding location. This is where they filmed Wonder Woman’s home planet, and one can see why when gazing down on the sapphire waters sparkling with the sun’s rays like gold dust).
One day, I was eating lunch with someone from Naples. When I mentioned that I was going to Positano, she mentioned that I should eat at La Tagliata (La-Tie-yah-tah) in Positano. She said to tell the family that she had sent me.
When we made the reservation through our hotel, we didn’t name drop. Normally the restaurant sends a car service because the road is switchbacks and treacherous, but that is only at night. We took a taxi. Everyone in Positano seems to know where this restaurant is located. The road was narrow, steep, and not for those with a fear of heights. We drove steadily (well, curvily) up and up and up. Finally, we arrived at La Tagliata Fattoria. The structure in front of us was wooden and it appeared to be mainly stairs. In front of the restaurant are some antique cars. Once we went down the first flight of stairs, in awe of the view that we could see, we arrived at a small square. There were more stairs but also an elevator! One of the staff was there and he told me to take the elevator. So I did. The restaurant is located down two levels and one pops out in the kitchen.
The restaurant is an open air wooden deck and wowza, is the view amazing. We were gobsmacked. How could anywhere be so utterly beautiful?
It turns out that this place is run by three generations of the family who grow, raise, slaughter, and produce all the food that they serve you. The grandfather who started this place was grilling steak on open flames and the grandmother was in the kitchen prepping everything else. We were warmly greeted by everyone. It was like eating with cousins. When we sat down, I told the waiter that my colleague had sent me. The whole family erupted with joyous, “oh, they are friends of…” We didn’t receive different treatment because of this connection. We were still treated like family.
There is no menu as they family cook whatever they are making that day but that is about 20 different dishes. We had wine that they make and the appetizer dishes involved eight or nine dishes of vegetables, rice salad, cheeses, and cured meats. Then we had pasta dishes, served family style. When we saw the size of the carnivores serving, the vegetarian thought she was going to get away with a smaller portion… not so! After the pasta course, was the steak, fries, and salad course. Then desserts. Then fruit. Then limoncello. Then espresso. The food can’t get more farm to table than this.
We were wondering how expensive this would be after a 150 euro tourist trap the day before, but for three, it was 100 euro total. I asked if I could buy some of the house wine. The middle generation waiter came out with two bottles. He presented one, holding it against his chest, and said, “from my father, my uncle, my mother, this is for you.” Then he took the other bottle and held it the same way and said, “from my son, from me, from our hearts, this is for you.” It was sweet.
It turns out that La Tagliata is famous. Alongside family photos of the first generation plotting out fields hanging on the sides of the cliffs, there are photos of former presidents and other famous visitors.
While we were there, the grandfather talked to us once in a while but I didn’t understand a word he said. It didn’t seem to matter. The grandson, a handsome youth, speaks English and guided us through most of the meal.
When you need a break from the food, you can wander through the family’s hanging garden of a farm. Not for the mobility challenged. But good if you want to meet the farm animals.
When I think of the wonderful experiences that I’ve had in Amalfi and Italy, this place still stands out as the THE REASON to go to Positano. Sorry to the rest of the town, but this is it! Oh, and a boat ride with Alessandro is nice (more about that another time). La Tagliata is a little slice of perfection.
The focaccia of Puglia is famous and there is so much olive oil in it that it seems like a fried pizza even though it’s not deep fried. Also, it’s a bread, not a pizza.
A panzerotti looks like a calzone but it’s not one. The reason is that a panzerotti is fried, not baked. Panzerotti are specialities of the central and southern parts of Italy, especially Puglia/Apulia.
Panzarotti are also called calzoni fritti, fritte, and frittelle.
They are much like pizza and pizza is popular in Italy. While American pepperoni pizza is rare to find (not impossible, you just have to call it “con salame picante” to get something resembling it), I was delighted to find that spicy salami was one of the flavors on offer. If you ask for a “pepperoni” pizza, they will think you want a bell pepper pizza.
As I mentioned in a previous blog posting, we are all content creators now. I started the M’s Adventures blog/website when I moved to Bangladesh in 2011 (you can read one of my early blog postings here), and since then, I’ve created a book for each country I’ve lived in. As I will soon depart Peru, I was looking through photos to put together my book. The previous books have been published on Lulu.
But, this time, as I’m learning how to make movies on iMovie, I thought I’d make a “videobook” or moving picture book, a love letter to Peru. I may also make a paper book, but I’ll see how I feel when I’ve edited 8,000 photos and taught myself more iMovie. For now, here’s a film trailer so you can see what how it’s going. Don’t worry, the content of the body of the show will be less dramatic (film production really teaches one how much music changes the mood of a piece).
Here is the video trailer for “M’s Adventures in Peru: A Love Letter”
Or if you prefer to watch it on my YouTube channel, here is the link.
Having now lived in Lima past the honeymoon phase, I thought I’d write about some of the “realities” of life here as a foreigner (as I did about Dhaka and Bogota. An aside: I continue my search for the perfect “chaleco”.). Most of the daily annoyances that I go through are due to my own personal peeves, but, as the song says, I yam what I jam.
Indirect communication: that is the modus operandi here. As a direct person, I sometimes get tired of the indirect route. I like to ask upfront and not have to guess what is being asked. To the locals, being up front is rude. The twain shall never meet.
Formality: The Limenos are formal people. They like things to be formal. It ties in with being “respectful” which I think might be more important to them than being “nice.” They like to dress formally. They like formal. Have I made it clear? If you can add more gold and more formality, the better.
Class: Yes, they have classes here. Yes, there’s racism. This is not unique to Lima. I still find it annoying to watch people treating others differently simply based on where they live, or their accent, or what job they have. (Let me get off my soapbox… aaaaagh…)
Time: There is the standard comment that people are “late” for everything. If the invitation says 8 p.m., then people will show up at 9:30. But, time, in another sense that I find culturally different, is that Peruvians are night owls. Therefore many things are not open until 10 a.m. and some businesses aren’t even open for lunch on Sundays until 2 p.m.! Also, many restaurants close for a few hours in the middle of the day. Sometimes I like to eat dinner at 5:30 p.m., and there are very few dinner restaurants open at that time.
Paying upfront/business deadlines: I recently had a reminder of this cultural lesson. I like to pay for things upfront so when I had something custom made at a tailor shop, I paid upfront. This was wrong because it meant that the shop no longer had any incentive to get the job done or get it done in a timely manner. To top if off, when I got the item, it was not done properly.
Making a scene: Peruvians, due to their preference for indirect communication, do not like it when people make a scene. I told the tailor (see above) that I thought he had terrible service, that I did not want to hear his excuses, and that I would not recommend him to others. This was a scene. But, the tricky part here is… that they were embarrassed for me that I lost my cool. Not embarrassed for themselves for their sucky service. So it’s a no-win situation. One has to simply use the “withhold payment” method (see above) to ensure that you get what you paid for (or will pay for.).
Calling: Peruvians love to use the telephone. They call to double check that the email went through, they call to make sure that what one ordered online is actually what one wants, they call to tell one that things are not going to be ready on time, they call to tell one that things are ready on time, they call, call, call, call… and call. Eventually, you will too.
The weather: In winter, there is no sun. I’m not sure one gets used to it. One gets through it. This may be one of the things that is unique about Lima (maybe also San Francisco, Seattle…)
The air pollution and food poisoning: The air is bad. It’s clammy and almost everyone gets colds related to the clammy air or suffers from other lung related issues. It’s worse closer to the coast. Food poisoning or “intestinal” issues are sort of surprising considering the reputation of the Lima as a foodie city. But, it happens, and it’s not special to Lima. And it happens to the locals too.
Security: Yes, it’s a big city of nine million. (The photo is actually from a place south of Lima, but I like the security measure for one’s purse. Or is it for the chair?) What I miss most is being able to wear a backpack in peace. If you wear a backpack on your back, and you walk in a crowd, you will most likely find that the outermost pockets have been picked. That’s just the way it is. It might not happen. But it might. Also, when paying by credit card, don’t let the card leave your sight. Most restaurants will bring the machine to you, but once in a while, you will need to go to the machine (usually at the bar or cashier).
Traffic: Every city seems to want to win the “worst traffic” award. Lima too. Yes, the traffic is bad. It is what it is. I still think that the traffic in Dhaka wins for badness. It is rare in Lima that you will sit in one place for 90 minutes, swarmed by 500,000 bicycle rickshaws, all while being eaten by mosquitoes. In Lima, as the locals say, “se mueve” or “it moves” — which is true. The traffic is bad in Lima, but it does actually move, even if it’s only at five miles per hour. Glad that I could end this on a positive note.
Another time, I’ll write about the best things about living in Lima.
Before I took the coffee class, I had already taken a tea tasting class in Barranco at Zaniti (Av. Almte. Miguel Grau 612).
The tea tasting costs 25 soles. The tasting is only Mlesna brand tea, one of the leading brands of tea in the world. This is the only Sri Lankan tea shop in Peru. The teacher was clearly bewitched by her time in Sri Lanka and that shows in her presentation. I have been to tea plantations in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh (although, I never got around to writing about that part because I was too interested in other aspects of Sylhet) so I sort of understood her fascination.
The store is filled with artwork, cups, plates, bags, and many other things to buy. It is a bit like an artists collective as the artists also own and work in the store.
I’d say to go on a South Asia kick and eat at Dhaasu before or after…
Tempt Montezuma? Or the belly of Delhi? When I tried 100 restaurants in Dhaka, Bangladesh, people would ask me how I avoided getting “Delhi belly” or “Montezuma’s revenge” — I have some basic policies. First, I follow my gut (ha! Had to be said!). If it smells like death on a plate, then I don’t eat it (gym socks, sure. Death, no.). I drank lots of water. And to that end… Frank, it it wants OUT… I let it out…
Back to the food cart here in my barrio… I am not willing to try every street food cart in the world, but, when I see a crowd lined up waiting, I have to go over and see what they are eating. As you can see, this vendor doesn’t even need to move the cart out to the street. It just stays in her driveway.
The other evening, I saw a crowd, again. So I went over to take photos. As you can see, they sell hotdogs, wings, breast, and mussels? Now, I just need to find someone who’s willing to try it…
It’s M’s Adventures (madventures to many) fifth anniversary. This map shows just one random day of visitors to my blog…
As seen on the map, the readership of my blog seems very dependent on subject. That subject is Bangladesh. Despite the facet that Bangladesh has a small landmass, it has a large population, and in the social media universe, an interesting statistic. If one looked solely at who is reading M’s Adventures and what topics they like, then it would seem that Bangladesh was the center of the world. But, I’m sure that Google could tell you that that Bangladesh is not the most searched term in their engine. I think that the spike in numbers on M’s Adventures is because there simply aren’t that many blogs written in English about Bangladesh.
As I watch my readership numbers dip, I wonder if I should stop writing this blog. Or when it’s just me and my friend’s cat reading the blog.
But, I’m still amazed each day to see how many hundreds have read my little blog. So for now, I keep blogging! After all, if I didn’t blog about it, did it happen?
Although I lived in Bangladesh for two years, both of those years, the monsoons were not so bad (okay, one night it was awful, walking in the dark potholed street with flooded open sewers) but as Dhaka is located up the river, I didn’t get to experience the risks of coastal living. When I lived in Dhaka, the power went out on a frequent basis, but not for weather related reasons. In the U.S., I’ve experienced more power outages and flooding caused by weather and it looks like I will, again. Welcome to Florida in hurricane season.
I paid attention to the experts. I moved inland. Two days ahead. Then I bought food for ten days (I’m not quite sure why I thought chips and dip were essential foods, but maybe it counts as an activity as well?). Then I turned on the local news to watch the show.
This morning, I went out to check on the shopping frenzy at the local grocery store. It wasn’t a frenzy. Everyone was calm and shopping. Like any day at 11 a.m. (a note about price gouging: call the watchdog phone number if you see price gouging. It’s illegal to profiteer off of a situation like a hurricane. Sheesh.), just with hurricane shutters going up.
Now, I hope we don’t lose electricity. I have blogging to do!
I’ve been writing this blog for four years. In terms of subjects, my informal assessment is that the social media world is most interested in Bangladesh… Or rather, my blog is one of the few about expat life in Dhaka, Bangladesh. When I check the statistics, I’m amazed that my blog has more than 3,000 readers every month.
Having this blog has changed the way I travel, sort of. Mostly, my friends are now quite accustomed to waiting to eat so that I can take a close up photo of their food. Thank you.
Today, on Colombia’s birthday (205 years old), I went for a walk to see how Colombians celebrate. I knew there was a parade somewhere and I’m pretty sure that I heard the flyover, but mostly, I noticed that almost all the buildings were flying the flag. I went out to a favorite eatery and as I pondered my cafe latte, I wished Colombia a happy birthday. Google had Colombia as a their design today, but in the headlines, it’s another country starting with a “C” that has grabbed the spotlight (also, I’ve noted that my blog readership had dropped now that I blog mostly about Colombia — which makes me realize the power of 170 million Bangladeshis, with smartphones!). Speaking of things starting with the letter “c,” my birthday wish for Colombia (other than people learn to spell her name correctly) is that she will loosen the fetters of her reputation for cocaine and kidnapping. Instead, I hope that people will think of Colombia when they enjoy their coffee, or nibble on organic chocolate, or cruise into Cartagena. Or come seeking the legend.
One year later, I thought I’d comment on my post about stereotypes about Colombia:
1. Aren’t you worried about getting kidnapped? (I wouldn’t go to Colombia if kidnapping was a guarantee. Duh!)
Answer: Still not worried. I stay in my bathtub, blubbering at my rubber ducky.
2. It’s dangerous. You will get mugged. Or worse. (Bogota, with seven million inhabitants, has all the usual dangers of a large city so I think my chances are equal those if I lived in New York or Bangkok).
Answer: Yes, it is. Hardworking Colombians get killed for the price of their cell phone. But, again, are you going to stay in your bathtub? No. I wander around during the day, going on epic 100-block walks. I don’t wander around at night. At night, I admire the reflection in my bathtub.
3. Will you become a drug dealer? Or an emerald smuggler? (Why would you ask me that? Is it a conversation starter?)
Answer: Again, why would you DARE ask me if I really was one? And, frankly, I’d completely forgotten about the emeralds. I guess the Wizard will disown me now.
4. I hear that plastic surgery is really cheap and of high quality there. Are you going to get plastic surgery? (Thanks for the suggestion?).
Answer: Yes, it is. I’ve heard that a tummy tuck is about 4,000 dollars. Now, if you want danger, cheap plastic surgery is the way to go. But why would you scrimp when doing surgery?
5. Colombian women are the hottest in the world. You will get divorced there. (Colombia ranks first in bird bio-diversity…)
Answer: Some are. Some get plastic surgery (not the birds). The Colombians certainly seem to be careful about their appearance. Not all women wear high heels here in “cold” Bogota. But, the jeans are super-uber tight. Like shellac-tight (I just made up that term but you can imagine how tight a car is with its paintjob). The men do not wear tight jeans. No equality here.
6. You will get married there. (If I go to a wedding, I’ll blog about it for sure!)
Answer: Not yet. It’s hard to meet anyone when cowering in my bathtub.
7. Oh, you’ll be having a lot of romantic assignations (Okay, they put it more crassly.)
Answer: See number six (and one) above. Plus, something about beeswax…
8. You will enjoy the steamy hot weather (Not in Bogota. The daily average temperature is 48-68 F, or 9-20 C)
Answer: Not hot in Bogota. Average is 65 F or 14 C. I love it.
9. Hope you like salsa because there will be lots of it. Any opportunity and Colombians start dancing! (Yup, bring on the vallenato, cumbia, hard salsa, salsa romantica, porro, and so on. More later.)
Answer: I do love salsa, both the dance and the dip. So far, the funniest salsa (or was it something else?) experience I’ve had was an awful experience at a club watching a drunk client get escorted back and forth from her chair to the bathroom. Otherwise, the most salsa I’ve done is the two-step on my slippery waxed floors.
10. You will never want to leave. (The Colombian public relations slogan says, “the only danger is wanting to stay” so maybe they are right?)