Adventures in Egypt

October 10, 2006 at 5:36 pm (Travel)

October 7, 2006, at 2am I arrived to a whole new world: Cairo. I have never seen an airport so packed in the middle of the night, but there were hundreds of people getting off of flights and hundreds more waiting to greet them. Nate was waiting with the taxi driver which made everything very easy. We headed back to the Canadian Hostel, in the middle of downtown Cairo, and went to bed.

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October 8, 2006, the whirlwind tour of Egypt begins. Egyptians are known for their hospitality, and we were greeted in the morning with hibyscus tea, eggs, and bread. Our tour guide, George, sat us down to make an itinerary for the week. He spoke excellent English and although he pushed us around a little in terms of where we had to go, we soon discovered that with the lockdown on tourism, many places had to be visited with a tourist convoy. We decided this is actually more dangerous, because if anyone wanted to attack tourists, we were all lumped together.

Pyramids at Giza, Memphis, Carpet School, and Hieroglyphics Museum:
The day began with a taxi ride out to Memphis to see the temples and the pyramids. They were

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impressive and the hieroglyphics were pretty astounding. It was hot and sandy everywhere, and surprisingly dirty around all of the tourist destinations. Although poverty is not blatantly obvious, there is no garbage system in Egypt that we could detect other than to throw trash on the ground.

One of my favorite parts of the first day was a short visit to the carpet school. Once again we were greeted with hybiscus tea and warm smiles. There were several children in the school learning the trade of carpet weaving. They were crafting beautiful silk rugs with the most elaborate pictures. They worked very quickly and seemed to be enjoying themselves, although it could easily have been in violation of every child labor law we have in the States. The carpets sold for up to about $20,000 and the cheaper ones were about 1 sq ft.

Egyptian Carpet School

We skipped lunch and headed straight to the pyramids at Giza. We were dropped off a few miles from the pyramids and told we could drive no further, either we had to walk or take horses and camels. We later found out this was completely untrue, but we opted for the camels and got a kick out of riding on them. The Pyramids were pretty incredible. We didn’t go inside, which would have been really neat, but we had a great time taking photos and climbing on them a little and just enjoying their perfection against the rolling sand dunes. We walked up to them without our camels and Nate was literally picked up by a man and put on a camel. The guy made the camel stand up, wrapped a scarf around Nate’s head, and asked us to take a picture. Once we had, he angrily wanted money from Nate, “Baksheesh,” but we had told him that we didn’t have any and he got in Nate’s face and started getting a little scary. The tourist police had to break the whole thing up.

Camel

We stopped at the Papyrus Museum on the way home and it was full of vibrant, gorgeous paintings on papyrus. We learned a bit of history there and became acquainted with some of the Egyptian gods and mythology.

That night we went out to eat the famous Falafel restaurant. For $8 each, we had a 3-course meal, drinks, etc. This was considered a splurge. Walking around Cairo was one of the scariest experiences of my life. They play chicken with the cars while crossing the 10 lane streets where cars are going at least 50 mph. Egyptians walk across the streets with an incredible serenity, but I think I looked like I might die at any minute. Traffic laws are simply suggestions and lights seem to have no affect whatsoever. We took a train that evening to Aswan. It was supposed to leave at 10:30pm, but it left an hour late. Schedules are also just suggestions. Although the train stopped every 20 minutes, I managed to find 3 seats to sleep in and I slept a solid 11 hours.

October 8, 2006 Aswan High Dam, Unfinished Obelisk, Philae Temple. We arrived in Aswan at noon. We were thankful we had a driver there to pick us up because so many people were harassing us for taxis and hotels. After we went to the hotel, we toured the Unfinished Obelisk, the Aswan High Dam, and the Philae Temple. The Obelisk was unimpressive at the time because we didn’t really understand what it was. It looked like a 70 foot piece of granite that someone had tried to take out of the ground unsuccessfully. The views of Aswan were very nice, but we were annoyed about the $2.50 admission fee to see this thing. On the tour we met a very nice guy, Greg, who is traveling around the world for a year. He’s a photographer and used to work for Microsoft. He went to Cal and has 3 units left to actually get a degree, but he said he was making so much money working for startups in the late 90’s that it wasn’t worth finishing school. A very sweet woman from Nigeria took us out on a felucca ride to watch the sunset. It was amazingly peaceful and made me excited for our felucca ride the next day down the Nile. We ate dinner with Greg at a very cheap, amazing restaurant. Because it was Ramadan, no one was serving beer, so we headed to a hotel for $3.50 Stellas, which is pretty expensive there.

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October 9, 2006, Abu Simble. At 3am we were awoken in order to catch our bus convoy to the Abu Simble temple. The bus ride took 2 1/2 hours and when we got there the driver announced that we had 1 1/2 hours to look around. The temple was the best one we had seen. The statues outside were awe-inspiring and one of the neatest things was that they had been moved when the Aswan Dam was built and Lake Nasser flooded Upper Egypt (the south). We took many pictures and it ended up being plenty of time. I started wishing that I knew more history and remembered more of the mythology we learned at Waldorf, but nothing came back to me. We took a felucca boat later that day with 3 very cool guides who were “rasta,” two couples, and Greg. One couple was from Taiwan and the other couple was from Chile and Germany. They were all very nice and we had a great time with them. Greg brought his computer and showed us photos from his safari in Kenya and Uganda. He’d never been out of the US before he went to Kenya. Definitely culture shock, but he seemed to be handling it quite well.

We stopped for dinner at a Nubian village where we ate at a very sweet woman’s home. The toilet was a hole in the floor with no paper. The guides got us some beer and we went back to the beach to have a bonfire and sing and dance. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. They played a version of “she’ll be coming round the mountain…” that went “she’ll be sailing on a felucca when she comes…she’ll be drinking biere stella when she comes…she’ll be smoking marijuana when she comes…” etc. It was great. They played drums and made music with their mouths and we danced around the fire.

October 10, 2006. Motumbo & Luxor. The boys made us breakfast. Bread, cheese, jam. Nothing too exciting, but we stuffed ourselves because at this point we had learned that we pretty much never got lunch. The felucca dropped us off in Motumbo and we were taken to another temple that was nice, but we were getting tired and were definitely interested in seeing the highlights more than the smaller temples along the way. We also saw the Edfu temple which is the most complete temple. I couldn’t tell, but that’s what they told us. We played soccer with a rock with some local kids for an hour waiting for our bus. Once we got to Luxor it was already midday and we realized there were so many things to see and we wouldn’t have time. We opted for the temples and we saw the Luxor temple and the Carnak temple, both which were pretty astounding. Our tour guide quickly developed a crush on me and offered Nate 2 camels in exchange (I wore a fake wedding ring the entire trip). Nate set the bar high at $1 million. The guy was definitely joking, but it has since turned into my family’s favorite story, which Danny has retold to his entire Velo Loco biking group. We enjoyed hanging out in Luxor and walking around the market in the evening. We bought a bunch of stuff and I spent too much and was ripped off left and right. Luckily, the hotel where we were meeting our guide let us shower there. We had another late night train back to Cairo and we were definitely getting ripe.

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October 11, 2006, Cairo, Egyptian Museum, Citadel, Islamic Quarter. An early start for the Egypt Museum, which was absolutely a highlight. We saw mummies and the royal tombs and the King Tut rooms. We also saw many other rooms but those were my favorites. I loved all the tombs decorated in beautiful jewels and paintings. The royal mummies still had hair! It was kind of gross, but also one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever seen in my life. I loved the animal mummies as well.

Later in the day we took a taxi to the Muslim quarter and went to the citadel. We saw Mohammed Ali’s house and his temple. The whole Muslim religion is very interesting, but not something I know a whole lot about. I talked with Fatima about it some before I left, but even as a Muslim, she doesn’t seem to understand it very well. We also went to the Coptic Christian quarter and visited some churches. While they were old and cool, they were nothing compared to what we’d been looking at the past several days and we were getting tired.

We went to the market with George that night and I bought gifts and bargained and got ripped off again. I guess it’s just putting money into the economy, which is a good thing. The bazaar was the Khan al Kaiek, the biggest market in Cairo. We went to dinner and it was $4 for 3 of us to eat. George also came with us later to meet Nate’s roommate’s friend, Alice, who it turns out was a year behind me at UCLA. Small world. She’s on a fellowship to study Arabic. We were supposed to go smoke hasheesh, but the taxi driver took us to the wrong place and I had to leave soon after we got there to catch my plane back to Ireland.

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