Monday, 11 August 2008

Egypt 2-10 Aug 08

I'm back! In case you didn't know, Ive just spent one amazing week in Egypt - I've only waited 20years to do it - and now I've done it.

The trip was with Travel Talk, they were great, had a good itinerary and great tour guide. The other people on the tour were all really neat too - makes the trip that much better when your hanging out with good people.

The trip started in Cairo, Sat 2nd Aug (40 degrees) where we stayed at the Cataract Resort. we saw a lot the first day - the Giza pyramids, sphinx, tombs and the step pyramid of Sakarra. They are all really amazing and actually it's almost too much to take in - here you are standing in front of these 4000yr old colossal monuments that you've waited all your life to see... quite surreal.

There are vendors by the dozen at all the tourist sites. They wait in the shade then swarm to you with their souvenirs when you arrive, and get right in your face... some virtually drag you to their camel for a ride, others ask outright for 'baksheesh' (tip).

Tonight we catch the overnight train to Aswan. Its a huge tank of a train that goes fairly slow and steady pace.. seats pretty comfy, we are seated in cabins of 6, all our bags piled on the floor. we try and get some sleep during the 16hour trip. (tip - always take your own toilet tissue. and use the bathroom before 2am and after 10am.)

Next day we arrive safely in Aswan... (45degrees).. the city is right on the Nile and is cleaner and prettier and has a more laid back quieter feel to it. we are staying at Hotel Basma that has amazing views over the whole city and the Nile. we have 2 nights here and we make the most of the pool :)
The first day we visit the Aswan Dam and the High Dam, under which is a whole Nubian city and ancient temples. A few were saved by UNESCO (including Abu Simbel) Apparently all the crocodiles are behind the dam.. we'll believe you..
Then we visit the Philae temple, which is a really neat site on an island, 10min boat ride from shore. (quite a romantic story with this temple, about the goddess of magic who was waiting for her husband but he got killed. when she found out she turned herself into a bird and flew all over Egypt looking for him then gave him the magic kiss of life) Again this temple was moved from a smaller island not far away and they found a bigger island, extended it and rebuilt the temple on there.
This evening we go to a traditional Nubian dinner in a real Nubian village. we catch a motorboat up the river Nile and have a sumptuous dinner in a real Nubian house that has a straw roof and walls painted with pictures of camels. we get to meet their pet crocodiles and then get some traditional Nubian singing and music on the boat on the way home, we are all up singing and clapping on a little motorboat in the middle of the river Nile!

We now head south on the tour bus to Luxor, where we stayed at the Sheraton report. The temperature is around 48degrees. We praise the air conditioning every time we get on the bus.. The next day we wake up and are out the door by 4am to take a 3hour bus trip out to see Abu Simbel, the amazing temple with 4 huge statues at the front. It was moved up, and backwards, from the rising High Dam to save it. Its an impressive huge temple carved into a hill with lots of big offering rooms and huge columns. Its very hot here, we all shelter under the tree after an hour. I sleep all the way there and back on the bus. While the others all go off to their felucca cruise we have a half day to relax by the pool and take in a short felucca ride on the river. except it was too windy to sail so we got another motorboat ride! still really nice on the river though.

For our second day in Luxor we see the Karnak Temple and the Luxor Temple.
Karnak Temple is set on 64acres, and its has multiple temples and obelisks on it where Pharaoh's and leaders built over top of each other and pulled down each others stuff in order to be the most powerful & prominent.
Luxor temple has intact, huge statues at the front, and the road of sphinxes leading between this temple and Karnak temple. it also has roman painting of the last supper on one wall.

The next day when everyone has returned, we make an early start on the bus to see the Valley of the Kings and Hatchepsut Temple... we stop and have a donkey ride first (a few of us don't) then drive up to the ultra hot valley to explore some tombs!! we catch a golf cart train up the hill and have some time to explore 3 tombs - there are 64 tombs in this valley, some closed for maintenance, some still undiscovered. we go in king Ramses 2 and a couple of others. very impressive - the walls and ceilings are still covered with the original paint .. the sarcophagus lies in the chamber of each tomb. there are steep ramps/steps into each tomb and its stifling hot - its cooler outside, and its 48degrees! we head back down the hill with some vendors that are running and jumping onto our train, fleeing from armed gun men out to get them as selling is not allowed...
we then see Hatchepsut temple which is the queen (daughter of ....two VIP) and since a woman couldn't really rule the country she always depicted herself as a man. so Egypt thought she was a king.

we head back to Luxor to relax and say a sad farewell to all our new friends - some are off to Jordan, Dahab, and other places and a group of us are heading back to Cairo. we again catch the overnight train however the seats are comfier and its only an 8hour journey. In Cairo its noticeably cooler but humid.. we are back at the Cataract resort for the last day - we do a tour round the city to see the Coptic church and some original Egyptian markets... they are an experience. rubbish, stray cats.. dirt roads.. we got lost down little alleys with pita bread shops and the locals pointed to the way out for us :)

Tonight we get to see the pyramids again - this time for the sound and light show :) we are greeted by bag pipe playing men dressed as Egyptians (we don't know where they got this strange combination) then the pyramids lit up and powerful orchestra type music started and the sphinx told us the story of the pyramids and their kings....

A few moments on the tour that I will remember was going into the towns and talking to the friendly locals (who just wanted to practice their English).. going to the bustling, loud markets in each city where every one of us girls got at least one 'compliment' or 'marriage proposal' or even an offer to buy us. (how generous) The rides on the motorboats, and Nubian kids showing off in front of our cameras while swimming in the Nile. and eating some good food at local restaurants around town... and the feeling of staying in hotel resorts with huge pools and knowing an Egyptian would need to save a few months salary just to stay for one night. and not forgetting the plethora of donkeys everywhere towing carts of junk or grass or their owners..seeing the slums of thousands of mud brick houses and then the straw huts in the fields where the farmers live during harvest season.

Now back in London and feeling absolutely relaxed, tanned, happy, and reflecting on this amazing trip. The first thing I notice is the smell - gone is the shisha pipe smell that permeates everything. now is the damp brick and concrete smell.. ah at least everything is in English and no-one is accosting me on the street to come look at his shop!