Exotic Egypt- if you don’t mind the hassle!

Trip Start Jan 15, 2010
Trip End Nov 09, 2010

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Monday, July 19, 2010

July 15th we leave the comforts of Western Europe heading to a country which shares borders with Libya, Sudan, Israel, Jordan and the Gaza strip. Had I absorbed this fact in advance, I may have had some second thoughts… but, luckily I was simply drawn to the ancient civilization, biblical history and getting to check off the Pyramids - another “Wonder of the World”!

Some hard core intrepid travelers may claim that we cheated on this leg of the trip--we joined a budget tour group. They can say what they wish--had I not had someone meeting me at the airport, I might have taken the next flight out! Immediately you know you aren’t in Kansas anymore--all the men are wearing “galabias” (dresses, basically, see pictures) and the women are covered from head to toe, with different degrees of their faces showing. And the hassling begins-- they want to carry your bags, give you a taxi ride, find out where you are from, sell you whatever…welcome to Cairo!

We get a little nervous as it takes over an hour for our bags to show up, but they finally do, and off we go on the harrowing ride to the hotel. It is around 10pm. They don’t use their headlights. They don’t stay in the lanes. They honk incessantly. Pedestrians cross the manic freeway with huge cargo balanced on their heads. There are donkeys and camels and horse carts mixed in with the traffic. I tighten my seatbelt….Insanity!!

Incredibly, we arrive to the hotel in one piece. The hotel is in a neighborhood on the outskirts--very local. The next day, we venture out and try not to gawk as we see a totally foreign culture unfold before our eyes--men smoking shisha pipes in cafes, women covered from head to toe in black (not to be insensitive, but it is difficult not to compare them to ninjas with designer handbags) people selling everything you can imagine on the streets, and the layers upon layers of trash. We finally find a restaurant that was recommended by our tour guide and have an amazing meal of tahini, tabouli, baba ganoush, schwarma and kushari. The other restaurant patrons are smoking shisha (or hookah) pipes and talking on their cell phones. We are able to observe from a safe distance that some of the ladies in head to toe black burkas have rhinestones decorating the back of the dress and the head scarves and one woman carries a Burberry purse. It is amazing how stylish they can be with very limited options!

Day 2 we have arranged a day trip to Alexandria to see the catacombs and site of the first known library (which was burned down by Julius Caesar but has recently been remodeling and is a beautiful, modern building). We meet “MoMo”, our guide for the next 10 days. His name is Mohamed Mohamed--so a tourist nicknamed him “MoMo” a few years ago and it stuck. Good thing, too, because every 3rd person we meet is named Mohammed--very confusing for everyone to have the same name!! MoMo is an Egyptologist and over the course of the trip we came to really respect his knowledge of Ancient and modern Egyptian history. To be a tour guide in Egypt, you have to attend a 4 year program and learn how to read hieroglyphics. MoMo took us to see some catacombs which were probably built around the 2nd century AD and discovered in 1900 when a donkey tripped on one of the steps leading down to the tomb entrance. The catacombs are one of the first examples where they mixed Greek, Egyptian and Roman styles and gods in the decorations. We also saw “Pompey’s Pillar”, which was a massive red granite pillar, which can really only be impressive if you picture how they must’ve gotten the 285 ton granite to this spot and erected it thousands of years ago. While in Alexandria we also went to see the coast of the Mediterranean, and it could be so beautiful if only it were not covered in trash.

Day 3 we did a tour of Christian and Muslim Cairo. This included the crypt where Mary hid baby Jesus from the Romans for 3 years (until 3AD). This was a special place with a special energy--difficult to explain but at one point I felt tears rush to my eyes. Then I tried to take a covert photo but the flash went off so I was whisked away…luckily Jeff managed to get one… We also saw the hanging church, built in 3AD. The Hanging (The Suspended) Church is named for its location above a gatehouse of theBabylon Fortress.  These places are largely intact, with paintings and even marble columns representing Jesus’s disciples. We also went to see the beautiful Mohamed Ali (not the boxer!) mosque built in the mid 1800’s. It was modeled after the Blue mosque in Turkey and was made entirely of marble. We had to remove our shoes went inside to witness a prayer time. The Muslims pray 5 times a day, facing towards Mecca, and the women pray separately from the men. There were ancient carpets covering every inch of the floor and the smell of sweat and humanity permeated my nostrils. Most mosques have tall minarets from which they hang a speaker and blast out the mournful sounding prayers at sunrise, mid-day, mid afternoon, sunset, and after dark. According to our guide, there are around 2300 mosques, 200 Christian churches and 20 Jewish synagogues in Cairo.

Day 3, we meet the rest of our tour group, 7 Australians, ranging in age from 19 to 33. It was a good sized group, and we all got along and had a lot of fun together. We had a jam packed day seeing the Egyptian museum with King Tut’s treasures, pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx, riding camels and visiting a papyrus museum. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the Egyptian museum, but it was incredible and a great beginning to our Egyptian history lessons (of which I’m sure I only retained about 10%!!). The pyramids were massive structures, but the tombs inside were robbed long ago so there wasn’t much to see in there (we only went in one of them). The camel ride was a definite highlight--they are much taller than they appear and I was able to avoid any camel spitting on me! Then we went to the Sphinx. (I thought it was right next to the pyramids but we had to drive there--which was a bonus as it was well over 100 degrees and we were happy for any opportunity to be in the aircon). The legend is that the nose was shot off by Napolean’s army and half of its beard is in the British museum and they refuse to give it back, but it looked just like you have always seen in pictures and history books!

We got back to the hotel to freshen up, have dinner and prepare for our long journey south to Aswan. We sent our dinner back because there were ants crawling in the salad--and I had taken a bite out of the meat but obviously instead of replacing the whole meal, they just scraped off the salad but they didn’t pay attention so Jeff ended up with a piece of meat with a bite taken out of it!! We all laughed about it, but that should give you an inkling that they just don’t have the same hygiene standards that we do-eek!! This was the cause for some tummy upset in the first part of the trip, but I guess I got used to it and have now improved the iron stomach!

Now, if we just survive the overnight train to Aswan…stay tuned!



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Bryan on

Whole different world over there!

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