Land of the Nile

Trip Start Mar 04, 2004
Trip End Jul 02, 2005

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Sunday, March 13, 2005

I'm writing from Luxor, Egypt now, after having seen an incredible amount of sights in Egypt. Except for the Sinai (which I was in two months ago) this is really a country of looking. Looking at mosques, desert formations, the Nile, and of course, more hieroglyphics and temples than one's eyes should ever be asked to process. I actually have a splitting headache after 2 hours at the Temples of Karnak, the crown jewel of Pharoanaic Egypt.
Tina and I have been in Egypt for about 1.5 weeks. We've seen the
Pyramids, Farafra Oasis, Abu Simbel, Cairo old city, Aswan, taken a
felluca (traditional sail boat) down the Nile, visited beaucoup
temples, and now are in Luxor seeing the crown jewels of Ancient Egypt
civilization. My eyes are bugging out of my head in this country with
so much to see and most of you know how I am about history: I feel it in my
bones and in this country my bones are vibrating. Except when I am
trapped in a temple with 12 billion French and German package
tourists, then my bones are too squished to vibrate.
That said, Egypt is way way way easier than India. The train is pure calm compared to the Subcontinent and there are almost no beggars. Also we are here when its not too hot.

Here's what Tina has to say about Cairo thus far:
Having the fortune of a window seat as we flew over the entire length
of Egypt, I was surprised to see it almost entirely consists of
desert, bar the fertile strip along the Nile. Cairo itself looks like
a giant sand pit, and all the buildings are even painted a routine
sandbrick colour. the airport was most amusing - all sand except for the

Barrett has also commented that Egypt is one of the last countries to
retain their traditional dress, which has been replaced largely by
western clothes throughout southeast Asia, but here the men all wear
'gelebiyya' - a shapeless frock - and of course the women their head
At the famous Al Azhar Mosque I was made to take on a costume
right out of Harry Potter - a green cape which entirely concealed my
being - so no offensive skin could be seen. While here we bumped into
two of Barrett's friends who have recently moved to Cairo. They have
promised us a good night out when we return at the end of our 2 week
stay. Unfortunately I was prevented from entering the next mosque, which was for men only.

Cairo seemed like a breath of fresh air compared with Delhi. Dahab Hotel is great. The mosques of Islamic Cairo are well worth visiting. The Egyptian Museum is humongous! Way too many things on display, and nowhere near enough labelling or interactivity but still totally worth going to. The Pyramids and the Sphinx were impressive. I had a pretty good idea what they would be like but Tina was disappointed, expecting something more akin to the temples here in Luxor. We ate pizza in the best-located Pizza Hut on the entire planet and watched the sun go down behind the pyramids.
Tina and I were lucky we ignored everyones advice and went to Farafra and not the other oases. Its much smaller and nicer. The hot spring at night, under the stars, drinking a Saqqara beer, was divine. The early morning trip into the White Desert was good fun, 4WD on dunes and seeing some bizarre white formations.


It was some long, dusty travel to get up to Aswan. Tina says:
From Ferrafra we had 2 days of travelling to get to Aswan, a
delightful but very Westernised city upon the Nile. The Abu Simbel
temple complex was a 8hr return drive, for which we had to rise at
3am, and although we got a cheap price because we were doing a package tourist deal, this meant we only received 2 hours to look
around the pyramids, and had to endure about 50 other busloads of
tourists: mainly silver foxes and senior citizens: from this experience we learnt better to go it alone.
Abu Simbel was built in the honour of Ramses III, a war-time pharioah who led Egypt to victory over Libya and extended its territory.
Four gigantic images in his likeness frame the exterior, his wife and
his mother are represented by small icons at his feet (how typical).
The inside was a mozaic of hierogliphics, friezes, and winding passages, and even though the sign said "No photos" this was not enforced at all, and of course we were
not going to pass up our chance, although we took care not to use the
flash. The main chamber was flanked with eight gods and goddesses as
pillars. The Egyptian gods are a lot easier to remember than the
Indian gods. Interestingly, Abu Simbel was moved piece by piece from its original position
at the same site, where it was threatened by
flooding, being originally situated on the watermark.
From Abu Simbel we were packed off to the new Aswan Dam, which was
nothing if not large, then we were ferried out to the temple of
Philae, isolated on an island, on local riverboats. This complex is
nearby the emptiest cafe in the world, which sold only a toilet for
asking price of 5 Egyptian pounds. We told the girl to get stuffed and
paid only 1 pound. You are almost denied a basic
human right in this country if you don't have the baksheesh to pay, and we were furious.
Back in Aswan, Barrett and I took a river crossing to Elephantine
Island where we almost immediately met the 'chief' (interesting to
learn they rotate this position every 4 years: very democratic) who
invited us to chat in his house, which also doubled as a restaurant.
(We managed to leave without purchasing). The highlight for me was
getting to touch a baby crocodile.
The chief told us that UNESCO
had discovered their townsite was a wealth of underground tombs and
were now campaigning for the townspeople to relocate so the site could
be excavated, but they were staunchly refusing. The "Ruins of Yebu"
had already been unearthed, and it was here we saw the 'Nilometre'
where the Ancient Egyptian Phareos, Greeks (Ptolemy), Romans, then the
Islamic Arabs had eached carved their own water measurements into the
rockface. Our guide suggested we 'cleanse' our hands in the Nile, but
having read it is full of water worms, we weren't having a bar of it.
But we hit the waters when choosing a felucca (traditional river boat) as our preferred mode of transport between Aswan and Luxor, the other famous site for temples. Our felucca trip was livened up by the fact Barrett and I had each brought aboard 3
beers each, and we jumped ship to the felucca next door, where they
sang and danced to Bob Marley around a bonfire in the sand.

After the felucca Tina and I visited the Kom Ombo and Temple of Horus. Great to see some of the original colours, thousands of years old as they are and some unique temple characteristics at each. In Luxor the highlight for me is certainly the Temples of Karnak. Absolutely enormous, extremely well-executed, constantly being upgraded and conserved, dodgy caretakers who show you some very cool things for a little baksheesh. These temples really stand out. They should since every New Kingdom Pharoah and the Ptolemies, right up until the Romans, added to them.
Tina and I forsook the package tours and busted out on our own to the Valley of the Kings riding rickety bikes. The day, with all the walking, learning, biking and the hot sun, was exhausting but completely worth it. We saw numerous highly-colourful tombs painted all over in religious and secular scenes from the period and snuck our way into an off-limits burial chamber. To get from the Temple of Hatshepsut (not that great) to the Valley of the Kings we climbed over a small, completely barren mountain, stopping at the top to say high to the army guys stationed up there and have a Coke. Wonderful tombs to see down there but not with 50,000 other people. Seriously, don't go with a tour group if you can help it.
To round off the day Tina and I had a big splurge dinner and visited Luxor Temple all lit up at night.
Then it all went pear-shaped and ONCE AGAIN I got brutally sick for 36 hours. And I had to travel to Cairo during this time. Argh...again.
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