Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2007

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Monday, September 4, 2006

He Said:

Again another uneventful, but delayed, series of flights two days ago took us from Rhodes to Cairo. Thanks to the generosity of Katie's parents using their frequent guest points we are staying in a suite at the posh J.W. Marriott resort. It is fully tricked out with a wave pool, an ancient monuments-themed water park, and all the other trappings you'd expect in a first-class resort! A great respite from the hard beds and trickling showers of the budget guesthouses we've often been residing in. Katie's parents arrived a few hours after us, and once their misdirected luggage showed up the following morning we were ready to go! I visited Egypt a few years ago and loved it, so I was really looking forward to sharing the experience this time with Katie and her family.

Before I go into all the details of what we've been up to, it would probably be helpful for you know how the places we are going to be visiting relate to one another, here's 5000 years of Egyptian history in one paragraph:
Ancient Egypt as we call it began around 3000 BC when Pharaoh Menes united the tribes of the upper and lower Nile River. The 500 or so years that followed constitute what is called the Old Kingdom. During this period the pyramids and associated monuments were constructed near the modern day capital of Cairo (at the time known as Memphis). A different dynasty of pharaohs made up the Middle Kingdom for around the next 300 years until Egypt was invaded and occupied the Hyksos, a tribe from the region around modern Jordan and Syria. After over 100 years of occupation the Hyksos were defeated around 1550 BC and the New Kingdom began. During the New Kingdom Egypt expanded to become a great power in Northern Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean. Huge Temples were constructed near the new capital of Thebes (modern-day Luxor) in Upper Egypt and the Valley of the Kings was used as the burial ground of the Pharaohs. As a point of reference, the New Kingdom was the time of the Ramses III who was Pharaoh when the Egyptian portions of the Old Testament (the Exodus, etc) would have taken place. Around the 4th century BC, Alexander the Great took over Egypt and moved it's capital to a city he humbly named Alexandria located at the mouth of the Nile on the Mediterranean. Many centuries of domination and colonization later, a revolution in 1952 led by Nasser restored self-rule and made Egypt an independent nation once again.

Now back to the trip. Saturday we ventured into downtown Cairo to start the sightseeing at the legendary Egyptian Museum. To call it a museum is a bit of a misnomer, actually it is more like a warehouse. Room upon room of dusty, poorly labeled, priceless artifacts and fragments are crammed into every available space in the cavernous old building. It is a bit of a visual overload. Of course the highlight of the place is the display of items from Tutankhamen's tomb. The coffins, furniture, and "essential" goods for his afterlife are breathtaking and a bit nostalgic. Going there made me remember back in the late 70's when the blockbuster King Tut exhibition was touring the USA. Alas Southern Oregon was way too far from any major museum exhibiting the collection, and I settled for poring over picture books in the school library. Since I'm a social studies teacher I've taught much of this to kids in the past, so giving Katie and her mother and father the Todd Tour of the museum was no problem and quite a bit of fun too.

Yesterday we braved the heat and the worlds' most aggressive souvenir vendors to see the Pyramids. Headed out to Giza in the morning to see the Great Pyramid, its two partner pyramids, and the Sphinx (or as our cab driver called it, "da Sa-fink-ke-kees".) Between the Bedouin trying to get you to go on camel rides and the t-shirt vendors relentlessly pursuing you it is tough to grasp the whole site in its true magnificence. Remembering my previous visit, it was the exact same, the unremitting sales hassle at tourist sites in Egypt (followed closely by India) continues to be about the worst I have ever experienced. Not to say that it ruins the entire experience, it just makes you work a bit more! Then again though, Egypt was the worlds first tourist destination so the people have had a few millennia of tourists to pester in order to help them hone their craft. I just doubt that when Napoleon Bonaparte visited the place he was followed by hoards of men trying to pawn off hieroglyphics t-shirts, miniature crystal pyramids, or cheap Arab headscarves.

After making our escape from the Giza plateau we headed south about ten miles to Saqqara. There are far more pyramids in Egypt than just the ones at Giza. Saqqara is where some of the first pyramids were built and perfected before being expressed in the designs at Giza. We visited the Step Pyramid of Djoser, which being built in the 27th century BC is the oldest stone monument in the world and the first ever large-scale attempt at building a pyramid. For much of our wandering around the site there was hardly anyone else there. Not a t-shirt vendor for miles around...we loved the serenity! A dip in the Marriott swimming pool to wash off the dust of the desert rounded out the day nicely!

We were given a number of books as bon voyage gifts; I began one of them, Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux, yesterday. The book chronicles his overland journey from Cairo to Cape Town. When my friend Garrett (who read it before his trip to Africa) gave it to me he said, "After reading this you might reconsider your trip." The tales of famine, corruption, AIDS, poaching, and the rest that come to mind when Africa is mentioned are all chronicled, but includes a lot of really touching and heartfelt observations and amazing experiences. Strangely enough, rather than dissuading, the book is actually making me really look forward to our ventures further into the continent. So far his observations on Cairo have been dead-on. He also took a Nile cruise so I'm looking forward to personally verifying his accuracy in the coming five days. Tomorrow we are flying to Aswan in Southern Egypt to start a four-day voyage down the Nile to Luxor. The cruise through the Nile Valley will stop at many of the big sites from the New Kingdom civilization, most of which I did not see the last time I visited. I can't wait! Look out for the next update around the weekend.

She Said:

When we were in Morocco, I read in our Lonely Planet guidebook that if you needed to get a males attention, you could simply call him Mohammed (used like the English word for sir). I remember thinking to myself, "Yeah, right. Whatever. I'm sure we are going to walk up to a random man and call him Mohammed." Based on our experiences so far in Cairo, you would have a 50% chance of actually guessing correctly. When we arrived at the airport, we took a cab to the hotel. Our gracious cab driver introduced himself as Mohammed before offering us a cigarette (he also picked up a random guy who rode in the front seat for 2 miles with the door open, but that's another story entirely). The manager of the business lounge/controller of the free drinks at the Marriott is also was the driver that took as around to see all the pyramids yesterday. And of course, it came as no big surprise when our waiter last night was wearing a nametag that said Mohammed.

Of all the places we have been so far, Cairo definitely has the most in-your-face "souvenir" vendors. While we have learned to be polite but firm with people trying to sell us their wares, that strategy is no good here. We figured out that the first mistake is opening your mouth in the first place... that means you understand English. This subjects you to being followed around, and even tugged on. And in the most extreme case, you could end up being gripped and held "hostage" by an Egyptian man with a kufeyya (head covering often worn by Yasir Arafat) on your head, while his partner in crime takes your photo with your camera for money. Not that this happened to any of us, of course...
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