Exciting Egypt

Trip Start Aug 27, 2007
Trip End Sep 17, 2011

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Flag of Egypt  , Al Qāhirah,
Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ah Egypt. The mere mention of that name conjures up images of pyramids, Cleopatra and memories of school projects past. I think I constructed mine of a paper mache head of Tutankhamen. I think it's only natural to have expectations and a view in your mind of how you expect somewhere to be. For me I thought I knew the country well and truly before I got there-but all I can say now on reflection was boy how wrong was I.

After years of dreaming I finally put my A into G and before I knew it Laurent and I were jetting off the land of Ancient wonders. I think to some extent I was somewhat naive, I was expecting desert fields and crystal blue sky, a country rich for all the money bought in from tourism so when we landed into Cairo and was greeted with a thick layer of grey smog and the cacophony of a million horns all participating in what I can only describe as a chorus of honking I was somewhat shocked.

We wound our way through the maze of traffic and even after Turkey and Tunisia it still amazed me how people have no concept of indicating and rely solely on leaning on horns to communicate just about everything. I’m turning, honk, move your in my way, honk, im braking, honk and last but not least the I just feel like honking honk. Ah the communication. Much to my surprise we arrived at our hotel in one piece. We were staying at a 4 star hotel so to be greeted by several donkeys and rabid dogs at the hotel entrance gave me the final clue that I wasn’t in Kansas in anymore.

We had a meeting with our tour guides an Australian Egyptian and his son who gave us strict instructions not to eat or drink anything local. It wasn’t that he was trying to put us off mingling with the local culture or that the water was bad in fact it was the opposite, too clean and that it would affect our untamed western stomachs. He warned that the mountains of Imodium we had each brought would be ineffective and for anything let him know and they would buy us local medicine.

It was at this point that I had a lesson on the Egyptian Medical System which still fascinates me. Any drug you want can be purchased from pharmacies without a prescription, the catch is that no pharmacy or doctor recommending a drug can be found liable if something goes wrong or you overdose. So in other words if you have the cash you can buy what you want. I asked if this system gets abused and the reply I received was that it was surprising how little this system was taken advantage of.

We settled in for the night ready to begin our weeklong tour of Egypt the next morning. Sunrise came and at what felt like ridiculous o’clock we were heading off to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx. I was expecting to travel for ages but it turns out the Pyramids are city centre. All the typical tourist shots you see of the pyramids with the desert background are all aimed in one direction turn around and you are met with one of the most amazing cityscapes. I can only describe the experience as surreal; to see these massive pyramids I had seen so often in pictures and studied at school were looming over me was just amazing.

It was here on this very first morning that I came to understand I had seriously under budgeted for this trip. I had been expecting this trip to be relatively cheap as we had booked on a tour but boy was I wrong. Everything in Egypt comes with a price if not two. There’s the entrance fee to view a site and then the additional fee if you want to get close to the attraction and see the good stuff. For example you go to the Valley of the Kings to see Tutankhamen’s tomb so you pay an entrance fee to the site but then they sting you with another fee just to see the tomb. Im of the mind-set that I want to participate in life not just watch it from a distance and if I’ve flown miles to be somewhere I want to do as much there as I can. Needless to say this meant I was going to be sucked in at just about everywhere we went in Egypt. At the pyramids of course I didn’t just want to see the outside I wanted to go in them so here began the pace that would follow me the rest of the trip.

After a photo shoot trying to take the classic photos touching the pyramids (along with thousands of others with the same idea) we headed off to see the Sphinx. Very impressive. We had the chance to take a camel ride after and you guessed it I paid for this too and convinced Laurent to do the same. It was awesome though, I would like to say they were nice placid creatures but mine spat at me. In the camel’s defence if someone tried to sit on my back and ride me I’d spit at them too.

The following day we visited the Egyptian Museum to see the famous Death mask of Tutankhamen, it was smaller than imagined but the detail on it was amazing, so intricate and the colours so bold..my paper mache mask all those years ago just didn’t do the artefact justice. In the actual museum it felt like I was roaming around someone’s garage full of long forgotten treasures. It wasn’t like a western museum full of glass cases, ropes and large do not touch signs….just all these amazing items stacked on top of each other due to such limited space. I felt like I myself was the first to view and discover these amazing items.

We took a boat out to view the Elephantine and Kitchener Islands home to the Philae temple. In order to get to the dock we passed a small market where the usual pouncing on tourists began. I am pleased to say that my value in Camels has increased since Tunisia.

That night we were supposed to take the train to the south of the country but due to recent train accidents it was deemed unsafe and so we boarded a bus for our overnight journey. I’m sure you can imagine from my earlier description just how excited I was at the prospect of being trapped in a bus for over 8 hours on Egyptian roads. Needless to say I didn’t get much sleep.

We stopped at about 2 in the morning in town called Hurghada…until this point id never heard of the town but after arriving I was soon to discover that the town that never sleeps lives up to its slogan of ’prostitute capital of the world’. People were hooking everywhere and I was surprised by the number of Eastern European prostitutes, apparently their fair skin and blonde hair go down a treat with the Middle Eastern men. I found everybody to be so brazen. As Laurent and I walked down the street hand in hand women and their pimps would still offer to him as if I wasn’t even there. I mean who offers someone a prostitute when it’s quite clear they are with their girlfriend or wife? Apparently in Hurghada no man is off limits. Despite the constant heckling from prostitutes the town was quite nice and nightlife excellent.

The following day was a very early and painful morning rise to drive to see Abu Simbel, one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Egypt. I wish I could put into words the feeling of your heart stopping and breath being knocked out of you that takes place when you round the corner of a cliff and get your first view of this incredible structure. The only other time I have had the wind knocked out of me in quite the same way was when I got my first glimpse of Petra.

The Temple was just incredible however somehow a bit of the magic was lost once I realised that Abu Simbel was not in the same location it was built but had actually been moved and repaired in the 70’s. It was still amazing but I couldn’t help but wonder how much was original. Moved and reconstructed or not it was still a lot more impressive than the local artwork I had growing up in Waitoki. It got me thinking about how clever the Egyptian people were, they carved and created such impressive and detailed structures all those years ago. Modern technology and machinery would be tough to rival it and yet they did it all by hand? Ok so maybe with bit of slave labour but still…

After Abu Simbel it was time to head back to Cairo, after a few stops along the way we arrived back in the smoggy city for our last two days in Egypt. For me the rest of the day was spent sipping cocktails by the poolside and making up for the lack of sleep from the night before.

The following day we had the chance to explore Cairo in more depth, we visited several churches in the Coptic old part of the city and viewed some Greek Orthodox churches as well, it was unusual to see such a blend in cultures. Whilst the churches were fascinating for me it was all about the shopping as it was our chance to visit the famous Khan El-Khalili bazaar to find the perfect souvenir. After a lot of humming and harring I settled on a large black and blue papyrus. Much to Laurent’s annoyance I paid about half price for something twice the size than the one he had earlier bought for himself at a souvenir store.

To me the markets were just magical a colourful mix of pashmina’s and spice piles as far as the eye can see. Laurent was over the heckling after about 2 minutes of arriving but to me it all just made up part of the atmosphere. Somehow it wouldn’t be the same without the cat calls of 'Hey pretty lady, come buy my fake perfume’, ‘I give you best deal in all of Egypt!, and  ‘Guaranteed, genuine knock-off’. How could you refuse to buy anything with sales pitches like that?

The market was my final taste of Egyptian cultural and whilst the country was the complete opposite of what I was expecting, I loved every minute and every aspect of it. All the interesting and unique quirks just made the whole experience and even now I find it hard to comprehend that I have actually been to such an amazing place that I dreamed of for so long as a little girl.

Don’t get me wrong I was happy to return to my creature comforts but Egypt was an adventure I most certainly will not be forgetting any time soon.
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