Walk like an Egyptian!

Trip Start Oct 18, 2006
Trip End Oct 19, 2007

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Saturday, November 4, 2006

Egypt- a land of culture, ancient history, art, religion and incredible majesty and in some cases beauty. If it is not already- put Egypt on your top 10 places to go in life. At this very moment lam sailing down the nile on a felucca (a traditional Egyptian sail boat)- this is one of the most memorable days of my life to date! I though the first day of the tour was amazing as l stepped out of the bus and into the dusty sand and gazed upward and viewed the Great Pyramid and Spinx for the first time! Over the past couple of days l have viewed monuments, temples, painting, tombs, jewelry, ancient treasures all that would blow your mind and all dating about 4,000 years old! I have always been one who has been fascinated by Ancient Egypt and the empire which produced monuments that have withstanded 4,000 years. Starring at Tutankamens tomb relics within the Egyptian Museum was almost too much gold, topaz, silver and beauty for ones eyes to behold! I particularly enjoyed beholding the massive tomb encrusted with beautiful stones of all colors and gold leaf. My mind is exploding with history and interpretations of hyrogliphics, my neck is stiff from gazing high up at monumental statues that reach towards the heavens and my legs are very sore from riding a donkey for over three hours yesterday through the valley of kings!

The majesty of Karnark Temple dedicated to the Sun God Amon will delight all your senses- particularly riding the horse and carriage through the streets of Luxor on the way to the temple, which allows you to fell like royalty that once rode through these streets. Even walking the streets and bazaars despite how exhausting it can be is fun as you haggle their with the marketers, watch women balance their shopping on their heads and men sitting and smoking their Keshias. The incredible beauty of the valley of the kinds tombs- with their amazingly preserved paintings and colors over 3,000 years old is still evident within its walls- is simply breathtaking!

But today l awoke at , after 3 hrs of sleep on the train from Luxor to Aswan- as it was running over 2hrs late- which l soon discovered was not unusual- "Egyptian time" they call it! After this short sleep we jumped into our mini van at around 3.30am and drove three hours through the desert with a police escort for us as well as 50 other tourist buses who were all visiting Abu Simbel. We have to have the police escort and leave so early in the morning to try and avoid being bombed or hyjaked, both of which have happened in the past. Though l think it is rather a silly idea to have only one police escort at one time of the day for over 50 buses, travelling in the middle of nowhere- such an easy target!

We all tried to sleep on the bumpy ride, and watched as the sun rose over the desert and mountain landscape surrounding us as we ate our boxed breakfast- called an Egyptian breakfast- which each day we were on the road or train consisted of a hard boiled egg, an awful lot of bread (sometimes stale), fig jam, juice and cheese. Rather nice the first 2 days- but by the end of the trip none of us wanted to see a breakfast box again- and we soon discovered that it was not really an Egptian breakfast at all! Never in my life have l eaten so much bread and beans. However, l have to admit the food is amazing over here- and especially good for vegetarians as l think too many people are afraid to eat the meat that hangs outside in the market places attracting flies and dust. The food is amazingly cheap and staple Egpytian items include falafles, lentil soup, eggplant salad, dips, dips and more dips (tabulu) and the list goes on. The special delicacy in Egypt is pigeon- which all of us gave a miss!

We reached Abu Simbel at around 6.30. Words cannot describe the feeling you have as you round the corner and see the temple set against the beautiful Lake Nassa and looking across to the Sudan mountains for the first time! The massive statues of Ramses II set against the blue lake and mountains below is awe inspiring! Entering the temple you are greeted by a corridor containing 8 statues of Ramses II lined up and watching your every move. Unfortunately you cannot take photos inside of the temple, as well as the Valley of the Kind Tombs we entered so l cannot show you the amazing paintings, statues and sculptures that adorn the walls. Ramses the II built this temple as a place of worship- for himself! A rather self obsessed kind (evident by the size of this temple!)- he decided to build the temple far away from Luxor- and Nth Engypt- where there are temples built in honor of the Sun God Ran (including Luxor and Karnark). So Ramses II decided to build his temple in the Nubian desert- and was able to do this by marrying the Nubian princess Nefertti. before this time the Numbians and Egyptians had been separated- but by joining in marriage Ramses II was able to not only build his temple, but also formed a powerful alliance with the Nubians- where he had them join his Egptian army and had access to the Nubian desserts Gold mines. Since that time and due to much flooding in the Nubian areas- much of the Nubian people's heritage and traditions have been lost. We had the previledge to have dinner on the balcony of a Nubian village in the midst of an island, where were served an amazing Nubian dinner by a local Nubian family. This was one of the most memorable times l had in Egypt- as we walked through the village- l got to see into these peoples way of life (far removed from the tourist places we had been visiting). I witnessed the poverty and terrible conditions these people are living in- for instance- the school does not even have a toilet and there is only one toilet on the island! On visiting Egpyt for the first time- one does not always think of a poor country- well at least l didn't- as l knew they had a lot of oil here. However, l have only seen 1 or two nice homes within this country- and any nice building is usually a hotel. The rest of the people seem to live in houses that are only really a shell of a house. The poverty will really hit you- as you look around and see the people living in the dirty slums that surround Cairo- where the often have a small farm on the top floor of a high rise building so that they can try and grow some food. The conditions you see the animals in and the way they are treated left many of the girls on our tour in tears, with the stick thin horses we rode on the horse and carriage through the streets of Luxor, to the tiny and frail donkeys we rode through the valley of kings, the stray cats, kittens and puppies everywhere doing anything they can for food! Egypt has really opened my eyes to the world and the conditions some people and animals are living in- and has really changed my perceptions on my own was of life in the western world. I certainly now feel very grateful for what l have been blessed with.

As beautiful as this country is- it will at times leave you feeling distraught, frustrated and powerless. The Egpytians really have no pride in their country which is evidenced by the constant surrounding of rubbish and litter everywhere that you go. We travelling through the dessert and suddenly were surrounded by rubbish- our asked our leader how it got there and he said people will just dump it wherever they want. There are no laws against littering and thus travelling through this country you will be astounded by how dirty it can sometimes appear.

As l said earlier- today has been the highlight of my trip to date- viewing Abu Simbel and travelling to the very south of Egypt to the Sudan border, watching the sunrise over the Nubian desert and then catching our felucca in Aswan and sailing down the beautiful Nile viewing islands and traditional ways of life was we went. I had expected the Nile to be dirty and polluted like it is back in Cairo- however here it is crystal clean, full of marine life (not crocodiles though in this part). Sailing down the Nile and relaxing on the felucca, eating falaffles and dips, swimming in the Nile and watching the sunset over the Nile has been an experience l will never forget! Definetly something l suggest everybody should do- and its going in my top 10 all times experiences! Anchoring by the Nubian village island me and one of the other girls from the tour (Shez) decided to go photographing the village. However, we got so caught up in taking photos of the sunset and local life that we somehow managed to get totally lost. This was the only time l had really felt unsafe in Egypt, as it was dark and we were wandering very small streets alone. Both trying not to panic we rounded an alleyway just as three donkeys bolted around the corner- almost running us over. Luckily my scream attracted the attention of two local teenage boys who saw that we were lost and led us to where the rest of the tour group were. The only problem was that they were telling us to come inside of a house where we could not see or hear any of our tour group and could only see an old woman peering around the corner at us! Not trusting these two boys we asked them to go and get our tour leader before we came inside. Finally our leader came and we apologized for not trusting them! I have definitely learnt my lesson for not going off photo taking without knowing where we are going- but then again- it adds to the adventure and excitement- and l will never forget being lost in the Nubian village and almost run over by donkeys! The rest of the evening we spent eating on top of the Nubian balcony where the woman carried the food to us on their heads and we all stuffed ourselves with the fabulous food. We then went back to the feluccas where we sat, clapped, sang and watched a crazy Nubian man dance around the bonfire and the four Nubian crew play traditional Nubian songs on their drums, and singing for us Bob Marley and other random Jamacian songs and then "In the Jungle" where they changed the words to say in the Nubian village, and sang about smoking sheshas and hash! This was a perfect ending to an amazing day l will never forget!

However the next morning l wish to forget forever! As good as the Nubian food was- me and the rest of the tour group wished we had not ate so much- as the next morning we were all running with our toilet paper and wet ones to the reeds surrounding our feluccas. Yes we had all gotten the Egptian flu- otherwise known as Gastro! We had all taken every precaution- hand sanitizers, wet ones, dethol, we only drank sealed bottled water and washed our teeth with it, we avoided unsafe foods and salads- but still we managed to get it. And the worst of it was that we were travelling on the overnight train tonight- which unless you were held at gunpoint and were wearing very high gum boots- you would never visit the toilet- - if you get my drift! Somehow the conditions of the toilet left many of us holding on for about 9hours- stuffing ourselves with bread and Imodium- our new best friend! We no longer complained about the constant supply of bread on the trip- that is for sure!

So all of us looked at our breakfast served on the felucca with disgust as we beheld boiled eggs and cheese! We all fought over the bread, jam and coffee as we sailed back down the Nile to Aswan. Being a beautiful day- we decided to go shopping at the Nubian Bazaar- which we had been told was the cheapest we would visit on the trip. Here l bought and haggled- and was told l was a very hard woman- which means l got a good price! However watching the locals shop we soon realized how much we were being ripped off- but l didn't care too much as it was still all so cheap! This bazaar was my favorite on the trip- as l found more of the locals shopped here as well, it was not as dirty as others- and it was here that l got over 20 marriage proposals in the space of an hour- has to be some sort of record. Me and the other girls l was shopping with soon learnt never to take of your sunglasses- as the men would try and sell you anything that matched your eyes- which at first was funny and then grew to be annoying. Having gotten all the souviners l wanted, we decided to go eat some lunch at a restaurant our tour leader had suggested- was safe ice. the food is fresh and cleaned appropriately! It was a small busy restaurant and the waiter had a lot of trouble taking our order and kept changing the prices on it! Due the condition of my stomach l ordered a small plate of vegetables, whilst the girls ordered a bigger meal. I finished mine quite quickly, and almost as soon as l put down my fork the waiter came over and said to me in a loud voice "You! Go wait outside!". Rather astonished l just sat there for a second before the other two girls started trying to tell him that l was with them and they had not finished eating. But he would have none of it, he was insisting that l go outside and wait for them so he could give my chair to a local man who had just come in. Usually l would not have put up with somebody ordering me around like this- but in l knew l was in Egypt where anything a woman says is disregarded and ignored- even tourists! Luckily there was another Geeckos tour group in the restaurant- and there guide who l had been chatting with started arguing with the waiter. After 5 minutes of pointing at me and shouting in Arabic like you cant imagine- the tour leader went and waited outside and the waiter took his chair!! Feeling terrible, the girls quickly finished their meals and we paid the waiter (and left no tip- Baklesh) and got out of their. I would have to say that generally the Egptians are kind and courteous and treat tourists very well, maybe this one was just having a bad day! Having had enough of being eyed at, watched, told what to do and arguing with men over prices l headed back to the hotel- getting lost as usual along the way in the streets of Aswan- and headed up to the roof top pool where l spent the rest of the afternoon watching the feluccas flow by on the Nile! Paradise! Despite my funny experience in Aswan- l would have to say Aswan is my favorite city in Egypt- it is so much cleaner and less dusty than Cairo and Luxor, the people and Nubians are friendlier and things are generally cheaper. And you have the crystal clean Nile right on your door step overlooking Elephantine island.

We left Aswan and boarded the train for a fun (not) overnight train trip- which is like trying to sleep through an earthquake- everything rattles and shakes. We always slept in first class, which involved very large 40 degree reclining chairs. However the trains are dusty and dirty and the toilet is rarely cleaned as described above! But you do generally feel safe- especially with the armed guards that pace up and down the corridors and the guards with the machine guns guarding the train doors!!

We arrived back in Cairo after our 9 hour train ride. Coming down with the flu- l decided to stay in our hotel for the day rather than brave the crazy streets of Cairo- also we had been upgraded to a 4 star hotel in the Giza area and my rooms window overlooked the pyramids- so l wanted to make the most of it! One thing l can say about Cairo is it gives you the adrenaline to keep going- you have to watch everything you do. I have never been within such crazy (maluna) traffic where the drivers do not believe in lanes, indicators or headlights- and it appears that whoever has the loudest horn and is most persistent in pushing it has the right of way! The crazy public buses with people jumping on and off them when they are moving and then hanging on for dear life out the sides, the traffic jams, accidents, numerous donkeys and sheep are all sights you witness as people dart too and fro through the traffic risking their lives! I had wanted to visit the Mosques in the area- but was to sick too and was disappointed that l couldn't as the religion here amazes me! The people are called to prayer four times a day- the earliest time being 4am! The call incorporates a man singing over a loud speakers within the towns and cities telling people to enter the mosque or to stop what they are doing and start praying. I was able to witness their prayer time which involved a lot of standing, kneeling and bowing- a good workout 4 times a day l would say! The peoples dedication to their religion and the traditions that come with it is really quite inspiring for my own faith. Another difference here is that alcohol is very difficult to come by and usually cannot be bought in restaurants (ie. you have to BYO) due to religious beliefs. So my Aussie friends beware- most restaurants sell Beer- but if you read the fine print it tells you it is "Alcohol Free"- what the???!!!

So l enjoyed my day in Cairo in bed, and overdosing on Imodium and Sudafed! Honestly though- l didn't mind getting some more sleep as so far on this tour l had been averaging about 4 hours a night- due to the early hours and overnight train trips! So beware- my photos contain images of over tiredness and sickness! I also wanted to try and get better so l could enjoy Dahab and go snorkeling in the red sea- something l had been looking forward too- as it is supposed to be the 2nd best place to snorkel in the world- 2nd to the Great barrier reef of course! However l did have to brave the Cairo to go get some dinner across the road at the Bazaar. Risking my life in the traffic here is defiantly something l will not miss! I would have been stuck outside my hotel for at least 1/2 an hour if it had not been for a very nice man who recognized that l needed some help crossing the road. He grabbed my hand, told me l looked like his sister so he wanted to help me and for some reason in the state of deliriousness l was in (running a high fever and dosed up on meds) l took his hand, made a silent prayer and stepped into what could have been my last step! We dodged the highway traffic with cars stopping and screeching on their brakes inches from my feet and deafening me with their horns, standing in the middle of this road l thanked God for this man! We somehow made it safely to the other side- l dont remember how- all l remember is horns, lights and angry faces! I thanked this man profusely and went and got some food. I attempted to cross back over by myself and soon realized this was a bad idea- l made it halfway across following closely behind a local family. But then l was trapped- between my four star bed waiting for me on one side and a dazzling display and sound of lights and horns racing towards me. Everything suddenly became blurry and l felt as if l was going to faint right there in the middle of the intersection- when there before me appeared my angel- the same man was darting between the traffic risking his life for a crazy delirious tourist! Grabbing my hand we missed by a whisker the neon flashing lights of a taxi and raced across the road. After thanking him for saving my life- l returned to my hotel room, watching some silly Bollwood film l didn't understand l turned it off and listened to the hum of the traffic below, comforted by the fact l was not within it- l soon fell asleep!

Tomorrow l have a 8 hour bus ride through the Sinai Mountains and across the Suez channel, into the Bedouin area, to get to the red sea resort Dahab. (This will be explained in the next entry.)

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