Christmas in the land of the Pharaohs....10-25 Dec
Trip Start Sep 09, 2010
46Trip End May 28, 2011
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Where I stayed
I was only back in the UK fleetingly for 4 days. In that time I had to repack for 3 months in Egypt. This time as I will not be backpacking, I will be taking a proper suitcase with me. However I am flying with EasyJet and they are very strict about weight limits. My first attempt is over 25 kg…the limit is 20. So I stuff most of my heavy stuff in my daypack and immediately down to 19.
Over the next few days I catch up with a couple of friends, meet up with the family; J, Claire and Ellie-Mai, as well as uncle Roy, aunty Doreen and cousins for a Sunday roast in Watford, and get my hair cut for the first time in 3 months.
And I purchase a netbook
Today I am leaving for Luxor. We get to Gatwick North Terminal to check in with EasyJet. They have a huge zone to themselves nowadays, so I go through really quickly, no queue at all. Because of the no seat allocation policy, it’s always a bit of a bun fight to get onto the airplane, not particularly dignified, people pushing and shoving. You can pay an extra £12 to get priority boarding, but all that means is you get on one of the first buses to the plane, but other people get on it too, doesn’t actually mean you are the first to board, so a waste of money in my eyes. Anyway as I’m travelling alone it doesn’t really bother me where I sit the only issue is trying to make sure my hand luggage is relatively close by. EasyJet has a strict one piece hand luggage rule so I had to try and stuff all my duty free into my daypack which wasn’t easy. Anyway all is good I get onto the plane and sit in the second row along with my luggage in the compartment above.
I sit next to two ladies who later told me they were in their 60s. Both had been married, divorced, had grown up children, and very young Egyptian boyfriends. And when I mean young, lovers in their 20s so a 40 year age difference. My 13 years senior to Alaa looks incidental compared to that fact. They had being seeing their boyfriends for about a year in length so similar to me and Alaa. And both were very frank and honest about what they were getting from the relationship. They were not blinkered in anyway and both knew it was all about having a bit of fun, nothing too serious. Although you do wonder what the men think, do they really expect a long term future with a woman old enough to be their grandmother…one can only ponder.
We arrive about 15 minutes late even though our plane was about an hour late in departing, so not too bad. My luggage is already on the conveyor belt by the time I have got my visa stamp and changed some money. it’s a good exchange rate at the airport over £9 Egyptian pounds to £1. As usual I get stopped as I step outside the goods to declare and my suitcase is checked. I think it is something to do with me being a woman travelling alone and I get the ninth degree about who and where I am staying, and I get defensive. I hate people prying into my private life when it is none of their business
Alaa is out side waiting for me. It is so good to see him again. We have not seen each other for 5 months since I last visited in July. It was always a bit up in the air whether I would come out here again, we had a bit of blip in the relationship back in September, just before I came out to Peru. But when I decided to take a year off early last year, I always wanted the chance to spend more quality time here in Egypt with Alaa to see if we could make it work. Since I last saw Alaa he has been working as a driver for tourists and working hard and enjoying it, which is good.
We are renting an apartment from our friends Christina and Mohamed. It was Mohamed that introduced me to Alaa back in November last year. Both Chris and M are now in the UK making a new life, I don't think he is enjoying the cold weather!
We eat at a restaurant situated amongst the back streets and hussle of downtown Luxor that Gilan, Alaa’s taxi driver friend too us to last year when I was here with Dad. I notice that the prices have gone up, everything seems more expensive than it did the last time I visited. In UK terms it is still relatively cheap to eat out, maybe £8 to £10 for two, but you do wonder how the locals can afford it and again as I will be living on a tight budget
I have also signed up to do a TEFL in Alexandria for 4 weeks in February. I couldn’t imagine spending 3 months in Egypt not doing anything I.e. just being on holiday, there is not really that much to do in Luxor, my idea was either do voluntary work or study Arabic…anyway gone for the harder and more costly option to do a TEFL. But at least in my year off I can show that I achieved a qualification. The TEFL will give me a formal qualification to teach English as a Foreign Language. I know from earlier blogs it may have sounded like I didn’t enjoy the teaching, but that wasn’t strictly true. It was more the frustration of not knowing if what I was doing was right. So I’d like the chance to learn how to do it properly. I may never use it but I thought this was a good time to do it, and the course in Alexandria fits in which my return flight home with in on 28th February.
Thursday 16th December
Today we visit Karema, Alaa’s sister who recently got married
We then go to the visit Alaa’s mum. His uncle Mohamed - who I have met a few times - is there too with his wife and their newborn baby, Tiebe. He is tiny and starts to cry immediately as he is put into my arms, but I learn he has colic so I don’t think it was just me!
Later in the afternoon we visit Ramla which is a village on the Nile next to El Gazera (which I learn means the Island). Apparently in the time of the Pharaohs, this area was under the Nile and in fact the river’s water went right up to where the colossi statutes of Memnon now currently stand
Friday 17th December
Shock horror today there are no blue skies it is cloudy. This is the first time I think I have seen cloudy skies over Luxor in the 12 months I have been visiting. It is winter in Egypt so the coldest time of the year, that means temperatures are between 20 and 25 degrees, so pleasant but it does get chilly in the evenings, and coats and scarves are needed. Alaa has a cold, I hope he doesn’t give it to me, but my guess is he will! I’ve always quite fancied doing the early morning balloon flight over the Valley of the Kings. I expected it to be very expensive around £100 but we find out it is more like £35. So not too bad, I may do it later on. I get an Egyptian sim card to use in one of my mobile phones, so I now have an Egyptian number whilst I am here. It costs 2 EP around 25p to call or send a text overseas, so not too expensive.
Saturday 18th December
I have replaced the sound of panpipes of Peru, to the sounds of morning prayers from the nearby mosque and the braying ee-aw ee-aw of a donkey, but I expect I’ll get used to it
We have dinner at the Africa Garden in West Bank, the food is lovely I have kofta and Alaa has fish. But we are astonished when we get the bill and find that 2 beers have cost us 50 EP that’s over £5.…In Sinbad’s our local drinking haunt in Luxor the same beers would have cost us 10EP each. We go to an internet café and watch the DVD of Karema’s wedding. She looked lovely but what seems to be universal over here is that the bride is made up to look almost white, well much whiter than in real life
Sunday 19th December
We get up late, it is terrible but we honestly don’t get up much before midday…but hey when will I ever get this opportunity again, since starting my career back in 1994 I have had to get up early for work each day. So some chill-out time is well over due I think….but I actually think it has more to do with not really having that much do to…when you work you have to get up, your day is structured when time is free you just get lazy. I couldn’t do this forever it would bore me senseless but for now it feels right. We do to West Bank again for a drink overlooking the Nile. Alaa’s friend has set me up with internet on my netbook. I have a USB stick which will work whilst I’ m in Egypt…I initially put £13 EP on will be interesting to see how long it lasts...Not long is the answer
Monday 20th December
Today we come over to Alaa’s village. An elderly relative, a uncle to his mum, has died. As we arrive so we learn that another man in the village has died also. There is the sound of both men and women wailing. I am politely taken to the home of young woman who lives nearby as Alaa goes to be with his family. She makes me a cup of tea, but speaks little English. I am left alone in the house and all I can hear are the sobs of a man. It was his father that had just died. It makes me think of my mum (I miss her so much) and how differently death is treated in the western world. Here in Egypt the whole village community mourns the passing of someone and supports the family. In the western world it is all done much more privately and behind closed doors. Here it is very much out in the open and people openly show their emotions. After about an hour Alaa comes and gets me to take me back to the apartment. He will come back to West Bank to be with his family. It feels right to leave and not to get involved. This is a family and religious time and not one that I should not be part of.
Tuesday 21st December
Alaa goes back to the West Bank. I think this is the case with all Muslim countries, but when someone dies the body is taken to the cemetery and buried within a couple of hours of death, they then mourn that person for 3 days. So Alaa is with his family again today. I spend all day typing up my blog from my travels in South America dating back to early November. It takes all day to finish.
Wednesday 22nd December
It is the last day of mourning. I don’t do anything today, but finish my blog and read the books on Teaching English which I have bought out with me. The grammar one in particular is a bit of a head spin, our rules seem rather complicated. It must be pretty difficult for learners to understand, I being a native speaker of course just write and read English without thinking about it, so it is very interesting to actually read about how and why we write as we do. But hard all the same. I have met a few people how have done this course and they always say it’s the grammar which is the hardest part
Thursday 23rd December
Alaa has bought some meat, lamb and prepares a scrumptious casserole. I spend some time in an internet café catching up on emails. I am covered in bites, but am unsure where they have come from. They are not mosquitoes as it is too cold, but I have bites on my face and arms they are very itchy. Alaa tells me not to scratch up it’s hard not too. We go to Sinbad’s again, I do like it here. It’s cheap and chilled out - 8EP less than a pound for a 500ml bottle of beer. But I think it is eventually going to be knocked down as there is much building work planned in Luxor. The Four Seasons are building a new hotel, and the famous Old Winter Palace is extending to almost double its current size. They have blocked off a section of the Corniche just outside Luxor Museum, I’m not sure what the plans are and neither does Alaa. He says the Government don’t tell the people what they are doing, they just start digging and building with out any local consultation its seems. But I sense that Luxor has cleaned up its act a little. There is always a man with a dustpan and brush cleaning up signs of horse manure on the roads from the dozens of horse carriages that go by each day.
I can’t believe it is only 2 days until Christmas. Although Egypt is a Muslim state, I think because of the sheer number of tourists who visit, the hotels do celebrate and decorate their buildings with lights. The trees that line the Corniche are also fitted with twinkle lights that brighten up the road at night and provides a festive spirit. It does feel a tad strange to be missing out on all the snow shenanigans back in the UK, and I have always been one for thinking that Christmas should be spent somewhere in the cold. It just never seemed right to spend it somewhere sunny and hot, but I’ve changed my mind!
J emailed to say that he’s just realised he only has 3 months left on his passport, you at least 6 months to travel overseas. He has to get an emergency new one from Peterborough. My uncle and aunt Roy and Doreen have had their flight to Portugal cancelled. So they won’t be spending Christmas with my cousin Emma at her farm because of the snow. Hopefully they will get out for New Year’s Eve. The UK really does come to an absolute stand-still whenever there is weather a bit out of the norm. It’s embarrassing that we can’t cope with a little bit of snow. I honestly think our country is getting worse. Having been away for nearly 4 months and just reading snippets of news on the internet or the odd English paper I can truly say I have not real desire to come back…there are no jobs, the petrol prices are so expensive I don’t think I’ll ever be able to afford to run a car again and the housing market has it seems stalled for good
Friday 24th December
It’s Christmas Eve and another nice day. We go to the Metropolitan - it’s the only café by the Nile where you can sit in the sun and have a nice view at the same time. We then drive over to the West Bank, Alaa gets his hair cut, I spend the time in the internet café uploading 8 new entries to my blog. All I need to do now is to download relevant pix and I will be up-to-date. I think I am getting Alaa’s cold, I’ve got a sore throat and snivels. I’m not surprised though, as in the last few weeks I have been in and out of different climates and different countries, I suppose it was inevitable. We get vegetables for tomorrow’s Christmas Dinner. Here in Luxor there are lots of shops on the street which sell ready cooked chickens. So for ease I decide we’ll buy a ready cooked whole chicken tomorrow, but I’ll do traditional veg and roast potatoes
Saturday 25th December Christmas Day
I am awoken by the sound of donkeys, the clip clop of horses and barking dogs…this can’t be too dissimilar to the sounds that a baby Jesus would have been born to some 2000 years ago! Little has changed in this part of the world since those times.
This is only my third Christmas away from the family, the first time was when I was 13 on a skiing trip in Austria and then in my late teens I spent one in London with friends, so this is pretty rare. We get up and prepare the vegetables to cook later. It is a lovely day, blue skies and warm so I suggest we go and enjoy a few hours in the sun rather then spend the best part of the day cooking. As it is winter here it actually gets dark around 5pm so only a few hours of sunshine remain by the time we get out
We both dress up smartly I actually put on my high heels…I think thought that I am the only person in Luxor that wears them. The local women certainly don’t and the tourists mainly dress in your normal casual holiday gear of trainers or flip-flops. Well I like to be different and I always put on my best frock and shoes at home on Christmas Day so why any different in Luxor. Well perhaps I should have, as it was so nice, I suggested we do on a Felucca on the Nile. Alaa used to sail them when I first met him, although I never did sail with him. I trot down the metal gang plank, clinging onto Alaa, hoping that I don’t lose my footing, heels really are not the best footwear for going on a boat ride. We sail on the beautiful and tranquil Nile for an hour or so. I honestly never tire of being near the Nile, there is something magical about this river. We then go the Metropolitan for a Christmas beer. I notice a young Egyptian man sitting in the far corner of the café (I recognise his him from the photo I was shown on the plane).He was with the lady I was sitting next to on the EasyJet flight. But I don’t think she saw me from a distance and I didn’t go over and say hello.
I now officially have a cold. I am all blocked up and it feels like I am chewing glass every time I cough. We go to a pharmacy and I get some flu and vitamin C tablets which I hope work. The kitchen in the apartment is quite small and not really big enough for two. Alaa and I are literally bumping into each other, and I can sense an argument brewing…I suggest he just lets me gets on with it. He goes and gets the car washed and picks up the chicken. I prepare the roast potatoes and get the vegs ready. I brought with me some gravy and oxo cubes from home, and stuffing too. By the time Alaa gets back the food it ready and we prepare to tuck into a pretty good attempt at a Christmas dinner accompanied by a glass of champagne. Alaa loves it and leaves a clean plate, always a good sign. I did mini Christmas puddings and custard for afters. This almost feels like the real thing!
We then head out about 8pm to an internet café to skype Jay and my friend Nick. I text J first to tell him, but when we log on on-one is online…typical. I text Nick and call J, the text I sent earlier hadn’t gone through. I briefly talk to Nick but then J comes through so I speak to the family. As usual its just the Philpotts, dad and aunty Bron, Claire and Ellie. But Ellie goes all shy when Alaa’s face comes up on screen. I don’t know what’s happened to her recently but she goes very quiet when new men are introduced to her. It will be interesting to see how she is when we see her in Hurghada. So it was lovely to chat to them all. Tried to contact Nick again but couldn’t get through. We then go to Sinbad’s and enjoy a bottle of wine, what a great way to end a lovely Christmas in the land of the Pharaohs.