Time is passing quickly here, but it’s passing on Egypt time, which turns out to be very similar to Mexican time. Nothing is quite on time, but no one seems to care so I’m gradually getting used to it again. It does take a shift in mind set, though. We’re not talking a few minutes late either. Could be a few minutes, could be a hour and a half, who knows. Anyway, I was making notes earlier this morning on the bus to Abu Simble on the past few days so that it would all stay fresh in my mind.
So, without further adieu…
Sunday evening, met the whole group. Not quite as diverse as the Haggis tour last year. Intrepid Travel was recommended to me by an Aussie, and it’s Aussie based. Of the group, 9 are not only from Australia, they are from Melbourne. Three of them by way of the UK where they are working now. And then there are three Americans, including me. We all went and had dinner together in a little cafe. Had Egyptian pancakes with cheese and veggies. Quite tasty! Was a fun evening and as everyone knows my predilections towards familiar food, something I would not have done solo.
Monday morning, up bright and early. We had to be packed and downstairs by 8am. We kept two rooms at the Victoria to store our bags and to clean up later. Headed down to a nearby metro stop and took it to Giza station like the Egyptians do. Did not see any other tourists there. Jam packed in with everyone else (really the cars looked like sardines). There are women only cars and our guide for the Giza pyramids and museum took the women of the group with her. Their cars looked more filled to the brim than ours.
Arrived at Giza station, and Sam and Ola, our local guide, secured two taxis for us. The taxis have to be seen to be believed, black and white 1970’s era station wagons. Tattered, but they got us to the Giza plateau. And, as I had already read, the pyramids are surrounded by Cairo, not isolated as most pictures (including my own) portray it.
Still, what can you say about the Giza pyramids? Amazing? Around 4,000 years old and just mammoth. You have to work a bit to imagine them as they originally looked sheathed in another layer of stone, but they are still just phenom. We journeyed around all three. We were immediately beset upon by vendors, as we had been warned. The worst I’ve ever seen, trying to press things into your hands, lay them on your shoulders, whatever it took to get them into your hand. Of course, “free, free, free – Christmas present!” Rightttt….
Circled the first pyramid, the largest, the tomb of Khufu. It cost 100 pounds to go in (about $20), but Sam recommended the second one. We all waited for the second, the pyramid of Khafre, far cheaper – about $4, and a bit less time to crawl through. Glad of that. The first tunnel down was well lit, but the next tunnel up into the King’s chamber was not… pitch black, scrambling up hill…. beaned my head several times. And once inside, the air is stifling, hot, thick, and feels like it’s been thrice-breathed. I was ready to get out, but the line out moved far slower. It was still a once in a life time and amazing thing I wouldn’t trade.
We checked out the smallest pyramid from a distance and then headed down to the Sphinx. The Sphinx is not as large as you imagine it, but still incredible. It was originally carved out of one block of stone. There’s been some repairs, though, and it’s not as obvious anymore that it was originally all one piece. They are still restoring it so you can not get down close to it right now.
After we exited the plateau, we walked to lunch. Passed a perfectly good pizza hut and KFC combo. Ha! Literally right outside the gate, good product placement guys! Anyway, we walked on to a little hole in the wall I would again have never thought to try. Had something called Koshary (sp?) which was a sort of pasta mix with veggies and a meat sauce. There’s also a hot sauce you can add. I sampled just a bit (only one at my table who did) and nearly fried myself. Hot means hot!
We made our way out into the streets and found another set of taxis and rode to the Egyptian Antiquities museum. Followed Ola around and saw the wonders. It’s a lot like the British Museum, vast and overwhelming. Saw the highlights and headed out with the UK Aussies to find a taxi. Interesting experience, of course. We’d been told what to pay and kept having to fight to pay that until we found a taxi who accepted the fare. Made our way back to Victoria and cleaned up and prepared to move on.
This was, of course, New Year’s Eve, and the itinerary had us on the train to Aswan. The train was over an hour late, but it was passable. Clean transportation and had sleeper cars. New Year’s Eve was unique to say the least. The club car was packed with an array of tourists that could have been ripped from the pages of a novel. It had a slightly seedy trailer park feel to it with the aging wood paneling and very dated furnishings, but the crew hosting the car were just a riot. Did all sorts of stupid pet tricks and danced to out there Egyptian music for us. I left for awhile. It was packed and smoke-filled. Came back closer to the end of the night and called in New Years with 7 of my fellow travelers. The Americans were fully represented, even though our New Years was truly 7 hours later. The train stopped somewhere shortly after midnight which was awesome as I got to drift off to sleep.
Got in a good five hours and then slept off and on for another 1.5 before finally getting up in Luxor station. Khan, my roomie from Australia, was also awake so we stood out in the hall and watched the scenery go by once the train went into motion again. It was still nearly 3 hours to Aswan. By that point, 95% of the group was in the hall of the sleeper car. Had breakfast shortly before arriving here.
After checking into the Nile Hotel and cleaning up a bit, we all went across the Nile to Elephantine Island, home of the Nubians who were displaced by the Nile dams flooding their homelands. Got to meet a family that lived there and then took another boat ride to the edge of the Great Sahara.
It turns out Sahara is a bastardized version of the Arabic word for desert, so Sahara Desert is actually desert desert. From there we all got camel rides across a piece of the Sahara. Another experience of a life time, but I can’t say it was all roses. I was not at home on top of that camel. I didn’t feel like anything was holding me on. I know the guide knew that because I was one of the ones who never was just let go. Only when the camel got a little speed did I feel tied down and, of course, the guide running along could only do so much of that. Oh, to understand, the saddle or whatever, is a sort of platform with a wooden post that you hold onto. Gravity and your balance is about it for securing you to the beast. I held onto my post for dear life, only got a few pictures. But it was a beautiful sunset ride.
At the end, we went back to the Nubian village and had a dinner (ehhhh, it was alright, but I was not as excited as the rest of the group, remember tho, I am a picky eater), and then dancing and singing. I also got some shopping done from some of the handcrafts done by the Nubian women there.
Back across the Nile and to bed for all too short a spell. To go to Abu Simbel requires getting up at 3am. First, Abu Simbel is a temple to Ramses The Great. It was moved in the 1960’s because it would have been flooded by the High dam. So, it’s a bit Disney feeling, but entirely worth it. It was originally carved out of solid rock and was a testament to Ramses power to the Nubian people entering the Nile from the south. It was cut up and reassembled on higher ground. Incredible carvings. VERY crowded. Unless you’re taking a plane down, you must go in a convoy that leaves at 4am. And you must return in the convoy. There were hundreds and hundreds of buses and cabs and mini-buses going down. Took about 3 hours. We got there just shy of 8am and had to leave just shy of 9am. So, about an hour and back on the bus.
Next stop was almost back in Aswan at Philae, another set of temples relocated. These were on an Island and moved to another higher island. This one was a test. We were all tired and the boat drivers kept fighting us on price. Today was a “free day” even though we all choose to stay together. So, Sam wasn’t with us but had told us precisely what to pay for everything we wanted to do. Finally they bended to the legit price and we spent half an hour on Philae. Very interesting, the temples there are a blend of Egyptian and Roman.
Now back to the hotel… exhausted but happy.
Tonight a group dinner, and in the morning on to the Felucca, an Egyptian sail boat, for two days down the Nile towards the Valley of the Kings. We’ll sleep and eat on the boat. Make occasional stops along the way and moor at night. This will be the closest to camping I’ve come in quite some time.
Having an incredible if tiring time and will be out of touch for a bit. Hope everyone is having an incredible new year!