Dec 07

Egypt: Luxor to Cairo

Day 8 (March 16, 2007): This morning we board our flight to Cairo. Upon arrival we head for the fascinating bazaar Khan El Khalili and the opportunity for some last minute bazaar shopping. (Breakfast included)

I had set my alarm for 9:30, but woke up at 9am and wasn’t feeling so great. I took a bunch of drugs and laid down for a bit. At 10am Tara and I went down for breakfast. Breakfast was pretty good and even had fresh made-to-order omelets. Tara and I sat alone (except for the birds that wouldn’t leave us alone) until we eventually moved to share a table with Jason (NY) and Karen. People floated in and out of breakfast, eventually I was just hanging out with Jacqui soaking in the sun. After a bit I went upstairs for a shower and to pack up. Just as I finished getting ready Tara came in, which was handy because then she would be there to put the luggage out while I went to use the internet. I’ll digress for a minute… Egypt is a Muslim Country and the Muslims pray several times a day. Periodically throughout the day there would be a call to prayer – over the loud speakers they would broadcast prayers (I think) throughout the cities. It’s fairly loud and very distinctive. When I was ready to go use the internet the call to prayer was still going on. I thought the call to prayer meant people were actually praying, but it actually means they’re supposed to go to wherever they are going to pray so they can pray. Since it hadn’t really affected anything we had done so far I didn’t think much of it.
While I was walking over to the internet, which was just around the block, many men said hello to me and that I was beautiful, I have to admit that that made me feel more uncomfortable then good. When I got to the internet place I asked the guy how much for half an hour, he said it was 10 LE, but he had to close up to pray. I probably made a face turned on my heel and left, I was not happy and was having an ignorant tourist moment. So if you’re that guy – I’m sorry I was rude. Then I had to walk past the same people who said hi, and that I’m beautiful, which is even more fun when I’m grumpy. Back at the hotel I ran into Jacqui and hung out with her for a few minutes before going back to the room.

At 1:15 we all met in the lobby to take the bus to Karnak Temple. The temple is HUGE and so is everything in it. The colonnade room alone could hold Notre Dame Cathedral. There seemed to be a lot of excavation and work being done. The temple was built on top of another temple, which they can’t get to without destroying Karnak temple. In one area they had a pool, which was looking really disgusting, and was used to cleanse by the ancient Egyptians. Sherif said that when the Nile would rise it would clean the water out, but I wasn’t convinced it was a place to cleanse. Across from the pool was a scarab that after the Egyptians came out of the pool they were supposed to run around – for good luck. Adam and Tara skipped the pool but they did run around the scarab.

After Karnak we had a chance for a gourmet lunch – McDonalds. I learned on my last trip that when everyone gets off the bus at McDonalds and you actually want to eat lunch you have to be quick, I was one of the first people on line. For that I got to eat in the McDonalds. I guess the anti-supersize thing didn’t transfer over to Egypt because the fries and soda were huge. But the place did have a nice view of a new courtyard and Karnak Temple. After lunch we went to the airport.

We arrived at the airport around 4:00 for a 5:00 flight, before we got off the bus Sherif told us to take our own luggage and inside it would get scanned by security. When I got my suitcase some guy tried to take it for me (naturally he would have wanted baksheesh for the trouble), I had to pull it away from him to get him to let go. Hey, I don’t mind when people take my luggage but I can handle taking it 20 feet by myself. On our flight to Cairo I sat next to Jason (SLC) and Jen (on the other side of the aisle). The flight was only about an hour.

When we were back in Cairo we had a brand new Spring Tours (the company that manages Contiki tours in Egypt) bus, the plastic was still on the seats, which naturally prompted a plastic fight. Our first stop was the Khan el-Khalili Market, for an hour and a half visit. Sherif told us that he doesn’t take the Trafalgar Tours to the market since they don’t seem to enjoy it, I have to say that I couldn’t picture my parents here. The market is one of the oldest, biggest markets in the world, but we stayed in the touristy area of it. While I had done most of my traveling in Egypt with a guy (husband) around, Jen, Tara and I spent most of our time there together without a guy and had no troubles, or at least no more then we had anywhere else when guys were around. But it was insanely crowded here and everyone was calling to you to get you to look at there stuff, some asked why you didn’t want to look at their stuff, some shoved stuff in your face. After about 2 minutes I thought that I might go insane and become an angry woman, but I made it through the market ok. I even bought some stuff; a singing camel for my nephew was my best purchase. Ed wasn’t so happy with being there either, but in the end he bought a chess set so I guess it worked out ok for him too.

On the bus back I mostly sat with Sherif in the front and got to discuss the US and Cairo with him. Apparently they have some different traffic laws here, you can put extra lights on your car, you have to wear a seatbelt, but they don’t seem to have laws, or simply don’t enforce them, regarding emissions. And have I mentioned that the lines on the road are only there because they thought it was a good idea?

We got back to the Oasis hotel around 10pm, it was sad being back, it meant that the end of the tour was near, and I was having too much fun for it to end. Back at the hotel everyone went by the pool for some dinner. I had a burger and poor Tara had the worst/weirdest cheese sandwich (who new you could screw up grilled cheese?). I don’t think the rest of her dinner was any better. Went back to the room at 11:15, it was a long day, and I was exhausted.

Dec 02

Egypt: Edfu to Luxor

Day 6 (March 14, 2007): Today starts with a visit to Egypt’s best preserved temple dedicated to Horus, the Falcon God. Casting off, we spend the afternoon on board watching Upper Egypt slip by. We arrive in Luxor (the ancient city of Thebes) in time to view the temple of Luxor. (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included)

This morning we were meeting at 6:45 to go to Edfu Temple. Edfu Temple was built for Horus, the falcon god, and is the best preserved temple in Egypt. We were running a few minutes late this morning so we were not the first ones inside, but Sherif rushed us through so we were ahead of some other group and could get a picture of the inside of the temple before there was anyone inside. We were beginning to realize that Sherif made us get up early sometimes so that we could beat the crowds. While it’s nice to sleep late, I would rather be up a little earlier and not have to deal with as many people, by the time we left there were tons of people there.

Inside the temple Sherif showed us how the ceilings were dark and dirty, which we saw in other temples in Egypt. When the Egyptian religion fell the temples were no longer cared for and the poor often lived inside the temples, the smoke from fires is what has damaged the ceilings. The temple had a colonnade room, like every other temple, and an intricate maze of rooms. There is also an area where the priests could go to monitor the rising Nile (so they could predict when the land would be fertilized). The walls were full of hieroglyphics and Sherif read us a story about a town in the North that was fertilized by the Nile.

When we got back to the ship we had breakfast, which was really nice since it was the first real full breakfast we had in a couple days. There was fruit and meats and omelets. After breakfast I took a nap until noon when I woke up and thought we were going through the locks at the damn in Esna. I threw on some clothes and went up on deck, but no one was there and there was no damn in sight. I did however get a text message on my cell phone that my credit card had rejected the charge by my cell phone company which freaked me out and sent me in a bit of a tizzy to get it fixed. I ended up paying 45 LE for 30 minutes on the internet to fix it (in Aswan I paid only 3 LE for 30 minutes) but I thought this would be cheaper then calling the phone company. In the meantime we docked in Esna. Sherif had told us that if the damn wasn’t too busy we would dock in Esna, apparently it wasn’t too busy. While I was on the internet and we were docking Sharon came over to tell me something about us going into town, but I was only half listening since I was having issues getting into my cell phone account, eventually I updated my info and signed off with a few minutes to spare and could finally find out what was going on. I felt bad that I had been a bit rude to Sharon, but I just couldn’t deal with more then what I was doing at the time.

Shortly before we got off the boat we noticed Sherif having a “lively discussion” with one of the managers on the ship. We guessed that he was trying to have lunch extended so we could go into town since we were going into town during the normal lunch time. Esna is a much quieter village then the other places we had visited. It is right before a damn so visits there are dictated a lot by how traffic is at the damn. If there is a lot of traffic there may be no time to stop, fortunately it was a quiet day. Yet there were only 2 boats docked here, compared to 10 or more at the major stops. Needless to say it’s not as touristy here. There was a market we walked through, but it wasn’t as intense as the other places we had been. Naturally there was a temple here, but we didn’t go in, just took some pictures. You could also get a peek as to what village life on the Nile is really like. There were quite a few kids around; we think they were on there way home from school. Tara found a kid that she wanted a picture with, but apparently he was nervous and didn’t want to take one. Then some other kid wanted to be in a picture, but he didn’t have a backpack so she didn’t want his picture. We ended up with some kids following us around through the village. Most of the houses here were mud brick houses, the roads were all dirt and instead of cars people use donkeys. Sherif told us that people here would have donkeys like we would have cars. There were a couple motorcycles around too. Sherif took us to a building where a man showed us how he makes oil like they did 3,000 years ago. It was interesting and Adam got to help him, though I guess it’s a lot of work because Adam didn’t last long. Eventually Tara relented with the kids and ended up taking a whole bunch of pictures with whatever kids wanted and then gave them the much asked for baksheesh. If it wasn’t so obviously important to Tara it would annoy me. I generally believe that by doing that you reinforce the behavior of the children and they will continue to do it to other tourists and eventually they will grow up and become the annoying people in the market, but Tara was just so excited to get these pictures that I really couldn’t let it bother me. Eventually we stopped at a little café for Sheesha and tea. I opted for some cinnamon tea, as I like cinnamon and it’s not as bad on the stomach. The cinnamon tea was actually quite tasty. I tried Sheesha again, and after giving it an honest try, I still wasn’t into, but I was finally “getting it.”

After that we went back to the ship, by then it was about 1:30 and time for lunch, then we went out on deck for the afternoon. It seemed every time we went on deck a small group of people would have a table and then people would come and eventually we would end up with like 3 tables and 10 chairs around it as a big group. Meanwhile everyone else on the ship would be sitting in small groups at little tables. This afternoon was no exception. Around 3:00 we went through the old damn canal, which has the canal, but no locks. It was slow going through so some of the locals would be on the side trying to sell towels. They would throw the towel up and then you were supposed to throw down the money if you liked it. It was quite entertaining watching them throw the towels up, some made it and some didn’t. Only one ended up in the water – I hope they were taking that one home to wash it, but somehow I doubt it. We ended up being stopped for a few minutes in the canal. It seems someone had taken a towel and didn’t want to pay for it and we didn’t move until it was thrown back down. The poor guy was flipping out (and then people were laughing at him – I wont even go into the fact that the money he makes off the towel feeds his family…) until they found the towel, which I heard Alan had, though never confirmed.

We went through the normal Esna Canal between 4:00 and 5:00, it was interesting to watch the water quickly go down and then the locks in front of us opening, which accounts for the extremely large number of photos I took of it. But it also felt like it took forever to go through. On the other side of the locks you could see little boats of people swarming the boats waiting to go through, trying to sell them stuff. It was kinda funny since it wasn’t us getting swarmed.

After that we relaxed up on deck, but that didn’t last too long once the sun was setting, it was starting to get pretty cold and people were running out of extra layers to put on. After a while of being cold we went downstairs to the bar until it was time for dinner. Since I had finally caught up on my journal it was time to do some post cards. I got Sherif to write in Arabic on one of my post cards. He told me what it meant, but now it’s a total blur, I guess I should have written myself a note about that, but I remember it was really sweet. At dinner the staff had a little Happy Birthday celebration for Gary. They had him up dancing, made him a cake and then made him a baby out of napkins at the table. And to think that Gary never planned to tell us it was his Birthday! After dinner I went to the store to pick up my cartouche that I had ordered the day before. I bought one for me and one for each of my nephews, and a t-shirt for my father – all with our names on them.

After dinner a belly dancer came to perform, before she started they talked Tara into dressing up, to make the belly dancer jealous. First a guy came to do a dance; I think it was a whirling dervish. Then the belly dancer came, she was ok, I expected it to be a little better, but she got everyone into it by the end. After they left the staff put on music for us to dance too, but their selection was kinda lacking. Dancing Queen seemed to be one of the staffs favorite songs to play after hearing Dancing Queen for the 10th time in two days Kelley and I decided that Dancing Queen should be our Night Song (every Contiki tour, except this one, has a Day Song that is played at the start of the morning) and it should be played before we went out. I never really worked out, but it sounded good. Eventually I asked if they could hook up an ipod, which they could, which sent me running around to get my ipod so we could have some better music, like Walk Like and Egyptain. At 11:30 they shut the music off so most people, myself included, went up to bed. Tomorrow was another early morning for almost everyone since we were going on a the balloon ride optional.

Nov 30

Egypt: Aswan to Edfu

Day 5 (March 13, 2007): This morning why not join our fantastic optional excursion to Abu Simbel – the most complete example of ancient Egyptian architecture. Built by Pharoah Ramses II more then 3,000 years ago, the temples were moved over a period of years to their new site safely above the waters of Lake Nasser. After lunch, we cruise to Kom Ombo to view this unique temple, shared by two gods. Continuing, we reach Edfu, where we spend the night on-board. (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included)

This morning our wake up call was at 4:30, we had to leave at 5:00 for Abu Simbel. Sherif arraigned for box breakfast for us, it consisted of a couple types of bread, some with cheese, a banana, cucumber and a drink. Our flight to Abu Simbel was at 6:30 and was supposed to take a half hour but we didn’t land until 7:20. I had a little trouble with security (as did bunch of other people), they didn’t seem to care about the bottles of water I had, but they picked up on the hand sanitizer I had. It took me a minute to figure out the issue and then they didn’t understand hand sanitizer. Finally I just said hand cleaner and I was set. On ourflight we got drink service, they flew down the aisle giving us juice boxes and then collecting them just as fast – I guess you have to be quick when you only have half an hour. When we got to Abu Simbel we had to take a bus from the plane to the terminal, which was about 20 feet away. Apparently there is a rule that you can’t walk on the tarmac; however, it would be much faster if they let you. They were so strict that you couldn’t even walk to the bus that was waiting behind the bus that was loading.

When we arrived at the entrance we went through metal detectors and Sherif walked us to a shady spot and told us a little about Abu Simbel. There are two temples: one is for Ramses II the other for Nefertari. Ancient Egyptians thought quite highly of there Pharoses, Ramses II even more so. Not only is he considered one of the best Pharoses, he also lived twice as long as the average Egyptian – into his 90’s. I’m sure his portrayal of himself in temples didn’t hurt either. One of his wives, he had many, was Nefertari.

The Small Temple was built to Hathor (a goddess) and Nefertari, the Great Temple was dedicated to Ramses and 3 gods: Amun Ra, Ra Harakhti, and Ptah. The temples were built into a mountain over 20 years. When the Egyptians built the High Damn the temples were at risk of being flooded and the Egyptians approached several countries for assistance in saving the temples. The Swiss and Germans proposed to move the temples by cutting it into smaller pieces and guaranteed the safety of the temple. Between 1961 and 1964 they moved the temple; they even maintained the integrity of the axis of the temple. The temple was designed on an axis so that on February 20 and October 20 the sun would shine into the back of the temple and illuminate 3 of the 4 figures on the back wall (Ramses, Amun Ra, and Ra Harakhti), the 4th figure, Ptah, would not be illuminated because he represented darkness. The other thing of note about this temple is that is was intended to greet “visitors” from the South, the 4 Ramses II in the front were intentionally HUGE to scare away any would be invaders.

First we went inside Nefertari’s temple, which was quite amazing; the engravings in the wall were pretty cool and showed scenes from Egypt. Ramses II’s temple was even more amazing with a lot of little rooms and scenes from wars and showing Ramses II’s victories. Sherif was not allowed to guide us inside, but had told us a few things to look for inside so while some things were just cool pictures, other things had a lot of meaning. We were not allowed to take photos inside, though I managed to sneak a few little videos with my camera.

At 9:40 we met by the exit/entrance and even though I had my little videos I still bought the professional photos they were selling. Our flight was at 10:30 from the airport and we were back at the ship with time to get Tara’s ATM card back.

Tara, Ed and I went straight to the bank since we only had an hour until the ship was leaving Aswan. The guy at the bank was giving Tara a bit of a hard time. First he didn’t think he could do it within the hour and made it sound really hard and complicated. Then he started with needing a copy of her passport (she had her passport, but not a photocopy on her). So we had to go across the street to get a photocopy, which was fun since they were doing construction and there was a bit of ditch in the middle of the road. Then when we got back he had her right down her info and sign for it. Then he takes the card out of the ATM machine and realizes he needs to photocopy that. But now he wanted to count a stack (over an inch tall) of money first. Ummm, hello, our boat is leaving soon! So Tara talked him into doing the photocopy first. The whole process should have taken 5 or 10 minutes, but he managed to drag out it, it was like he was punishing us for HIS ATM eating Tara’s card. After that we tried a different ATM but Tara wasn’t able to get money out of that one either. We were back at the ship with plenty of time to spare.

After that we hung out on deck until it was time for lunch at 1:30, which was just enough time for me to get a bit of sunburn on my shoulders. After lunch it was time for a nap! Tara had fallen in love with the beds on the ship, they were comfy and the bedspread was even better. I slept until 3:20 and we had a stop in Kom Ombo at 4:00.

We were the first group inside Kom Ombo Temple, which allowed us to get some really good pictures. By the time we left there were people everywhere. This temple was built for the crocodile. Ancient Egyptians were afraid of the crocodile and people could come to this temple to make sacrifices to the crocodile. The Temple was built in two different stages, the first phase around 180 BC by the Egyptians and the second phase around 30 BC. The later stage has a Greek influence in the Temple. The front façade of the temple is missing; apparently it fell into the Nile.

Despite the lack of façade and the fact that the roof is missing in places, I thought it was in pretty good shape, it’s probably in better shape then any of the building we’re building now will be in 2000 years. The last thing that Sherif showed us was a room with mummified crocodiles, they’re just as pretty as mummified people, I took an obligatory picture and left. After that I walked back to the ship with Tim through the market. I noticed a lot of belly dancing outfits that were nicer (and less revealing) then the one I had bought. Other then that I wasn’t too interested in anything I was seeing. Besides, every shop you walked by, the guys (there aren’t any women selling stuff in the markets) were hounding you to buy their stuff. It made it a bit intimidating to even look at there stuff for fear that they would try to suck you into something you didn’t want. They might sell a lot more stuff if they didn’t hound everyone who walked by. I’ve never been a fan of high pressure sales techniques; it only makes me think they are trying to sell me crap before I realize it is crap. Needless to say, I probably didn’t spend nearly as much as I could have in Egypt because of this. It’s a shame; I’m usually a sucker for cheesy souvenirs.

After that I went out on deck and worked on my journal. On my past Contiki trips I would use time on the bus to write in my journal, but we spent so little time on busses that I found I had to make time to write in my journal. Anyway, I worked on my journal until dinner, which happened to be around the time when it got cold outside. It was really nice during the day this time of year, but at night it got fairly cold. While I was downstairs waiting for dinner to start I noticed Tara going to the gift shop. She had tried on the top of her belly dancing outfit and it simply didn’t fit her right and she went to buy a scarf to use in place of it.

After dinner it was time to get ready for the Egyptian Party. I pulled out my belly dancing outfit and went into shock when I realized that most of it was see through. Tara suggested I just wear my bathing suit bottom and bra underneath it, which is a look that I hate, but at this point was my only option and it was all for fun anyway.

Everyone from our group dressed up and even a lot of the Germans (the other tour groups on our ship were older Germans) were dressed up. One thing that Sherif didn’t mention to us was that we basically were the entertainment for the party. There was a lot of dancing with the staff to start. Had I known how the night was going to go, I would have had a drink before coming to the party. It took me a little while to warm up to the party, but once I was forced to do some dancing and the guys played Egyptian soccer I was starting to get into it. Even some of the Germans got up and danced by the end of the night. At 11:30 the music was shut off and we headed up to our room. Apparently the plan was to go up to the pool, I resisted for a minute or two and then finally relented and went up with everyone else, except I didn’t bother with my bathing suit. Jenna, Ed and Reid all went in the pool and as I already knew, it was freezing cold. Tara was sorda pushed in the pool too. I ended up talking to some German guy; I don’t remember what was said, though it wasn’t much since he didn’t speak much English and I don’t speak much German. I did try to say to him (with the German my sister taught me when I was like 8 years old), “my name is Crissy,” he laughed at me, so god only knows what I really said. After that Tara was frozen and I was ready to go to sleep so we went back to the room.