Tuesday, 6 November 2001

Old News - Newsletter November 2001

Yes we are safely home in one piece, in spite of flying Egypt Air, and touring a Middle Eastern country! I have to say that I never felt in any danger (although we both had the jitters on takeoff from London!), and the Egyptians were really friendly and took pains to tell us how welcome tourists are in their country. Heavily armed police and solidiers were thick on the ground everywhere too, which was nice to see.

I didn't see a single American, and even the English were few and far between. Mostly Germans and French around. Places where the guidebook said we should expect to queue were empty, and it felt like low season, not the height of high season! Nice for us, but the locals are frantic for business... which is perhaps why they fleeced us so thoroughly - but I hear they do that anyway!

After spending 4 hours in Heathrow (3 hours early for checkin, and then the flight was delayed. ugh) we finally landed in Cairo around 1am. We got to sleep at about 2 with big plans to be at the pyramids for sunrise. Seeing as the sun rises at 6am, we missed that, but got there at about 8 instead!

The pyramids of Giza (3 big, 6 little) stand isolated on a desert plateau. They really are awesome, and we had a nice stroll about in the cool morning air. It was still quite peaceful as the hawkers and camel drivers hadn't arrived yet. By 9 it was getting hot, and so we got talked into a horse ride all around the plateau, past a muslim cemetary, and then to a perfume and papyrus shop (hmmph). We proceeded to part with way too much money, as we had no idea of the relative costs, paid the horse man and took a stroll uphill past the sphinx with the idea of now entering the great pyramid of Cheops.

After 10 minutes of beating off dozens of camel drivers, boys with postcards, old men with mules and would-be guides, we finally got caught out by a bloke who asked to see our tickets, and then wouldn't give them back until we had followed him into and out of several tombs, sarcophagi, shafts, tunnels and mounds - expecting to be mugged any second. We then had to pay him a huge amount of money for the privilege. By this stage we were so hot, dusty and annoyed that we gave up on the pyramid idea and caught a taxi into Cairo for lunch and the Egyptian museum.

This was amazing. Miles of sculptures and artifacts of ancient Egypt. All the goodies from Tutenkhamun's tomb are there too, and we had a good look at the famous golden death-mask, and tons of solid gold statues and bits and pieces. By this stage we were a bit tired, so went back to the hotel for a siesta before heading out for a dinner cruise on the Nile. We were on a 3 story boat - with 3 restaurants - and had a buffet dinner, followed by a belly dancer and sufi dancer. They were both excellent! Sufi dancing originates from some religion where they spin round and round until they reach a trance. A man dressed in weighted colorful skirts spun in the center of the room for about 15 minutes, spinning extra skirts over his head and performing other tricks at the same time. Quite impressive!

The next morning we flew to Luxor at 6, so got up at 3:30am (ugh) and checked in to our hotel by 8. We managed to organise a guide and minibus that picked us up at 9, and headed off to the West bank. Our guide was a recent graduate from Tourist school, and extremely eager. I have never heard anyone babble so many names, dates and places. And expect you to remember them too. He got really annoyed if we didn't pay attention, and by the late afternoon I could have thumped him.

First we pottered around the temple of Hatchepsut (yes, where all the tourists were shot in 1997), then went to the Valley of the Kings and went down 3 tombs. These are essentially a long deep tunnel decorated with hieroglyphics, culminating in a room with a sarcophagus and lots of treasure. Of course they were all plundered millenia ago. The mind boggles to imagine the treasure that would have been in the tombs of the important kings who ruled for decades, when you think that Tutenkhamun only ruled for a couple of years and his treasure was astronomical! The paintings and hieroglyphics are in amazing condition, considering that they were painted 3 or 4 thousand years ago! It must be the dry desert air.

Then we went to the Valley of the Queens and went down a few tombs there, and then had a late lunch (via an alabaster shop where Mountain Man spent close to half an hour knocking 10 Egyptian pounds off a statue - about £2. Not sure who won!). Egyptian food is nothing to write home about. It's a bit like Turkish - all fried, spiced and greasy with rice and pita bread. I went right off it after a day or two and started pinching rolls from breakfast instead!

In the afternoon we went to the East bank and the temples of Karnak and Luxor. I'm afraid by this part of the day it was all a bit of a blur of columns, obelisks, pylons, statues and paintings, but it was really amazing and awe inspiring. We finished our tour at 6pm, absolutely shattered!

I'd mis-read our itinerary, and we had an extra day in Luxor. This was brilliant as we'd already 'done' the tombs and temples. We slept late, and chilled out next to the pool all day. We were in a rather swish hotel, with terraced gardens leading down to the bank of the Nile, and then a huge floating swimming pool with sun deck and bar. Very nice! In the evening we went for a sunset felucca ride (ancient-style sailboat) which was everything I'd hoped it would be. Quietly drifting down the Nile, watching kingfishers diving for fish, and little fishing boats rowing about near the reeds. Unfortunately we ended up paying double what we'd 'agreed' on, which spoiled it a little.

On Tuesday we took a bus to Hurghada on the Red Sea. We stayed in the most incredible hotel I have ever seen, with 2 swimming pools, a private beach, shops, restaurants and bars all inside the grounds. We spent the afternoon on the beach, and organised to do a couple of dives the next day, followed by our advanced PADI course. The diving in the Red Sea is superb! Loads of coral and fish, and we were lucky enough to see moray eels, stonefish, lionfish, an eagle ray and a shark. I got so excited about the shark that I spat out my mouthpeice, and by the time I found it again the shark had gone! The dive boats and guides were excellent, and the equipment first class - made me realise just how basic Thailand was!

We had an idyllic few days in Hurghada, although the few times we left the hotel grounds on our own we were so hassled by the locals (perfume, papyrus, alabaster, jewelery, where are you from, come into my shop, check my english... bug bug bug!) we went scampering back inside!

Then flights back to Cairo and London and Winter. the clocks have gone back, and now it is dark well before 5. There was ice on the cars this morning, and I have unearthed my gloves and scarf... hat will follow soon! *sigh*

It really was an excellent holiday. I had a wonderful time, and it rates as one of the best trips I have ever done. Pity about the huge hassle factor... but that's just the way they are. Very smiley and friendly with it anyway!

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