We had an unexpected and emotional parting with Janee at Istanbul airport. While we knew we had to part ways with Rebecca in Turkey, something came up the night before we were to fly to Cairo which meant Janee had to skip Egypt and head back to London.
Our arrival in Cairo was as I expected. We were inundated with offers of help from locals who were keen to help us spend our money. We caught a taxi to our hotel and met up with our fellow Gap Adventures travellers, a nice young mix of Aussies, Kiwis and Americans.
First up, our tour leader Saad took us to the Egyptian museum. It houses the greatest collection of Egyptian antiquities in the world. It is said that it will take a person 9 months to see every piece in the museum if they spend a minute on each item.
We weren’t permitted to take photos of anything other than the outside courtyard. For us, the highlights were Tutankhamen’s death mask (which has nothing to do with it being displayed in one of the few air conditioned rooms in the building), and the mummies room which houses well preserved thousands of years old remains of ancient pharaohs including Ramses ||.
From the courtyard we could see remnants of a building that used to house Mubarak’s parliament. It was set ablaze by rioters during the unrest early on in the year.
Next was a visit to the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx.
I had been told that the pyramids were just on the outskirts of Greater Cairo but it was a surreal nonetheless to see them in the distance looming over the tops of the city buildings.
The Great Pyramid of Giza (also called the Pyramid of Khufu) is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids.
It is the last remaining wonder of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
Egyptologists believe that the pyramid was built as a tomb for fourth dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu. There have been varying theories about the Pyramid’s construction techniques. Most accepted theories are that it was built by moving huge stones from a quarry and dragging and lifting them into place.
It was too hot to make any repeated attempts at getting good jumping shots so the best I could manage was a jumping shot of me on the way down.
The Sphinx was much smaller than I expected. Perhaps it was because we didn’t get up close and personal.
We drove around Cairo until it was time to catch the night train to Aswan. They say that if you can drive in Cairo, you can drive anywhere. It is true and you have to experience it to believe it.
Our guide said lanes are more like suggestions. Traffic lights are optional if the warden waves you on and double parking isn’t an offence.
We hopped on a 13 hour night train to Aswan. I had heard horror stories from many a traveller about the state of the toilets on these trains and the cockroaches that nest in the seats. Thankfully it wasn’t the sleeper train which is the train where the cockroaches can be found.
When travelling in Egypt, people need to accept that things don’t run on time. If someone says 10 minutes, they could very well mean half an hour. We arrived at the train station 45 minutes early and our train was 45 minutes late.
It was a positively balmy waiting at the station for the train and when it finally came, it was a mad rush to get on board. My pushing and shoving skills put me in good stead to get on the train without suffering any injuries. Arguments broke out over seating arrangements but we got into our seats with relative ease, thanks to Saad.
I slept for 10 hours and woke up wondering whether I should risk a trip to the toilet. Jess came back from her second trip to the toilet and told me to hold it in if I could as ‘it was like the River Nile’ in there.
Aswan is the smallest and most relaxed of the 3 main tourist cities on the Nile. We went on a motorboat along the Nile, stopping for a camel ride along the way.
I opted not to go for the camel ride since I have ridden a few camels while growing up in Saudi Arabia.
The others rode their camels across the desert past the ruins of an old monastery.
Most of them really enjoyed their camel ride however one of the camels decided it had enough and sat down, dragging its rider down with him. Unfortunately Patrick rolled off the seat and the camel half rolled with him, trapping his private parts underneath the seat.
He was on a great deal of pain when he came back onto the motorboat but didn’t complain for the rest of our sailing tour.
It wasn’t until we reached a Nubian village on Elephantine island that he realised he was bruised and bleeding. Saad took him to the local Egyptian hospital to check if he needed stitches.
We waited for him on the rooftop of a typical Nubian house and played with their pet crocodile.
Once this baby grows up, it will be higher up the food chain than I am so I took the opportunity to hold it while I could.
Once Patrick and Saad returned, we had enjoyed a home cooked Nubian dinner together.
Our hosts were great cooks and made sure no one left with an empty stomach.
A Nubian lady came over to the house, offering henna tattooing for a bargain price of £3. It is nice when travellers can contribute to the livelihood of the locals.
The next morning we woke up at 3.30am in order to join the convoy going to Abu Simbel.
Abu Simbel temples refers to two massive rock temples in Abu Simbel originally carved out of the mountainside during the reign of Pharaoh Rameses II in the 13th century BC as dedicated to himself and his queen Nefertari.
Was it worth waking up that early and driving for 3.5 hours to see these temples in the heat of the desert. The answer is YES! The temples are incredible.
Pharaoh Rameses II had many wives and over 100 children but many believe Queen Nefertari, a Nubian princess was his favourite wife.
Others believe that he honoured her a temple in order to gain the loyalty of his Nubian neighbours.
What is amazing is that the entire complex of temples were relocated in 1968, to avoid their being submerged during the creation of Lake Nasser, the massive water reservoir formed after the building of the Aswan High Dam on the Nile River.
Unfortunately we weren’t permitted to take our cameras inside the temples.
It is definitely one of the highlights of our trip
Our Aswan hotel was in the downtown area so we headed to a pizza restaurant to sample some Egyptian pizza.
After dinner we walked around the Aswan tourist bazaar, practising our haggling skills and buying souvenirs.
One of the vendors wanted to buy me for 200 camels, not a bad starting price but not as good as what was offered for Anna who could have been sold for camels, chickens and a taxi.
The next day we spent the day sailing in a felucca.
A felucca is a traditional wooden sailing boat, which can carry about 10 passengers and is manned by 2 or 3 sailors.
Despite our initial qualms about how hot it would be, the breeze and occasional splashes from the cold river felt fantastic.
Our guide said that the felucca ride is considered one of the highlights of the tour and while we were lying on soft comfortable mattresses, dozing or staring out on the water, I couldn’t have agreed more.
A select few decided to take the plunge and go swimming in the Nile.
Our sailors picked an area of the river that they felt had too strong a current for parasites to live in and docked there so that whoever wanted to swim could.
We had a support boat sailing alongside us in case we needed to use the washroom. Our meals were cooked on board and we ate lunch and dinner on the motorboat. Once we docked though, the breeze died down and the biting insects came out in full force. That evening was challenging for some as we had to contend with midges, mosquitoes, cockroaches and mice. We slept out in the open on the deck of the felucca. I still managed to sleep soundly though I completely wrapped myself up in whatever clothes I could find.
We woke up at sunrise, got off the felucca and boarded the bus to Kom Ombo, the double temple dedicated to the crocodile god and Horus, the falcon god.
Apparently over 300 mummies of crocodiles were found when the temple of discovered. They are building a crocodile museum next to the temple.
It didn’t take us long to walk around the Temple of Kom Ombo and after that, we boarded the bus and drove another 40 minutes to the Temple of Edfu.
The Temple of Edfu is widely considered to be the best preserved temple in Egypt and this was evident from state of the hieroglyphics and ancient carvings on the walls.
Over the centuries, the temple became buried under 12 ft of sand and this helped to preserve it.
We arrived in Luxor in time for a late lunch and a much needed shower. For dinner, we headed to an Irish pub (there’s one in every city) for our second last dinner together.
We were very fortunate to get such a great bunch of people. Everyone got along well with each other and was considerate of each other.
The next morning we woke up at 4.30am for an early donkey ride to the Valley of the Kings. We stayed in a hotel on the Eastern Bank so we caught a motorboat to the Western bank where the donkeys were waiting for us.
Jess and I weren’t planning to go on the donkey ride as we were worried about the heat but we changed our mind the evening before. It was alot of fun, despite me getting a temperamental disobedient donkey.
The donkeys in Santorini were placid, gentle creatures compared to the ones we rode in Egypt. I had to switch donkeys with Mark as the donkey I was on was going to fast. It wasn’t long after we changed donkeys that my new donkey suddenly charged off on its own. The guide had to come after with me, grab my reins and force my donkey to rejoin the group.
My donkey would have these periodic bursts of energy and starting charging to the front of the pack (despite me riding at the back with the guide). I would try and pull on the reins and yell at the donkey to slow down but they are stubborn as well.
None of us seemed to have control over our donkeys as much as Nigel did and I suspect it was because he tried to look like a local.
Our donkey ride ended an hour later and we hopped off, with slightly sore inner thighs. From that point on, our cameras were taken away from us and we entered the Valley of the Kings.
The Valley of the Kings is where the royal tombs were constructed. To date, over 63 tombs have been discovered with excavation still being continued. The royal tombs are decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology. Almost all of the tombs seem to have been opened and robbed but they were still amazing to see. We visited Ramses 1, 3 and 9 as not all tombs were open for viewing.
We spent 2 hours there before hopping onto a local Egyptian truck which would take us to the funeral temple of Hatshepsut.
Hatshepsut was a rare female pharoah. Her temple was designed and implemented by Senemut, the pharaoh’s royal steward. She was the daughter of Tuthmosis I and the wife of his successor Tuthmosis II, who died before she bore a son. Rather than step aside for the secondary wife who had borne him an heir, Hatshepsut became co-regent of her stepson, the young Tuthmosis III although she held absolute power.
After Hatshepsut’s death, Tuthmosis III became pharaoh. He immediately ruined all images of Hatshepsut from temples, monuments and obelisks, trying to wipe her from history.
In 1997, 58 tourists and four guards were killed by terrorists here. They hijacked a coach to get away, but the driver deliberately crashed it by the Valley of the Queens and villagers chased them down before the police arrived. All the sites in the area are now heavily guarded with multiple fences, security checkpoints and guards. It had a devastating effect on Egypt’s tourism.
Following the temple, we visited an alabaster factory, where we received demonstrations on how alabaster and onyx stone structures are created.
This art is passed on down through the family and these factories are family run businesses.
Last but not least, was a visit to Karnak temple.
Karnak Temple comprises a vast mix of ruined temples, chapels, pylons, obelisks and the sacred lake.
It would take days to properly peruse the entire complex so we focused on the largest area which was dedicated to the sun god Amun- Ra.
My favourite section was the Hypostyle Hall.
It has 134 huge columns arranged in rows.
We had fun taking various photos around and on the pillars.
There were two obelisks in the complex, one dedicated to Queen Hatshepsut and the other to Tutmosis 1. An inscription at its base indicates that the work of cutting the monolith out of the quarry required 7 months of work.
Near the Sacred Lake, (which worshippers used to cleanse themselves before praying), there is a large scarab beetle which was built by Amenophis III to signify good luck. Legend has it that if you walk around the beetle counter-clockwise seven times, you will have good luck.
Karnak temple was our last site before we hopped back on the night train to Cairo. This is where our tour came to an end and we had a celebratory goodbye meal at…..none other than McDonalds!