Where I have been...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Egypt

Ok, so first post of the New Year, and what better way to start then with an amazing country like Egypt!

I arrived in Cairo at 1.30am, not the best time, but the flight was running late - what a surprise!! I was taken to my hotel and had to wake up the girl I would be sharing with for the next week -Stacey from Australia. I only had 4 hours sleep before I had to be up for our introductory talk and then we all went straight off to the Egyptian Museum. There were 9 of us in the group in total - only 2 of us were Brits, the rest were Aussies! It turns out that the Brits don't tend to go to Egypt much anymore and that role has instead been taken over by the Australians who come in droves. This meant that wherever you went the locals would shout at you 'Australian, Australian?'. In the end it was best to just say 'Yes', as otherwise they then said, 'New Zealand, South Africa, American, Russian', before they said British! God knows why they are so desperate to know where you come from???

Anyway, for our first day we had an amazing Egyptologist called Nancy take us around and show us the Museum. There are so many awesome artefacts in there (most are not labeled so it is advisable you have a guide!). Apparently if you spent 1 minute looking at everything in the museum it would take you 3 years before you saw everything!! Unfortunately we didn't have the time for this so we just saw the treasures that came out of Tutankhamun Tomb as well as lots of Mummies, which to be honest were not that nice to look at!! They also had mummified animals which were a bit odd. They had things like cats, monkeys, dogs etc.

After the museum it was time to venture to the Pyramids. They were amazing, but it was really odd how close they were to Cairo City, literally a stone throw. In fact there are some people who have built there houses on top of the tombs next door to the pyramids. A lot of these people have dug below their houses and found the ancient treasures and instead of telling the government they just sell what they find on the black market. So apparently there is lots of stuff down there which we just don't know about and the locals are not about to reveal all!! We went inside one of the pyramids which was pretty interesting, but not quite what I was expecting (I think I have been watching too many movies!!). It was very plain inside, no decoration on the walls. In fact, to me, it just looked like the inside of an old barn but made out of stone, i.e. with the slanting roof! We then went to see the Sphynx which was very impressive, although again was right next door to where people were living - it kind of took away the atmosphere a little!

In the evening we had to catch the night train to Aswan. I am so glad I was with a tour this time as I would so have never got on the right train otherwise. The anouncements were in Arabic (and that was when they actually decided to announce a train!), otherwise everyone else seemed to know which one was theirs!! A train turned up at the time ours was supposed to leave but apparently it wasn't ours. Ours came over an hour late!! But our guides were in the know and got us into the right carraige (again, would never have managed this by myself as the numbers are written differently here!). Surprise surprise I did not sleep, but then again I have never managed to sleep on trains that well, but this one was rediculous. We spent the whole time stopping and starting and pretty much going an avereage speed of 5mph! It turned out later that there were engineering works going on the track (the only track to Aswan). Why they couldn't do the works once the train had passed, god only knows!! But we did get a lot of interest on the train. Being blonde I had a lot of guys starring (it is very unusal for women to travel in this country). I was wearing an eye mask (in a vague attempt to sleep) and at one point I felt a little uncomfortable so I removed my mask to find out why, and guess what there was an Egyptian man standing over me starring!!! He quickly walked off once he found I was actually awake!! I was definitely not going to sleep after that!

We arrived in Aswan the next afternoon - 3 hours late (we were supposed to be arriving in the morning). We then went for a walk around the market, where we were made to feel very self concious. All the stalls are run by men, there are no local women around, just tourists, so we got harrassed a lot. Everyone wanted to know where we were from, and why we wouldn't buy from their shop!!! After a while we got exhausted by all of this and went back to the hotel. In the evening, we caught a little boat to the Nubin island where we had dinner. On the way to the house we were to eat at we went to the local school and had a look around. Not very different from what we have at home, just a little more basic. We had a lovely dinner with traditional Nubin food, and the locals told us about their lives. We then made it back across the Nile to our hotel in the dark with no lights whatsoever. At one point we ran out of petrol but luckily they had some stored away!!

The next morning we had to get up rediculously early - 2.45am!! We had to join the huge convoy to Abu Simbel. Apparently it is too dangerous for the tourists to travel alone, although I have to say I really couldn't see the point of it myself! We started near the front of the convoy but ended up near the back. Our bus driver was soooo slow that every bus passed us and we were left to drive alone anyway - hmmmm! Anyway, we arrived safe and sound at 7.30am. We had another Egyptologist as our guide (he was not that good). He talked to us for about 10 minutes about the 2 temples that we were about to see and then left us to it!! They were very impressive temples built by King Ramese II, one for himself and the other for his favourite wife (the 9th one he married out of 40 odd - this guy had over 150 children!). Anyway, these temples used to be about 60 below where they are now, but were moved as otherwise they would be underwater. This was because the High Dam was constructed to control the floods of the Nile, this created Lake Nassar. The temples are very impressive, especially inside, there are loads of decorations on the walls (just like the movies), but they do look a bit silly as they have obviously been plonked up there, but there wasn't much else they could do about that!

We then left Abu Simbel within the safety of the convoy, although exactly the same thing happened on the way home, although I am not too sorry our driver wasn't the fastest as to be honest the way they drives is pretty scary. Drivers in Egypt tend to drive in the middle of the road, they ignore the white lines (especially in Cairo where a 3 lane motorway turns into 5 lanes!) and the general rule of thumb is that the driver just worries about what is happening in front of them. It is not their concern how the people behind or to the side of them are driving. It seems to work pretty well, although there are quite a few car crashes!!

We arrived back in Aswan and were taken to our home for the next 4 days - the cruise ship called Simbad. To be honest it was a lot better than I was expecting and we had pretty nice rooms. I was sharing with Stacey again which would have been fine except for the fact she had become ill. I really did not want to catch whatever she had as I was going to go diving and if I was sick I would not be able to dive (the main reason I had come to Egypt!).

In the afternoon we boarded a smaller boat called a Feluccia and had a little sail around the Nile, passing a few of the islands, it was all very peaceful :-) In the evening, after dinner on the boat (which was very nice) we had some entertainment provided for us. The first performer was a guy who spun around on the same spot for 10 minutes or so (it was very impressive), and when he stopped he didn't fall over which we were all expecting him to do. He was followed by the belly dancer who had to be the worst belly dancer on the planet! The fact that she didn't know how to belly dance didn't help. But this did not stop a memeber of the band (the drummer) who was playing her dancing music from ogling her for her entire performance. It was far more entertaining watching him than her. Twice his mouth dropped open and the rest of the time it just looked like he was having an orgasim!! The more he enjoyed it, the faster he played! The only explanation that we could come up with (because to be honest she was not that attractive) is that women in Egypt cover themselves from head-to-toe and she was showing quite a bit of flesh, and this man had never seen anything like it before!! (nor had we to be honest and we hoped we never would again!!).

The next day we got a lie-in, so we were up at 7.30am! Before the boat set sail, Stacey, Mostafa (our guide) and I popped into town to the pharmacy. Stacey needed medication and she wanted me to accommpany her. On the way back I bumped into 2 others from our group - Sheridan and Cheryl. We had all decided the night before that we were in serious need of alcohol (especially if we were to go by the entertainment provided!). But the alcohol on the boat was expensive so we thought we would buy in town. A few problems arose from this. First it was the weekend so the only off-licence in the whole town was closed - typical. Second this is a Muslim country and therefore they don't drink so even finding a pub was impossible!! So, we gave up looking, but on the way back to the boat, Sheridan, Cheryl and I popped into a candy shop to buy a soft drink. The owner came up to me and said 'Beer'. I said 'no', as we already knew that the only beer they sold was non-alcoholic. But he then said 'alcohol, alcohol'. We were suddenly very interested and had a look around the shop but could see nothing. He then took us into the back of his shop and opened up one of those drink fridges, removed a few cans of soft-drinks to reveal loads of cans of beer stacked behind - awesome!! We filled up a couple bags of beer and bought a bottle of gin, all cunningly disgused in a black bag which was then covered with a white bag. The shop keeper was very nervous, and we later found out that he had a policeman posted next to his shop, which we discovered as we walked out, talking excitedly about our find!! On the way back to the boat we passed some of the others from our boat so we shared with them our discovery and they all made their way to his shop! Don't you just love the black market!!

At 4pm we finally set sail down the Nile. We were all sitting on the sun-deck at the time sipping our illegal alcohol and all had to make a quick retreat downstairs as once we were moving the wind was so strong that it was far too cold to stay up there! In the evening we stopped at the Temple of Sobek. We had to cross 3 other cruise boats to get to land. This wasn't so good, as all the other boats were way more impressive than ours inside. But then these people had probably paid a ton more money! This temple was very impressive and they had 3 mummified crocodiles there!

We then boarded out boat and set sail again. After dinner we had a fancy dress party (we had to dress like the locals). My effort consisted of putting my black pashmina around my head!! We played some games and the best one was for the boys where they had a potatoe tied by a string around their waste so it was hanging between their legs. They then had to try and hit another potatoe which was on the ground with it. The first to the finish line was the winner. It was absolutely histerical to watch!! Its a lot harder to play than it looks!!

The next morning we left our boat at Edfu to see the Temple of Horus. It was also very impressive, but we only god half an hour to go around it as we had to board our boat as quickly as possible to start the race to the barge. We needed to get there early so that we would be one of the first through as the next morning we were supposed to be doing a hot air balloon ride in Luxor. It turns out our boat was pretty similar to the bus we had going to Abu Simbal. Despite leaving in good time, all the other cruise boats overtook us - typical! So we ended up 18th in the queue out of 23! This would mean that we would be lucky to reach Luxor by midday the following day and therefore miss our hot air balloon flight (only 12 out of the 50 or so people on board were doing it). Our Captain managed to find out that their sister ship was near the front of the queue and was willing to swap places with us as they didn't need to be in Luxor early. So we made a run for it, past all the other ships to get in front. The other boats were not happy and they showed this by beeping their very loud horns!! We were promptly approached by a couple of guards in a speed boat shouting at us - a lot!! They did not like this new arrangement and as it turned out nor did the boat just behind the sister ship. There was lots of shouting and we were told to turn around. But our Captain just ignored them and kept sailing towards the barge. In the end we just got in the way so they had to let us through!! We found it hilarious, but the guards were very very angry! All of this for 12 people who wanted to go in a hot air balloon - brilliant!! It was a good thing we got through when we did because it took us over 3 hours to get through the barge and then we still had to sail to Luxor. We made it that evening which was great.

But then Stacey decided that she was in fact very very ill and couldn't last another second without seeing a doctor. From her symptoms I thought she just had the flu, but she kept saying she had never been this sick before! So our guide found a doctor who was willing to come on board late at night and have a look at her. He told her she just had a cold, so she insulted him and told him he was wrong, that he wasn't doing his job properly and that she wanted to see another doctor (preferably an Australian one!!??!!). Good move!! He promptly left and she continued to moan at me about how ill she was. Myself and this other lady Lee had spent most of the boat trip running around after her, trying to make her comfortable as she thought she was dying (she was just driving all of us around the bend!).

The next morning we had to get up really early to go on the hot air balloon. Stacey decided she was too sick to do this (the stupid girl had taken laxatives so couldn't move more than 2 meters from a toilet anyway!). The rest of us made our way to the balloons and lifted off. It was absolutely amazing. The views over Luxor with the sun rising were stunning. Plus being able to see all the temples and tombs from the sky was awesome. A truely magical experience. Once we landed we were taken to our next activity - donkey riding to the Valley of the Kings. This was hilarious. We all had to get on these little donkey, which we were reassured would be able to carry us. On my one I could touch my feet underneath him!! We had to bump along on these poor donkeys back for 45 minutes, along the main road, with the cars driving around us, on animals none of us could control - just brilliant!! We reached the Valley of the Kings in one peace and were met by our new Egyptologist for the day. He took us around 3 tombs in the Valley - Kind Rameses IV, IX and I. These tombs were just amazing. The decoration inside were stunning, and it was just beautiful to see that the colours were still on the walls.

We then rode in a carriage pulled by a horse to the massive complex of Karnak. This was a temple that was built but never completed. So you can actually see how they built these temples and carved them, incredibly interesting. We spent several hours with our guide going around the temple, before we headed back to the hotel. Stacey, who had not joined us at all today had now decided that she was too ill to continue on with her tour and would be cutting it short and flying back to Cairo the following morning and waiting there for her flight home (all this for a cold!!). Our group actually consisted of 2 groups put together. I was in the group that would be catching the night train back to Cairo that evening, while the other group would be continuing on to the Red Sea for a couple of days (this is what Stacey was supposed to do).

So that evening we caught the train, and despite the train going really fast i.e. not stopping and starting like the one on the way down, we arrived 2 hours late! On arrival at the hotel we were met by a rather chirpy Stacey who now looked far from being ill!! That day we went shopping at one of the markets in Cairo and then we returned to the hotel for a final farewell drinks. Stacey had made a miraculous recovery (it turned out she wasn't dying after all!!) and was able to join in all the fun, although by this point we had all had enough of her attention seeking!!

The next day I caught my flight to Sharm El Sheikh and from there I got my transfer to Dahab, 90Km from Sharm. Here I was to spent the next 4 days by the Red Sea diving. I had an awesome time and went on the best dives I have ever done. One of the dives called the canyon we dived straight down for 30m into this canyon, it was so beautiful down there. On another dive we dived down another hole before appearing at 25m beside the reef which apparently went down for well over 100m. It was amazing swimming with absolutely nothing below you or nothing to the left of you except water! I saw lots of clown fish, puffer fish, banner fish and butterfly fish to name a few. My last dive was a night dive and it was very very dark down there. At one point we all had to turn off our torches, and as we kicked around the plankton all lite up around it, it was amazing. I have to say I found this dive very hard as I had my torch in one hand, my camera in the other, I then I had to deflate my BCD somehow and equalise. Surprisingly enough I had huge problems equalising and ended up in quite a bit of pain, but luckily I survived!! After the night dive we were all glad to be back in dry clothes as it was pretty cold coming out of the water when it is dark and windy!

My last day in Dahab I decided to do some shopping down the only street in the town. As I was the only blonde lady walking around all the shop sellers got to recognise me and ended up harrassing me loads - it became very annoying. It was really weird because in Dahab I never ever say an Egyptian woman. The town seemed to be inhabited by only men - I wonder what they did with them!! One guy managed to coax me into his shop and all I wanted was a a toy camel and a magnet. I managed to bargan a good price for the camel but the magnet he wasn't giving in so easily. But then he said that he would give me the two for the price I wanted if I let him hug me ????!!! I said NO, so he then said that if I let him take a photo of me then that would do instead. Again I said NO, I was not into giving him a cheap thrill!! In the end I threated to walk out without buying anything so he let me buy it at the price I wanted, but then tried to give me a hug anyway so I quickly legged it. Some of those guys are so creepy!!

It was then the end of my trip and I headed back home to the UK. I had a great time in Egypt, despite the weird and creepy men. The country is filled with so many amazing treasures and I would highly recommend it as a place to visit (although do in a tour group as it would be far too difficult doing it by yourself!).

1 comment:

Emily Wearmouth said...

Good grief! Are you going for the record of longest blog post EVER? ;-)