Egypt Trip 2017

Sunday, April 23/2017 – Toronto  – Janet arrived yesterday afternoon.   It was a beautiful sunny day today.  We made coleslaw, chicken and French fries for supper.  I brought mom to our house and we sat in the driveway in the sun.  Win and the girls came and they blew bubbles, skipped and had a tea party.  Win dyed my hair. Hubby took mom home.  We had supper and then Janet and I drove to Toronto as I had booked one night at the Toronto Plaza hotel so we could park and fly.  The map from map quest was wrong and we went the wrong way on Wilson Ave, far out of our way.  We finally found it but it was seedy, scuzzy looking.  As soon as we got our room, we checked for bed bugs.  Then the TV wouldn’t work and I missed my Sunday night shows, and when Janet went to have a shower, there were no towels.  I hope her car is okay parked here for 2 weeks!

Monday, April 24 – Toronto to Cairo – We were up at 5, haggled with the hotel clerk as they had charged us too much and boarded the shuttle by 6. We purchased an Egg Mcmuffin as we didn’t expect to be served breakfast on the plane.  We boarded the Air Canada jet at 8:45 and were served breakfast of pancakes, fruit and yogurt and a bun.  When we reached London Heathrow airport we had to run to catch our connecting Egyptair flight to Cairo.  I had to wait at security first because I set off the alarm and they had to scan me, then my knapsack was flagged and I had to wait to have it checked ( l had a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer half full that set it off). And then it was a 15 minute walk to the gate.  We made it to the gate just in time to use the washroom quick before boarding the plane!

The flight to Cairo was 5 hours and we tried to sleep but it was very hot and there were 3 of us crammed in to 3 seats and most other people had 3 seats to one person so they could lie down! What the heck?  We were given beef and rice for supper and then a chicken sandwich before we landed.  There were also 2 babies on board who cried most of the flight!  We landed in Cairo at 4:15 AM.  Most planes in Egypt fly at night or early in the morning because the pavement gets so hot it burns the wheels.

Tuesday, April 25 – CAIRO

The Insight guide was there to meet us and we easily purchased our visa at the bank for $25 US. Most banks here are open 24/7!  It was a 12 minute ride to the hotel as it was 4 am and there was no traffic.  The driver said it could take up to one and half hours in day-time  traffic!  Check in was supposed to be at 3 pm this afternoon, however, at 6:30 am insight persuaded them to give us our room.  We met our tour guide, Mohammed Yousef.  He asked if we wanted to take the tour to Alexandria but as we had just arrived, and that is where the recent bombing of Coptic Christian churches had been, we declined. We unpacked and went to sleep for a few hours and then about 1pm we went to the bank and exchanged some US dollars for Egyptian pounds, $50US = 900 EGP.

The Omar Khayyam Hotel, Cairo was built in 1869 to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal. This opulent Cairo palace, built in the neo-classical  style is set on 6 acres abutting the banks of the Nile River with manicured terraced gardens and fountains.  Unfortunately the pool area is under reconstruction.  Omar Khayyam was a Persian born in 1048, a mathematician, scholar, astronomer, philosopher and poet.  He was considered to be one of the most influential thinkers of the Middle Ages.   The hotel was purchased by the Marriott chain in 1970.

We walked around the hotel grounds and then ventured out onto the streets of Cairo. They were very busy with daytime traffic, taxis honking.  A man helped us cross the street. The people seem friendly and nice.  We have been told a few times that they don’t see many Canadians in Egypt as our Govt has a travel ban.  We strolled along the banks of the Nile in the sun.  It was 75F/ 24C but with a nice wind blowing, not as hot as we had expected.  We passed some men fishing, there were boats for hire and many taxis offering a lift.  Many of the apartment buildings are rundown with no glass in the windows, just gaping black holes. At 3:30 an Islamic chant blared over the loudspeakers on the streets.  We tried to buy a Gatorade from a gas station but the cashier told us it was $22US so we declined it.  Back at the hotel we figured it was $3.75Cdn.  We sat on the balcony in the cool breeze and ate buns, pretzels and cookies leftover from the plane.  About 6:30 we went down to a restaurant in the hotel and had chicken for supper and I had an Egyptian Stella’s beer.  It was very good.

Wednesday, April 26/17 – Cairo

Our wake-up call was at 6. We had a delicious buffet breakfast in the hotel.  The strawberries, fruit and juices were fresh, too many pastries to choose from, except for the scrambled eggs which were a soupy bowl of dark yellow slop and there was no bacon.  We met the rest of the group in the lobby at 8 am.  There are only 6 of us plus the tour guide, two Malaysian ladies, June and Ng, a lady from Chicago, Julie and a lady from Arizona, Barbara and us.  We paid for our excursions and boarded a van to drive through the crazy traffic of Cairo to the fortress and mosque of Mohammed Ali where we had to take off our shoes to enter and have our knees and shoulders covered.  354 lamps, one for each day of their year hang from the ceiling.   The large domes were for acoustics as it echoes so the worshippers could hear the Iman speaking from the pulpit.  There were some great views of the city from up here.  You can just see the pyramids through the mist if you concentrate.

We drove to the Egyptian museum and had to pay 50 EGP to take photos. We saw a life size statue of Rameses, a black statue of king, queen and a woman.  Our guide seems very knowledgeable and explained many things.  A moustache denotes a prince, a beard denotes a king and arms crossed means a god.  You can see their ears in front of headdress so he can hear everything in the never-world.  The right hand holds something, showing his muscles for power, the left hand out flat shows kindness and their left foot is always ahead of the right one.  There were 3 kingdoms, the old, the middle of the new.  We saw framed hieroglyphics on papyrus paper, King Tuts treasures from his tomb, he had 4 gold caskets or boxes that fit inside each other like a Russian doll, and then 3 sarcophagus inside each other all made of gold, last one is pure gold, 110 grams.  The jackal, ears up, was guarding the tomb.    Two soldiers were guarding the tomb also.  He didn’t have his tomb ready because he was made king when he was 14 and died when he was 18.  So they only had 70 days to get one ready and it normally takes 10 years so his family used someone else’s but it was finished.  There were lots of students there studying for tourism or fine arts.  We drove to a restaurant and had lunch. I got a heart palpitation in the middle of the meal.  We were served babaganouche, garlic mayo, and bread, then chicken, rice and veggies, we had strawberry juice and oranges.

We Went back to the hotel for a rest before meeting at 5:30 to go to the light show at the pyramids. We drove an hour through heavy, crazy traffic to get to the other side of the Nile into Giza.  The cars drive 3-4 abreast, no visible lanes, no stop lights or stop signs, everyone just merges in front of everyone else.  We drove past some very poor, dirty streets, with garbage filling the medians, horses scrounging in the garbage for food, camels tied up here and there, and in parts, men sitting in chairs under street lights in the median, playing cards, talking and smoking their big hookah pipes.  The men smoke tobacco in the hookah pipes, sometimes flavoured with apricots or apples.  We were excited as we neared the pyramids.  There was a large seating area but not many filled seats.  We sat on the right side in front of the Sphinx.  There was a cool wind so we wore jackets and jeans.  Loud voices told the story of the pyramids while coloured lights shone on them.  The pyramids didn’t seem quite as we big as we had imagined

 Thursday, April 27/17 – Cairo to Luxor

We put our bags out at 7, went down for our buffet breakfast, then drove through heavy traffic, six lanes abreast to get to the airport. We passed many signs advertising that the Pope was visiting the next 2 days.  He refused to stay at a hotel so is staying at the embassy very near our hotel, but of course, we won’t be there, we will be sailing down the Nile.  We boarded an Egyptair for about an hour long flight to Luxor.  Here it is very hot 37C!  We went aboard our cruise boat, the Medea which carries about 120 passengers but there are only about 36 of us on this trip because tourism in Egypt has declined so much.  We had a buffet lunch of beef, rice, mac and cheese, soups, salads etc. and rice pudding for dessert.

After lunch the 6 of us boarded a large bus that took us to the immense Karnak temple. There are huge courtyards, halls and columns and a large sacred lake with each king or pharaoh adding to and changing the existing buildings making it a sprawling complex.  Our guide Mohammed told us some of the history.  The temple was buried under sand for a thousand years until excavation began in the 19th century.  Our guide taught us some of the hieroglyphics on the walls.   If the bird or bee is facing to the right, then you read left to right and visa versa.  They can also be read vertically.  One section contains the ruins of a temple dedicated to the god Amun’s consort, Nut(pronounced Noot).  Amun, Nut and son Khonsu were worshipped as gods by the Thebans.  Once a year during flood season they celebrated the king’s rebirth with the Festival of Opet.  Images of these 3 were carried in barques down the Nile to the Luxor temple where the king would visit his harem.  It was very interesting but very hot in the sun.  We boarded the bus and drove to a place that makes papyrus paper.  A local showed us how the papyrus was peeled, cut, soaked in water and pressed together to get the sugar and water out and sealed together.  There were many beautiful painted papyrus sheets for sale.

Next we drove to the Luxor temple, smaller than .Karnak but still impressive. It was 5:30 so a little cooler as the sun was going down.  We saw the Avenue of Sphinxes which had 36 sphinx on one side and 33 on the other leading up to the 2 towers on either side of the main entrance gate.  We saw the tallest obelisk of Queen Hatshepsut who became king even though they didn’t let women become kings but she made a deal with the priests.  She became queen but they had to call her king.  She married her 8 year old step son and reigned for 21 years.  When she suddenly disappeared, her step son, Ptolemy became king.   The obelisk is 82 feet high and carved from one single piece of pink granite and weighs about 300 tons.  On the other side of the temple where a museum will be built are a huge collection of carved broken stones that are slowly being pieced back together.

We drove back to the boat, changed and went down to supper for 7:30.  We had pizza appetizers, curried chicken, rice, veggies, and lemon pie.

Friday, April. 28/17 – Dandara Temple Luxor

We were up at 5:30, had breakfast and boarded the bus by 7 am. We had a 2 hour drive to Dandara.  The area we passed through is fertile farm land even though they only receive a few drops of rain a year, it is watered by the Nile flood plain.  They harvest two crops per year of sugar cane, alfalfa, wheat, corn, beans, onions, garlic and some fruits.  Most farmers don’t own the land, they just work it.  The sugar cane is cut by hand and so is the wheat and tied in sheaths.  Some farms in northern Egypt have more modern equipment but in the south there are few tractors, most use donkeys, horses and manual labour.  Along the way, we passed many men in their hijab or galabeas sporting rifles to ” guard the tourists “.  At the many police check points, the driver had to show our itineraries for the whole trip, our nationalities and professions.  We saw many men riding donkeys or just sitting by the side of the road, people working in the fields and farmhouses made of mud brick or clay.  We saw many white egrets in the trees and along the canals.  Fridays, the traffic is not busy as it is a day of worship.  The Iman gives a sermon from 11 am to 1 pm and then the families gather together to socialize or go shopping.  There is no school for the kids on Fridays.  Boys have to serve between 1 to 3 years in the Egyptian military after finishing school.

Dandara temple is the best preserved temple in Egypt. It was buried under sand until the French discovered it in 1844.  In 1889 it was opened for visitors.  It was built by the Egyptians but in the Greek and Roman style as seen by the capitals on the columns.  The Egyptian style capitals are in the forms of lotus (for the south) and papyrus (for the north).  The main temple is a shrine to Horus and his wife Nut (pronounced Noot).  There are 11 smaller shrines surrounding the main one for other gods like Isis, Osiris, Ceth etc.  Horus is represented with the head of a falcon and the body of a human.  Nut is represented with a head in one corner with an orange moon in front of her and 2 long arms going one way and 2 very long legs going the other way around the oblong and a small yellow moon at the vagina area.  Most of the ceilings are still intact in this temple and covered with vibrant colourful hieroglyphics, including the zodiac signs.  When the Christians came in 300 a.d. they had lived in the temple and the smoke from their fires covered the hieroglyphics with black soot.  They also desecrated some of the hieroglyphics because they were considered to be pagan symbols.  We descended some stone steps through a small opening into the secret crypt where the priests kept the temple treasures safe.    The long very narrow passageway was also covered with hieroglyphics.  We then ascended up a stone spiral staircase to the roof of the temple where a shrine was also used as a clock using shadows to tell the time.  We could see views of a gateway and brick walls where the priests would have lived outside the temple.  On the back wall of the temple is the only picture of Cleopatra in all of Egypt, along with Caesar and their son Caesaran, Horus and Isis.

The bus returned to the ship the same way we had come, although a police car escorted us out for quite a few miles. We had lunch and then went up to the top deck to sit in the sun, swim and read.  At 4:30 we were given tea up on the same deck.  About 6 pm the boat sailed through the Edfu lock just as it was starting to get dark.  We dressed up for supper at 7:30.  We had the steak, potatoes and veg and a terrific dessert brownie with ice-cream in a chocolate cup.

Saturday, April 29,2017 – EDFU/ Kom Ombo

Our wake-up call was 6:30 am. The boat was already docked at Edfu.  We disembarked after breakfast and rode two to a horse and buggy through the town of Edfu to the temple.  The horses are small and thin.  We had a nice driver who didn’t pester us for money or with the plights of his family.  At the temple there were all kinds of vendors accosting us but we just said “la shakroun”, no thank you.  This is the second most well preserved temple after Dandara.  Again it was to the god Horus, with the falcon head and still has the shrine boat in the middle sanctuary.  We stood in the inner sanctum where it was very quiet.  On the walls were a line of numbers from 3 million down to one, a scene of the gods killing all the crocodiles and hippopotamus in the Nile, and scenes of the king receiving blessings to build the temple with bricks and how big etc. from the god Horus.  Barb and Julie shopped from the vendor’s, the rest of us waited for them back at the entrance and then rode in the carriages back to the ship. It was only 10 am so we had some free time before lunch at 1.  It is best to go to the temples early in the morning before it gets too hot.  We had vegetable cannelloni, mixed grill, and a decadent chocolate marquise for dessert.

We cooled off in the pool. There was a strong wind blowing, but very hot.  It felt like stepping into an oven when we went up the stairs to the top deck.  It grew even stronger and sometimes it was so hot it felt like a fire in your face.  Over in the desert past the Nile flood plain we could see a sand blizzard.  At 4 we had tea and the boat docked at Kom Ombo Temple.  There were vendors selling their wares all along the dock.  We walked up to the temple which is unique because it is divided into 2 parts, one for Horus and one for Sobek and his consort Hathor.  Images of Sobek have the head of a crocodile.  This temple isn’t very well preserved but there are 2 interesting features, one is the calendar with all the days of each month for the whole year (360) and the other is the inscriptions of medical instruments like a scroll for prescriptions, flasks, a basin to wash, stethoscope, scalpels etc. representing Imhotep.  There is also a deep well or Nilometre where the priests measured how much water the people used and taxed them accordingly.  We walked back to the boat and it departed at 6:15.  We got ready for our Egyptian supper night.  Some people are wearing galabeos.   We had tandoori chicken, okra, Oriental potatoes, nice bread and baklava, fresh dates and many sweets for dessert.  After dinner there was music and dancing in the lounge.

Sunday, April 30/17 – ASWAN

Our wake-up call was at 5:30, breakfast and then we boarded the bus by 6:45am. The population of Aswan is 550,000.  It is a much cleaner and greener city than Cairo.  The main employment here is tourism and then agriculture.  The West Bank is occupied by the Nubians who have their own language but it isn’t written down so there is a chance it will become extinct.  We drove to the site of the unfinished obelisk.  This was a very important find for archeologists as it shows where and how the obelisks were made.  They were cut here in the granite quarry from the 27th century BC until Roman times and then floated down the Nile to Karnak and Luxor on big barges.  The unfinished one was left because it cracked and they had to be made from one piece of granite.  Once cut, then they were polished with another kind of stone and then carved.  The unfinished obelisk weighs about 21000 tons.  They reflect art, engineering and science.  On our way out, one of the guards told us to follow him.  He took us down a path, down into a crevice in the rock.  We wondered where he was taking us and was it wise to follow him but we did.  At the bottom we could see where an obelisk had been started by gouging out the rock underneath it.

Next we drove to the Aswan High Dam. The Egyptians tried to build a dam in 3000 BC and then again a sandstone dam in 21st century BC but they didn’t work.  They wanted to be able to store water over winter when the Nile was low.  From 1805 to 1849 Mohammed Ali built many reservoirs and canals and wanted to build a dam but didn’t have enough money.  In 1882 Egypt was occupied by the British and they decided to build a dam, by 1888 they had the plans and it was finished in 1902.  It was made of sandstone and granite and built on bedrock.  There were 180 holes to control the water.  It was 27 metres high and 2021 metres long.  King Farouk enlarged it and used it for hydro electric power.  President Nasser came to power in 1948 and lead a revolution against King Farouk.  In 1956 he nationalized the Suez Canal.  The Suez Canal was built to shorten the route to the Far East from Europe.  It was opened in 1869 and built by 180,000 Egyptian workmen.  Nasser got a loan from the French for the canal so had no money for the Aswan dam.  It was finally started in 1959 and completed in 1969.  Many Nile temples needed to be saved by UNESCO before the dam created Lake Nasser, including the one at Philae.  Nasser died in 1969 before it was completed.  Anwar Sadat followed as President.  He was assassinated in 1981 and Bubarek followed as president.   The new dam was 3600 m. Long, 111 metres high, 40 metres wide and 530 metres at the base.  Lake Nasser is one of the biggest artificial lakes in the world.  Part of the lake goes into Sudan which may cause problems in the future.  Next we saw a monument to celebrate the friendship between the Egyptians and the Russians at that time, shaped like a flower with 5 petals, 1 for the friendship and 4 for the advantages of the dam.  Crocodiles and Hippos can’t get past the dam.  They inhabit the Nile south of the dam.

Next we drove to a dock and boarded a motor boat to an island where the Temple of Philae had been moved to before the new dam was built. It was dedicated to the Triad gods Isis, Osiris and their son Horus and Hathor who looked after Horus.   Hathor was married to the evil god Seth who tried to kill Osiris but he was the god of resurrection.  The crosses on the walls and the altar were carved by the Christians when they took it over.

Following the boat ride back to the dock, we drove to an aromatherapy place where they press flowers and plants to make pure essences with no alcohol in them. There were many kinds used for perfumes or medicinal ones like Bergamot for eczema, peppermint which when one drop was put in a jar of water, smelled like Vicks Vapour Rub.  Janet bought some Lily of the Valley to use as a deodorizer for her bathroom.

After that, we drove down to the dock and boarded a Felluca for a sail down the Nile. They only have sails, no motor.  It was a nice peaceful ride that took us back to our boat where we were just in time for lunch, after which we sat by the pool and swam and read until 5 pm when we dressed up and headed out again for High Tea at the Cataract hotel where Agatha Christie stayed and wrote Death on the Nile.  It was originally a beautiful old palace for King Farouk turned into a hotel.  Beautiful gardens and terraces over-look the river.  We sat outside on the terrace in wicker chairs and enjoyed a delightful tea of 3 tiered plates of fancy cucumber sandwiches and little cakes and fruit and tea while watching the sun set over the Nile.  We had a little tour of the hotel and then returned to the boat with a bit of time before supper.

At lunch Barb had thought the waiter said something about lamb moussaka. He hadn’t but then he thought Barb and Janet wanted Moussaka.  They tried to tell him many times that they didn’t want it.  Then when he was describing the dish, I thought he said carrots and asparagus.  When dinner came, they each got an extra plate of moussaka! And no carrots or asparagus!  Also the soup was cream of mushroom so Janet had asked to just have some veggie soup heated up from lunch but no the chef made her and Barb their own brand new veggie soup!  Also when Barb asked what a dessert was at lunch time and asked if it was ice-cream, they had brought her a dish of ice-cream.   We giggled about all these misunderstandings for a long time.

After supper there was a Whirling Dervish and a Belly Dancer show in the lounge but the belly dancer wasn’t good at all.

Monday May 1 – ABU SIMBEL

Wake up call was at 6:30. We drove to the airport and boarded a plane for a 40 minute flight to Abu Simbel.  The other temples were all built but this one was carved into the side of a mountain.  It was covered with sand until 1812.   Abu Simbel was a small town belonging to the Nubians who were faithful allies of the Egyptians.  Nep was the land of gold, Nubian land but under the control of Egypt.  Abu Simbel temples were built during the time of Rameses II, 1279 to 1212 BC.  Rameses II had 60 wives and 192 children, his favourite wife was Nefertari who the smaller temple is dedicated to.  He died when he was 91.

In 1959 when Nasser started to build the Aswan dam, he said it would take 10 years for Lake Nasser to form, so UNESCO had 10 years to save the temples. They considered putting them under a dome under the water, making a concrete base and enclosing them but in the end they decided to cut them into big blocks and reassemble them in a new location.  They were reinforced with steel bars, cut into blocks, numbered and stored, then reconstructed on a concrete base in the side of an artificial mountain.  The cost was 12 million pounds.

The main temple is dedicated to 4 main gods, Ra, Petra, Amin and Rameses II. These are the 4 large statues at the entrance.  The sunlight only shone on Rameses twice a year, Oct 21 and Feb 21 but after they moved the temple it changed to Oct 22 and Feb 22.  We walked back through the vendors to the bus and then to the airport.  We arrived back at the boat about 2:30, had our lunch and then swam and sat around the pool until supper at 7:30.  2 more tours have joined the boat, one is a Chinese one of about 8 people and the other is a Con Tiki of about 30 college students.  There was another belly dancer show but we didn’t go to it.

Tuesday, May 2 – NUBIAN VILLAGE – LUXOR

About 8:30 we walked along the pier and boarded a motor boat. We floated down the Nile and a very knowledgeable local guide pointed out flowers, trees and birds to us.  Some of the rocks and reeds in the middle used to be under water before the dam was built.  Now they house many birds and nests.  We saw a Hoopoe, moor hens, terns, ducks, kingfishers and plovers.  We saw the start of the Sahara desert.

We docked the boat at the edge of a Nubian village with brightly coloured painted walls and domed roofs, a little like Greece. We “walked the plank” to get off the boat and entered a typical Nubian house where 4 husbands and wives and nine children live.  The boys when they marry will go to live with their new wives families and the girls new husbands will move in with them.  They had a baby crocodile that we could hold for a picture.  It had its mouth tied shut, but when Janet was holding it, it squirmed and got loose on the ground!  It started running every which way and we were all screaming and trying to get away from it.  The guide caught it and continued with the pictures.  We were shown the clean tiled kitchen with a gas stove and running water and a bedroom adorned with soccer items (soccer is very big in Egypt), low beds and a TV.  We climbed some stone steps up to the rooftop to take photos.   Some of the roofs are made of palm leaves.  We went back down to the main room and were given cold hibiscus juice or mint tea.  3 of the children who were not in school came out to see us and fortunately, Barb had some crackers in her purse to give them.  We looked around the beaded jewellery and scarves made by the women and I purchased an orange scarf with gold flecks for $5/100 EGP.  On the way back, we passed the Cataract hotel and Mohammed pointed out the second floor balcony where Agatha Christie stayed.

We rode back to the cruise boat and discussed the next few days with Mohammed and read until lunch time. The boat sailed at 1:30 towards Kom Ombo where we stopped and as we had already seen the temple, Mohammed took us to a place to have a drink where a little Egyptian band was playing.  They tied a turban around our heads and let us play their Rababa instrument.   I ordered lemonade with mint and Janet had Guava juice.  Mohammed got a hookah pipe with apple flavour and we all tried it.  It was nice and cool sitting under the bamboo umbrellas.  We returned to the   Boat by 6 and it set sail again heading for Luxor.  Dinner was an Egyptian night again for the newcomers on the ship.

Wednesday May 3 – LUXOR

We enjoyed a leisurely morning. We met Mohammed in the lounge and were given free drinks to celebrate that this was the 4th Insight trip for 4 of us.  Then he explained and answered questions about modern day Egyptian life, marriage, divorce, and inheritance etc.  After lunch we sat by the pool and read and then had an early supper so we could go to the Sound and Light show at the Karnak Temple.    The waiter asked us if we wanted corn soup or green bean soup.  We took corn thinking we were getting corn chowder but when it came it was consume with 1 kernel of corn in each bowl!  Again, this made us giggle.  We had to hurry through supper to get to the show so they said we could have our tea and dessert in our room afterwards.  The show was much better than the one at Giza.  We walked through the tall columns in the dark with just a few spot lights on and voices over loud speakers telling the story of the temple.  The guide then took us on a tour of Luxor by night, through the shopping district which was very busy, passed men playing dominoes on little tables on the sidewalks, many women in burkhas with bags of groceries and kids playing in the street.

We had just gone to bed at 10 pm when there was a knock on the door and it was 2 waiters bringing us tea and dessert that we had missed at supper time. Janet answered the door in her pyjamas.  We ate our dessert which was a type of blanch mange with pineapple and mango sauce and I had a cup of tea.

Thursday May 4 – LUXOR

My wake-up call was a 3:45 AM. I had a cup of tea as it was still warm from the night before and then went down to the lobby.  It was full of younger kids from the Con Tiki tour.  Barb, Julie, Trudy (an Australian lady from Trafalgar tours) and I picked up a bag breakfast and boarded a bus and then a boat and then another bus to the hot air balloon site.  There were many balloons getting fired up.  Our balloon had 32 people in it.  The basket is divided like a tic tac toe with the pilot in the middle section controlling the helium gas and the other 8 sections had 4 people standing in each one.  The man told me to get in first by inserting my feet in the footholds in the basket and climbing over into it.  I did this and just got turned around when the man lifted Barb up and she came flying at me over into the basket.  Julie and Trudy were also in our section.  The balloon was made in England.  The pilot has over 3000 hours flying experience.  The balloon goes up to a maximum height of 1500 feet in the air.  The pilot doesn’t use any instruments.  They send up a small test balloon first and watch which direction and speed it goes at different altitudes.  They can control which way it turns and going up and down but not where it will land exactly.  The ground crew gave us a push off and suddenly we were floating up, slowly, smoothly, floating up, up, up.  It was so calm and peaceful and quiet.  We floated up there looking at views of the Valley of the Kings, the temple of Hatshepsut, farmer’s fields of wheat and corn and the sunrise over the Nile river.  After about 30 mi Utes, we gradually came down, landing in a field of wheat.  If they ruin a farmers crop, they pay for it.  The ground crew drove up in a truck and grabbed ropes dangling from the balloon and guided it to an open field.  The pilot turned the gas off and let the air out of the balloon so it slowly collapsed and we could get out.  We boarded our buses and were driven to where Janet and the others were waiting in a big bus for us.

We drove to the Valley of the Kings. Here we were not allowed to take any cameras into the tombs at all.  There have been 62 tombs discovered here so far.  Our ticket let us into 3 of them, Rameses IV, Rameses 9 and Merephetut?  We walked through a hole in the side of the mountain and down a sloping stairway into the tomb.  The tunnel was quite wide with walls covered with amazing bright red, yellow and blue hieroglyphics and pictures.  There were small rooms off the main one where food and items for the afterlife would have been kept and at the end is where the sarcophagus would have been.  You have to pay extra to see the tomb of King Tut and Mohammed suggested that it wasn’t as nice as the three we saw, just more famous because it’s treasures were still intact.  Howard Carter searched the desert for 4 years and in 1922, one of his horses accidentally found the tomb when its foot fell into a hole.  After visiting 3 of the tombs, we returned to the bus and drove to the temple of Hatshepsut.  This was half cut and half built into the side of a mountain.  There were 3 levels and there would have been an avenue of sphinxes in front.  At the foot of the stairs to this temple is where a few years ago, 5 tourists were shot and killed by terrorists.  Since then the Egyptians have put guns and video cameras in hidden in holes and caves in the mountainside.

Next we stopped and photographed to 2 large statues dedicated to ? And then we drove to an alabaster factory and shop.  Manually carved alabaster vases when held under a light are opalescent and take about 5 days to make.  They are also much lighter than the machine made vases.   Janet bought an onyx pyramid and a vase.

We drove further and met a young man who is the grandson of a bakery owner. His mother is English and his father Egyptian.  He showed us around his grandparent’s house, a living room with a TV, bedrooms, kitchen and pigeon house.  We sat outside and had tea and pieces of bread.  He showed us how they make about 25 loaves of bread in the one clay oven.  They start about 3 am when it is cool and it takes about 5 hours to make them.  His grandfather owns 4 acres of farmland and another acre around the house.  They have ducks, geese, chickens, cows, donkeys, horses, water buffalo and grow everything they need.

We returned to the boat where we had a buffet lunch and then rested in 2 rooms they allowed us to keep until 4 pm when we left for the airport for our return flight to Cairo. Going through security in Luxor, Janet and a man on Trafalgar had to open their carry-ons  and unwrap the vases that they had bought at the alabaster place.  We got back to the Omar Khayyam Marriot hotel about 9:30.  We picked up 2 large cookies from the bakery for our supper.

Friday, May 5 – THE PYRAMIDS

After our buffet breakfast we headed out early through Cairo traffic to the Pyramids. There was a bit of a traffic jam to get in to the area to buy tickets but once through the security gates, we found ourselves in front of the first pyramid dedicated to the king Cheops.  This was our “Wow” moment, standing in front, close to the pyramid for the first time, seeing how large the stones are, trying to fathom how they were made.  We took photos and climbed up some of the steps to look In the old entrance, 3 or 4 steps equals the height of one stone.  We returned to the van and drove past the second pyramid to the third one dedicated to Menkaure.  We entered the narrow sloped passageway going down about 3 levels to the tomb, bending over sideways so our heads didn’t bump the rock.  We climbed back out and returned to the van and drove to the panorama site.  As a whole group of female Egyptian motorcyclists were there, we decided to ride the camels first.

Mohammed negotiated with the camel driver to take us into the desert for about 25 minutes for 200 EGP (just over $10us) each. We each climbed on a camel, holding on for dear life and thinking what on earth had we gotten ourselves into?  The camel gets halfway up in the rear and then all the way up and it is very high!  The driver hooked us all together with ropes and off we went bumping up and down.  Mohammed told us to just relax and it was easier.  We rode into the desert where we could take photos of the 3 pyramids together and the camel driver took pictures of us on the camels.  Janet’s was named KFC and mine was Michael Douglas.  Every once in a while one of them would get feisty and go to bite another one, or they would try to rub themselves on one of the others and we would get nervous not knowing what they were going to do.  Janet and Barbs were kissing each other at one point.  By the time we rode back we were all quite used to riding them.  It was great fun!

We took more photos at the panoramic view and then drove to the site of the sphinx.   We went inside up to the viewing platform and took more photos.  Next we drove to an Egyptian cotton shop where everything is 100% cotton.  After trying a few on, we both purchased a T-shirt.  Then we visited the site of the very first capital of Egypt, Memphis, where we saw a large statue of Rameses and other artifacts in a garden setting.  Next we went to Saqqara where we saw the pyramid of Jessup? By then it was about 2 pm and we were very hot and tired and Mohammed took us for a late lunch where we sat outdoors and ate a meal of bread, falafels, and BBQ’d chicken, beef, tomatoes and green peppers. A turkey kept walking by me while I ate as I was sitting at the end of the table.  We returned to the hotel and said our goodbyes to Hami the driver, Mohammed and the 2 Malaysian ladies, June and Ng.  I gave every last dollar/pound to Mohammed as a tip.  Normally I have a little extra left but not this time!

We ordered a box breakfast to pick up at 10 pm as we have to leave for the airport at 1 am Saturday morning. We went down to Omar’s Cafe to get the boxed breakfast but it wasn’t ready.  They called at 11 so we returned to pick it up.  It was a huge cake box with 2 large buns with ham and cheese, yogurt, 2 boiled eggs, juice box, apple, banana, croissant and muffin each!  We didn’t even eat half of it.  Our Lufthansa flight left at 4:25 after going through 3 security checks.  I wish I had counted how many security checks we went through this trips, it must be hundreds!  We had a 5 hour wait in Frankfurt for the flight home.  We had pesto ravioli and salad – good food on these flights!