A Travellerspoint blog



Diving with Nemo and Dory and freezing our butts off on Mt Sinai

sunny 28 °C
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Dahab was meant to be a three-day stop to do some diving and to chill out, but quickly turned into nine blissful days, where we forgot about time (and our mounting hotel bill!).

It took us two days to get to Dahab, the first day was spent travelling for three hours towards the Sinai Peninsula, only to have to turn back to Cairo for another three hours, due to road floods. However the second day, ma sha' Allah (God's work be done), the roads were open. We arrived in Dahab on a mini-bus to be greeted by “Jimmy”, who was the fixer of all fixers - a gregarious, cowboy hatted enigma who swanned in and out of our days, making sure we were ok and organising everything and anything we wanted.

However upon our arrival, Jac had visions of ‘Hostel III’ when Jimmy redirected us away from the hotel we'd booked, to a sister hotel called"Shams", which was much, nicer and was also right on the water. The staff instantly treated us like friends and all who passed us said a cheerful hello. A little too good to be true? However all suspicion was soon forgotten when we were joined by Sally, an Aussie girl who’d been on our Intrepid Trip, who was staying at Shams and thankfully appeared not have been skewered/abducted/brainwashed.

Dahab is a super-chilled seaside village, with wooden restaurants lining the pristine shore, decked out in low tables and colourful cushions, and Jack Johnson and Bob Marley playing. The stunning reef is right by the shoreline, with clear blue warm water and exotic fish visible from the shoreline.

Shams - Dive shop and rooms

Shams restaurant - right on the water

Dahab promenade

Making Dahab's waterfront a camel-free zone

The mode de jour in Dahab is: dive, chill out, read, sleep… then repeat. We dined at either of two favourite places, a Chinese restaurant (hey, who doesn’t enjoy dumplings and noodles after two months of unleavened bread and kebabs?) and at our Shams Hotel where Jac befriended the affectionate but tenacious cats who did everything to charm you then steal your steak. Never before have we seen omnivorous cats who devour chickpeas and pita bread!

Just another afternoon in the sun

Jac with one of the sweet but voracious cats that lived at Shams

Creative room service

Tinfoil-tastic meals at Shams restaurant

Sally had done her Open Water dive course with the Shams Dive shop and raved on about Ehab Mohammed, her instructor. Jac decided to follow suit with Ehab, who was a yogi-like Dive Instructor who was terrific and calm (even when Jac had beginner’s underwater panic barely 2m underwater!). Enthused by the serenity and beauty of reef diving, she decided to go straight onto her Advanced Dive Course. Few beginner divers get to do their ‘drift dive’ lesson in the famed Blue Hole, which is a 100m deep sink hole that drops off immediately from the reef, and has claimed the lives of many who try to reach a tunnel 60m down that leads you through to the surface. Exhilarating was an understatement!

Jac with Ehab on her Open Water... no Jac, the regulator is in your right hand...

Jac happy after her first Open Water Dive, love that mask face!

Jac and Chalky in a bubble curtain near The Canyon

Jac and Ehab at the bottom of The Canyon - first 30m deep dive!

Headed to the Blue Hole - memorials to those who perished attempting the infamous daredevil 80m dive

The entrance to the sinkhole

Jac about to hop in

Going down.....

And down.....

In the Caves

Exploring the reef



Red fish


A deadly lionfish

Nemo and Nemoette

It's a bit clammy on the floor

Strike a pose

Karate Kid vs Kill Bill

Watch out behind you!

Chalky and his dive buddy, Omar

Jac and Ehab

We decided to take a side-trip to Mount Sinai and St Katherine's monastary, as the former is where Moses climbed to receive the 10 Comandments and also where he sighted the 'Promised Land'. We had the option of going overnight, to see the dawn, or during the day to see the sunset. We chose the latter and afterwards incredibly glad we did (more on this later!).

Like most of of our Egypt experiences, the minibus that picked us up arrived on 'Egyptian time' and we set into the desert hills inhabited by the Bedouin people. The hills used to be underwater so there are a raft of fossilled shells and aquatic life in the rock, many dug out and sold on the roadside.

St Katherine's is visited by many Orthodox Christian pilgrims as it's the site of The Burning Bush and Moses' Well. We fight through the crowds around the Burning Bush to visit what isn't the original bush itself, but a descendent of the original tree. People are all jostling to have photos near it and to pinch leaves off the beleaguered tree. The Well of Moses is less impressive, being a small bricked hole in the ground, but has interesting frescos of Moses and his receiving of the Ten Comandments. What was really beautiful was the Orthodox Church, which was decorated in gold-plated hanging lamps, framed icons and richly painted throughout. St Katherine's bones were resting in the church, but unfortunately for us agnostic tourists, no photos were allowed of the humble but beautiful church.

The Road to Mount Sinai

St Katherine's

The crowds gathered around the Burning Bush

The Burning Bush

Atop the Orthodox church

Church spire

Frescos of the story of Moses


After visiting the Monastary we then headed up Mount Sinai. The 'real' way was up some 3,000 steps, which were carved by a monk in penance (for what we need to wiki). Unfortunately due to the icy weather and rain, the steps were largely iced over and too dangerous to climb. Instead we had to take the camel trail. Jac took the low-maintenance method of going by camel, while Chalky walked the six or so kms of windy uphill trail. However what was unavoidable was the last, sweaty crude 750 steps to the top. It would have been sweaty had it not been terribly cold, with a freezing wind blasting us the whole way. We met Tony and Rachel, a Canadian couple who used to run an organic farm and interestingly were part of the 'Wwoofer' organisation (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) that host voluntary workers for bed and board.

Once at the top the view was spectacular, however we could not spot what would be the 'Promised Land' that Moses supposedly saw. The craggy mountains, glowing with the afternoon sun were awe-inspiring. However, can you believe that it was so bitterly cold (even with multiple thermal and woollen layers) that we could not bear to wait half an hour for sunset? We set back down, and grateful that we didn't do so in the dark, as the loose rocks were slippery. Once darkness fell however, it really started to be unbearable. We swear, we have never been that miserably cold in our whole lives. We were so glad we decided not to stay atop the mountain overnight (no tents, just open stone shelters) to watch the sunrise. And we understood how angry Moses would have been, after trudging up the immense mountain (no steps or camels there), receiving the comandments from the Almighty, chiselling them into heavy stone tablets, and carrying the darn things all the way down, only to find his clan were celebrating and worshipping a gold cow! Perhaps that was his punishment for actually receiving 25 commandments and tossing 15 of them on the way down to create his 'Top Ten' to save his struggling arms...

On the way up Mt Sinai (beats 2,250 steps vertical)

A tiny gold monastary atop a mountain

Jac on the camel as Chalky walks (holding camera)

Now for 750 steps straight up...


Jac was last seen hamming it up for the camera...

Nearly there...

At the summit! Freezing but happy

The magnificient mountains

You wouldn't think there'd be ice in Egypt...

The setting sun on the mountains


Much warmer (and happier!) having dinner with Rachel and Tony at Shams

After nine days of blissful relaxing and diving, we decided to leave for Jordan, which involves crossing the Red Sea by ferry to Aqaba. We were disappointed the day before we left, to discover that we might have to stay in Dahab for a few more days, as arriving to Aqaba on an Arab weekend (Thurs, Fri) meant that all accomodation in the small town was packed and prices sky high. However Jac was too good in finding a room, so it meant we farewelled our Egyptian home away from home.

Posted by JacChalky 04:54 Archived in Egypt Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Alexandria and Cairo

Pigs in Spaaaaaaace.... Well, not quite.

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We arrive in Alexandria feeling a bit run-over… tired from a long 8-hour journey in a bus, still more than a little dodgy from our run-in with food poisoning (we came to the conclusion it was the tinned tuna our drivers served us), and feeling like we’ve just walked out of the desert after 5 or 6 days of dust and heat.

Right from the get-go however, Alex (as the locals like to call it), is a very different city than any other we have experienced in Egypt. The beautiful harbour and corniche (road along the river/water front) look nothing like anything else in Egypt. The architecture would be more at home in France or Italy. Even the people are slightly different (no - not in a duelling banjos way) - more fair, light-eyed and European looking than Egyptian or Arabic (stemming, we are told, from the Greek and Roman gene pool of 2000 years ago). The city feels relaxing, which is a nice change after the desert.

Alexandria's corniche


Our accommodation is a lovely old hotel (“Crillon”) on a side street off the Corniche. We dip out on a waterfront view much to Chalky’s disgust. Just up the road is the “Cecil”, where the likes of Winston have stayed (Churchill, not Peters).

Our modest 'Hotel Crillion'

Where we would've liked to be, 'Hotel Cecil'

That evening we let the bulk of our group head out for seafood (seriously? After 48-hours of stomach??) and a footy game, as our Egyptian group leader Soltan was eager to catch his nation's team playing in the African Nations Cup. Feeling adventurous, we head off into the wilds of Alexandria in search of food. It is rumoured the rare delicacy, the legendary “Chicken Big Mac” is to be found in the surrounding streets. Indeed, sidestepping cheering, jubilant Egyptian men (Egypt score a goal to make it 1-1 against Nigeria) we strike out to find the holy grail - processed food, figuring the repercussions can’t be any worse than those of the previous 48 hours. Pigs we were indeed… “Supersize Me” didn’t take into account Westerners in a foreign country with empty stomachs and the mighty NZ Dollar. And the Big Mac Chicken does indeed deliver satisfaction!

Nicely sated, and trying not to waddle too much we ease our way home, at which point Chalky noticed, directly across from the hotel, a local barber. Feeling woolly and adventurous he asked for a trim, in sign-language, with Jac trying very hard not to laugh out loud. A very nervous half hour later he emerged with a nice 80’s blow waved, brushed-back and razor-straight-parted hairdo… Nice one fella!! One lesson learned - a large Arab man, cutthroat razor, and Egypt playing football in the background makes for a nervous haircut experience… but hey! It grows back right?

Chalky's 80s coiff

Greed is good

The following day's highlight sauntering along the Corniche, taking in the waterfront sights - fishing boats, seaside cats, the kids fishing with basic rods, and drinking the BEST freshy-squeezed mango juice ever!

Seaside souvenirs






Jac, Chalky, Sioau-Mai, Mavis and Eric and tasty juice

'Abu Ashrat' juice bar

This was also the final day of the Intrepid tour, and culminated in a meal at a seafood restaurant (again - seriously? We are still getting over being ill!!). This particular seafood restaurant had no menu, and no prices… you simply walked up to a display of various fish, cephalopods, crustaceans, and ‘things’ and pointed. If you mumbled words like “cooked” or “gutted” you seemed to get a better looking meal…

Back in Cairo the group disbanded… A fantastic crew we had, and sad to see everyone disappear back into their normal lives. Thanks guys - we had a ball meeting you all!! And thank you Soltan, our group leader, for putting up with us all.

Our group at Giza

With Mavis’ flight not for another couple of days we settled in to see some more of Cairo. We hit the famous Khan el Kalili souq - soft-toy singing camels for Africa (literally) and other interesting sights.

Busy entrance to Khan el-Kalili souq






An antique Arabic telephone


A friendly family near El-Azhar mosque

El-Azhar mosque




We also took a day trip to Saqqara and Memphis South of Cairo, with Louise, also from our tour group, and also with another couple of days to spare. Saqqara has the Stepped Pyramid - an early attempt at pyramid building till they got the construction down pat. Climbed inside the Red Pyramid, and saw the Bent Pyramid in the distance (still off limits in a military zone). Figured out why the Egyptians finally stopped building pyramids… the penthouse is absolutely tiny!!

Stepped Pyramid at Saqqara, Memphis

Ancient grafitti, some thousands of years old

Jac, smiling in the ruins despite a troubled tummy



A crumbly pyramid

The Red Pyramid

Chalky climbing the Red Pyramid

Mavis at the entrance of the Red Pyramid

The Bent Pyramid, Saqarra



In Memphis we spent some time in a papyrus factory - learning the ins and outs of making papyrus - could be a handy skill back in NZ? Having spent an hour or so perusing the wares Mavis and Louise made purchases, and over tea and a chat afterwards Mavis received a very romantic marriage proposal! An astronomical amount of camels were offered, the deal only falling through once it became apparent that Mavis would be wife #2, an unacceptable situation! Wife #1 and the deal may well have been struck!

Chalky admiring the papyruses at the factory

Negotiating a good deal for Mavis' and Louise's papyrus purchases

A deal is struck with all parties happy

Celebrating Mavis' marriage proposal with some tea

Very sadly, it was time to bid farewell to Mavis. Tairua called… camping winning out over more adventures in Sinai and beyond. Thank you Mavis for being such a fantastic travel companion… and drinking buddy! Guinness and mulled wine (not to mention Old Bushmills whiskey) in Belfast; putting up with the rain and sharing sneaky, quasi-illegal Xmas wines in Chefchaouen; and magnificient sights and cold Stella in Egypt. How about joining us again in South America later in the year for some Chilean vino and Argentinean steak?

Time to get wet… Dahab and diving in the Red Sea next stop!

Posted by JacChalky 03:11 Archived in Egypt Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Western Deserts - Luxor to Alexandria

Sun and endless sand....

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OK, that’s a lie… the deserts of Egypt certainly do have lots of sun and sand, but there was no sign of Andrew Ridgely at all. Our travels West from the Nile Valley involved hours of driving, and some stunning scenery.

West of the Nile the ‘desert’ is actually comprised of several deserts, each quite unique, but all desolate and unforgiving, save the oases.

First stop on our tour de sand is the oasis of Dahkla, about 8 hours drive by mini-bus, punctuated only by the occasional ‘pit-stop’. Surprisingly, small oases are everywhere, and wherever there is water there are people. The contrast between the wall-to-wall brown of sand, rock and dirt, and the areas of irrigation and farming is stark. The green almost looks artificial against the harsh arid surrounds. Our romantic notions of an oasis are shattered upon arrival to Dahkla - although there are indeed palm trees and water, the oases of the Egyptian desert (at least the ones we see) are actually small towns which have grown over the centuries at the caravan watering holes.

Dahkla Oasis - the green looks out of place

Sunset from the rooftop of our lodgings

Off again, and another day of driving, this time switching from bus to 4WD to tackle the off-road desert terrain. We first visit an ancient Egyptian Village dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries.

11th & 12th century mud brick village

The ancient mosque

Allah appearing or a trick of light?

An ancient olive press

Detour, anyone?

Leaving our lunchtime pit-stop town we even have an armed police guard and escort to see us into the White Desert (we don’t dwell on the reason for this - just accept it). The White Desert is aptly named as it turns out… quite white, and definitely a desert. After the browns of the landscape thus far, the white stone and sand looks uncannily like egg white or drifts of snow. Wind-carved sculptures loom overhead, looking like giant mushrooms sprouting from the surrounding desert.

We're on a road to nowhere...

Jac and some shadowplay

Our trusty desert steeds


Us in the White Desert






Fellow travellers Sally, Lyrian and Penny

Our travelling buddies - Eric and Markus (Mariah behind the camera)

It is here we camp under the stars for a night - an experience to remember. Like the old Coconut Rough song, it’s cold in the desert tonight, so cold in the desert tonight! 30+ degree days (its winter thankfully, else we’d have been looking at 50+ during the day) give way to near zero nights. We are prepared with thermals and toasty warm sleeping bags. We are visited by a desert fox who comes right into our campsite seeking scraps, and are warned these cheeky beggars will steal our shoes at night (they have a real thing for Nikes apparently). Night in the desert is eerily beautiful, with a starry sky unblemished by pollution or light.

Sunset in the White Desert


Our camp


A foxy visitor

The next day sees us enter the Black Desert. Like it’s White neighbour, the Black Desert is also aptly named, being, well… Black(ish). The landscape changes however - looking very much like a sea of volcanic cones. Everywhere we stop, we can see reminders of the fact the desert was once a sea - fossil shells litter the entire Western desert region.

Another overnighter in another dusty, littered desert oasis (Bawiti this time) and our 4WD journey hit’s the ‘real’desert… sand dune country!! This is the Great Sand Sea, bordering Libya not far West of here.

Thus far, as a group, we have not been prone to complaint, preferring to suck up any shortcomings in our transport, accommodation and food as “cultural” experiences. Incompetence, however, warrants a mention. The 4WD Mavis had been in the previous day had sprung a fuel leak - thankfully diesel, so it was never about to burst into flames, but enough to fill the vehicle with diesel fumes, making for a very uncomfortable day for those on board. The same vehicle also suffered from a flat battery after the night in the desert, requiring a tow-start. Assured the fuel leak had been fixed, we switch vehicles only to find there also seems to be an exhaust leak (i.e. into the car). Nice! A tyre blowout slowed proceedings somewhat, as did running our of fuel completely later in the afternoon. Guess that fuel leak is not as fixed as one would have hoped eh?



Being towed, 10 feet from the vehicle in front, in desert temperatures, over the dustiest piece of road in the entire Middle East, with the windows open was pretty cultural alright… but not as cultural as we were feeling about 1am the next morning…

Chalky woke feeling nauseous around 1am and had an unexpected chat to the great white telephone, followed by several more 'conversations' throughout the course of the night. By morning Chalky had graduated to the other end, and Jac was equally ill - requiring a tag-team approach to the bathroom. Upon emerging from the room we discovered that 9 of the 15 group members were also very ill… the result of a nasty bout of food poisoning. Some slick detective work led us to the conclusion that our friendly drivers were as good at food preparation as they were at vehicle maintenance. Welcome to Siwa, have a nice day! Up to this point we had done rather well - not drinking the water (bottled only), not brushing our teeth with tap water, not eating the yellow snow etc. Poor Jac had to write the entire day off, bed-ridden.

Siwa turned out to be a lovely town, surrounded by large lakes (quite an eye-opener seeing a lake in the middle of the desert). Chalky opened up a can of harden-the-fk-up, and joined Mavis and the few still-standing group members on a bike-tour of the Siwa Oasis, including a stop at the temple of the legendary Oracle of Siwa.

Our last day of travel through the desert (with more than a couple of people still feeling rather less than 100%) involved a 6 hour drive North to the Mediterranean coast and Alexandria, stopping at the second world war memorial at El Alamein on route. The coast itself is a a funny mix of resorts, the majority of which appear to be abandoned mid-construction. In between however are the top-end resorts where Egypt’s wealthy come to holiday.

The Commonwealth war memorial was a sobering stop on an otherwise tedious day. Thousands of graves of the young men of the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are set out in rows on a sandy slope. It was something of a shock to see so many unknown soldiers buried there, and it saddened us to think that although the nations these men came from are all green, they are buried so far from home in barren, sandy soil.




Our arrival in Alexandria ended our 6 day desert sojourn. A vast empty place of landscapes to set George Lucas‘ heart racing, long hours in the car, and dodgy mechanical skills.

Posted by JacChalky 11:35 Archived in Egypt Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Aswan to Luxor

Tomb Raider - Featuring Jac and Mavis as an Oriental Lara Croft mother/daughter combo, and Chalky as their semi-competent sidekick

sunny 27 °C
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Arriving in Aswan, tired, dirty, and with kinks in places we didn’t know you could get kinks (overnight trains in Egypt are a necessary evil unfortunately) we finally embark on our few days of tombs, temples and touristy travel.

Aswan is the source of all the granite quarried in ancient Egypt for temple building, statue carving, and obelisk obeslisking. It is the gateway to Abu Simbel, and the start of all Nile cruises. Being in the South, it is also HOT, even in the middle of ‘winter’. We amuse ourselves by constantly quoting Eddie Izzard as an Egyptian news anchor: “And here’s Jean with the weather: ‘The forecast is, sunny, forever.’ ‘Thanks Jean…”.

We started our trip by taking a cruise on the Nile towards a Nubean (indigenous Egyptian Africans) village where we had traditional local fare followed by some dancing with our hosts:

Our group climbing a huge dune, extremely hard to do!

Mavis and Chalky on our felluca

Chalky and his desert wheels

Camel riding silhouette

Nubean hospitality

Jac and Chalky dancing with a cute Nubean kid

Aswan is also ‘famous’ for being the site of two dams built to control the annual flooding of the Nile. The first, built by the British, is the imaginatively named Aswan Low Dam. It didn’t work all that well, as the Brits seemed to have forgotten that the annual Nile floods brought huge amounts of silt with them, and, coincidently perhaps, it silted up. The Egyptians subsequently constructed the Aswan High Dam (wow - imagine the brain-storming that went into that name!), but this came with its own set of problems - namely the flooding of a vast area containing some of Egypt’s most precious ancient monuments.

The Temple of Ramses II (yep him of the 90-odd kids) was one of the soon-to-be victims of the rising waters of Lake Nasser (formed by the High Dam) back in the 60s, and an incredible multi-national effort, headed by UNESCO was undertaken to move the enormous temple to higher, safe ground (they literally cut the entire complex into pieces and reassembled it further up the valley). With four gigantic statues of the Pharaoh glaring down at the water, it must have given pause to any travellers sailing down the Nile in ancient times. However, old Ramses wasn’t thinking of the tourist trade back then, and the temple is an inconsiderate 3 hours drive from Aswan, in convoy (there are bandits in them thar hills). A 3am start is what it takes to see the Temple of Ramses (see? - inconsiderate), but soooo worth the drive. This is to be the first of what seems like dozens of temples we are to see in the next 3 days.




We also indulge in the usual touristy things to do in Aswan… Camel riding in the desert, boat cruise on the Nile, sheeshah water-pipe) in a dodgy back-alley coffee shop (thanks Eric and Mariah for our introduction to Egyptian sheesah. Mavis takes to haggling in the souqs and market shops like a pro, having had some practice in Morocco… Take pity on the poor souls in Aswan who are still explaining to their wives how they happened to get stitched up on the sale of so many scarves!

We leave Aswan in Nile-style - on a felucca for an overnight journey North, downriver (we find it hard reconciling ‘North’ and ‘down’ - such is coming from the Southern Hemisphere). Ahhh… the silence on the river is heavenly after the hustle and bustle of the Aswan souqs, the sun is warm, the beer cold (BYO of course).

Our Nile Fellucca

Mavis on the Fellucca

Sunset on the Nile Fellucca

We overnight on board, with a fire and more beers on the shore in the evening. The indigenous Nubian crew entertain us with drums and singing, and Chalky entertains in kind with a haka (the multinational tour group also lap it up - one of the benefits of growing up in Rotorua eh?).

Dancing to Nubean music by the fire

Chalky answers the Nubeans with the Haka

Temples, temples, temples… Edfu sees us wandering a Ptolemaic (Greco-Roman era) temple. Luxor however, is the mother of all temple cities, with the sprawling Karnak temple on the East bank, and the funerary temples on the West bank, with of course, the necropolis of all necropolises (sp?) - the Valley of the Kings.

Collossi of Memnon

Valley of the Kings - unfortunately no cameras allowed inside the decorative tomb

Karnak is an open air museum, and a timeline of the Pharaonic era of Egypt, with the temple having been added to by virtually every pharaoh over a period of thousands of years (makes NZ seem VERY young). We are lucky to be on site at closing time, and get some very rare snaps of the temple virtually tourist free.




The following day sees us climbing, scrambling, descending and ascending into tombs cut into the very rock of the Valley of the Kings. Spectacular and beautiful, it probably captures the essence of what we think of as Ancient Egypt as much as the Pyramids do.

Our few days of temples and tombs ends on a high… The real highlight is something quite unexpected, and remarkably simple compared to the splendour and grandeur of the royal and religious sites. The Valley of the Workers is the site of the small community of workers that laboured for generations to construct and decorate the royal tombs in the Valleys of the Kings - a place where they lived and died, and buried their own. Two small tombs in the Valley of the Workers are so beautifully decorated (by the men who built them for themselves) that they make the Kings’ tombs look almost ordinary by comparison. A real treat to see them.

There are only so many hieroglyphs, columns, obelisks, statues and sphinxes one can see before one becomes a bit jaded however. Man, cat, cat with a dog face, dog with a cat face etc (to paraphrase our buddy Eddie again)… So we bid a farewell to the Nile Valley, and head deep, deep, deep into the deserts of Western Egypt!

Posted by JacChalky 09:53 Archived in Egypt Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

A New Decade... Egyptian Style

How to spend a lot of time in vehicles in Egypt

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Happy New Year! Well... that is where we are up to...

After the reasonably quiet NY celebrations with our new travel buddies, its straight into the nitty-gritty of Egypt, namely temples, tombs, and transport.

The first day proper of our Intrepid tour of Egypt is a whirlwind tour of Cairo. Up early and crammed into a bus, we are whisked off to the Giza Plateau, and the Pyramids. Holy sheet Batman! 3 words sum up the pyramids... Really Fkn Big. Standing in front of them is a reminder of how small and fleeting we are, when they have stood there silently observing for 3 millenia. The sheer size is enough to make you take a deep breath. Not too deep though, as the smog of Cairo can't be good for you. Reality check, as we realise just how close the suburb of Giza is to these ancient wonders (can almost smell the McDonalds). The three of us opt to pay the extra and enter the Great Pyramid, which is a really special experience. Although the interior is completely without decoration of any kind, the buzz of bending double to scrabble through the narrow corridors and ramps is really something to experience (as was the idiot - not me - who intoned "Im-ho-tep" repeatedly for 10 mins while ascending - too many Mummy movies methinks). Keen to prove the amazing engineering that went into building the pyramids, I remove my credit card to try to slip it between the blocks in the Kings Chamber. Incredibly, the blocks are so precisely laid that I can't get it in there, however unfortunately purchase a couple of camels in the process.

After some harried photo-taking (tight time frame), we are whisked to the panoramic viewing site to overview the entire Giza sight, before its off to greet the Sphinx. The word enigmatic is often used to describe the Sphinx. Dunno about enigmatic. It certainly is something to be standing next to an ancient treasure, but its a bit smaller than you imagine. I think its more a case of iconic, than enigmatic...

The afternoon is spent battling the traffic (more on that), and wandering the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities. This is one spot where the security is actually awake, vigilant, and alert (we quickly discover on this trip that metal detectors and automatic weapons are omnipresent, but the security guards themselves are more often texting or watching TV). A couple of hours in here is enough to spin one's head, but never enough. Even if you have a bit of an Ancient Egypt thing going on, its easy to become overwhelmed and blase about what you are seeing. However, two rooms are so stunning that they are must sees. The treasure room of Tutankamun is a dazzling sea of gold, lapiz, precious stones, more gold, sarcophogai, more gold, and the most iconic of all Egyptian archaeological discoveries... the funeral mask of the boy king. So stunning and lifelike is it, that the rest of the museum pales in comparison... you can almost feel yourself staring into his eyes. Needless to say the room is silent as tourists stare in wonder, transfixed by its beauty and history. The other is the Royal Mummy room, in which you can peer in awe at the rulers of the ancient world. The most staggering of the Royal Mummies, at least to me, is that of Ramses II... Incredible to gaze at the actual face of the man who erected so much of what we can see of Ancient Egypt today (and a real stud with something like 90 kids!!).

Cairo Traffic... some sort of Arab joke that Westerners don't get. Two fundamental concepts seem to be at play here...
a) You must travel as fast as possible, limited only by the relative state of disrepair of your vehicle (and the laws of physics);
b) Lanes are for pussies

Cairo drivers are profoundly confident of the fact that that gap IS big enough to squeeze into, regardless of the size of said gap / car. Headlights are optional (yes, even at night), and their predominant use appears to be to signal anger, frustration, imminent contact. Indicators - WTF are indicators?? I suspect an Egyptian Warrant of Fitness check goes something like "Horn works y/n?". The horn is without fail the most important component of any vehicle, allowing you to alert the vehicle ahead of your intention to pass, to signal a turn ahead, to let fellow drivers know that they are too slow / should get out of your way, or to express your frustration at having to slow to 100kph (in city) or 200kph (on freeway), and most importantly, to scare the bejesus out of tourists.

Tips for crossing the road as a pedestrian in Cairo
- Take a deep breath
- Look both ways (it won't help, but looks good on an accident report)
- Step in front of speeding (select one of the following: Bus; Car; Scooter; Taxi)
- Try not to flinch at horn / flashing headlights
- Do NOT stop moving
- Do NOT make eye contact with the crazy people (motorists)

Cairo... Done!

Overnight train from Cairo to Aswan - an interesting experience (that is quite literally the nicest thing I can say about it). 15 hours of filth and discomfort punctuated by periods of listless sleep. Arrive Aswan to warmer weather (around 30 degs C.) with a sense of adventure...

Posted by JacChalky 02:22 Archived in Egypt Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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