Last updated January 3rd, 2014
Chapter 1. My personal view
Chapter 2. The Meridien Hotel
Chapter 3. "Insight" Tour begins. Day 1.
Chapter 4. Day 1 - Pt 2
Chapter 5. Flight to Aswan
Chapter 6. Aswan and Kom Ombo
Chapter 7. Edfu and the cruise to Thebes
Chapter 8. The last day of the tour, Thebes and back to Cairo
EGYPTOLOGY - My personal view
If you have "Quick-Time" loaded on your computer you may like to virtually visit the pyramids - Click here
then scroll down and click on "The Great Pyramids" - fullscreen -it takes a moment to load - Enjoy.
First - my holiday in Egypt and my memories of my trip. My impressions of Cairo and my sail down the Nile.
I have always been fascinated with Egypt. Its history, its pharaohs, its monuments, its tombs, its relics, its biblical connections and just the whole romance of it, everything about it was a mystery to me, so in 1995 I went there. I want to share my experiences with you. It is incredible to think that it was 9 years ago, as it is as vivid in my memory as if I went last month.
I didn’t know before I went, but a visit to Cairo followed by a trip down the Nile changes your life and the way you look at things, forever. So first the city, - This is a huge and awesome city. I haven't attempted to describe the airport, the monuments, the mosques, the minarets, the pyramids, the Nile. These I hope to cover later, but I feel it will take longer than the 11 days we were there and miles of film and hundreds of photographs to do it justice, there was just so much to discover, but pictures are already available in other publications. This is my own viewpoint.
Cairo is a fascinating city of 17 million inhabitants, enough population to make any kiwi mind boggle, it is five times that of our whole country, in this compact patch of humanity surrounded by dun brown desert. No amount of reading or any other form of preparation can forewarn you for the impact this city will have on you. You can be told of a thousand sights of everyday Arabian life, but the reality is a blend of those thousand sights, so difficult to describe, and the combined impact is only comprehensible by someone who has been there.
For example the uniformed militia, comes in many varieties and styles of dress all carrying, prominently, automatic lightweight rapid firing rifles. (Probably Russian made AK47's but I'm not very up-to-date with guns.) The ever watchful khaki military guards lounging in their little guard boxes. The ubiquitous tourist police with their once white uniforms and gloves (now grubby with desert dust), furtively watching the foreigners, and the ordinary navy-blue garbed police with their whistles and white gloves directing the traffic that ignores any other form of traffic signal or lights. After a while they just blend into the background.
The streets are a mix of camels, donkeys, carts both hand-drawn and animal-drawn, people, vehicles ancient and modern, and noise, horns, exhausts and all the other sounds of city life magnified threefold. There are cars of all kinds from mobile wrecks of closely attached decaying metal in the outline of a vehicle that still seem to run, to the most modern of the carmakers art and the most expensive. Ancient and primitive single deck buses with unglazed windows, overflowing with passengers, some even hanging on outside the bus, compete at high speed with sleek air-conditioned coaches full of regimented ogling tourists. Myself included.
The World War II trucks and lorries in all states of repair and grossly overloaded, convey every known commodity unsteadily from store to shop. All of these and modern juggernauts shiny with chrome, mix with the distinctive black painted cabs with their white hand painted wings that makes them seem like animated beetles, all vie for their piece of roadway at breakneck speed, in these teeming streets. Somehow, as there seem to be no road-rules, these rapid and uncountable vehicles manage to avoid each other, surprisingly there aren't many collisions or accidents.
The worst road hazard is immobile vehicles, pedestrians or animals, broken down vehicles are abandoned where they fail for removal by the city authorities who do a remarkable and speedy job. Parking is done by parking attendants who park cars using a high compression technique. It is fascinating to watch. You stop your car and leave it with the key in the ignition (presumably none get stolen) and hand its possession over to a parking attendant who has no identifying marks and just walk away. This total stranger then takes the vehicle and drives or pushes it into a block of vehicles which is solid nose to tail from one side of the street, used as a parking road, to the other. Upon returning to collect the vehicle the owner approaches the attendant who, with his mates extract the vehicle, by a technique rather like making the picture on one of those sliding puzzle square games. He brings it to the owner who rewards him with a small token of his appreciation. Amazing.
Pedestrians wander back and forth across the roads apparently unaware of the traffic that takes unheard of precautions to avoid them, usually successfully. Road signs, who needs them, if you don't know where you're going you shouldn't be driving. (As an aside, even the taxi drivers get lost.) These are litter free streets, as every scrap of material is collected and recycled, constantly dusty with windblown desert detritus of sand and gravel, which is hand brushed onto neat piles in the early morning only to be redistributed during the day by the late afternoon wind.
The people dress in black and white, the men, the majority in ersil-bright white galabea show up starkly, standing out in the thick clinging black exhaust fumes and other dusty airborne pollutants in the bustling streets. The women, 'purdahed' until only their expressive eyes show through a slit in a black and mobile tent, allowing your imagination to fill in the rest of her profile.
This is a dusty city of intimately close mud-brick houses with glassless windows, that gently crumble with the years ready to be re-erected as a new building with the recycled bricks of its predecessor. Most have palm leaves bleached and dry, and other discarded material cover the flat roofs for insulation against the harsh heat and burning sunshine. A city of stark contrasts, the monochromatic well covered local population, contrasts sharply with the multi-coloured, lightly clad tourists, but there is no enmity, it's just a fact of Cairo life. Much stricter dress codes are in force outside these areas of the city and outside those normally accessible to tourists.
The bartering life of the city's riverbank dwellers in clean but dusty cardboard box homes with small plots of vegetables, contrast sharply with the monied gentry in their fine plush and ostentatious multi-storied hotels.
Where the women used to carry enormous loads in pottery pots they now balance brightly coloured plastic buckets and bowls, but the basic needs and rhythms of life have remained unchanged perhaps for 4000 years, only the trimmings have changed. Among the close packed brown houses and high rise, grand temples of intricately carved cream coloured polished stone of exotic architecture sit in their own manicured gardens.
The main roads are shiny black gloss tarmac from the constant wear of sand and tyre, contrast with the lesser roads of compacted sepia soil and windblown sand. Advertising hoardings, the few there are, are garishly hand painted invitations to see ancient Hollywood films long forgotten in the rest of the world.
Egyptian pounds, well-worn and grubby notes, change hands with the speed of light. Their value about 30 cents New Zealand (in 1995) are freely available from the nationally governed moneychangers whose rates are fixed and who, as they appear on every corner, eliminate the need to carry large quantities of cash around with you.
This is a safe, exotic and fascinating city. Everything is interesting from the smallest carving to the grandest temple, visiting this city in the land of the Pharaohs, was for me a spiritual experience.
The Meridien Hotel
Click here for Photographs
Before I went to Egypt, I decided I ought to make an attempt to learn enough Arabic to ask for a bottle of water. So I visited my local library and borrowed the ‘Learn Arabic in 5 easy lessons’ on 5 cassette tapes. With the instruction book it was supposed to be an easy learning course. I only managed to finish tape one, but this effort was appreciated everywhere I went. To at least have tried - to learn enough to say ‘thank you’ and ‘please can I have –‘, ‘yes’ and ‘no’, was the cause of great merriment and ensured good humoured, helpful service wherever we went. I’m sure my Kiwi/British accent must have made awful Arabic.
We were placed in the Meridien, a luxury hotel. I had never stayed at a luxury hotel before so it was a real treat and an eye-opener. This hotel is a multi-story, curve-fronted building, (18 stories I think), and every room in the front has its own balcony. It is built on the front of a ship-shaped island, called ‘Roda Island’ close to one side of the river Nile, with a waterway about 10 metres wide on one side and the main bulk of the river on the other. It looks somewhat like the prow of a luxury liner as the island forms the bow to this ‘ship’, and like a liner it has viewing and reclining decks and large swimming pools on its bow, as it,rides with the flow of the river.
Behind the hotel is a road bridge, over the narrow waterway, from the ‘mainland’, that sweeps up to the glass-fronted foyer. Inside, after passing through metal-detector arches, is a vast atrium with white-veined marble everything, floor, columns and walls, even the reception desk was fronted with it. We were rapidly registered and whisked to a velvet and mirrored lift with an ornmately scrolled entrance and taken to the eighth floor.
Our room was sumptuous. From the hallway we entered a corridor. On our right was a fully fitted en-suite complete with gold taps and dark marble sink bench with wall-to-wall mirror. In front of us as we entered the main room were floor to ceiling French doors leading onto our own balcony overlooking the river. From there we could see over a large portion of the inner city. Everything from golden onion-topped minarets, where the mullahs called the faithful to prayer for two minutes twice a day, to tall, unsteady looking, mud-brick office buildings. From elegant multi-story hotels to a solitary framework of a neon coke sign on top of an unfinished mud-brick tower and all in between - like the biblical abodes with all their waste and spare bits of dried palm fronds on the roof.
In front of the island is an elegant road bridge under which three rowboats were being fished from using circular nets. In the mainstream golden-roofed barges with double prow and stern, Egyptian gods in gold adorning them, plyed up and down the river accompanied by the many ‘felucca’ – single sailed ships used for everything from trade to fishing, river taxis to floating homes – I later found out that the barges were restaurants, much to my disappointment as I had envisioned them as modern day pharaohic transport.
The room was large, with 1920s style solid blocky furniture that looked like it hadn’t been polished since it was installed. A television was of a similar era in appearance with a small colour screen. There were three TV stations available, all Egyptian Soaps with intensely serious actors dressed in colourful Arabian costumes. The appliances were powered by inserting bare wires into antique sockets, very scary. Egyptian rugs, naturally, adorned the floor. The bed was Emperor size with coarse linen sheets. As we had arrived after a 26-hour flight from New Zealand via Singapore and Dubai, we just stripped to our underwear and crashed out for a few hours, but before we did – being Kiwi’s – we turned the air conditioner up from arctic, too cold for me, to cold temperate even though it was 42 degrees celcius outside.
When we awoke, water was pouring out of the roof in the passage outside the en-suite. So we telephoned the reception and told them. The first question was, ‘You Kiwi’s? - from New Zealand?’, we replied, ‘Yes’. He said, with a sigh, ‘we send man up, right now’. Obviously this phenomena was known before we arrived. Kiwi’s turn up the air-conditioning. The ice collected over years of constant use at arctic setting, melts, pours through roof, then a big mop up. The management seemed amused at this.
Our next disaster was when, as I am unsteady on my feet, I decided to lower the toilet lid and sit on it to do my morning wash, shave and clean my teeth. I sat down and the rather disgusting mustard-coloured seat and toilet ring shattered into a thousand pieces. A good job I was wearing my trousers as I shudder to think what it might have done to a naked rear end. Back to reception where the receptionist gave us a look of, ‘oh – no, not you again’, but again they were highly amused and were very concerned. I reassured them that I hadn’t hurt myself, much to their obvious relief. It was replaced before we returned to our room.
When we were not exploring the local area around the hotel on foot (more of that later), we partook of the luxury by reclining in the loungers by the pool, waving our fingers to the ever-attentive staff that kept us supplied with cold drinks. This part was pure heaven. The stuff of dreams especially as there was a conference of Arabs taking place whilst we were there. Sheiks, I suppose, in glaringly white galibeas and ornate flamboyant jewellery would sweep into the lobby from their Rolls Royce’s followed by a dozen or so wives in black purdah, and flanked by their bodyguards. They would pass rapidly into a marquee like structure, which instead of being canvas covered, was dressed in Persian/Egyptian rugs and supported with silken multi-coloured ropes with golden tassels. A magnificent sight which allowed us to imagine all sorts of Aladdin-like scenarios occurring within.
Our short stay at this hotel was an unforgettable experience.
"Insight" Tour begins.
GIZA Pyramids and Sphinx Etc.
We were booked for an “Insight” tour. On the first day we were ushered into the foyer of the hotel and separated into groups. We were then introduced to our ‘Guide’ for the tour. Our group was under the direction of - Ferris, an ex-archaeologist and Egyptologist, he told us that he had given up archaeology after a serious bout of claustrophobia in the rooms under the forecourt of Hatchetsup’s (Hot chip soup, as he insisted on calling it) Temple. He was extremely knowledgeable of all aspects of ancient Egypt and the monuments as we were soon to find out. His first question to the group was “Do you want to get up at the crack of dawn about 4.00 am and avoid the “oven of Egypt” - the midday sun - or do you want to go with everyone else and get up at the normal time?” – the answer was unanimous – get up early.
“OK.” He said, “I’ll see you here at 4.00 am tomorrow for the tour of sights near Cairo”.
This was where the tour really began. Dead on the dot of 4.00am we were all there, eager and prepared with all he had told us to take (water, cameras etc. don’t forget anything cause we are not coming back for it) and we were swiftly ushered into our luxury air-conditioned coach. It was to be the highlight of our tour, the early rising, as we had the sights to ourselves for most of our trip, seldom meeting the other tour parties, they were usually arriving just as we left for the next one.
This was to be a busy day. We set off down a nearly empty ‘Pyramid Street’, and there is no need to tell you where we were going. But first we stopped at ‘The Papyrus Factory’, more of an arcade and picture gallery than a factory. After introductions to the staff and workers and a description of the process, we were shown how papyrus has been made for thousands of years. Strange but true, Papyrus reeds are triangular which makes them good for the process. After they are cut in the wet-fields along the Nile bank, they are brought to the factory where they are sorted for thickness and cut into meter or so lengths and steeped - soaked in a trough for some time. Using a fine bladed knife (originally a finely knapped flint) the green outer skin is removed and the inner fibrous layer is peeled into fine strips. These strips are placed on a flat-topped stone after being cut into ‘page’ lengths, in lines touching each other side by side until the ‘page’ is wide enough. Another layer is then placed on top at right angles to the first. The whole is then gently pounded, more of a massage, together until it forms a cohesive sheet, the saps from the strips gluing it all together. We were told that a really skilled papyrus maker can make very thin sheets extremely quickly. The finished article is then peeled carefully off the plinth stone and laid out to dry.
We were then taken round the gallery. As we expected, the majority of the finished work were copies or recreations of temple and tomb drawings lovingly handpainted in gloriously bright colours and gold. But amongst them were some beautifully executed modern works of riverscapes, landscapes and portraits, positively exquisite but all out of my price bracket.
We were warned about cheap copies, papyrus made from banana skins. Equally well painted and apparently just as durable, but not real papyrus. ‘Most tourists cannot tell the difference’, we were told. I bought some of the ‘cheap, fake’ stuff off a street vendor, of which there were many to choose from where-ever we went. After some haggling (compulsory) I got it for a price that I thought ‘a steal’ and hugely cheaper than at the ‘factory’. It still looks great in my bedroom 9 years later. But it’s not ‘real’?
Next was a visit to ‘The Karnak Bazaar’, (the watered-down picture tiled behind this text) this was a cavern of delights in gold, silver, hardwood, ivory and ebony. These were reproductions of many of the artefacts we were to see later in the museum and tomb displays, all were on show, hung from the rafters, stacked in piles, like the treasure room in an ‘Indiana Jones’ movie. Here I ordered a silver and gold necklace of the family name on a Cartouche, the same as the Pharaohs names are displayed in hieroglyphics. It is an oval of rope containing the glyphs of their name. (A picture of my name's design is at the top left of this page) Although it was a reasonable price, when I received it the workmanship was slightly poorer than the demonstration piece shown to us in the shop. I nearly sent it back. But many of my friends who have seen it have admired it since, so perhaps I was expecting too much.
Our coach pulled into the gateway of another luxury hotel complex and parked.
We were in front of a wide sweep of rich green lawn dotted with palm trees, immaculately tended flowerbeds with bright flowers led up to the sweeping staircase to a single story building. A wonderful but unusual sight contrasting sharply with the dull sepias and greys of the surrounding area outside the walled area of the complex and a little incongruous in this pre-desert stop off. The building had the usual onion shaped domes but was of fairly modern construction. We alighted from the coach and could just see the tops of the great pyramids of Giza on the horizon through leaves of the palm trees, a tantalising glimpse of what was to be our next stop. It was a surprise to find that Giza was more of a suburb of Cairo than a separate town. Following our guide ‘Ferris’ through the gardens and then around some hotel apartments in ‘Egyptian traditional style’ but much more luxurious, no beaten earth floors here, we arrived at a large pergola style restaurant with a thatched roof supported by poles overlooking a swimming pool of Olympic proportions.
It was only breakfast time and we had already done half a days touring. I was beginning to think ‘I’m going to need a holiday after this holiday’.
Back on the bus and we had hardly left the gate when the bus was climbing the short steep 50-meter escarpment to a slightly higher plateau. This was true desert, a plain of grey-brown dirt with nothing living, the view almost all around to the horizon vanished in the heat haze. To our left and down the slope was Cairo, its high buildings poking out from under its choking, like breathing cotton-wool (we had to suck cough lozenges to breathe on some occasions) grubby grey fog of vehicle pollution.
All was flat desert except for poking up fom it were several small and three rather larger pyramids. Racing alongside our bus were several cameleers urging on their beasts, as they sat unsteadily on be-tasselled carpeted chairs set on the hump of their mounts. They were all hoping to arrive at their enclosure before we parked. Expecting that they could hire the camel for a ride to the base of the pyramid of Cheops. None of us did.
We parked in an area marked out with archaeological blocks salvaged from the surrounding ruins, I suppose it is all there is to use. The Tourism police keep the cameleers, traders and souvenir marketers in their own area; this was the norm all over Egypt. The traders had to wait until we approached them for a sale; they were not allowed to accost us first. If they stepped out of their area they were forcibly returned behind their line with a beating with truncheons. This was usually accompanied with much arm waving and loud and voluble Arabic on both sides. We saw this several times but the traders seemed to accept this with stoic and good-humoured fortitude.
By now it was approaching the dry 'oven of Egypt' Ferris had told us about and it was only mid-early-morning. We were invited totake pictures as this site was chosen because all the pyramids could be taken in one shot. We scurried back into our air-conditioned bus.
The next park was close to the base of the pyramid of Cheops, some of the party ventured onto the pyramid, climbing the blocks as the entrance was some way up the pyramid, trekking up the passageway and into the tomb chamber. I declined this trip. When they returned they were hot, tired and not impressed. The chamber was small square and unadorned. The passageway steep, narrow and long and with so many hot people in a continuous line in and out all day every day was not just a little smelly but distinctly malodourous. I’m glad I didn’t attempt it. While they were away I was amused by the trading going on for camel and donkey rides and the small squares of dishcloth and circular double ropes which constituted cooling Arab headgear for the consumption of tourists. Much more cheaply available elsewhere.
Pyramids are large; they are after all one of the Seven Wonders of the World. How large do you expect them to be? Well, frankly I expected them to be colossal. Maybe it’s because there is nothing to compare them with on this flat plain - except the bus, a few camels and donkeys and the people climbing on it but they didn’t seem that huge. Not that they weren’t sort of enormous but I suppose, having seen so many pictures of them and other big structures, even standing at the base they seemed less massive than I had envisioned. It was a strange feeling having come half way round the globe just to see them. They must have been eye-burningly white and shiny, visible for kilometers. With their flat polished sandstone covering and the gold topknots which they had in their prime they would have stood out breathtakingly magnificent against the cloudless clear blue of the pollution free ancient Egyptian sky.
On to the Sphinx, this is a truly incredible structure, it is a great pity it was used for target practice by Napoleon’s troops as. Even with the erosion it can be seen to be a masterpiece of sculpture. We were allowed to walk down the road beside it but as it was morning we couldn’t photograph it as the burning sun was right behind it. I attempted a picture from beside the bus as it was in a better position but the details of the face are not good as it is in shade.
There was a roundabout being constructed by the Sphinx and it too looked as if they had marked it out with more of the bits from the surrounding ruined architecture. Maybe bits of ruins are a movable commodity, useful for re-building.
From here we had to traverse the city streets again to get to our next destination the Cairo Museum. The streets are not as you or I know them as everything and everybody uses them. Mixed in with the mass of vehicles, carts and animals which, especially at 'roundabouts' - intersections where there is no correct way (just the shortest or fastest) to go from one road to the next - is mixed with a scrum of people also seeming to have no particular direction to go. Road signals, traffic lights, signs and policemen are just ignored by the melee. On our way I observed in the traffic an extremely large Arab lady seated on the back of a donkey-drawn cart. We were inching alon(is there a metric equivalent to this, perhaps centimetering along) as it was just about gridlocked. As I looked, the lady was screaming what seemed like abuse at her husband who was walking level with the animal’s ear. Unexpectedly the donkey’s legs went spread-eagled on the ground and then rolled on its side. It looked as if the poor thing had died in the traces. The steeply tilted cart still had the woman sitting on it shrieking louder, and louder. The husband took some tree branches off the cart and started beating the ‘dead’ animal. The man then ceased the beating and tried to lift the beasts behind in an attempt to get the creature standing again while signalling the woman to get off the cart. She was most obviously indignantly refusing to do. I didn’t see the outcome of this drama as the bus then moved on leaving them out of sight. But the incident left quite an impression on me.
Cairo Museum, we were allowed a couple of hours to view this ancient storehouse. The fašade is reminiscent of some of the European cathedrals. Just inside in the foyer was church like as well, except for the small garish kiosk selling videos, books and picture albums of the exhibits, maps and photographic film, this I felt was odd, as we were not allowed to take photographs inside the museum. It was severely dusty Victorian in style on two floors. The exhibits were truly amazing and showed that the Egyptians of 4000 years plus ago were a skilled and truly sophisticated race. From the mesmerising gold headpiece of Tutankhamen to the incredibly beautifully crafted jewellery right down to the carved wooden articulated dolls and toy chariots, the skill, craftsmanship and art of these people was astonishing.
Less impressive and gruesome, from my point of view, was the mummification and after-life process all explained in intimate and gross detail as they removed vital parts and put them in Canopic jars, dried the bodies with nitre for 43 days and then wrapped them in bandages to much chanting and insertion of offerings and gifts to the gods within the wrappings.
It was incredibly hot,like being inside a stove with the regulo set on full, and crowded in the building and much of the viewing was done in a slow continuous shuffle. A special display of mummies, required an additional charge to view, I declined the offer. Back outside, the bus was surrounded by Arab hawkers selling all manner of goods, one was a packet of 10 papyrus for a few Egyptian pounds, which I knocked down to 2 EP which was about 60 cents NZ, as I mentioned before ‘a steal’.
Again we negotiated the teeming traffic of Cairo our Egyptian driver negotiating the chaos with uncanny skill making it look easy. We were off to Saqqara, the stepped pyramid, to see the oldest surviving man-made structure on the globe. On the way there we were diverted through some back streets off the normal route, the road was barely wide enough for the bus, and with the throngs of people hardly moving out of the way, it was slow progress. There were traders with their wares, fish vegetables and other commodities neatly laid out on wooden crates while the trader squatted, sometimes within a cardboard carton for protection, precariously balanced on the edge of the canal wall. Since an inadvertent introduction of the plant, the inland waterways are being steadily but slowly clogged with water hyacinth, beautiful but deadly as it uses all the air in the water and the fish die. We saw many gangs dredging and cutting this weed but apparently it is spreading faster than it can be removed. It could spell disaster for the City.
Moving away from the city we could see that there were many crops being grown on the fertile soil that is now gradually depleted as without the annual floods, stopped since the Aswan high dam was built, there is no rejuvenation of the soil. As we turned off the road back towards the desert there was a grove of high palm trees laden with date bunches, some red, some yellow, their leaves hanging limply in the still air. Ferris told me that these were the two main varieties grown for consumption; I didn’t know that there were many types of dates before this.
Returning to dry dusty plant free desert, past a number of ‘piles of stones and dirt’ failed pyramids we were told, up a short slope and there it was Saqqara, the stepped pyramid, guarded by a solitary and extremely neat policeman on a beautiful white camel adorned with colourful tassels, a brightly carpeted hump chair and with a big gun. By this time I was too tired to join the rest of the party in a closer look at the pyramid, so I remained in the cool bus while the policeman sat motionless on his camel, passively watching our group.
Ferris took the group around the back of the pyramid, away from the regular tourist area, there he showed them the cedar of Lebanon trees in the passageway inside the structure used in the original construction of the building, still as good as new, and an area where the Egyptian games were held thousands of years before the Olympic games were thought of by the Greeks. The group were away for quite some time and the policeman on his pretty camel started to look really anxious. I don’t know what he thought they were doing but he certainly looked worried. The authorities were worried in case they lost any tourists as terrorists had ambushed a group a few weeks before. Maybe our policeman thought he had lost them.
On our way to Memphis between more fields, crops I could not identify but looked like long grass perhaps it was papyrus, the old capital of northern Egypt, it turned out to be a small village with a ‘garden’ of statues in an enclosure next to a large building where to view an enormous statue of ‘Rameses’ we had to climb to the upper level by stairs as the statue was lying on its back. By now we were pretty well sight-seen out for the day so we set off back to Cairo for a well-deserved rest and cool drink. (It wasn’t until the last day in Egypt that we discovered the bus had a refrigerator behind the drivers seat) We’d been drinking bottled water getting warmer and warmer throughout our trip.
One last stop on the dusty road back at a two story Egyptian home a bit bigger than usual in the classic no-window mud and straw brick construction with an opening at one end the size of a single car garage door. Just inside this door were two upright carpet looms. Little girls about eight years old were busily threading and knotting the fibres. They were overlooked by a stern man who loomed as if he might be a bit physical if they slowed their work. Their father we were informed. We were also told they use young girls because their fingers are small enough to fit between the threads of the looms weft/warp - I’m not sure which it was. The rest of the downstairs was open beaten earth. Upstairs was a complete contrast, carpet rugs were hanging all around the walls and in piles on the floor. Most were in the brightly coloured traditional patterns of the Berber and other tribes, but on the walls amongst them were rugs with the childlike designs of preschool, abstract designs, pictures of oases, waterscapes and animals, wonderful freehand carpet-work. So unexpected in such a desolate, remote and unattractive building. This though was most definitely the last stop for the day, thank goodness, as we were all exhausted and tomorrow we were flying to Aswan.
Flight to Aswan
Flight to Aswan pictures
Our second day with ‘Insight;’ and we could sleep in, as our Air Egypt flight to Aswan wasn’t leaving until 10 am and the bus was picking us up at 9.00am. So we were all ready in the lobby in plenty of time complete with our baggage. The bus was slightly late so after a quick check, throwing the bags into the bus locker and a scramble onto the bus we were off to Cairo Airport.
Schumacher would have been left in our dust as our Egyptian driver was frantic and drove like a maniac all the way there, it was frightening. We stopped for nothing, traffic lights, pedestrians, nothing - just a blare of horns and watch out. We screamed all over the road at high speed swaying recklessly weaving through the traffic, mounting the pavement to get round blockages – and I thought the Spanish taxi drivers were the worst – I was wrong. Ferris who was standing in the bus aisle counting us and collecting papers etc. seemed to be used to this and totally ignored the headlong journey to hell, as if it was a normal trip.
Much to our amazement we arrived at Cairo airport by 10am in time and intact. When we had all trooped into the departure hall and formed into a huddle we were told the flight would be delayed. No reason or time scale was supplied, just ‘please wait to be called’. We waited, 11 am came, nothing happened, no news. We waited, 12 noon came and went, no news. In the end my wife succumbed, she had to go to the toilet. As is the way of things, the very instant she disappeared into the ‘Ladies Room’, we were called to board.
I tried to explain in bad Arabic that my wife was not there. He insisted that I board the plane, pushing me in the direction of the gate. ‘La, la’, I said, stalling as much as I could – no, no - I can’t go my wife is not here. ‘You hurry, please’, he said. Fortunately she appeared a moment later so we were last onto the plane. When we were seated we were told the plane was to be delayed a bit longer as the mechanics had some further work to do before we could leave. So we sat, and sat. We then discovered that the problem was that they couldn’t get some of the overhead lockers to stay shut. A helpful Kiwi leapt to his feet, slammed the lockers shut and taped them closed. All was well. We could now depart for Aswan.
The pilot was told, the engines roared, and we taxied off to a runway. We lined up and waited at the end of a runway for a while expecting to take off at any moment, nothing happened. Then oddly we taxied to another runway, lined up and waited, nothing happened. Then again we taxied to yet another runway, the same thing. Obviously the pilot didn’t like any of the runways offered. Eventually he found one he liked and we took off. The plane rattled a bit, much more than we were used to on other national airlines, but we were on our way. It was a flight of an hour and a half.
We didn’t seem to be flying as high as the international flights do so we were able to see rather more of the scenery below us than usual. We flew down a corridor to the west of the Nile going south. I was on the left of the plane so got the best view. To the east of the Nile which meanders quite loopily – the side of the dead - is a narrow fertile strip which quickly becomes the foot of the steep cliffs which lead to the higher level of desert on the Suez Canal (which we couldn’t see) side for almost the entire length of the river. We were low enough to see the fairly regularly spaced tourist cruise ships all along the way, some 600 of them I believe. We were soon to join them.
On the west side is a wider extremely green fertile plain about 2 or 3 kilometres wide, its width varies, and it fades gradually into the Sahara desert. After about a quarter of an hour we were presented with our in-flight meal. In the plastic film box (children’s play lunch box in bright colours) we were presented with was a slice of currant cake and a small white china plate and cup. The cake was ok, a bit dry but tasted fine. The stewardess came and poured for you, either thick coffee or equally thick tea from those Egyptian pots with the long open topped spouts. Actually it tasted pretty good. After use the plastic containers, cups and plates were carefully retrieved, presumably for the next flight, except for one which mysteriously disappeared, found later in our hand luggage, happily used by our grandson at school on our return for some time.
When we landed in Aswan, everyone clapped, mainly, I think, in relief that we had arrived. We clambered down the stairs onto bare desert with a dilapidated corrugated–iron shed nearby into which we were directed. The temperature outside was 48 degrees Celsius – inside the shed – unbearable. We were again delayed as we waited for the bus to arrive as it had returned to service because we were not there much earlier in the day at the correct time. We sweltered, grumbled amongst ourselves and sweated. By now tempers were getting a little frayed.
Eventually the bus arrived and wasn’t the air-conditioned interior welcome. As we were so late, we had a quick tour without stopping to all the sights in Aswan, finally being offloaded and boarded on our cruise ship, The Nile Beauty, for our evening meal. The cruise ships were moored four or more abreast at the many berths along the shore, there are many steps down the bank to board them. Each ship has a ‘nationality’, ours, English speaking. We had with us several Kiwis, many Australians and South Africans, and a couple of English speaking Asians. The other ships, boarded through ours, as we were closest to the dock, and which tramping through the middle of our ship accessed, were French, German and Spanish speaking.
Our cabin was on the waterline at the bow and on the port (left) side, facing front. It was a dark-mahogany lined room a bit over two meters square with a tiny en-suite, a dressing table and a double bed, cosy. A porthole just above the deck at this berth looked out at a walkway wide strip of deck, about 1 meter of dark Nile water, a berthing rope and a sandstone wall, not exactly picturesque but at least it let in some light.
After the meal we were free for the evening. Many went for a walk, not surprisingly, as we had been sitting for nearly all day. As the ship was berthed some distance from the town we were able to sneak a look at how the people lived away from the commercial and tourist area. It was interesting to see televisions in dirt-floored mud-brick adobe covered dwellings that are probably almost as old as the ruins around them. The design is still the same as they have always been, a family room downstairs, a bedroom on a higher level, and outdoor living on the roof. Some were also acting as shops with meat carcases hanging outside, or examples of their wares around the door in the street. An old man or woman sitting discreetly just inside the door was watching everything that was happening on the street. Children were rushing about everywhere and often stopped to beg for money.
A lady tourist, well prepared, was giving out Biro’s by the hand-full. She told us that the things the children were short of at Egyptian schools were writing instruments and paper. I’m sure she must have had a suitcase full of them as we saw her giving them out for the entire five days we were on the tour. Slowly we all returned to the ship as it got dark, there were only a few outside lights to guide our way. The rest had stayed on board to savour the offerings of the bar deck and the company there. With the usual goodnight’s we then retired to see what delights and adventures our second day would bring.
Aswan and Kom Ombo
Philae - pictures
Kom Ombo - pictures
Today we started with an early 4.00 am call to breakfast. When we arrived in the dining room we queued to await our turn to have a large fierce looking Arab (he only needed a scimitar) cook our breakfasts of eggs, scrambled or omeletted, whisked with a fork and cooked in a dainty frying pan over a tiny gas-burner straight onto our plate. It was a frightening if delicious way to start the day.
Then for me, a hard climb, helped by half the tour party it seemed and with much laughter from all, I crawled up the steep steps of the dock to the awaiting bus.
Our first visit for the day was to the ‘Temple of Isis’ on the island of Philae. We arrived at the departure point for the island where the ubiquitous line of traders were marshalled onto their side of the road and awaited us. Their stalls were stacked with massive piles of carpets, Galibea, statues of the Egyptian gods, papyrus pictures and all the other touristy collectibles. The same goods were everywhere else, so there was no need to buy and carry at this early stage in our tour, as we had already worked out that purchasing at the last stop saved the encumbrance of goodies. There was one thing special on sale at this venue, however, a toy ornamental lute-like instrument that only played a few notes. A number of the other groups were to accompany us to this venue as we all had to be ferried to the site, many of them purchased these instruments. The plunking of lutes accompanied us all day, after a while it became extremely annoying.
At the dock a sizeable fleet for ferrying us to the island was lined up. They were flat-bottomed boats with slatted wooden seats down the middle and all around the edge, an overall canvas sun awning, and driven by outboard motors. They were quickly filled and the small armada set off. When we arrived at the island, strangely there was only room for one boat at a time to offload its passengers and then all the boats had to moor offshore to wait for us to finish our visit. This was another rebuilt monument saved from the river, like Abu Symbel (which I didn’t visit), but as it was a site rebuilt - surely they could have made a bigger disembarking area. We were beginning to wonder how many monuments were re-constructed like ‘Washington’s Axe’, a new venue - rearranged ruins.
The majority of the ruins are temples and they all have a similar structural design. At the front a main courtyard surrounded by a roofed colonnade – where the public came and sat, out of the blazing sun. The underside of these roofs brightly decorated with star and other complex designs, often soot smothered where the cooking fires of the hopeful consultants waited. Many came and waited for long periods, weeks or months, to see the priests and mentors for advice or decisions. An outer sanctum where the ordinary priests resided and gave audience, this area usually had an entrance flanked by large stone pylons covered with hieroglyphics and pictorials.
An inner sanctum where only the highest ranked priests would live and were only consulted by priests seeking advice and clarification on difficult issues. Often there was a further sanctuary within that, where the highest ranked priest lived in isolation. On the walls of these inner sanctuaries were carved hieroglyphs and pictures, histories of the pharaohs and their names in cartouches, accounts of their deeds and family genealogy.
On the majority of the remains, apart from the decay of the ages, many of the designs, pictorials and hieroglyphs have been desecrated or destroyed by successive regimes and religions each eager to suppress the writings and knowledge of the former regime. However, fortunately much remains intact.
The great bas-relief pictures of the pharaohs on the pylons at Philae had been ‘pecked’ all over to remove the identity of those pictured by the workers of a later regime. The sheer size and dominance of these pylons was impressive they must have been about 20 metres tall.
Back onshore and back in the bus we were on the move again to visit the high dam. We were told that this was a militarily sensitive area being close to the Syrian Border, there was a war going on, and we were allowed to look around but advised to stay in the designated area where we disembarked from the bus and definitely no pictures. We arrived and were duly deposited in a bus-bay about a third of the way across the dam, an earth built dam with little we were able to see but sloping earth down to the river below. At each end of the bay was a listless looking soldier in a sentry hut partly surrounded by greenery.
Ferris began to tell us about the huge task of engineering needed to build it, when, as always in any tour party there was one smartass who disregarded the advice of the tour-guide. Without warning, for a reason known only to him, he walked to the far side of the roadway, the up-stream side of the dam, and whipped out his camera. In the blink of an eye the soldiers who had appeared to be asleep were all round him with their automatic rifles at the ready. It took Ferris some time to cool the guards down and explain the stupidity of this fellow. It was a scary moment.
Our next stop was the antique quarry. The site was where obelisks were carved directly out of the stone face of the hill. Some were obviously only partly excavated. We discovered that after starting the excavation and considerable work with their bronze tools, sometimes a flaw developed in the stone and the work had to be abandoned. One can only imagine the disappointment of the workers after so much effort.
We re-embarked on the Nile Beauty and the ship immediately cast off for a pleasant cruise down river to Kom Ombo. Here there were fewer steps but with the help of many hands I reached the top. The temple was only a short walk from the dock but it was lined with the biggest collection of traders and stalls we saw anywhere in Egypt. The tourist police kept the over enthusiastic of them at bay as we walked to the temple entrance.
Kom Ombo temple is on a small hillock on the bank overlooking the river, it is dedicated to two gods, Sobeck, the crocodile headed god and, Horus, the falcon headed god which in itself is unusual as most temples are dedicated to only one god.
We were told that ‘Kom’ means hill or path and ‘Ombo’ means gold, and that this was the frontier town to the routes from Nubia, Sahara and central Africa along which all the gold came into ancient Egypt, from here it was distributed throughout the country.
The temple gives us another unique insight into Egyptian history and life as, among the usual hieroglyphs is a calendar depicting the religious and secular rituals and festivals for every day of their year, which was composed of twelve - thirty day months and a five-day ‘holiday and feasting’ period between years.
We then returned to the ship again, to choose from a roomful of Egyptian costumes, from galibea to belly dance, for our ‘Galibea party’ to be held that night. After relaxing for the rest of the afternoon – I say relaxing – not strictly true - as a large proportion of the members of the tourists in this section of the fleet of cruisers had ‘The pharaoh’s revenge’ or gastroenteritis, and were not ‘relaxing’ at all. The ship set sail for Edfu and in the morning we would be visiting the temple in our costumes, but it was time to dress in our chosen costumes for dinner and afterwards we were escorted to the upper deck lounge for dancing and party games, a late but enjoyable evening.
Edfu and the cruise to Thebes
Edfu and locks at Esna - pictures
The morning after the Galibea party and we were all a bit subdued – understandably – but we were, as advised, all dressed in our Ancient Egyptian finery and ready for our usual early start. The locals seemed unphased by a herd of foreigners in fancy dress, but are probably used to the strange antics of their tourists. Lined up and chomping, at the disembarkation area was our transport in the form of horse drawn hansom cabs. These magnificent gleaming cabs and their propulsion were in polished and studded black leather tack, adorned with coloured tassels and small photographs or mirrors in silver frames shining and flashing in the morning light. Also as advised, as the drivers tend to over exert their animals, we asked for a leisurely trot to the centre of Edfu from where, we were told, it was but a short walk to the temple. As we approached the main square it became more and more obvious that we would never get there in the cab.
There was chaos – in addition to the many horse-drawn hansom cabs, the tour coaches, trying to get to their ships to pick up passengers, were pushing against the general flow. Locals in large numbers were milling around, some were even trying to sell their wares in the crush. Hansom cab horses – now spooked, were snorting, tossing and rearing about. Some camels resignedly stubborn were holding their positions, whilst tour operators were trying to marshal their groups together to get to the temple, around them all. – All this, in a small square with only two entrances just wide enough for the coaches. We disencabbed, if there is such a word, and in a “Conga” line our entire party slid around the outside of the square and exited into the temple grounds through its small gate with relative ease and no drama. Around us there was the furore of horns, neighs, shouts, camel snorts, donkey brays and other noises of disagreement from the rest of the assembled population of animals, people and vehicles, and it was extremely hot.
The temple in Edfu has been relatively recently discovered. The story goes, that someone requiring a new portion to his house found upon excavating foundations they had struck stonework. Investigation of the stonework showed that it was the roof of a temple. The French Foreign Legion excavated the temple using a sand vacuum system to remove the colossal amount of sand accumulated over thousands of years around the temple. They didn’t realise at the time, but the friction of the sand in this operation was also abrading and destroying the major part of the painted decorations.
What remains is a huge hole in the town in which is the Temple of Horus. We marvelled at the size of the courtyard in front of the temple, the amount of sand excavated must have been fantastic. Two granite effigies of Horus stand, one each side of the entrance to the temple. Our group had its group photograph taken in front of the least damaged of the two statues. Inside, where the colonnades are, the decorated portions of the roof are blackened, as in other temples, where the pilgrims and citizens waited to have their grievances heard. On the floor are outlines of feet where in boredom the wait-ers have run their fingers around their feet until they formed a groove in the sandstone.
At this point, whether due to the heat – in the dress-up clothes, ‘Pharaohs revenge’, lack of water or what, I became decidedly groggy and faint. I, like a pilgrim of 4000 years previously, sat in the colonnaded shade until the group returned from its tour. I don’t remember the trip back to the ship. But, presumably after ministration of, coolth in our air conditioned cabin, water, a change of clothes and some medication, I quickly recovered from my incapacity.
As soon as all the members of the tour had returned, we cast off for our continued trip upriver. The gentle cruise was just what we all wanted and probably needed after the furious activity, early starts and sickness of the previous days. Sitting on the upper deck cabin in a comfortable sofa, the ‘musac’ of Abba drifting on the cool breeze generated by our ship’s movement. A cool drink in my hand and the green banks of the Nile sliding slowly by seemed like heaven. Many others of our tour seemed to be of the same opinion, as a contented hush settled. Conversation petered out and all that could be heard was the chug of the motor, the flap of the flags at the bow and the splash of the children in the pool on the deck below.
But, alas, it wasn’t going to last forever. Soon, with much jockeying, and a lot shouting in Arabic (swearing maybe) by the crew, our ship was shuffled into its correct position to negotiate a narrow opening in a pontoon stretching the entire width of the river. A small boy, eight or nine years old, was perched on the pontoon begging for money. Some of the tour party beckoned that they were willing to make him a donation and a discussion party formed to decide how this was to be achieved. A collection of small denomination notes was made. But how were we going to get them to him? Meanwhile we had passed through the passage and were departing, fast. We waved to him to move down so that we could throw our collection to him. By now someone had ingeniously folded the notes and enclosed them in a photograph film plastic drum. The problem was that we were rapidly leaving him behind and by now it was much too far to throw. He started to run. Off the pontoon he ran and along the bank. We knew that there was no way we were going to throw it to the shore to him – did the boy know something we didn’t? Evidently, as after about two kilometres, we slowed and joined another queue of ships to pass through a lock this time. Just before the lock there was was a jetty that stuck right out into the river, close to which we had to pass. He raced to the end of it. There were some other boys there. The container was lobbed as hard as could be, but it fell in the water just at the feet of the boys already there. When they went to collect it there was a howl from the donors, which was just enough distraction for our boy to dive in and retrieve the prize. There was a cheer from all along our ship. I think that boy earned his money that day.
Getting a Nile cruise ship through a lock, only centimetres wider than itself, is a difficult and noisy task. Not much technology is involved, but there is much loud Arabic, engine bells tolling, vigourous steerage to and fro on the wheel, poles manipulated and multiple foot pushing. You’d think they would have mastered it by now as the operation is performed many times a day. Two ships pass through every time the lock is used. All this is blithely over looked by indifferent, bored and listless guards armed to the teeth.
We returned to our version of heaven for a short while. Overseeing the goings on as we passed by. As the river is the lifeblood of the country, everything happens on the riverbank. We saw all the everyday life of the ordinary Egyptian. We saw, clothes, children and animals being washed. Cooking fires streamed their smoke into the desert on the prevailing wind. Small donkey caravans of goods and harvested crops wended their slow way along the paths; farmers scythed their crops and collected them into piles (no stooking here). The activities, reminiscent of a daily life unchanged in thousands of years, played themselves out for us on the bank as our wake gently rippled along the shore.
Last day of tour, Thebes and back to Cairo
Thebes, The Tombs and Karnack - pictures
As usual we were up early. It was just a short bus trip to the ferry that was taking us
across the Nile. This time it was a larger Felucca come sailing barge with
enough room on it for all of us. Off the floating transport on the other side
and onto another bus which was taking us to the funereal side of the river the
east side where all the tombs are located.
Our first stop was at the Colossi of Memnon, two large but badly damaged statues, looking neglected in a field. We didn’t get off the bus but just looked and took photographs as the locals continued farming around their bases as if they, and we, weren’t there. No proper roads here, just dirt and wheel tracks where previous tour buses have been. We rolled through villages, loose collections of houses scattered in clumps on the landscape. The locals ignored us carrying on with their meagre existence apparently oblivious to our passing - except the children who danced around and waved at us, we waved back. They seemed delighted to be acknowledged. All, houses, road, even the children, was a dusty, gritty grey-brown with almost no colour once we had moved away from the river.
Hatshepsut’s temple was our first encounter on this day with, ‘the history’ as Ferris, our guide, called it. This structure is huge and in front of it is a large open flat space. The bus parked near the edge of this space. Ferris informed us that under the open space and even under the bus were catacombs, myriad rooms and passages that extended further than had been explored. He told us that it was when he was exploring these very tunnels that he developed the severe claustrophobia that prevented him from continuing to be an archaeologist and become a tour guide. It was an exhausting and long walk in the heat from the bus across the open flat space and up the gently sloping causeway to the colonnade, behind which is normally a temple’s inner sanctums, but here it is built flat against the cliff rock wall. It is just a false front giving the look of a whole temple. It is beautifully painted in typical Egyptian style on the back-wall under the colonnade and the blue under-roof is covered in gold stars. It is a magnificently grand, if deceptive, structure.
On to the Valley of Queens where we were shown one tomb, a twisting passage protected by sheets of transparent material (glass/plastic) to protect the murals from our breath and body oils as they had been found to be deteriorating from the passage of so many people. The other appeared to be just a hole in the barren rocky ground at the bottom of a short valley into the defile from the cliff face to the desert above.
Next the Valley of Kings, this area has been excavated and turned over for many years by many expeditions. Like the Valley of Queens it is a barren rocky defile in the cliff face up to the desert above, a bit bigger than that of the Queens. At the bottom where the busses park is a building, that acts as a shelter, rest room, souvenir and refreshment area for the whole complex. Behind this building and up the sloping dirt road is the Valley of Kings defile, basically a small valley in the reddish rock of the cliffs. The valley floor looks like there have been several rock falls and avalanches as it is covered in rubble, the boulders range from car sized blocks to small gravel. Many paths and walkways have been dug to make access easier. We were told that much of the valley floor was the dirt of previous diggings, which makes the search for new tombs more difficult.
It was quite a long walk and the day was beginning to heat up. I went into two tombs. The first, Tutankhamun’s tomb, this was one of the, must see, items for me and I wasn’t disappointed. The entrance is down a steep stairway, lit by sparce low wattage bulbs on a cable strung from the roof, which is quite hard to negotiate even for able people, so for me was slow and careful progress a step at a time. The locals were helpful and assisted me. At the bottom of the steps, on the left is the chamber where all the treasures were found, on the right and in a slightly lower chamber is where the sarcophagus was found. It now contains a glass box with a representation of the inner box with the mummy in it. The real contents are in the Museum in Cairo, where we had seen the gold headpiece and the full sarcophagus. I wondered how they got it in and out of the chamber as it looked to me to be much larger than the hole that had contained it. The wall paintings are magnificent and appear so fresh after 4000 or so years. The significance of the monkey’s painted on the end wall and the story behind the rest of the hieroglyphic texts were explained to us. (This information on the murals and texts is available through other sources).
The second tomb we visited was that of Ramses VI. This tomb, a single room with an arched roof contains the detailed, intricate and crowded mural on the walls of the complete text of the ‘Book of the Dead’ or ‘Books of the Afterlife’. The walls are white plaster and the whole room is painted in black, red and gold. The roof is also magnificently special and represents ‘The book of the Sky’ in two halves divided at the apex of the roof, the goddess Nut gives birth to the sun as a scarab beetle in the morning and swallows it again in the evening. She is divided into twelve, hourly sections and covered in five pointed stars. That these pictures have survived over four millennia in such good condition is a miracle. We then returned to the tearoom oasis and waited in the cool until the rest of the tour party completed their viewing, then back to the ship for refreshments.
The last place we visited, Karnack Temple in Thebes we visited twice. First, we browsed the huge complex at will for most of the afternoon and then in the evening for the ‘Light and Sound Show’.
The Karnack Temple complex is designed completely differently from all the others. In front of the entrance is a causeway lined with hundreds of statues of lions, this causeway used to be a couple of kilometres long leading from the palace to the temple but today it is only a couple of hundred metres long due to building between the two. The outer courtyard is similar to other temples but is colonnaded on the left side only. The entrance to the next area is flanked with 10 metre high statues of Ramses, the hall beyond is a ‘Hippostyle’ hall. This is a forest of tall fat columns, part of the Agatha Christie film ‘Death on the Nile’, the falling rock sequence, was filmed in here ‘spooky’. Through the hall to a courtyard where the companion needle to the ‘Cleopatra’s Needle on the north bank of the Thames in London is located. A right turn, then through a wide passage where reconstruction work is being done on the wall carvings. Into another large open space, turning left and passing through into the square sacred lake area where the lightshow was performed.
The ‘Sound and Light show’ is performed in four languages, two languages each on consecutive days, repeated continuously. Fortunately the ‘English’ performance was on the day we arrived – good planning?- everyone was ushered to the stadium of seats on the far side of the sacred lake. When it gets dark the show starts, narrated by Richard Burton and others who re-enact the history of Egypt and the Pharoahs with storytelling, spoken acting, sound effects, coloured and moving lights. The lights and speakers are situated all over the complex that you overlook from these high up seats, the effect is awesomely spectacular and in parts quite scary.
The following morning we were bussed around Thebes and shown the other temples as we passed on our way to the airport and our return to Cairo which was were the official tour ended.
Dianne and I stayed on for a few days to see the sights of Cairo but we were so tired from the hectic schedule of the tour that when we returned to our hotel that we slept for 18 hours straight and missed the first two days, however, in between outings we relaxed on the recliners by the pool watching the golden barges and fallucas float gently by under an Egyptian sun. This was a fantastic feeling as we pretended to be rich tourist, whilst the attentive hotel staff attended to our every need. I think I could get used to this lifestyle.
We visited on foot, near to the hotel, a palace where in one of the luxurious rooms in the gatehouse a ‘James Bond’ episode was filmed. We were then enticed by a keeper into a ‘museum’, a long room which was only lit after the keeper inserted bare wires into a less than safe-looking badly broken socket attached to frayed wires going onto a crack in the wall. The room contained mainly stuffed animals of all types from small birds to a whole Nile crocodile and a hippopotamus, all in various states of decay, affixed all over the walls and floor. There were also Victorian glass-topped display cabinets that contained knives and swords of every wickedly sharp design and size and other miscellaneous pieces collected from around the world by the former owner. I was quite glad to get out of there in the finish, the keeper was extremely proud of his display giving an in depth and lengthy description of all their individual virtues and how they were obtained.
Our swansong was to visit the world famous Khan al-Khalili bazaar. This complicated mix of mosques, shops, craftsmen, money lenders, resturants and dubious trades and tradesmen covers an area of about two blocks square and is a warren of small roads or paths barely two metres wide. Bravely or foolishly we went alone into this unknown area. It was fascinating and I didn’t feel threatened or in danger at all whilst we were there. Our main problem was a persistent and obnoxious man who assured us he was an official guide. We tried vigourously and emphatically to tell him that his services were not needed. Even the shopkeepers, where he couldn’t see them, indicated by sign language that they thought he was a little crazy. He persisted until a helpful shopkeeper, a trader in cotton fabrics, directed us through his shop and out of the back door to get this pest off our case. The shops and traders are fascinating as they deal in raw product in bulk, sacks of spices of every hue and odour are stacked roof high in one shop and bolts of pure silk in every shade the next. A craftsman hammers incessantly inlaying gold and silver into plates, the large wire coils of the valuable metals in the dirt next to his small stool in the doorway to his shop where he works. Next door - meat, skinned heads and carcases of camels, goats and other beasts hang in the street beside them the roasted aroma of strong coffee and sacks of coffee beans. Products of every kind abound in these bustling, noisy alleys. Some roads in the area are ‘no go’ areas for Westeners and we were politely but firmly directed away from them. It was an experience of a lifetime and with the many redirections we found ourselves lost in the maze. Fortunately the inhabitants are friendly and helpful and they soon put us back on track showing us the way out of the market.
It had been an exhausting but interesting and spiritually uplifting adventure. I’d love to go back but with the deteriorating political scene in the Middle East, my increasing age and the distance to get there I think it unlikely. However, fingers crossed it may happen. You never know.
THE STORY ENDS HERE