Shokran for the memories, Egypt
* Shokran means thank you in Egyptian
OMG! What an introduction to Cairo. After a 27 hour flight and transit time, we arrived and were met by Mohammad - imagine that! After clearing immigration & customs, we were on our way across the sprawling metropolis of Cairo as our hotel, The Safir, was not found in the city of Cairo but instead over the Nile into Giza.
Let's talk traffic! Well, I'd have to quote my opening statement of OMG as there didn't seem to be an ounce of common sense involved and no rules as far as I could distinguish... except that those who toot their horns the most usually manage to bully their way into the lane they want. Not that the lanes meant anything either as people drive down the centre of the road - two a-breast on a one lane road, or 4 or 5 abreast on a two lane - jostling with each other for space; and that includes all forms of car, motorbike, motorbikes with backends as trailers, pushbikes, donkeys, horse and cart and camels...you name it, it’s on the road.
Cairo is a real eye-opener! What I thought was a poverty ridden city with houses having scarcely more than three walls, often with no fourth wall or roof at all, to three storied buildings with steps rising to nowhere, I discovered there's a method behind the madness of living within the semi built houses - it’s a tax dodge! Egyptians register their buildings as one, two or three storeys; finish only part of the home and are only expected to pay tax once completed.
My first sight of the Pyramids from the aeroplane window had me greedily wanting more. And more is what you get. Our very talented and knowledgeable guide had us roaming the Pyramids, listening to the history and climbing onto the backs of camels to get the perfect view of the nine, yes nine, Pyramids of Giza.
Lucky for us, our camel ride detoured around behind the pyramids where we were able to get a photograph of all nine of the pyramids of Giza; the 3 large ones for the pharaohs and the 6 miniature ones for their wives. After dismounting from the dizzying height of our sturdy steeds, we walked across the heat hazed sands to visit the Sphinx. Interesting specimen indeed, although slightly haggard looking after losing part of its face.
The Papyrus Gallery was our next stop where we happily stood in the air conditioned gallery with a glass of deliciously cool & sweet drink, listening to a very talented and knowledgeable woman named Aya as she quickly showed us how the papaya flower and stem were cut, rolled, soaked and then pressed to make the papaya paper on which the artists create their masterpieces. Of course, after that we have to purchase a picture for our wall at home as a memento.
From Cairo we caught a flight to Luxor where we boarded our river cruise boat for our sojourn on the Nile.
Karnak Temple, followed by Luxor Temple, was on the agenda for the afternoon. The huge pylons (or big stone gateways) had us in awe before we even reached the columns with their many stories carved into them. The guide here was also most knowledgeable and with an occasional funny thrown in, had us imagining times gone by and what it must have been like.
He explained how the columns were built, (using me and a packet of cigarettes), some of the markings and stories behind them, how to read some of the glyphs (with the 'God’s' name always before any other wording) and how to know when to read them from right to left or left to right... all very interesting. Seeing the sun go down behind the columns was beautiful, especially when followed by the spotlights coming to life to illuminate the giant stone carvings and to cast the shadow of day gone by.
The next day dawned sunny, what a surprise! We caught the minibus and travelled 45 minutes to the Valley of the Kings where much to our disappointment there are NO cameras allowed. We did however get to purchase photos taken by professional photographers including one of Howard Carter whom discovered King Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922.
Whilst we were at this historic site, our tour included a choice of tombs to view as 3 of the 10 open to the public (there are 62 tombs altogether). Steve purchased the extra ticket so he could live his secret desire and enter the tomb of Tutankhamen. Within the tomb lay King Tutankhamen’s mummified remains alongside his granite sarcophagus with the outer gilded coffin inside it - all the other treasures have been removed to the museums. We visited the tombs of Ramses 1st , Ramses 3rd and Ramses 4th. Down deep steps, entering the burial chambers the walls are covered in names, warnings and stories of the famous one entombed.
Our second stop of the day was for the Pharaoh Hatshepsut, the only female pharaoh. She was depicted in her statues as a man, with false hair and beard. Her temple stands not far from the Valley of the Kings (it's built into the mountain behind) and has an amazing façade... 3 stories with steps and a steep ramp to each different level where there stands pillars and statues. Horus stands at the entrance to the steps. Horus is the ‘God of protection’ & all the Pharaohs statues are depicted with the falcon symbol of Horus to show that the God protects and agrees that these people hold leadership.
An unplanned visit was made to the Crocodile Museum and Kom Ombo instead of our planned visit to Edfu due to unrest there between the coach drivers and the horse and cart owners. At the temple of Kom Ombo, the first taxing was brought into being and was all worked on the rising and falling of the river.
On arriving in Aswan, our first stop was the Island of Philae, which is its second location due to the first island sinking before the dams were built. The second island was slightly larger and higher. All buildings were numbered block by block, dismantled, shipped and then re-built. We had a fun time re-enacting the lives of Seth and his wife, plus Isis and Osiris. All very entertaining!
We climbed onto the ferry to get back to the mainland and then headed to the Nubian museum, which was extremely hot and uncomfortable as there was no air conditioning at all. On the way back toward the Nile, we dropped off at the Essence/Oils Gallery where we were invited to have a drink whilst we inhaled, sampled and discussed the different essential oils and perfumes. To finish our time in Aswan, we once again touched the Nile, this time on a Felucca sailing boat and spent almost an hour sailing back to our cruise ship.
The Le Meridian in Cairo was to be our final destination. This day was spent at the Cairo Museum with our wonderfully passionate guide. We were driven up to the Citadel, high on the hill overlooking Cairo. Great photo opportunities and some amazing stone work. I had to cover my shoulders with a scarf to enter the mosque where the 5 domed roof was exquisitely painted and the carpet underfoot had been made 150 years ago and is still sat on by the worshippers who attend the service there daily. Upon leaving the Citadel, we discovered the bazaar, (how bizarre is the bazaar?) - we were told to stay on one of the tiny alleyways and not head off left or right into the multitude of cabana covered highways. The vendors bore down upon us as soon as we entered the arena and never stopped harassing us.
The big finale of our trip was to attend the Sound and Light show for the pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. The show was outstanding! The atmosphere was magical with the deep booming voices and echoes of long ago stories. The Pyramids were captivating as they glowed un-natural colours against the blackness of the night. The temperature was perfect, as the sun set the cool came and we sat in the comfortable warmth to watch the show that created shivers down the spine.
Such unforgettable memories have been created. For me, the trip had nightmare qualities until the plane touched down and I was entranced by the history, the heat and the sights and sounds which are only unique to Egypt.