Cairo and Aswan

Community Highlights Africa & The Middle East Cairo and Aswan

Day 7

Mohammed was our hired driver again to day . He was the one who picked us up from the airport. We set off at 9 and our first stop was Saqurra, which was a half hour or so drive from Giza. The landscape changed to more green and lush with many large date and palm trees. We drove though prosperous looking farming areas but there were still evidence of those who were struggling financial as well.

Lots of police presence everywhere, especially at and near the tourist sites. In full bullet proof vests and gear, machine guns and the police on the side of the road are standing behind metal shields about 4 feet high with a cut out for the gun to stick though. They are always friendly and approachable however. We ask them directions or for information when we are lost etc.

There are two sides to Saqurra. You really feel like you are in the desert out here, miles of sand with the pyramids and tombs the only thing on the landscape. Mohammed stayed in the car, he is a driver not a guide and his english is minimal. We had the Cairo pass so didn't need to pay again. $100 US gets us into all the sites in the area for five consecutive days.

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One of the ‘scams’ I figured out is that a fellow at the beginning of the area will ask to see your ticket again, completely unnecessary. Eventually i just said no, i don't need to show it again. They look at it and ask if you are on a tour. If you say no, they become your self appointed guide. They just walk with you and start telling you things. If you say no guide, they just don’t listen and you just end up having a guide most of the time. No is not an answer they understand. Ahmed did not have a great command of the english language, but he thought he did so i didn't have the heart to tell him I couldn’t understand pretty much anything he was saying. He took us around the site and showed us some tombs with great hieroglyphics with color still visible. It is amazing to think that these are 3,000 yeas old and still in perfect shape.

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In the end we gave him 200 Egypt pounds, ($15 CDN). There were very few tourists here, more guides and sales people than tourists. Tough life for them right now.

We then drove to the other side and dodged the “guides” and just looked around on our own. The hieroglyphics on this side were outstanding. A police man came up to us and asked if we were on a tour.
No, just us.
‘Follow me, I will show you some tombs’

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He took us to an area a bit way from everyone and unlocked some doors. He showed us four different locked tombs that were outstanding. He also let me take photos which was great. As this was something I had read about beforehand I knew that he expected ‘ backesh’ or a tip which we gave at the end. 40 Egypt pounds ($3) which he seemed to appreciate.

There was also a tomb, we had to climb down a very steep ramp hunched over as it is only 4 or 41/2 feet tall. Not much down there but you can appreciate what they were like.

Next stop Dahshur. I couldn’t remember much about it, but it was three pyramids you could go into. Only a handful of people here unlike the tombs at Giza pyramids.

Walking up 170, yes I counted them, uneven steps with handrails only available half way was daunting . Reaching the top I see that there is a very steep ramp going down into the pyramid 65 meters . It is very dark, we forgot our headlamps in the hotel, and thankfully there were rails on the ramp across the floor to keep you from sliding all the way to the bottom. Like the ones on ramps down to the docks. This entrance tunnel was even lower and by the time I reached the bottom it was hard to straighten up again. You reach a room where you can stand and then continue through another low tunnel to find another room you can stand upright in. What’s that I see ? Four flights of wooden stairs up. Well I’ve come this far, I am sure that there is a prize at the end.

The smell of ammonia is quite strong and there is not much air. At the top we were quite amazed at what was waiting for us
A big pit with large rocks.
Really?
I guess it’s a cool experience but in my humble opinion my knees and back could have done without it. Doug was amazed that I did it at al with my claustrophobia

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Last stop was Memphis, an open air museum. A couple of large statues of Ramses 2 that we’re very impressive
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A very full day for sure. It was a bit windy and quite warm today, hat and sunscreen kind of day. The locals find it cool, they are wearing down jackets and big coats. It is winter after all.

Day 8

I have never used Uber before but decided to try it in Egypt. All the trip reports said how cheap easy and reliable it is. I set it up before leaving home but my paypal did not like that I was in Egypt so couldn’t use it, had to resort to putting in one of my credit card info.

The first guy couldn’t find us for some reason but the second one was there a few minutes later. Traffic in Cairo is insane! Totally insane! Everyone constantly honks, a different kind of honk for what you are thing to convey.

A soft honk. “ I’m here “
Two honks, “ go ahead”
More aggressive honking is if someone’s getting too close

Everyone is constantly merging but there is no road rage or ill tempers at all. Just maybe a little more aggressive honking. They must have street valets because some of the side streets have cars parallel parked inches from each other three deep. It would be like a rubics cube if you wanted to get your car out so I assume you leave your keys with someone . This leaves a very narrow passage to drive down the road.

Even with a GPS the driver missed a lot of turns and got lost. I don’t think he had ever seen the Cairo museum, our destination, because at one point we passed it, I could see it and see it clearly marked on his GPS

“Museum?” I asked and pointed

He asked the car beside us where the museum was and the guy looked at him and pointed like
“Seriously, it’s right there, that huge pink building”

Traffic was stop and go, mostly stop, so we just said we will walk back from here. The trip took close to an hour and cost just over $6 Cdn with a tip

Just like in Bangkok we had two separate guys tell us the museum was closed for an hour, or the king tut exhibit has a one hour wait

“ come to my shop while you wait for the museum to open”

But not only did I look up the hours I could see people going in. Nice try. No thank you

We went through three separate security checks going in and one coming out. I could bring in my water however which was great. Our Cairo pass was scrutinized but he let us in. We were able to use it to see the mummy tomb as well.

The museum is moving to a new location in Giza but won’t be ready for a few years yet. The building is two floors and not well marked in my opinion as to where things were, but eventually we just decided to walk through the entire place. . The exhibits range from poor condition to almost perfect. It was incredible to see all of these sargofocus mummies and jewels from 3000 years ago. The king Tut mask and jewellery were very impressive

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We spent four hours there, had a bite to eat, and then called Uber again to pick us up. A bit of a mix up as to where we were and where he was but a lovely security guard called him for us and told us how to find him by cutting through the hotel.

A much faster drive home, about 40 minutes, again for $5 and after a rest in the room for a couple of hours we walked across the road to see the Sound and Light show

A bit cheezy but beautiful to see the pyramids and Sphinx all lit up with a a narration of the history of sorts

We decided to try the restaurant above or hostel and unfortunately it was very expensive and awful food. Not a great combination

Day 9

We are leaving the city that never sleeps, including me. Ironically the dogs stop barking and people stop yelling at 4am and that is when I am completely wide awake up. Go figure
Hopefully our next place will be a little quieter.

About the garbage. It seems that in the morning there is garbage strewn everywhere but shop keepers sweep it up and put into a big pile next to our hotel. Kids, and some older folks then pick through it to see what they can use. I saw a man with two donkeys pulling a cart who was lucky to find some discarded produce for his donkeys, or perhaps himself. Then the garbage pickup truck comes around 8AM and three men sort it out and take it away. Every morning starts off clean, but when we arrived at night it was quite shocking to see so much in the streets. My early morning entertainment watching the city clean up

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We hired Mohamed again to pick us up at nine and take us to Cairo for a few hours before our flight at 4.

I needed some money from the ATM beside our hostel and stood behind four women waiting. I am not sure how old they were, I imagine my age or younger, I can’t really gage it when they are covered head to toe in black. They smiled and we waited, and then a few more women came and stood in front of me and a couple other women. I made a polite fuss, but it didn’t seem to matter
They line up the way they drive, they just push in and get to the front, no one seems to mind.

Except me of course. I am used to order. I just couldn't take it after about 10 minutes when I am now 7th in line I left. Mumbling to myself, although they wouldn’t have understood me anyhow. They all just stared after me

“ what’s her problem?” I imagine them asking. Because they didn’t have a problem at all. I guess living with so many people you learn a lot of patience

Once again traffic is pure insanity and in an hour we are dropped off at the Coptic Christian area of Cairo. Security is high, we have to go through airport type scanners many times here as is the same in all of Egypt.

We wandered about and decided to hire a guide who found us and he helped us figure out what we were seeing. It’s a fascinating place with synaogues and churches side by side. This is where Mary and Joseph hid out for three years when Jesus was a baby as well as where Moses was floated down the river Nile. The Coptic museum had some beautiful artwork and items inside

This area is from 4th century and most buildings are still intact as original despite the big earthquake of 1992.

A side walk eatery was visited for a quick lunch and then off to the airport. I am glad we allowed an hour as it took an hour 15 to navigate the complete gridlock

Our Egyptair flight had us in Aswan in less than two hours . It is warmer, quieter and very clean and modern

Our arranged driver dropped us in front of our hotel and we are in awe. Located on the Nile river the hotel has a huge grand lobby with couches everywhere and a lovely garden and swimming pool

Doug and I are like school kids when we see our room.

“Look. Full size bath towels”
“ shampoo and soap in the bathroom”
“ a closet where you can hang up your clothes”

It’s the little things that are so exciting. It doesn’t take much to impress us. After our last hotel this was pure heaven.

We were hungry so we wandered out across the road and found a souk with many little alleyways of shops selling all sorts of clothes and goods. I thought I saw a cart of peanuts but I was wrong. The young man told me to taste one and I’m not sure what it was, some kind of fruit that I didn’t care for. He offered to take us through the souk and found us peanuts, dates and bottled water before leading us to a place to eat. Our self appointed guide was taking us to his uncles shops etc. But that was fine.

I really have let go of a lot of stuff here, like eating in cafes that are less than clean and eating stuff I have no idea what it is. They assure me it is vegetarian so I just go with it. We were the only tourists in this small hole in the wall and got lots of smiles and nods from the others

Egyptians eat huge portions, I can usually get through half if I am lucky. I tried a few new dishes that I quite enjoy.

A little bit of Arabic brings huge smiles to the local people. Many don’t speak any English at all, so we say thank you, no thank you and hello and good bye in Arabic. The big beaming smile we get in return is heartwarming

But now in Aswan there are a lot of Nubians here, people who were some of the earliest people here from Sudan and they have their own language.
So now we have to discern if they are Nubian or Egyptian and remember even more words. I’m sure we will screw up both languages a few times. But the fact that we even try is so appreciated

Day 10

The city has no water today. Something happened and everyone is without water. Must be a nightmare for hotel staff. Thankfully I had my shower last night.

A week ago I arranged a pick up at 5 am to go to Abu Simbel, a three hour drive south almost on the Sudan border. You have to submit copies of your passport and paperwork at least 48 hours in advance so they can clear it with the police. We were checked four times on route. The police always ask the driver where we are from, where are we going, ( in Arabic, but I can figure out what they are saying ). And then pop the trunk, look around and off we go.

Tourists can only be on this road between 5AM and 5 PM. I have heard different reasons why but I think it is for safety reasons to travel in the daylight in a group. The first part of our journey is in the dark but then the light slowly reveals the desert around us

The new two lane highway cuts through miles of sand, pink from the sunrise . We are following hydro wires the entire journey but nothing else is in sight. The road is straight and seems to go forever. You could watch your camel run away for days here it is so flat and straight.

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Half way there is a much appreciated bathroom break but the wind has come up suddenly and is whipping sand in our face and eyes. Back in the car on the road again the sand is swirling across the pavement in hypnotic waves of pink.

Finally at 8AM we arrived at Abu Simbel. The temple of Ramses 2 and the temple of Hathor are two of the most famous in Egypt. The parking lot confirmed that with many large tour buses and vans spilling out people into the entrance way to buy the $18 ticket

It’s already getting hot as we walk up the hill overlooking the huge blue lake Nasser.

And then there it is.

What an unforgettable sight, the four massive statues guarding the temple. Beyond is the temple of queen Nefertari which is equally amazing . Hathor was a female god that was more for women’s lives and featured in this one.

But what is even more impressive is that this temple, built in around 1240 BC, was moved in its entirety from its original site in the 70s before they built the high dam due to rising waters. Every ton of rock was moved perfectly to its new higher location . It was a huge undertaking with a few countries helping out.

These are photos of how close the river was before they moved it

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At 10:30 Doug and I are still wandering and marvelling at the sights when we notice we are almost alone. All the tour busses have left and we have the place pretty much to ourselves. People want to arrive here early to get the color on the statues from the rising sun, and from taking the same photo at 8:30 and again at 10:30 I do agree that the morning light is better.

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The downside of being the last person on the site is that you have to run the gauntlet of vendors on your own without the safety of other tourists to deflect from you. The vendors really do themselves a disservice as I would like to look but they make it so uncomfortable. I try to glance sideways behind my sunglasses, but if they see you look at anything they pounce

“ you like this madam, only 200 pounds, how many you like, I have more colours, how much do you want to pay?” All in one breath

Some were a bit assertive as well. Others use humour
“ you are breaking my heart madam”

And of course the ever present “Canada dry”. I asked one guy if he even knew what Canada Dry was and he had no idea. If they find out you are Canadian that is the response.

Our driver Hani was waiting in the cafe and we sat and enjoyed an ice cold sprite talking about his life in Egypt before making the three hour drive back.

We arrived back to our hotel at 3 to find we still don’t have water. We found a restaurant a few doors down on the Nile and had a late lunch/ early dinner while watching the sailboats, feluccas taking tourists out on the river. ,

It was quite muggy tonight but the temperature is pleasant.

Day 11

Water is back on which is a relief.

What a fantastic day we had today. We started to walk along the river after breakfast when a man approached and pretty much begged us to hire his horse and cart to take us to the museum we were walking to. We finally said yes and this poor horse had such a tough time pulling us up the hill I felt just awful.

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The ram is a mummy

The nubian museum was very interesting and we spent a couple hours there before going to the Cataract hotel, which is very famous here. It is the Empress hotel equivalent in Egypt. Many movies have been shot here as well as the setting for Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. Being non paying guests we were shown to a waiting room with a few other lookie loos until a man came in and explained we had to purchase a ticket to visit the hotel. This keeps the riff raff out I suppose. $300 EP per person, (25$) but you could put that towards drinks or lunch. I thought we might get a coffee and a bowl of peanuts for $50 but we were pleasantly surprised. The food was fantastic, beautifully presented and would have been at least double the price at the Empress. The setting on the water watching all the small sailboats go by was so peaceful and lovely. A family from Cairo were also on a day pass and we had a great conversation with them before we went for our meal.

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We walked back to the hotel and a young man we met this morning wanted to arrange a felluca ride for us . This is a small sailboat that you can go around the different islands on. We agreed to meet in an hour, after a much needed rest, and were led down the stairs in front of our hotel to get onto the boat. It takes a lot of skill and hard work to navigate these amongst the many other sail and motor boats on the river. There was a great wind so we were off in no time. It was so lovely, quiet and smooth sailing over to our first stop a small island with a botanical garden. He let us off and promised to come back for us in 40 minutes after we walked through the park. There were many families having picnics and an outing here. School is on a winter break at the moment so we see families everywhere during the day.

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Once again we are movie stars. Everyone wants to take our pictures with them so I decided to do the same . Here are some pictures of some of the wonderful ladies I met today. Everyone is so friendly and happy to meet and talk to a foreigner. If I look over and smile and say hi, well that just gives a green light to come over and talk. And then they thank us profusely for taking the time with them. This one picture they handed me the baby to have the photo.
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This is the Aga Kahn mausoleum
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Our captain did not forget us and we met up again to finish sailing around Elephantine island. We were gone for a total of 2 hours and agreed on a price of 300 for both of us ($25) but also gave the young man a tip of 50 EP, ($4).

Tonight we wandered through the souk again, to buy some spices and meet a lot of interesting people

Tomorrow morning we will be picked up at 9AM to sail on a small sailboat, ( 4 rooms) for the next three nights to Luxor.

I don’t imagine there will be wifi on the boat but I will continue when we arrive in Luxor.

This featured blog entry was written by debbep from the blog Wanderlust is an incurable disease!.
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By debbep

Posted Fri, Feb 08, 2019 | Egypt | Comments