Published: April 28th 2013December 16th 2012
New England Patriots Double Dip at Wide Receiver in This Year's NFL Draft
The dynasty continues... much more recent news than my Egypt trip.
TCU's Josh Boyce (l.) and Marshall's Aaron Dobson (r.) or as I like to call him, the next Randy Moss. No pressure.
Photo courtesy of ESPN.
"Welcome to Egypt" is the common refrain frequently heard from genuine Egyptians but with the massive drop in tourist numbers since 2011's revolution (and the more recent second revolution as referred to by locals), traveling in Egypt, especially the south, has become a serious test of patience for foreigners who disregard the negative press and venture here. When I visited in 2009 there was only a very small hassle factor compared to the present but that is because people are desperate for business in areas that are heavily dependent on tourism. Aswan and Luxor were the prime examples of this. Traveling in the desert and Cairo involved much less exhaustion although crossing the street in Cairo is very unnerving and easily the most dangerous activity in all of Egypt.
$US ≈ 6.1 Egyptian pounds (LE) when I visited and probably much more since I was there.
I flew directly to Aswan from Turkey with an impossibly brief layover in Cairo where I had to procure a one month tourist visa ($US15, cash only please) before changing to the domestic flight. Because Aswan is an international airport, my bag was checked directly there from İstanbul but because
we departed 30 minutes late my bag did not make it with me to Aswan. "Insha'Allah" (God willing), my bag would be on the next flight from Cairo which was not at all reassuring. The bag did arrive but the airline would not deliver it to my hotel so one of the Egypt Air employees took me back to the airport to deal with the customs paperwork which left me with a totally wasted afternoon. Accommodation and food
I pre-booked 2 nights at Keylany Hotel since my original flight was scheduled to arrive at 11:40 pm (changed to 5:30 pm after I canceled the Israel sector) and I didn't want to look for a room after a late arrival. It was a decent enough place but a bit expensive - 140LE for a single with private bathroom (scalding hot water), WiFi, and an amazing breakfast. It is also possible to visit Abu Simbel with the 4 am convoy (breakfast to go) for 70LE and Philae Temple and Aswan High Dam for only 15LE more. El Masry serves good, albeit pricey, Egyptian dinners for ~30LE or an almost identical menu is available for almost half that at El Shaweshy which
Massive temples dedicated to Rameses II during his reign in the 13th century BC. The great pharaoh has been immortalized in the modern age by having his own brand of condoms.
is also closer to the hotel. Great coffee is available all over town for 3-4LE but be sure to specify little sugar unless you prefer syrupy sweet brew. I usually snacked on felafel for lunch, ~1-2LE. Awesome juice stand just past the entry to the souq near the hotel. Sugar cane juice goes for 2LE, maybe 1LE if you're with a local. It was the first place I've ever tried it and it was surprisingly not as sweet as I expected. Transport
Taxi from the airport was 50LE but the bargaining started at 85LE. Best to arrange with your hotel to avoid the negotiating although that is a big part of the quintessential Egyptian experience. Having said that, I drew the line at negotiating over the price of an eclair. I kid you not. Many trains leave for Luxor but I took the 2 day Nile cruise. There are also buses to Abu Simbel but accommodation there is limited. Abu Simbel Tour
Muster was 3 am for the 4 am convoy. Takes 3½ hours of insanely fast driving during which I slept the entire time except to eat my boxed breakfast as we neared the temples. Entry is
The temples had to be cut into manageable pieces and relocated in 1968 to avoid being flooded with the damning of the Nile River to create Lake Nasser. Incredible feat.
95LE (all antiquities sites have steep entrance fees) but I got in for 53.5LE with my International Teacher Identity Card, Egypt being the sole country where this card carries any cachet whatsoever. With normal tourist numbers, Abu Simbel is packed after the convoy arrives but this year the crowd was shockingly small. The temples are amazing as is the setting on Lake Nasser. Return to Aswan is ~1:30 pm, a few hours later on the long tour. I did not have the stamina for the long tour after the previous day's flights but I highly recommend it because it is by far the cheapest and most convenient way of visiting Philae Temple and Aswan High Dam. Kind of regret missing them. Nile Cruise
The hotel set me up with a travel agent who books Nile cruises on short notice departing any day of the week except Sunday. The trip starts with lunch (all meals open buffet feeding frenzies) on the boat on the first day and ends with breakfast in Luxor 2 days later. The first day is spent en route to Kom Ombu Temple (30/15LE) for sunset then on to Edfu (30/15LE) where the boat docks for the
night, I missed the temple in the morning but the highlight for me anyway was later in the day passing through the Esna locks. We arrived in Luxor around 4 pm and slept there on the boat for the second night. Very relaxing and a great deal at $75/person/night whether in a double or single cabin (all immaculate with private bathrooms). Six meals are included and the food was very good. My boat was the Renaissance but it appeared that all the boats cruising the Nile these days are nice and all the skanky boats have been out of operation or undergoing maintenance because of the low tourist numbers.
Having visited in 2009 there wasn't much for me to do so only spent one night there after the cruise but could have left the same day. Accommodation and food
Gaddis Hotel was 81LE on booking.com for a private room, bathroom, WiFi, and breakfast. There is also a pool but it wasn't hot enough for a dip. The only problem with the hotel is its location. It is at least a 20 minute walk to anyplace of interest in Luxor or deal with the phalanx of
taxis and caleche
drivers. Cheap restaurant caddy corner to Good Food (recommended in LP but not worth the prices) where ¼ chicken and sides was only 15LE. Good juice bar nearby where fruit salad is 5LE and mango juice 3LE. My stomach was still in good working order after all the juices and salads I consumed. Transport
Many trains north and south, about every other hour or so. I left for Asyut at 1:30 pm, arrived 2 hours late at 8:40 pm missing the bus to the desert oases, and had to unfortunately spend the night in Asyut. The second class fare was 33LE purchased on the train as there is still a problem for foreigners purchasing tickets in advance for certain trains. Be sure to try the sugar cane candy sold on the train. An alternate way from Luxor to Al Kharga (first of the desert oases) is by taxi which can be hired for 300-400LE and takes 3-4 hours. Not bad if split among a few people and a huge time saver as it would allow catching the Dakhla bound bus from Asyut in Al Kharga at 2 pm. I considered paying for the Al Kharga taxi
but my thriftiness won out in the end. Mummification Museum
50/25LE entrance fee, teacher card technically not honored but I got in for 30LE. Interesting but very small. Definitely not worth full price. Save the money and pay extra for the mummy exposition at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Quasi-necessary transit stop lengthening an already long trip between Luxor and the desert oases. During the raucous days of the past, police escorts were mandatory for foreigners in Asyut and several other Nile towns north of Luxor. Those days are long gone but old habits die hard. I exited the train station and asked a police officer for directions to the nearby bus station. No chaperoning was offered. I missed the bus, set out to find a hotel, and asked another police officer for directions. The adjacent Hotel Hussein was full. Still no escorting. At Hotel Reem (which was also full), to my shock and chagrin, a police officer insisted on escorting me which was simultaneously endearing and annoying. Accommodation and food
My police escort first took me to Hotel Badr which was 220LE and obviously too expensive. I ended up at Zamzam Hotel for
70LE with a bathroom, horrible road noise, and little else. We then went to the restaurant at El Madina Hotel (~100LE single which is where I should have gone unescorted straight from the bus station) where a plate of kebab was 30LE. I'm certain the officer was escorting me solely to try to get me to pay for his dinner. While we were eating I could have sworn he whispered, "money" even though conversation was nonexistent. After he uttered it a second time I knew what was coming as if he could plant some kind of subliminal message so I would pay for his meal. When it was time to leave he asked if I could "help the policeman." As if! When it was clear I wasn't buying into his racket, we left for the hotel and I never saw him again much to my relief. Grabbed a 3LE bowl of kushary
for the long bus ride to Dakhla. Transport
Buses to Al Kharga (3 hours) and Dakhla (6 hours, 25LE) leave at 11 am and 8 pm. I would have easily made the late bus if the train from Luxor had arrived on time.
The easy going, friendly town of Mut is the capital of the oasis that stretches like a ribbon for ~30 miles pierced by the desert highway. Accommodation and food
The bus dropped me at El Forsan Hotel where my only requirement was WiFi so I could watch the New England Patriots take on the Houston Texans for AFC supremacy. The room was 80LE with private bathroom (again, dangerously hot water), a huge breakfast, and the aforementioned WiFi. There was no need to eat lunch. There is a decent and dirt cheap restaurant across the street from the Upper Egypt Bus Company ticket office in the center of town. Like most Egyptian towns, there are cafes all over the place. Anwar Hotel is cheaper but there is no WiFi. Transport
Heading to Farafra (3 hours) or Bahariya (7 hours, 50LE possible tourist price) Oases, buses leave at 6 am and 5 pm. Heading back to Al Kharga or Asyut are morning and evening buses. Overnight desert trip
I met Sameh, a locally born and raised Bedouin guide, when I arrived in Dakhla. We arranged the trip the next day and headed for Qasr and a couple of
hot springs before setting up camp in the dunes just at the edge of the Great Sand Sea. Very cool.
Not nearly as nice as Dakhla but close to White and Black Deserts so convenient for tours but nothing else. Can also arrange tours in Cairo and take the public bus to Bahariya where the desert trips commence. Accommodation and food
I was met at 12:00 am at the bus stop by the owner of Alpenblick Hotel who was really pushy about me taking one of his desert tours which he actually didn't even organize himself but was going to pawn me off to another operator while pocketing a nice commission. He wanted to discuss the tour as soon as I arrived in the middle of the night which was immediately off putting and I would have none of it. The hotel was dire but cheap - 60LE for a room with private bathroom but barely trickling water. Breakfast was included and consisted of bread, cheese, tea, and fuul
(bland but filling refried beans). I ended up agreeing to the tour in the morning but then it turned out that the operator did not
have space. At that point I had missed the 12:30 pm bus to Cairo and was fuming. I was not too bummed about missing the tour because I've concluded that any type of cookie cutter tour is generally underwhelming. Additionally, most people are arriving from Cairo so the tour doesn't leave Bahariya til 2 or 3 pm. With sunset just after 5 pm in the desert, that does not leave a lot of time for anything beyond driving to and setting up camp before dark. Second day return is arranged to catch the 12:30 pm bus back to Cairo so not much time for sightseeing on that day either. My advice, which works great if arriving from Dakhla, is to arrange the trip in Bahariya directly with the tour operator, ask to see the vehicle, and do not hand over any money until the trip is just ready to depart. If an operator balks, just move on to the next one as there are literally dozens of tours to go on and only few tourists. An all inclusive overnight trip can be had for 300LE/person but ask that all
drinks be included. Transport
Buses to Cairo leave at midnight,
12:30 pm, and 3 pm although it is difficult to get a seat for the earlier two buses since they originate in Dakhla. There are minibuses at irregular intervals during the day for 30LE but they only go as far as Giza in ~5 hours. From Giza, it is an easy 1LE 20 minute metro ride fom El Moneib to Sadat station (a.k.a., Tahrir Square).
From the perspective of a tourist, there doesn't seem to be much of a different atmosphere than before the revolutions. It didn't feel particularly threatening at all and I had to walk through Tahrir Square many times over the few days that the constitutional referendum was being held. No problems whatsoever aside from the maddening and incessant traffic. Accommodation and food
Upon arrival, I tried to find Juliana Hotel in the embassy district where I stayed in 2009. This area is close to Tahrir Square and the police have blocked off the main roads between the 2 areas so getting around is a pain and traffic has been diverted to the hotel's street so it is very noisy 24/7. I predict this hotel will be out of business unless the
roads are opened soon which is a shame because it is nice and cheap. I paid 100LE for a private room with bathroom, breakfast, open tea and Turkish coffee bar, and WiFi. Like 2009, there are very few restaurants in the area. I moved to Arabesque Hotel close to the museum and airport bus stop but paid more - 140LE for the same services as the Juliana - but the location was much better. The hotel did some laundry for 1LE/piece (wash only, air dry, ironing extra). Nearby barber clipped me for 30LE. Coffee shop around the corner, 3LE Turkish coffee. Same street has a hole in the wall restaurant where I ate fuul
, felafel, eggplant, and bread for 3LE. At the nearby Nasser metro station is a great fruit stand where fresh fruit salad is 2.50LE. Also near the metro Etoile Cafe has all kinds of pastries as well as ice cream. Transport
The only transport of consequence for me was getting to the airport. There are a couple of buses leaving from behind the museum - the express bus for 2LE (+ possible 1LE/large bag although I remember not being charged in 2009 from the airport) or
the much slower local bus departing all day and night for 0.5LE + 0.5LE/bag which is definitely charged. The bus never showed after waiting for over an hour so a local told me to go with him on another bus that passed close to the airport from where we shared a cab.
There are more photos below