Let's Talk Pyramids and the Curse of King Tut

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June 3rd 1996
Published: January 19th 2009
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The Sphinx and MoiThe Sphinx and MoiThe Sphinx and Moi

Getting comfortable..........
Just out of Israel, we changed buses and drove towards Cairo.Our new Globus Tour Director took over from David (sob.....) and her first encounter with Steven was not very pleasant. As she led us to our bus with a cracked windshield on the right corner, Steven joked if she caused that crack. She was a little bit on the chubby side and didn't receive the joke, and the laughs it drew, very kindly. For that reason, I will not be mentioning her name here. After all, she was indeed a very competent guide. Maybe just a little too sensitive.

The Best Hotel Ever

The Hotel Mena Oberoi in Cairo, Egypt stunned us back to our senses. In a five star luxury way! We are indeed in Egypt.........as the luxury hotel was located right smack in an area where one is afforded a view of the pyramids! You'd feel that you only have to venture out and walk towards the pyramids! As it turns out, the hotel was a former palace in the outskirts of the city , a stone's throw away from the Giza Plateau. I honestly thought we had to cover many miles to drive out of Cairo to see a pyramid, but here we were looking at a few in our very own neighborhood! The palatial hotel covers about 40 acres, boasts of a garden that smells of jasmine, an olympic size swimming pool right in the shadows of the Great Pyramids of Giza. We were so lucky that we arrived at the exact time that a wedding was taking place in Mena House. Just a small crowd, but one can tell it was a very elegant , albeit modern Egyptian wedding. When we checked out our sleeping quarters, we were again pleasantly surprised by the sheer size of our hotel rooms. The luxurious interiors made us feel like royalty. And the food! This time, I turned completely Middle Eastern on my choice of food. I enjoyed all the hummus, bread (nahn? chapati?) , lentils (dahl?), barbeque (kebabs?) , curry, etc. My friend Steven was not up to it, and suffered a bum stomach on his very first day in Egypt.

Pyramids, Camels, and a Bum Stomach?

After a good sleep last night, we were ready to explore Cairo. Our guide immediately took us to the 3 pyramids of King Chephren, Cheops, and Mykerinos. And of course, the Sphinx! We took some very good photos here. In fact, my all time favorite travel photo was the one taken where I posed "leaning" on the Sphinx. Our smaller group also tried scaling one pyramid ---- this one's not the perfect triangle pyramids you normally see. Check out the picture and you'd know what I mean. We also took our camel rides here. Arlu and I rode on the same camel and I must have shattered Arlu's eardrums as I nearly screamed each time the camel took a step. More screams getting on and off the camel. I was so scared I would fall off. Steven with his bum stomach sat it out, but later regretted not joining us. He was pestered by touts offering camel rides the whole time. As soon as we dismounted our camels, he literally ran to join us and sought help to fend off the touts. LOL.

Awesome Museum. King Tut and His Treasures. Mummies.

The motorcoach took us back to the city center for lunch. Then, we were driven to the National Egyptian Museum where we were shown around the impressive Halls of this museum like no other. There was a special section housing the treasure of the boy King Tutankhamen. King Tut to many. The bejewelled sarcopaghus with vibrant colors of gold, royal blue, deep green, ruby red, etc. make you gasp at the sheer wealth enjoyed by these Pharaohs. A pity King Tut didn't live long enough to enjoy his treasures and his very privileged life. There was also a separate gallery where they kept the mummies. Now this one gave me the creeps. Never again. I have seen one mummy too many.

When we were done with the Museum, we were advised by our guide about some unfortunate incident just outside the museum grounds. A bus packed with German tourists was bombed , and there were casualties. Egypt is very serious with their tourism industry, which accounts for about half of it entire economy. This is truly bad news. Poor tourists and their families. I can't imagine the grief, especially since these guys were here on holiday, supposedly having fun and enjoying their adventure. Then and there, a couple in our group elected to cancel the rest of their trip to head home. I said a prayer and then decided I'd stick it out with the group. We would be flying out of Cairo tomorrow anyway, towards Aswan where our Oberoi boat waited to take us for the cruise along the River Nile. We headed back to our lovely hotel soon after, and enjoyed what's left of the day checking out the grounds of Mena House.

Flight to Aswan, where our Cruise Boat Is Waiting

The following morning, we took our domestic flight from Cairo to Aswan. Security was very strict and our flight was delayed. It was almost lunch when we landed in Egypt's sunniest Southern city. We took our bags and boarded our cruise boat----not the big sized liner, but one with maybe just 5 levels and a roofdeck. The boat is not going anywhere today, but this would be our cramped sleeping quarters for the next 8 nights. My roommate and I spent the next hour unpacking, and then wondering where best to store our suitcases.

While the boat had no plans to go anywhere today, we found the Nile at its most beautiful here. Our guide promised us a feluca ride (sail boats, good for maybe 10 pax) to check out some tiny islands along the Nile.It was nice just watching the sailboats etch the sky with their tall masts or just sitting on the boat's roofdeck listening to Nubian music. We also found time to check out the old Aswan dam, a few miles down the river. From the top of the 2 mile world-famous High Dam you can gaze across Lake Nasser, the huge reservoir created when it was built, and the huge power station to the north. This was truly an engineering feat when it was built in the 1960s. Some trivia here: the dam construction threatened to submerge some historic temples like Abu Simbel . The Egyptian government sought UNESCO's help which then launched a world wide appeal help to salvage the temple. The result was another engineering feat. It was a salvage operation like no other, where the temple was dismantled and raised again up the sandstone cliff where they had been built over 3,000 years ago! The 2 temples, when reassembled, were in exact relationship to each other, and still manage to bring out the full might of the pharaoh god in this edifice. Whew!

Off to Kom Ombo and Edfu.Then Luxor and Karnak. Valley of the Kings

From Aswan, Kom Ombo and Edfu are both easily accessible. I cannot remember all the names of all the egyptian gods and the names of the many temples, except one dedicated to a crocodile god, Sobek. These magnificent temples are all in a dramatic setting on high ground beside the Nile. Another I remember is Horus, the falcon-headed god and Isis too. The temple designs are very unique , and even follow some sort of a pattern. When I viewed my photos , I can hardly tell one temple from the other as they all seem to have been built using more or less the same proportions and entrance facades.

Cruising the Nile has a lot of advantages. For one, life in Egypt is more or less restricted along the banks of the Nile, and therefore all the temples and magnificent monuments can be found there. It was also an experience just watching the sunset on the boat's roofdeck while seeing how some Egyptians live. The Nile River sometimes narrows in certain areas, such that you can practically watch kids bathing along the riverbanks waving as we passed by. For another, there is so much to be said on the food served on cruises such as this. After one buffet meal, i refused to check out the buffet spread anymore and contented myself getting a seat on this table with the best view, and ordering my pasta and soup dinners. I avoided the salads, as Steven said he may have gotten his bum stomach from the raw salads. Also, the boat cruises ever so slowly, hopping from point to point without rushing to it. Thus, we slept like babies enjoying their lullabies. What a life!

When we reached Luxor, the temp was a burning 48 degrees celsius! I limited my wardrobe to the crew necked shirts i bought in Israel and put back all the other blouses and cardigans back into my suitcase. (One thing about cruises, someone can do your laundry!) Some in our group chose to stay with the boat than brave the heat. Sure, the heat sapped our energy but i just couldn't pass up this opportunity to visit Luxor and Karnak temples and explore the many monuments of ancient civilization in the Valley of the Kings. The Southern temple, Luxor, is dedicated to Amon. That's what my 1996 journal says. I also inscribed "Harem of the South" but now cannot recall the story behind that. Both Luxor and Karnak Temples were built on a massive scale . Mind-boggling if you ask me. The columns are so huge it eclipsed the ones I saw in Greece. The temple complex spans many acres , maybe a hundred, and boast of many other monuments worthy of being displayed in major museums. The hieroglyphics and statues of temple gods speak of an ancient civilization far advanced for its time. And the undying colors! Our guide mentioned that Egyptologists have to this day not uncovered the plant sources for these undying hues. And then there was the most famous tomb in the Valley of the Kings, circa over 1,000 years before Christ. Howard Carter's discovery in 1922of this tomb inspired the many Egyptologists who remain hooked on studying this ancient civilization. It has also inspired many books, novels and even movies. King Tut's fabulous treasures caused a worldwide sensation especially after its discovery was clouded by the myth of the curse attached to its discovery. Some tourists refused to enter the site of the tomb discovery, thinking the curse might rub off on them. My party of 5 pax braved it and went down with our guide. Coming out into the sweltering heat after that, I stubbed my toe. I hoped then that it had nothing to do with the curse! Next we hiked off to the temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the only woman to rule over Egypt as a pharaoh. Her temple was named "Djeser Djeseru" , meaning splendor of splendors. And believe me, it was aptly named.

Some adventure we had today. When we went out for a stroll during this warm night, we saw the temples all lighted up. So lovely. There was a hotel by the cliff, where guests may take this white open top carriage, which I found so romantic. The carriage rolled past us, and long after they passed, we can still hear the horse hooves hitting the road in regular intervals. Somehow, that had a mesmerizing effect on all of us. We went back to our boat just in time for late dinner. Again, I stuck to my pasta and soup dinner. Then we all trooped to the lounge and downed two bottles of wine. We could have had more, but there was a flight to catch tomorrow.

Back in Cairo

Back in Cairo today. It was pleasant to be back in Mena House. The palatial grounds welcomed us and it was good to exercise our limbs after being cooped up in those cramped quarters on the boat. Not much to do today except to shop. Oh oh. I won't tell you about the rest but I shared with many my habit of buying charms wherever I go. For Egypt, Turkey, Greece and Israel, I bought enough charms to put in a bracelet. There was the menorrah from Israel (menorrah is like a charm to the jews, placed on the right side of the doors to their homes, much like a blessing to those who enter) , there's a camel, an image of King Tut (yeah, brave huh), a bug that was supposed to be a god of fertility, a miniature temple column, and a miniature Aladdin's lamp! This way, I "composed" my own charm bracelet which now serves as my best souvenir from my travels. Neat, don't you think? My friends have now started this habit as well, and we sometimes compare our charms whenever we meet using our bracelets.

Our last day in Cairo was spent visiting the oldest part of the city, known as Coptic Cairo. Originally a Roman fortress town called Babylon, one can still see the Roman walls in all its splendor. Then there was the Citadel of Saladin with its beautiful mosque. We even visited this Hanging Church and I tell you, that flooring sure shakes. Regardless of our different faiths, we all said a prayer of thanksgiving that we were kept safe and enjoyed our trip all around Egypt. Too bad some of us in the group canceled the trip upon learning of the bombing incident near the National Egyptian Museum. Back in the hotel, we checked out the grounds once more. It was dusty all around. The winds carried the sands from the desert. So we trooped back to our hotel rooms and started packing for our homeward trip tomorrow.

It was sad to say farewell to newfound friends. We weren't sure when we would meet again, but my traveling companions have been my friends for the last 2 weeks, some for the last 38 days. We shared the same adventures, laughed at the same jokes, delighted in the many sights we visited. Hopefully, our paths will cross again.

(At the time, there were no digital cams. I scrimped on my shots and the few I took suck. Thank you, Anastasia Anastasia78, for sharing these shots with me of the lovely Mena Oberoi Hotel in Cairo, Egypt)

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2nd February 2009

What a fabulous story!
This must have been an amazing journey! The cruise down the River Nile sounds fascinating and because of your clever story telling, I feel like I was there. I gasped when I read about the bombing of the German tour bus...how scary...you are very brave!! You know, you look like you have such a great time on your trips...you always look so lively and upbeat. Keep it up....Loved the pic of you "leaning" on the Sphinx!! GREAT SHOT!! See ya, Jeff

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