Day 59: Cairo, Egypt to Aswan, Egypt

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January 24th 2010
Published: February 4th 2010
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Cairo to Aswan

Overnight train, direct from Cairo to Aswan, followed the Nile all the way.

Day 59: Sunday, January 24, 2010.
Cairo, Egypt to (eventually) Aswan, Egypt (via overnight train)

Arabic sayings I'm trying to learn:
* Hello: As Salaam alakum (sounds like "ah sa lam a lake em")
* Thanks: Shokran ("Sho Kran")
* Welcome: Afwan ("Af wan")
* Bye: Ma'as salaama ("Masa lama")
* Another way to say hello is one that I only know phonetically, can't find it online. Say, with kind of a caribbean voice, "Peace yah mahn". It's a cool/slang way of saying hello.
* And this last one makes me smile- it's what our tour guide would say to us many times a day, "Yalla yalla Habebi!" It means, "Let's go sweetheart". hehe.

I'm trying (key word there) to write this entry on Wednesday, 1/27/10 and it's about 9:30am. Not only is exhaustion keeping me from staying up to date with the log, but also the scenery. I'm currently sailing North on the Nile and sitting on the balcony of my room. I'll type a few words, then look up and see people riding camels or donkeys, fishing, loading hay onto a barge, birds, mosques, it's amazing and beautiful. Once again, my pictures aren't going to do it justice, I honestly get goose bumps over the temples here and just seeing bits of everyday life. Of course, there are many bits to the everyday life that I don't find charming, but I'll be mentioning that in the blogs. So, now back to Sunday, 1/24/10.

According to the Contiki Egypt brochure: "First to the Egyptian Museum where our guide will take us back to ancient Egypt and the time of the Pharaohs. From here to Giza for a guided tour of the Great Pyramids and Sphinx. In the evening, we board our overnight train for Aswan."

So it seems that everyone else woke up to the sound of the 5 am call to mosque that was blasted on the loudspeakers outside our windows. Yeah, I didn't hear that. About an hour later our real wake up call came and that was what got me up. Everyone else does breakfast and then we meet with a Contiki guy who signs us up for excursions and what not. I've decided to go for two extra ones: the trip to Abu Simble to see the temple of Ramses II and for the final night when we return to Cairo, there's a light show at the Pyramids that I've heard sucks, but I have learned it's better to hang with your new friends on the last night (say, instead of sitting in a train on your way to Rotterdam.) We are leaving Cairo today but this tour is different than my Europe tour and they mostly take care of the luggage for you (the hotel does). So, I leave my bag outside my room and someone else has the fun of lugging it into the elevator and into the lobby where I grab it and lug it to the bus. We get on the tour bus and I sit in front of Julie and another American, Matt (from L.A.) We're messing with the seats and playing with buttons, like youngsters do, and Matt notices two buttons on the side of our seats. One makes sense and indicates "forward and backward" to show you can recline your seat. The other button shows arrows going side to side and Matt asks "What is this for, fatties?" and pushes the button and yes, it appears that's what it's for. It moves the armrest over so if you have an ample ass, you can sit in
Contiki EgyptContiki EgyptContiki Egypt

Thanks to whomever scanned this in/posted on FB! :)
comfort. Who knew.

Our first stop is at the Egyptian Museum- Cairo. We go thru a couple of security scanners (that seems to be common over here, along with the fact that they seem to ignore the machine when it beeps.) We get into the museum and Sherif hooks us up with receiver walkie talkies and earphones so that we can hear him give us a tour of the museum and he can still whisper. There was so much to see in the museum, click on the link to see all the specifics. One highlight is the King Tut exhibit where they have his golden mask and the many many many and, oh yeah, many treasures that he was entombed with. Another highlight is the Royal Mummies. It costs extra (100 Egyptian pounds which is about $20 US) but it is interesting- you can see the mummified remains of many of their kings, queens, princes, princesses. Gross, yes, but also fascinating. You can also, at no additional charge, see the mummified animals that they decided to take to the afterlife with them- there's an entire exhibit of crocodiles cats, dogs, birds, snakes, rams, etc. There were quite a few cat mummies and I made the mistake of reading the sign next to them that said that people would buy the mummified cats to leave as gifts at the tombs, our modern day version is flowers. Someone would snap a cats neck, wrap it up, and hand it over. Another interesting exhibit was one of Queen Hatshepsut and her hubby King Thutmose. Hatshepsut married Thutmose III (her nephew actually) and then he went off to explore/conquer and didn't come back. So, she took over and became Egypt's first Queen. She had a good run and it sounds like she was a good queen, when suddenly hubby came back. Not long after, she died and it seems everyone kind of always thought that hubby wasn't happy about being replaced/forgotten and killed her. However, thanks to science they ran tests on her not too long ago and found that she did die of natural causes. So, looks like he wasn't the original O.J.

After the museum, we run the first of many gauntlets we'll encounter. Our mission, make it from the Museum gates to the bus. Obstacles will be every person in the street wants to sell you something, take you on a taxi ride, follow them to their store, etc. And they are grabby and get in your face- it is not a good feeling and is 100%!m(MISSING)y most negative thing to say about Egypt. I understand why they do it, I'm not being a crabby American and saying "they should behave better". They have no money, they're trying to provide for their families. That being said, it really scares me to even be around them.

We all make it onto the bus and head off East across the Nile to Giza (formerly called Memphis). We pass byZamalek Island which is where the well to do of Cairo live- and it doesn't look like it's that great so that shows the scale they have to measure by. There are many tall buildings that top floors were never completed but people still live there anyway, they just hang up tarps as their roofs. So you see tarps everywhere, and satellite dishes. Sherif says that no Egyptian can live without their cell phone nor satellite dish.

On our way to the Pyramids in Giza, we encounter an unusual transport truck. Well, the truck itself was somewhat normal (less lights and license plates), it was the cargo that caught our eye- camels. Our bus driver (whose name I don't remember, my bad- we only had him that one day so I'm not a total snob) was kind enough to slow down as we passed so we could all clamber to the right side of the bus and take pictures. It was all very cute and endearing until Sherif told us they were on their way to the slaughter house. Hope they enjoyed their last ride.

(1/27 note: It's now 2:30 pm and I'm trying to write in this blog once more. I've moved up to the sundeck so that I can be somewhat social with the group and as I sit here, reclining on a lounge chair, one of the deck waiters walks by and runs a loving hand over my foot as he smiles and walks by. Another aspect of Egypt that hasn't pleased me is the men are very touchy.)

Back to 1/24. So, we wave goodbye to the soon-to-be camel burgers and we can see the Pyramids in the distance. As we turn off of the highway, we pass by an area that will soon be the new Egypt Museum. One exhibit that they're working on is a 3 story tall statue of Ramses II. So far, it's in it's iron crate and waiting to be unveiled when the museum, which they haven't really even broken ground on yet, opens. Since the picture is kind of dark, I'll tell you that it made me think of King Kong in the trolley they used to move Hannibal Lecter. Sure, that stuff I can remember, but I had to look up to see who the statue was. Sad.

We get to the Pyramids (whew- that took a while for me to get to, didn't it?) and Sherif hands us our tickets that will get us onto the grounds. We then have the option to buy a ticket into the 2nd pyramid which is the Pyramid of Khafre (30 Egyptian Pounds) or to buy 1 of 250 tickets they'll sell that day for the Great Pyramid which is also known as the Pyramid of Khufu and the Pyramid of Cheops) (100 Egyptian Pounds). There is also a third, smaller pyramid, Pyramid of Menkaure but you can't go in that one. They limit the amount of tourists that they let into the Great Pyramid so those tickets don't go on sale until 1pm. Since most of us want to do that one, Sherif suggests that we get into line no later than 10 'til 1 if we want to get a ticket. So, that leaves us about 45 minutes to wander. Fun little fact that I can't find a place to insert, so I will insert it here. Egypt is not covered in pyramids, they actually stopped making them after just a few because it was a giant "dig here" sign for grave robbers. That's when they started burying the Kings/Pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings (see Day 63).

A group of us start wandering between the first and second pyramid, taking pictures of this and that and soon I'm walking and talking with D'Raj who is an interesting guy from London. To say the pyramids are amazing to stand next to doesn't justify the experience. This has become one of my favorite memories of my World Tour. It's surreal to see women in long black dresses called abaya's everywhere- that's something you see on CNN or National Geographic channel, and here I'm seeing it in person. There are other women that wear more colorful dresses but, according to Sherif, that means they are not married yet. Once you're married, you wear black. I'm shy to take their picture, so the few I do I quickly snapped and tried to act like I was taking a picture of something behind them (say, like a giant pyramid.)

The time comes to stand in line so we drop our cameras off at the bus (you're not allowed to take them inside the Pyramids) and we go to stand in line. I get to the front of the line and hand the guy a 200 Egyptian Pound note (ticket is 100 which is $20 American) and he hands me the ticket and waits for me to move for the next person w/o giving me my change. I smile and say that I gave him a 200, he shakes his head. I don't move. He says something to me I don't understand, I don't move. He throws up his hand in frustration and starts counting his money drawer. Someone brings him over a calculator to help him with his tragic ordeal. A couple of minutes later, he hands me 100 and I leave. Thankfully Julie waited for me so she and I walk up the stairs that they carved into the pyramid in the 1900's. They took a guess as to where the entrance was and made their own entrance/hallway until they met up with the real entrance. They unearthed the real entrance from the outside and you can see it about 50 feet above your head as you walk into the "new" entrance.

We go down a short hallway and then climb up a metal ladder. Then the fun begins. There is a ramp, with wooden "steps" nailed onto it, that is going at a 20-30 degree angle and the ceiling is so low that you have to walk/step up with your back bent into a "L" shape. This was quite a workout. We finish with that trek, stand up, stretch our backs, go up another short metal ladder, and do it again, but this time the incline feels steeper. It could just be because I was having a heart attack, who knows. To add to the bent over/gasping for breath fun is the fact that this is also the only way to get out, so we have people coming at us, bent in an "L" position, some going forward, some walking backward, trying to go down the pyramid. The only way to get by is for one of you to stop and smoosh against a wall. We get to the end of this incline and we reach the only tomb that is open to the public (it's about halfway up the pyramid from what I heard). They have minimal lights in the room and it really looks like a concrete box with a giant stone sarcophagus in it.. This is where the coffin/bejeweled sarcophagus would be kept. The blocks of stone are so precise and perfect, it looks modern- it's amazing. Everyone in there is quiet, it has a religious feel to it without even having the ornamentation. Granted I somewhat broke this serenity when I walked into the room gasping and exclaiming "Son of a " but I stopped before I finished the sentence, so I consider it a success. We stay there for a few minutes and decide we've experienced it enough (plus it smelled like a hostel in there) so we head back down the stairs/ramp and dodge people along the way. We get outside, I grab my camera from the bus and Julie's roommate, Andrea (Andi), snaps a shot of Julie and I pointing to our great adventure. Here's a link to a site where someone took pictures of the inside- can't say I agree with her standing in the sarcophagus, but at least you'll see most of what I saw.

We get back on the bus and they drive us towards the desert/away from the pyramids where we do our first excursion: Camel ride! Everyone on the bus signs up for this and we stand in a group while Sherif talks to the camel guys. One camel guy would come up and say something to Sherif and he'd turn to the group and go "okay, four people go with him" and he would calmly lead four people to their camels. Second guy came up, said he could take two, and two people were gently led away. Then, the other 30 or 40 camel guys figured that they weren't going to get any business, and they started doing a fast run/jog over to us while yelling about their fantastic rates (or so I'm assuming.) Sherif started saying "ok, 2 with him. 4 with him. 2 with this guy" and people were then snatched by the hands and quickly led off. It was actually pretty scary. Julie and I linked arms and when Sherif said "we need 2 people" we stepped forward. One guy reaches to grab me and I snatch my arm back, but let go of Julie and another guy gets her. My guy figures out he won't be grabbing my hand and motions at me, loudly, to come with him. I start walking slowly towards him and turn around to find Julie and she's being led in a somewhat similar direction by her guy and is frantically looking for me. I later tell her that, since I equate life to movies, I was reminded of the scene in E.T. where the doctors separate E.T. and Elliot and the screaming/reaching of hands that takes place. That's what I felt like doing. She said she felt like we had just been auctioned off as wives. Yeah, got that feeling too.

We get to my camel, who I later find out is named Mickey Mouse, and I throw my leg up like the expert horsewoman I now am (you know, from my 10 hours of riding one week in September). The camel rises and all is well- heck of a ride up though. I turn and look for Julie and she is nearby and on her camel as well. We all then forget about our fear of the horde of camel men as we look around and see all of us on camels smiling. It was amazing. Our kidnappers, er, camel leaders lead each camel by a rope (some attach the rope to a donkey and ride in front on the donkey) and lead us back towards the Pyramids. It was amazing to see them from this perspective, and you could see all 3 were actually in a line- something that couldn't see when you were down by them. Our guides stop at strategic spots that offer the best view and are kind enough to take our cameras and take pictures of us, on our camels, with the pyramids behind us. Before getting off the bus, Sherif handed each of us 20 Egyptian Pounds and said that was for tipping our camel guys and that we shouldn't tip them any more. My guy takes my pictures a few times and then asks for his tip. I say not yet, but I will tip him. He asks a few more times, then resigns and leads my camel on. We soon stop at another "Photo stop" and he takes a few more pictures and asks for a tip. I decide to give it to him now so that we don't have this conversation anymore, and that shows how little Amanda knows about this culture. I hand him the 20 and he motions that he wants more. I tell him that that is all I have. He continues to stand there for a couple of more minutes asking for more with me looking around at the departing group saying, not caring if he understood, "I'm no longer having fun, how do I make this thing move?" I'd say a camel doesn't respond to commands like a horse, but I had a hell of a time getting a horse to listen to me so what do I know. He finally says "Ok, I trust you" and moves us back towards the group. We fall in line and I'm relaxing and enjoying the scenery again when he taps me on the leg. I look down at him and he motions to my tour mate that is riding in front of me and says "Ask." I say "Ask him what?" Camel guy says "Asks him to give you money so you can tip me." Son of a... I just turn away from him and ignore him from that point. We get back to where we started and my camel guy asks if I had fun. Before i can answer him, the camel starts to sit and decides to only bend his front legs and not his back and I am clinging to the saddle, trying to keep from falling forward onto the ground and I exclaim "I'll be having more fun when you get him to lie down." The camel situates himself and sits all the way and I get off, say "Thank you" and quickly walk away. Luckily Matt got a picture of my face as I was fighting gravity- good news is that I was smiling and not crying.

We get back onto the bus, telling Sherif that he rocks as a tour guide, and we head back towards the Pyramid and around to the other side where we can see the Sphinx. Sherif leads us in a quick tour of the Khafra Mortuary Temple that is
Me, Julie & MattMe, Julie & MattMe, Julie & Matt

I screwed up the look- should have had my shades on!
there and then we have about 20 minutes to explore on our own. Matt takes a picture of me kissing the Sphinx and then he "one ups" me by having me take a picture of him frenching the Sphinx. Don't you just love us tourists? An interesting little fact that I didn't know was that the Sphinx's nose was actually shot off by Nazi's when they invaded/took over Egypt and wanted to do some target practicing. Not sure if that's why his beard is gone too. Matt hangs around there a few more minutes and Julie and I head towards the bus and try to politely say "no" and walk around the many people trying to sell you stuff. By this time tomorrow, we'll no longer be as polite.

Next up is lunch at a restaurant that is just around the corner, Felfela Cafe. I decided to try my luck and ordered Chicken Kabobs, they are normally quite mild. They were very good and I am happy to report, I didn't get sick. Yea! Don't applaud just yet, my journey in Egypt isn't over. We then head over to El Omda which, as their "menu" exclaims, is "The Thousand And One Night Flower Extract Palace". Aka, perfumery. They serve us complimentary tea and even go out and make a beer run for those that wanted beer (an Australian staple I'm learning.) We then have a demonstration on the various scents they make and they bring around a sample for us after they explain each scent. The first one was "White Lotus" and he dabbed it on the top of my right hand and it smelled great. The 2nd was "Papyrus" and he dabbed it on the top of my left hand, it was okay. I don't remember the names of the others but the 3rd went on the inside of my right wrist; 4th inside of left wrist; 5th on top part of my right forearm; 6th top left forearm; 7th bottom right forearm; 8th bottom left forearm; 9th was an oil that we rubbed into our elbows. As Matt said, we all started to smell like a whorehouse. We were trying to discreetly rub the oil off on our paper menus, our neighbors jacket, the couches we were sitting on, anything. They then started talking prices and asking who wanted what. While "White Lotus" oil was nice, I didn't like it enough to bother with figuring out how to ship it later so I passed. Some of us hung around in that room for a while and others disappeared. Finally we decide to see where the others went and go into the next room where they are trying out a Hookah (which, for this instance, just had normal scented tobacco in it.) They wrap it up and we get back on the bus and head off to our next/last destination: the overnight train to Aswan.

Sherif had mentioned that we needed to go to the perfumery before the train because there weren't showers on the train and we would need all the help we could get on keeping our smell at bay. Hate to break it to him, but that smell was on the train before we got there. On the bus ride over, he reads off which room everyone is in and it looks like I'll remain roommate-less for the whole trip- awesome! I verified with Sherif that that meant I'd have the "cabin" to myself and not be sharing with a stranger, right? Wrong. He said that the other bunk in the room would have been made available to the public and he didn't know who I'd have as a roommate. No longer awesome. I tried to politely express this and I don't think he understood why i was not pleased over this aspect. I don't share hotel rooms with strangers. Yes, on the first night of the tour everyone is a stranger in the group and you room with one of them, but that is totally different. This is Jill Public that I'll be forced to share a VERY small space with. "It's an's an's an adventure..."

We get to the station and only have to wait about 20 minutes until our train arrives. I get to my cabin and at least I'm encouraged to see that Sherif has the adjoining cabin. So, when my stranger roommate strangles me in the night, maybe he can hear our struggle and save me. Or save my laptop, that's my true concern. I set Monstro down and there is no room, so I don't even unpack. I just stand there looking around thinking "I don't know what to do." So, I pull out my book and sit back and wait for my roommate to show up. Sherif comes back from his rounds (making sure everyone else is settled) and sits and we talk about this and that. Soon, the train starts moving and Sherif informs me of my good luck- no roommate! Whew!! We continue to sit and chat and end up having dinner together (they bring the dinners to your "cabin") and he fills me in on some of the beliefs and customs of the Egyptian Muslim community. It's very interesting, and while I don't agree with 90% of it (to put it nicely), it was still intriguing to hear. We end up talking for a few hours and then call it a night around midnight. The train is expected to get into Aswan between 8-9am. The steward had been by earlier and "made my bed" (which means he used his special steward key and unlocked the wall that the bed dropped down from) so I was all set there. I make a quick trip to the bathroom and decide, after seeing urine everywhere and being blasted by the smell, that I can hold it. There are signs up in the bathroom that you shouldn't use them while the train is stopped at a station. That's because when you "flush" it just opens a door at the bottom of the toilet and dumps everything on the track.

I pull back the sheets and while the sheets look clean, I get a whiff of something, I bend down and smell and you can smell the reek of the mattress thru the sheets. Too many dirty bodies have slept there, no amount of clean sheets can save it. I think about unpacking the backpack and finding the silk travel sheets I had packed, but decided that was too much effort so I just sleep in my clothes and try not to move around too much. At first, other than the bed cooties that were surely crawling on me, it was relaxing being rocked to sleep by the train. I took some video out my window for a while and then drifted off to sleep... for about 30 minutes. Then I was awakened by a million different, but normal, train noises for the rest of the night. So, between that and my fear of the mattress, not a lot of sleep happened.

Additional photos below
Photos: 41, Displayed: 41


Sphinx and Great and 2nd PyramidsSphinx and Great and 2nd Pyramids
Sphinx and Great and 2nd Pyramids

This is where we'll be sitting for the Light and Laser show on Friday.

5th February 2010

You made camel kebobs?
What's that pointy thing behind you?

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