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Africa » Egypt » Upper Egypt
July 29th 2007
Published: September 2nd 2007
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::Warning... I've been in Egypt for 3 weeks and saw a million incredible architectural sites, hence the photo overload!::

Egypt! At this point of my travels, it is a sign that this past year of being a nomad has finally reached it's expiration date.

I was nervous about Egypt because the stories of sexual harassment cases against travelers are endless, and I know that countries always have one "scary story" about them, but everyone I met who had been to Egypt had episode after episode. I'd heard from Megan (graphic designer from Chicago whom I traveled with in Uganda & Rwanda) a story where an old man in his 60s~70s cornered her and kept repeating "Sex, sex, sex" and she finally had to resort to grabbing a handful of trash from the trash bin next to her and smothering it in his face. Yay and a high-five for Megan, but just one story among so many...

::CAIRO::
When I arrived into Cairo Int'l Airport, I was a bit surprised to see people smoking everywhere: in the baggage claim area, the immigrations counter, etc. All this was a bit shocking because in East Africa, you hardly see people smoking
sunset on the Nilesunset on the Nilesunset on the Nile

felucca ride
since a pack of cigarettes could mean a day's earnings in some places. This was my first exposure to the smoking culture of Egypt... everyone and their dog's seem to be smoking either a cigarette or a sheesa (hooka). You can inevitably guess what happened with the frequency of my habit once I arrived into Smokers Capital.

I arrived into Cairo late in the evening and spent about 30 minutes negotiating a price with the taxi touts. My favorite situational lines to use when I negotiate is "I was here last week/month and paid $--?" or "This isn't my first time here..." Anyhow, these three lines (added with one hand on the hips and an eye-roll for affect) have come in really handy throughout my travels. Once they think that you know what you're talking about, when really you have no clue, the ball is bouncing b/t your and their courts, rather than just bouncing in theirs. Dad would be so proud!

I checked into Hotel Luna on Talat Harb street, and I would recommend this place to any budget traveler who wants to splurge a little-- splurge meaning ($17~$22). Each room has three or four beds which you can use with other travelers or friends, so the cost of the room significantly goes down if you have others to share it with. Plus it has high ceilings, strong air-con, really clean bathrooms and charming architecture. Talat Harb is a major shopping street with lots of good restaurants nearby, as well as the Egyptian National Museum. There is a McDs and a KFC nearby and so in a period of one week, I ate at McDs 5x and KFC 2x and it was heaven! I never thought I was one of "those" travelers, but a Big Mac and fried chicken does look beautiful after 3 months of constant Indian food and three months of so-so food in Tibet and Africa (places in Nepal and Szechuan food in China were yummy though^^).

Despite the pollution and the heavy heat, the city of Cairo is actually really beautiful. The architecture of the city is really historic and nostalgic, and with the Nile River flowing through, it really is impressive. Islamic Cairo is beautiful as well with a market in winding alleys with cobble stone roads, though the touts can really drive you mad at times. I thought I had become so good at negotiating, with my word choice selection, friendly smile, etc, but these guys are so smooth. I bought this jewelry box from a shop and the guy started the price at $70, and I was so shocked that I blurted, "I would pay no more than $10 for it." After about 20 minutes, I got it to $10, but I realized that I lost all my negotiating power once I gave the price. Oh well.. I think as a foreigner, it's impossible to get a good price in Egypt. ::FYI- nearly all taxi rides in Cairo is 5 Egyptian Pounds, roughly $1. Even 10~15 minute rides. Don't let the taxi drivers fool you::

One another hot, summer, sultry Egyptian afternoon, I walked over to the amazing Egyptian Museum, walking past cafe after cafe of men sitting against the walls drinking chai and smoking sheesa. I happened to met a guy on the street who started the "Ni-how!... kon-i-chi-wa!..." chant, trying to guess what Asian country I'm from. When I said I was Korean, he said, "No." "What do you mean no? I am Korean." "No, you can't be." "Why?" "You are too dark. You are Pilipino" Hahahaaa... so I said, "Well I was traveling in Africa with no sunscreen." We ended up having kushari (rice/pasta/tomato sauce/lentils and dried onions mixed in a bowl) and he spoke half the time in Korean. Pretty interesting. It turned out that he taught himself the language with hopes of being a tour guide for Koreans, which unfortunately never happened. 😞

There are several interesting things about being in a place where tourism is a dominant industry, but one thing that comes to mind is the locals' exposure to different languages and cultures. The locals who deal with the tourists through business or just socializing speak several languages: English, Japanese, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, some Chinese, some Korean, etc, aside from their own language. It's pretty incredible to see them conversing with an Italian one minute, and then turning to a Japanese person and conversing with them the next minute, while answering my questions in English. It was like that everywhere I've traveled so far, except China, who just don't give a damn with 1 billion people who do understand them.

I ended up not going to the museum b/c I forgot my student ID, which cuts the entrance fee down from $20 to $10. Plus there is a mummy exhibition inside and the student ID helps even more. That's the thing about Egypt... it's probably the best country in the world for an ISIC (Int'l Student Identification Card) for discounts at it's dozens and dozens of sites. The street hustlers even sell it on the streets ("Hot day today huh? By the way, I have ISICs if you want one"), although you should adamantly negotiate as they will overcharge you so much that you'll end up paying more for it than you'll end up saving from the student discounts. It's best to have an ISIC here rather than a university ID, as some places don't even accept legitimate student ID cards.

I ended up going to the Egyptian Museum two days later with an American guy I met at the hotel/hostel. Egypt is the first place I've been where I've met so many American tourists. We spent about 4 hours in there and it was exhausting. After awhile, you get a little bit jaded seeing statue, hieroglyphic scripts, sarcophagus', etc. There are over 100,000 things on display here, so you can imagine the ancient relics overload. Egypt is blessed with so many ruins that you see that even they are jaded by it all... some of the relics are carelessly displayed, or some are piled atop of each other, or stuffed into a corner. One small exhibit here could be a whole display in a museum back home! Regardless of the exhausting abundance of relics, it was all amazing to see. One thing I especially enjoyed was the Tutankhamen Galleries. WOW! It was just as impressive as I had imagined it to be... the sarcophagus (the case that holds the mummy) and the gold plated head case (the famous one you see in textbooks and documentaries) were SO elegant. My admiration and respect for those who conceived, produced and completed these feats exceeds measurement. The other cool but creepy thing I saw was the Royal Mummy Room, which you have to pay extra for. It's two part, so there is a lot to see. No cameras are allowed in the museum, but I wouldn't even want a photo of the mummies... the hallow, gaunt, skeletal faces are a bit jarring.

Egypt was dreadfully hot when I was there so I never really made it to the pyramids (blush). Actually, the only time I made it there was two weeks after I got to Egypt with plans to go for the sunset. I arrived there at 4:30, only to find out that the pyramids close at 4:30! A tout came to me and offered a camel ride around the back side of the pyramids, and after negotiating a price and getting on the camel, he told me to scoot back so he could get on the saddle with me. I told him to get his own camel and he said no. Umm... Egyptian man and Asian girl sharing a sadle in the middle of the desert alone for two hours?!?!... hell &#*$& no! Flashbacks of Megan & co. stories flooded my mind, and needless to say, I abandoned the camel ride and only saw the pyramids from a distance. After I get back here from the rest of my Middle East travels, I will go to the pyramids-- as the thought of saying that I went to Egypt and didn't properly see the pyramids b/c I was too busy eating at McDs is too embarrassing!

On my last day in Cairo, I wandered into a travel agency to inquire about a flight for Italy. It turned out that it was not only a travel agency, but also a tour agency. After much talk, I ended up signing up with a tour to southern Egypt, from Aswan- Luxor- Cairo. I was against the idea of a tour, but when Musafa started to mention the air conditioned vans and the nice 3 star hotels, I thought Why Not? I calculated the costs of doing the whole thing myself and realized I would save $30, but at the risk of having more than my fair share of " funny in hindsight but a nightmare to endure" stories. I eventually got the price down to $160 for 8 days/7 nights, which included breakfast, accommodations, all transport, an English-speaking guide, and two nights on a felucca boat with all meals included. The only thing it doesn't include is entrance fees and lunch and dinner. I would totally recommend Twin Tours to any budget traveler looking to book a tour in Egypt. The guys are really nice and it's probably the best deal you'll find in Egypt. Even if you get it at a higher price than what I got, it will still be better than booking it through your guesthouse, hotel or from overseas. I met people on my tour who got it for $400 to $600 (but that included a few additional nights), so I would really recommend looking into Twin Tours. When I told the tour planner from Hotel Luna, Sam, about my tour, he told me I signed up with a "street hustler so good luck." I was nervous on the train ride all the way to Aswan, until I got there and realized that the people who signed up with Sam were on the same tour as I was. So in the end, the tours are all the same and Sam is the hustler.

::ASWAN::
On the train ride to Aswan, I met two Spanish guys named Robert and David. Robert is a diving instructor in Sharm el Sheikh, and David is a visiting friend. Once we got to Aswan, they joined the tour group, which included Americans Abby and Zeb, among others. Abby and Zeb are in the education field (librarian assistant and science teacher) and had been traveling in southern Africa during their summer vacations.

The first day, we started the tour by visiting
a feluccaa feluccaa felucca

felucca ride
the High Dam and the world's largest man made lake. Then we took a ferry over to Aglikia Island, which houses the majestic Temple of Philae. It used to be on a different location, but when they built the High Dam 40 years ago, the water started to rise and slowly began submerging the temples of the south. They saved the temples by dismantling them and moving them to a higher elevation. Since Egypt didn't have the resources to save it, they asked other countries for help, and the four who stepped in were each rewarded a temple, including the US. I guess at the end of the day, it's worth it to lose four ancient temples to save 10!

In the evening, we went to the light and sound show in Philae, which is considered the best one in Egypt. All the temples here have what's called a light and sound show, where they tell a story of the temple with the use of dramatic music and lighting. It's a bit cheesy, but if you were to select one show to attend, I would say that this one in particular is worth going to.

The next day,
swimmingswimmingswimming

felucca ride
we woke up at 3 a.m. to take the three hour drive to Abu Simble with a police convey. There has been some cases of tourist murders along the south, so many places are off-limits unless there is a police convoy to escort you. Therefore, at 4 a.m. in the morning, there were loads of tourist buses and vans lining up for the drive to the Great Temple of Abu Simbel. This temple has to be one of my favorites, with the grand entrance guarded by four colossal statues of Ramses II. This temple is built on a mountainside and the interior is all inside the rocky mountain, complete with rooms, massive columns and wall carvings. It simply blows your mind how people were able to built this with the limited resources of the past.. and in this scorching heat! *claps and cheers*

Before we left Aswan, we visited the ruins of the ancient town of Elephantine Island. Compared to the things I've been seeing, it was not so impressive, but this was the setting of a terrible encounter. Abby and I were wandering around the ruins and I saw her up in a higher part of the ruins. I walked up the stairs and turned to walk down the platform, and at the end of the walkway 30 feet away, I saw a local man in Muslim dress sitting on a bench under a shade. I thought, "Hmm.. why is his dress up? his bare legs are out? And why is he moving his hands in that up and down? ..and what is that thing he's touch... OH MY GOSH! Aughhhh!" Feeling violated from his public display of perversion, I immediately turned around and thought of walking away. Then I thought better. I turned around and started to yell, "What the hell are you doing? You should be ashamed of yourself! That's so disgusting, etc etc." Sort of like how a teacher scolds a student. He pulled his dress down and got up and started to walk away and muttered, "Sorry," as I kept teachering. I'm glad I didn't cuss at him, but I wish I let out a high-pitched scream to really startle him.

::NILE RIVER::
We did a two night felucca ride along the Nile River. A felucca is a wooden boat with a tall sail, where we eat, hang out, and sleep on the top, and there is a shaded tarp that protects us from the sun. We actually sailed for only a few hours in a day, and the rest of the time was spent swimming or docked along the shore. So it's safe to say that the ride is not for functional purposes, but just to experience a drift along the Nile River and watch the stunning sunsets.

Abby mentioned that she felt like we were a bunch of hippies, and it's true. All we do is lay around, read books, listen to music, swim in the Nile, go pee in the bushes, and eat vegetarian food. All we had to do more was "talk about world peace and drop LSD" and it would be all peace, love and flower power on the felucca. It was a wonderfully, lazy two days along the Nile.

The bad part of the felucca ride is that there are no bathroom facilities at our rest stops (which are pretty much just farmland), so we just had to go behind a bush and pray that no one interrupts, or that you don't accidentally step on someone else's "business." Sometimes as I wandered around trying to find a spot that's covered, perverts come along and start hanging out nearby, leaning against a tree as if coincidentally they wanted to relax there. Then I icily say, "What do you want?" Even when I had Zeb and Roberto escorting me, the local guys would still come and harass me.

On our last night, Abby and I went far along the shore to avoid some peeping Toms. When the coast was clear, I started to pee and then I heard a rustling in the bush. I got up and Abby and I shined the flashlight into the bush and didn't see anything. I was sort of freaked out b/c it was late night, really dark and the situation was a bit questionable. Then I stood up, and all of a sudden a man walked out of the bushes, about 10 feet in front of me. I screamed soooooo loud and started to yell out every profane word I know and probably made some up too! He ran back into the bushes so fast, and I couldn't stop shaking or crying, so Abby had to calm me down. At that point, I was at my wits end and emotionally
Jen and GraceJen and GraceJen and Grace

Valley of the Queens (Luxor)
fed up of constantly feeling fear in Egypt, with the visual, verbal and physical sexual harassment from the men. It's such a disgusting feeling, having that burden lurking around and never knowing when it will hit. It's unfortunate because Egypt is a beautiful country but some of the men are disgusting, filthy pigs. I understand how the men could be sexually frustrated since their religion creates a distinct segregation between men and women, but it still doesn't give them a right to take it out on Western women, thinking that we somehow don't deserve respect since we're not Muslim and therefore, the same rules don't apply to us. It's really stressful being in some parts of Egypt as a female traveling alone, and it really tests your patience and sanity at times. Even some of the men get harrassed; when Robert and David were walking in Luxor, a man said, "You want an Egyptian woman?" to which Robert jokingly replied, "No, we're gay." The man responded by saying, "Ok, you want to try a big Egyptian c--k?" Ughh, grosssssss!!!!

::LUXOR::
After traveling on the felucca for two days, a truck came to pick us up and we went to
Sunrise Sunrise Sunrise

Mt. Sinai
the temples in Kom Ombo, and later on to the temples of Edfu. Both were impressive, regardless of the fact that we were starting to get a little templed out. From Edfu to Luxor, we needed a police convoy to escort us once again.

When we arrived to Luxor, we stayed at the Queen Nile Valley Hotel, which blissfully had a rooftop swimming pool, with questionable green water, which didn't stop us from jumping right in. We had the day to ourselves, so we all did laundry and checked out the local souq (street market). At night, Abby, Zeb, Carmine and I went to the Sound and Light Show at the Temples of Karnak. It was nice, but we all started to nod off a bit. I have to say that the show at Philae was much more impressive.

The town of Luxor is divided into two: the East and West Bank. The East Bank is where the action is, with the hotels, restuarants, etc., while the West Bank is more quiet but with a lot of sites. Most people stay on the East Bank and do a day trip to the West Bank.

The following day,
ChillingChillingChilling

Mt. Sinai
we did an East Bank tour of the Temples of Karnak and Luxor Temple. Both are well-preserved and massive. There is a lot to see and you could easily get lost for hours. Unfortunately, since we're on a tour, we were on a time constraint, so after our guided tour, I had to speed walk to cover the grounds. The Temples of Karnak is among my favorite temples in Egypt, in addition to Abu Simbel.

On our third day, we were supposed to do a West Bank tour starting at 7 a.m., but Robert, David and I woke up too late and skipped it. Instead, we ate lunch at noon, then boarded a motor boat to cross the river to the West Bank to do the tour ourselves. We only saw (1) the Valley of the Queens, which are the royal tombs of the queens and royal family members from the 19th and 20th dynasties and (2) Colossi of Memnon, which are 54-foot tall statues of Memnon, who was killed in the Trojan War by Achilles, the only remnants of a temple that once stood there.

On this night, I boarded an overnight train for Cairo, from which I took a overnight bus headed to the Sinai peninsula to meet Robert and David in Sharm el Sheikh, where Robert is a diving instructor. After spending the afternoon with him and his friends, we got in his car and headed over to Dahab to be reunited with Zeb and Abby. We spent the day swimming in the pool of Zeb and Abby's posh hotel. That night, Zeb, Abby and I headed off for a trek to the peak of Mt. Sinai.

::MT. SINAI::
Climbing Mt. Sinai was one of those things that I didn't really want to do but had to do. With Mt. Sinai being the location where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God at the summit, it has a huge religious significance to Christians, Muslims and Jews. Grandma would be super proud (and a tad bit jealous?) that I came here.

There is a popular trek to the summit that happens a little past midnight, in order to make it to the top for the sunrise. There are two methods of getting to the top: the camel trail and the Steps of Repentance, which are 3,750 steps laid by a monk. We decided to take the camel trail on the way up, and the steps on the way down, as walking uphill is hard enough without steps. The walk up the hill was not too bad b/c the air is cool and breezy at night, but a minor annoyance was the hoard of camels sharing the narrow cliff-side trail with us and the Bedouins (desert inhabitants) chanting, "Camel? Camel? Good price, etc etc" nearly the whole way up. Once we reached a point called Elijah's Basin, the camel trail and the Steps of Repentance meet and we had to walk the remaining 750 steps up, which is great for thigh exercise but scary since the steps are slabs of stone winding up the mountain. I forgot my torch light so I had to make sure I was close behind someone who had light.

When we reached the top, it was near 3 a.m., and there were loads of people camped out already. We managed to get a good spot and tried to sleep while the cold desert, mountain wind blew all night. There were Bedouin children chanting "blanket, blanket" or "matress, matress" all night long, walking past our lying bodies, and dragging the blankets and matresses over our faces and bodies. I brought along my Emirites blanket that I snagged from my Nepal-Kenya flight. 😊

The sun started rising half past four, so we all sat around the cliff edge and watched the sun rise. It was a powerful feeling being there, and there was a group of Christains who were singing a hymn as the sun rose, which was another reminder of the religious significance of the mountain.

The walk down the Steps of Repentance was quicker and more scenic than the Camel Trail. I would recommend to anyone doing this to take this option on the way down. You're practically skipping down the steps.

::SHARM EL SHEIKH::
When we got back to Dahab, the three of us boarded a bus to Sharm to meet Robert and David. We went swimming at Robert's place and made dinner with his friend and Jen, an American we met in Luxor. We were all pretty exhausted so after dinner, we crashed and went to bed to rest up for our dives the following morning.

Abby and I had never dove before, so we did an introductory dive with Robert. We did some snorkeling in Ras Mohammed before our dive and the stuff going on under the water was amazing. The landscape of Sharm is a barren desert, so to see so much color, life and action happening under the crystal clear water was phenomenal.

Robert hooked us up and took Abby and I out for two dives, both of which offered different underwater landscape and views. We saw a lot of marine life, including sting rays and baracuddas. The dive itself was scary at first but I didn't have trouble with the breathing, although my ears were full of pressure. I had to pop my ears every minute to alleviate the pain.

That night, us and a group other other divers went to the racetrack to go go-cart racing. There were twelve of us, so the race itself was full on competition, complete with bumping and ramming, and yelling by the end of the night. I thought it would be like bumper cars, but it was more difficult and I came in last in the practice round, and second to last for the actual race. At least it's an improvement!

::DAHAB::
I spent the next three days being lazy in Dahab after saying bye to Zeb and Abby, who were headed back to the states via Italy. I met up with some other travelers I met in the south, and the days went by fast. Dahab is one of those places you can stay at for weeks and not realize that such time had past. It doesn't have the beachy resorts of Southeast Asia, but the sea is perfect for snorkeling and diving, and the seaside restuarants are charmingly refreshing.


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Cairo in early afternoonCairo in early afternoon
Cairo in early afternoon

life doesn't begin here until after 12 p.m.
My one and only shot of the pyramidsMy one and only shot of the pyramids
My one and only shot of the pyramids

Sphnix is a bit smaller than I had imagined (Giza)


7th September 2007

awesome
hey baby, everything looks amazing.. where are u now, in egypt? did u already stop by italy? when r u coming to la? call me again.. :(

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