Egypt- the country that has been on the top of my "places to see" list since I started writing a list (since I was in primary school). Over time the list has changed a bit, but Egypt has always held it's top place.
To explore Egypt, I did a 15 day budget tour with 23 others. The tour started in Cairo with a trip to the Egyptian Museum which has over 100,000 relics including the treasures found in King Tutankhamun's tomb. We then braved the 38°C heat to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx in Giza. The Pyramids were great to see because they are "the Great Pyramids" - the oldest (2560BC) and only surviving member of the ancient wonders of the world - but I'll be honest, they were not the highlight of the trip as there were much more amazing Egyptian temples and tombs etc further on.
In the evening we caught an overnight train to Aswan. Overnight train rides are always 'interesting' experiences, and this one was no different. We had men offering to buy us (as wives) for 500 camels, little kids playing the fun game of try-and-kiss-the-tourists, and a toilet that was beyond description
The largest pyramid in the world (138.8 m)
that had us holding on for 14 hours. When the sun came out it was actually really interesting seeing all the activity going on outside - shepherds, farmers, laden donkeys all busy working.
After a much needed bathroom break and shower when we arrived in Aswan, we took a motor boat down the Nile for a swim (contrary to popular belief there are no crocodiles in the Egyptian Nile and the Aswan Dam keeps them out) and then to visit a Nubian Village to have a traditional dinner and learn about the lifestyle and customs of the original inhabitants of the region. Nubia was a country located where southern Egypt and northern Sudan are today, and the Nubians are one of Africa's earliest black civilizations.
The next day we drove 3 hours to Abu Simbel which is the site of 2 amazing temples carved out of the mountainside as a monument to King Ramses II (probably Egypt's most powerful pharaoh) and his wife Queen Nefertari. This is probably one of the most amazing and awe-inspiring places I have been to. The carvings and the paintings are just beautiful. We got there when there were no other tourists so
On overnight train
we were free to roam the temples without it being crowded or noisy - which definitely created an eerie atmosphere. The mercury hit 44°C though so it was a hot day.
Abu Simbel was discovered in 1813, and became a tourist attraction which created a lot of 19th century graffiti carved into the temples. What also makes Abu Simbel amazing is that when the Aswan Dam was constructed in the 1960's it created Lake Nasser, so the temples had to be relocated to avoid them being submerged in the lake. The entire area was cut into large blocks, dismantled and reassembled in a new location - 65 m higher and 200 m back from the river. An amazing feat of engineering.
On our return to Aswan in the afternoon, we boarded our felucca (traditional wooden sailing boat). On board we had a Nubian crew who did the sailing and cooked for us. We sailed for a bit in the afternoon then docked up on the banks of the Nile to sleep. The next day we had a full day's sailing. It was pure bliss! Just laying back and relaxing, having a beer or 3, and we had plenty
of opportunities to swim as well. Ah! On the second night, we had bonfires on the beach with other felucca groups and danced and sang Nubian tubes around the fire.
Our felucca journey ended the next day in the 4000 year old city of Luxor. In Luxor we visited the Temple of Karnak and the Temple of Luxor. Both temples were really interesting with amazing carvings and paintings, sanctuaries, kiosks, pylons and obelisks dedicated to gods and pharaohs. Most pharaohs left their mark on the Karnak temple, and we were lucky enough to have an excellent guide who was a wealth of knowledge (and enthusiasm) of Egyptian history who shared a lot of information with us.
Our trip to the Valley of the Kings was another of my highlights of the trip and a much anticipated one, as I have watched many documentaries on the discoveries there. The Valley of the Kings has 63 royal tombs from the dating from 1550-1069 BC, including the tomb of King Tutankhamun, which is famous for being the only tomb discovered with all it treasures still inside. The area was chosen because of it's proximity to a pyramid-shaped mountain peak and from
Luxor, the valley could be easily guarded, and the site appears to be where the sun sets (which is associated with the afterlife by ancient Egyptians). Our ticket into the site allowed us access to 3 tombs (of the few which are open to tourists), so we visited the tombs of Ramses I, Ramses IV and Ramses VI. The 3 tombs were very different from each other - with Ramses IV being the best preserved and the most decorated and beautiful. After the Valley of the Kings, we also visited the Temple of Hatshepsut (complex of mortuary temples and tombs) and the Colossi of Memnon (two massive stone statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III).
On the way to the Sinai Peninsula, we spent a night in Hurghada where we chilled out and relaxed by the hotel pool. The next day, after an overnight bus, we arrived into Dahab - a backpacker's town on the Red Sea. We spent 5 relaxing days in Dahab - swimming in the pool or in the sea, snorkelling, shopping, eating in the waterfront cafes, and one day we went quad biking to see the lagoon and Bedouin villages.
On the 2nd day I went
diving in the Red Sea in the famous dive sites, the Canyon and Bells/Blue Hole. This was a major highlight for me as the great Jacques Cousteau ranked the Red Sea as his favourite scuba diving area in the world. The dives were amazing with interesting topography, loads of coral and fish, excellent visibility and turquoise blue water (although very salty). I will definitely return to the Red Sea one day to do more dives.
We returned to Cairo for a night before we all went our separate ways, and I returned to London happy and tanned. Egypt definitely lived up to my expectations and now I can finally cross it off my list. Kenya now takes pride at #1 (which will be a short lived glory since I go there in October).
Next stop - a week in Italy in July when my Mum and little sister come over to visit me!
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