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Africa » Egypt
April 29th 2006
Published: April 29th 2006
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Ahh so here I am again ready to type up another entry. I sometimes wonder if anyone actually reads these, and this time will be no different. In fact this one is about Egypt and thus, should possibly arouse at least some curiousity and interest. However, I along with Jocelyn, spent 10 days there and everyone of them had at least something going on, so its basically going to be a day to day run down. Meaning, it may get a little long...

I flew out of Basel on about 2 hrs sleep as my flight was early in the morning. As I was on the plane, I had a strange feeling the whole time on the plane. Was I actually going to Egypt? I had always regarded Egypt as a somewhat magical and untouchable place. A place where mystery, history and geography combine to give it almost a fictitious quality. It was probably more surreal and exciting than mz flight from Calgary to Germany 8 months ago now. Egypt! I'm going!

The plane from Basel only went to Munich, and then to Cairo- meaning a transfer- of people and luggage... The flight and approach into Cairo was bumpy and rough (perhaps a bit of foreboding), but I did get a quick look of the Greek islands, where I would also soon be. So after a lengthy wait in customs line and then meeting up with Jocelyn who flew in from Stuttgart we went to get our baggage - a simple process, requiring two things. First, a person waiting at the belt, and second, the bag coming out of that mystical hole from the innards of the airport. Sometimes you have that problem where your bag never finds its way out of there. This particular day, this was my problem. This then provided a first little look into Egyptian organization and effeciency, or better put, the lack thereof. Luckily, I thought ahead slightly and had put my glasses, contacts and extra shirt and socks and most of my valuables in my carry on bag.

So essentially stuffless, it was time to take the public transit, something which most tourists in Egypt avoid, into the city. The bus was 50 piatres or 10 Cdn cents for an hour long ride. A good price to pay for a look into a transportation and traffic system that borders on all out anarchy on pavement. It almost made driving in Rome look organized. There are essentially, no rules, and for a city of 16 million, a remarkably small amount of traffic lights. Luckily, we were living it up in the 5 star Cairo Marriot that Jocelyn had got by redeeming reward miles. For a room that was suppose to be $260 US, it was more reminiscent of a 3 star motor inn along the TransCan. The location was good though, and it had a small pool.

On the way out to the Cairo Tower, we stopped by reception again to check on any news about my bag. At this point I had accepted that I would have to do the rest of Egypt with just my small bag and that my big one may never be found. This thinking, due to a glimpse of the way the Egyptians handled luggage coming off planes. Anyway, while waiting I seen a guy holding a copy of my passport. I asked why and soon learned that I was being looked for and they couldnt find me under the hotel (some mix up of course) and that my bag was here, but almost back on its way to the airport. For a few minutes, I thought my bag was made of gold. A big relief as well, as I needed it for the next 4.5 months.

One of the first, if not the first words you learn in Egypt is "Baksheesh", meaning tip. Although most Egyptians have very small salaries and need it to make a living, it is quite annoying. Baksheesh is asked for for everything. From giving directions to unwanted guiding. On the Cairo Tower this was exactly the case. A man started pointing out all the important buildings, unasked for of course, all in the name of Baksheesh. The tower itself is somewhat unique and gives a good view of the city. At night it is hard to see how endlessly big the city really is, but flying over it on the plane, it was almost unfathomable.

Day 2 started with us getting a somewhat unpleasant introduction into hiring a taxi (get used to it! unfortunately.) What would of been a 1 km trip to the train station to get our tickets had us going probably 5 km due to the crazy road system. Time for another cab from downtown to the Pyramids. 15 Egyptian pounds (LE) (3 Cdn) for a half hour ride. Pretty cheap no? Next lesson: Firstly, the driver will never really stop exactly where you want him (no hers guaranteed) to because a) he wants more money or b) he stops where other Egyptians want your money. Secondly, and this ties in with b), every driver has a brother, friend, uncle, son-in-law etc, at your destination that has a "special" deal for a "special" you. We finally got to the actual entrance after having to turn out of the "special entrance" aka, the camel and horse area where your money is eagerly awaited.

The Pyramids themselves were spectacular at worst. Some say they are dissapointing, but I found them to be at least what I was hoping for. If anything is a let down, it would be the Sphinx. We went into the Cheops (Khufu) pyramid to check out the tomb. It had those very tight stairs that you always see or would at least think of, of being in a Pyramid. How these Pyramids and tombs inside them were made is truly thought provoking, and why, perhaps more so. However, what I found just as bewildering is how one of the guards was wearing 4 layers of clothes in easily +30 degrees. This included a coat and at least one full arm covering shirt. We, more I, then went on our own little search around the grounds. This led to me finding a closed off area and then a man leading me/us through it to a still in place Syrcaphagous and a second one as well that involved some climbing into a hole. Of course this warranted Baksheesh. I had at first give 5 LE and then afterwards another 5. I figured this was fair, but at this point I hadnt yet figured out what warranted how much. The man, of course said "It's very little." In a sense, he is right as its only about 2 Cdn, however, relatively speaking and after more Baksheesh experience, 10 LE was actually a lot.

After the Pyramids, we headed back into the city on another cheap bus. We ate lunch in the Cafe where it is said that Nasser plotted the revolution of 1952 against the British backed king at the time. From there we had only 1.5 hrs to cruise through the Egyptian museum. I could have use more time, but many artifacts arent described anyway, so you can go through it quite fast. From there it was to the train station to take the night train to Luxor. It was expensive (50 Euro) and not overly nice, but it did the job and we got some rest and a sort of supper. Due to the heat or something, I never really had an appetite and it remained that way throughout.

We got to Luxor and finally checked in to our cheap hotel (13 euro.) All the tombs are on the other side of the Nile so that's where we went. Immediately we were bombarded with taxi ride offers. To finally get one off our backs we promised (hand shake) to come back to him (call him driver A) if we need a taxi. We ended up getting another one (call him B) for 80 LE to take us to the 3 sites we wanted to see. First it was to the Valley of the Kings. King Tut's tomb, which cost an additional 70 LE ontop of the already 40 LE was nothing short of a dissapointment. Two fairly bland rooms. The best of the 3 other tombs that we saw was that of Tuthmosis III. We didnt become cursed but we sure made a guard angry when we took prohibited pictures of the trap pit. Ramses VI and Seti II were the other tombs. So back to the taxi to Hatshepsut's Temple. Oh look who's behind the wheel. Taxi driver A. Umm opps... hi... Apparently he was driver B's brother... I found this interesting. Hatshepsut's temple was remarkable and of course I got cornered into looking at a slightly better than normal inscription= Baksheesh. The third stop, the Valley of the Queens, was a nice change from all the touris and tour bus infested previous sites. (I think the dislike for tour buses grows and grows the more you travel without that kind of stuff.) However, there is usually a reason for things and the tombs here were a little dull. Nefertitis' tomb is here, but it wasnt open.

Throughout all these sites there are of course Egyptians trying to sell anything and everything they possibly can. It is quite sad really because some fo the stuff is really nice it is just that most people don't really want it at the time or don't want to be hassled in the first place. Thus, the prices of some of this stuff becomes rediculously low although I, and most other people I'm sure, would be willing to pay lots more if they actually wanted it. Intracatily carved mini statues of alabaster (probably a days work) that sold for a pound, for example. This whole process of hassling and bargaining tends to bring out the worst in both sides. In this case, the Egyptian, doing or saying anything to get money and the other side, the tourist, doing whatever possible to not get bothered or ripped off (relatively speaking again) and looking incredibly rude in the process. It also comes to a point of you not knowing who is being nice to you just for the sake of being nice, or who is being nice to you as a lead in to guilt you into buying something.

Anyways, back across the Nile, after buying Kleenex from a boy no older than 10 for a pound, we had some lunch. Luxor beer was suprisingly ok. Later we went to the Luxor Temple which was amazing. It is incredibly large especially for how old it is (about 1300 BC) and how it was built, again really makes you think.

Next morning, woke up to an included breakfast and with plans to take a horse buggy thing to the Karnak Temple. Another interesting bargaining process ensued and we were finally on our way. The deal was there and back and if we wanted we would stop at this "no" hassle government market. After Luxor Temple, I didnt think Karnak could be too much different/better but it was massive. The buggy driver also bullshitted us on how much time we would need inside (1 hour,) so we had to rush, but the scale of this temple was quite hard to grasp. So on the ride back, we were unwantingly taken to the market. It was indeed no hassle, however instead the prices were high and it was more like intense pressure selling. We didnt buy anything and the were upset to say the least. I dont think many tourists leave there empty-handed.

So that drew Luxor to a close and brought us on a 5 hr bus ride through the desert to Hurghada on the Red Sea. The buses, however, are far from comfortable and reliable is also not a word used to describe them. This meaning, that after about an hour we had to stop in a smaller city (Qena) to fix the engine of all things. It was either get it fixed or spend the night there. A relief bus was not an option, although we had stopped in a bus garage. The problem was, the buses there were on their own way to becoming an ancient egyptian monument. Luckily, after 1.25 hrs, we got going again, and with the addition of random stops on the road, got to Hurghada 2 hrs late. This was the location of our worst taxi bargaining experience. Won't get into details, but this and a kranky travel companion at the moment left me beat, and knowing that we were getting up in 3 hrs didnt help.

So rise and shine its ferry to Sharm el Sheikh time. We got to the port at 4:00 am to get on our 90 min ferry. This was going to leave a lot of time in Sharm to sit on the beach and then go to St. Catherines/Mt Sinai. The night before we were pondering on whether or not we should just take the bus all the way there (the bus that brought us to Hurghada kept going all the way there) but the further 12 hr ride seemed worth avoiding by paying for an expensive ferry. Was it worth avoiding? Well I cant say because apparently ferries can just get cancelled for what seemed, no reason. Yes, that meant, that either we stay in Hurghada, which outside of crowded, touristic beaches, has no appeal, or somehow try to get to the bus station again to take a bus to Suez, and then connect to the one that goes to St. Catherines. So we gave our 500 LE tickets back at a loss of 50 LE (no suprise here) and rode on up to Suez. Once there we found out when the bus from Cairo came through on the way to St. Catherines. Ahh what's another 3 hr wait anyway, as the bus was to come at 2:00 pm.

Well this was a good day for transportation in Egypt. At 2:30, although reassurances from the ticket counter guy, it was apparent that our bus was not coming. In the wait for it, we happened to notice some Egyptian guys also waiting for this bus and they noticed us. Us now including a retired Chinese teacher from Hong Kong. He would eventually become my Mt Sinai climbing friend, who was that sort of typical, semi-confused, seemingly out-of-his-element Asian you might be able to picture, who's name I never actually go, so I will simply call him "Chinese guy." Anyway, the Egyptians, knowing Arabic obviously, and having to get where they were going decided to include us, and probably to their advantage (making it cheaper for themselves, but we knew this and didnt care) in their plan to hire a Mini bus, or Van with lots of seats. These are a popular means of travel for Egyptians but a little trickier for tourists. What ensued was comedic egyptian disorder at its best that almost turned violent: For some reason or another we were a topic of much controversy. We never really understood why or what but our Egyptian passenger counterparts were not impressed and threatened on two occasions to take their money back, of which they did pay less than us. At one point we almost drove off withouth Chinese guy, who was taking one of his random pisses wherever he felt like. It wouldnt of mattered though, because we drove in a circle right back where we started where the majority of the arguing then took place. It seemed to be something between our two drivers and another taxi driver. Egyptians tend to like getting themselves involved. Maybe for something to do, or maybe because each one seems to think they can resolve the conflict best. Thus, we eventually had 30 or so guys yelling around the 3 main guys and 6 or so sub main guys. But as the saying goes, its all fun and games til somewhat gets hurt. A punch or slap was thrown, but then the screwdriver came out. Nothing really came of it, because they quickly took it away and held the screwdriver wielding man back. Eventually, this conflict over seemingly nothing was resolved and after another 1 an a half hours of time wasted, we were on our way down the West coast of Sinai to St. Catherines.

After 5 hrs we were finally at our destination, almost.... Of course after dropping off all the other Egyptians, the drivers told us that it would now be an extra 10 LE for us each (for 3 kms that is) after we just paid 35 LE for about 400 kms. Something didnt add up obviously, so some arguing between the 2 drivers and myself and us, with Chinese guy not having a clue what was going on, they drove us the last few kms.

So after 16 hrs and things twice seeming as though as if this lef of the journey would have to be skipped, we were here. For me, this was probably the most appealing part of our Egypt travels. For Joce, not so much and this was reflected in her decision to not climb with me or now us (Chinese guy and myself.) I had brought along my sleeping bag so that I could get 4 hrs or so of sleep at the top, so I wanted to set off at 10:00pm. Chinese guy in his usual decision making process of "I follow you" did just that. I would have rather just done it one my own because I did not know how fast he would be able to go and, although by no means a hard hike, how out of his element he may possibly of been- living in a large city all his life and all. Well after several stops, one including a realization that he lost his camera lid with a quick find, my Chinese hiking buddy started to become a small hinderance. Eventually I decided to just do it at my pace and after a half hour there was some significant distance between us. I figured he shouldnt have a problem following a path wide enough for an 18 wheeler even though it was at night and most straight up tourists use a Bedouin guide. We too were offered a guide but at this point making up lies and excuses had become second nature and a natural reflex so I nonchalantly and almost unknowingly told them I had been up before. Fooled Chinese guy too. Haha. So other than an occasional Befouin hut and a tent, I was up there alone and when I reached the top, it appearred as though as if I was the first one up for the night. I looked for a place to settle in for the night after a 10 min wait to at least get Chinese guys bearings, which I didnt. I found a mat and some blankets (the blankets being used only after 1 hr of a cold sleep- despite being in the middle of the desert it probably dropped to 5 degrees) that belonged to one of the many Bedouin "entrepeneurs." I got to bed at 12:15 and set my alarm for 4:00am.

"Hey, hey friend, how much you pay for blankets" is what I woke up to. Knowing what he meant I replied "Sorry I only have 7 pounds." "No, no, 10 pounds for one blanket, that's business." "Umm well, here you go I guess," and I was blanketless and matless with an insufficient sleeping bag for the rest of the night. Ding ding. Ah the familiar sound of my alarm clock. Jokes on him, I was about to get up anyway, and got the use out of the blankets for free.

Normally the tour groups and masses start their climb at 2 am or so, so the get up at 4- 4:30 for the early sunset. At first it seemed as though as if I got lucky and hit a quiet day, but by 5, I was ready to break at least a couple of the commandements that were said to be recieved here, and throw some of the approximately 200 people off the mountain. So everybody in camera ready position? Wait... wait... Ahh sun. Click, click, click. I joined in as well, as it was quite the sunrise. There is also a small mosque and a greek orthodox church which say some action (praying) although it is usually kept locked up.

By 5:45 I had seen all that there was to see. But what became of ol Chinese guy? I had almost forgotten about him, and just as I started heading down, ran into him. Turns out, he had a "horrible experience." Somehow, and only God knows how (good thing we were on this particular mountain,) he lost his way and literally climbed up the wrong side of the mountain, as in where there is no path at all. No wonder I didnt hear him when he finally came up at 1 am. Turns out he slept relatively close to where I was. So now we were going to go down together. However, there is two general paths, the second one being the 3750 Steps of Repentance. Well... I sort of ditched him again and went bounded down those steps carved by a crazy monk through a ravine. I got to Joce's room and had a nap. Chinese guy later appeared and invited himself to a shower. Oh I can't help but laugh when I think about him. This upset Jocelyn slightly and we then said our farewells.

A quick visit to the Monastery itself and we wanted to go further. We then played an hour and a half of screw the foreigner - whereas we realized we had no option but to take a taxi to Dahab and the taxi drivers knew this. We eventually got them down to 160LE for something that would cost 50, if... From Dahab it was a bus to Sharm el Sheikh

Once there, yet more fun occured with a taxi driver that demanded extra once at our destination. Joce had to do a check dive, and I not having a diving certificate resorted to going for a swim. At first I wasnt stoked, so I decided to get the snorkels we brought along and try that out. I soon realized why the Red Sea is so famous for diving and snorkelling. Fish everywhere! Even one rather large fish whom I called "big guy." Creative with names, I know.

The next day we went on a dive/snorkelling trip. We went out to a reef where an old British ship had hun aground and now lay in its watery grave. They went diving, and I the lone snorkeller went snorkelling. I jumped in, and immediately did not enjoy myself. The sea was a little rough and the waves kept coming into the snorkel. Furthermore, I thought I was suppose to follow the divers somewhat, but they of course dissapearred into the depths and there was a strong surface current pushing me the other way. For the first 10 mins I also didnt have a clue where the boat went, for some reason not thinking to looking behind me where it sat just 2 mins away. Lastly, I saw one lousy school of fish. Frustrated and an unwarranted fear of an "Open Water" (movie) repeat, I soon went back to the boat. Joce came up early because she had her own set of problems, but she at least saw a 2 m wide Manta ray. After lunch, we went to another site, and a little discouraged after the first site, I was hesitant to go back in. However, upon seeing other snorkellers here it looked like it might be good and it was. I was like a toddler in a sandbox for the first time. Chasing fish and swimming around. I stayed in the water as long as the divers did. Sea water still wants to make me throw up though. Upon return, we lay on the beach a bit more until the sun went down; early because Egypt doesnt do daylight savings time.

The next day we were to head back to Cairo. We still had a bit more time in Sharm so we did a snorkel just off shore and it was probably just as good as going all the way out in the boat to the other reefs. I happened to lose the underwater camera we had.

The six hour bus ride back to Cairo was made better by the minimal air conditioning, the idiot in front deciding to lean his seat back onto my knees and the one or two loverly Arabic arguements, in where a good one always involves an abnormal amount of spraying saliva.

That night we were yet again going to stay in a 5 star resort that was gotten by redeeming reward mile points. It was called the JW Marriot. Our bus drove by it and it stopped 5 km later at the station. We obviously needed a taxi to get back to it, but in Egypt the apparently have a different version of the metric system because they were trying to tell us it was 35 km. Yeah... sometimes its a little annoying on how stupid they think we actually are. I mean, the prices arent neccessarily too high ( it ended up being 15LE) but the lying that is done to get these prices is really frustrating.

This place lived up to its reputation and it was filled with resturaunts and a huge pool area and slides and a golf course. Went for a swim and ordered room service ( a first for me) and lived like a Pharoah.

It is recommended when travelling to splurge and treat yourself once in a while (this may have been overdoing it,) and although we didn't actually pay for the room, it sort of came back to bite us in the ass. Check out was at 1 pm, and we had planned to go back into the city and visit a couple more of the many sites we didnt have time for the first time around. However, it became apparent that after a half an hour wait in 34 degree, with the sun beating down on us, that no taxi was coming, and even if it did, at this point we didnt have the money for what they would have charged anyway. Instead we spent the rest of the day in the hotels pool and beach area and had about 10 hrs to kill before our flight. The pool stays interesting only for so long.

I was a little dissapointed that we didnt get to see more of Cairo, but at the same time a little relieved that we didnt have to go back into that congested, polluted, hectic city. This thought followed me to the airport and broadened itself for the whole of Egypt. I would have liked to stay longer and see the much the country has to offer, but at the same time I was relieved to be stepping on that plane and getting the hell out of there.

Egypt, although filled with countless, indescribable monuments and attractions and vibrantly alive and beautiful seas, has an unavoidable negative side largely as a result of all the positive. The country literally survives off of tourists and tourism. This is reflected in the many checkstops on the roads and the ever present tourist police. Thus, since the Egyptian people are rather poor, they do whatever they can to make an extra pound. Although, and perhaps on the basis of strict religious followings, straight out stealing does not seem to be resorted to, pretty much every and any other tactic is. From false information to advantage in your face buying pressure. As said before, this results in people showing the bad sides of themselves. Because of this, Egypt is quite taxing on the mind. It really is a lot to deal with. Add the heat, poor water quality and air quality (in Cairo) and you are being physically taxed as well.

Beyond this, I found once you have seperated those being nice to you from those being nice to you to get your money, that Egyptians are decently friendly people. I also never felt as though as if I was in any danger from them.

That being said, if I were to travel Egypt again, as the way we did it may have been a catalyst for the physical and mental taxation, I would definetly do it a little different. We did fit in lots in a short time, but I would definetly either spend more time at less places or just have more time altogether with a less strict and event dependent itinerary.

However, it's said that getting there is half the fun and in my opinion all of the adventure. Although the amazing sights I saw can be taken up by camera and be seen by anyone, the inbetween stuff has to be experienced personally. I would say that it was worth every hassle.

I am in Stuttgart at the moment but tomorrow off to Paris, I have yet to write about Greece but hopefully I will soon. I doubt anybody made it this far down though. Sorry for the lenght, but once I do something like this, I have to do it right. Maybe that's why I tend to be lazy and just stay away from stuff that takes time.


1st May 2006

sounds alittle like the people of Peru
Sounds like a pretty cool trip there simmer. I really wanted to go to Egypt myself too. You might have to tell me what i should go see and and what not too once you get back. Do alot of the people in Egypt speak english? Later buddy can't wait to see your pics and hear your stories. I can't believe you didn't go diving in the Red Sea, its suppose to be some of the best diving in the world.
3rd May 2006

Read the whole thing
Hey simsimmer. Just finished reading your travel blog. I myself am heading to Egpyt for a couple weeks in June. Glad to hear you enjoyed yourself (mostly). In case your wondering, Edmonton and Ottawa have moved on to round 2, montreal was just put out and Calgary has game 7 tommorow night. Go SENS!
6th March 2008

trejyiytre pkiru toreiturei
6th March 2008

I think you did a good job

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