Egypt Part 1

Day 89: June 9, 2018

Up at 5:00 am for our flight. Luckily our clothes were mostly all dry from washing them the night before. We drove fifteen minutes to the airport and dropped off the rental car. We dropped our bags and went through security. Some of the check-in desks had huge lines. I wonder if they were tour groups with all the people dropped off at once.

On our flight to Athens we received cookies and a drink. I like to highlight this since it is rare to receive anything nowadays on a flight. The flights with Aegean were not super cheap though so maybe we paid a lot for those cookies and a drink.

In Athens we grabbed our bags, but had to wait an hour to check in. I went up to McDonald’s hoping to get an English breakfast tea, but it was just a regular tea. We checked in and went through security. I did some yoga on the other side. I remember watching a girl doing yoga in the airport when we were in China and thinking she looked funny. People probably thought the same about me. When you are travelling you stretch wherever.

We ate at a pub and Danny had lasagna while I had a stuffed pepper/tomato. Neither were amazing. On our EgyptAir flight we received an unexpected lunch and beverage. It was only about a two hour flight.

We arrived in Cairo and right before immigration there was a man with a board with our names. He checked our landing cards and e-visas. We stood in line and he said that it was usually much busier. We got through no problem and collected our bags. We would have been able to get through the airport quite easily by ourselves, but were worried about bartering for a taxi.

We met our driver and our transfer guy explained some things about Cairo to us. Our hotel was located in Giza, on the opposite side of the Nile from Cairo. People living in Giza still say that they live in Cairo. The population of Cairo is 20 million. The population of Egypt is 100 million.

We drove about 25 minutes to our hotel. We checked in and were taken to our room. This culture is already much different than Greece. It is a tipping culture so we tipped the driver and the bell hop. We were told later that in Cairo, a hotel concierge would make about 160 USD/month.

In the hotel room we discussed how we were super excited about actually being in Egypt. It is somewhere I had always seen in pictures, but never actually even dreamed I would be. We chilled for a bit then asked the front desk where we could find water. They replied that they could send some up. We also asked about an ATM and they said there was one on the next street.

Before we went out I wasn’t sure if I should be wearing a head scarf or not. I had read that it’s polite to wear one, but we saw lots of women around Cairo without. I put one over my head and we went out.

We weren’t sure what “next street” meant so we walked up the road a bit. Everyone we asked along them kept pointing us further up. At a gas station they pointed across the street to a large bank building. We crossed the street at the cross walk. It was very similar to crossing the street in Nepal. You walk lane by lane behind a vehicle and hope you don’t get hit.

In front of the bank we noticed a man following us. We were looking for the bank’s ATM and he started chatting to us, asking where we were from. We were vague in our answers. We said we were going to the ATM, to which he replied, “This one isn’t an international ATM. I’ll show you where one is.” He was friendly and showed us an ATM, a market and a cheap place to eat. Then, what we were waiting for, he showed us to his shop. He explained that the paintings in his shop are on papyrus and how you would pay 40 USD for one at the Great Pyramids. From him, they would only be 10 USD. His friend brought us tea which was very tasty. We flipped through trying not to be rude. He made us pick out the ones we liked. In retrospect, I was too off guard. Danny was on guard and turning him down. He said a price for the four that I had picked out as the best. Danny said, “We only want one”. He then said, “Okay, two for 450 EGP”, and Danny said, “No, just the one.” We agreed to 250 EGP for one and Danny gave him 300 EGP and waited for 50 EGP in change, but he said he didn’t have change. The man said, “Two for 300 EGP”. Danny said, “No.” The man called his friend over to get the 50 EGP change. He opened his wallet and said, “I don’t have 50 EGP”. I said, “Just forget it. 300 EGP for two”. I don’t like the arguing and was worried it would escalate. Danny was upset because we were being taken advantage. It is frustrating when you think someone is just being nice, but they’re really just trying to sell you something. The 300 EGP equates to about 20 CAD so we did get ripped off a bit.

As we were leaving, the man’s friend brought out perfumes for us to buy. They were actually nice smelling, but we said no and walked out. We picked up some money at the ATM then walked back to the hotel.

At 6:00 pm we met our GAdventures group and our CEO, Sem Sem, in the hotel restaurant. The CEO is what GAdventures calls the tour leader. The group has a total of thirteen people: two other Canadian girls, a couple for New Zealand, an Australian guy, two British guys, a South Korean guy, a Chinese girl, a Danish girl and a German girl. The smaller group seems like it will be nice.

Sem Sem told us a couple of things about Egypt. About 90% of the population is Muslim. The country is not governed by Sharia law which takes its laws from the Quran. Egypt is a democracy.

In 2010, there were 17 million tourists that visited Egypt. In 2017, there were 3 million tourists which was the highest number since the revolution. I had read about the huge decline of tourists visiting the Pyramids and the article I read said the time to go to Egypt was now.

We were told about the additional sites we could see so that we could take out more cash for them. The tour was called “Egypt on a Shoestring” so it’s more bare bones and then you pay for any additional sites you want to see. It’s nice to have the option to make it cheaper, but you usually want to do all the add-ones anyways.

We ordered supper and then a couple of us went up the street to an ATM. The Canadians cards didn’t work on it. We went back to the hotel, thinking our food would be ready, but it took a lot more time. We had baked chicken and fries. I had a guava juice which was more like guava purée.

After supper, our guide said he would take the Canadians to another ATM. We had to take out 2,000 EGP four times to get enough. It was nice chatting with the other Canadians. Our humour is the same and it is easier to find things to talk about. We went back to our rooms and went to bed.

Day 90: June 10, 2018

Breakfast in the hotel and then we hopped on the bus. We drove about 15 minutes to the Pyramids of Giza. On the edge of the city before the Pyramids were a bunch of half-built brick buildings. They were put up after many homes were destroyed in an earthquake in 1992. Most of the exteriors were only half built so that the residents would only need to pay half of the taxes. Many people from villages around Cairo will rent a room in the buildings while they are working in Cairo. They will only have the necessities: a mattress and small stove.

As we were driving up to the Pyramids of Giza I got super excited. My heart rate went up and I was bouncing. The Pyramids were something you only saw in pictures; I never thought I would actually see them.

There are 117 pyramids in Egypt. The shape of the pyramid was to take people to the after life, pointing to the heavens. Ancient Egyptians believed you would live the same life you lead on Earth in the after life, but the after life had no end.

The Pyramids were tombs for one person: a king or a queen. The first person to write about the Pyramids was a Greek in the 4th century BC. He described them as being very white with carvings and inscriptions everywhere.

The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest and last of the ancient wonders of the world. The largest pyramid was built by Pharaoh Khufu in 2500 BC. It was initially 146 m in height, but lost a 9 m solid gold pyramid cap. Gold was used as it represents something as divine as Ra. Ra, god of the sun, had his body made of gold. There was nothing taller than the Great Pyramid for 4,000 years.

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Merai standing on the Great Pyramid

More than 10,000 workers would have helped to build it. Workers tombs were found nearby with their names listed. Their names include the names of Egyptian Gods showing that the workers were Egyptians. They also found a half squashed worker that was mummified. This shows that the workers were not slaves as the Pharaoh cared enough about the workers to entomb and mummify them.

The Great Pyramid consisted of 2.3 million blocks, each with an average weight of 2.5 tons. The burial chamber ceiling had blocks exceeding 20 tons. There are many different theories on how the Pyramids were built. The one theory that our guide thinks is the best is the use of straight ramps for the base, then spiral ramps for the roof.

The main entrance was below the triangle in the below picture. A giant piece of granite was in the hole so if a tomb raider tried to jump inside they would hit their head. We were able to climb through a different entrance that was created by tomb raiders. We climbed up along planks to reach the tomb. It was only a dark room (about 10 m x 5 m), but you could see where the body would have laid. The climb up was very hot. We were quite sweaty by the time we got out.

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Danny outside the Great Pyramid

We took some pictures outside. There were a couple of other tour groups there, but it wasn’t too busy.

We drove up to a viewpoint where you could see all three large pyramids. The second largest was built by and for Khufu’s son: Pharaoh Khafre. His pyramid was smaller to not overshadow his father’s, but it was built on higher ground. The third pyramid was built by and for Khufu’s grandson: Pharaoh Menkaure. There were also smaller pyramids around the area for the queens. Some people on our group took a camel ride back to the third pyramid. We took the bus back and took some more pictures. Sem Sem told us when he was a kid you could climb all the way up the Pyramids.

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Pyramids!

We moved on to the Valley Temple which was used for ceremonies. It was the first building made of granite. The granite was brought from Aswan and cut using a chisel and hammer made of hematite. Wood would then be put between the cuts and water added. The water would expand and crack the rock. The quarry would be connected to the Nile river using canals to bring the granite to Cairo.

Purification was the first ritual completed after death. Lotus flower oils, representing love and eternity, would be rubbed over the body. Almond oil would be rubbed on the palms to make soft hands for greeting the other Gods in the after life.

Mummification would then take place. A 12 cm cut to the left abdomen would be used to take out the liver, lungs, stomach and intestine. They would be mummified separately to prevent the body from rotting. A crack would be made at the back of the skull and the brain would be pushed until it rested against the forehead. The eyes would roll back until only the white would show. The nose would be broken, then cleaned and the brain pulled out through the nostrils. The body was covered with layers of resin and linen. The resin caused the linen to be black; mummy means black. Later they learned to bleach the linen white. The mummies teeth were so white because fibres from the branches of lemon trees and soda salt were used to clean the teeth.

The process would take 70 days: 30 days of preparation and 40 days of mummification. The son would become the king 70 days after his father died.

The final judgement in the afterlife would put the heart on a scale next to a feather representing good and justice.

Next we saw the Sphinx. It was much, much smaller than I imagined, but it was cool to see. The Sphinx is the biggest ancient statue and was the creation of the architect. It has the body of a lion to represent strength and the head of a man to represent intelligence and wisdom. The large ears are so that it can hear all the prayers. There are three theories to what happened to the nose: Theory 1 – Napoleon took it which was a British rumour to make Egyptians hate the French, Theory 2 – Sa’im al-Dahl took the nose, Theory 3 – Age broke it off.

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Sphinx

We loaded on to the bus and drove to the market in Cairo. We had lots of free time to walk around. It got a bit exhausting as everyone wants you to come in their store and some follow you asking questions. Some say, “I only want your money”. Others say, “Where you from? The moon?”.

We finally decided we would go to the cafe where Sem Sem said he would be waiting. We thought it was one way, but every street we took that way dead ended. We must’ve gone up the same route three times. Sem Sem had said to remember the tower where we drove in. We were aiming for it, but then started doubting it was the right one as there were others that were very similar. The panic started to set in a bit. We were thinking what do we do? Google Maps doesn’t work on our phones. We can’t call anyone. Will the locals try to scam us if we ask for help? We don’t even remember the name of the square we want to get to!

Finally, we saw some other tourists coming along a major route. We decided to walk that way and we might find where the bus came in. Thankfully, it was the right place! We walked to the cafe and I ordered a strawberry juice. It was just strawberry purée which was amazing. We shared a dessert of couscous with hot milk, icing sugar, nuts and coconut. We sat and chilled in there for awhile avoiding the heat outside.

From there we drove to a grocery store to pick up snacks for the overnight train. Then we drove to the train station. We were quite early so we all ended up sitting around playing British Cards Against Humanity. It was pretty fun although most of us didn’t understand the British humour.

The train was a bit late, but we were ready when it arrived. Danny and I were in Room 1/2. The room was quite small and old. It had a small sink and window. We were brought supper in our cabin: chicken, rice, veggies, chickpeas, a bun and cake. I really liked the rice. The attendant then took our trays and made the seats into bunk beds. At least the sheets were clean.

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Danny enjoying supper on the overnight train to Aswan
Day 91: June 11, 2018

Neither of us slept very well on the train. At the corners you would wake up because you would roll slightly. When another train would pass I felt like I was on the train at the end of Anastasia that was out of control. I wondered if it was a dream or real life in between sleep.

We were roused by a knock at the door and breakfast was brought to us. It was lots of rolls and some feta. We packed up our stuff and got dressed.

We arrived in Aswan in Southern Egypt around 8:30 am. We were led to a bus that took us to our hotel. The room is old looking, but the sheets are clean and the air conditioner is working. We were given some free time. Most of us went across the road to another hotel to use the pool. We threw the frisbee around for a bit then ordered lunch. The temperature peaked up to 48 degrees. We couldn’t stay out of the pool very long even in the shade. There was a shallow end of the pool that was in the shade in the afternoon that we lounged in.

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Pool time in Aswan

We went back to the hotel and got more cash from the ATM then had showers in our room. At 5:30 pm we met the group and took a boat along the Nile. We saw a brown building that was the palace of the last king of Egypt: King Farouk. It is now a hotel.

We saw Elephantine Island where monuments showing the history of Egypt were located. Along the stone walls we could see some marks that would show the level of the flood. This was a nilometer. It was used to determine the amount of taxes the area would pay: low water = low taxes, high water = high taxes. The water level would directly impact the crops.

Next we visited a Nubian village of 4,500 people. The Nubians moved into Egypt from the South Sahara in the time of Ancient Egypt: 2700 BC. In 1900 BC when the Egyptians wanted to build an empire they trained Nubians to be archers. During that time, there was intermarriage between Egyptians and Nubians. The Nubians soon felt they should be independent and there were many revolts. After Alexander the Great, the two groups united against a common enemy: the Greeks.

In the 1950s, President Nasser wanted to build a dam and chose to flood the area where Nubians lived to affect less people overall. The Nubians were promised land and houses, but were given them in the middle of the desert. They were used to living beside the water. Many Nubians left for Sudan or moved west. There are now twenty Nubian communities in Egypt. The 1973 war brought the Egyptians and Nubians together again.

Nubians are Muslims, but they were the last to convert to Islam. Nubians mostly work in tourism because of their hospitality. There are also Nubians in agriculture and fishing. They have managed to keep their culture alive. A Nubian man can marry a non-Nubian woman, but his family would not be happy. A Nubian woman cannot marry a non-Nubian man or she would be disowned.

We walked to watch the sunset, then a Nubian man, Mohammed, led us to his house for supper. We sat on the rooftop and were brought hibiscus juice made by boiling the hibiscus flower. Then we were brought puréed bean soup and bread. Then rice, chicken, French fries, eggplant, white beans, phyllo pastry with minced meat (almost tasted like pizza). Then we were brought very hot tea.

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Sunset on the Nile

One of the women offered to do henna and I got a little elephant for Elephantine Island. We got in the boat to go back then walked back to the hotel for sleep.

Day 92: June 12, 2018

Early early morning: up at 3:00 am to leave at 3:45 am for Abu Simbel which are two temples on the western bank of Lake Nasser. We all fell asleep on the 3.5 hour drive. We were given breakfast in a box that we ate right before we arrived.

In Egypt, once you have a child, your name becomes, “Father of ‘first born daughter/son’s name'”. Abu means father of and Simbel was the son’s given name. The entire area is called Abu Simbel.

We walked down to the temples and Sem Sem showed us where the temples were originally located. They were relocated as they were going to be under water, due to the dam construction. It took four years to relocate the 10,000 pieces.

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Previous location of the temples is now underwater

The temples were built in Nubian land, but not by Nubians. They were built by King Ramses II, one for him and one for his favourite wife, Nefertari. He had many other wives for political reasons.

In 1530 BC, Ramses II moved towards Turkey. He built the temple at Abu Simbel to show the Nubians in the area his strength and to bring Egyptians there to settle. High priests acted as doctors, royal scribes acted as teachers and the temple acted as religion for the people. Who wouldn’t want to live there once the temple was built?

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Abu Simbel’s Temples (King’s on the left, Queen’s on the right)

The hyroglifics across the top of the King’s temple display names, titles and wishes for the king. An earthquake during Ramses II’s rule destroyed the second statue of the temple and he died before it was fixed. The statues show Ramses from young and smiling to old and with less of a smile: showing he was not as pure as in his youth and had made some mistakes.

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King Ramses II’s Temple

A straight beard shows a living king while a curved beard shows a dead king or God. Between the legs of the statues are his wives and daughters. The bird head with the sun above is the God, Ra-Horakhty.

Many of the paintings inside the King’s temple show a famous battle (Battle of Kaddish) between Ramses II and Muwatalli II. They all shows Ramses II’s power and strength. In one painting there is a lion. The Ancient Egyptians taught dogs, jackals, leopards and lions to attack anyone not wearing their troop’s colours.

We entered the Queen’s temple first and saw all of the paintings that were etched into the walls. They were hard to see close up, but farther away you could take in the whole scene. We walked back and entered the King’s temple It was larger and had statues as well as paintings.

It was already super hot at 9:00 am. We went back to the cafe near the parking lot and waited for the rest of the group. I bought us Kit Kat ice cream cones. Danny gave me 70 EGP to pay and went I went to pay the guy said they were 90 EGP. I countered with, “I only have 70 EGP”. He replied, “Okay, 70 and you take a picture with me”. I said okay and we took a selfie in front of the Coke cooler. Then he said, “How ’bout a kiss?” Then he pointed to his cheek. I said, “No, I’m a married woman,” and walked away with all his friends laughing.

We road in the bus back to Aswan. It was basically desert the whole way. We napped for a bit along the way. In Aswan, we went to a restaurant beside the river. They opened just for us as they were closed for Ramadan. I had a margherita pizza and Danny had a four seasons pizza. When they came out they looked exactly the same. It is unknown if the different pizza types were lost in translation or if they didn’t have the right ingredients.

After lunch, we went back to the A/C in our room. It was 43 degrees outside which is way too hot. The wind blows, but it’s like a hair dryer right in your face. It burns your eyes.

We met the group at 6:30 pm and Sem Sem showed us some places for supper. We all walked together through the market. None of us were really looking for anything. At the end, we walked back to the first restaurant we were shown. We sat at two tables each with six people. We chatted about our jobs which was a little depressing as many of us were at points where we are unsure of our next move. I had lamb with rice and some sort of veggie in tomato sauce. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and then went to bed.

Day 93: June 13, 2018

We woke up and had breakfast downstairs: yogurt, cheese spread, fig jam, banana, beans and buns. Our A/C in the room stopped working in the night so we woke up pretty hot. We did end up sleeping in until 9:00 am.

At 10:30 am we got on the bus and went to the river. We were split into two groups. I was on the boat with all the guys. We took of our shoes and boarded the felukkas. We set sail on the Nile with our two Nubian sailors: Eid and Ahmed.

Felukka on the Nile

We had all been a bit nervous that it would be hot on the felukka, but there was a nice cool breeze from the river. We started our ride with a card game then we met up with the support boat which had a bathroom and bar. We then played Cards Against Humanity. We stopped for lunch on the support boat: mashed potatoes, feta and canned tuna. The feta in the potatoes was really good. We returned to our felukka and did some reading and napping. The felukka had a large mattress area in the middle that we occupied.

Our set up on the felukka

Danny got to help pull the ropes a couple of times. We parked on a sandy beach and everyone except a couple of us ran up the sandy hill to the top and then back down to stick their feet in the water. The sand was burning hot. Some of the guys had blisters on their feet later.We were able to get out and swim for a bit, but not too far from shore as the current was quite strong. In the afternoon the sun was a bit lower so it hit us more. We were a bit hotter, but it was nothing like being in Aswan.

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Swimming in the Nile with our felukka behind us

Near the end of our ride two of the guys went to the front to take some Titanic pictures. Then one climbed the mast a bit. He made it what we thought was pretty far until one of the other guys came over and doubled his speed and height. Then we all sat at the front of the boat and listened to some tunes. We decided to take a group picture that turned out with us looking like a band.

Band picture

We arrived at the pump house where the support boat was hooked up to the electricity. We had supper there: chicken, rice, veggies, orzo soup and pita-like bread. The food in Egypt has been good, but nothing jaw dropping. The other boat was playing a word guessing game so we played Hidden 31 with beer cans for lives. Danny ended up winning. We all went to bed around 11:30 pm. I was worried I wouldn’t sleep as all the boys were snorers so I took out my ear plugs. We slept aboard the felukkas with sheets covering us.

What an amazing couple of days it has been in Egypt. We have already seen so much. The Pyramids were a big highlight as they would be for anyone and we loved the chilling on the felukka. We know a lot less about the places we are seeing on the second half of our trip in Egypt so we are hoping they will be just as incredible.

M

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