I kept a diary while on my Ancient Encounters tour. I knew that with two weeks of solid travelling little details would get lost in my memory. Of course the big things, like riding a camel to see the Pyramids of Giza up close (!!), will be there forever, diary or no diary. But I wanted to share the little details, the amusing side notes that made the country and its people one of the most astounding and moving places I have encountered.
We travelled to Egypt in November 2015, so this post has spent a long time kicking around in my drafts page, mainly because we had so many photos to sort through (as always!). I have a few more posts to follow this about the tour itself and some travel reading. Spoiler – I read Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile while on the Nile.
Here are the little moments:
Upon arrival in Cairo, us three Kiwis quickly found Wi-Fi access and checked the Rugby World Cup final score. The All Blacks won! Most important business sorted we started our holiday on a high. Note: We had the game on record at home to watch when we returned – great game, even knowing the outcome I was on the edge of my seat.
Our tour guide Aboudi, who has a tour guide pedigree – his grandfather wrote one of the earliest Egypt travel guides in English and his family has been running a foreign book store in Luxor since 1909.
The great pyramids of Giza early on our first morning in Cairo. It was so surreal to have basically just come from work on Friday to be waking up in front of one of the wonders of the world. Cairo was just waking up too and the early morning haze shrouding the pyramids gave them an airy, secretive quality that looks beautiful in the pictures.
Of course we just had to give them a pinch.
My first camel ride! We went from the lookout right down to the planes in front of the pyramids. I can’t say I was super relaxed perched on top of the gangly beast, but as we got closer to the pyramids I got used to it.
Seeing King Tutankhamun’s tomb at the Cairo museum was a highlight for me. We spent so long studying Tutankhamun in primary school that it was almost nostalgic for me to wander past all the many tombs and artifacts the young prince had been buried with.
Our group was joined by an armoured guard in Cairo who rode with us and presumably kept watch on our surroundings. He wore a nice suit, sunglasses and his visible glock generally added some swag to our motley crew tour group. That is until his phone rang and his ring tone, Celine Dion’s classic My Heart Will Go On, instantly crushed that bad boy image he was cultivating. At the back of the bus we were in hysterics every time it rang.
Magic Hour at the temple of love, Philae temple in Aswan.
Wandering through the markets in Aswan, famous for spices and teas. I bought some saffron which I have barely use since. Ben was called “lucky man” by all the market sellers as he wandered around with three ladies in tow, me, Brooke and Bethany, another girl from our tour group.
I also found a horribly perfect Christmas decoration for our collection at the Aswan markets. Sooo kitsch, I can’t wait to use it.
Sailing down the Nile on a traditional felucca boat. Unfortunately the support boat with a rowdy and smelly generator ruined the ambience way too often. Our “traditional” cruise was not without some creature comforts. You had to laugh.
We had a lovely dinner on board; vegetable stew, lentil soup and chicken wings. Traditional Nubian entertainment followed after dinner with us all having a sing song and dance around a bonfire on the Nile banks. All watched over by a nearby donkey.
Sleeping under the stars (nearly) on the felucca boat.
Having the temples mostly to ourselves. The unrest in and around Egypt has kept most tourists away. It’s awful for those whose livelyhood relies on tourism. It was very jarring to read a 2013 edition of Lonely planet Egypt telling you tricks on how to avoid crowds when the biggest crowd you had seen in the temples were classes of local school children. It was a treat for the tourists who had come though as we had the run of the place.
Being harassed by some seriously desperate vendors outside Kom-Ombo temple. One man actually put a scarf on me to try to get me to buy, but I felt too vulnerable to get out my wallet in the area with that sort of treatment.
On Egypt Roads –
- Traffic in Egypt is like nothing I have even seen before. I was fascinated.
- Private vans acting as buses. Many with no doors and way over crowded.
- Mechanics stalls and shops everywhere
- Donkeys with grass over their bodies and the drivers sitting on top of the grass.
- Water stations made up of ‘zeer’ clay pots and communal cups. These were the communities drinking water supply and were filled by hand.
- Fruit shops
- Rubbish piles and building debris and stacks of new bricks. Construction and demolition were happening everywhere.
- Military check points
- Three layers of parked cars on normal sized streets.
- No adherence to lane systems
- Horns! Horns! Horns! This is the backdrop to any travel through Egypt. Drivers use the horn like an indicator.
- Lovely pastel coloured houses; the ‘Nubian Colours’ of turquoise, blue, yellow and purple.
- Waving school children, teenagers pulling the fingers, adults gawking.
- Watching Egyptian life go by. Life is lived on the streets here, there were so many people outside meeting friends, shopping at street-side markets eating, farming, commuting and just passing the time.
“Take your time but hurry up!” – Aboudi’s catch phrase, one that we heard often while he hustled us on to the next site.
Meeting our tour guide’s brother at the foreign book store in Luxor town and picking up some sweet postcards and a copy of Death on the Nile which I read for the rest of the tour.
Staying in a very fancy 5* hotel in Luxor with views of the Nile and a luxurious swimming pool and pancakes made to order for breakfast. I really could have moved in.
Driving through the desert to Hurghada, vast expanses of sand dunes stretching out forever.
Surprising our Hurghada tour guide with our local catch phrase ‘fil mesh mesh’ Arabic for ‘in your dreams’.
Eating all the seafood in Starfish restaurant and having the biggest meal imaginable at Gad an Egyptian chain restaurant. All the meat…! We took doggy bags home to the hotel, and then left them there as our stomachs got upset during the night. Fail!
Laughable evening entertainment at the Russian resort hotel we were staying at.
Diving in the red sea and seeing a black and white sea snake.
Empty and half-finished property developments, Hurghada is what I imagine Las Vegas is like, glossy and shiny on the surface but not quite right underneath.
After our slightly unsettling stay in Hurghada we flew on to Jordan to start the next part of our tour. You can see the pics of our trip here.
Egypt is a country of so many wonders and I’m really glad we took the chance to visit when we did.