Monday, October 5, 2009

Egypt - Week 5 (And last post of this huge trip)


I'm pretty sure I blogged about our insane taxi ride while we were in Cairo, so suffice it to say that everytime I got in a cab in Egypt I thought I was about to die.

We stayed in a hostel in "downtown" Egypt, although there really is no true downtown to that place. The hostel was on the fourth floor of a building that had on the other floors a bookstore, a tailor and dry cleaner, and a broken down elevator cage filled with garbage, which meant that we had to take the unlit stairs up four floors to get to the hostel entrance. Our room was a funny little place where the bathroom was just a small rectangle with a shower right over the toilet so that you didn't even try to keep it dry and just got the entire bathroom sopping wet while you showered and dealt with it afterwards. But it was cheap and it was fine and we figured we weren't going to be in the room all that much. But we were wrong.

* Disclaimer - the picture below is NOT where we stayed. It is just a random picture of an Egyptian village that Paul wanted to include.

I got totally sick in Egypt. I'm pretty sure it was food poisoning and I won't revisit the details here since I blogged about the bad dates already. So we ended up spending probably three of our seven days in Egypt hanging out in hotel rooms. Fortunately our second hotel in Luxor was a five-star resort so we had TV with an HBO kind-of channel showing movies in English so we weren't totally bored.

But when we were out of the room, we went to the pyramids at Giza. There was the most beautiful sky there the first night we went to see them. We ate dinner at the pizza hut (pineapple and turkey pizza because Muslims don't eat pork so there was no Canadian bacon), then stuck around on the roof of the restaurant for the great views as the sun set.

We went back the next day and paid 1/2 price admission with our international student cards (a total must for a lot of places we have traveled) to go get up close to the pyramids. Some things we didn't know before going to Egypt: the pyramids were topped with gold tops and there was a smooth limestone finish on them originally that has been pretty much destroyed.

There was hordes of camel touts trying to get you to ride their camels around the pyramids. They wouldn't take no for an answer and they pestered incessantly unless you were with a large tour group in which case they weren't quite so pushy because there was always somebody else to pester. A couple of times Paul and I tried to hide behind big groups to avoid being hassled, but this strategy didn't always work. But the camels were actually quite fascinating to watch in their brightly colored saddle decorations and blankets.

Later in the day we went back and actually rode the camels. I got car-sick. Or camel-sick. And afterwards we smelled AWFUL. We actually bagged up the clothes we wore that day and hid them at the bottom of our backpacks until we got home before throwing them in the wash because they stank that bad.

We had hired a cab driver for the day named Sayid who drove us around in his air conditioned car and chatted the whole time about his country. He liked to say, over and over, "You happy?" and "Welcome to Egypt". He stopped on the bridge over the Nile so that we could take a photo of the river. Its kinda sad that this is the only photo we have of such a famous body of water because we just never spent that much time near the Nile. He also drove us out to a number of other pyramids further out from Cairo that are even older than the ones at Giza. Turns out there are over 100 of these pyramids around the Cairo area. Who knew?

We also spent an afternoon at the Egyptian Museum, but no cameras were allowed. But the treasures from King Tut's tomb were absolutely incredible.


We took an overnight train down from Cairo to Luxor and actually slept pretty well. After a day of watching movies in the hotel room (I highly recommend "Son of Rambow" - a British movie that was hilarious and yes it is spelled with a "w"), we got out to see the temple at Karnak. Wow what a place. Because the Nile used to flood every year before a dam was built in the 70's, it would deposit tons and tons of silt that would eventually cover up these ancient sites which is how so many things got lost in Egypt over the centuries. So the columns and carvings at Karnak are really well preserved. The most amazing thing to me was the vibrancy of the color of so much of the painting that has somehow been preserved.

We also went to the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens to see the tombs which were pretty cool but stifling, but we have no photos because cameras were strictly prohibited and there was no way we could sneak Paul's Canon in because it is huge. But here's a photo from a tomb at Giza.

Egypt is a place that we will not likely visit again. It was just too congested and dirty for us, and the vendors and touts were just too aggressive and pushy to allow us to enjoy the place. I harbored this desire to wander and explore in at least seeming isolation as though I was discovering the ancient sites for the first time in the late 1800's - stumbling upon a room full of hieroglyphics previously undiscovered or something - but it was impossible to get a feeling of discovery when there is some guy walking alongside you pointing at everything in the hopes that you will consider him your "guide" and give him baksheesh (a tip). Paul ended up talking with an Egyptian kid who worked at the McDonald's about this when the kid asked how we were liking our trip to Egypt. The kid nodded knowingly when Paul explained how frustrated we were by all of the street touts who were such bullies, and said that it is a big problem and the Egyptians are aware of it but not sure what to do about it or how to fix it. If they could work out a solution, Egypt would be a much more enjoyable place to visit.

That's it everybody. Our whole five week adventure. Three continents, six countries, I have no idea how many miles. I very much doubt that we will ever have the chance to do that long of a trip ever again. Thanks for reading!

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