From Upper Egypt to the Red Sea Coast
01.01.2008 22 °C
Sunrise in Upper Egypt, Dec 27th
Dec 26-27 - "Aswan"
By 10:00 Boxing Day, we'd arrived in Aswan. It's a lovely city, whose main street runs along the Nile; our hotel is perched on a hill that overlooks it all. Like most of the people on our tour, we headed out for the main bazaar, a long pedestrian street of stalls running parallel to the Nile a couple of blocks inland. The haggling and the touts again seemed low-key/low-pressure. It might be us that's changed, but they're definitely not as pushy as some places in India or China. Here, too, they ask "what country?" and when we saw "Canada" nine times out of ten they say "Canada Dry!" Yet we haven't seen Canada Dry (ginger ale) for sale here anywhere. I told one guy he should say "hockey night in Canada!" when a customer tells him they're from Canada. Anyway, with a few words of Arabic, these Aswan hawkers graciously give up on hassling you.
A stall in the relatively easy-going Aswan bazaar
The next morning came really early - a 3:00 AM wakeup call was set for those of us going on the optional excursion to Abu Simbel. Too early, and too gruelling for Anica (it was a six-hour round trip by bus), so Jenn stayed with her in Aswan. They went to the Nubian Museum, and relaxed poolside. Meanwhile, I saw the massive monuments by the shores of Lake Nasser. It's the man-made Lake, straddling the Sudanese border, which necessitated moving Abu Simbel out of harm's way.
Rob at the foot of the Abu Simbel monuments
But the day was far from over! When we got back at 1 PM, everybody climbed onto a Felucca for a lunch-hour cruise of the Nile. Sprawled on cushiins, we ate koshary at the felucca meandered back and forth the Aswan stretch of the Nile. Then we stopped at a Nubian coffeehouse, and had a coffee that tasted strongly of the spices it contained, such as cloves. Meanwhile, the kids climbed up and down the huge sand dune behind the store. I climbed it once, and it had a great view of the Nile and Aswan across the river.
Dinner was on an island where there's a Nubian village of about 2,000 people. We ate at the home of "Omar," as our tour leader introduced him. It really was a home-made affair: dishes and bowls of food, such as chickenwings and kofta, spread out on carpets that covered a roof-top courtyard. Two meals today where I tried and failed, as always, to sit cross-legged! I'd need a few more Thai massages before I could achieve that. Meanwhile, the kids all had henna done on their hands and arms while we waited for dinner to be served.
Dec 28-30 - "Luxor"
Today we journed north (or downriver) through Upper Egypt, leaving Aswan and eventually arriving in Luxor. Along the way we stopped at two impressive temples, Kom Obo and Edfu. Kom Ombo was memorable for its mummified crocodiles, and also for its Greco-Roman appearance, the first we'd seen of that up close.
Kom Obo temple
Edfu was huge, and very well-preserved. It wasn't finished until 55 BC. We walked through all its chapels, and looked along the relief carvings to find the evil god Seth, depicted as a hippo (or pig?) being vanquished. Anica enjoyed the way Jacki told the stories of the Egyptian gods on the bus before we visited Edfu.
Anica at the Edfu temple entrance
The kids passed the time before that on the bus by using their Nintendo DS to chat, draw, and play multiplayer games.
Eventually we arrived at Luxor, at our hotel, The Winter Palace. Except it wasn't our hotel. We all traipsed through the lobby of this gorgeous old hotel, saying, wow, this is way nicer than our other hotels. To Jacki's embarrassment, we were in the wrong lobby! We were staying at the new wing of the Winter Palace. Also nice, but subtract a couple of stars. We did get the last laugh, however, because all the grounds and amenities are shared. We went right out to the pool that afternoon. The air temperature had peaked at 23, but the pool was 26, so we were able to enjoy a swim until the sun fell below the line of palm trees. Our rooms are all "Niile-View," which means we look out over the river and the hills behind that, where the ancient tombs are.
Our view of the Nile in Luxor
Luxor is the home of the Valley of the Kings, but I have another honour to bestow upon it: worst city in the world for my allergies. There is smog, but what really makes it bad are all the horses. There are hundreds of "caleches" operated here. These horse-drawn carriages seem to fill the air with horsy allergens, triggering (no Roy Rogers pun intended) my asthma. So I'm dosed up here.
Jenn's developed a bad migraine today. She didn't make it much breakfast, which meant missing the enormous Karnak temple visit. Anica also lost her purse today (with her camera inside), and my allergy/asthma combo was acting up again, especially after our horse-and-carriage ride to the temple. So we all had our own reasons to be miserable.
Nonetheless (another Mrs. Lincoln moment), Anica and I found Karnak astounding. It has the tallest obelisks in Egypt, the tallest front gate, it's the largest overall temple complex, and it's the one all the pharoahs of the New Kingdom helped build in turn. There's a statue of King Tut and his wife, a man-made lake, a fallen obelisk, paint colours still visible on outdoor columns, and many more wonders spread over 65 acres. The Hippsotyle hall alone has 134 columns, each several feet around. Everywhere the motif of "two kingdoms" is seen: papyrus decor for Lower Egypt, and lilly for Upper Egypt.
Karnak temple, as seen from the back of the complex
Later, for dinner, we went to "The Oasis Cafe" as a group, except for poor Jenn. It serves really good Western and Egyptian food in an colonial-era mansion, where the three dining rooms are each a different colour: red, green, gold. Anica got to talk Harry Potter with tour leader Jacki. We intend to bring Jenn back here tomorrow, it was so good; it even had the impossible-to-get bacon to go on the hamburgers!
Jenn was back in action today, though woozy, for our trip out to the Valley of the Kings. She opted not to take the 45-minute donkey ride to get there. The rest of us did, and enjoyed it immensely (although, all the adults were walking like bow-legged cowboys when they got off the donkeys). I rode with Anica, and on the way we passed through little villages, fields of sugarcane being cut, and children in their school uniforms heading off to school. Our donkey seemed to find his way by burying his nose in the butt of the donkey in front of us, which was somewhat disconcerting. Although we were given instructions on the Arabic commands to use, I don't think we had much influence over our donkey. Luckily, it was a calm animal.
The barren hills that form the Valley of the Kings got larger and larger, until we turned a corner and entered the actual valley. The ancient Egyptians chose this valley because a natural, pyramid-shaped rock structure looms over it. It's also on the West side of the Nile (i.e. where the sun sets, perfect for a city of the dead). We went in four tombs. Each had distinct hieroglyphics and paintings inside. Of course, the highlight was King Tut's tomb, despite being the smallest one we saw, because his mummy and sarcophagus are there.
We rode the donkeys to a restaurant for lunch, passing by the twin collosi of Memmon, all that remains of an ancient temple destroyed by earthquakes.
Donkey-cam! This photo was taken from the back of a donkey during our ride through the Valley of the Kings
Dec 31-Jan 2 - "El Gouna"
New Year's Eve! Our tour leader Jacki said we drove "out of Egypt today, culturally." We are now at the Red Sea resort community of El Gouna, which has no history, and bears no resemblance to the Islamic culture of present-day Egypt. It could be anywhere in the world, really. Their brochure claims that , here, it's " a piece of the dream; a dream where the sun always shines, the water is true torquoise, where the children are always safely entertained and everyone wears a smile" How very Stepford-like! It's a pretty resort, however, built around a series of lagoons, just inland from the Red Sea. The community planning is probably an attempt to correct the ugly over-development of nearby Hurghada, the first resort-town in this area.
Our El Gouna hotel is called the Arena Inn, and has an infinity pool perched over the lagoon. There's also a little playground, much to Anica's delight. She and some of the kids started playing there as soon as we arrived.
Down the street there's a shopping arcade, with many quaint restaurants and boutiques. We had a light lunch at a Lebanese-food restaurant, which was very good.
Soon it was party time. Through our hotel, the whole group went out to a ball at a huge banquet centre. It was cheesy, but fun, especially since everyone in our tour group gets along so well. We had two tables: 10 kids, 10 adults, plus Jacki floating between both tables. Jacki gave all the kids a special gift: t-shirts, each in their favourite colour, with their name spelled out in hieroglyphs on the front, and on the back "Pharoahs and Feluccas, Egypt 2007-2008, Tour Leader - Jacki." There were party favours on the table, there was an Elvis/Las Vegas theme to the evening (including a pretty unconvincing Elvis impersonator), a dance-floor (which the kids made more use of than the adults), and a huge buffet of quite good quality.
When we counted down to midnight, all five families did their best Cinderella impression and made a hasty retreat on the first shuttle back to the hotel. It was actually quite funny that we all had the same idea in mind.
It's hard to believe it's 2008. From July 29th of 2007, we've been away from home. So sometimes my mind plays tricks on me and I think that time isn't passing back home, that it's still the beginning of August!
A typically quiet New Year's Day. Anica and Tim, however, had seen this Go-Kart track just down the street, and before I knew it, everybody had decided to go go-karting! You never know what the day might bring, I guess.
Since Anica (and it was the same with two other kids) wasn't tall enough to reach the pedals, she sat on my lap and steered, while I worked the gas and brake. That meant she wore a helmet, and I didn't. No seat belt either. So we didn't go too fast!
My cold/asthma's not getting better, despite leaving the horses of Luxor behind, so I took a nap in the afternoon, while Anica wrote her diary and read Harry Potter and Jenn used the wireless.
The whole group went out to dinner at a Thai restaurant tonight. It was very good, but it took forever for them to serve the food.
My first sick day of the trip! After a horrible night's feverish sleep, I've stayed at the hotel and missed out on the Red Sea snorkelling trip. I'd been looking forward to it literally for months, but with my asthma still giving me trouble, too, I couldn't fathom (no pun intended) the thought of a full day's snorkelling and boating. I hope Jenn and Anica are having a good time! This will be Anica's first time snorkelling.
When they got back later, I was almost glad I missed the trip. Especially since the fever vanished, and I'm getting the asthma under control. Apparently it was so cold on the boat that most of the adults didn't go in the water, because they were using their beach towels as blankets! But the Red Sea was warm, and Anica got to experience snorkelling. She had no trouble with the breathing, and, wearing a life jacket, along with flippers, explored the reef for quite a while. Anica made this the drawing on her trip evaluation form where it said "draw the most memorable moment on your tour."
Most of the last full day was the bus ride back to Cairo. Again I was struck by the "armed convoy" aspect of our travel. When we make a rest-stop, soldiers with machine guns fan out to form a perimeter, their backs to us, peering out at the desert. Meanwhile, we lazily stretch our legs, the children run around, and we pay one Egyptian pound to use the toilets. It's surreal.
We're the first family to leave the tour, with a taxi waiting to take us to the Cairo airport at 9:00 AM, January 4th. Everyone gathers for a group photo, and there are hugs goodbye.
Parting Shot: our tour group while in Egypt gather by the pool at our Cairo hotel
It's been a great group of families to travel with. Two of the families were going to be moving on to an Imaginative Traveller tour in Kenya, but that's been cancelled as of yesterday due to the unrest there. Now they're scrambling to get on the Thailand tour starting tomorrow.
As we head to the airport, our friendly taxi-driver pulls over and treats us to fresh sugarcane drinks. A lovely gesture, although they're made with regular tap water. We decline for Anica, but drink ours down. Luckily, our stomaches proved strong enough. And they were delicious! The driver asked Anica if she was married! "My son is six," he said. "I will give you a hundred camels!" he joked. Anica said, "No!" See, she's learned to haggle. Hold out for three hundred is my fatherly advice.
Today we got the Basma Hotel in Aswan. A very nice 3-star hotel (acrodding to us) with a pool and fairly nice rooms. Then we alked down to a bazzar where everybody hassled you (the funny thing we thought when they said come into my shop, no hassle, aren't they already hassling?) We bought 2 bracelets, 1 necklace, choco bar and coke, took a horse-and-carigge home, had dinner. G.N.
"Abu Simbel or Nubia Museum?"
Today Dad got up at 3:00 to go to Abu Simbel. Me and Mom went to the Nubia Museum. A beautfiull musem with lots of shoes, descriptions and models. After the musem, I played with Mom, read a book.
Then when Dad came, we went on a Felluca (a sort of sail boat in Egypt) and had a lovely lunch of Koshary, bread and bananas. Koshary is a meal of chick peas, lentils, fried onions, tomato sauce, and pasta. Then we got off at this Nubian coffe shop (for Dad at lest, snicker snicker) and so the kids could go up the 100 feet high sand dune to the top(!) When you walked up it was so hard. But when you ran down, o-my-gosh, you couldn't stop yourself from running so fast!!! We went to the Nubian village, and had a lovely dinner of Chicken wings (out of sight!) and lots more food!! Went home G.N.
Went on a five-hour drive encluding sighseeing. Kom Ombo temple and Edfu temple. When we got to Luxor we went in the heated pool! g.n.
Today we went to the Karnak Temple at noon. On the way, Jacki said here's the jellawrey shop we're going into. At the shop, (little) Jacqui bought a bracelet with her name on it, and I bought a book. Then we rode a horse-and-carrige to the Temple. Here is some history from my book: The temple complex of Karnak is the largest of its kind in Egypt. Virtually every pharoah from the Middle Kingdom down to the time of the Romans (approx. 2134 to 31 BC) cotributed to the building work. It consits of a large number of individual temples, such as the Great Temple of Amun, the Temple of the God Khons and the Teple of the Goddess Mut. THERE IS TO MUCH MORE TO SAY! Then we went home and I said, where's my purse?! I HAD LOST IT!!! And, it had my camera (!), my sungllases, my hat and ten Egyptian pounds! Went to dinner, went home, G.N.
New Year's is in one day!
Today we got up still no sign of my purse (sigh). We meet the group and Jacki and started walking over to the boat dock. We found our donkeys and got on them. Almost half an hour later I said (because our donkey kept on sniffing Doug's donkey) let call him Donny Bumsniffer (hee hee). When we got to the Valley of the Kings, Mom was already there (she took the van). The first tomb we saw was Ramses the 9th. No sarcopaguus! Next we saw one deticated to Ramses III. Sarcophagus. But, no mummy. Then we went to the tomb of King Tutankaman. SARCOPHAGUS AND MUMMY!!! Then we got back on a donkey, had lunch, went home, had dinner. G.N.
Today when we got to El Gouna, all we did was rest, watch TV, sleep and eat before going to the New Year's Eve party. We stayed up all night dancing, singing, and playing with balloons and stuff. When it was New Year's they let down all the balloons! G.N. P.s. Jacki gave us t-shirts for presents.
"Go Cart and Thai Food Day"
Today after breakfast we went Go-Carting! Very fun. Then we went home and had dinner at the White Elephant Thai restaurant. G.N.
Today we went snorkeling! Only some people. We saw many fish and coral. Dad diden't come (sick). After that we went home and met Dad and had a yummy dinner at Nathan's of chicken nuggets, burgers and fries. Then we and Jacqui went on pictochat (a chatting thing on Nintendo). G.N.