A Travellerspoint blog

23: Dizziness and Egypt do not mix!

sunny 25 °C

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Got out of bed at a reasonable hour today and woke to discover I was running a temp and feeling unwell in the stomach…. Damn!! In fact, I went to the restaurant for breakfast and half way through had such a severe dizzy attack that I had black spots in front of my eyes.. a couple of more seconds and I probably would have passed out at the breakfast table! Not cool!!! :(

I had planned to go for a walk into the local bazaar but had to forgo because I was in no state to go anywhere but back to bed! Just walking to the bathroom was using up all of my energy let alone walking around town! Lucky for me, we had no planned activities this morning and we were boarding the Felucca at lunchtime so I would be able to lie down for the afternoon on board the boat.

I dragged myself (and my gear) down to the Felucca at midday and immediately staked out a spot on the deck where I could curl up and just feel sorry for myself!! We spent the afternoon floating down the Nile on our boat to a neighbouring Nubian village where our Felucca owner (JJ) lives with his family. We spent the night at his sister’s place which she has converted into a homestay. The group left the homestay for a wander around the village, I had to pass and just sit on the step of the homestay and try and conserve energy (I still have a temp). Dinner was another fabulous affair.. bulger rice, chicken, vege casserole…. And of course tasty bread with soup!!! I was still feeling a touch queasy in the tummy (and had another dizzy spell) so had a small taste of each item.

I headed to bed straight after dinner so missed out on playing cards which somehow ended with everyone becoming a chicken???? Not too sure how becoming a chicken occurs if you play cards, regardless, from this game of cards, we have all learned a new Arabic word, Farrach (chicken in English).

Posted by weary_feet 08:57 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

22: Statuesque

sunny 26 °C
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V early start this morning! So early that we stole the pillows from our hotel room to bring with us on the bus!! We had to leave at 3.30am so that we could join the convoy leaving Cairo for Abu Simbel at 4am. All tourist buses travelling to Abu Simbel must join one of the daily convoys. It is not allowed for tourist buses to travel by themselves for the three and a bit hours out to Abu Simbel. Apparently the reason for the convoy is so that if one of the buses breaks down within the desert there will be help on hand… I’m a bit suss on this being the main reason for the convoy.. I’m sure it is important to have someone watching out just in case you should break down but I’m certain it’s more likely that the convoy is required to try and reduce the terrorist risk.

The convoy is led by a police car and another police car brings up the rear. All buses are logged and are checked as we passed through the numerous check points along the route. All in all an interesting experience!! To be honest I did not participate in any of the experience on our trip out to Abu Simbel.. I spent the few hours staring at the back of my eye lids, sleeping! We arrived at Abu Simbel not long after day break, therefore giving us most of the morning at the temples.

Abu Simbel consists of two temples built by Ramses II that are on the banks of the great Aswan dam. In fact, both temples were moved stone by stone from their original place on the banks of the Nile to their current location up above the banks of the dam during the building of the Aswan High Dam! Trust me, you can’t tell that the temples have been moved and first glimpse of the temples just inspires such a sense of awe that the archaeologists and engineers were even able to move the temples!!!! The main temple was built for Ramses II and the smaller temple was built for one of his wives (and apparently the most beautiful and beloved) Nefertari (not the famous Nefertiti but an earlier queen named Nefertari!).

My first glimpse of the temples just made me gasp.. I had seen both temples many times on Discovery or in Nat Geo but to actually see them up close is pretty amazing! The great statues of Ramses II dominate the exterior to his temple.. They must be at least 10 stories high and god only knows how many tonnes they must weigh.. Nefertari’s is no different.. six statues depicting her beauty (as well as the might of Ramses II).. both temples are made of huge sandstone blocks that reflect the sun light back towards the heavens… Blue sky and yellow sandstone blocks…. Very beautiful contrasts!!! The carvings on the outside of the temple walls are no different… Huge carvings of gods and of course of Ramses II… (He really thought he was all that… well he probably was back in the day!!!)

The interior of the Ramses temple is just as impressive as the exterior.. Directly inside the portal are huge god statues that line the walkway thru the temple. The walls are covered in depictions of Ramses in battle defeating his enemies and him receiving the praise from some of the gods. Off the main walkway are smaller rooms that are also all adorned with different scenes and gods. At the apex to the temple is four statues set into a niche. These statues represent Osiris (god of the underworld), Ramses II, Amun-Ra and one other god that I can’t recall (clearly I was more intent on taking pickies rather than listening to our guide explain what we would be seeing inside the temple….). On the two equinoxes of the year three of the four gods are lit up by sunlight.. Osiris is the unlucky god who misses out on the sun’s rays (because he is the god of the underworld). All in all the symmetry and beauty of the main temple is just incredible…

Nefertari’s temple is no different! On entry you are greeted with scenes of offerings to the gods and small rooms leading off the main temple that would have been used by the priests etc to offer ‘stuff’ to the gods. Overwhelmingly though this temple is also dedicated to the might of Ramses II….. The entry way even depicts him alongside his bride!!

After spending a good couple of hours at the temples we had to head back to the bus to join the convoy returning back to Aswan. In order to get back to the bus we had to run the usual tourist gauntlet…. I lucked out on this trip thru the gauntlet…. I got sucked in by a guy selling cheap crappy papyrus who plagued me with scenes of his children starving if he didn’t sell anything!! It is a real problem here at the moment… Normally, Abu Simbel would see thousands of tourists a day.. normally, two convoys run each day (1 first thing in the morning and 1 after lunch)… The number of tourists have dropped so much that only one convoy runs a day and even then at half the numbers of what it would normally run at! So yes, again I got sucked in but to be honest I don’t need the money as badly as this man probably needs the money so……

The trip back to Aswan was fairly uneventful.. I spent more than half of the trip sitting on the bus step taking photos out of the window at the beauty of the Sahara desert…. Gosh the deserts here in the Mid East are breathtaking…. As far as you can see is bright yellowy, orangey sand broken up by rocks… Deep blue sky as the background that is occasionally broken up with jet streams from aeroplanes… an occasional power line to remind you that we are in the modern age…. All in all though, unbelievably beautiful!!!

On arrival back to Aswan most of us headed out for a bite to eat at another restaurant on the banks of the Nile. I had a Tawouk Shish.. (chicken…always a safe and good option) with a Florida cocktail (mixture of strawberry and mango juice). Sheila (one of the other ladies on the trip) ordered a pigeon.. Pigeon is a speciality in this part of Egypt and she is quite adventurous so gave it a go.. According to her.. it tastes like chicken although majorly lacking in meat… just skin and bones… probably not that surprising!!! 

Most of us girls decided to go for a wander up the banks of the Nile in search of an ice cream.. We found a guy selling real ice cream in waffle cones and tucked in to a tasty choc speciality!! We then had just over an hour and a bit to kill before we had to meet up with the rest of the group for a trip out to Philae Temple to see the Sound and Light display. Philae temple is a Ptolemaic temple built to venerate the Goddess Isis. It was also a temple that would have been swamped by the waters from the Aswan dam, so it and its surrounding temples were all moved to higher ground and are now found on an island behind the dam wall.

The trip out to the temple was interesting….. we boarded a boat (flat bottomed with a roof) with this old clapped out outboard motor… took us a number of pulls to get underway and once we did we discovered that we were running out to the temple without any running lights…… considering the amount of traffic to and fro to the temple this seemed a little risky… but when in Egypt……….

The temple was already lit, and we arrived just in the nick of time to see the start of the show. I actually thought that the show was us sit in front of the temple and we hear a story about the gods who the temple was built for…. Not so….. The show is actually a tour through the temple with sounds and lights… Really beautiful! The story of the temple is about Isis and her struggles after her husband Osiris was killed by his evil brother Seti…. TO be perfectly frank, I wasn’t really paying too much attention to the story I was mesmerised by the beauty of the temple lit via floodlights and looking for the best angles to get photos from. If you want the details of the story you will need to google the temple and the sound and light story.. I’m not going to recount it here!!

The highlight of the tour of the temple was the actual interior of the main part of the Isis temple. The frescos on the wall are all cut in relief so the shadows that are cast actually heighten the frescos.. Actually, in one part of the temple the walls are half carved in relief and half in intaglio so when the lights move it looks like the actual characters in the frescos are moving!

Finally, after over an hour of amazing visual effects we headed back to Aswan and to a really needed bed… I was so tired watching the show that if I had of remained much longer I may have actually fallen asleep! On to the Felucca tomorrow!!!!

Posted by weary_feet 11:38 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

21: Saharan Sand Hills

sunny 25 °C
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Had a really horrible night’s sleep! The train although being more luxuriously outfitted does not have very good suspension and so the trip was quite bumpy.. couple bumpiness with a very hard bed and a radio that makes a knocking noise all night and you have one grumpy and sleep deprived lady!

Breakfast was surprisingly good.. croissant with jam, bread roll and a cup of tea.. really good brekky! We pulled into Aswan on time (around 9am) which apparently is a fairly rare occurrence as normally the trains run late! We arrived at our hotel to discover that our rooms weren’t ready (because everyone knows that the train’s don’t run to time!!) so we hung out in reception for a bit until they were available. We then spent an hour getting organised before we headed out to the Nubian Museum to have a look at the artefacts.

Aswan is in Nubia. Nubia still encompasses the lower part of Egypt and northern Sudan and the people of this area are actually quite a bit darker than your usual Egyptian! The museum spans the history of Nubia, originally it was its own kingdom and was later swallowed up by Egypt and came under the pharaoh’s control. The museum is filled with objects that have been found in various archaeological digs in the area. Everything from huge statues down to small pieces of jewellery. The statues are very Egyptian-esk excepting the facial features which are more African like. The museum is housed in this beautiful Nubian inspired building. Nubian architecture is more domed (ie small box with a dome for a roof, join a few of these together to make a building) and the museum reflects this style. The gardens are just beautiful lots of bougainvillea surrounded by rock gardens.

After spending an hour or so wandering thru the museum we headed for some lunch down on the Nile at a Nubian restaurant. I tried Kofta (minced beef with rice) which was a poor choice.. dried meatballs in soup wasn’t quite what I was expecting!! I also tried some hibiscus juice.. again probably not my favourite drink! I guess a juice coming from a flower is always going to be a bit different! The juice was quite tart.. it kind of reminded me of guava juice (which has never been one of my favs). Although lunch wasn’t that spectacular the location was pretty sweet.. we sat just looking out onto the Nile with the Nubian felucca’s sailing passed!

We had to rush lunch because we were due to meet up with the whole group to go and sail on the Nile to see Elephantine Island. Elephantine Island is owned by the local Nubian population and is this beautiful island off shore from Aswan. There are two hieroglyphic inscriptions carved into rocks on the shore of the island which were inscribed almost 4000 years ago! I can’t get over the amount of artefacts there are here in Egypt! We were joined on board the boat by a Nubian elder who told us some of the history of the area. The Nubian’s have lived this part of Egypt for thousands of years and still retain their own culture and language. The local Nubian population can therefore speak three languages, Nubian, Arabic and English. We stopped on the other bank of the Nile and spent an hour climbing up one of the Saharan sand hills! The sand is coarse (not quite as fine as ours) and a deep yellow colour.. climb was tricky but worth it! For me it was just amazing to actually walk in the Sahara desert!

We left the sand hill (and our new found Nubian friends who had befriended us at the top of the hill) and continued our sail along the Nile with the Sahara on our right. Further down we caught a glimpse of a huge palace that was built about fifty years ago for the then leader of Egypt and the ruined St Michael’s Monastery which was built in the mid 6th Century AD. To see these buildings with a back drop of the sand desert was really beautiful, particularly as the sun started to sink behind the sand hills. We worked our way back to Aswan with more gorgeous photos on the way as the sky line turned from blue to pink to purple. Dinner was hosted by some Nubian friends. The starter Lentil soup is probably one of the best soups I’ve had in many months and was followed up by the most delicious vege casserole and rice.. Totally delicious and an awesome way to end our day! During our after dinner tea our Nubian friend and host JJ told us about the Nubian marriage ceremony. Apparently during the time before the wedding Nubian couples need to keep their love secret. This is because marriages are still in some ways arranged.. what I mean is that both sets of parents must consent to the marriage before it can occur. Similarly, women need to protect their modesty and virginity.. if it is suspected that either have been in any way violated before a woman gets married then the woman will ‘get a reputation’ and it is likely that the groom’s mother will not consent to any marriage! It is therefore likely that most women and men have not even touched each other prior to the actual wedding night! Different but really lovely to see that some of the old traditions are still adhered to in some parts of the world!

After a pretty long day we all hopped back on the barge and sailed across the Nile and back to our hotel for a well deserved sleep… Tomorrow we have a very early start so that we can join the convoy to Abu Simbel at 4am!

Posted by weary_feet 11:17 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

20: Giza

sunny 23 °C

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Today is the day.. off to the Giza plateau!!! I remember when I was little reading mum’s copies of the National Geographic and dreaming about seeing these great wonders and today is the day when I can actually see their might up close! To try and avoid the crush we left the hotel quite early and arrived at the plateau by 8.30am.

Surprisingly the pyramids aren’t far from downtown Cairo (it probably only took us about 20 min to get to the pyramids) and it is quite amusing to discover that the pyramids are bang smack in the middle of the suburb Giza. One minute you are negotiating rubbish and dirt lined streets next minute you enter the area that is designated as the plateau. No longer can you see the pyramids rise up out of the desert.. now they rise up from amongst the half built high rises! My first glimpse of the pyramids is one I probably won’t forget.. smog choked street, rubbish filled, kids running bare feet through the dirt, cars honking at each other, power lines hanging down, half completed buildings and right behind are these huge golden coloured pyramids.. Pretty amazing!

The plateau encompasses the three main pyramids, their attendant pyramids (otherwise known as the queen pyramids), their attendant temples and of course the great Sphinx. First stop was to gaze at the Great Pyramid of Cheops. I paid the extra couple of dollars to actually enter the pyramid and climbed up to the burial chamber. The climb isn’t for any claustrophobes.. very steep and you need to bend double so unless you are up for it I wouldn’t bother! The inside isn’t covered in frescos etc it’s just bare granite walls (very smooth and well chiselled but not decorated). After climbing up for probably about 10 min I came to the final chamber (which I think is the king’s burial chamber) and inside the chamber there was a group of about 50 people who were all “ohm-ing” and trying to heal their bodies.. Total whack jobs! Pretty funny though.. The people who were being healed were being lowered into the actual granite coffin of Cheops and then after they were lying down the remainder of the group would gather around the coffin holding hands and start chanting.. Pretty amusing all around.. Considering I seemed to be the only non believer in the room (and the temp was well in excess of 30 deg with no air movt) I quickly decided that the burial chamber of Cheops was not the best place for me and descended back down the ramp to the base of the pyramid.

From the Great pyramid we travelled around to see the other two pyramids and some of the group entered the third pyramid. Whilst they were inside I spent my time photographing the second and third pyramids and the attendant pyramids. Also spent a bit of time with the hordes of hucksters selling all sorts of crap souvenirs and I have quickly come to learn the key phrase of “La Shokarrun” which is Arabic for “no thankyou” as every man and his dog is trying to sell you some sort of crap.

Before descending the plateau back down to see the Great Sphinx we stopped to take a camel trek through some of the surrounding sands to see the pyramids from different angles. Again unfortunately we were hounded by hoards of people selling stuff, I had my scarf turned into a turban by some salesman which made me a bit cranky cause clearly he wanted some cash. The other hot sales item was random dudes wanting to take my photo in front of the pyramids in return for some money. I wasn’t parting with my camera for nothing so got some rude looks and comments from the hordes of dudes. Finally we made our way over to the camels and hopped on. The experience of riding a camel is an interesting one.. firstly you are quite a way off the ground and their gate is quite a swaying gate.. they are also quite wide so even after only being on the camel for twenty minutes or so my bum was feeling it!!!! The camels took us to a place where we could see the pyramids from a different angle and we could see all three at once. The camel ride was worth the couple of bucks if for no other reason I can say that I’ve been on a camel!

Our last stop on the Giza plateau was to see the Great Sphinx. By now the crowd had grown considerably and inside the complex to see the Sphinx there were hundreds of other people all vying for ‘the’ shot of the Sphinx. I was surprised at how big the Sphinx actually is.. probably a hundred meters long and maybe the same height and is carved from huge blocks of limestone! It was quite hot at the Sphinx and really crowded so we didn’t hang around long before we headed off for a bite to eat.

Straight after lunch we headed to the Egyptian museum to see Tut’s treasure. The museum was at the heart of the Jan revolution and luckily doesn’t appear to be too scarred from the protests. The building next door hasn’t been so lucky and is a completely burnt out shell! The museum is housed in a 1800s pink building which in itself is quite impressive.. unfortunately the interior hasn’t been updated too much since it was first built so it feels a bit like a big attic that has stuff placed haphazardly throughout! There is an incredible amount of Egyptian artefacts on display and it is almost impossible to see the whole collection in one sitting… Probably the biggest problem is that if you don’t have a guide for the museum you have no hope of working out what you are looking at.. there are no guide books, very little English (or Arabic) plaques and no audio guide… Either you have a real guide or you just wander aimlessly!!

The crowning glory of the whole collection is Tut’s treasure. His face mask is definitely more incredible in real life than any photo can depict it! Unfortunately photos aren’t allowed inside the museum so I’m just going to have to rely on Google to give me pictures of the mask! The annoying thing is that some local boys were taking photos of the mask and weren’t even getting into trouble until I basically stood in front of the guard and pointed them out!! The annoying thing is that I would have had my camera taken (and potentially not returned) but the local’s just give some ‘Baksheesh’ and get away with it!! (Baksheesh is a back hander of a couple of pounds)

Anyway back to the museum.. surrounding Tut’s face mask is many of his other jewellery that was discovered with him as well as his coffins.. he must have had about 6 coffins each slightly smaller than the last! His mummy and last coffin is in the Valley of the King’s so I’ll have to check him out when we get to Luxor! There is also a large mummy collection inside the museum which I decided to pass on because I’ve seen a few mummies (London and Berlin) so after ogling at the Tut collection we headed to see some mummified animals before finally leaving the museum.

One of the sad things about the impact of the revolution is the drop in numbers of tourists.. this was brought home to me today when we left the museum because at the exit (where you would normally have to troop through the gift shop) the main museum gift shop has had to close down because of lack of tourists. With the backdrop of a burnt out building I do feel sorry for the regular Egyptian people who are really hurting because of the revolution. According to our guide though most Egyptian’s supported the revolution so here’s hoping the tourists return so that people don’t start to really starve and get stuck without any money.. Things will get much worse here if people don’t have any money!

After heading back to the hotel we had a couple of hours to kill before we headed out to the Cairo train station to catch the overnight train to Aswan. The drive to the station was pretty interesting… at one point we are driving along on a three lane road to discover that there were actually six lanes of traffic all trying to merge!!!! The other amusing thing we’ve noticed is that Cairo is the place where all of the world’s beetles and combis have come to die.. Not much of a challenge when playing spot the beetle (STB)! Cairo’s traffic is a real experience particularly when it’s bad… lots of honking and lane creation… very funny!!!!

Before boarding the train we had a bite to eat in the station and then finally we were able to get on.. I was expecting a fairly low standard (Trans Siberian like).. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the overnighter’s here in Egypt are the best I’ve been on!! Only two people per cabin and each bed was made ready to go for us to hop into!!! Hopped into bed and feel asleep almost immediately!

Posted by weary_feet 22:35 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

19: Up, up and away

sunny 23 °C
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Another day of all day travel. Caught the hotel shuttle to Ataturk at 7am and then went thru the usual rigamoral to get onto a plane. Ataturk is old style though which was quite refreshing… hour long line up to check in and bag drop, forty minutes to get thru immigration and then finally I got myself to the coffee shop for a cuppa, cheese and tomato toastie and bottle of water (thank god I did allow the usual two hours to get to the plane because I used up most of time just getting into the restricted section of the airport!!)

Three hours later we landed in Cairo and the first thing I thought was ‘here I go again.. more rigamoral’… but no!!! I had organised myself a transfer from the airport to the hotel and so my transfer dude picked me up at the gate (yep no security here!!) took me straight to buy my visa, got my $$, got my bag and then out the door.. from me meeting transfer guy to car I reckon tops 12 mins… Super impressive (although slightly concerning that the transfer dude can just got right thru to the gate….)

Driving thru Cairo was an experience… Similar to Istanbul, road rules are secondary to just getting to where you want to go as quickly as you possibly can!! Buses seem to all have no doors, lanes are just guidelines… it seems the ideal is to try and fit as many cars as is physically possible side by side so two lanes can easily become four and sometimes five!!!!!!! The dominant colour of Cairo is definitely a reddy, grey colour and everything is overlaid with a dense cloud of smog/ dust and endless drifts of rubbish. Definitely not the most beautiful city I’ve seen but certainly it is a different one!

I arrived at the hotel at about 3pm and with only a couple of hours til I had to meet with the tour group I thought I’d take a nap ( I had an impressive headache) and then take it easy til it was time to see the group. This tour group is quite different to the last one; firstly this group is 12 so much larger, majority are girls and all are from Oz (except 2). Age group is very mixed- four in their 20s, three of us in our 30s and four in their fifties.. so very different to the last group.. Initial impression is that this group could be a bit more challenging but it’s hard to tell on day 1.. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see!! Off to see the pyramids tomorrow I can’t wait!!!!!

Posted by weary_feet 22:32 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

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