When I was a child, there was no place on Earth I wanted to go more then Egypt. I was fascinated by it’s history and the Pyramids. I wanted to be an archaeologist and discover a new mummy. Every year around Easter, my mother and I would watch the 10 Commandments. The Mummy is still one of my favorite movies. Now that I live so close, there was no way I wasn’t going to travel there. It was one of the first places I planned to visit after we moved here. But then, there were reports of bombings and uprising in Egypt so I cancelled our trip there in December and we went to Bahrain and Oman instead. One of the things I have learned here is that if you let media dictate how you travel, you will miss out on a lot. So I planned our trip again, and wouldn’t you know, a week before we were scheduled to leave, more bombings took place. Not to be easily deterred, I decided we were going anyway.
We arrived in Cairo airport and were met by our tour manager. I used Memphis tour company and they took care of our hotels, flights between Luxor and Cairo, breakfast and lunch meals minus beverages, our tours and transportation. I figured this was a safer way to navigate through Egypt. (You can read my long drawn out review of my experience with them by clicking here on Trip advisor) Anyway we were taken to the Fairmont Heliopolis hotel where we spent out first night and ate overpriced Teppanyaki.
In the morning, we ate breakfast at the hotel buffet and went back to the airport so we could take a flight to Luxor. We flew on a small EgyptAir plane, which was late. It is not a very nice airline and the flight was full of turbulence. Thank goodness it was only an hour flight. Once in Luxor we were met by a tour guide and a new driver. Our itinerary was slightly changed due to the late arrival of our plane and the heat. Before beginning our tours, our tour guide (BT I will call him) gave us some advice for Egypt. He said, “while out, keep walking, if people come up to you wanting to sell you things, keep walking. Don’t talk to them, pay them no mind, just keep up with me, otherwise you will be hounded like crazy. I will take you someplace to buy authentic stuff later ” On the way to our first tour BT stopped to get us a snack and a drink at a local store, while we waited in the car. Three young boys waved at my son and I in the car, my son waved back. Then one of the boys put his hand out to ask for money. My son and I looked at each other and the boys walked off. We were a bit shocked but shrugged it off. BT returned and we were off to tour the Karnak temples. As we drove to the temples, I noticed police officers everywhere. Most had very large guns and blast shields. There were check points in several places. There were officers in small boxes at the top of buildings and in the streets. Once we got to the temples, the driver said something to the officers stationed at the gates in Arabic, all I heard was (Americana’s), then the officers checked the trunk and around the car before waving us through. We got out of the cars and walked into the sites. We admired the gigantic statues and hieroglyphics. I liked touching the hieroglyphics engraved in the stones. They were once all in color but only small remnants of color remain. Our tour guide pointed out the god of fertility with his erect penis, and one leg and arm. He told us that the majority of the temples were destroyed in a large earthquake. The temple once had a ceiling but the earthquake caused it to cave in. Check out these cool pictures in my slideshow below.
After visiting the Karnak Temple, we drove to lunch.
One of things I like about eating in Egypt is that you get bread, salad and a few other things with your meals at no extra cost. While eating lunch, my son and I watched a kid around the age of 6, run up and down the block. He was a cute child although in dirty, tattered clothing. We watched him try to make a horse go and climb up onto the carriage. We watched as the horse swayed slightly irritated. We watched as the driver came out and waved the boy off. We watched as the young boy asked a woman getting into a cab something, and the cab driver flagged him away. As we got into our driver’s car, the boy approached the car. He put his four fingers against his thumb and pointed his hand at his mouth. He was begging for food and money. Our driver gave him a coin, as he was very persistent and told him, “Khalas, yalla” (enough, go). The boy didn’t move and when our tour guide got into the front seat and we started to leave, the young boy hung on the car door and chased the car until he could no longer keep up. I was instantly saddened. Beyond adult beggars panhandling, and children from neighborhood sports teams and bands asking for donations in the street, I had never first-hand seen anything like this in my life. Is this Egypt, I thought to myself? Where are all the Kings and Queens? Where is the beauty that I imagined?
We visited the Luxor temple next. It’s smaller than the Karnak temple but in better condition. Apparently some excavating of a stretch of street is occurring between the Karnak and Luxor temple because some smaller sphinx were discovered along a path which would connect the two temples. There is so much history in Luxor uncovered beneath its earth. I love that. It’s like hidden clues to a treasure all over. You will see several large obelisk, large, pointy columns at the Luxor temple. At the entrance it is very noticeable that one is missing. The missing obelisk is in Paris. Zamir and I will look for it when we visit there in June. There are several obelisk that have been taken from Egypt and stationed all over Europe.
Here are some additional pictures from the two temples.
Our day came to a close with a drink by the pool at the Sonesta hotel. The hotel decor reminds me of one from a mob movie, with lots of green and gold. The bathrooms are of black and white marble. The beds are tiny. We had a view of the Nile from our room. We had to pay for internet which only worked on one device and request an iron which was broken. The pool is beautiful but closed at 6pm but you could sign a letter at the front desk basically saying you would swim without a lifeguard at your own risk. The back of the hotel is right on the Nile and you can watch the sun rise and set. My son and I had a rather interesting conversation with one of the bartenders who told us it was okay for my son to have a drink or drugs. I allowed him to enjoy a Rum and Coke before turning in for the night.
First thing in the morning, we checked out, grabbed a boxed breakfast prepared by the hotel and met BT for day 2 of our Luxor tours. The box for breakfast was heavy so we were curious of its contents but not pleased once revealed. It included a badly bruised banana, stale bread and croissant, a slice of pound cake, apple juice (I hate apple juice), and a warm bottle of water. We ate the slice of cake and threw everything else away. (I know it was wasteful but it also wasn’t good) Bt surprised us with a boat ride across the Nile to the west side. It’s much wider than it looks but we enjoyed the ride.
Within the mountains of sand in Luxor lies The Valley of the Kings. Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed inside but here are some pictures from outside.
I got this picture from google of what it looks like when you walk in the valley.
And here is a picture of the entrances to two of the tombs we visited.
We went around 7am which was perfect timing because we were the only ones there. After a brief history lesson, we went in 3 of the 65 burials. One of them was of Merenptah of the 19th dynasty. At first site this burial looks scary. When you first approach the gate, it looks like a deep, dark hole. Then the burial keeper turns on the light and the walk way lights up. You have to walk down a series of steep ramps and steps to reach where the burial was found. On the way, you will see faded colored hieroglyphics on the walls and ceiling and chambers where the dead’s belongings were buried separate from the mummy. It is something amazing to see. These people from thousands of years ago dug deep into the Earth and worked hard to hide these mummies without modern technologies or machinery. The burial places were sacred and beautiful, the ceilings adorned in blue (my favorite color), stained by flowers. These tombs were raided and left barren, except, so far anyway, for King Tutankhamen’s, 18th dynasty, the first royal tomb to be discovered that was still largely intact. His tomb was discovered in the early 1900’s.
After leaving this valley, I wanted to visit the valley of the Queens but it was not on the tour list, so we headed over to the Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. The front of this temple was in unbelievable great shape. I had to do some research to see if this was reconstructed because I couldn’t believe that this temple was found like this and yes it was reconstructed. Here is a picture of it prior to reconstruction and now.
Nonetheless, it is remarkable. There isn’t much inside but we had fun taking pictures there.
Two strange incidents happened while at this Temple. 1) An armed officer starting following Zamir and I around while in this Temple. We were the only 2 people in this one outside room and here comes this officer out of no where, with his big gun, asking us where we are from and a heap of other questions. Perhaps he was being cordial but Zamir must have read my mind because we quickly exited. Maybe it was the American on high alert in us, or the media tales, or too much tv watching but we did not feel comfortable. 2) While waiting for our ride to put us closer to the Temple, we encountered a group of students on a field trip. They pointed; they stared; they whispered; they giggled; they even took pictures and video of Zamir and I, so I whipped out my camera and started video taping them. Imaginably they hadn’t seen people of darker skin or maybe they thought us to be celebrities. They were friendly, not frightened of us but I would assume curious. I believe I had my first encounter of traveling while Black.
Our final stop, before we headed to the airport to return to Cairo, was to the Colossi of Memnon, 2 massive stone statues of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III.
Before we left, our tour guide treated us to some sugar cane juice. It was good but left me with a huge headache. I shot these pictures of some homes in Luxor.
Unsurprisingly, our EgyptAir flight was delayed. Our hearts were bursting with excitement but our stomachs were growling. There was nothing to eat in this tiny airport for a pescatarian and by the time we boarded our plane, not even seats in the front could cure my ‘hangriness’. We were happy that for the first time we were sitting in front of the curtain instead of behind it (thanks to Memphis tours) but they only had apple juice (what is it with apple juice in Egypt) and the sandwich they served reminded me of middle school cafeteria lunch. YUCK! (Not eating that, even if I am starving).
We were picked up at Cairo airport and driven to our new hotel, The Le Meridian. Driving in Cairo is ludicrous. There are few traffic lights. Brave pedestrians walk out in traffic and bob and weave. There are tuk tuks and bicycles and motorbikes, and trucks and cars and trucks with animals in them. I saw a man driving a motorcycle with a kid sitting in front of him, one behind him, then a women behind that kid, holding 2 small children and another child seated behind her. It blew my mind. Totally safe, right? All the cars had scratches and bruises and I could see why. I would not drive a new car in Cairo. I would not drive in Cairo at all. And the scenery well, imagine the most crowded, dirtiest streets of New York, now multiply that by 5. Tall, occupied, apartment buildings that look like they could fall at any moment were everywhere you look. Imagine floors of apartments with no windows and kids hanging out of them. Piles of trash lined the streets. Here is a slideshow of Cairo traffic.
And security everywhere.
The Le Meridian’s location is great with good views of the Pyramids. It’s right across the street from them.
A different tour manager met us at the hotel and checked us in. He and I did not hit it off. I think it was a case of personality clash and language barrier. He bought me some medicine to take care of my headache though. Pop this packet of dust in some water and drink up, were his instructions. I told my son to keep the packet in case something happened to me. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever tasted but it did the job. He took us to lunch, more like dinner because it had gotten so late. I was very clear about my eating preference but it was a disaster. I won’t get into details, but what I will say is, they didn’t know how to grill fish, they tried to serve me fried fish, then ‘ground’ fried, cut up fish. SMH! In the end they wound up giving me some frozen, fried vegetable rolls. On a positive note, the restaurant was right across the street from the pyramids and the Sphinx so I captured this stunning photo.
After complaining to my original tour manager, he promised us a better day tomorrow and a great tour guide.
After sleeping on the smallest, hardest, most uncomfortable bed I’ve ever slept on, at the Le Meridian, we woke up to what would be my favorite day in Egypt. We enjoyed breakfast at the hotel buffet, despite the dirty dishes, and met up with ‘Amina’ (name changed), our last tour guide.
We paid $25 dollars and opted for the camel rides through the Giza plateau. I was surprised that the Great Pyramids were located right in the city but once we started trekking through the plateau it became magical. I felt like we were in ancient Egypt riding through the desert. The pyramids are definitely WONDERFUL! They are actually bigger than I imagined. We were able to see the 3 largest ones up close and personal and I couldn’t help but to touch them and sit on one. This was what I came to Egypt for and for awhile I forgot about all the negative aspects of my trip and I just enjoyed it. Until we got gagged into drinking a bottle of soda that was handed to us and were hounded for a tip. Nothing is free, even if it’s placed in your hand. I forgot that Amina had warned us of this sort of thing. Anyway, we had so much fun posing with the Great Pyramids of Giza…
…and with the Sphinx
After our fun in Giza, we went to lunch. Amina took us to a restaurant on a ship on the Nile River. She ordered me a vegetarian meal. They did their best to accommodate but I tasted crumbs of chicken in my pasta with vegetables. The bread, tomato soup and salad was good. Amina also took us to a place where we got Cartouches made. A cartouche is a pendant with ancient Egyptian symbols which spell something. Ours spells our names.
The Egyptian Museum was our next stop. If you are in Cairo, I highly recommend going there. The exhibits are great. I couldn’t help but think, what a great trip this could be for a class of students. It would be a awesome inquiry-based provocation for further discussion and research. I had so many questions when I left. I’ve never had a better history lesson than this visit.
We also visited Coptic Cairo, including the Hanging Church. We couldn’t really go in because it was a very holy week and service was going on at the time. I could have passed on this part of the tour. It was very nerve-wrecking, with security everywhere and since terrorist had threatened further church bombings.
We finished up our tour with some shopping in Khan Al Khalili, a souk of sorts. I liked it. I was able to get some souvenirs and a leather handbag for next to nothing. I wished I had purchased more. I would definitely go back there to do some more shopping.
One more night of uncomfortable sleeping left me with a pained shoulder and hurt back but I got more out of this trip than I had expected. The ride to the airport was filled with a necessary conversation about Egypt with my tour manager Eslam, actual name. I told Eslam my feelings. I expected different from Egypt. I fantasized about glamour and Kings and Queens. He helped me to see that most Egyptians daily goal is getting food home to feed their family. There is the rich and there is the poor and not much in the middle.
At first, I wanted nothing more to do with Egypt. I had had enough of dirty dishes, and non meat options, crazy traffic and hassleing, begging and hard beds, a cost for everything, 5 star advertised hotels with 3 star standards, delayed flights, tipping and everything else. But then I wanted more. I wanted to experience authentic Egypt, the real Egyptian food and to see how they really live without tourist blinders. I was mad at myself for not doing my homework and researching this place before visiting, this place beyond the tourist sites, the recent history and government affairs. But then I was happy I didn’t because I learned so much more first hand. I know that when I travel from now I will have to decide what I want to know before hand and what I don’t and if I decide not to know, than I better be prepared for anything. I better be prepared to lower my standards and come out my pockets more. I better be prepared to live like a local however that may be for however long I plan to stay. If I want to vacation like I live or better, I better book my own hotels, my own flights and find my own restaurants instead of relying on a travel company, and definitely not travel to a third-word country. I had no idea Egypt was a third-world country or that it was so poor. How idiotic of me. My fantasy was not reality. Visiting my dream country was so much different than my dreams. But Egypt will forever hold a special place in my heart for it has changed the way I look at Life.
I AM SO BLESSED TO LIVE THE LIFE I LIVE!
If you stuck in there with me and read to the end, thank you. I know it was a long post. It took me along time to process this trip and to write about it. I hope you enjoyed going through my adventure with me. Please share your thoughts.
How could a country with so much history forsake it’s citizens?
How could a government be so corrupt to not take care of it’s peoples?
How could so many other surrounding, Middle-Eastern countries be so rich and this one be so poor?]