A High School Graduation Present: Israel and Egypt
- Submitted by: Tom Balabanov
- Submission Date: 11th Feb 2005
My name is Tom Balabanov, I am a 45 year old man. My 19 year old daughter, Elizabeth asked me to take her to Egypt as a graduation present. As I have always wanted to go I agreed. I also added Israel as I was interested in visiting the biblical sites. Mentioned in the travelogue are my wife Yukari, my son Michael, my other daughter Diana, and my second son Tommy who passed away recently. We decided to spend 10 days traveling indepently in Israel, and connect to a 3 week tour of Egypt offered by The Imaginative Traveler for $1450CA. I used the 1997 LETS GO as a base for a lot of the independent travel.
I have shown a lot of the prices, maybe too much, as a guide to the costs while traveling.
Tuesday, April 28
Vancouver to Frankfurt
Elizabeth and I got a ride to the Vancouver International Airport at 2:30 pm. It was still lots of time for our 3:30 pm flight to Frankfurt on the way to Tel Aviv. We decided to look at the duty free shop at the airport to price some of the liquor. I figured that if we can only take one bottle each home from this expensive trip, it might as well be something expensive. I wrote down some of the prices.
At another store I decided to buy some postcards showing the scenery of Vancouver. It might come in handy showing some of the natives of Israel or Egypt where we lived. The only problem is that I didn't take any Canadian cash except a quarter and a roll of pennies. The quarter was for a phone call when we came back and the pennies were for giving away, when I was in Europe many people asked for Canadian coins and I didn't take any. The coins were also in the luggage on the plane. I used my credit card to buy them.
I asked for window seats as I like watching the scenery from the plane. We managed to get the seats 32A and 32B. These were by the emergency exits and had lots of leg room. 'Great!' I thought, until the flight was in the air and the non-stop line of washroom waiters lined up in front of us. They blocked the screen so I couldn't see the film or announcements. Fortunately I didn't find the film 'In and Out' very interesting.
The first meal they had was a chicken or beef selection. As Elizabeth is a vegetarian we asked about a vegetarian meal. The flight attendants said that should have been arranged beforehand. One mark against the travel agent, she said for a non-meat vegetarian it wasn't necessary. Oh well, She gave me her meat and I gave her me salmon salad. The chicken was not very memorable and they served a German rye bread that I did not find very appetizing, still the berry cake was good as was the cheese and grapes. I found the salmon salad slimy, so I didn't miss that.
The second movie, 'The Mad City ', was better than the first, but I still had to contend with the washroom lineup, especially just after a meal. Lufthansa passed around OJ or mineral water several times. Several times I had to ask people in the lineup to move aside.
At about 10:20pm Vancouver time we got to see the sun come up. Unfortunately there was a solid cloud mass below us so we had no idea of where we were until we got close to Germany. By that time they passed around the second meal, a breakfast of sausage, eggs, bun, fruit and yogurt. This meal was much better, Elizabeth gave me her sausage. During breakfast I talked to the man in the next seat (32C). He was meeting a sister in Frankfurt and was traveling with her to visit family in Holland.
Frankfurt was 12c and cloudy when we arrived at about 10am.
Wednesday, April 29
Frankfurt to Jerusalem
We had a 2-3 hour layover in Frankfurt. There wasn't quite enough time to leave the airport and visit the city, but enough time to get bored. By our Vancouver time it was past midnight, but we knew that our short nap in the airplane was all we would have until we arrive at the hotel in Jerusalem. We filled the time by visiting the duty free and the shops. I priced the liquor. It was a bit more expensive then the Vancouver duty free. The shops were expensive! An apple for about $2CA, crackers for $5CA, a large chocolate bar for $9CA. I still weren't very hungry from eating the meals on the plane, so I didn't buy anything and neither did Elizabeth. I saw a display of Rolex watches ranging from $3000 to about $40,000 each. I estimated that this one display cabinet had over one million dollars of Rolex watches. Some of the perfume looked interesting, I told the shopkeeper that I might get some on the way back.
We went through to the Tel Aviv gate (number 68) early. It was quite crowded. There also was a different type of clientele. Most of the Vancouver-Frankfurt were Germans dressed in a western style, Many of this flight were Arab or Israeli and dressed quite different. The security was also tighter, we went through another checkout and they restricted carry-on to one bag each. We had about a 10 minute delay before leaving. We left on a smaller plane, lifting off the runway with a bit of a crosswind.
We had a salmon or chicken dinner once in the air. The lady in the next seat was from Paris and was visiting her boyfriend, a physicist in Tel Aviv, an event she goes through for a few weeks, every few months. She pays about 2400Fr for the tickets from Paris to Tel Aviv return. The sky was still cloudy most of the way so I only saw the ground when we were about to land. We didn't park at a gate when landing, instead were loaded onto a bus to be driven to the airport terminal. I would presume this has to do with security, although Ben Gurion Airport seemed much smaller then I expected. Customs was uneventful except the unaccustomed (as of yet) of the proliferation of Uzi's. We cashed $200.00CA at the airport exchange at a pretty bad rate as we found out the next day. Referring to my LET'S GO book, I located the bus depot and we were on our way to Jerusalem for 18.50 Shekels per. By this time it was about 8pm local time, 10am Vancouver time, so I was starting to feel tired and looking forward to a comfy bed. By about 9pm we got to the Jerusalem bus station. I referred to my LET'S GO map of Jerusalem to find where our hotel was. With our backpacks on we headed down a street that I thought would lead to Agripa Street. After a few blocks the street layout didn't agree with the map and we were lost. Not all streets were marked in English and they curved so it was difficult to figure out where we were. Finally giving up my self-reliance I asked some people heading to what seemed to be the downtown area, how to get to Agripa Street. They asked some other people and then took us there. On the way we encountered hundreds of young people heading in roughly the same direction.
We checked into the hotel, Hotel Palatin, $80US per night including breakfast, a not very good hotel with dingy bathrooms, with pretensions to high class. Another mark against the travel agent. I had asked for a cheap hotel for the first 2 nights, so I don't have to search for something that late, not a dingy hotel that was expensive. It had a phone, and a TV with no English channels.
After unloading everything we decided to see what everyone was doing in the streets, ever though it was a long day for us. We continued down the road towards the center of town. There were thousands of young people. We found that they were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the state of Israel. I knew there were some celebrations before I left but I didn't know how they would affect us or what would happen. As it turned out most businesses and banks would be closed for the next 4 days causing a few wrinkles in our plans. For now though we joined the celebrations, bands were performing in the street, people were buying spray cans of soap foam and colored streamers and spraying everyone, including us as well. We watched people dancing traditional dances and singing what appeared to be patriotic songs in Hebrew. Everywhere there were army youth's carrying Uzi's, as we traveled it became an accustomed sight as all males have a 3 year military service, all females a 2 year service. After some time in the celebrations we then headed back to the hotel for a good nights sleep.
Thursday, April 30
Jerusalem's old city
The hotel had a very elaborate breakfast of cereal, eggs, tomatoes cucumbers, bread, bread, cheese, juice and tea and coffee. All very fresh. I was not expecting to eat fresh vegetables and fruits, I may gain weight instead of I was expecting to lose weight during the trip.
After breakfast I phoned home via CANADA DIRECT, no problem. I also phoned a couple of hotels in old Jerusalem that were where I wanted to stay near the Damascus Gate I checked Al Hashimi and the Tabasco Hostel from the LETS GO guide. We walked to the old city, located the Damascus gate in the map and located the two hostels. We took a look at Al Hashimi inside and then Tabasco. Tabasco is a backpacker's hostel with only a couple double rooms and was next to a tea house with night entertainment. It looked very noisy. Al Hashimi is a very clean simple hotel with in room bathroom. We picked Al Hashimi for 75 Shekels per night. It was about $23US per night less that 1/3 the price of the Palatin hotel. We reserved the Al Hashimi for the following night with a $5US deposit. It was too late to change hotels today I figured.
After this chore was done we started to tour the city. We first visited the souks, then we headed down the Christian Quarter to the Church of the Holy Redeemer (Lutheran) where for 1.5 shekels we climbed to the top and took pictures of the sights around the city. In from of the church hawkers sold us some postcards. We then visited the Church of the Holy Sepulture. The Church of the Holy Sepulture is suppose to be where Christ was nailed to the cross, crucified and put in a tomb. The church inside was extremely elaborate.
We waited in a lineup to enter a small but very elaborate room inside where Christ was suppose to be entombed. We also wandered around the various crypts and locations of note within the church.
Once outside we wandered around the shops until we got to the Jewish Quarter. We saw the Cardo, a Roman age ruin, and some archeological diggings of the first temple period about 1000BC. We then had lunch at a restaurant stand, ice cream was as expensive as a falafel, at about $3CA each. After lunch we continued to the Western Wall of the Temple, going through a metal detector and bag inspector. When we tried to go to the closest side of the Wall the attendant said there was a men's side and a women's side of the wall.
After visiting the Wall, we went north to try to find the way to the Dome of the Rock. We didn't manage to find the visitors entrance and found that it was not open until 3:30pm anyway, 2 hours later. So we continued north to the Via Dolorosa area . At the first station of the cross a man came up to us and started talking about the stations of the cross. By now we knew a bit about it, but he was explaining quite a bit. I finally came up with the conclusion that he was a self assigned tour guide who would want some money to explain things. I was resigned to give him 5 shekels when he finished. The talk lasted about 20 minutes ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulture. Imagine our surprise when he asked for 150 shekels (about $70CA). I offered him 10, then raised it to 15 at which he refused. Finally we left 19 shekels at his feet and left. That was still most likely an overpayment. Elizabeth was getting tired of all the walking around so we walked back to the Palatin hotel. It was still about 10 blocks to the hotel and no direct bus. On the way I bought a watermelon to eat. After sitting at the hotel eating the watermelon, Elizabeth wanted to see something different. I suggested the Artist's Colony, a nearby art gallery. When we got there it was closed. There was no notice and it was normally open Thursdays so I suspected it was the independence day's holidays. We then decided to walk to Mt. Zion for the location of the last supper and King David's tomb. These were quite far away and when we got there both were closed. We did though see something of the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem going there.
By this time it was about 7pm and we went through the old town buying a cheese and sugar pastry and some snacks for supper. Outside of Damascus Gate we located Sheruts (shared taxis) who would drive us to Bethlehem. They offered to drive there for 3 shekels each. On the way back to our hotel we looked at downtown Jerusalem. We saw a McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut among other western stores. The prices were all about twice the prices in Canada. For instance a McDonalds full meal was 25 Shekels, or $10CA, where at home a price of $4 to $5 is reasonable. There were a lot of jewelry stands. One of them would write your name on a grain of rice and put it in a vial. We then retired to the Palatin hotel for the night.
Friday, May 1
Inside Jerusalem's old city
We got up at 6am, had breakfast and checked out of the Palatin hotel before 8am. We decided to keep our bags and get them later as it was too early to check into Al Hashimi's hotel. We went to the Damascus Gate to take a Sherut to Bethlehem. Last night they were quoting 3 shekels to drive to Bethlehem, this morning they started a quote at 25 shekels. I asked about the difference, they said it depended on demand. At night it was slower so they charged less to get at least some customers. I did get them down to 5 shekels apiece. They though ended up dropping us in front of some convent somewhere in Bethlehem after crossing the Israeli-West Bank border. My LETS GO book didn't have a map of Bethlehem so we had no idea where to go. The driver figured to get more out of us so he offered to drive us the 2km more for 20 more shekels. We refused, figuring that we could get there walking. After walking down the street, we encountered some people, who we asked for directions. We really needed help as we actually didn't know even what direction to go. We asked them where the Church of the Nativity was. These people then stopped a local Sherut, asked them, wrong one, stopped another one, and explained in Arabic where we wanted to go to. Really nice people. We ended up with a ride just to the bottom of the hill for an additional shekel each.
We walked about one block length up the hill and to the Church of the Nativity. In front of it was a huge parking lot for the busses. There was only a few busses though. Inside the church were some original tiles from 346AD. Some ceremony was taking place so we just had a short look at the spot where Jesus was born. We saw the several chambers of the Grotto of the Nativity, part of the church. We walked around town, stopping for a glass of fresh carrot juice on the hillside. We then went to the Milk Grotto Church around the corner to the Church of the Nativity. This is where Mary was suppose to have fed the baby Jesus and spilt her milk.
I was a bit worried when we got back to the 'bus stop' down the hill where the sherut dropped us off. We were in West Bank territory. The bus and taxis told me that they could not cross the border into Israel proper, however they could drop us off at the border and we could walk over and get a ride from the border. Was it going to be another 20 shekel scam? We found a taxi that would drive us the 3-4 km drive to the border for 7 shekels. At the border Elizabeth forgot her passport at the hotel, but the guards let her through, and we caught a sherut to Jerusalem for 2.5 shekels each. Interestingly, as the Sherut was waiting for passengers to fill up, several old Palestinians struggled over a stone fence, looking like they were sneaking over the border. This was very visible to the guards.
We then went to pick up our bags at the Palatin hotel and carried them over to the new hotel, the Al Hashimi. On the way we looked for a money changer. This is when we found out that they were closed from Wednesday through Sunday morning because of the independence day celebrations. Our shekels have to last until then or we have to use the ripoff changers at the hotels or the market. At Al Hashimi, I found out the price did not include sheets, TV or phone. That's OK, the view was beautiful overlooking the Dome of the Rock, I had a sheet, the TV wasn't in english anyway, and there were a lot of pay phones. The hotel was super clean and spacious and seeped with character and history.
After settling in Elizabeth wanted to visit something. I was anxious to see the Friday 3pm monks walk along the Via Dolorosa. The LETS GO book described the event. They will walking the 13 stations of Christ's walk. They only do this only once a week and we wouldn't be there any other Friday Before that we went over to the Tower of David Museum at 2pm. They said they were closing at 3pm and it took at least 2 hours to see the museum so I convinced Elizabeth to go see the Armenium museum instead until close to 3pm. The museum's most notable exhibits were centered around the 1910's genocide of some 1.5 million Armanians by the turks. At about 2:40pm we left for the Via Dolorosa. It turned out that it was actually to start at 4pm so we had to wait for an hour. During that hour wait we headed down to the St. Peter's Gate where there was a site of Mary's birthplace run by an orthodox Christian. The caretaker allowed us to photograph the site and go down to the ruins for a look around and to light a candle for a donation (about 10 shekels).
We returned to the monastery for the monks walk. There were about 5 monks and about 30 tourists meeting at the first station. One monk recited the story in english in detail at every station while others sang hymns. They followed all 13 stations and it was free, unlike the guide we had the previous day. After this we stopped to have a beer at Champs pub, just a block from the new gate. Stopping at a falafel stand on the way back to Al Hashimi's we had a falafel for supper for 4-5 shekels.
Saturday, May 2
Inside and outside Jerusalem's old city
We were waken at 5am by the Muslim call for prayers before sunrise. This was broadcast on megaphones from the mosque for about 20 minutes. Roosters continued the greet of the morning somewhat later on. When I got up I went to buy a phone card, just outside the gate and used it to phone home via CANADA DIRECT. The local call was free as it was like a 1-800 number in North America. Everything was OK back home. We then went on the roof of the Al Hashimi hotel for breakfast eating the pastries that Elizabeth bought the previous day. The view was magnificent, all the ancient buildings, the mosque and Dome of the Rock.
After we headed to the Western (wailing) Wall. I wanted to give a prayer for Tommy, even though I and not Jewish, I figured it couldn't hurt. I put a prayer in the wall for him. That done we went over to the entrance to the Dome of the Rock and Mosque which we found was to the immediate south of the Western Wall. Elizabeth had to borrow a cloth to cover her shoulders as she was wearing a sweater that showed some of the upper arm and some of her neck. A lady arriving when we left has a dress with an open side and they almost missed that. The entrance to the site was fairly expensive, 33 shekels for me and 22 shekels for Elizabeth but it was worth it. The Mosque was so immense that birds flew around inside unimpeded. The Dome of the Rock, I found for some reason so moving that you could almost feel people singing inside. The Dome is a mosque-like building that covers the rock which Abraham was to sacrifice his son to god (and god relented when god saw that Abraham was faithful and willing). The Jews and Muslims do not agree which son it was but they both believe in it. It was also where Mohammed used to travel to heaven from and came to, when he went from Mecca. It is thus holy to both Muslims and Jews. However in 661 the Muslims built the Dome covering it. This became the most famous sight of Jerusalem. It is also the basis of the two temples of Jerusalem, the last destroyed by the Romans in 71AD. This rock then is also holy to the Christians as it follows the first Testament. It is the third holiest site for Islam and the second for Jews. Israel agreed for Muslims to care for it for the sake of peace, even though many extremists wanted to make a third temple with it. We bought a set of postcards in front of the Dome as cameras are not allowed inside. We also went to the small Islamic museum which had some of the old tops of the Dome of the Rock and clothes worn and Korans written over 1000 years ago.
We then left the city through the Dung gate, so named for the gate in which dung was brought outside the city. Some said that dung was brought inside by Christians to cover the Western wall to hide it from the Jews. Outside the gate was David's city, the original city of Jerusalem 1200BC. We located the entrance to Hezekieh's water tunnel, a lengthy tunnel which provided underground stream water for the early city at times of siege. We got a guide to take us with flashlights the length of the tunnel for a fairly outrageous sum of 50 shekels.
After this we went further uphill to Mt. Zion to visit what was suppose to be Jesus' jail cell in St. Peter's Basilica. This was a series of limestone caves which are in a location that agrees with the location of the jail. After visiting this we went through Zion's Gate to visit David's Museum (25 shekels, 17 for student and 8 for booklet). The museum was very interesting showing the history of Jerusalem from early times to current days. Elizabeth was getting thirsty and hungry and tired so we left the museum at about 2pm to buy a lunch of juice, fruit and pastries back at the hotel.
By this time Elizabeth was starting to get tired of religious sites. I looked in a guide and found a reference to number 99 bus, a tour bus that drives the tour sites of Jerusalem. We went to the bus stop that it was suppose to stop at, I didn't see any bus, and inquired a local. 'Today was the holy sabbath and buses don't run on the sabbath'.
Looking at the LETS GO book, there was a reference to the Palestinian National Theater. I phoned the number specified and found there was something at 7:30pm today but they couldn't explain what it was in English. The location was close by so we decided to walk to it so we could see where it is and what is showing. Following the map and instructions in LETS GO we located where it was and after quite a struggle accidentally found it. It was closed so we decided to return that evening.
. We returned to our hotel, got some supper of falafel again, and arrived at the theater when it was open. They charged 40 shekels for admission. The play turned out to be a very political comedy, totally in Arabic The main plot was about what would happen if famous Palestinians came to life and could they help Palestine regain recognition in a clown's dream. Towards the end some very famous religious person came to life, amused by new things (including just about everyone puffing cigarettes on stage) and managing to convince the (bumbling!) Israeli army and countries in the world to recognize Palestine. Throughout the routines there were apparently some very funny lines from the amount of laughter we were surrounded by. However almost all were lost on us, understanding almost no Arabic. At the very end all the actors came upon the stage, flowers were given and general cheering. Elizabeth figured that it must be the final presentation as most of the plays she helped did that at the last presentation.
Sunday, May 3
Jerusalem to Haifa
Waken again by the muezzins call, we finally got up at 7am. We finished the fruit for breakfast. We then checked out of the hotel. On the way to the bus station we exchanged $300CA into 750 Shekels each to last for the next while. We then took a bus to the bus station to get a bus pass for the next week and to catch a bus to Haifa. When we left for the trip I planned on 4 days in Jerusalem then a 7 day bus pass to travel all over Israel before heading to Egypt. It didn't turn out quite that simple. The Palatin Hotel said that the bus station would sell the bus pass. That was not true. When I got to the bus station, they said that I had to buy the pass at the Egged Tour office. They gave me the phone number of the tour office which I phoned to get the address and which bus to take to get there. While Elizabeth waited at the bus station I took her passport to go to the office. The first bus driver didn't know the street, neither did the second. I got frustrated so I tried a taxi. Even the taxi driver didn't know the street name. I then went back to try another bus driver. He did know, as it turned out the street name given was Zion Street, the short form of the name Queen Zion. The place was between the old hotel and the old city and we passed just by it on the way to the bus from the old city. Once I got off the bus, though I had to ask 3 people for directions, as the streets were not labeled well.
Finally I got to the bus tour office and bought the bus pass. It turned out much more expensive, 270 shekels per person. I still thought we should save money, although as it turned out it was only borderline savings. I took a bus back to Elizabeth and we finally left for Haifa at 11am, 2 hours later than expected. We arrived at 1PM and immediately took a bus to the 'Nezer Hotel', from the LETS GO book. Along the way we saw many girls with very skimpy clothes, cutoff jeans and tight tops, quite a difference from Jerusalem where it seemed every second person was dressed in orthodox Jewish garb. The hotel had a common toilet but did have a shower inside the room. The room was $40US for us two, including breakfast.
We rested a bit. I wanted to go see Elijah's cave (where he was suppose to of hidden, from the descriptions in the Bible), then Acco. We took the recommended bus from the bus station according to the LETS GO book to the cave but it stopped quite a bit short. We started to walk but by 4pm we still could not find the location. We met an old man who said it was up a hill, about a kilometer up. Disappointed , and it was getting later than we planned. we then decided to take a bus to Acre (Acco the crusader city). We though got stuck in a traffic jam and didn't arrive there until past 6pm. By this time the underground chambers were closed. They didn't mention a closing time in the LETS GO book. We did then wander around the city for about 1.5 hours and then took a bus back to Haifa. On the way back to the hotel we passed by the 'falafel king', a roadside stand that sold falafel for 43 years and was rated the best in Israel by LETS GO. It costs 8 shekels for a full falafel. They gave us a few falafel balls when we showed him the entry in the LETS GO book referring him as the falafel king. We then took a bus back to the hotel. I estimated that we used the equivalent of 70 shekels each for the bus rides today.
Monday, May 4
Haifa to Tiberias
We got up at 6:30am, though we had to wait until 8am for breakfast. By that time Elizabeth wanted to go down to the street to a store. About 10 minutes later I heard her voice down by the front door. I called her and heard some scuffling. She ran upstairs to the hotel lobby upset. A man came up to her when she was outside and tried to attack her, she ran to the hotel, but only my voice scared him off. This demonstrates the dangers of traveling alone. When we traveled together everyone assumed that she was my wife, not my daughter, to my complement and her annoyment Anyway after that we resolved to stick together.
After yesterday's failed attempt to find Elijah's cave I reread the LETS GO book and found another way to go to the cave, above the cave, not below it. We took the quoted bus (number 25) which dropped us off at a bus stop, the bus driver telling us to catch the number 31 bus, which drove around a number of streets until the bus driver told us to get off and go down a street. I didn't see any cave or church but followed down and looking east found the church that the cave was in. Success at last! The church was built around the cave. We gave a donation and lit a candle at the site, and took some pictures. We then looked for the second small cave that was suppose to be below in a unmarked path. We followed the path down the Mt. Carmel hillside until we encountered a grill covering a small cave. There was a lot of garbage in the cave and no label. So much for religious sites!
We then continued down the hillside, as the previous day, I knew we could catch a bus off the side of the highway at the bottom of the hill. We then caught a bus to the hotel, checked out, took a bus to the bus station. We then caught a bus to Nazareth. I figured that we can get there and store our bags near the bus station, look around and maybe catch a bus to Meggado (Armageddon) before going to Tiberias.
Arriving at Nazareth at about 1pm we realized that the LETS GO reference that Nazareth was an engrossingly gritty town was a very accurate statement. The bus stopped in front of the Basilica of the Annunciation in an extremely dirty square. There was no bus station. We tried to find the place to leave our bags that was mentioned in the LETS GO book, unable to find it even though we asked several people who succeeded in sending us dragging our bags all over the market. Giving up we looked over the Basilica, going around it and finding us back at the 'bus station'. Finding the town not to our liking, tired of carrying our backpacks around town, we greeted the arrival of the Nazareth to Tiberias bus as a savior.
Arriving in Tiberias at about 4pm I found in the LETS GO book, the Hotel Aviv as a likely stop. Getting off the bus into an extremely hot and steamy afternoon we were almost immediately accosted by a hotel tout. Interestingly it turned out to be the very hotel that we were thinking of. We pretended that we were interested in another hotel and allowed the tout to show us the hotel. It was not very crowded so he offered us a nice front room with a balcony, TV, air conditioning, in room shower and toilet for only 80 shekels ($35CA) per night. We decided to stay either two or three days, taking the bus to various sites on the Sea of Galilee and the Golan heights.
As it was still early we then returned to the bus station to catch a bus to Safad (Zfat) which was the location of the mystic Jews. We visited the crusader castle ruins on top of a hill, the old Jewish area and an artist colony. We bought a sketched drawing by a local artist for 40 shekels. Interestingly the artist colony is living in the Palestinian quarter, the original residents leaving when Israel won back the Golan heights during the Yom Kipper war. We headed back to the Safad bus station at about 5:40pm just missing the 5:30pm bus to Tiberias, making us have to wait for the last bus at 7pm. Having over 1 hour to kill we looked through the LETS GO map and site locations and saw the Shem va'Ever cave mentioned. Shem was Noah's son, and Ever was his grandson. This is where they are suppose to be buried. We went to the cave but alas it was closed. The caretaker was nearby it and although he would not open it he gave us a personal tour of the synagogue that was built next to the cave. This was very interesting, more so then just seeing a cave.
While returning to Tiberias we discussed a tour that the hotel was touting of around Tiberias and through the Golan Heights. Looking at the bus system I realized that we wouldn't be able to see many sites and would have to walk long distances and have long waits. The hotel offered a tour for 120 shekels that provided all that we wanted to see in 1 day that would take 2-3 days on our own. Back at the hotel we said that we would join the tour tomorrow. They needed a minimum of 4 people and maximum of 15. As it turned out another couple came making the minimum. We finished the day with a beer on the hotel sun deck. Elizabeth then watched some music videos on a Hebrew TV station before bed.
Tuesday, May 5
We got up this morning an hour before the tour was to start and went to the markets to buy some water and pastries for breakfast. The tour left from our hotel at 8am in a mini van.
Our first stop was the church of the Primacy of St. Peter where Christ performed his miracle of bread and fishes. Not much to see. Before the next stop in the Golan, the driver stopped at the side and went into a liturgy of the history of the wars in the Golan, centering on the mistake that Golda Meir made when Moshe Dyan insisted that there was going to be an attack on Yom Kipper day and he needed her signature to mobilize the army. Her refusal caused her government to fall and the first defeat of the Israeli army. The driver told of how the Israeli moved all the Palestinians out of the Golan Heights. We then stopped at a Syrian army post which was turned into an Israeli war monument, showing the old style tank blockers and bunkers. This wasn't in the LETS GO book.
After stopping in the Golan Archaeological Museum where the tour guide paid our admission to the museum and the film on the battle of Gamla (a sort of northern Massada) I figured that the tour wasn't a bad deal. We then continued north to a lookout (where busses don't stop) where we saw the Israeli army post overlooking the no-mans land, the UN post and a Syrian village. We then continued north to a Druze village where we bought a Druze pita which contained goat cheese and a strong sauce. This was at the food of Mt. Hermon where we could see snow.
We continued west to Banyas, a temple for the Greek God Pan. It was at the entrance to the Banyas waterfall park. We followed down the waterfall for about 60 minutes encountering on the way mills, a pond made into Syrian officer's pool and many beautiful views of the falls. After the walk we rested in a concession stand for a few minutes. We could see Nimrod's castle from the stand. We then continued to Mettula which is the location for the 'Good Fence' This is called a good fence because it is a good (safe) way of going to Israel from Lebanon for the Lebanese We went right up to the fence separating the countries. The guide/driver then told us that when the Israeli army invaded Lebanon right up to Beirut they had a lot of fighting inside creating animosity. When they withdrew to the south part they found in much more peaceful . Many of the southern Lebanese now work for Israeli traveling through the gateway in the fence.
We took some pictures of the soldiers by the fence and I bought a baseball cap with the Israeli army on it. Although it wouldn't be very popular in Egypt I thought it was kind of neat. We also bought some snacks and looked at the souvenirs. We then continued south to the Mount of the Beatitudes. This is the reported site of where Christ gave his sermon with the beatitudes (Blessed are the meek ... etc). This site was very moving, very peaceful overlooking the Sea of Galilee. We then returned to the hotel at about 4pm. We had a shower as the day was very hot.
We then went though the town's sites. We stopped at the tomb of Moses Maimonides. At this tomb an acolyte ran after Elizabeth when we went by the tomb because she was wearing some shorts that were just above the knee and he tried to cover her with a cloth. Moses Maimonides was a 12th century rabbi with some controversial but influential ideas. We also tried visiting the crusader ruins that were converted into an art gallery and restaurant but they were closed. We then header to the wharf in front of the beach. The beach frontage were covered by restaurants promoting St. Peter's Fish dinners for 42 shekels. We were more interested in seeing the Slide Show ' The Galilee Experience' . There were very few people around so at 6pm they started the show in English for just the two of us. It costs 28 shekels for me and 25 for Elizabeth (student rate). The show was a collage of about 2000 slides on 27 slide projectors, it portrayed the history of the Galilee are over the last 4000 years. The store that presented the show had a lot of interesting souvenirs, including silver goblets for $27.50US each which I found attractive but did not buy. The store had more bored clerks then customers.
We then went back to the hotel for some fruit and water, as we were getting very dehydrated due to the temperature. Elizabeth watched on the TV some more music videos, the same as last night, there isn't much else for the non Hebrew listener.
Wednesday, May 6
Tiberias to Jerusalem (again!)
We were awaken at 5am by girls swearing and scuffling going on. On girl yelled f*** several times quite loud on the floor below us. I thought there was a molester on the loose again. We got up at 6am though and after packing went downstairs to check out.
As it turned out the main floor contained the dorm beds, and in the girls section someone snuck in early in the morning and started to open their bags. Only when one of the girls woke up and screamed did the robber escape with some money and a bag one of the girls had with passport, travelers cheques, credit card and camera in it. While we were checking out the police came in with the missing bag. It contained everything except the cash. The robber didn't take even take the several Holland bank notes. This was found by the police in the graveyard about a block away.
Elizabeth wasn't feeling up to extensive traveling today so we took the bus to Jerusalem. This bus traveled down the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan river, through the West Bank and Jericho until arriving in Jerusalem at 1pm. We decided that we should stay the night in the Ben Yuhada youth hostel as it provided connections to a tour of Massada, the Dead Sea and Jericho for 60 shekels each, the hostel costing 30 shekels each. While we were traveling in the bus, I was rereading the LETS GO book and realizing how awkward it would be to visit both Massada and the Dead Sea the next day by bus. This tour also provided a sunrise view of the site. Looking back, if I knew what I know now I would have rented a car for the week. The traffic and driving in Israel was not that much different from home. It would also have allowed us to find the sites easier then by bus and we could have gone to more sites. We would find out though that Egypt would be quite different.
Elizabeth rested at the hostel for a few hours while I went to the old city and looked for a different place for the next night and changed some money. I also bought some juice and bagels for us. At 4pm Elizabeth was feeling better so we went to visit Tel Aviv. We took a bus to the bus station, then another bus to Tel Aviv. The Tel Aviv bus station is reportably the largest bus station in the world having 6 floors of busses. From the Tel Aviv bus station we walked to Jaffa, the old port from which Tel Aviv originated. We saw the ruins of the old town and a beach where there were just women and children were swimming. All the women were fully clothed. even while swimming. After this we walked to the Tel Aviv market, the souk. As we entered the market from the south we saw selling a bottle of Vodka for 9 shekels ($3US). I bought a bottle of Irish Cream liquor for 17 shekels ($6US). We continued along looking at the stands selling clothes and produce. We bought some strawberries and pastries. We then walked up to Rabin's Memorial. This is the site where Rabin was shot by a Jewish extremist. After this we took a bus to the bus station, and then caught a bus to Jerusalem, and to the hostel at about 10pm. It was pretty quiet so we went to sleep to be waken at 3am.
Thursday, May 7
Massada, Dead Sea, and Jericho
We were waken at 3am by the hostel attendants. We quickly showered, packed our bags and left them in the hostel storage and went down to the bus stop outside to meet the bus. The bus didn't come until 3:45am. By then we met a couple that were staying nearby in the New Jerusalem Inn ($58US). We also joined another bus picking up tourists from in front of Damascus Gate. We could have stayed at the other hotel that I arranged inside the old city and arranging the tour separately saving some effort, but it worked out ok as it was.
The two busses headed east to follow the Jordan river and the dead sea to Massada. We arrived in the dark at about 5am. I paid 17 shekels and Elizabeth paid 12 shekels to go up the Snake Path. Someone asked about the cable car going up or down. It apparently doesn't start until 8am, by which time we will be far gone from Massada. Elizabeth still wasn't feeling 100% so I helped her by carrying her day pack up the hillside as well as mine. The path was almost continuous climb of 600m taking close to 1 hour to climb up.
At the top it started to get light. Unfortunately it was turning out as a cloudy day so the early morning rise did not provide a good picture, however the climb would be torturous in the mid-day which we would have had to take if we had only a bus ride. We wandered around the Massada site, looking at the ruins, the cisterns (there were a lot of them) and we saw at the back of the mountain the hill that the Romans made to conquer Massada. We then started down at 7am and left the site on the bus to Ein Gedi.
At the beach at Ein Gedi, we swam in the dead sea. The change rooms charged 5 shekels for change room, shower and toilet. They didn't have any competition so they could charge anything. We went in the water and, they were right, one can float easily in the dead sea. I have a picture take of me with my arms up and my feet up, floating. We though had to be careful of any water splashing in the eye. I got a drop in my eye and it stung for a while. In addition any cuts started hurting. By 10-20 minutes in the water, any sensitive area of the skin started to hurt and the water felt very slimy, sort of like if one got lye (Draino) on one's hands. We then went out, showered the water off and got back into the minibus.
The bus drove a short bit more and stopped at the Ein Gedi nature reserve. This costed 20 shekels to get into a small reserve which had some small animals (miniature deer and leopards). We followed a path up to sets of waterfalls. These were very large and relaxing to look at. The water fell like showers around the rocks where we walked from hillsides cliffs above our heads.
The bus then continued the drive up the dead sea highway, pointing out to where by the highway the Dead Sea Scrolls where found. That area is only open by paying a fee to climb the mountains.
We then continued to Jericho. We took a picture of the ancient Jericho walls, which were no more than mounds of rocks and gravel. We stopped by the road for a view of the Greek Orthodox monastery on the edge of a cliff. We then stopped for lunch at a Palestinian restaurant, more like a cafeteria, where they charged 10 shekels for a full course lunch. After lunch we continued the road to Jerusalem we stopped by the 13th century Mosque of Nabi Mussa. Along the way we also stopped where there were some hawkers and donkeys. I bought a silver bracelet for 15 shekels and Elizabeth almost bought a Arab headpiece.
We then stopped at Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem. Elizabeth got a picture of herself on a camel, paying 15 shekels for the camel herder to take her picture. I thought that was a bit overpriced. We then got dropped off at the bus stop that we got on in the morning. We then got our bags from the hostel and walked with them to the other hotel in Old Jerusalem, the Al Haram Hostel.
Elizabeth was still a bit tired so she rested. Watching from the hotel balcony I saw hundreds of Israeli soldiers singing and marching towards the Western Wall, which was close by. I followed them and encountered some kind of ceremony most likely due to the 50th anniversary events. Since it was all in Hebrew I didn't follow it so I left. I traveled through the markets looking for the goblets that I saw in Tiberias, that I thought were expensive and thought I could get cheaper in the market. I passed one store that had a silver plated tea set (tray, tea pot, cream and sugar dishes). I looked at the set, wondering if the store had goblets. The store keeper saw me and asked if I wanted the tea set. I said no, I really wanted a set of silver goblets, He said that he did not have any but he could sell me the tea set for 300 shekels. I ended up leaving there with the set for 100 shekels and no information where to get silver goblets. I think it was a good deal because I only had 100 shekels & told him that I only had 100, and he wanted to look in my wallet for more, trying to get 120, instead of 100 at the end. He didn't sound very happy with only 100.
I went back to the hotel because I left the rest of my money at the hotel with Elizabeth. I took another 100 shekels and went to another store. They had only small goblets, and said they had none in the city. They did try to sell me cast sculptures of the city, claiming that they were antiques made only by his grandfather 120 years ago. This I didn't swallow as several other stores had them as well. Especially since he was about 15 years old. Coming back to the hotel, Elizabeth was feeling better and she joined me for a search for the goblets after I showed her the tea set. We finally found a store near where I bought the tea set that did sell sterling silver goblets. From 100 shekels apiece I got it down to 2 for 80 shekels.
Back at the hostel at night time, we were right above of the square of the Via Dolorosa. From the balcony we watched boys play soccer, wrestling with each other and generally fooling around. By about 10pm soldiers hung around and the square got a bit quieter.
Friday, May 8
Jerusalem to Eilat
We got up at 6:40am. We had gotten use to the Muslim hymns at 5am. Elizabeth ran out of anti - diareah pills and took all of the rest of mine. She was much better though.
We had a few places to visit before leaving for Eilat. We first went to the Garden Tomb. It was not open until 8:30am so we visited St. Georges Cathedral until then. The Cathedral was an Anglican church. The church books were in English and Arabic.
At the Garden Tomb we found line ups to get inside. Fortunately these were tour groups and when we said that there was just the two of us the attendants suggested that we should join the English speaking group that was just going into the Garden Tomb. They were from Texas. The garden Tomb is an alternative site for Jesus's crucifixion and entombing. They showed a cliff wall which looked like a face which a reference in the descriptions. This wall is partially covered by the Arab bus station so they showed some pictures of it before the station was built. It also showed a possible grape growing area and a tomb that seemed to agree with the facts. Interestingly enough I felt more of a religious feeling here then the official site, the Church of the Holy Sepulture.
We went back and visited Solomon's Quarry. This is an immense quarry under the old Jerusalem. There were so many different pathways through the quarry. We followed along all sorts of paths, going quite deep. One section of the quarry was a large open area where the ceiling weighed a million tons. This is where the Masons originated.
We then went back to the hotel, got our bags and left by Damascus Gate. For a change we caught the number 27 bus a block from the gate instead of walking to Jaffa road about 5 blocks away, which took the route through Me'a She'arim, the conservative area of Jerusalem. Almost all the pedestrians in this area here very conservatively dressed, men in the black suit, women in long dress and shawl/veil. We arrived at the bus station at 12 noon but had to wait until 2pm for the bus to Eilat.
The bus to Eilat traveled down the same Dead Sea highway where we went to Ein Gedi and Massada. I had hoped to pass through Be'er Shiva to see the dessert and the Ramon crater but that wasn't to be. By 6pm we arrived at the Eilat Bus Station. The Bus Station was closed in readiness for the Shabatt holiday.
At the bus station a hotel tout offered a room for 150 shekels. This was more expensive then the ones that the LETS GO book recommended and also the LETS GO book warned about hotel touts for hotels that are far away from the bus station. We declined and started walking to the chosen hostel, the Ofarim Rooms, a couple blocks away. It was closed. We then referred to the book and started to walk to our second choice Beit Ha-Arava.
A lady was walking across the street crossing the street to talk to us. She was heading to the bus station to see if there was anyone who wants to stay in her place another two blocks away. It was a self contained suite with washroom, tv, and separate entrance. She was asking 100 shekels per night for it It sounded fine, so we went back with her and found the place quite nice.
We were also asking her about when we can get the bus to the border to Cairo as we had to meet our Egyptian tour. We earlier thought that we might spend Saturday in Eilat, and take a night bus to Cairo arriving at the hotel with a whole day before the tour started. From her information it didn't sound like we could get a night bus to Cairo and the LETS GO book did not mention any more than one bus. We then decided to stay for the two nights in Eilat and leave early on Sunday morning. We then paid her for the two nights and she gave us the key.
After a shower we walked down to the beach promenade. On the way we passed the airport. The Eilat airport is right in the center of town and one can walk two blocks from the airport terminal to get to the beach. There were no air traffic as it was now Shabbat. Along the promenade were a lot of shops selling Jewelry and t-shirts. Elizabeth bought a small necklace for 20 shekels. We also bought some pop and wine. We then walked back to the room and watched Deep Space Nine on Jordanian TV with Arabic subtitles before going asleep.
Saturday, May 9
We both got up at 8am. This time I was sick and Elizabeth was better. We walked to the pay phone a block away and checked how things were back at home. Everything was fine there, and I said that things were fine here too.
We started to walk down the beach area when we noticed a bus. This must be the only city in Israel that a bus runs on Shabbat (Saturday). We caught the bus and used our bus pass went to the Coral Aquarium close to the border. By this time it started raining fairly heavily, the only rain that I ever saw in Israel.
The Coral Aquarium which was right on a coral reserve on the beach. It costs 63 shekels to visit the aquarium and see a show. It costed close to another 200 shekels to go into the yellow submarine for a 45 minute tour of the coral reef 60m down. We didn't think the submarine tour worth the money, and evidently most others didn't either. I only saw a few people go onto the submarine, out of the several hundred people at the aquarium. They lent us a player that provided an explanation of the different sites and even a few sentences about each individual fish species that we wanted. We first went to one of the aquariums and then went to the show. The show was a sort of like the Disney star wars ride adventure where we are in a space ship traveling through space, diving through the water and even through the center of the earth. The seats move corresponding to the screen so it was really entertaining. The only problem was that they use to have headphones in which one could select Hebrew or English. They changed it so that only English was on the headphones and Hebrew was broadcast in the building. The problem was when the Hebrew talking was loud I had difficulty hearing on the earphones. I guess there were a lot more Hebrew customers and they wanted it to sound better.
We went to the other aquarium exhibits, saw mantas, giant turtles, sharks, and a lot of colorful tropic coral fish. We also watched people pay 50 shekels to get a pearl from an oyster.
It was not raining as heavily when we left at about 2:30pm. We decided to walk to 'The Fisherman's House'. This restaurant was quoted in the LETS GO book as a interesting buffet with a lot of different types of fish. The LETS GO book quoted 21 shekels per meal, the current price was 29 shekels, excluding drinks but including a glass of wine. We went in. It was a sort of cafeteria style of buffet. They had a variety of salads, rice, fruit and 7 different types of fried fish. Elizabeth didn't want the wine, so she had some water and I forced myself to have the wine which wasn't bad. The fish was not very good. Some of it was over-fried. It was not labeled so we tried to guess what the fish were. We recognized salmon, cod, a trout and I think a herring. Beyond that we didn't recognize any. Some of the fish were ok so I had a second helping of those.
We then took a bus back to the center of town. Elizabeth changed a bit of money into shekels as we spent more than we figured today for the aquarium and lunch. We then stopped on the beach. The water was cool and there were a lot of fish in the water even in the swimming area. We only stayed a short time. We then walked along the hotel strip to close to the Jordanian border, not seeing anything of interest , we headed back to the room. We relaxed on the porch outside the room, then watched some Jordanian tv and read a bit.
Sunday, May 10
Eilat to Cairo
We got up early, packed and left the room. We had not seen the lady in the last two days. We locked the door and the gate to get into the yard. I started to go around to the front to drop the key off in her front door and she was just coming out to meet us. I gave her the key and some postcards that I needed mailing but couldn't find the mailbox for. She was nice to help mail them for us. We then walked to the bus stop and caught the bus to the border. This time we had to pay 5 shekels for the bus as our 7 day bus pass expired. At the Taba border we had to pay a 57 shekel exit tax before crossing to the Egyptian border. At the bag inspection the guard started to ask us in Arabic some question. It seemed important as he kept repeating it. We had no idea what he was asking, guessing maybe if we have something to declare. At last he just passed us through to baggage checker. The baggage checker showed a bit of interest in our bags then passed us through. We filled out forms and got our passports stamped and onto the final 1km no-mans land as the LETS GO book referred. The LETS GO book said that one has to walk the 1km stretch. We though encountered taxis that drove the distance. Having no Egyptian money we changed some money at the Taba Hilton right there. We then caught a taxi for 15 LE (Egyptian pounds, worth about 40c CA or 30c US). That was fairly expensive but the option was to walk 1km with our heavy bags and it was raining a bit. Once at the exit border I was going to go to the bus station to wait for the bus to Cairo. The Service Taxi's asked where I was going, they said that the bus will not come until 2pm and they can give me a ride for 75 LE each. The LETS GO book said that the cost of the bus was 55 LE. When I said that I will wait anyway one of the drivers offered 70 LE. I said OK then.
He though first went around to see if he can get some more riders. Unsuccessful a fellow Egyptian joined, changing some money back at the Taba Hilton we started off to Cairo. A short while down the road he told me that the direct road from Taba to Cairo was washed out and we would have to take the road through St. Catherines, which is another several hours more which meant we would be in Cairo sometime about 5pm, as opposed to early in the afternoon. When I got to Cairo I found out that the Cairo bus was late and never left Taba. Some of our Egypt tour group arrived later and waited for the bus, then forced to take a taxi had to pay 100LE each. They didn't arrive in Cairo until past midnight.
Our driver stopped at a roadstand in the middle of the dessert for a little while, I found a fossil shell next to the roadstand which I took home. Close to the Suez Cannel the driver stopped at a taxi stop and started to talk to other taxi drivers. He then send us to another driver for the rest of the journey. I think it was to costly to cross the cannel tunnel with only 2 customers and he could get some customers on the return trip to Taba. The new service taxi had close to a full load and we traveled through the cannel to the town of Suez. At Suez we were then transferred to a third taxi. This taxi then headed to Cairo. On the way we picked up a soldier on one of the many army barracks on the side of the highway. On one road checkout he had to hide under the seat and the driver bribed the soldier manning the checkout. Apparently he was AWOL. Some of the checkouts the soldiers wanted to check our passports which was a bit of a nuisance for the drivers.
Getting close to Cairo the taxi got very full as the driver stopped for anyone along the highway who wanted to go that direction. Some people got off but more got on as we got closer. We finally stopped in Ramses Square which was the last stop. Just before we got there, I asked the driver that I wanted to get to the St. Georges Hotel in Giza. He asked the other passengers where it was but they didn't know. At the square they asked a few people. They had an idea about where it was, then they asked 10 LE to drive us there. It sounded fair so I said OK. The taxi then drove all around Giza looking for the hotel and the street. They would ask someone who said it was a couple blocks down, go a few blocks and someone would say the same. Even the taxi drivers didn't know. By the 10th person or so, they finally found the place. They asked for another 10 LE for their trouble. I offered 5 LE but ending up having to pay 9 LE.
Cairo is a huge city where there are almost no traffic lights, nobody obeys traffic rules and the traffic is very chaotic. It was an experience first driving through it. There are about 18 million people there, and it is huge. I knew I wouldn't want to rent a car here, most of them have a lot of bumps and scrapes.
We checked into the hotel in time to meet the tour group, that was having a supper meeting on the 9th floor. We first went to our room. It was on the 7th floor, the sink was clogged, the TV didn't work, the fridge didn't work and the toilet had a strange pipe in the middle of the tank. I thought the pipe was something for flushing, so when I first used it I turned it on and to my surprise a spray of water reached the ceiling. Later I found it was a sort of bidet, Egypt not using toilet paper. The toilet still didn't work, I had to fill the tank with water from the shower.
We met a lot of the tour group upstairs on the 9th floor. The tour guide was a 26 year old Egyptian named Sameh. A lot of people smoked.. He recorded our passports, insurance, tour, return flights for confirmation, and we had a meeting to tell us what will happen in the next 2-3 weeks. Most of the group were only going for the 2 weeks, only 8 out of the 25 were going for the third week. The group were mostly 25-30 year old women from Canada, Australia and New Zealand. There were two couples, three counting us, and a single boy, which meant 4 males and 21 females in the tour. The boy had the exact same birthday as Elizabeth. We figured that he was a few hours younger as he was born via caesarean section, which is usually scheduled during working hours, and Elizabeth was born at about 6:30am.
Monday, May 11
Cairo Tour start
Up at 7am, cursing the side table. It was higher then the bed and right next to it. Whenever I moved to the edge of the bed I banged my head on it. This is another sign of the lack of care, the sink was still clogged, but I wasn't going to push it as we were leaving that morning. To flush the toilet we had to pour water in the bowl still. I figured that when the tour comes back in two weeks I would complain.
We packed our bags into things that we would leave for the two weeks, like my souvenirs and some clothes. The rest of the stuff we would put in a bag that the tour group gave us. We then had our usual breakfast in Egypt of one boiled egg, bread, jam, Egyptian white cheese and tea.
Outside the Hotel we got on the bus. Our bus driver for the next two weeks was George. We also met Rasha our Egyptologist guide for today. We started out to visit the Egyptian Museum. 10 German tourists were shot in front of the museum in 1995. When we got there, there were a lot of guards with AK47's keeping an eye on things. Wasn't likely anything would happen. Rasha took us through the museum, starting from the most ancient exhibits and going onto most recent. She spent about an hour explaining the changes of the styles, type type of constructions and more. She left us to ourselves in front of King Tut's exhibits. Almost all of us then visited Tut's treasures. I remember them from when I was in elementary school, about 35 years ago they came to Vancouver. They still looked the same, still magnificent. After that we all went separate ways, I explored the rest of the museum where there were a lot of mummies stacked up to the ceiling. There were a lot of art students practicing drawing the pictures on the objects. Maybe they are budding papyrus painters!
After leaving the museum we all got on the bus and went to lunch to a fairly fancy Egyptian restaurant. It costed 15 LE for the meal which consisted of a large number of pitas, with different sauces followed by a meat course. One of the women on the tour, Chara complained that she thought it was a budget tour and lunches like this will break her budget. It was fairly expensive considering that the previous night we bought for supper pitas for the two of us for .4 LE each.
The Egyptologist guide then took us to a 'papyrus museum' which is really a papyrus store, which spent 2 minutes showing us how a papyrus sheet was made and 20 minutes trying to get us to buy them. The store papyrus's were good but at a price range from 60 LE to 1200 LE they were very expensive. Considering the one they charge 60 LE for I could have bought in Jerusalem for 5. I said that I hope this is not an indication of the expenses coming up, Fortunately it wasn't. We then went to the corner stand and bought some fruit and water. We dropped off Rasha at the hotel and then took the bus to the campsite on the outskirts of Giza.
Sameh showed us how to put up the tents and to help get the kitchen out of the bus for the cook. The tents were old and made of canvas, but they were quite spacious for two people. Elizabeth and I had a lot of room even with the sleeping bags and other bags on the ground. They also supplied 1 inch foam pads with a sheet liner on it. It was ok.
While we waited for supper we had a beer in a concession next to the site. Supper turned out to be rice, chicken, tomato and cucumber salad, watermelon and pita bread. This will be turning out to be the basic Egyptian meal that we eat at supper. After every meal we each had to wash our dishes in basins produced by the cook and dry them by waving them in the air. Drying only took less than 1 minute. The common dishes were washed and dried by assigned groups taking turns.
Elizabeth and I took a walk down the road from the site and looked at the villagers. Living in the outskirts of Cairo, the houses we wretched, some basic mud bricks, donkey carts were common, actually donkey carts were present in downtown Cairo as well. Most of the people were poor and lived in a lot of filth. It was next to a cannel from the Nile so there were a lot of mosquitoes as well as other bugs flying around. The children were very amused with us, but the adults generally ignored us, a common occurrence unless someone wanted to make some money from us.
Everyone went to bed at about 10pm as we had to get up early the next day.
Tuesday, May 12
Cairo to St. Catherines
We got up at 6am to shower, pack, bring down the tent and load the bus. Waiting for breakfast we walked down the road to where we could see a very good morning view of the Pyramids. Breakfast was almost the usual, no eggs but with orange slices. Some of the group forgot things from the hotel so we stopped at the hotel for last minute items and stopped at a pharmacy and store for snacks. Sameh then collected the tip kitty from us. This was a sum of 75 LE from each of us for tips for all group activities for the next two weeks. This means that we do not have to separately give tips for any of the hotel functions, meals, driving, loading or guiding, and including Sameh. This is quite a convenience and does save money and worrying about small bills. Also what we would consider a small tip can often be considered a very large tip to the natives and cases could be cause for inflation of the tourist items.
We finally started east towards the Sinai We stopped in Suez at 1pm for lunch. I wasn't feeling too well so I skipped lunch. It was much cheaper than the previous day, 3 LE for several pitas filled like the falafel in Israel. We bought water and pop in the market and then continued through the tunnel to the Sinai side. We drove around to the Cannel shore. We took a few pictures of the Suez Cannel at that point, our Sameh pointing out to where the Egyptians and Israeli faced off when Israel occupied the Sinai. Inside the cannel we could see jellyfish floating and the water looked quite clean.
We continued through, stopping at a bedouin Wadi (valley) oasis town for some pictures. We didn't see anyone there. We continued until reaching the Sinai mountains, I found the entrance to the mountains very magnificent and moving. We stopped at a store at the town of St. Catherines. At Sameh's recommendation I bought a flashlight and batteries for the next morning's climb up Mt. Sinai. I also bought a papyrus about 30in by 40in for 30 LE. One this big would have costed about 300-600 LE at the papyrus museum back in Cairo. This one though wasn't quite as good condition but I liked the picture.
We went a short distance further to our campsite for the night, brought out the cook's stuff, our tents and bags, and put up our tents. We had about an hour before supper so Elizabeth and I went to the town area intending to phone home. I hadn't seen any pay phones in Egypt, in Israel it seemed that there were pay phones every block and people using them heavily. I hadn't seen anything in Cairo in the day we were there.
On the way to the phone exchange we encountered several children who were interested in us, but I think were after baksheesh (tips, money). We gave them a 50 piaster note (worth about 20 cents), which one took and the others started screaming. We left them. At the town center we went to the Phone office. There were 9 phones. 6 had no dial and could only be used by arranging the number with the attendant. I couldn't use these with Canada Direct as I could not enter the digits. The others used a card. I bought a card for 30 LE from the attendant and tried to use the phone to phone Cairo's Canada Direct number. I couldn't get through, the number was busy even after trying each of the 3 phones several times. I decided to try later. Next to the phone exchange was a souvenir shop. They had some very nice Alabaster dishes that they wanted between 40 and 60 LE for. I was tempted but declined. They also had a number of quartz and 'dragon eggs' rocks, the ones you break open and there are crystals inside.
On the way back to the campsite we ran into the children. We got a picture of them with us. We gave a lady that was going by another 50 piaster note, trying to explain to divide it between them, She just took the note and walked off with the screams of the children. We then tried once more, we tried to have them assign one child to get the money for all of them. One nominated herself, I gave her our last 50 piaster note and then 5 of the 6 children dashed off leaving a very whinny child screaming at us. Out of frustration we just left, perhaps a bit wiser.
Wednesday, May 13
St. Catherines to Dahab
We were waken at 2am for a hike up Mt. Sinai in the dark to catch the sunrise. We were cold and Sameh said it would be colder up the top. I didn't take any coat to Egypt or Israel, in fact I didn't have anything warm. I borrowed a sweater, Sameh brought a few along. I put on shorts and pants on top of them, a t-shirt and a thin shirt on top and then on top the sweater. Elizabeth wasn't any better.
The bus drove us the 1km to the start of the trail at the monastery. Sameh warned us that camel owners would offer to take us up on camels but the camels will only go 2/3 of the 600m up. This meant it was about the same as the walk up to Massada. At the start of the trail the camel owners asked 50 LE to take a camel up lowering it to 25-30 LE close to the end. One of the women Chara and I managed to be first of our group up, I'm in pretty good shape for a 45 year old I guess. A couple of the girls in the group did take the camel to 2/3 of the way and some didn't make it up all the way. Along the path there were also about 10 stands that were selling water and chocolate.
About 2/3 of the way the path changes to steps. At this point the camels cannot go any further. Donkeys are used to deliver supplies further up. Chara and I got to the top of the mountain at about 4am, sunrise would be about 6am. Maybe we shouldn't of gone up so quickly. At the top of the mountain it was very cold. There was a monastery that was locked and a couple of concession stands. The concessions were renting blankets for 2 LE and selling cups of very dilute hot chocolate for 2.5 LE. By an hours time most of the rest of our group and some others had arrived. The hot chocolate and blanket sellers were making lots of money as it was VERY cold. I was very cold but I walked around to warm up. I saw that the man was selling some souvenir rocks, one appealed to me was a large coarse clear quartz in a pyramid shape. The shopkeeper asked 10 LE for it but I bought it for 5 LE.
At about 5:30am I climbed on a rock with Elizabeth sheltered a bit by other rocks from the cold wind. Next to us was an Egyptian lady who was a tourist guide. This was the first time she was here. She had only traveled around Cairo before so it was as new experience for her as it was for us. We took several pictures as the sun was rising. After the sun rose we returned the blankets to the stand. We then went down a second way, the path of the 3000 steps that a monk did as a form of penance. Many of the steps were of very irregular size so we had to be careful going down.
At the very bottom next to the St. Catherine monastery Elizabeth and I bargained for a mother-of-pearl case for her sister Diana and an alabaster bowl for home. We did not agree in time so we went back to the bus. The bus took us back to the campsite where we showered, packed and had breakfast (eggs, toast and oranges). We then drove back, fully packed to the Monastery, which didn't open until 9am. At the monastery we saw what was reportably the burning bush that Moses saw, and the well that Moses used. The monastery had paintings on the wall from the 6th century and was built in 1181AD. On the way back to the bus we bought the case and dish for 45 LE for both.
We then continued the bus ride for 2 hours until we got to Dahab, a resort on the gulf of Aquaba on the east side of the Sinai. Dahab is a beach resort, a town of one street of bazaars and one street of beach restaurants and cabins. We didn't need to setup the tents but we had to bring out the cooking supplies. Elizabeth and I then wandered through town. Elizabeth bought a t-shirt for 20 LE. We then returned to the camp for lunch, pita, salad, carrots and meat slices. Lunch is not as routine as breakfast or dinner. I tried to phone home using Canada Direct again but still couldn't get a non-busy number. We went to the beach, which was right on the coral reef. We walked over the coral and dive in the water, seeing colorful fish within arms length. We saw on the coral, sea cucumber, sea urchin and a large number of different colorful fish. The water though was very salty. The beach had a lot of flies around. We realizing why when we saw some tourists being carried around on camel back.
At 4:30pm it was our time for the camel safari in the desert. The whole group went on the beach about a block from the campsite where about 30 camels were gathered for our steeds. We took our sleeping mats and bags. The bags were put on a jeep and the mats were used for extra comfort on the saddles. One man asked me to get on one of them and as soon as I got on and got the reins the camel got up. The camel is very high from the ground! We all started off in the safari through the town and through a desert to a campsite. At one point my camel started to run fast alongside another. We ended up having a short camel race. By about an hour I was getting very uncomfortable on the saddle. Apparently if one stayed cross legged on the camel it would be more comfortable but I have problems folding my legs, I am not the most flexible that way.
After about 90 minutes we arrived at a valley which would be our campsite. The jeep had arrived with our bags and we then got off the camels with our mats. We put our mats around a campfire which was supplied by construction wood debris. The camel caretakers took some of the camels away. They formed their own circle, but no campfire. We had supper there, and didn't have to wash or dry the dishes as there was no water there. It would be done the next day. The supper was better, a bit different today, potato sliced with vegetables inside, a bit like a casserole, and rice flavored with something.
As it got dark the camel caretakers climbed up nearby cliffs and lit candles that were put in water bottles filled with sand. When they finished the whole cliff side looked like Christmas decorations. There were about 40 of them. I watched them go out one by one until I fell asleep be about half of them went out. We couldn't see many stars out above our heads because yesterday was a full moon and today was still quite bright. We did see 3 satellites above, one going north to south and two going east to west.
Thursday, May 14
Dahab and leaving the Sinai
We woke up at past 6am, we slept through a windy but not cold night. We still needed the sleeping bags. We took our turns using the washroom which was behind rocks further along the valley. I spotted the remains of an animal's skeleton, asking what it was found it was most likely a desert fox.
By 7am we started back on the camels back to Dahab town. My camel this time was a different one. he started off by stopping every few minutes eating a bit of the scrub in the desert. He then decided to veer off towards Matt and Jade's camels and stop to eat. I couldn't stop it so one of the camel attendants grabbed the reins from me, picked up a stick on the ground to give to me, to hit the back with, and dragged the camel towards the rest of the group which were quite far ahead. Instead of one of the first like yesterday I was one of the last ones to arrive. The attendant had to drag the camel so it was being badly-behaved.
At the campsite we had breakfast of a sweet noodle soup, pita bread and oranges. Sameh then asked the group if we wanted to take the bus on an overnight drive to Safaga which is a 11+ hour bus ride leaving at 11pm, or would we follow the schedule of waking up at 3am to get on the bus and arriving in the evening. Everyone had to agree to the change if we were to do so. Everyone did, as then we could have the afternoon at Safaga. Elizabeth bought a pair of shorts at the market and I washed some clothes.
At 11am we all gathered for a jeep ride to the snorkle shop for a fitting and a ride to the 'blue hole' beach. This was an extra that costed 35 LE, the ride alone was 20 LE, Chara didn't want to pay for the snorkling equipment so she just came along. This was about 10 km ride out of town to a location that was 45m deep just offshore. Elizabeth had problem fitting the equipment. She couldn't wear her contacts as they pop out under pressure sometimes. She couldn't have nothing on as then she couldn't see anything. She finally found a mask that could fit over her glasses if she folded her glasses and kept them on her nose. Wasn't very ideal but she couldn't do any better.
At the Blue Hole I tried the snorkel equipment. I had never used it before, but once I got adjusted to they way one breathes through a snorkle tube, it was OK. One has to get use to breathing through the mouth in rythimic pulses, and make sure that I don't get water in the snorkle tube. If water got in, I had to remove it and clear the tube, if I couldn't clear it right away.
Once swimming I found the view fantastic. It was just like in the aquarium in Eilat. There were so many species and colors of fish. I could have reached out and touch them if they didn't swim away. There were Parrot fish, Clown fish, eels, Sea Urchins and dozens of types of coral. I spent a lot of the day swimming around looking at the sights. A lot of the group though just went down a few times and spent time sunning thereselfs at the beach side. Elizabeth tried but because her glasses didn't stay steady on her nose, she lost interest quickly as well. Towards the end of the day I found that my back was turning very red, I forgot about putting sun tan lotion on my back and I had spent most of the time on my back watching the fish.
I returned on the second of the three pickup truck at about 5pm. We had about an hour before supper so I tried to phone home again. Canada Direct still didn't answer so I phoned direct to Canada This worked and I talked to home. The main problem was that the card was being used up very fast. The 30 LE card has 270 units on it when I bought it. After about 1 minute 1/3 of the units were gone.
For supper we had a dinner of chicken, rice and a vegetable dish. After supper Elizabeth and I went to the market street and bought a blouse for herself and went back to the campsite. I picked up some postcards that I was going to mail and walked down to the store that had a mailbox in front of it and dropped them in. When there I ran into one of the women in the group, Jade. She was going to look for a watch as she got water in hers, and it stopped working. We walked along the stores until we found a store that had one she wanted. They wanted 35 LE for it, but I got them to reduce it to 30 LE.
She was going to join me for a beer at one of the restaurants, but on the way back to the restaurant we encountered most of the rest of the group. They wee going to another restaurant called The Blue Hole. We all then headed to the restaurant. I had my Stella beer. This beer is only 2.5% and is a very watery beer, but it is the only one sold where we went. Some of the rest bought ice cream or juice. We put money together and bought a cartoon of Sameh from an artist. Elizabeth and I bought one of both of us as well. for 10 LE for us both. At close to 11pm we headed back to the campsite and loaded the bus with our stuff and left Dahab.
Friday, May 15
Traveling to Safaga
At about 2am we stopped for a bathroom stop at the same truck stop that we visited on the way to St. Catherines. Elizabeth suddenly remembered that she left her washing on a line back at the Dahab campsite. We talked to Sameh, he said that he would phone the campsite and if they found her things they could leave it to be picked up by the next tour group arriving. She would have to get by until then. She was missing her towel, bathing suit, skirt and shorts.
When we got back on the bus I tried sleeping on the floor of the bus using one of the mats so Elizabeth could have a whole seat. The bus seats were not very comfortable to sleep on. We also got a bag breakfast of bread, jam, cheese (I was starting to hate this cheese!) and potato chips for now or later on. By the time we were crossing the Suez cannel, it was 5am and I couldn't sleep anymore. At about 11:45am we arrived in Hurgada. Sameh said it was developed by Germans so one will see a lot of German signs. From my question he said that because of the shootings in Luxor the investors withdrew their investment money and that is why all around the Red Sea coast we see hundreds of resort developments partially finished and no one working on them. At Hurgada we stopped at a restaurant while the bus took the cook shopping for lunch and dinner. We visited some of the stores. Elizabeth asked at one of the stores for a towel, but they were asking 30 to 40 LE for a towel and she didn't want to spend that amount for it. Even though there were almost no tourists the storekeepers did not go down very much in price.
At about 1pm we arrived in Safaga. We stayed at a beach side camp. It was very hot and dry. Elizabeth couldn't swim as she didn't have her bathing suit, so she suggested visiting the town for one. We went down the road towards the town and passed a number of shops. We looked in some of them but didn't find anything interesting. We passed by a perfume shop and the shopkeeper suddenly dashed out. He enticed us in the shop to show us some of his perfume. We said that we were not interested, he then said that it was only 20 LE for a one ounce bottle of pure perfume. When we still showed little interest he lowered down to 15 then 10 LE, for his first customers of the day. I could believe it as we didn't see any other tourists other than us. Elizabeth asked if his price still held if we came back, and he said yes. We then went around to other shops, didn't see anything so we went back to the campsite.
We had a lunch of bread, watermelon, cheese slices, meat slices, vegetable salad and cucumbers. I went swimming to cool down. My back was very red from the previous day snorkling and was sensitive. I bought a Stella and relaxed by the beach with a book. Elizabeth came back a bit later with a bottle of perfume and a small blue scarab The shopkeeper gave the '1001 nights' perfume to Elizabeth for 9 LE and included the scarab for good luck. I was impressed with it, Sameh said that it was a very good price, so I decided to go back with Elizabeth and get one for Yukari, and she thought about getting one for Diana. The shopkeeper charged 10 LE for each but gave us another scarab with each bottle. Elizabeth bought 'Cleopatra' and I bought 'Aida'.
We went back to the campsite, relaxed until dinner, which was at 7pm. Supper was quite good today, being a tomato sauce dish of some sort. As I didn't get much sleep the night before I went to bed by 8pm, most of the others went to bed earlier then usual.
Saturday, May 16
Safaga to Luxor
We got up at 5am because we had to join a convoy. Due to the attacks on tourists all tourist busses must be accompanied by armed soldiers to travel between cities in the south. The tourist police set up convoy schedules between the different cities. If a tourist vehicle does not meet a convoy starting at a traffic checkpoint, they are not permitted to travel until the next convoy starts. Native traffic is unrestricted. The interesting thing is that the convoy vehicles are not kept together, they can pass each other. There were several traffic checkpoints along the way so I presumed that is how they are controlled, but that would not stop any terrorist who could stop the bus between checkpoints.
Breakfast was the usual eggs, bread with jam and cheese, tomato salad and tea. We started the convoy at 6:30am. About 30 vehicles were on this convoy. I didn't see the police vehicle though so it must have started well ahead of us. We stopped at a rest stop half way to Qena in the middle of the desert. Toilets costed 50 piasters (20 cents). A small bottle of coke was 4 LE, in the city it was typically 1 LE.
By noon we arrived in Qena, a city of 3.5 million. It didn't seem that large, maybe because it seemed that it was filled with large dingy apartment blocks from the desert to the banks of the Nile, creating a very dense city. Evidently the city was not considered safe so we were not allowed to stop. Traveling to Luxor we noticed along the river bank a lot of farmer huts where they store the hay on top of the roof. The plots of land were very small and intensely cultivated, and look like there were a lot of work spent on irrigation. Traveling from Qena to Luxor, I did not notice any area that was not cultivated, this explains why there is virtually no wildlife left on the Nile valley. They even make dome style houses for pigeons, which are popular in Luxor in restaurants.
When we arrived at Luxor Sameh had the George (the bus driver) drive around and Sameh pointed out some sites, telephone central, souvenir market, duty-free store and banks for money exchange. We then continued to our campsite. This was in the middle of Luxor, a combination hotel and campground. He pointed out that he paid 10 LE for each of us for the camp spot and the hotel would charge 25 LE for each person for their rooms. He said that we were welcome to use the rooms if we wanted to. This night though no one took advantage of the option, as the day was not as hot and we were feeling like a group. The site did have a clean swimming pool and most of us took advantage of the pool.
Before lunch was ready Elizabeth and I went down the street. We wandered in the native's market for a bit. They were selling most things, and Elizabeth wanted a towel to replace the one she lost. We had difficulty in explaining to the shopkeepers but a small boy came by and tried to help us, more than we wanted him to. He took us to a storekeeper who brought 2 towels. Elizabeth bought a colorful one for 8 LE. We had to leave to meet for lunch and with difficulty we got rid of the boy. We paid him 50 piasters, although he was insistent in getting at least 1 LE. Lunch was rice, noodles with a vegetable or meat sauce.
After lunch a man came into the campsite. He was selling counterfeit copies of the International Student Card. He would take the our passport and a filled out form and create the card charging 40 LE for the work. Considering that at many Egyptian sites the difference between a student and non-student admission is 10 LE it would not take very long to make up for the cost.
Elizabeth and I then went to the tourist market. All around 'Kalesh' drivers were asking us to go on a ride, for 2 LE or 1 LE to the market. Kalish are horse drawn carriages that are for two people, but I've seen 4-5 natives use them. These was a dearth of tourists and I saw almost no-one using them. At the market everyone spoke English. We even tried to speak French to get rid of one of the store keepers but that backfired, he spoke better French then we did. Chara said that she would speak gobbly-gook, made up words and that kept them away, until they figured that you were making it up. I stopped in a gold shop and ordered a small gold cartouche with Yukari's name in hieroglyphics made as a broach. It would cost 200 LE and would be ready that night. The storekeeper brought tea in for us while we talked of different things (in English of course). When we left he was insistent on taking us to his brother's or cousin (I'm not sure which one) shop. I thought he said it was a gold factory that showed how they make the Jewelry, but it turned out to be another papyrus shop.
This papyrus shop had prices posted on every piece like the shop in Cairo. The shopkeeper though said since we were friends don't look at the prices and just look for a piece. The prices were very high though. We told the shopkeeper that we have already got a papyrus and that we didn't need another one. He was quite persistent dragging us showing different ones asking which one we liked. We were slow in selecting one so he started lowering prices in selected ones. I showed a bit of interest in the one of Tutankaman's wife giving Tut a gift. This he showed that the gold paint glowed nicely. He was asking 250 LE according to the sign. He lowered it to 150 LE for us, then 100 LE, the 80 LE then 50 LE. When we tried to leave the store he lowered it down to 40 LE. At that point I figured that I might as well buy it, as it was nice. We politely refused anymore and left. We then continued through the market noticing how quiet it was. Even though it was 6 months after the tourist shooting, there were very few tourists and the shopkeepers seemed desperate for customers.
We stopped by a t-shirt shop and ordered t-shirts with Diana and Michael's name in the front in hieroglyphics in a cartouche. These we ordered for 120 LE for the two. It was fairly expensive as the letters have to be sewn on one, by one.
We returned to the campsite by 4 pm in order to meet the group for a tour of the Karnak temple just outside of Luxor. We had another guide going though the temple with us. She showed the ceiling, huge rocks, but a lot of them collapsed with an earthquake at about 1000AD. She showed the entrance where, when the temple was half covered with sand French soldiers wrote graffiti on the walls. When the temple was flooded with the Nile the hieroglyphics on the walls was washed out, due to the softness of the sandstone. At the end she showed the obelisk next to the lake in that if you walk around counterclockwise 3 times it brings you good luck, 7 times marriage and children. I walked around seven times just for the heck of it. The interesting thing is that LETS GO said one should walk around clockwise not counterclockwise. Which one is right?
At the temple there was a photographer who asked if we wanted a group photo. Several of us said yes, me included. When he was taking the photo I noticed that he was holding the camera crooked. I didn't say anything, but was expecting to see him take more then one photo. He only took the one.
After the temple tour some of the group wanted to visit the duty free store, especially Matt, an Australian, who laughed like a donkey sometimes but was an amusing guy. We stopped by at 6:30pm and the duty free was not open until 7pm. We got off the bus and went to the market. I stopped and picked up my t-shirts that I ordered. The telephone central was next to the market and so I tried Canada Direct with no answer. One of the group said that she managed to get hold of them, so I figured it was just busy.
When we walked to the duty free shop we encountered an Egyptian asking if we can buy some alcohol for them for his sisters wedding. We refused, not knowing whether it was illegal or not. We did know that Muslims are not to drink alcohol so there are no liquor stores in Egypt for the locals.
I bought a bottle of Ouzo, as I wanted to try it, reading about it from a travelogue written by someone who went to Egypt. Elizabeth bought the bottle for me as I didn't have my passport with me. When the dealer looked at the passport, he said that she is 21 (years old). She said no she is 19. They said that the drinking age in Egypt is 21. I realizing what the man was saying, nudged Elizabeth and said to her, yes you are 21. She got it then and agreed. We paid, received the liquor and left.
Further down the street we met Marty and Natalie, another couple from the group. We joked that every 30 seconds some Egyptian would ask us to buy some liquor, just then another Egyptian approached us and said 37. We found that extremely funny, the Egyptian didn't know what we were laughing about. We asked the Egyptian if it was illegal for a tourist to buy for a native, the Egyptian saying no, but we decided to ask Sameh later. Sameh did say that it was not illegal but it was up to the people if they wanted to.
Before dinner the photographer came with photos. For 3 LE we each got a small (5 x 3.5) photo which was crooked. Several other of the group also said that they noticed that he was holding the camera crooked. One can correct it on printing though he did not. We were not impressed.
After dinner I went to pick up the gold cartouche. The next door storekeeper tried to sell me some papyruses. I said I already bought one, he then offered to sell me 3, no 4 for 20 LE. I refused and went back to our campsite. We talked and drank until 11pm. I had bought some Ouzo, so I tried it. It was OK.
Sunday, May 17
Luxor to Aswan
We got up at 5:45am. Last night there was music playing until about 2am. At 4am the mosque nearby started to play Arabic hymns for the usual 20 minutes. Following this a rooster woke up and started to crow a lot. We had a quick breakfast of bread, cheese, and oranges. We then put the cooks equipment and tents in storage as we were not going to use them for the next few days. We managed to arrive at the police checkpoint, which was only 1 block from the campsite at 6:05am and we started down south for Aswan. Lots of the tour group suggested that when we got back to the Luxor campsite we have a rooster for dinner, the one that crowed that morning.
At about 11am we arrived at Aswan. Just before arriving Sameh asked what extra tour if any that we wanted to do this afternoon. We had a choice of Philae temple of Isis, the Aswan Dam or both. The Dam was 20 LE, the Philae temple of Isis was 30 LE. We referred to the LETS GO book which said that the Dam was not very interesting more than a few minutes so Elizabeth and I decided to go to the temple. Sameh also passed over a sheet for us to order drinks for the felucca. All meals were included but no drinks and everything must be bought ahead of time. Options were water, pop and stella. Some of us brought hard liquor, I brought my Ouzo.
Once arriving in the hotel, the 'Happi' hotel, we checked in and get a glass of cold hibiscus tea as a welcome drink. While we were drinking the tea in the lobby, the local guide who was going to show us the local sights came in. He offered us to show both the Dam and the Philae temple for 35 LE. This produced a consensus. About 10 of us decided to go, the rest either stayed at the hotel or went out to the markets or other sites, primarily Elephantine Island.
We started on the tour at about 1pm. We were delayed for an hour for some reason. We got in a mini van and drove about 10km past the 1902 British Low Dam, to the Aswan High Dam. This was built between 1960 and 1971 with help by the Soviets. The dam was immense. 3km long and close to 1km thick at the bottom. It provides 50% of the power for all of Egypt. We drove to the center of the dam, looked at both sides at the power poles, and Lake Nasser. We then drove back close to the entrance to the Egypt-Soviet friendship memorial, a huge monument about 300 ft high. Ironically the Egyptians kicked the Soviets out just when the dam was completed. The monument was in a sense more impressive then the dam because of that fact, as it had glowing friendship comments in Russian and Arabic with Nasser and Breshnev. When we were there a guard came out of a door of the monument and asked if we wanted to go to the top. We said yes, he then asked if we had military permission. We said no, then he said for 5 LE each he will take us up there to the top lookout. We debated but thought that we did not have the time either, so we declined. Interestingly the elevator in the monument was an American 'Otis'.
We then went to a place close to the British Low Dam where we got a ride on a boat to Philae. This is the Isis temple that got flooded by the construction of the British Dam and would have been completely by the High Dam. The government and UNESCO moved the temple to nearby Agilka Island and made the island look like the original.
By this time it was mid-afternoon and 40c in the shade, 50c in the sun. We spent the next 90 minutes exploring the island. Inside the rock temples it turned out to be quite cool and pleasant. The temple contained a lot of hieroglyphics for offerings to Isis, and included a sacrificial slab. There were also temples for Hathor and Trajan. There was also a Nilometer but it was covered with sand. A Nilometer measured the height of the Nile, in Pharonic times a high Nile meant that there was a large area to be flooded down the Nile which meant that more could be grown that year so the Pharaoh could tax the people more.
After taking the boat ride back to the shore to meet the mini van we visited a couple of tourist stands. I bought a roll of film since we used a lot more than I figured. One of the girls on the tour bought a small amount of herb called 'half-burr'. This was a medicinal herb, looking a bit like straw that was good for upset stomachs.
We got back to the hotel and had to wait a couple hours for the rest of the group to arrive. The hotel was nice, although it seems that most of the plumbing in Egypt leaks a bit. The air conditioner was very noisy so we had it on for just a bit. We relaxed a bit in the room looking out at the street scene.
When we first arranged the tour we were to include a drive down to Abu Simbel in the following morning as part of the package. The Egyptian government decided, since there were a lot fewer tourists, it would improve the only road to Abu Simbel. With the same logic they also closed Cheop's pyramid in Giza. As a result we could not drive down there. As a compensation the tour operator provided a tour of the new Nubian museum and a ride to a Nubian village for dinner. Those who wanted to could fly down to Abu Simbel and see Ramses temple the following morning. The extra cost was a bit over $200CA per person. About 1/3 of the group decided to go, Elizabeth and I declined, figuring that we will see enough temples and the money could be used better elseware.
While we were waiting Jade, Chara and Mark came in. They went to Elephantine Island, met a man who showed them around, invited them for tea at his home and took them to the Kitchener Island, the botanical island. That did sound as good as our dam and temple visit. We thought it might be a nice place to go the next morning which was free as we were not going to Abu Simbel.
We didn't start for the Nubian museum until 7pm as that is what time it opened after the afternoon siesta. Many places were closed here mid-afternoon due to the heat. When we got into the museum it was very cool, being air conditioned. The museum was a chronological display of the Nubian (southern Egypt) history and its involvement from pre-pharonic to present time. The displays were well done and there were a lot of description on each exhibit.
After the museum we drove to the shore of the Nile and boarded a felucca boat. This boat took us to one of the islands close the Aswan where the Nubian village was. Joining us on the boat was some Nubian drummers and dancers. They encouraged us to sing along and dance with them on the felucca. It was very crowded but we had a good time and by the time we got to the island we were in a party mood. We walked to a village hut roof, took off our shoes and sat on carpets. The nubians presented us with hot hibiscus tea and a multiple course dinner of pita, bread, rice, vegetable sauce, fried chicken and cucumber and tomato slices. The bread pieces were very good.
After the dinner the nubians came with things to sell to us. They had square hats, pot mats, and Jewelry. They also did henna tattoos for 5 LE each. Most of the group had one done, Elizabeth had one done to her ankle, but I declined as I am not much for jewelry for myself. Elizabeth asked Sameh if she could pick which group she is going with the next day as the next day we are going to split up in 3 groups and go on a 3 day Nile cruise on small felucca boats. He said that he already assigned the list. After this the group went back to the felucca. The Nubian entertainers returned with us dancing and singing, and we returned to the dock close to the hotel and we walked back to the hotel for the night.
Monday, May 18
Aswan to Kom Ombo
We got up at 8am and had breakfast in the hotel. The Abu Simbel group were just about to leave for the airport for the flight to Abu Simbel. Most of them we leaving by the time we arrived. The waiter was very slow arriving with our breakfast. I watched him as he brought my egg, bread and cheese. He put brought my egg on a saucer and when he got close to the table dropped it on the floor. He looked at it, picked it up, brushed it and put it back on the saucer and continued to the table. I looked at it, there was a large break on the egg. Not everyone had eaten theirs and some were still on the table after they left. I then swapped my egg with another.
We had until 1pm before we had to leave for the felucca session of the tour. We had looked at the LETS GO book and decided that a visit to the tombs of the nobles on the other side of the Nile was the most enticing. The LETS GO book recommended catching a ferry for 2 LE per person per person down by the bank of the Nile. While walking by the bank we met several felucca touts. After talking to them we decided to go via a felucca. We could get a felucca to give us a ride over to the other side, wait for us for 1.5 hours and give us a ride back for 10 LE, not much more than we would pay for the ferry.
We caught the felucca to the bank, gave him 5 LE for the one half of the ride, and then walked up to the ticket booth. Elizabeth took her camera, we paid 12 LE for me, 6 LE for her as a student and 5 LE for the camera. We went up the hill to the tombs. We met a man who was sitting down. He pointed that we should follow him. I thought that he was a self appointed tour guide who was going to charge us a lot. He instead turned out to be a guard of the tombs. He had the keys to the tombs, he took us to two of the tombs, of Sarenput II and and Nikhu and Sabni. Sarenput's tomb had a a lot of chambers. He turned on lights and showed the sacrificial slab and the bones, although it is not clear what the bones are of. Some of them don't look human. He could only speak Arabic but from gestures we could understand something. At Nikhu and Sabni's tomb he showed the drawings and chambers. We gave him 1.5 LE and said that we wanted to go to the top to look at a temple ruin at the top of the hill. He showed the direction. We went up, then returned via some ruins, but they did not want us to go through them because they didn't look safe. By this time it was getting close to the 1.5 hours, so we started around to look at a third tomb, refusing the guides attendance to open it, we just looked into it before heading to the admission gate for the felucca.
Our felucca driver was waiting for us at the admission area with a number of other people. When we arrived he started to the felucca and we left to return to the east side of the Nile. Upon leaving the felucca tout then asked us to give them a tip, baksheesh. We gave him an extra pound and returned towards the hotel. On the way back we passed by a Nubian craft market. We went inside and looked around. There were mostly clothes. I though bought a nice Nubian decorated dress for Yukari for 29 LE. This was all I had at that point, I had the rest of my money in my separate money belt. I found that it worked well if I had a small amount of money in a wallet and the large amount in the money belt. This way I could limit how much money that the stores could see in my wallet and it was more difficult for them to overcharge for us. It was also a good way of limiting purchases as it is very easy to overbuy something that was not very useful.
We then went back to the hotel for a shower. It was noon ant it was getting very hot. We then finished packing our bag for the felucca cruise and brought it downstairs. We had still left a few things on the bus which was still locked from the previous night. We left them as we thought we would not need them for the Nubian dinner but would pick them up after the dinner, as it turned out the bus driver, after dropping us off for the dinner, drove to the hotel, locked the bus and disappeared until the following afternoon when the bus was next needed.
We still had over an hour left before the felucca cruise, when we went to the hotel lobby to wait. The Abu Simbel people were later then thought. Elizabeth and I went back to the market. I figured I could buy some spices. We bought some of the 'half-burr'. We bought an 8 LE package worth. I also bought some hibiscus tea leaves. I got a fairly large package for 5 LE. I also bought some Spanish saffron which is suppose to be good here. We then bought some ice cream, and took it back to our hotel. There we met some of the group waiting. I told Sameh where we went this morning. He said don't say anything to the group because they would ask why we didn't go to the tombs of the nobles as well.
We were told we still had almost an hour before leaving. Ever since we arrived in Aswan, all events were being constantly delayed. It was almost like Aswan time runs slower than the rest of Egypt. Allison in the group asked me if I would accompany her to the market where she bought a custom made shirt. She would get less hassle that way if a male came with her.
We finally left at 2pm without the group from Abu Simbel. They would meet us at the feluccas. We went on the bus and we collected our belongings that we left the previous day. We arrived at the feluccas and divided in our sub-groups. I don't know why we were divided the way we were. Elizabeth and I were put on with 6 of the women whom we didn't know as well and the boy Mark. The women by this time were good friends with each other so we ended on the outside. Mark ended up visiting another of the felucca's when we docked together but I stayed with Elizabeth. I got a lot of time to do some reading and work on another sunburn. By this time my back sunburn from the snorkling had almost completely peeled off.
By the time the Abu Simbel group came back lunch was ready. We had bread, soup, bananas pasta and tea. There was still a bit of a delay after lunch. The paperwork had to be ready before we could go. Every Egyptian on a felucca with a foreigner must be licensed. Finally everything was ready and our three feluccas were sailing. Sameh asked everyone to put their watches away over the next 3 days so that we can relax. This meant that my times would be estimates. Because it was a hot day, 38c in the shade, 50c in the sun and 24c in the water, the Egyptians put a cloth over the deck to provide shade.
We sailed for several hours. I sat near 'Ramadan', the tiller of the boat 'Queen Lenda'. I learnt on the first day quite a bit on how to sail a boat, steering and trimming the sails. Mid-day they put out a rope and some of the girls climbed on the rope for a swim. We stopped at about 8pm, close to sundown on a beach. The sunset was magnificent, and a lot of us took the picture of it. Some farmers were close by and as the sun went down they went down in prayers. I and several others went for a swim in the Nile, Sameh said it was safe here.
We also played backgammon. At least we learnt to play under several different rules. We had supper of rice, vegetable soup, chicken and bread. Mark went over to the other boat to visit Jade and Chara. I was a bit bored though. As it was hot I tried to sleep first with a sheet, and then in a few hours later changed to my sleeping bag.
Tuesday, May 19
Kom Ombo towards Edfu
We woke up close to sunrise. I turned around looking for my bag. I couldn't find it on the deck. I panicked, remembering Sameh's warning the previous night about people sailing up to feluccas in the night taking peoples belongings from the decks. One of the deckhands said to check with Ramadan. He said look under the deck. There it was. While we were sleeping Ramadan had gathered the bags and put them below deck.
We sailed for about an hour and landed on the dock going to Kom Ombo, where the temple to Horus and Hathor was. We were also going to a camel market. The previous day Sameh asked if we wanted to visit a camel market and see how they judge and sell camels. We all agreed, it costing 10 LE for the taxi and entrance. When we arrived only one of the taxi was present. Sameh asked the taxi driver to bring another one. On the way to the camel market, the two taxi's met the second one that was suppose to pick us up. He was upset, but as Sameh said it was his problem that he was late and it would teach him a lesson. There are so few rides that any taxi driver is glad to get some business.
The camel market in Kom Ombo in Tuesday had several hundred camels of all conditions. We met a camel grader who spoke OK english though with a heavy accent. He told us how to grade a camel into meat, work and racing. The prices of the camels ranged from 1000 LE for a meat camel, 2000 to 4000 LE for a work camel and up to 30,000 LE for a racing camel. Almost all of the camels in the market were male camels. They also had one of their front legs tied up so they could not walk easily. After the tour, we stopped by a Sudanese camel trader. He goes to the Sudan and buys camels there for about 500 LE, then walks them to the market and sells them. Our camel grader said he was rich and had many camels. As a joke he asked the Sudan trader which one of the girls does he like best. He picked Allison, our bubbly blonde. He offered 2 camels, this was a down-to-earth offer compared to us use to the shopkeepers offering 1000's of camels for one of the girls. The camel grader then gave Allison an addressed envelope in case she wanted to write to him. That guy must have done this many times before!
The taxi vans then drove us to Kom Ombo temple. We toured the temple, the preserved crocodile and then walked a short distance to where the felucca's were waiting for us. The wind was very heavy and water was very choppy. The felucca crew were worried about the felucca's might turn over, so they stopped just outside of Kom Ombo on a beach to wait until the wind calms down.
A total of 5 boats docked at the beach, our three, a group of Australians and a small boat with a single woman from Paris on board. We could go swimming there however there was no sand so we had to dive and climb up onto the boat. Some of the native kids started hanging around us. I gave one of them a pen and someone gave them some paper and they started drawing pictures. Sameh arranged for us to visit the nearby homes for tea to see what they are like. He charged us 1 LE each to pay the people. We saw the barnyard, so many flies, the house had several rooms and even a fridge with a Canadian flag sticker on it. The stove used to cooking bread was a large brick oven. The family also had a black and white TV.
I was worried about my papyrus which were just rolled up in a bag on the deck. Lying against them wrinkled them. I decided to cut 3 water bottles to tape into a tube so I could fit the rolls inside so they will not get damaged. Later in the day we joined Sameh in a round of drinking whiskey straight, with each of us taking turns taking a swig until the bottle was empty. Sameh also asked one of the girls if he could have a sip of her beer. When she said yes, his sip turned out to be a guzzle of two-thirds of the bottle until it emptied. After supper, the wind slowed down so we started traveling. Most of us fell asleep while the boat was traveling. I woke up sometime in the middle of the night to stars above my head and the bank of the Nile flowing by, before falling back asleep.
Wednesday, May 20
Down the Nile to Edfu
We got up close to sunrise today. Again I didn't see my pack on the deck, but found it below. We were docked on a beach. After breakfast we left to continue the boat cruise down the Nile. The wind was more mild today.
One of the boats we were traveling with was called Queen Linda. Our boat was called Queen Lenda, it was the same name in Arabic, Egyptians do not worry about the english spellings, for that matter they do not worry about a lot that westerners do. Ramadan, our tiller started to play chicken with the other boat, trying to cross its path as we sailed back and forth across the Nile. The other's tiller chickened out. We asked Ramadan if he knew them, he said that that was his cousin.
We stopped on a beach for lunch, then continued to the outskirts of Edfu by the evening. While supper was being made we gathered scrap wood for a fire. The other two boats joined us and there appeared some Nubian drummers. We sang and danced in front of the campfire until we ran out of fuel. We then retired for the night.
Thursday, May 21
Edfu to Luxor
When we woke up this morning we we drifting towards the Edfu dock. Ramadan did not open up the sail, rather he controlled the rudder to direct us to the dock. All the felucca's docked and we got our belongings and got on the bus. Allison saw that Sameh gave the felucca crew what she thought was a small tip, so she arranged for all of us to contribute extra to give to them. When she gave the tip to them, she said they were very overwhelmed. The extra was about 200 LE for the 5 crew.
We also loaded a lot of water from the feluccas, it was recommended that we buy 2 per day, and most people didn't use the water. I also gave some hibiscus tea as a gift to Ramadan.
We then took the bus to the Edfu temple of Horus. This temple was built in 230bc by the Greeks to show that they respected the Egyptian religion. We only spent 45 minutes at the temple as we had to catch the convoy to Luxor, although that was sufficient. Elizabeth and I bought more film at the temple as we had started to run out of film again.
When we got to the police checkpoint we found that the convoy for the morning had already left and we had to wait until 1pm for the next convoy. While waiting we met another tour group, from the Oasis Overland group. They were taking a large truck, and were an even more inexpensive tour. They saved money by using the truck instead of a bus, and not providing tours at the different locations and cooking all meals. They turned out to be heading to the same campground as we were going to in Luxor, the Rezeki camp.
When we got to Luxor, Sameh asked if anyone wanted to go to McDonalds. There was an enthusiastic yes to that suggestion. The only nayers were Chara who wanted to save money and me who is not a McDonalds fan, I never grew up with them and I get spoiled by my own hamburgers. As it turned out I ate there, but didn't get a hamburger and Chara picked up something else. After McDonalds we arrived at the campsite, where the Oasis group had arrived before we had (they don't eat out lunch). Sameh said that if we want the camp can arrange the rooms for an extra 15 LE as before. This time several of the group decided to use the rooms. It was very hot and several of them wanted the air-conditioning. We who stayed in the tents managed to put up our tents alongside the Oasis group's.
Elizabeth wanted to get a swim suit so we went downtown to the shops to see if they have swim suits. So far she had only seen swim suits for small boys. She asked at the camp and someone said that she could go to Benneton and gave the street it was on, station street. We went down some streets and, not finding it we asked someone. They said it was far away and called a service taxi that was heading that direction. He said the taxi was 25 piasters for each of us. We got out when the taxi driver said that we were there. There was a couple clothes shops. One was closed and the other was a mens clothing. The men's clothing merchant suggested the shop that was closed. We went to that shop again and double checked that it was closed. He then suggested the way to Benneton was two blocks west and one block north. We set out, walking long blocks. On the way, Elizabeth who didn't take a water bottle, stopped by a booth and bought a cup of freshly squeezed orange juice for 2 LE. I was concerned about the sanitation so I declined.
Finally we got to the station street, it being by the Luxor train station. We found the Benneton store but it was closed. Next door was a Safari shop. We went in there, but they did not have any bathing suits.
Unsuccessful and not sure where we were now, we decided to take a Kalesh back to the campsite. Not sure if they knew where the rezeki campsite was, I suggested getting a ride back to the Luxor museum which was only a couple blocks from the campsite. We paid only 4 LE for the ride. We then walked back to the campsite for a rest before supper. Supper was rice, pita, potatoes, zucchini sauce, vegetable salad and watermelon. I was getting tired of the limited variety.
After supper Mark, Jade, Chara and I went to the phone station. Jade wanted to phone home. With my advice she bought a phone card and tried to use it on the phones. During that time Chara and Mark disappeared, they apparently went to another store and didn't meet up with us. The attempt was not successful on the phones because there was no answer at her parents place so I suggested that she could use the card at a phone that was close to our campsite.
We then went to visit the duty free store. She bought a bottle of scotch, I noticed a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label for $91US. This, I remembered was $325CA at the liquor stores at home. Impulsively I decided to buy it, as I wanted to bring home something good. When I took gave it to the attendant to put in the basket, the dealer said that I was going to buy two of them. I said, no I wanted only one as it was very expensive. He said no, I am buying two. I then said OK. I remembered the last time we were here, and what he said to Elizabeth. Now one of the men that were outside asking us to buy some liquor for them was inside, even though they were not suppose to be. I realized now what was happening, the duty free officers would help the people outside buy bottles by getting tourists to buy extra bottles. It happened that I was buying the most expensive bottle in the store. It would look strange if someone bought a $91US bottle with a $7US bottle. Adding another $91US bottle would validate it for any inspectors. And I would not deny I bought a bottle. When we paid for the bottles Jade paid for hers, I paid the $91US and the money and bill disappeared into a room, a man came back with two bags, we left the building, the man with his one bottle one direction and ours with our 2 bottles the other direction. Later Sameh suggested that he was most likely going to sell it on a black market of some sort.
We went back to the campsite. One of the group, Janine got quite sick during the felucca and went to the hospital in the afternoon. She came back after being treated for an abscess on her leg. She could only hobble on her legs. Later Jade and I went to the phone booths close to the site and she managed to reach home with no difficultly using up the phone card very quickly.
Friday, May 22
Luxor: Valley of the Kings and Luxor temple
We had to get up at 4am today in order to finish the visit to the valley of the Kings before the afternoon. The rooster was still crowing, but since we had to get up anyway there were not many complaints. We received a breakfast bag of chips, bread, cheese, SAMBA chocolate bar and jam. They provided a spoon to spread jam and/or cheese onto the bread. As usual there were no napkins so we had to lick our hands clean if we got anything on them.
We walked to the Nile dock to meet a felucca to take us to the west bank of the Nile. While going to the felucca I noticed my wallet was missing. I had also left my money belt in my bag safely stored inside the tent, so I had no ID or money. I was worried about my wallet as it had almost 200 LE and a credit card in it. I thought that I might have dropped it somewhere in the campsite.
When we arrived at the west bank we met a collection of donkeys in a field next to the bank. We were each assigned a donkey, got on and started down a highway on the way to the Valley of the Kings. Donkey riding is not as difficult as camel riding, and we are closer to the ground so it was quite comfortable. The donkey bounced up and down all the time so I realized why Sameh warned the girls to wear sport bras if possible. Janine and another girl took a taxi, as they couldn't go on a donkey back.
When we arrived at the entrance to the Valley of the Kings they had a gate closed. This gate was intended for cars as it was just over the height for the donkeys. The guard was confused of what to do, and he moved the gate a bit. As soon as he did the lead donkey tried to go forward knocking over Yvette who was on his back. She was almost trampled by the rest of the donkeys that were trying go get through. Fortunately nothing more happened. We then got off the donkeys and walked to the restaurant next to the gate. The donkeys gathered by thereselfs in a part of the parking lot. After a rest Yvette was OK but still a bit upset. By this time Janine and another girl joined us from the taxi.
After a rest Sameh arranged for us to take a shuttle car which couriered people from the restaurant about 200m to the entrance of the valley. We were suppose to walk the distance but I suspect that they did this as a compensation for the accident on the donkey. I though thought the shuttle cars were a bit chinsy as they were brightly labeled with advertisements. It looked like the sort of things one might find in Disneyland. They didn't fit the mood of the site.
At the entrance we met the same Egyptologist that showed us the Karnak temple. We had to pay extra if we wanted to take pictures inside the tombs. We were not suppose to use flash, but a some people had 'accidental flashes'. Camera tickets costed 5 LE per tomb and video cameras 150 LE. I asked Sameh why so much and he said that the Egyptian Government were use to the old video cameras which had bright light attachments and are charging for the damage done.
We visited the tomb of Ramses IX, the most elaborate paintings on the walls. We then visited Ramses VI tomb just above Tutankaman's tomb. We could see why Tut's tomb was preserved. The workers just emptied the rock outside the cave onto the entrance of Tut's tomb. Ramses VI was interesting because it showed a space in the middle that was not finished. As soon as a ruler dies the workers stop working in the tomb and they start the next rulers tomb. The partially finished parts showed how they made the paintings. It seems that there were a lot of workers working in an assembly line, so many marring the walls, so many carving, so many painting.
The third tomb we visited was Horenbeb which was done very quickly as he ruled for a very short while. Ramses IX was the most elaborate in part because he ruled for a long time and so the workers spend many years working in his tomb.
After visiting the tombs, the girls who couldn't go on the donkeys went down the hill to catch the taxi to the next stop, the workers city. We climbed to the top of the hill overlooking the valley and met the donkeys. We encountered souvenir salesmen on the top of the hill. One of them tried to sell me a carved cat for 5 LE. I said that I only had 2 LE, which Elizabeth lent me as well as the 6 LE needed for the extra visit to the tombs of the workers. He said ok, and I bought it, with some reservations as I didn't really want it. I ended up giving it to my father, I thought he would like it.
During the donkey ride Ester fell down. She hurt her hip but not enough, eventually she got back on. I also fell down when the donkey's saddle slid off when the donkey was going down a step. The donkeys also got lost. They went down a path that let to the end of a cliff. It was scary for the people on the donkey. When we went back along the right path, the path also narrowed to not much wider then the donkey, on the edge of the cliff, so it was a little scary for us, but I guess not for the donkeys as they were use to it.
We passed on top of the hill the temple of queen Hatshepsut. This is the temple on which there were several hundred tourists last November and 65 were killed. There were no more than 3 or 4 even now 7 months later. Sameh said last year there was 15,000 people in the whole of the Valley of the Kings on an ordinary day. In this whole morning I think there were no more than about a hundred. I felt a sympathy for the people of Luxor. I felt no danger whatsoever, and all over there were armed guards.
We traveled with the donkeys until the path started to go down to the Valley of the Artisans. There we were asked to get off the donkeys and walk with them down the hill. The donkeys gathered in the parking lot where we joined the tour Egyptologist and the girls who arrived with the taxi. The Egyptologist gave a talk about what to expect in the two tombs. She could not go in with us. When we went in, inside the tombs were very humid, where outside was very dry. I can see why they close the tombs and they are concerned with the ventilation. Perhaps they could bring in de-humidifiers in the tombs to help. The Egyptologist earlier mentioned that the Luxor temple was missing an obelisk that was taken to Paris The matching one in the Luxor temple is perfect condition. The one in Paris is being damaged by the moisture and pollution.
After the visit to the tombs we went onto the donkeys again down the highway to the Colossi of Memmon. These are two huge statues by the side of the highway, which is all that remains of a temple. These statues use to 'sing' in the early morning due to sand grains breaking off the statues due to the cooling of the night air. This stopped when the statues were repaired by Antonius Pius.
We then continued the donkey ride to town. Once in town we were offered by a man some sugar cane tea, but we refused, as it was just a scam to get us to come to buy something.
There was a restaurant at the end of the dock just before the boat ride back to the campsite. Sameh suggested going there for lunch. Most of us went, although the several of the girls and myself declined and when back to the campsite. Janine also had to visit the hospital to change the bandages. I was mostly worried about my wallet and was not very hungry. Also I figured that we would be eating lots tonight. Tonight was a special event, for 25 LE a special dinner with entertainment of a belly dancer and a Whirling Dervish. The restaurant also looked like it was serving the typical Egyptian meal which I didn't mind missing for now.
When we got back to the other side, Sameh took a couple of the girls to the hospital via taxi and the rest of us walked back to the campsite. I found my wallet just inside my tent flap, I must of dropped it when leaving. Nothing was missing. I was relieved. It was pretty quiet so I went swimming for a little while to cool down, and then read a bit. Sameh came back with the girls from the hospital with a bag of fruit and fried chicken. This I had some of which was more appealing then what Elizabeth reported was the lunch, the usual pita, hummus, salad and rice for 15 LE.
After relaxing for a little while Elizabeth asked if we could see something. I suggested the Luxor temple. She said ok, and so we walked down to the temple. To get in it was 20 LE for me and 10 LE for Elizabeth. It was fairly expensive for what it was, a much smaller version of Karnak. We saw the spot for the missing obelisk and rows of stone sphinx's. The sphinx's are suppose to continue for 3km until the Karnak temple, but most of them are buried underground. It was very hot, 38c in the shade, 45c in the sun so what I did was to soak Elizabeth's towel in water and put it on my head as a covering. I use to have a had but I lost it overboard during the felucca cruise. My old hat is now resting at the bottom of the Nile. The temple was a hodgepodge of constructions. It had constructions from Ramses II, Ramses VI, Tutankhamen, Romans, Greeks, and Copics.
By 4pm we left and went to the souk and Elizabeth bought a t-shirt with the Hard Rock Cafe on it for 10 LE. We then went back to the camp. I jumped in the pool again and we relaxed until supper was to start at 8pm. Matt, Kelly, Chara, and Jade came back from a walk around the temple, and they took some pictures just outside the walls. They also thought that the temple wasn't the best value for the money. As far as I could tell no one else went to the temple.
By this afternoon it was clear that a lot of the group were going back to the tents. Apparently several of the air-conditioners didn't work, or they were too noisy, or the toilets never worked, or the traffic was noisy. The people who went the previous night paid for either one or two days, depending on how many they stayed.
The Oasis group were joining our group for the special dinner The supper turned out to be not anything special. It was basically a repeat of lunch, I didn't miss anything at lunch either. The entertainment was something else. First a belly dancer came on, Her belly was veiled and she looked European She called most of the men to the stage to dance a bit with them and some of the ladies. She went on for two sessions with different costumes, the second one covering her belly completely. She looked very bored and looked very professional. During her intermission there was the Whirling Dervish. This man jumped on the stage and started spinning quickly around and continuously. He first did a part where he showed combinations of 4 colored drums in patterns. He then dropped the drums in a corner while still spinning, and started removing parts of his costume. He ended up removing the last part of the costume over his head and started spinning the piece, not himself. He didn't miss a step. That was great. After the second show of the belly dancer two men came on as a head and tail of a horse. They went around to the ladies of the groups and pretended to kiss them while the man in a mike on stage made very loud kissing noises. That was funny.
After all this the groups spent time talking and drinking together until past midnight. The Oasis people had to take the 11pm train so we said bye to them. Their truck had problems and was going to stay at the campsite with the driver for 6 weeks for extensive repairs. Then it would meet a new tour group.
Saturday, May 23
Luxor to Cairo
We got up at 5am and onto the bus at 6am to meet the convoy to Hurgada. We stopped for a break at the same rest stop as we stopped when we came to Luxor from Safaga. We arrived at Hurgada at 11am, stopping for gas as a gas-station where the group bought snacks. We then stopped at a Red Sea rest stop for lunch at about 1pm. Elizabeth and I shared an olive, spice and cheese pizza costing 12 LE. It wasn't very good. Mark next to us only finished half of his cheese pizza, finding it not very good either. I think the cheese has an odd taste here. While waiting to for the bus to leave Elizabeth saw a beach shop. She checked for a swim suit for herself but they only had boys swimsuits. The storekeeper was interested when we said we were from Canada. He asked if we had any Canadian coins. Elizabeth still had two pennies and gave them to him. He was pleased with them and gave Elizabeth a postcard of Aswan in return.
We continued our way to Cairo, through a shortcut through a toll highway. We arrived at the St. Georges Hotel in Cairo at 5pm. We checked into the hotel and got our bags in the hotel baggage storage. This time we ended up on the 9th floor, just down the hallway from the hotel restaurant. The room was much larger then the last one, it had 3 single beds in it, everything worked including the tv and fridge. It also had a small balcony.
Elizabeth and I went down to the department store two blocks away that we noticed the first day we were in Cairo. We asked them about swim suits. They had no ladies swim suits, only children, in Egypt women don't swim. Returning to the hotel, she asked the hotel gift shop attendant, who said that she would bring some from someone she knew the next morning.
I am anxious to phone home as I have not been able to phone via Canada Direct. I checked with my manual that was in my bag in storage at the hotel. The number was correct. I ask the front desk where a pay phone is. The front desk give me instructions on how to get to the nearest telephone exchange. He writes on a piece of paper the word 'phone central' in Arabic and draws a map. Good thing he wrote the words, the map he gave me was incorrect, instead of turning left down a street, I had to turn right. I finally locate it, after asking several people. In the exchange are 9 phones, 6 of them are the kind that the office connects when you give them a number to phone, I need a tone dial phone. The other 3 I try do not work for Canada Direct. They do not work for Cairo numbers and they do not even work for direct dial international numbers. I ask someone, who says the phones with a card, do not phone Cairo, even though we are in Cairo, and they do not phone international. They do have 2 coin phones. One man says it costs 5 piasters for 3 minutes local. There are no 5 piaster coins at the station though so they cannot be used. Frustrated I return to the hotel. I try the hotel phone in the lobby where they can phone local for 1 LE per minute. I have them try Canada Direct but still no answer. I decide then I will have to find an international card phone somewhere the next week and use the rest of my phone card.
After a supper of pasta and steak, Sameh asked who had a large room. I volunteered our room. We ended having a party in our room. Not that many people came that night though.
Sunday, May 24
The Pyramids finally
We got up at 8am for breakfast. This was the latest time we got up since the tour started. We left on the bus at 9:15am for the pyramids with Rasha our Egyptologist. We drove the short way to the Pyramids. She then gave us a talk on the pyramids. She then gave us until 11:15am to visit the pyramids, she said there would be enough time to go around them and go inside one of them, she said that the second, Khafre's pyramid was the best. It costs an extra 10 LE for me 5 LE for Elizabeth to go into the pyramid. One follows a path down, then level then up into a small chamber in the middle of the pyramid. There was nothing else inside the pyramid except for the sarcophagus. I had a feeling of an immense weight inside the pyramid. There were 2.5 million blocks of stone several tons each above my head! We took a picture of the wall then left the pyramid.
Mark, Jade, Chara, Elizabeth and I then walked around the perimeter of the pyramid. I climbed up about 6 levels of the 250 levels and got a picture taken of me. The Pyramid was so immense outside. Mark, Jade and Chara continued around, while Elizabeth and I went to the smallest Pyramid, Menakure's. This one was a third each dimension, which mean that about 1/9th the weight. Elizabeth wanted to go in, I figured, I might as well as we will not have another chance. Inside the chambers were much more interesting. There was stairs from the first chamber down to another room, and then on the side of this another small room with indents. The guard was not suppose to let us take flash pictures, but this one asked if we wanted a picture together. After he took it, we only paid him 50 piasters. He seemed happy with it.
We went outside the pyramid and continued around Khafre's pyramid going to the front towards the first pyramid, Khufu's. On the way we encountered several underground chambers. Some were open and some were all filled with sand. There were not anything special about them, there were no markings either. We continued next to Khufu's pyramid, this pyramid was closed for repair and ventilation. I tried to climb the pyramid to get a picture, but a guard told me to get down. We met some of the group who went to see the Solar Boat, a wooden boat that was found near the pyramid and was set up inside a controlled environment. It didn't seem worth it to see. It was also time to return to the bus. Stopping by two of the group who were thinking of buying some postcards, they thought I wanted some so they combined three to get a lower price, 3 LE each for 10 postcards.
There were not very many people visiting the pyramids. In the whole grounds there were about 50 tourists in total. In better days the place would be jammed with people.
Once everyone was on the bus, we headed to a lookout site in which one can take good pictures of the pyramids. We had the Egyptologist and our bus driver take pictures of our group in front of the pyramids with our cameras, refusing a professional photographer. We remembered how bad the group photo was at the Karnak temple. At this site we could see how close the development of the apartments are to the pyramids. It looks like in a few years the pyramids will be completely surrounded by apartments. Cairo has now got 17-18 million people and it is growing.
We continued down the hill the pyramids are on, to the Sphinx. The Sphinx is next to a large souvenir center and residential Giza. The Sphinx is built of a single piece of limestone, although it is covered with separate limestone blocks as an outside casing on the bottom. The bottom of the Sphinx is under the ground level. It is sort of like the Sphinx is in a pit, the front being open. They were setting up the 25th anniversary of the repair job to the Sphinx so we couldn't get next to it. The Sphinx even from the distance was magnificent so we didn't miss much.
We went through the temple of Chephen on the way to looking at the Sphinx. There was a pit covered by a grate. The guide said it was a wishing pit. We saw a lot of different bills from different countries, small bills and coins though. I joked that it was baksheesh for the guards. We then wandered around a bit, there wasn't much to see.
At 1:15pm we got back to the hotel. There was a power loss and there were no lights on in the hotel. Elizabeth found the hotel gift shop attendant and she showed her some bathing suits, she picked one. Mark, Chara and Jade were going to the Khalili market, I wanted to visit the Cairo Citadel. We agreed to go together, as the two places were very close to each other. We decided to meet at 2pm.
The power came back in the hotel. Elizabeth and I got on the elevator, not thinking about it, to go to our 9th floor before going out. When we got within 6 inches of the 7th floor the power went again. Four of us we were stuck in the middle of the elevator. We didn't know how long we were going to be there. The elevators do not have doors so we can see everything while we are going up. Now we could see outside the elevator by the window on the 7th floor door. One of the chambermaids looked into the window at us in the dark and went away. Chara came from walking up the stairs and looked in the window at us and walked away. Finally in about 10 minutes the power went on. The elevator didn't stop at the 7th floor for the other two people so we pushed 8. It finally stopped at the 8th floor. We all got off it, not trusting it any further.
We went to our rooms, I had a beer that I had cold in the fridge. I was drinking on the balcony and noticed people in a building opposite looking at us. We went downstairs at close to 2pm to meet Mark, Chara and Jade. They came 10 minutes late because Mark was looking around after a lunch. We then went out to walk the main street to catch a taxi.
A taxi came by and we offered him 8 LE to take all of us to the Khalili, and then take Elizabeth & me to the citadel which was close by. He said 10 LE, we agreed, but he actually didn't understand, he drove with us in, to a hotel, to ask someone who spoke English to explain the instructions. Once explained, he said was not enough money for the distance. After protests and negotiation, he agreed to take us 5 to Khalili, and for an extra 2 LE each would take Elizabeth & me to the Citadel, this was fair enough so we said ok. Dropping the other three at the market, he drove to the Citadel. We were thinking of walking the distance as it did not look like much in the map, but it turned out to be a long distance, several km of winding roads.
At the Citadel I paid 20 LE and Elizabeth 10 LE to get in. Inside we visited Muhammad Ali's mosque. It was built in 1811 when he was the ruler of Egypt. The walls were covered with alabaster which looked dirty, but when I looked closer turned out to be pits and imperfections. The same imperfections were on the inside so, either he couldn't get good quality alabaster or it was too expensive. There were 365 lights inside the Mosque, one for every day of the year. Elizabeth borrowed a robe as she had just shorts on. When returning it the keeper asked for money, he showed a stack of bills, the top one being a 5 LE note. We only gave him 1 LE, I think he just stuck large notes on the outside to encourage people to give more.
In the next mosque we went to, the Mosque of Sultan en-Nasir, we met Marty and Natalie and others from our group. They said that they paid a taxi 45 LE to take them to the Citadel, then the Khalili, then back to the hotel. We then went to the Military museum. Outside the museum they had some tanks and planes from various wars including the 1973 war with Israel. When we went into the museum we had to check in our bags for security. It was close to closing time so they were closing different sections. As we went by, they closed off one section, and another one when we were arriving. I think we were close to the last to be there.
The museum had a number of old guns, uniforms, medals, displays and other weaponry. They really promoted their successes in the 1973 war with Israel, where they managed to break the defenses of the Israeli army, 'the invincible army'. When I was in Israel they blamed the failure of Golda Meir to prepare for the war, she refusing to sign a document prepared by Moshe Dyan to recall the army from the Yom Kipper holiday. Israelis pointed out that they managed to win everything back once they were organized. In this Egyptian museum they lauded how brilliant the Egyptian military was, how great was the defense equipment was, failing to point out events such as Israel decimating the Egyptian air force in one day's attack, and how Israel defeated Egypt in all previous encounters.
We left the Citadel at 5pm, leaving on the north gate. I was intending to walk some distance and catch a taxi, but just outside the gate we were accosted and managed to get a taxi ride to the Khalili for 5 LE after pointing out that we paid only 4 LE to come here. At the market we started to walk around visiting the shops. We were wondering if we might meet any of the group, when we heard a call. Jade, Mark and Chara were sitting down close by. They had wandered around in the market but hadn't bought anything. They were thinking of heading back to the hotel. We asked if they could show us around a bit then we could join them in the taxi.
We all went down a street where Jade was admiring a purse. She bought it for 50 LE, it was asking 150 LE originally. We went over places, I found an antique place that had nice things. I was tempted by a Chinese dish but decided not to buy it. We then went back to the leather place that sold Jade the purse. They said they could color the girls eyes with magic markers. They invited us for a pop, which we ordered and sat down waiting for them. One salesman asked if we wanted anything else. I suggested a belt for Michael with Egyptian impressions on it. They showed some until we liked a black one. They originally asked 40 LE for it, we finally agreeing to 25 LE. Elizabeth paid as she wanted to get it for her brother Michael. The salesman asked us not to tell anyone how much it costed.
Just a few minutes later a man came in the shop quite angry. He looked like he was the owner. He asked how much we paid for the belt. I thought it best not to say, he growing more furious. The salesman said that we paid 20 LE and tried to take the belt and give us 20 LE. Elizabeth passed my her bag, we all evading him going outside. He was following us, so we thought it best to go back to the hotel. We caught a taxi for 10 LE back to the hotel.
Back at the hotel we told people there of the events. Sameh looked at the belt and thought that it was a good price for a belt. At supper we had fried chicken and spaghetti. We went to our room afterwards and most of the group joined us for a party.
Catherine, a member of the group asked me if I can take a bag home with me and she could get a friend in Vancouver to pick it up for her to pick up later. It was filled with souvenirs and as she was traveling some more she didn't want to carry it. I agreed, although it was a big bag. I mentioned about a person in the next building that was staring at us this afternoon. Allison mentioned that this morning, when she was out on the balcony someone in one of the rooms was 'playing with himself' while watching her.
Lots of people came and drank. Elizabeth fell asleep on the balcony and Kari took her to her room until everyone left. Mark found out that he had to leave on a flight the next morning at 3am, he was thinking that it was the next night. We stayed up for him and saw him off at 12:30am in front of the hotel. Then to bed, saying bye to all the group, only 8 of us would be continuing for the third week, the other 17 were going either home or elsewhere.
Monday, May 25
Cairo to Marsa Matrouh
We got up at 6:52am this morning. We spend 30 minutes packing our bags, sending to storage anything that was not needed for the next 5 days. We then had a breakfast of toast, egg, crescent, jam, cheese and tea. After breakfast we met down in the lobby for the bus. We had changed a large 55 seat bus for a 27 seat bus for the 8 of us, Sameh and the driver. Of the 8 tourist I was the only male. We first went through the Cairo's expensive neighborhood in the north west. This is where most of the rich cairenes live. Some of the houses were huge and magnificent looking.
We continued to Wadi Natrun where we stopped at two coptic monasteries. The guide at Deir Anba Bishoi was a monk that spoke very good english. He showed the ancient areas of the monastery, and a dining room that had a domed ceiling. Whenever two people were positioned correctly opposite each other talked to each other it sounded like you were speaking through a mike and was very loud. He showed us the 5th century walls, an oven and a well and St. Bishoi's remains. He had a Pilot pen in his pocket. I had one identical but a different color. I gave him mine as a gift.
We then went to Deir es Suryan, or the Syrian monastery. They had the door of symbols, a door painted with panels symbolizing events. They showed us an ancient monks cubical and the holy tree that was suppose to have arisen from St. Bishoi's walking stick when he put it in the ground.
After the visit we drove several more hours, past Alexandria to visit El Alamein. We stopped by the Allies graveyard. There were about 8000 graves of allied soldiers that died here in the battles during the second world war. Close to the spot, was the major battle that turned the tide against the Germans in 1942. We then stopped at the museum so the women could use the washroom. I initially thought we were going to visit the museum, but it turned out to be another washroom break.
We drove for another 3 hours arriving in Marsa Martrouh at 6pm. We were staying at the 'Castle Hotel'. This was a really fancy place, the most luxurious of the whole trip. The rooms were big and had very good views and everything worked. Before arriving at the hotel Sameh arranged for police escorts. This area of Egypt required tourists traveling in groups to be always accompanied by police. As everywhere in Egypt if there was a foreign tourist in the hotel a police guard was next to the hotel. At this point we paid Sameh for the tipping kitty for the week, 55 LE. As we are in hotels this week he explained it was more expensive for the amount of time.
After supper Sameh asked if we wanted to visit the market, where he said it was the best bargains in Egypt. We agreed, so he arranged for the police to come with us to the market. At the market they asked us to not get too far apart and asked me to keep an eye for Elizabeth The police were mostly worried that someone would bother one of the girls. Elizabeth bought some jeans for 65 LE each and I bought some Caterpillar shoes for 70 LE.
We returned to the hotel from the market. I watched a bit of an Egyptian movie on the TV late at night. It was about a lady who had a hard time, almost getting assaulted, cheated until a police officer helped her and when I turned it off, looked like he was going to marry her and they live happily ever after. There were no subtitles so I had to guess at some of the scenes.
Tuesday, May 26
Marsa Matrouh to Siwa
We got up at 7am. Breakfast in this truly magnificent hotel was a let-down. They had cheese, egg, bread and tea. The flies started surrounding the bread. We tried to cover some of it with napkins. This is also a rare hotel with napkins. The servers didn't seem concerned about flies. Flies landing on bread and rest of the meal didn't appeal to me though.
After breakfast we left to drive to Siwa. One of the officers, Sayeed, traveled with us on the bus. He was uninformed and held a revolver stuffed by his belt. We traveled about 2 hours, stopping at a rest house for the girls. Another two hours drive took us to Siwa. Siwa was very hot and humid. We stopped at the East-West Restaurant to order lunch before going to the hotel as it would take at least an hour at least to prepare lunch. The hotel was a simple one, bathrooms in a common area, the rooms contained two beds, a side table and a shelf on the wall. This was quite a contrast to the mornings luxury hotel. There still were a lot of flies here too.
We unpacked, rested for a few minutes then went downstairs to get our bikes, for a the bike ride around town. The bikes were single speed and very old and not working very well. We manage to ride them never the less after some adjustments. We first drove to the restaurant for lunch. I had ordered couscous, a barley rice dish with vegetables. It was ok. Elizabeth had 'kari' a spice sauce with pita. We also had a 'lassi' an east Indian yougurt drink.
After lunch it was getting hot so we bought some more water. We continued the bike ride down the road to visit the tombs. We saw Si-Amum's tomb, a Greek nobleman who had two sons, one who went to Greece and one who stayed in Egypt. He had the whole history painted on the tomb walls. It was not engraved though. We also saw a tomb that was just discovered two weeks previously. This tomb was estimated to be 2600 years ago. We saw a wall which was built over a mummy inside the tomb. The mummy was still under the wall as they had not removed it yet. Inside the tomb were many bones that were not studied yet but were most likely family members.
After this we took the bikes to the Oracle that Alexander visited to validate his claim to descent from the gods, which validates his rule of Egypt. It was a long way to the oracle and it was a very hot day. Sameh didn't know the way but Sayeed did so he led us. Some of us went ahead and stopped at a house close to the Oracle. While we were waiting for the rest some kids came out to sell their mothers' handicrafts. In Siwa all women who are married are not allowed to speak to any non-family male. When they go outside the house they have to wear a veil over their face and be completely covered. The children can go outside the house, including young girls with complete freedom. Women have a hard time adjusting to these changes I am sure. One of the small baskets interested me, the girl asked 20 LE for it. I asked if she would take 10 LE, then 15 LE for it, 20, seems a lot for it. She went back to her mother and asked her. The limit was 17 LE which I agreed to. I gave some of the kids postcards of Vancouver that I had and a few minor things.
While we were waiting we found out that Allison had fainted while riding the bike. The policeman Sayeed who was traveling with us took her back to the hotel. Sameh then took us to the rest at the nearby oracle. The oracle was not much to see, just some walls inside a gate. We also passed by a well and a mosque that was made of mud brick.
We then continued by bike the temple of Amun which is just a few stone blocks. We then continued to Cleopatra's bath. This was a pool of water inside a brick tank. It was relatively clean so we swam in it. It was cool and refreshing. After a swim we went to a concession next to the pool and had some pop or tea. We then took the bikes back to the hotel. We had a rest until 7pm where we went via the bus to Fatnes Well which is nicknamed Fantasy Island. The bus's air conditioning broke down so we had to keep the windows open. There was a palm tree that leaned onto the salt lake. We all got up on the tree and the police guard took our group photo using our cameras.
We then headed to the East-West Restaurant for a fixed course meal included with the tour. It was rice biryani, fried chicken, tomato and cucumber slices, pita and vegetable plate. Elizabeth gave me her chicken, I had a fig juice, which was pretty good. The speciality of the restaurant was a banana inside a pancake covered with honey. It sounded good but I was too full to have it. After the meal we went to the hotel. I had a shower and got ready for tomorrow, we were to go on a jeep ride in the desert for an extra cost of 50 LE. After killing a few giant cockroaches we turned the light off at 10:30pm.
Wednesday, May 27
Siwa all day
I had an awful night. It was very stuffy as it was still hot and humid. The room didn't have air conditioning and we had to keep the doors to the balcony closed otherwise mosquitoes would come in. I had to keep covers on to avoid the mosquitoes who didn't seem to be bothered by repellent. By midnight we were disturbed by pouring rain outside. In 1985 there were downpour that caused the collapse of the old town which was built of mud brick. This days rain evidently wasn't much, but was the only rain I ever saw in Egypt.
I got up at 7am with little sleep and upset bowels. After the usual breakfast, Elizabeth and I went to look at the old mud brick town, which was only 3 blocks away. When we were walking around there some kids came up to us and asked Elizabeth to come with them inside their house. I tried to follow but they said 'no mister' 'no mister'. I remembered what Sameh said of the last trip here. One of the guys mistook a house for a church that they were going to. He opened the door and when inside. Inside was a woman and children. She looked, gathered her children and left. The guy didn't know what happened. The woman's husband came to Sameh and said that his family was shamed and they would have to visit his father in order to go through some kind of apology. Not what I would want.
Waiting for Elizabeth I took a picture of the boy. The girl wanted to get in the picture, but just then her father came, and she immediately went into the house. Elizabeth came out with a small ring that she bought. We then went up the mud brick town. There were a lot of cows, chicken and goats. We looked around and then went back to the hotel.
By this time I was starting to feel a bit more sicker and visiting the toilet often. We were waiting outside for the jeep to arrive shortly. I decided that I was a bit too sick to go to the jeep, at best I would not enjoy it, at worst I would be stopping every few minutes or interrupting them to take me back. I told Sameh that I did not feel good enough to go. He was mainly concerned with what I would do for the whole day they would be gone. He didn't have to worry on that score. I stayed in bed until 5pm with the exception of travels to the bathroom. By 5pm I was starting to feel much better. I then changed and went outside. I stopped at a store to get water and to buy some bananas to eat. I then wandered over to a hill to look out at the city.
I then returned to the hotel still feeling better. I spent the rest of the time until the group came back in the front of the hotel talking to the manager and other people about life in Siwa. The manager was a Libyan, who married a Spaniard, who is living in Marsa Matrouh, yet he loves Siwa. I joined him for tea and his kid brother taught me some Siwi, the local language.
When the group arrived we went out for another fixed dinner at the East-West Restaurant. They had the same thing, except no chicken , sausage instead and spaghetti instead of the rice.
Thursday, May 28
Siwa to Marsa Matrouh
This night wasn't much better than the previous one. At least I slept a lot during the day so I didn't need the sleep. The room though was stuffy, the dogs barked, the donkeys brayed, the cars honked and the trucks drove by. I was still not ok as I still needed frequent trips to the washroom. I tried to sleep on the balcony but the mosquitoes bothered me, and when I went back in I brought in many of them.
At 5:15am there was the wakeup call. Most of us slept a bit on the way to Marsa Matrouh. As a result we didn't need a washroom stop. We arrived at the 'Castle Hotel' at 10am, earlier then they expected us. As a result they were still cleaning the rooms as we arrived. As we have never saw any other tourists in the hotel in the two days we were there, I wondered why they needed to clean the rooms, were they not clean and empty before?
Elizabeth and I were lucky. We got a suite for the two of us. The rack rate was $80US per night, the Siwa hotel rate was 25 LE, about 1/10th the amount. At 11:30am we were called downstairs to go on an extra drive to the beach. Marsa Matrouh is a beach resort. Most of the buildings are resorts and holiday houses for people. Sameh picked up some falafel for lunch (2 LE) chips, pop and water. The driver drove the bus to the beach which is a sheltered cove. This beach is called Agiba and is 24km away from our hotel. We are charged 10 LE for the return trip via our bus. The beaches around town were not permitted for us as there were a lot of natives there and not as clean. There were to be two guards with us on the beach.
There was a lot of seaweed in the beach and a lot of rocks. The beaches next to this one are really nice and not used but they are private. The government is building an entrance to this beach and is planing to charge admission soon. A single girl in a bikini also comes by herself. She seems unconcerned with the people around her. There are a few native Egyptians swimming, but mostly boys. Most of the people have picnics here. Most of the time we spend suntanning. I manage to get my front sunburned by the time I finish. We stay for 4 hours before returning to the hotel. Dinner will be in 2.5 hours.
I leave the hotel on my own to walk via the beach to town. I hope to encounter the phone station or a market. I get to the downtown market, look around at things. I ask a boy who directs me to the telephone station. In here I try the phones that take the card. None of them work for phoning to Cairo or for international calls. I return back to our hotel just in time for our 7:30pm dinner. Elizabeth meanwhile changed some money for me and joins us. For supper we have sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, bread and humus, chicken soup, rice and chicken. By mistake they give Elizabeth the chicken soup even though she said she was a vegetarian she gets eggs and vegetables instead of the chicken. Most of the women on the tour go crazy over the bread and humus, humus being a white bean paste, also called fuul. I find it peculiar at the best.
After supper Allison asks Sameh to get Sayeed, our police companion for the last few days. They want to say goodbye to him. Allison says she finds him cute. They say goodbye and how they enjoyed his company.
We go upstairs after dinner. Elizabeth is tired and falls asleep right away. Unfortunately because at 9:45pm an earthquake strikes the area. The whole building shakes. I walk to the window and look out watching the whole building shaking back and forth. We are on the 9th floor so I can see the fire-excape rattling back and forth a few times. The earthquake lasts for about 1 minute. I pop outside the room to comment to other of the group, and while doing so I can feel a minor aftershock. The earthquake wasn't that bad. I could though here people on the street below yelling and talking. Sameh phoned his parents at home and they experienced the same level of shaking. It turns out to be a 6.4 with an epicenter in Cyprus.
Friday, May 29
Marsa Matrouh to Alexandria
We wake up at 5:15am to get ready to drive to Alexandria. We have tea/coffee in the restaurant and get a box breakfast. We leave at 6am and arrive at Alexandria at 10am. Before going anywhere we pickup a police escort at a checkpoint. This escort follows us for the 3 sites until we get to our hotel.
We first stop at the Greco-Roman museum. We arrive a bit earlier then our Egyptologist guide who is to meet with us. We rest in the museum garden first. The guide shows us through the museum. The most notable sights are the merging of the Greek and Egyptian gods, for instance they merged Apis with Zeus and created a god Serapis, the bull god. They merged Horus with Cupid and Aphrodite with Isis. The guide showed us mummified alligator, different mummification fashions and the problems when the Romans came. The Greeks tried to live with and fit with the Egyptians. The Romans were very cruel and not understanding. The guide showed us statues including Cleopatra, Antony and Julius Caesar. She also showed a picture of Ramses II daughter, possibly the one who took in Moses.
We then visited the catacombs. These are tombs dug from sandstone under ground . They were intended for 3 noblemen, but after they died it was converted into a general tomb and 600 tombs were cut out. It was then forgotten until a donkey fell down a hole in 1899. It was quite a sight going down to the catacombs. There were 3 levels but the third one was partially flooded with water.
We then went to see Pompey's pillar. It is really built by Egyptians for the Roman ruler Diocletians. The pillar was tall and stands by itself. There were some ruins by the pillar.
We arrived at the hotel on the beach of Alexandria. The police escort then left us at that point. We are to notify them if we are to go anywhere in town. When we got into the hotel, they were still cleaning the rooms. Elizabeth and my room didn't have a key so we had to get it later. At 3pm we went to Sameh's room. He ordered a lunch of Egyptian pizza. It was ok. Sameh was drinking his bottle of Scotch whiskey and it had 1 to 2 ounces left. Sameh asked me to have a sip. I took one a small sip. He said take a sip, saying I didn't. I remembered how Sameh drank all of one of girl's beer, when she said he could take a sip. I then took the bottle and drank it empty in a long swallow. Sameh was a bit surprised, I think he didn't expect it. He asked me if I still have the Ouzo. I still had a half bottle left. Sameh seemed relieved. I went to our room and brought back the Ouzo. I didn't see the bottle after that.
After this Elizabeth and I went for a walk down the shoreline to the center of Alexander. We as far as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. There was not much to see. We then headed back along the markets a block or two from the shoreline. I saw a telephone station. I went in to see if they had some international phones that use the phone card. They did and I phoned direct home using the phone card. It only lasted one or two minutes, but enough to let each one know of any news.
We continue along the markets until we get back to the hotel. We arrive at 5pm just in time to meet the others for an extra tour of the Montaza gardens by our bus. Sameh said he did not inform the police that we are going out, to them we are still at the hotel. In the Gardens we see what was King Farouk's summer house, King Farouk was the last king of Egypt. We visit a lighthouse, walk along the shore, and visit a flower garden. In the flower garden we meet three ladies with their in total 7 children. They are all wives of one man, and all these children are his. The three wives and the children get along quite well it seems.
We left the park and hit a rush hour on the Corneche. The drive was about 20 km and it took us about 1 hour to drive that distance. Interestingly because Alexandria does not permit use of horns the traffic was orderly, but slow.
As a result we arrive late back at the hotel. We were suppose to have supper at 7:30pm, we arrived at 8:15pm. Ordinarily it wouldn't matter, but today the hotel is having a wedding reception and they have difficultly in fitting us. They move us up on a balcony overlooking the dining room where the reception is starting. After the usual dinner some of the girls including Elizabeth get together to take a taxi to the market. Others go back to their room. I stay to watch the start of the reception.
Finally after a long time the couple arrive. The hotel employees set up two swords, which are lit with fire like torches. The couple walk through the men holding up the swords in some kind of ceremony. Then they meet a man, I suspect a Muslim equivalent to a minister. The three put hands together and walk around a pot burning coal or something three times counterclockwise. This looks like the actual wedding ceremony. The couple then ascend a throne decorated with flowers. The groom was dressed in a suit, the bride with a western white bridal gown. He was Egyptian. She was blonde and looking European She also looked a bit confused, maybe she was not familiar with the ceremonies. After the ceremonies more people for the wedding party arrived onto the table our group was using, so I excused myself and went to our room for the night at 10pm. Elizabeth returned later from the shopping excursion.
Saturday, May 30
Alexandria to Cairo
We woke up at 6am, then realizing that we were not going to leave until 12 noon, we fell back to sleep until 9am. We went downstairs and had breakfast. I mentioned the wedding, many of the girls were interested. The shopping trip from the previous night was marred by some man trying to keep them company even though they didn't want his company. He though didn't cause any real problem.
Elizabeth and I decided to go back to the market. We went out to see if we could walk there in the time that we had left. We started walking two blocks from the Corneche (shore drive). We encountered the commuter train. We got on the train heading to the downtown area. It cost only 20 piasters to take the train and it wasn't very crowded. The train stopped a distance from the main downtown station for some reason. A number of the passengers were getting off. We got off and headed the direction the train was to go.
We found out why the train stopped. Two blocks further the tracks for the train were broken and the cars were backing onto the other track to start the return trip. I was amazed. In North America, if some of the tracks were broken the workers would be working 24 hours a day to restore the whole functioning system, or they would build alternative tracks. Here there was no one doing anything about it.
We wandered around in the markets for a little while until it was about time to return using the train. We walked to the broken track to catch the train back. We got on the first car, and the attendant told us to get off, Elizabeth then realized that this was the car that was for only women and I was the one that was not allowed on. She though followed me to the second car. When the attendant came he asked us if we know when to get off. We said that we will be getting off at the 5th stop, as that was how many stops the train made when we got on the other train.
Back at the hotel Kari and Ester were late from going to the market so we waited for them to arrive. I was anxious to go as we would be leaving for home early the next morning and Elizabeth wanted to see the zoo, and I wanted to go to the market tonight. I was just about the only one who wanted to leave for Cairo early today. The others were all staying at least another day in Cairo. Finally Kari and Ester arrived and we got on the bus for Cairo. The police escorted us for a little ways until a checkpoint. We stopped at a rest stop for lunch and we arrived at Giza at about 3:30pm. We could see the pyramids from 20 km away.
Just a couple km before the hotel the bus almost got into an accident. A car just in front of the bus crashed into the truck ahead of it. This is the only accident that I saw in Egypt, although from the shape of the vehicles in Cairo they must happen very frequently. Cairo has the most reckless drivers in the country.
After checking into the hotel Elizabeth and I went to the zoo. We headed past an exit on the way to the entrance which was the other side of the zoo. The guards allowed us through, charging us 1 LE each to enter. I think that the ordinary fee was 50 piasters each. We wandered around the zoo looking at the animals. The people were feeding the animals all kinds of junk food. We saw little children give baboons bread through a break in the grating in the cage. Another threw some candy floss at some monkeys in a pit. They ate it but not the bread or popcorn. A guard fed an orangutan in front of us. We went in a garden that was made of coral. It was suppose to be closed at 4pm but the guard allowed us to buy a ticket and go in. Each group that entered was assigned a guard to give a tour. Our guard gave a nice tour but was disappointed in the 1 LE baksheesh. I think that they expected the foreigners to pay a lot more. He did ask me if we wanted to take a picture of a 3 month old lion cub. We were not certain.
We continued looking around the zoo and at the other animals. We saw elephants, giraffes, Emus, lots of birds and a lot of monkeys. Close to the entrance of the zoo we encountered the lion cage. There was a lot of space for the 4 lions to run in. As we passed by the cage, the guards noticed us and asked us if we wanted to take a picture of the lion cub. I asked how much and the guard said 10 LE. We agreed and the guard took us to inside the cage door to a cement area. Inside were some cubs. One guard took one out and we held it up as the other guard took several pictures. After putting the cub back the two asked for 10 LE each. I said we agreed it would be 10 LE. Fortunately I had in my wallet two 5 LE notes. I handed each of them one which they accepted.
Once outside the zoo we caught a taxi to the Khalili bazaar. We paid the going rate of 10 LE for the ride. We then wandered around. I wanted to go to the antique place to ask how much the Chinese vase was. I was surprised, I was expecting 200-300 LE, they were asking 2500 LE for it. A smaller one was 1200 LE. These were essentially fixed prices too. Instead we wandered into the metal working area of the market. I saw an antique tea pot that the owner said was 200 years old which he was charging 100 LE for. It was not very good quality so I declined but bought at another store a brass pot for 25 LE that the owner said was about 125 years old. It looked about that age. I also bought another pot for 45 LE which was nice looking.
We then took a taxi back to the hotel. I was asking for 8 LE, and the driver asked 10 LE, we agreed at 9 LE, however when we got back to the hotel he claimed he had no change so we ended up giving him the 10 LE. Oh well!
We were thinking that we would be late, but we turned out to be back just before the 7:30pm dinner. Everyone of the group arrived and we had a vegetable sauce over rice, beef stew, and melons. I had my last Stella's, I wouldn't miss that.
After dinner Sameh asked if we wanted to go to karoke, he asked us the previous group but they were not interested. I was not very interested, but just about everyone was going so we all went. We left on two taxis, the nine of us. At the hotel the karoke was in, they had a pool table and music CD's until the karoke started at 11pm. The music was loud and the drinks were expensive. Both Elizabeth and I had some tonic water. Sameh asked me if I could do 'My Way' with him. I declined as I usually sing off key. Later in the night though we took turns singing portions of some of the songs. Ester sang 'The Rose' and 'Amazing Grace' beautifully. She is a trained singer.
Close to closing time some Finns met us and started drinking with Kari. Sameh had to drag Kari from them as he was still responsible for us until the next morning. We found only one taxi outside the hotel, and we managed to stuff all 9 of us into the taxi, 3 in the back, 4 in the middle and 2 in the front seat. Back at the hotel, all the girls gave Elizabeth and me goodbye hugs and we all went to bed. Sameh arranged a wakeup call and a taxi for the airport.
Sunday, May 31
Cairo to home
We got a wakeup call at 4:30am, after very little sleep. After a shower and repacking our bags we carried them down to the lobby. My bag with the silver in it was very heavy, and the porter struggled with it. I saw the front desk give him a 10 LE note for the bags. This is included with the tipping kitty. Once in the taxi the porter started asking me something about money. I thought that he wanted me to pay for the taxi. I got out a 20 LE note, which he then put in his pocket. Elizabeth then gave him a 5 LE thinking that he didn't have change and we could get 10 LE back (45 - 35 = 10). I complained, went the hotel reception attendant came out and asked what was wrong. Evidently the porter was asking for a tip from me, even though he already got one from the reception. Finally we straightened out and I paid the taxi the 35 LE for the drive to the airport.
At the airport we also paid the taxi driver a 1 LE toll, I didn't complain at this. Once inside the airport we first went through a baggage check. A man was going to take our bags, but I signaled him that we can manage it well enough. We then took the bags to the check in and checked in three bags. We carried on Elizabeth's bag containing my Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Catherines souvenirs which were a bit fragile and my papyrus which was still protected by water bottles taped together.
We went through the duty free stores. I bought a bottle of Swiss Chocolate liquor to bring up our alcohol to the limit, Elizabeth exchanged the remainder Egyptian pounds for American dollars, keeping a few coins and small bills. We then went through another baggage check and onto the airport gate. The flight to Frankfurt was uneventful. Lufthansa is very well run and service is very efficient. For breakfast we had a fried omelette and ham, the first pork I have had in over one month. The breakfast was a welcome change from the routine Egyptian breakfasts. Sameh had asked if I wanted to have a takeout breakfast from the hotel, as it was part of the tour costs. No thanks, I didn't miss it. I like a variety for my meals. We watched 'Tomorrow Never Dies' a James Bond flick on the airplane.
We had a 3 hour layover in Frankfurt. We wandered around the airport stores. I visited the duty free shop, finding that the Johnnie Walker Blue Label as $128US, much more than in Luxor, At the Cairo airport it was $120US. Elizabeth was missing the paper so bought a British newspaper for $10US. I didn't go and buy any perfume like I was thinking where we were here on the start of the trip. That is because we bought some in Egypt.
We then read the paper until it was time to go to the airplane home to Vancouver. The flight was full back to Vancouver but we arrived slightly ahead of schedule. Customs was quick so we had to wait a few minutes before the family arrived to pick us up. I used the quarter that I took at the beginning to phone home when they were late arriving.
A few days later a friend of Catherine picked up her things, I got my pictures developed, and gave away the gifts. Though it took me time to recover from coming back, we both enjoyed the trip immensely. I plan to go back to Jerusalem and the Sinai, those places I really took a liking to. It was great!