A camel on the banks of the Nile River running through Luxor, Egypt.
During a April 2005 trip to Egypt, my friend and I opted to take a day trip to the Red Sea for some snorkeling. This was our mode of transportation once we arrived in the port city of Safaga:
Although the boat looked as if it could sink at any moment, my friend and I happily climbed aboard. Once we got below deck, we discovered that it was a glass bottom boat that constantly leaked water. To remedy this, the captain’s assistant, a mere boy who appeared to be eight years old, would collect the water with a bucket and then run up the stairs and throw it overboard.
Lindsay goes to Egypt, Volume IV: Adventures in shopping, a strange demand from airport security, and a thwarted attempt to leave the country
Well, here we go…my last post from Egypt…I know you’ll all be very saddened, but don’t worry, I’ll have many thrilling entries ahead regarding my dissertation topic and this annoying London weather!
Day 8: Our last day in Egypt…well, not really
So, last day in Egypt…what to do? Buy cheesy souvenirs, of course! To be honest, though, my souvenir shopping has really been minimal these past few trips. I usually just pick up a flag and a few postcards…easy to pack in case I move back to the U.S., you know.
When Jessica and I walked into a souvenir store and saw these plush camels, though, I just had to have one:
The best part, though, is that the camel sings…in Arabic. Oh hell yes. I also purchased an inflatable Anubis (jackal headed god of mummification) punching doll (finals are coming up soon…figured it was a good investment). I wanted one of those scarves all the oil sheiks wear, so I got one of those, too. The salesmen told Jessica to take a picture of me with them, so here it is:
Now maybe Dubya will invite me over to his ranch in Crawford and we could hold hands and frolic amongst the flowers. How dreamy…
Anyways, the actual shopping experience was quite interesting. Remember how I said the restaurant staff always harassed Jessica? Well, I got mine with the salesmen. One guy asked me if I wanted to work for him. No…thank…you. Another guy that we walked by gave me his business card, LOL, and asked me for my e-mail address, to which I replied “I don’t have one.” He was shocked…”You don’t have an e-mail address? Why not?” I couldn’t really come up with an excuse, so just said I didn’t know why…smart.
The rest of the day involved two attempted kissings by salesmen (unsuccessful for them…really, I don’t understand this obnoxious behavior at all) and one sales guy blocking my way as Jessica and I were walking by his store: “But you said you would visit my store a few days ago!” I don’t remember saying that, much less speaking to the guy, and figured he often uses this ploy to usher unsuspecting foreign tourists into his store. Since he wouldn’t let me pass, I had to make a break for it and jump over a small hedge. By then, we had enough of this shopping experience, and decided to head back to the hotel to sit on the roof and drink some crazy coke-orange juice-grenadine concoctions which were absolutely delicious.
After that, we headed off to the airport, where we learned that our flight was delayed for four hours (Hint: Never travel with me, I’m bad luck when it comes to flying). OK…cool…not sure how we will get back into London from Gatwick when our plane arrives at 2am, but whatever. The Luxor airport was absolutely a mess…they kept making us change lines (“Umm, this is now the line for Manchester. If you’re going to Gatwick, please go to line 4.”) and all the computers kept going down…it was ridiculous! We finally got our boarding passes and waited in the lounge for an extremely long time…a few hours at least. I didn’t have a book to read, so I amused myself by continually pressing my plush camel’s stomach so that it would serenade me…and everybody else sitting nearby. They finally announced that we could enter the departure gate area (yes!!!) so we headed towards the security checkpoint. After I walked through the metal detector (which I did NOT set off), the guard said “Stop. Kiss me!” OK…WTF?!?!?!
WHAT…IS…WRONG…WITH…THIS…COUNTRY? Could you imagine if you were standing in line at National Airport in DC, and a guard demanded a kiss? Anyways, I was like “Uhhh…no.”
So we are sitting at our gate, waiting for them to board us, when an employee makes an announcement that something is wrong with the plane and they are going to decide if it’s safe to fly. Great. By then we were all in a surly mood, as the airline staff had not been very forthcoming with information. I was hoping to see some mini-riot break out, as occured on an episode of Airline: UK when EasyJet staff informed a group of Brits that their plane wouldn’t make it to France in time for them to catch the WorldCup match. Our fellow passengers, though, were quite orderly and submissive…clearly, they had not consumed enough of their duty free alcohol!
As it turned out, our plane was beyond repair, so at midnight we found ourselves on a bus headed back to Luxor:
We weren’t exactly sure what hotel they were going to put all of us in, but were pleased when the buses pulled up to the 5-star Sheraton Resort. Sweet. Jessica and I collected the key to our room, which turned out to be a bungalow….ahhh nice. I was absolutely starving, so was quite glad to hear that the airline had arranged for dinner to be served…and damn, it was good. We ended up sitting next to a hilarious British couple who generously poured their duty free Stolichnaya into our glasses of Coke.
The next morning the hotel served a huge breakfast buffet, which was great, but we were leaving at 11am so we didn’t get to spend much time there. It would have been nice to use the spa or take advantage of the big swimming pool.
We finally left Luxor that day (after our plane was sprayed with pesticide, haha), and arrived in London around 7pm or so. Overall, Egypt was wonderful, but after a week there I began to crave the anonymity of London’s streets.
After I finish my finals in June, I’m going to Venice and Rome for a few days. I’m really looking forward to Italy because I’ve always wanted to go there…and my mom will be relieved to learn that I’m finally visiting a “normal” country devoid of landmines and mandatory police escorts.
Lindsay goes to Egypt, Volume III: Heavily armed police escorts, snorkeling in the Red Sea, and some more ancient temples
Another post about Egypt…enjoy.
Day 6: The Red Sea
After spending an entire day recovering from Cairo, we were looking forward to a trip to the Red Sea. Before coming to Egypt, I hadn’t really thought of going to the Red Sea, but after we looked through the tours available through Jolley’s we both decided that a day at the beach would be a nice break from temples and tombs. And well, it was the Red Sea…would be interesting to see that large body of water that Charlton Heston parted a long, long time ago.
Jolley told us that our driver would pick us up at our hotel at 7:40am, and we HAD to be there or else we would risk missing the convoy. I was a bit perplexed (Convoy? What?) but just shrugged it off and made a mental note that we had to absolutely be on time or else…
So, at exactly 7:40am, Ahmad, our awesome driver from the West Bank tour, picked us up from our hotel. We then drove to another hotel to pick up a young British couple who would also be going to the Red Sea. They were kind of annoying. Anyways…we arrived at the area where the convoy was assembled, and it was there that I realized exactly what Jolley was talking about. As it turned out, we were being escorted to Safaga (a port on the Red Sea, about 200km from Luxor) under the protection of Egypt’s finest – the “Tourist & Antiquities” police force. If you ever visit Egypt, you will notice that these guys are everywhere. They are posted at all tourist sites, and there is always one assigned to guard your hotel. I suppose that maybe I didn’t read my Lonely Planet guide closely enough before I arrived, but I really wasn’t expecting that much security. Of course, during my week in Egypt I often wondered about the effectiveness of the security.
Were the Egyptian police akin to the Russian militsia, corrupt and looking to extract money from foreigners over supposed “infractions”? Well, I didn’t see any of that while I was there…certainly, I did feel a bit more comfortable around the Egyptian police than I did around the Russian cops…for instance, I actually felt like the Egyptian tourist police were there to, well, protect tourists, and not hassle them about visas and passports. Of course, they are still very different from U.S. police officers…the Egyptian cops, like most of the men in Luxor, still like to whistle at all the foreign women that walk by. Also, I once spotted an Egyptian cop outside the Hilton in Cairo singing to himself and strumming his AK-47 as if it were a guitar!
I was still a bit confused as to why we had to be escorted by the police to Safaga, but then I read in one of my guides that all foreigners traveling in and out of Luxor are required to only do so in police convoys. Basically, if you aren’t in a police convoy, don’t even try and venture out of Luxor, as you will just be turned away at the first police roadblock. They were part of the new security measures instituted in 1997 after the massacre of 58 tourists at the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut on Luxor’s West Bank.
After the police take an inventory of our van (Ahmad tells the officer that all four of us are English…I don’t mind, safer to be a Brit I suppose) the convoy, which consists of a dozen or so vans, buses, and jeeps full of cops, begins the long trip to Safaga. The police stopped ALL traffic in Luxor in order to allow us to leave the city quickly. Outside of the city limits, we passed through dozens of police roadblocks where the cops had forced all the locals to the side of the road so we could speed through. And by roadblocks, I don’t mean one police car and a few cops…these were more like the Iraq roadblocks that I’ve seen on the news…guys with machine guns in pillboxes and watchtowers, removable tire spikes…you name it, it was there. In Qena, a large city that marked the halfway point of the trip, the security was even tighter. The Egyptian police DO NOT mess around here…Qena has been the site of previous attacks on tourist buses, and they are doing everything to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. There were tons of cops standing around with their AKs, cordoning off the streets and blocking all foot and motor traffic. We drove under a highway overpass, where the traffic had also been stopped to ensure that there weren’t any cars sitting on the road above us.
Driving in this police convoy was really a surreal experience. So this is what it’s like to be President of the United States! The only other time I had a police “escort” was after high school graduation, but the Palm Desert police didn’t hang out the back of pickup trucks pointing their AK-47s at the locals and forcing cars off the road. All of this so some tourists can go snorkeling!
I’m not sure how I feel about the convoys. Certainly, the Egyptian government knows that it can’t afford another incident along the lines of the Luxor massacre. If that happens, their tourist industry will never recover. On the other hand, though, the government certainly isn’t winning over any citizens with its heavy handed tactics. You could see the looks of resentment on the drivers of the cars that had been forced to wait at the checkpoint in the desert heat…they were not happy…and I don’t blame them…if I had to wait at a roadblock so a bunch of tourists could play golf in Rancho Mirage, I would be severely pissed off. Also, security wise, is running the convoy on the same schedule and same exact route every day really the safest thing in the world? I think not.
After driving past Qena, we had a mandated stop at a roadside cafe/restaurant built for the convoys. I purchased some candy at incredibly high prices. Damn their monopoly!
And of course, there were camels:
We finally arrived at Safaga about three hours after we left Luxor. It was incredibly strange to be driving through the desert for so long and then suddenly be at the Red Sea. It actually reminded me a lot of the Salton Sea where I live, because it’s desert, desert, desert…oh, whoa, huge body of water!
When we got to the port, we picked up our snorkel gear and met our boat captain (and unlike previous boat captains, he actually drove the boat himself). Now this is where the British couple becomes annoying…the woman was like “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me, I’m not riding in this boat!” She eventually got on, because there was no other way for them to get out to the island. OK, so our boat was a little rough around the edges…maybe it couldn’t have passed a U.S. Coast Guard inspection…there was, after all, water leaking out through pipes near the glass bottom. That was quite amusing…after the buckets filled up, the captain’s assistant would have to grab them and throw out the water.
Our boat, after we got to the island:
So, we spent a few hours on this island…it was cool, because it was surrounded by coral reefs, which made for some great snorkeling. It was absolutely beautiful…but alas, I did not have an underwater camera with me!
Here’s the shore of the island:
View of the desert and mountains:
And the island:
It was so beautiful there…I really want to go back to one of the resorts on the Red Sea…maybe Sharm-El-Sheikh or Hurghada…someday, someday!
After we spent a few hours there, we headed back to Luxor (with the police convoy, of course).
Day 7: Abydos and Dendara
Another early wake up call…can’t miss the police convoy:
Today we were off to see some more ancient temples…first up, the Temple of Seti I at Abydos, which was dedicated to the six major gods (Osiris, Isis, Horus, Amun-Ra, Ra-Horakhaty, and Ptah) and Seti I himself:
This temple is considered to have some of the finest reliefs in Egypt. This is Anubis, the jackal god of mummification:
Not sure how Anubis can twist his head like that, as I found it to be rather impossible:
I think we spent about two hours at the temple…anyways, the police herded us back to our convoy so we could get to our next destination, Dendara. We passed through a lot of small towns, which were very interesting to see, and all the little kids would gather on the side of the road to wave at you. I also saw this huge portrait of Egyptian President Mubarak…yeah, cult of personality and all that:
This is the Temple of Hathor at Dendara:
This temple, which actually dates from the Greco-Roman period, is dedicated to Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of fertility.
Columns with the face of Hathor (she is sometimes depicted as a cow):
We crawled through a small passageway and then wandered around a crypt, which was pretty cool:
On the outside of the temple there was a very rare relief of Cleopatra with Ptolemy XV, aka Caesarion, her son by Julius Caesar:
We then went back to Luxor and said goodbye to Mr. Fox (left) and Ahmad (right):
For our last dinner in Egypt, we went back to the restaurant that we ate at during our first night in Luxor. I had to have falafel…I just had to…and it was delicious, of course. Jessica had to put up with some more sexual harassment from the owner, but I think the food was worth it (in my opinion, at least).
OK, that’s enough writing for now. I’ll write the next, and final, installment soon.
Just turned in my dissertation proposal (which I’m sure will be another future post) and finally have some time to sit down and write a bit more about Egypt.
Day 3: Riding camels and cruising down the Nile
In an effort to make the most of our week in Egypt and participate in as many cliches as possible, Jessica and I went back to Jolley’s travel and told him that we would like to ride a camel, and while we’re at it, why not throw in an hour or two on the Nile?
If you want to ride camels, you have to go to the West Bank (we were staying in the East Bank of Luxor), where the camel and horse stables are (and also, the better scenery). The only problem is, there is only one bridge in Luxor that connects the two banks, and it’s quite a far drive from where we would go riding, so the only way to get across is to take a boat across the river. OK, fair enough. Jolley calls a boat driver and he picks us up and takes us to his boat. We start heading across the Nile, when the boat driver asks me if I want to drive the boat. I was like “Uhhh…not really” but he was insistent that I take the helm…er, outboard motor. So, I ended up driving us across the Nile, which was a bit weird considering we were paying him to drive the boat, but it’s not everyday you get to navigate across the Nile, so uh, whatever.
After disembarking from the boat, we met up with our camels and the guides who would take us around and make sure we don’t get ourselves killed. Oddly enough, my camel’s name was Shakespeare. Jessica’s camel was Whiskey. Cute.
Here we are on our camels:
Our guides led us along this really busy street, which was kinda scary because the drivers in Egypt, are, well…how do I put this…crazy. They also took us to this small village-ish area, which was interesting, because we were able to see the houses, farms, mosques, and overall life of an area removed from the tourist kitschiness of Luxor’s East Bank. It was, for all intents and purposes, a side of Egypt that most tourists only see through the windows of their tour buses. On the other hand, though, it did feel a bit weird to be in this area. It was kind of like “Look, there’s the Western tourists riding camels and waving back at the little kids!” God, how cliche is that? I think I’ve seen a MasterCard commercial that runs along those lines.
Anyways, riding camels is pretty fun, but it’s definitely not comfortable (or, at least, our ride wasn’t). I’m not sure how people could ride for an entire day, but it’s worth doing it for an hour. Also, I’ve decided that when I become a billionaire I’m going to open a camel refuge in the Coachella Valley. You see, everytime I travel, I come up with some future project that has been inspired by that particular area (ask me about my Croatian-Montenegrin landmine removal project…I’ll give you a little hint, it involves lots of goats). For this project, I’ll be taking any sick and abused camels from Egypt and shipping them to the desert where I grew up. There, they can hang out and kids can go visit them, hold their birthday parties there, whatever, and I’ll be Lindsay Fincher, the awesome oil executive turned mega philanthropist. The details on how I’ll be transporting the camels from Egypt to California are still a bit fuzzy, but I’ve got a few years to work them out.
So, after our camel ride, we headed back to the boat to spend an hour or so cruising down the Nile. Like our previous boat trip, though, Jessica and I ended up doing most of the driving. Our driver busied himself fixing tea while we took turns at the outboard motor, taking care not to get too close to the reeds or hit one of those big cruise boats. You should have seen the looks of astonishment on the faces of tourists from the other boats…surely they were impressed with my masterful display of boat driving skillz, or were simply shocked that the tourist, and not the boat captain, was the one speeding down the Nile.
Lindsay the boat captain:
That night, we left Luxor around 10pm or so for our day trip to Cairo. We took the overnight train, which, I must say, was really damn uncomfortable. It made me long for the Russian trains, and when that happens, yikes. The problem was, it wasn’t a sleeper train, so you had to try and catch some sleep sitting up, which was nearly impossible. The train was also absolutely freezing…should have brought my green puffy jacket with me. One interesting thing regarding train travel in Egypt is that tourists are only allowed to take certain designated “tourist trains.” What separates these tourist trains from regular trains is the large number of heavily armed guards that accompany you to Cairo. (I’ll talk a bit more about Egyptian security later).
Day 4: Cairo
We arrived in Cairo at 6:30am, and were met by a representative from some company that Jolley contracts with. As you can imagine, museums and are not open at 6:30am, so he took us to the Nile Hilton, where we sat around for two and a half hours waiting for the Egyptian Museum to open. It was really boring. Our guide arrived at the hotel to take us to the Egyptian Museum, which is conveniently located right across the street from the Hilton (Two weeks later, this area was the site of a bombing that injured several tourists. In addition, on that same day, the sister and fiancee of the bomber opened fire on a tourist bus in southern Cairo).
The Egyptian museum was pretty cool. Our guide was a hilarious guy who was extremely knowledgeable about pretty much everything in that museum. We saw the mummies, King Tut’s treasures…all the important stuff. Sadly, they don’t allow photos inside the museum, so all you get is one of the outside:
Stunning, I know.
Of course, the best part of our day in Cairo was the trip to the Giza plateau to see the Pyramids and Sphinx. From the minute we got off the train in Cairo, I felt like a 5-year old kid waiting to see what Santa had put under the tree on Christmas morning. It was like “Hey, hey, when do we see the Pyramids??” As we drove to Giza, and our guide pointed out the Pyramids on the horizon (really, they are a bit hard to miss) I became a bit giddy with excitement…ok, no, I was really excited. I mean, the Pyramids, seriously, how can you not be excited? When we finally got to the Pyramids, and started walking around, it was like “Hmmm the Pyramids…cool…OMG THESE ARE THE PYRAMIDS…THE PYRAMIDS!”
And look, they let you climb on the Pyramids!
(Us on the Great Pyramid of Khufu)
Our guide took us to this area where all the great photo opportunities are. Of course, being such a great area, it was full of tourists jockeying for great photo opportunities. When we arrived it wasn’t too crowded, but a few minutes later a tour bus full of Russian tourists pulled up, and they immediately rushed up and tried to hustle their way in, breaking all photo taking etiquette. One lady in particular really pissed me off, and started yelling in rapid fire Russian that she needed to take a photo. I think I surprised her when I replied, in Russian, that she should wait one goddamn minute.
Here’s one of the photos:
Jessica calls this style the “American pose.” It’s just kind of like a “Look, I’m here and going to take over everything” pose, if you will. Thus, it’s American.
The cops near the Pyramids ride camels!:
We visited the Pyramid of Khafre, which is the one with the limestone casing at the top:
All the Pyramids originally had this limestone casing, but over the centuries it was removed for use in building projects (which is unfortunate, because I’m sure they looked quite amazing covered completely in limestone…not that they don’t already look amazing, that is). We went inside this particular pyramid, which involved a fun journey through a small shaft leading to the burial chamber (hint: if you’re claustrophobic, don’t even think about it). The chamber was sparse, and only contained an empty sarcophagus and some graffiti (“Scoperta da G. Belzoni 2 mar 1818”) left by an Italian Egyptologist. So there wasn’t much to see, and the humidity was stifling, but it was still great to actually go inside the Pyramid. You aren’t allowed to take your camera inside, but they didn’t say anything about mobile phones that might include a low-quality camera function, so here’s me inside the Pyramid:
We then visited the Sphinx, which was a bit smaller than I had imagined:
Later that day we visited a perfume factory, which was kind of annoying because who cares about a perfume factory? They always do this in Egypt, though…take you to a papyrus or perfume factory inbetween visits to the historical sites, with the hopes that after you learn how the ancient Egyptians made papyrus paper or perfume you will want to purchase aforementioned products at extremely high prices. Well, their little games don’t work on us, because we’re college student…well, even worse, graduate students who lack $200 to spend on some ridiculous looking papyrus painting. So, we sat through this salesman’s presentation, where he sprayed us with perfumes that had amusing names like “Secret of the Desert” (we were assured that this was indeed a very powerful fragrance…right) and “Arabian Nights.” He tried to convince us that Chanel No. 5 and CK One were actually invented by the Egyptians and then stolen by these big corporations (who knows, it may be true, but I could care less). I remember that he set something on fire…that was slightly entertaining, but when he started talking about selling bottles of perfume oil, I was reminded that I had to submit my dissertation proposal when I returned to the LSE, so I started daydreaming about the geopolitics of Russian oil pipelines. We eventually made it out of there, but came out drenched in 80 million different fragrances. Awesome.
We then headed to the Khan el-Khalili bazaar, a huge market that is usually filled with tourists, but was absolutely empty when we showed up, most likely due to the fact that six days earlier a suicide bomber killed three tourists at this market when he detonated the explosives he was carrying. Our guide tried to convince us that the fellow killed himself and three others because he was distraught over a girl, and not because he had turned into a jihadist, but I wasn’t too convinced. After wandering around the bazaar for a while, we sat down for a Coke and ended up discussing Middle Eastern politics and culture for an hour or so.
Our train left at 10:30 that night. Goodbye, Cairo! Loved seeing the Pyramids, but don’t think I could ever live there. Way too chaotic…the drivers are absolutely insane…words can’t even properly describe them…and imagine sharing the freeway with donkeys and camels!
Day 5: Recovery
Got into Luxor at 7am…slept and slept and slept…
I will have to finish up this trip in another volume since I’m getting pretty tired. Highlights will include the Red Sea, Abydos and Dendara, and our unsuccessful attempt to leave Egypt.
Oh, and on a random side note, my friend Moira and I went to Chili’s for dinner. Yes, that Chili’s. I didn’t know we had one in London, but as it turns out there is one in Canary Wharf, which is an area of London that is full of office buildings for huge corporations. Awesome. So…Chili’s…it was just like being in America (except for all the British accents, and the drunk British businessmen dancing with their margaritas in hand…and the soccer, er football game on TV…yes, almost like America). I must say, though, for an hour and a half I felt really connected with the homeland…drinking free refills of Coke (we don’t have free refills in London), eating the bottomless chips and salsa, and pouring large amounts of ranch dressing on my fries. It was absolutely perfect. So thank you, Chili’s corporation, for being there at a time when two Americans just wanted some decent food that didn’t include ingredients like mad cow disease, corn, prawns, and rocket.
Right. Egypt…pyramids…the Sphinx…camels…hieroglyphics…I’ll talk about all that, and more! I’m going to break this one into parts because I imagine it will become quite long, though.
So, why Egypt? Didn’t really fit in with my previous European itineraries, I know, but that’s exactly why I picked Egypt. I wanted to go somewhere new…really new…a different culture, lifestyle, and religion that I had never experienced during my previous travels. A few months before spring break started, I had been obsessing over where to spend my five weeks. One visit to the travel website lastminute.com was all it took for me to seriously consider the thought of Egypt as a vacation destination. The prices were amazingly low…I soon became convinced that I had to go, because if I didn’t do it now, when would I? Besides, Egypt had always intrigued me…everyone should see the pyramids at least once in their lifetime.
Day 1: Arrival
We flew out of Gatwick airport and landed at Luxor Airport about 4.5 hours later. Upon landing, the flight attendant warned us that taking pictures while at the airport was strictly prohibited due to the airport’s dual designation as a civilian and military airfield. We get off the plane and onto buses which take us to the terminal, which is nothing more than a giant tent…yes, a tent. The atmosphere is quite chaotic, with hundreds of people being stuffed into this tent, trying to exchange currency and purchase Egyptian visas, which are required to enter the country. I purchase my Egyptian visa with a 10 quid bill, and the official places it in the “Amendments and Endorsements” section of my passport, which slightly annoys me because that section is reserved for amendments by the U.S. GOVERNMENT, but whatever. Jessica attempts to buy her Egyptian visa with Egyptian pounds (yeah, their currency is also called the pound) but the official informs her that he won’t accept them. Yes, that’s right…Jessica could not pay for her Egyptian visa with Egyptian currency. After acquiring our visas, we then stood in a big line at passport control. The line didn’t really annoy me…what annoyed me was the fact that some of the Brits apparently couldn’t deal with the line (or, should I say, queue), as I saw numerous tourists slip Egyptian pounds into the hands of airport officials so they could be ushered through passport control in a matter of seconds. I wanted to shout, “Come on people, don’t help grease the wheels of corruption!” but surely they wouldn’t have listened to an American on that topic.
After collecting our luggage, we found the bus that would take us to the hotel and headed off to Luxor. Check-in at the hotel went smoothly, and I was actually quite impressed with our room. It was BIG, had air-conditioning, a refrigerator, and an amazing view, as show below:
We headed off in search of food, or more specifically, in search of some authentic Egyptian falafel. So…walking down the street…quite an experience, I must say…if you’re a woman, that is. I think the Rough Guide to Egypt does a good job of describing an Egyptian man’s view of Western women, so for your convenience I’ll reprint it here:
“The biggest problem women travellers face in Egypt is the perceptions that Egyptian men have. Unless accompanied by husbands, women tourists are seen as loose, willing to have sex at the most casual opportunity, and – in Egyptian social terms – virtually on a par with prostitutes. While Hollywood films are partly to blame for this view, the root cause is the vast disparity between social norms in Islamic and Western countries.”
Right…thanks, Hollywood. So, imagine if you will, Jessica and I walking through the streets of Luxor having to deal with all these creepy Egyptian men when all we wanted was some damn falafel. I was actually quite aware of this environment, as some female friends of mine had told me about the harassment they had to put up with in Cairo. I guess it just didn’t sink in, though, as I didn’t think that people would actually behave like that in public, much less Muslim men, who I thought would be rather conservative. Well, as it turns out, an Egyptian man wouldn’t dare harass an Egyptian woman, but when it comes to foreign women, it’s open season. The guidebook advises “It’s also a good idea to avoid making eye contact with Egyptian men, and it is best to err on the side of standoffishness, as even a friendly smile may be taken as a come on.” Well, you know, it’s a bit hard to avoid eye contact with anyone while you are walking down the street unless you are staring down at the ground!
Anyways, after facing the gauntlet of leering men, we find a restaurant that serves falafel, hummus, and pita bread…thank God! The waiter, who is highly amused that all we wanted to eat was falafel, suggests that we try the assortment of Egyptian pastries. Wow…they were…just…wow…amazing…and cheap. I think our entire meal cost us 4 quid…I don’t remember the last time I had dinner, dessert, and a drink for 2 quid ($4). We vow that we will definitely visit this restaurant again, and then head back to the hotel to catch some sleep.
Day 2: Sightseeing on the West Bank
The next morning, I was awoken at 5am by loud chanting in Arabic. It was coming from loudspeakers of Luxor’s minarets, calling the faithful to prayer. Before drifting back to sleep, I made a mental note that any religion requiring a 5am prayer is too much work, and cross it off the list of “possible religions to convert to.”
After awakening at a much more suitable hour, Jessica and I headed down to Jolley’s Travel Agency near the Old Winter Palace. While doing some research on the internet, I came across several recommendations that Jolley was the man to see if you wanted to visit Cairo. Well, the name of the guy who runs Jolley’s is actually Ahmed, but we throughout the week we kept referring to him as Jolley, because, well, he was a rather jovial fellow. His tour prices are amazingly low, especially when compared to those run by our hotel, so we book a number of tours with him, the first one being that of Luxor’s West Bank. We arrange to meet up with our guide (who referred to himself as “the Fox”…hmm…ok) at 12:30, and then head off to Luxor Temple down the street:
There were originally two obelisks at Luxor Temple, but in the 1830s the Egyptians gave one of them to the French government. The French put it on the Place de la Concorde, which I snapped a photo of back in January:
The Avenue of Sphinxes was my favorite part of the Temple:
Me as Ramses II:
After touring the Temple, we met up with our guide, “Fox” (real name was Walid, but much more fun to call someone Fox, no?) and our driver Ahmad. They were cool guys, and willing to discuss anything from politics (which Fox assured me he hated) to religion (learned a lot about Islam). On first stop on the West Bank was the Valley of the Kings, where many of the Egyptian pharaohs are buried. We visited three tombs, which was an amazing experience due mostly to the fact that we were wandering around a structure that had been built by humans thousands of years ago. Unfortunately (though quite understandably) cameras are not allowed in the tombs, so I was unable to photograph the amazingly preserved colored reliefs.
We then headed to the Temple of Hatshepsut, dedicated to the woman who ruled Egypt as a king.
A statue of Hatshepsut, shown with a false beard (only worn by pharaohs):
Afterward, we went to the Valley of the Queens to visit some more tombs. No pictures of these, either. The tombs here were also quite amazing, but it was in the Valley of the Queens that we ran into our first demand for baksheesh, which, I will conclude by the end of our week in Egypt, underwrites the Egyptian economy.
But Lindsay, what is this baksheesh you speak of? Well, quite simply, it is a form of tipping for services that you could have rendered yourself. In the case of tombs, Egyptian guards will motion to a hieroglyphic on the wall and then expect to be tipped an Egyptian pound for doing so! Incredible! As if I would not have noticed it myself! For comparison, it would be like if I was hanging around the Hope Diamond exhibit at the Smithsonian, pointed at it, and then demanded that you give me a dollar. Ridiculous, no?
After the Valley of the Queens, we saw the Colossi of Memnon, a pair of statues that once stood at the entrance to the mortuary temple of Amenophis III (was destroyed a very long time ago):
Thus ends our tour of the West Bank, and we head back to Luxor for dinner. Sometime during our tour, Jessica and I got it into our heads that falafel (yes, I admit it, I’m obsessed with fried balls of ground spiced chickpeas) would make an excellent pizza topping. To fulfill this desire for falafel pizza, we would need to find a restaurant that served both pizza and falafel. We walked down to the area where we ate last night, as it was filled with assorted restaurants. Now, it was on this walk that an Egyptian man asked for my hand in marriage (or, more appropriately, shouted “Hey! Do you want an Egyptian husband?!”) I was a bit shocked, as I didn’t imagine marriage proposals to be thrown about so carelessly, and had somehow imagined that it would be a bit more romantic, and coming from this man:
or perhaps this fellow:
But sadly, my first marriage proposal was from some random Egyptian guy sitting on the sidewalk. Just my luck.
Anyways…back to the falafel/pizza combination, which is of utmost importance. We settled on a place called Jem’s, which had great falafel, and OK pizza, but overall, falafel on pizza = quite tasty. Oh, and one of the waiters fell in love with Jessica…wanted to take her home to his mother…quite hilarious, really.
Not satisfied with Jem’s dessert menu, we went back to the previous night’s restaurant to once again partake in the Egyptian pastries. On the waiter’s recommendation, we also ordered an apple flavored shisha (When in Rome…right?) and had a generally relaxing evening. Jessica, however, had to endure some sexual harassment from the restaurant’s owner but promptly told him off. Something which we noticed and thought quite odd was the fact that the restaurant men always chased after her and the Egyptian souvenir salesmen fell in love with me…this was a constant theme of our trip.
That’s enough for now, as I have to do some research for my dissertation. The next volume, which will probably be up in a few days, will detail our adventures riding camels, navigating the Nile, seeing those big pyramids, and snorkeling in the Red Sea.
Yeah, I know…haven’t posted the Egypt photos yet…currently working on it, though.
Anyways, I wasn’t feeling too well when I got back to London, so after a few days I decided to take advantage of Britain’s National Health Service, which the British government has so kindly extended to foreign students such as myself. I must say it was quite odd to go to the doctor’s office and not have to fill out long forms in triplicate or fish around for your insurance card. Here, you just walk in, check-in at the touchscreen, and then wait for the receptionist to give you a room number. The doctor prescribed me antibiotics, which I was fine with except for the fact that I can’t have a drink for 10 days…yep, no Strongbow for 10 days. Damn you, Egypt!
This was especially saddening due to the fact that my Russian and Post-Soviet Studies group had dinner at Potemkin (a Russian restaurant) a few nights ago, and while the entire group, professors included, pounded down cherry vodka shots, I was forced to drink Coke. Again, I say, damn you Egypt!