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.