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.