Egypt Week Two

WEEK TWO

Friday:

Week two began with the first of several early mornings. We were up and out by 5 in order to get to the airport for our 7 a.m. flight to Aswan. Even at that hour, cabbies somehow manage to sniff out fairs.

From the airport, we taxied to the port and after a little trouble found Movenpick’s Radamis I, a recently refurbished cruiser. The Nile is littered with dozens of almost identical boats, ferrying passengers either up or down the famous river.

Despite this being a four day cruise, we spent the entire first day in port. We had a suite at the prow of the ship, providing us with a panoramic view of the river. Kate loved everything about her first cruise experience.

The ship was an international smorgasbord with people from Taiwan, Syria, India, England, Germany, France, America, Egypt and elsewhere all together. Most were with tour groups complete with guides. We independents were clustered together and were assigned Hamouda, a freelance guide, and very knowledgeable fellow. After lunch we began touring Aswan, starting with an unfinished Obelisk which gave us some insight into how the Egyptians constructed monuments. We then drove over the Old Aswan Dam to the new Aswan Dam which was a modern day feat of modern engineering. The final stop of the day was the unfinished Temple of Philea which was very nifty to see.

We crashed after dinner, skipping the introductory dance.

Saturday:

We didn’t sail until Noon so I took the morning to go wander a few miles in the hopes the Egypt Air offices were open so I could try and book us on an earlier flight home. Once that was complete, I joined Deb and Kate on the top deck, enjoying the sun and my book.

We docked and immediately after lunch were on our way to see Kom Ombo, a temple dedicated to the gods Sopek and Horus. It was a short walk from the ship and another look at how another culture lived. It was also the first ancient Egyptian example of painting. All the hieroglyphics we were used to had been the color of stone but it turns out that the builders painted everything using egg whites and minerals to make paint and it was a thrill to see some of it, still surviving millennia later.

The evening activity was ice-breaking games all pretty much variations on Musical Chairs but we participated and had some fun.

Sunday:

We were up at 5:45 and after a hasty cup of coffee, were led to horse and carriages that took us to Edfu temple. This was another good visit despite losing time to lines and crowds. The key was to see everything and be sailing by 8:30.

Turns out we sailed at 8:50 which meant we lost hours to the traffic dam at the locks. With a mere two boats clearing the locks every thirty minutes, and dozens of ships making the same journey, things got stalled. As a result, we weren’t getting to Luxor this day. Instead, we were stuck in the squalled town of Esna. After lunch, with time on our hands, we took a horse and carriage ride through town. As the ride ended, things got ugly. Deb negotiated thirty minutes for 20 pounds but the driver insisted it was 30. He followed us to the docks, insisting we give him his due. A tourism police officer stood between us and the driver, motioned us toward the ship and that’s when the driver took the 20 and stormed off.

Fortunately, the rest of the day passed smoothly. We read and played cards and finally, toward 7, the boat sailed for the locks. Kate and I watched from the room while Deb was on the top deck. One of the crew saw us, and waved me to join them on the prow to watch. Amazingly, it remains a largely manual process of making sure the boat fit into the narrow space with literally inches to spare on both sides. After making the first lock, we headed for the second where we were to be lowered eight meters and released. By the time dinner was being served, we were still waiting our turn so of course, between the time I stepped out of the room and into the dining hall, we began to lower. Fortunately, we caught the last few meters from the dining room windows.

Monday:

We had a lot to cover in our last day so once more it was up and out by 7. We started at Karnak, the 63-acre home to temples. And then went to Luxor Temple, a mere three kilometers apart and originally connected by a long walkway where a god went to visit his wife. Both were different and incredible with more surviving color to amaze us. We then headed out to the Valley of Queens and checked out the tomb of Queen Titi where she and her 11 year old son were buried. Actually, the son’s bones are now on display under glass.

The Valley of the Kings, where nearly 100 Kings were laid to rest, was incredible. While we only saw three of the 63 tombs so far discovered, it really put things we saw at the museum into perspective. Again, the surviving details and color were superb.

Further out, we were taken to the Tomb of the controversial Queen Hatshepsut. This was unlike any other tomb, three stories tall and carved out of a mountain so it had an impact on all who approached.

The last stop was a look at two giant statues that had largely succumbed to the ages so it was brief.

Suddenly, it was 2 p.m. and the cruise and touring was over. The boat kindly held our things as we went into town for lunch. We found a surprisingly good café and then got to hang out on the top deck of the ship until it was time to leave. The flight back was uneventful and the earlier flight made everything easier.

Tuesday:

While Kate was at dance, we began to gather things to pack. Additionally, her DSL was supposed to be installed so we were on call. Of course, they never called and she is royally pissed.

Meantime, we were both under the weather; me with a worsening cold and Deb with something unidentified. As a result, there was some napping and rearranging of plans. We did enjoy the leisurely pace after the cruise, though.

Kate really wanted dinner and a movie so we went to City Stars, local city mall. It’s the American Dream come true: you can live at the mall. The complex comes complete with hotel and condos. Located on the edge of town, it’s in a newer, richer section that was very Western in style. Our dinner was at the Lebanese chain, Chase & Garabelli, with a very American mixed cuisine menu with huge portions and higher than usual prices. With everyone sort of out of it, we skipped the movie and just browsed before returning home.

Wednesday:

The final day and packing took up a chunk of the morning. Kate’s dance class was canceled so we had more time with her, which was a good thing. We headed to Costa Coffee, Cairo’s Starbucks equivalent and lingered over large, hot drinks. We then did some more stock up shopping for her and walked the streets, enjoying the mild, sunny weather. We lunched and headed back to Khan el Khalili for some final browsing and amusement.

We had arranged with Mustafa, our friendly cabbie, to collect us for the return to the airport. The flight to Madrid was without incident. We somehow managed to sleep, read, knit and while away the 9+ hour layover then survived the 8 hour flight home. By the time we walked in the door late Thursday afternoon, we more or less lost track of what day it was. But we knew we were home and that was just fine.

Next: Some final thoughts and observations about life in Egypt and our trip.

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