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Emma & Maneesh on the Big OE

Walk Like an Egyptian

EGYPT | Sunday, 1 January 2012 | Views [656]

Em and I at Abu Simbel - Wow, what an amazing place to see!

Em and I at Abu Simbel - Wow, what an amazing place to see!

Friday 16th of December

We landed in Cairo at midnight and it was 18°c – very pleasant and a promising start for some warm weather! After arrival at the airport we were met by a representative from our tour company who helped us complete the neccessary forms and proceed through customs (a very haph-hazard affiar) and out to a waiting driver to transport us to our hotel.

We got a little lost in the carpark with the man who was taking us to our car, but eventually he found the car. It was a 20 minute journey into the city to our hotel, and it was crazy, but thankfully there was not too much traffic around. No set belts in the car, and he was going between 80 - 100kph in a 60kph area! There was a lot of light-flashing and horn-honking. Thankfully me made it safely to the hotel. After sorting out a disagreement about the price of our room we eventually made it up to our room in a very old fashioned, confidence-sapping lift. It was on the outside of the building, and there were doors on the inside of the lift that you were supposed to close. The porter did not, so we got so see everything in between the 1st floor and 16th flashing past the gaping door of the lift. We got to bed at about 2am, using our own sleeping bags on top of us as blankets because there were no blankets in our room.

Saturday 17th

We woke up at 8:30am and went upstairs to have breakfast, which was a couple of bread rolls, soft cheese, jam, and an omelette. A little small, but it nevertheless satisfied our needs. After having showers, we were relaxing in our room when James came to see us. James, Julie (our two New Zealand friends from London), James's brother David, Kirk and Eli (Kirk is a New Zealand friend of James and Julie's who also lives in London, and Eli is his girlfriend who is originally from Bulgaria) had all flown into Cairo, arriving at 5am. Soon after James arrived, Julz came in, so we started having a catch up with them. We gave them a small Christmas present each, T-Shirts (that we’d had screen-printed with a picture of Sven the van in front of the pyramids), and then David arrived, so we gave him his T-shirt as well. It was getting close to midday and we were getting hungry and thirsty. We had decided to follow the advice of not drinking tap water in Egypt, so we went out on our first mission to get bottled water. Only one minute into our journey we were successful, but also got talked into a papyrus painting shop, and received the full sales pitch there. We were there for about 20 minutes before leaving. We made it to a small food place called 'Taza' selling kebabs, which was a couple of hundred metres down the road from our hotel. We were sorted for lunch! I had a chicken shish and the others had a doner kebab. They were delicious. They ranged from 10 - 15E£ (Egyptian Pounds) (which is $2-3NZ). We noticed cats were everywhere, and most of them seemed to be Tom cats, so the street really did not smell too pleasant. The cars driving past were mostly much older, and often diesel, with plumes of black diesel coming out of the exhaust. This prompted us to check the petrol price, and it was 1.20-1.50E£ (around 20 or 30 NZ cents) for a litre!

Em got talking to an older man on the street about the protests amongst other things. Em and I went with him to his shop, while James, Julie, and David went to get money and go exploring further afield. The man we were with was very nice, he told us about the protests and the area of Cairo we were in. His shop was also a Papyrus shop. After looking and receiving another (much nicer and gentler) sales pitch, we did by a small one, with 'The Tree of Life' on it. We liked them, but did not want a 'very Egyptian' one for our own home at the same time, so this was a nice compromise we felt.

We came back to the hotel and met the others. James was waiting to hear from his cousin Aaron, who is with the New Zealand Air Aorce and is posted in Egypt on a 6 month tour. Em and I wanted a fresh fruit juice, and Julz and Eli also came along. We tried all sorts between us, each of us having two! One glass was just 5 Egyptian pounds. We tried Mango, Strawberry, Orange, Pomegranate, and a few mixed versions as well, which were all delicious, but a little sweet. When we got back James, David, Kirk, and Aaron were on the roof at the bar having a beer. It was a nice view over a small part of Cairo, looking down the river Nile, although the view was somewhat obscured by a thick smog. At about 4pm we all went out to go for a walk, finding a small park on the banks of the Nile. We were opposite Tahrir square and the noise we could hear (we were probably 600 - 800m away) was amazing. We had heard that 10 people had been killed there that day so were well aware of the dangers of getting too close. After staying there for a while we went back to the hotel. We were a little peckish so went back to our Taza kebab shop, and they seemed to taste even better this time around. Taza sure seemed popular, and was doing a roaring trade with locals.

We had a tour meeting at our hotel at 6pm, where we met our tour guide, Wael (pronounced Wah-ell), and the rest of our tour group. There were 18 in total, but 7 of those were only doing a 9 day tour. There were Americans, South Africans, Australians, and Canadians, so a pretty good mix.

After the (fairly uninspiring) meeting was over, we went for a walk to try and find some dinner. We found a great street where we got into pita pockets stuffed with falafel or fried eggplant, for only 1E£ each (20 NZ cents)! Sooo tasty. Further down the road were some local markets full of fruit and vege stalls, chicken shops with live chickens for sale, and live rabbits for sale which were up high on boxes eating the heads out of a couple of cauliflowers. It was a great experience and something we really enjoyed.

Back at the hotel, we relaxed for a while before going to bed at about 10:30pm. Our first day in Egypt was quiet enough but nevertheless quite enjoyable.

Sunday 18th

Today was our first day on the tour as such, given yesterday was a free day, so we were interested and hopeful that our tour group would be on time, which they were. It was us that were probably a little late!

We woke and met for breakfast at 8am. James told us that Julz had been sick all night long unfortunately. Poor thing to get struck down by Nile Belly (also know as the Cairo two step or mummy-tummy). She was feeling better by 9am, so decided to come with us as today was Pyramid Day! Our first stop was Sakkara, to see the step pyramid. The drive was 40 minutes, and this in itself was an eye opener. There were water canals everywhere, used to irrigate crops, but the banks of the canals were lined with heaps of rubbish, some piles on fire. Where there was a small dam, the surface of the water would be covered in plastic bottles and rubbish for at least 50m upstream. We saw one lady empty the house toilet bucket into the water, and we also saw a couple of dead horses on the banks, half in the water. Then just a little further along, we saw a small boat fishing with a net. It was sad to see, but also made us realise how important it is that New Zealand continues to try to become more and more environmentally friendly. Egypt certainly has a long, long way to go in terms of poverty and waste management.

The step pyramid was built around 2600BC by Imhotep. It stands at 62m high, with a base of 110m x 125m. It is the only pyramid that was built with a rectangular base, and one oldest still in existence. Under the pyramid is 6km of tunnels, which connect to a shaft which is 28m deep. In the store rooms there were more than 40,000 vases found!

It was a nice way to start our tour. We were suprised at how quiet the site was but were sure it was going to get busier.

Our next stop was an essential oil shop. This is one of the standard tourist stops in Egypt, along with a Papyrus shop, and usually an alabaster shop. At the oil shop we were given lunch, which was Koshari. It is an Egyptian pasta dish, covered with cooked onion, tomatoes, chili, brown lentils and cumin, and it was very tasty. The elderly man who owned the shop was quite entertaining. Our group were very quiet, but he managed to crack us and ended up making a few sales. He was impressive, you would ask him if they had a fragrance, and he would go to a bottle and get the oil, and surely enough that was the fragrance you wanted. Em and I bought a bottle each, as did James and Julie.

From here is was pyramid time. When we arrived we were blown away by them. We had heard some people were underwhelmed by their size, but we thought they were fantastic. We went to the great pyramid first (also known as the Pyramid of Khufu), which was originally 145m high, but is now 138m high as its top point fell off when the rest of the casing stones were removed. It's base is 230m square, and it is made of approximately 2.3 million blocks. The largest stones weigh between 25 - 80 tonnes, and are from Aswan, which is 800km south! This pyramid was the tallest man-made structure on the planet for nearly 4000 years, surpased by a church spire in the 1300s. It was built over around 20 years and was completed around 2500BC. After enjoying looking at it from close up we went to a photo spot where we could see the 3 large pyramids. Unfortunately we were a little rushed here, but enjoyed seeing them. We stopped at the base of the other two pyramids as well on our way to the Sphinx. We really liked the Pyramid of Khafre, the second largest pyramid in the area, which still has it's tip in place.It is 136m high and had a square base of 215m.

We then made the short journey to see the Sphinx. Again some people we had talked to before the trip were disappointed with it, we were not, we were impressed by the size and enjoyed seeing it up close. This was busier than the pyramids, with more salespeople as well, but we still enjoyed the visit. We were there until closing at around 4:15pm, and we went back to our hotel. We were not long back when we decided to go back to Taza for dinner, I had two chicken kebabs and Em had one. We also had a pita pocket each with felafels which was very tasty. It was a repeat of yesterday really, but still very much enjoyed.

We went back to the hotel and had showers and relaxed. We were not staying at the hotel, instead we left at about 9:30pm to go to the train station. We caught the 10pm train south to Aswan, a 13 hour overnight train journey. We were a little sceptical about what to expect from ‘first class’ train carriages, but were pleasantly suprised. It was roomy and the chairs were quite comfortable. They seemed similar to those in business class on a plane (not that we have ever sat in one of those before). It was quite a long journey, we both managed to get to sleep at about midnight. Em seemed to sleep on quite well, I had a broken sleep. I woke up at 4:00am and it was freezing cold. So we got one of our sleeping bags out as more clothes did not help. With a sleeping bag over us we were much more comfortable. Sunrise was at about 5:30am, and we were really in the desert for it so it was quite spectacular. We slept until about 8am, and still had 3 hours to go when we awoke. It had gone pretty well, but during the night the tea/coffee guys would walk through the carriage asking if we wanted tea or coffee and the train horn seemed to beep incessantly, there seemed to be three different pitched horns for some reason. It was more annoying when we were awake.

Being on the train we did get to see some very remote looking villages, that looked like they had not changed for 100 years, with mudbrick houses, and more donkeys and carts than cars. It was cool to see. The toilet on the train emptyied straight onto the tracks and was absolultely disgusting, no other way to sum it up really.

Monday 19th

We arrived into Aswan at 11:15am and it was noticeably warmer. We were lead through the train station by Wael and out to the front. Here our tour group split up into two groups; our group of 9 which were the people who were going sailing on the Nile on the Felucca, while the remaining 9 went to their cruise boat to go down the Nile on that. Wael went with them, while we had another tour leader, Remon, with us. We were taken to our hotel in Aswan. The nine of us were James, Julie, David, Kirk, Eli, Emma and I as well as two Canadian girls, Laura and Ainsley.

After checking into the hotel we all had showers, very much welcomed after the 13 hour train journey. The hotel sat above the river on a fairly high cliff, giving some great views of the water, the green belt, and out to the golden sand of the desert. We went and sat by the pool and ordered some lunch. It really was quite tranquil, sitting by the pool, which overlooked a much cleaner looking Nile river. It was a sunny day, and about 25°c. It was the hottest we had felt in more than half a year, fantastic. We had tasty charcoal grilled chicken pita pockets for lunch, before we got picked up by the rest of our tour group for an afternoon of touristing. Julz was not feeling so well, so decided to stay at the hotel and rest, it was not an essential afternoon.

Our first stop was at the 'Unfinished Obelisk'. We did not actually got in, it is part of an obelisk which had started to be quarried, but broke, so they did not use it. Not all that exciting.

From here we went to the High Dam, this was much more impressive. On the drive to it, we crossed the 'Low Dam', which was built in the early 1900s. At either end were check points, armed soldiers, and there were manned tanks every 200-300m (only about 5 in total), but it is something we are not used to seeing. There were similar security measures at the 'High Dam'. This was built during the 1960s, creating Lake Nasser. Before this the Nile would flood yearly in the rainy season, which was good as it brought nutrients to the flood plains, but if the floods were very big crops were wiped out and widespread devastation occurred. The dam is almost 4km wide, 1km thick at the base, and 40m at the top. It contains 43 million cubic metres of material. It is a hydro-electric dam, and at maximum capacity 11000 cubic metres of water can pass through it per second. When it was first built this generated 40% of Egypts electricty demands, now it is only 8%! Lake Nasser is 550km long, stretching well into Sudan, and holds 111 cubic kilometres of water, ensuring a water supply for Egypt. It had not rained in Aswan for a good few years, so a large water supply for Aswan and Egypt is very important. The numbers of the dam are just so impressive, it was great to see.

From here we went to the Temple of Philae. We had to catch a small boat out to it, as it sits on an island between to 'Low' and 'High' Dams. It had to be relocated to it's current location otherwise it would now be under water due to the construction of the Low Dam. The Temple of Philae was a temple where Isis was worshipped. The initial parts of the temple were built in the 4th centuary BC, and it was added to for 300 years. It had a very Roman feel to it with pillars throughout various parts of it. The size of the temple impressive, and all parts of the walls had stories carved with the use of pictures and heiroglyphics.
We left the temple at about 5pm, had our 5 minute boat journey back to the mainland, and were then whisked away to a Papyrus ‘factory’ by our tour guide. This was the third time we had heard to spiel in 4 days, so after the standard talk we went and sat on the bus, however other people in our tour group were interested in buying (very high prices here though!), so we were there for at least another half an hour.

We got dropped off in town, and we went to dinner with Remon, one of our guides. We were recommended a restaraunt and it was very tasty. It was our first 'sit down' meal, and we were in for a treat. We ordered our mains, which came with lentil soup, plates of salad, small sides like baba gounosh (eggplant dip), and bread, amongst other things.

After enjoying our dinner we went to a shop to get some supplies to take on board the felucca with us, the essentials like toilet paper and water.

From here we all caught taxis home, all of us split between three. It was crazy, the taxis were 1970s cars, and our one was in amazing condition, with a luxurious sheepskin on the dashboard. After calling to an ATM on the way to the hotel, we got to the hotel and found out the fare was 10E£ (About $2NZ). Crazy cheap.

When we got back to the hotel we went and chatted with James and Julie (who was feeling a bit better after a rest) for a short time before going to bed. We had a very early start ahead so were keen to get to bed.

Tuesday 20th

We were up at 3:30am and had a quick shower. We were down in the hotel foyer at 4am, and picked up our breakfast boxes from the hotel reception. Our bus arrived with some others on our tour group and the six of us hopped on; James, David, Kirk, Eli, Em and I. We went into the centre of Aswan where we met up with a number of other tour buses. Wael told us that it is standard practise that tour groups travel in conveys in this part of the country, we had heard this before we came to Egypt, but this was our first experience. The convoy was not really a convoy, it was a competition to see who would get there first, as no one stuck together, all the buses just all sped off.

We had a 3 hour journey south. We saw the sunrise at about 5:45am in the middle of the desert which was very impressive – a huge pinky-orange orb. We arrived to Abu Simbel, on the shores of Lake Nasser, at about 7:30am. Here we were only about 25km from the Sudan border – nearly at the bottom of Egypt.

Abu Simbel is two temples carved into the side of a cliff under the reign of Ramesses II in the 13th century BC, as a lasting monument to himself and his wife, Queen Nefetari. However the location we visited is not it's original, it was relocated in 1968 due to the construction of the High Dam in Aswan, making Lake Nasser, which would have put it underwater.

We were there until almost 10am, first being told about the history of it, and then looking through both temples. Seeing them was amazing, they were so detailed and just so massive. Then we thought about how they had been relocated, it just made them even more impressive.

While we were there we also saw a large bird migration, thousands of birds flying along the lake, heading south toward Africa. We were not sure what type of bird they were, but it was very cool to see. Unfortunately we were not lucky enough to see a Nile Crocodile. Our guide Wael had been a tour guide on the lake and only seen one in the years that he was working on it, so we were not so disappointed. Apparently all the crocodiles are now contained south of the High Dam.

At 10am we started the 285km journey back to Aswan. We got back to the hotel just after 1pm. We had showers, and packed our bags again and were picked up at 2:15pm and taken to our Felucca (the boat we were going sailing on along the Nile). Julz was feeling much more rested and happy to hop aboard the Felucca, everyone was in good health, which was great as there was no toilet for the next two days, just the river bank.

There were nine of us aboard the Felucca, the 7 of us, plus the two Canadian girls, Laura and Ainsley, as well as our tour guide, Remon. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, with not much wind about. After loading our bags on board, we met our crew, Captain Habi, Felix (the chef, as well as deck hand), and Mohammed, another assistant.

Our bags went below deck, while the 10 of us relaxed on deck. The deck, which was about 3.5m by 8m was covered in soft mattress and very comfortable. We had a canvas roof above us which could be removed if required. We had a lovely couple of hours sailing north, making a massive 10km! There was no motor, and the sails were handmade, needing to be replaced about every 1-2 years. Soon after we were on board we were treated to a lovely lunch which was pita, felafal, feta, cucumber, and bananas. It was about 5:30pm and getting pretty dark when we pulled into shore for the night. The crew put up the canvas sides, so we were enclosed in a nice looking 'tent'. It was very cosy.

Dinner was pasta, a courgette dish, and kofta (meat) balls. It was delicious. We were so impressed by what Felix could whip up on a small 2 burner gas stove aboard the felucca. For drinks there was a tab, and there was coke, water and beer available. The tab was just a sheet of paper, rigged up inside a plastic bottle hanging from the roof, and you added to it yourself. The whole experience was just so relaxing, and comfortable, so we were very much looking forward to a full day the next day on board.
After dinner the crew got out their drums and had a sing along and played the drums, it was good fun. We just sat around and chatted. Captain Habi also had a few games to play, involving matches and strings. We all turned in to bed at about 10am as we were pretty tired from the early start in the morning. It was a fantastic morning, seeing one of most popular toursit attractions in Egypt before an afternoon of relaxing aboard the felucca on the Nile.

Wednesday 21st

The nights sleep was pretty good. I woke at 4am to the sound of birds chirping, then managed to get back to sleep. The sunrise woke us up at about 5:30am, but again we got back to sleep and it was 8:30am before we woke up properly. A good sleep, which is just what we needed.

The sides were taken down and we packed away our sleeping bags. After freshening up we had breakfast which was omelette, pita, jam, and cream cheese.

After using the shore line sandy facilities we were back on the river. It was about 11am before we pushed off. There was more of a breeze today, so we made good progress, watching the palm trees and fields of crops float by. We played some cards and just relaxed. Cards was a little tricky with the breeze but we managed to not lose any overboard.

We sailed until about 1pm when we pulled up and had a nice swim. The river was coldish, but not too bad. It was crocodile free below the dam, so we were not worried about swimming. It was just cool to have gone swimming in the Nile.

While we were there, a few young boys appeared out of nowhere with bags of necklaces, they laid them out on sheets, and were into sales mode. It was impressive, and they seemed like much friendlier boys, who were far less pushy than anything we had experienced before, so the girls all bought something off them. Em bought a necklace made of alternate black and white circular discs. When she asked what it was made from, she learned it was camel bone, bleached by the sun or dyed with henna to make it dark coloured.

We were back sailing after the swim and had lunch served up to us. This time it was pita bread, a salad with tomato and capsicum, babaganoush, a potato dish and oranges. The food was one of the highlights of the felucca, it was so tasty and so impressive it was prepared in such confined quarters. The wind was a littler lower, so most of us had a turn at sailing the boat, a job which was much harder work than it looked!

It was another lovely afternoon aboard the felucca, just sitting and enjoying the sunshine. At about 5pm we pulled up to shore, along with a couple of other feluccas carrying people from other tour companies. We had a game of soccer, tourists vs crew. Tourists lost – the ‘away ground’ and sand meant we were pretty challenged. After soccer we had dinner, another culinary delight. After dinner the three boats came together up on the beach around a camp fire and the Nubian crew men began performing some drumming and songs. It was a nice clear evening, a little cool, but nothing to complain about. The guys on the drums were really good, it was another memorable experience that just added to our overall enjoyment of the felucca trip. It was about 10pm when we left the fire and went to bed. The busy day relaxing on the boat had really taken it out of us.

Thursday 22nd

We were awake at 7am, the sun was up and shining bright again. The crew had been up since 4am, and drifted us (no sails) down the river a few miles to our departure point. After packing up our gear and having a small breakfast we left the felucca at 8:30am for a busy day of touristing ahead.

We were picked up in a minivan and drove about a half hour through some small country villages. The traffic on the road was more donkey-and-cart than motor vehicles. We noticed there were local women in very long queues in each village with gas bottles. Further along we saw about 8 trucks loaded with gas bottles, hundreds of them – must have been delivery day.

When we arrived to our first stop, Kom Ombo temple we met our tour guide for the morning. Unfortunately he was not as good as Wael (he had very poor English, and he really hurried us through) and we did not have the most enjoyable experience. Kom Ombo temple was impressive, and we were shown the hyroglyphics for a fully functional calender which was very interesting. On our way out of the temple we were completly surrounded by salesman trying to sell us anything and everything. There must have been about 5 of them for each one of us. One of the guys sitting on the side of the walkway had 3 king cobras there. We were told their fangs were removed, they would want to be, because they were just sitting there and did not look overly happy. Em had a photo near them but declined having one around her neck.

From Kom Ombo we had almost another hour on board the mini van to our next stop, Edfu Temple. This was another impressively large temple, covered in hyroglyphics and carvings. It was built during the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, and dedicated to Falcon god Horus. We were almost the only tour group at the temple during our visit. It really was quite sad to go to many of Egypts most famous, brilliant sites, and be almost the only ones there. It was great for us, but we did feel sorry for the local people, so many of their businesses seem to be tourist dependent.

From Edfu we went to what looked like a local eatery. We had a tasty lunch there, but to me it seemed like the sort of place that could be giving us suspect food, food that would cause an upset tummy. It was tasty though and we tried to avoid the high-risk foods.

From lunch in Edfu we had a two hour trip to Luxor. Along the way there were many police check stops, and we were even escorted for about 10km. We had one small drama, the driver did not see a speed bump until the last minute, and we hit it at a good bit of spead with the brakes on. It was not too bad, but we were all lifted right out of our seats. Thankfully that was the most drama we had on the road in our entire time in Egypt.

We arrived in Luxor and went to the hotel we were staying at, arriving at about 4pm. The rest of our tour group who had done the Nile cruise on a cruise boat were already there. We had until 5:30pm to rest and freshen up. So we went to our rooms, and had showers and I went to the bank to get some more money as well.

At 5:30pm we all went to Luxor Temple, our third and final temple of the day. It was dark by now, and the temple was all lit up, it looked brilliant. As it was the third temple of the day, it was also really cool to see it in different light, it just had a different feeling to it.

Luxor temple was built over many centuries, by many different people, including Ramesses II, the same guy that built Abu Simbel. We had almost two hours looking around the temple and trying to take some goood night time photos. At the entrance used to stand two 23m Obelisks, now only one remains. The other we saw in Paris on the Place de la Conchorde. It was given to the French by the Egyptians in 1829.

When we’d had our fill of looking around the very impressive temple, the ‘felucca crew’ were keen to look around Luxor. We had some delicious felafels in pita pockets and then a really tasty chicken kebab as well. It was nice to have a walk around a less touristy area of a town. From there we went and wandered through some markets. The girls got a henna tattoes on their wrists and hands. We managed to successfully negotiate a taxi back to the hotel for a reasonable price. We were in bed by 9:30pm to try and get a good nights’ sleep after spending two nights aboard the felucca.

Friday 23rd

My day started in the middle of the night, unfortunately with an upset tummy..... maybe my suspicions during our lunch were correct. We never will know. We got up and had breakfast and were ready to leave the hotel by 8am. I had been to the shop to get some more water and a bottle of lemonade. Laura had picked up some bread rolls for me from the hotel breakfast, so I was stoked. It was a day not to be missed. Our first stop was the Valley of the Kings. Unfortunately all cameras are banned, so we did not get any photos. It was amazing. It seemed like a quarry really, limestone cliffs. But everywhere you looked were entrances to tombs. We went into the tombs of Ramesses III, Ramesses IX, and one other as well. It was amazing to go inside and see the tombs in real life. They were some amazingly constructed and decorated. The colours and decoration inside were brilliant – incredible to see detail and colour like that which was 3-5000 years old. We were amazed as how perfectly they had been carved out from the cliff, the whole thing is even more amazing the more you think about it, and when these tombs were made.

It was becoming a hot, sunny day. It was so nice to feel warm to the core, almost becoming uncomfortably warm.

From the Valley of the Kings we went to Hatshepsut Temple, just a short distance away. Hatshepsut was the Pharoh from around 1479BC - 1458BC, and was one of the most successful (and female!) Pharoahs. Under Hatshepsut (pronounced ‘a cheap suit’), Egypt intially had a number of very successful warfare campaigns and then became a very peaceful and prosperous country. The wealth enabled her to commision hundreds of construction projects through Egpyt, one of which was this temple. The temple is set at the base of limestone cliffs, and although the colour of the temple blends into the cliff the architecture means that the temple stands out grandly, with many pillars along the 3 levels of the front. It was very impressive, something we had seen in books and it was amazing to see in person. We were there until almost 1pm when we went to lunch via Memnon Temple, which is largely in ruins.

Lunch was going to be a buffet but there were a number of people that were keen for McDonalds, particularly two American girls on our tour. So our tour guide said they would drop the people off at McDonalds and the rest of us would go somewhere else. Unfortunately almost all of the bus emptied into McDonalds, so that was where lunch ended up. I went down the road to get plain bread rolls and came back and ate them with the others who got into their McDonalds. As far as it compares to everywhere else around the world, it was good according the everyone.

With everyones batteries recharged, we went to Karnak Temple, the largest Temple still standing in Egypt, and the largest ancient religious site in the world. It covers more than 250 acres! We entered along the avenue of Sphynxs which would have connected to the Luxor temple avenue of Sphynxs which was more than 2km away, lined with thousands of sphynxs. After going into the temple a small way we came to Hypostyle Hall in the precinct of Amun-Re, which is more than 50 000sq ft, with 134 massive pillars, including 12 central pillars which are 21m high. It was amazing.

Construction first began in the 16th century BC and it was added to until around the 3rd century BC.

This was yet another wonderous site that we had visited. There are no other words to describe seeing them than amazing. The history and particularly how they were built and the details of the hyroglyphics and scenes carved into them. It is just so cool to see them.

We left Karnak Temple at about 4pm and went back to our hotel. We had checked out of our rooms and left our baggage in a hold for the day. We were due to catch the train at 11:00pm from Luxor back to Cairo, just a 10 hour journey.

When we got back to the hotel a few went for a walk while the rest of us just relaxed in reception. We went for dinner at about 6pm, and went to a place where we could get some plain enough food which was nice of everyone to be so accomodating for me. When we arrived we sat at our table and asked if they had a DVD player to watch a DVD. They said they would arrange one. About 15 minutes later a man arrived with a DVD player, brand new, and hooked it up to the big TV. It was brilliant, so we sat and watched a DVD that we had made of our time with James and Julie in our campervan in 2009 while we ate dinner. After dinner we just relaxed in the hotel foyer until 10:15pm, when we were taken to the train station.

We train left at 11:15pm, we were on first class again and we prepared for the cold carriage. Our group was a little more broken up around the carriage but that did not matter. We both went to sleep straight away, waking up at 1am and 2am for sleeping bags for extra warmth, and sleeping through until 7:30am. Our busy day had helped to tire us out, and we really had quite a good sleep considering we were on a train!

Saturday 24th

We arrived into Giza at 9am, alighted the train, and went back to our hotel ‘El Tonsy’. We all checked in and had until 11am to get ourselves ready for another say of sight-seeing. We all had showers and then we wandered down the street where Em got a fruit juice and I got some more bread rolls. James and Julie went back to our favourite eatery, Taza, and got more kebabs.
Our first stop touristing was the Cairo Museum, on Tahrir Square, which is where all of the protests had been. They had calmed right down in recent days and there was no trouble so it was safe for us to be going into the area. There was a large building immediately next door to the museum which had been completely burnt out. We were told this was a ministry building of the Mubarak dictatorship. When the revolution occured in February 2011 the building was set on fire. A lot of people we spoke to hoped the building stayed there, untouched, almost as a monument to the revolution and to remind them of their life under a dictatorship.

Inside the museum our tour guide, Wael, took us around to the highlights of the museum. It was filled with thousands of artifacts found all over Egypt. The highlight without a doubt was the King Tutankhamun exhibit which had all of the artifacts found inside his tomb, which was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. We found out that King Tut is so famous now because his tomb was the only one to be found that had not been robbed (he was not a very powerful or important Pharoah, but the better tombs were all raided). The exhibit included his burial mask, which is made of 9kg of solid gold was intircately decorated with brightly coloured jewels. Also there was his gold coffin, the innner most coffin, which was found encased in 4 different layers of his sarcophagus. The gold coffin weighs 110kg, and is also made of solid gold. It was decorated with beautiful, colourful designs. The jewels on display as well as other items such as his gilded bed were amazing to see in the flesh given he died in 1323BC, aged 18.
King Tut became King at age 10, and was a child of incest. It is believed, but not confirmed that he had some genetic defects. This combined with a severally broken leg and a severe case of malaria is what is thought to have bought about King Tut's demise.

After we were finished at the museum we went to old Cairo, driving through some very impoverished parts of the city. Here was the Hanging Church, built on a site which is said to have been visited by Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. After exploring the church for a short time it was lunch time.

We did make it to a buffet this time, and not McDonalds. It was tasty enough and everyone filled themselves up as it was now quite a late lunch. It was a mixture of Egyptian and more western dishes, which we enjoyed.

We had one more stop for the day, Khan el-Khalili, the tourist Bazaar. It took a while to get to it because of a traffic jam. When we got there we were greeted by another man, who was our 'security guard’. We were wondering why he was with us, we thought it might be a pick-pocket hot spot. We found out later that in 2009 a bomb had been dropped by an Al Qaeda member, from a balcony above the markets killing one person and wounding twenty one. Our entrance into the Bazaar was crazy, we must have walked down the main alley and were swamped with sales people, the most aggresive and unrelenting we had encountered. It was not very enjoyable. “Hello! Where are you from? Ah, Kiwi, Kia Ora! Please look my shop, looking is free! You have lovely eyes. Ah, is this your wife? You a lucky man!” After the initial 20m it started to ease up and we were able to start to actually look at a few of the stalls. There was all sorts there, but nothing we had not seen elsewhere. Common Egpytian souvenirs include paintings on Papyrus (or what they tell us is Papyrus), stone copies of some scenes from various temples, metal lamp shades, Sheesha pipes, perfumed oils and little glass bottles, and alabaster items such as pyramids and bowls.

Amazingly we did not see any Egyptian cotton shops, which we were sure we would find. Apparently all the good Egyptian cotton is exported.

We all met back at the meeting point at 5:45pm for the bus to pick us up. Wael called our driver to come and pick us up. He was just up the road and it took 45 minutes for him to get to us because of traffic! It was a slow first couple of kilometres of the journey back to our hotel because of traffic but we took a different road and made good progress from there. On our drive we saw some massive markets, frequented by local people, which looked amazing.

We were all still so full from lunch that we did not have dinner. We had showers and got refreshed, then borrowed laptops to skype New Zealand and Australia as it was Christmas Day morning there. It was great to have a small chat with our families and join them for a short time on Christmas day. We had an early enough start for our Christmas Day, so went to bed by 10pm.

Sunday 25th, Christmas Day

It was a Christmas Day unlike any other we had experienced and hopefully one we will never have to relive again.

We were up at 6am and met everyone for breakfast at 6:30am. There were lots of "Merry Christmas'" exchanged. Breakfast was the standard El Tonsy special; a small omelette, half a sweet bread roll, jam, soft cheese, and a croissant. A long list, but a small meal.

We left the hotel at 7:15am. Our tour group was down to 11 now, the remaining 7 were on a shorter tour which finished in Cairo.

We had an 8 hour mini-bus trip to get to Dahab, on the Red Sea, east of Cairo. The first part of the trip was mostly through desert. We got to the Suez canal and went under this in a tunnel guarded by tanks, then carried on our journey across the Sinai area, which became more and more rocky and mountainous the closer we got to Dahab. We had a few stops along the way, but most of the places did not seem very clean and we were recommended not to buy food there. So we stuck with chips, chocolate, and bottled water for the day. What a great Christmas lunch! We felt revolting by the end of the trip.

When we did get to the Golf of Aqaba, part of the Red Sea, we saw how clean, aqua-blue, and amazing the water looked and were very excited at the prospect of getting into it over the next few days. Across the water was Saudi Arabia, just 14km away.

We finally made it to our hotel at 4pm, and it was windy, onshore wind, meaning the sea was rather rough. We checked in and went to our rooms, and had showers. Em and I watched 'Love Actually' on TV, the only half decent thing on, but it was in German language. We persisted, as it added a Christmassy feel to the day. We all met up later on and went out for dinner as a group.
We were taken to a restaraunt by our guide and were not very impressed. The meal was okay, some people had better meals than others. Mine was nice, a fillet of Red Snapper. Overall though it was disappointing, over-priced, and the low cushions we sat on smelled of cat-pee. However, it was a fairly good end to a Christmas Day that did not really have anything that we associate with Christmas. On our way back to the hotel we decided we would redesignate tomorrow as our Christmas Day, and give it the treatment it deserves.

We were all wrecked, so we went back to our rooms and we watched a small bit of TV before going to bed at 9:30pm.

Monday 26th

We started off our Second Christmas with a sleep in which was very welcomed, 11 hours of sleep was just what we needed after such a hectic first week in Egypt. For breakfast the hotel had a big range of things including salad, cheese, meat, boiled eggs, bread, rolls, jams, sweet buns, and omelettes. It was the best breakfast we had had so far, so we were very happy.

At 9:30am we met with a guy from the dive school at the hotel to talk about snorkling and scuba diving and to get wetsuits and snorkling gear.

We had a quiet enough morning, and then at midday met our the front of our hotel. Wael had arranged a 'taxi' for us to take us to a snorkling spot, the Blue Hole. The 'Taxi' was a ute, we were all up in the back of the ute, sitting on colourful mats, experiencing some local transport. There were seven of us plus Wael. It was a 15 minute trip, along the way we passed a few camel expeditions going along the beaches.

When we arrived we went to one of the cafes and dropped all of our gear off. At any snorkling areas there are cafes which have areas for you to sit, and you leave your gear there while you go and have a snorkle or a swim, then come back, have a snack or drink, and away you go again.

After getting our wetsuits on we headed up the beach a small amount to 'Bells', the entry point. James, Julie, David, Eli, and I were all up there and ready to go. Em stayed back near the cafe to teach snorkelling to another girl from our tour who had not been snorkling before.

At Bells we had to wait for about 15 scuba divers to get out of our way before we could enter the water. There is a small slit in the rock to enter, so we all went in and swam out to the open water. It was amazing, you go from a small rock pool through a slit in the rock to a huge drop off. We were to later find out that the sea is 850m deep here! We had about a 1 hour snorkle along the shelf which was coral reef, with visibility of about 30 - 40m and it was brilliant. There were thousands of fish everywhere you looked, and the closer you looked at the coral the more fish you noticed. It was brilliant, and easy snorkelling. The current pushed you along towards the Blue Hole and then you snorkled around the Blue Hole and hopped out. Inside the Blue Hole was not nearly as much life, probably due to its popularity, but the outside shelf was well worth snorkling. We had a small rest and then Emma, James and I went for another snorkle, repeating our earlier route and seeing more new fish, and noticing more colours in the coral. After we had finished this one Em went for another snorkle with James and Julie. They finished up at about 4pm and our taxi arrived to take us back to our hotel. We had heard about the Blue Hole a long time ago, this was one of our 'must dos' in Egypt, and it definately did not disappoint. While inside the hole itself was a little disappointing, the shelf on the outside of it, and the entry point were amazing. The sea was a little cool, 22°c, so we were glad we had full length wet suits on to help keep us a little warmer. There were hundreds of jelly fish in the water as well, so it also helped protect us from any possible stings.

When we got back to the hotel we all went off to have warm showers and get changed. We met up in the dining hall to play pool and sip champagne and beer which was good fun. Kirk had bought us Pascal New Zealand ‘party mix’ bags of lollies so we all tucked into those as well.

We played for a couple of hours before our tummies got the better of us and we went into town for dinner.

James had been to a barber in the morning to have his moustach shaved so his mask wouldn’t leak. The barber recommended a seafood restaurant called 'Sea Bride'. We followed his advice, and it was absolutely fantastic. There were seven of us, 3 got lobster (which was only $30NZ for a whole lobster), 2 of us had a whole Red Snapper, Julz had prawns, and Em had calamari. As well as these main meals, our table became filled with plates of different side dishes (fish soup, salads, hummus, dips, vegetables, bread etc). We actually did not have any room on our table when everything arrived. It was delicious, my snapper was fantastic. We were there until about 10pm when we went back to our hotel and to bed. So that was our 'Christmas Day', a much nicer day than yesterday.

Tuesday 27th

Day two in Dahab started with breakfast at 9am. Then we met at the pool to talk about going Scuba diving. James and Julie were definitely going as were David and Eli. Em and I decided we would also go. Em had already been once, in Rarotonga, but I had not been before. It was a guided scuba dive, which basically means you go diving with an instructor and they do everything for you - you do not do anything apart from breathe and look. It meant that we could go no deeper than 10m, but it was also a good way to find out what you thought.
So we left the hotel at 10am, all crammed into the back of a small Jeep, and headed down to the 'Three Pools'. One of our instructors was an Aussie girl, the other was her Egyptian boyfriend.

James and David went first, and they were down for about a half hour. Everything went smoothly, and they both really enjoyed it. Next was Em and Julz. Julz was unsure of what she would think of it, but again everything went smoothly and they both really enjoyed it as well.

I went with Eli last. It took about 20-30 minutes in between each group because of taking off and putting on the gear. All loaded up it was quite a weight to carry. Initially after practising the breathing and things, when we first went under I started to feel a little claustrophobic, something I have never felt before. I came up to the surface, managed to calm myself down and after that initial panic everything went smoothly. It was a fun experience, but the fish we saw were a little disappointing, there were not as many as we had seen the day before at the Blue Hole.

We finished the scuba diving at about 12:30pm. The wind was up and we were a little chilly. Em, James, and Shiny (another girl on our tour) went for a snorkle and saw some very cool stuff.

They got back at close to 3pm and we were taken back to the hotel at 3pm. Because of the nearby mountains and the position that we were in, we had actually lost the sun. We got it back when we were at the hotel.

After getting changed we had a couple of beers while playing some more Pool. For dinner we went to Wael's recommended restaraunt, King Chicken, and it was tasty. Most of us had a half chicken, which came with rice, salad, a potato dish which also had black eye beans in it, and it all cost about $6NZ! Em had a mixed kofta and chicken kebab which was also delicious. On our way back to the hotel we stopped off for a recommended dessert pizza, which we ordered with banana and chocolate on it. It was good to try, but it did not live up the expectation I had in my head.

Wednesday 28th

Another day of snorkling. We had an early enough breakfast and were away on our 'ute' taxi at 9:30am back to the spot we went to yesterday, 'Three Pools' to actually snorkle in them, and not around them. It was only Em, James, Julz, Eli, and I for the morning. Eli was having a day off snorkelling, so the four of us went for an hour long snorkle. Again it was good, but slightly disappointing as well. Em and James said the snorkelling had been better yesterday afternoon when the tide was lower. To say it was disappointing is a little harsh, it just was not quite as good as the coral ‘cliff’ outside the Blue Hole. One of our hopes was to sea a turtle during our time in Dahab, but we did not manage to achieve that.

After that snorkle we had a little relax in the sun, then James, Julie and Em went in again to try their luck. I did not as my feet were getting sore from the flippers.

Our taxi collected us earlier today, at 1:30pm. We went back to the hotel and then went downtown for a small lunch. It is quite funny, when you are walking along the road almost every person that passes you toots their horn, indicating that if you want a 'taxi' then they can be one for you. You just shake your head and keep walking. None of the cars looked like taxis, but then neither did our ute.

For lunch we had delicious pita pockets filled with felafels and mousakka which were delicous.

At 3:15pm we were all picked up to go to our Bedouin dinner. The Bedouin people have traditionally been nomadic people that lived throughout the Arabic countries. A large number these days are settled in towns.

We were taken to a place on the outskirts of town where there were camels waiting for us. We had a half hour camel ride up towards the mountains. It was good fun, but a little uncomfortable for us guys. It’s tricky enough staying on the saddle while they stand up – their legs are so long that you feel as though you will fall over their heads.

When we were up at the camp and hopping off the camels, I dismounted, and then my camel bit Em's camel. She was still sitting on it, but it stood up again, nearly tossing her off! The man pulled hers back down though and we could get on with our evening. We were first taken for a small walk through the mountain rock, which for some strange reason reminded me of the TV footage I had seen of soldiers in the mountains in Afghanistan.

After the small walk we went to the camp site and drank some hot Bedoiun Tea from small glasses. There was a camp fire going, with coloured mats and cushions spread around it, which was nice. The sun set at about 5:30pm, so the fire kept us warm and gave us some light. We ate our dinner at about 6pm and it was delicious. One of the best meals we had in Egypt. There was rice, tasty grilled chicken pieces, salad, and a potato & tomato dish, as well as fresh bread that we had watched them make. Most of us could not help but go for seconds. After dinner we just sat back and relaxed by the fire with our full bellies, watching the stars until the clouds rolled in. Then the Bedouins started playing some music and dancing, before we got picked up at about 8:30pm. This time we were transported in Jeeps, not on camels.

When we got back to the hotel we played pool and had a few drinks. Another fantastic day in Dahab.

Thursday 29th

Today was our last day in Dahab, but it was just as nice as the previous three. We left the hotel at 10am and walked down to the 'Lighthouse' snorkling area. When we arrived we found ourselves a table at one of the cafes and sat back and relaxed. James and Julie were doing another guided dive, this time going deeper, so they got stuck into getting ready for that. The rest of us (Em, David, Kirk, Eli and I) just sat back and relaxed for a while. After James and Julz went down with their dive instructors, the others all went for a snorkle.

James and Julz were down for about a half hour when they came back up. James had been down to 18m and Julz to 12m, so they were happy with that. They saw much more than they had on the last dive as well including a very big Napoleon Fish (also known as a Maori Wrasse) so that was cool. We ordered drinks, and soon after that the snorklers arrived back, having enjoyed a good snorkle as well, seeing lots of fish. No turtles though!

After everyone got out, dried and warm, we relaxed for a while before wandering back to the hotel at lunchtime. After having showers and getting dressed we wandered into town to get a snack for lunch, Em and I went for the tasty filled pita pockets again, which we took back to the hotel and ate in the sun. We relaxed until about 6pm when we all met up again and went back to our favourite restaraunt, Sea Bride for another delicious meal. Again it did not disappoint, and again our table was covered in food. This time around there were 9 of us, so we joined two tables together, and still we were struggling to find room on the table for all of the food.

After having dinner we went to a few shops, including the dairy, or their equivalent of one, and picked up some snacks for the night and day ahead, for tonight we were driving to, and climbing, Mt Sinai.

We were back at the hotel at about 8pm. We had until 11:30pm, so we just watched TV and had a small sleep as well. At 11:30pm our bus picked us up and we drove the 2 hours to Mt Sinai. Everyone slept for the trip.

Friday 30th

We arrived to the carpark where we would begin our walk at about 1:30am. After being introduced to our guide we started our hike up Mt Sinai. The air was cool, but not as cold as expected, so that was a good start. The walk up was pretty slow going, we had a couple of girls who were quite a bit slower than the rest of the group, so every half hour or so we would stop and wait for them to catch up to the group. They declined many offers to lead our walk, which was quite frustrating. Many people were taking camels to the bottom of the stone steps.

Along the way there were small stalls that were selling drinks, sweets and other small food items, but most of us had come prepared, so just took it as a small rest. We eventually made it up to the base of the summit, where there were a good number of shops. It was about 5am at this stage, and sunrise was not expected until 6:30am. So we sat down, got wrapped up with all of the clothes we could and got under our sleeping bags and tried to get some rest. I do not think anyone slept, but we kept just warm enough (although Em was starting to shiver). At about 6am the last two girls in our group made it up to where we were. We decided it was about time to start climbing to the top to watch the sunrise, up 700 rough steps. It was not too bad, but it took us a little while. On top it was very windy, there must have been a few hundred people up there.

It was a cloudy morning, and soon after 6:30am, when the sun was supposed to rise (and probably did, but behind the cover of thick cloud) our frustrated group started the descent. We had a deadline to be back in the bus and on the road at 9am. We had to get James back to Cairo airport (a 7 hour trip) for his flight.

We made good progress, but again we were slowed by the two girls. However after the steps everyone managed to keep better pass, and we made good progress going down. We were lucky in that the side of the mountain we were walking on was sheltered from the wind, and we started to feel the warmth of the sun breaking through, so we managed to enjoy the descent and the views around us. It was rather harsh, steep, brown rocky landscape, but it was unlike anywhere we had been before.

We made it back to the bus at abot 8:45am, and the two slower girls made it back by just before 9am. We were no sooner on the bus than we were driving. The driver had been given orders and had guaranteed he would get James to the airport in plenty of time.

We had breakfast boxes, so most of us tucked into those and then we tried to get some sleep to help pass the time. It remained a cloudy day.

We woke up next at about midday and had made excellent progress. Over the next hour or so most people started to wake up and everyone was in much better spirits again with a bit of sleep and knowing James would make it to the airport on time without any difficulties. Our driver was keeping his word, and had much excellent progress so that was great. We ended up dropping James off at the aiport at about 2:30pm, with plenty of time to spare. We said our goodbyes and he left, flying back to London to work the next day.

We continued on back to our hotel, El Tonsy. We were happy this would be the last time we would be coming back to this hotel – it was rubbish. When we got back we had showers and freshened up, we were very dusty from the Mt Sinai climb. It was about 3:30pm and we did not have to meet up until 6pm, so we put on the TV and managed to find 3 English channels, so we tried watching those, but they were less than entertaining. Julz came in and watched TV and chatted with us as well.

At 6pm we all met and had our last supper together as a tour group, we went down the road to GAD, an Egyptian fast food place which was pretty good. There was a huge range of food, so we were happy. Everyone found something that they wanted and we enjoyed the meal.

After dinner we had thought about going back to the markets as Julz, Em, and I wanted go and get a couple of things. Instead we were too tired and headed back to the hotel. We had a quick last meeting, and said our goodbyes to everyone including Wael, our tour guide, then headed to bed.

Saturday 31st

We met Julz, David, Kirk, and Eli at breakfast. Unfortunately I was starting to come down with some Nile belly again, but not too bad. Julz, Em and I did go to the market. We caught a taxi, with a meter and got a lift there. When we stopped outside the meter read '10'. He tried to charge us '10' each. It was a small amount, but we refused. He looked disgusted. In the end we gave him 20 and left, and he was quite cranky. When we did get back to the hotel, we asked at reception, and we should have only paid 10!

Anyway we had a good look around the market, with all intentions of purchasing a few particular things, but after a good couple of hours looking around we ended up leaving empty handed. We were not worried, satisfied that we did not want anything in the end.

We managed to negotiate a taxi back to the hotel, they started at 50, but we ended up getting 25. Over-priced but I was happy just to leave as I was starting to feel a little worse. We made it back at about 1pm. After sorting out our hotel room, and moving, Em and Julz went for lunch while I hung out in the room watching some TV and resting. They came back with water and lemonade for me. We all went up to the roof top and amazingly we could see the pyramids from our hotel roof. It was the least-smoggy day we had had in Cairo, and we could see them quite clearly. They were amazing, really standing out.

At 4pm the taxi came and Julz, David, Kirk, and Eli all left for the airport to fly back to London. Em and I were back to being on our own. We did not do anything exciting at all. We had a few small snacks in our room and watch TV, before going to bed at about 9:30pm.

Em woke up again just before midnight to the alarm she had set - we were told there would be fireworks off Cairo tower, which we had a great view of. I kept an eye open, but no such luck, no fireworks anywhere, so we got back to sleep.

Sunday 1st January, 2012.

Happy New Year! We were up just after 5am to have showers, and leave our hotel. The taxi picked us up at 6am and we got to the airport in about 20 minutes. After checking in we went through security. It was only about 7am by this stage and we had until 9am to waste. We just sat and watched the runway, ate our breakfast boxes that the hotel had given us and then lined up when it was time. Our flight left on time. We were happy to be leaving, because we felt like we had seen all that we wanted to see and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was just the right length of time and with a nice balance of relaxing and touristing. We were very disappointed by Cairo, and would have liked less time there, otherwise we loved everywhere else. The end of a great holiday with good friends.

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