Travel Notes: Egypt [2013]

Friday & Saturday: 8 & 9 Feb 2013

After flying to Jhb on Thursday evening and spending the day with Bryan’s mom on Friday, we caught our flight to Cairo late on Friday eve from OR Tambo. We booked in asking for seats next to each other, but were very confused when it said “H” and “K”. After panicking slightly and having the flight attendant laughing at us, we realized the seats are according to the Arabic alphabet. Facepalm of note.

We arrived early on Saturday morning, and our first guide Waleed met us upon arrival. He took us through customs extremely quickly and sat us down for coffee while he explained the tipping culture and arranged for our guide to take us to the Pyramids.

Driving through Cairo, we saw that most buildings were incomplete. The streets look like landfills and in general it’s an extremely dirty city and soon we realized that most of Egypt will look like this and are inhabited by what seems to be very poor people.

Sun 10 Feb (3)
Cairo City

We drove to Giza, picked up our tour guide, Faadie, along the way. Btw Egypt has no traffic rules whatsoever, no lights, and the lanes are only a “guideline” for driving apparently. Arriving at the Pyramids, we took in the breath-taking sight of one of the 7 wonders of the world, three large pyramids for the grandfather, father and son, three smaller pyramids for their queens.

This was also when we got our first dose of street vendor “harassment”. As we climbed to the entrance of the first and largest pyramid, a child vendor basically threw a t-shirt at Bryan expecting him to buy it!

Sat 9 Feb (25)
Huge Pyramid Blocks

Once inside the Pyramid, we climbed the passage into the burial chamber. It was steep all the way and squat-walking was the only way of getting through. Claustrophobia almost made me panic but the realization that I was actually inside a Pyramid made me calm down. The Burial chamber was surprising cool and apparently food can be left in there unspoiled for weeks.

Next up we viewed the Sphinx and its temple. Beautiful, breath-taking and a good preview of what to come in the next few days of our trip. Our guide took us to the Papyrus factory and the Bazaar where we saw how papyrus was made and the “cartouche” was explained to us. The symbol is an oval of protection around the names inside. Note that the people of Egypt are very good at making you feel bad for not buying anything but nevertheless we did not budge.

After another crazy ride through Cairo traffic we checked into our hotel in Giza were we had our first Egyptian meal including Shish Taok which is Egyptian spiced chicken? At 6pm we heard the Muslim Call to Prayer and what seemed like thousands of people chanting along. Chilling moment.

Sat 9 Feb (10)

Sunday: 10 Feb 2013

We visited the Egyptian Museum today which were both overwhelming and great at the same time. It’s located near Tahir Square and we could see the protesters peacefully camping out. During the revolution 2 years ago, apparently all the tourist institutions had formed a human shield around the museum to protect it.

The museum is filled with many artefacts dating back to 5000 BC and is split into the old, middle and new kingdom; then an entire section has been dedicated to Tutankhamen, the boy King.

Every part of his burial enclosures are plated in gold, and then another 3 gold sarcophagi are on display. His chariots, weapons, furniture, preserved handheld fan with ostrich feathers and clothes too. A separate room entirely dedicated to his jewellery with his famous headdress and corset being a major highlight due to the extremely intricate detail on it.

We also entered the mummy room, which had the famous Ramses the 2nd whose hair was a bright shade of blonde. About 10 mummies were on display, one in particular had battle wounds present, another with extremely well preserved nails.

Many stories were told for each God/Goddess and King/Queen of the 30 dynasties in Ancient Egypt. The Story of Sekhmet, Goddess of War stood out for me. Her father summoned her when his minions did not obey or listened to him. She came down to earth, raging for their blood, killing almost everyone. The King eventually realized he would have no one to rule and begged for her to stop but she was out of control. To stop her, they fooled her into thinking she’s killed everyone by filling the Nile with a plant that tainted it red, and giving her beer.

Next up and probably a big mistake was the Egyptian Market aka Khan El Khalili. The peddling was crazy and the people even more so. We eventually settled outside the most clean looking coffee shop, had they’re overpriced coffee, listened to another Call to Prayer and watched tourists getting harassed.

An hour later we got picked up by our driver and taken to the Giza train station in extremely bad traffic where we even witnessed a donkey kart on the highway, with its donkey resting its head on the boot of the car before him!

Monday: 11 Feb 2013

A 14 hour train trip with single bed bunks. Sleep was little, sightseeing even less, the food less than satisfactory and the toilets just gross. Needless to say we were relieved when we reached Aswan. The town was a little cleaner, and had a coastal feel to it. A high military presence made it feel safe to walk the streets for a while.

We got to our Nile cruise ship, the MS Royal Ruby which were a luxury of comfort, proper food and yay, clean toilets. Quite a few Chinese groups were on board with us and I’m sad to say this but they have absolutely no manners! Rushing and pushing past you to dish up copious amounts of food in a robotic tunnelled way. Many culture shocks on this trip indeed.

We met our new guide, Mohammed (which were skinny like a mummy, even the other tour guides joked about it) after lunch. He took us to Aswan Dam and The High Dam which looked out on Lake Nasser, one of the biggest manmade lakes in the world and home to Nile Crocodiles which can reach up to 14m!

The Philae temple was up next, situated on an island in the Nile. We took a small boat to the island which also managed to tow a boat full of tourists that broke down. The temple had to be reconstructed as it was submerged under the Nile for hundreds of years. Each of the temple’s pillars symbolized the nations’ art who contributed to the building of the temple. The hieroglyphics reflected magically in the sun and it felt as if we’re in another world. Medieval graffiti was also present on the walls.

Tue 12 Feb Kom Ombo (3)
Philae Temple

The temple had 2 separate rooms (which are the size of a small house) outside. The first one was a party room dedicated to the Goddess of Music and Love, Hathor. It had hieroglyphics which indicated the 3 things to have a good party:
– a drunk man playing a drum
– a midget telling jokes
– and a monkey playing guitar

the second room was built for a Greek king. He was sick and the room had no roof, only cotton sheets soaked in water to air condition the room. The room later became a hideaway for Muslim lovers.

We also noticed that the tour guides, all Arabic Egyptians can speak multiple languages, easily 4 or more which is admirable to say the least.

Tue 12 Feb Kom Ombo (5)
Philae Temple

Tuesday: 12 Feb 2013

The early bird catches the worm and today was our day of sailing and visiting 2 major temples.

First up was Kom Ombo Temple which is dedicated to Horus the great, the solar God of War and The Crocodile God Sobek. Again, a larger than life building, overwhelmed with hieroglyphics and history with well-preserved colour in its art. Interesting about this temple was that the Greeks and romans which had helped build this temple left out vital symbols in order for the hieroglyphics to make sense because they didn’t like the way some of the symbols looked.

Tue 12 Feb Kom Ombo (10)
Kom Ombo

In this temple the first mathematical concepts was described and methods to count. The first ever calendar was also described with an activity for each day. The Ancient Egyptians had 3 seasons namely Flood, Building and Harvest.

Down another passage on the outside was a “hospital”. The hieroglyphics described various medical instruments still used today. There were scenes describing women giving birth while sitting and the world’s first ever facelift 2000BC.

We also visited the crocodile museum which had mummified crocs of various sizes and had the tales of Crocodile God on display.

Next was Edfu Temple (took a horse carriage from the Nile) dedicated to God Horus’ War with the Hippo God Set (Satan). This was my personal favourite of the whole trip. This temple was breath-taking in size and inscriptions, and one of the oldest in temples in Egypt. It has an estimated 42 unexplored rooms.

Egyptologists believe that temple is cursed as 120 people of gone down to explore but only one has returned; an Austrian archaeologist in 1980’s. He went down, returned without saying a word about what he saw, destroyed his tools and became a recluse. Our own guide Mohammed who has a master’s degree in one of the oldest symbols had an accident before his first planned visit to go down the temple and again broke his knee while he was going down for his 2nd attempt. There’s also a belief that no pregnant women should enter the temple.


The temple sported amazing scenes of war and the God Horus’ victory, the shrine of the king on a boat and a carriage to transport the king to the afterlife. A whole room dedicated to recipes for perfumes and essences.  It was unusually quiet and we enjoyed the peace taking in the stories around us.

Wednesday: 13 Feb 2013

We arrived in Luxor overnight. Today we visited the Valley of the Kings, where we had to leave the camera in the car unfortunately.

The mountain was on the West Bank of the Nile and had many tombs. We saw the tombs of Merneptah, Ramses the 3rd, 4th and the most amazing tombs of Ramses 5th and 6th. The last tomb is greatly preserved and left us speechless. The tomb had an elongated piece of art on the roof with the sky goddess stretching for about 100m with the horoscope gods in the middle, sundial and water meters to tell the time.

All the tombs’ art described the story of the journey to the afterlife. The 12 hours of the night represents 12 obstacles to overcome on your path to the final judgment. Stories of multiple headed creatures, the Hippo God, armies of enemies (all defeated with their arms tied at the elbows and beheaded), ancient board games, riddles and pits of plagues all trying to stop you from passing to the afterlife.

We journeyed to the opposite side of the mountain to the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. The temple was still being reconstructed and rebuild as a big part of it was destroyed. Luckily they had found the architect’s plan of the temple buried close by while excavating. The story of this Queen was unique as she was a strong ruler, and was represented in many hieroglyphics as a King.

Wed 13 Feb (15)
Temple of Queen Hatshepsut.

Unfortunately her stepson hated her so much, after her death he mutilated all the images of her on the temple walls and even went as far as throwing her mummy in a tomb shared with commoners.

Afterward, we visit an alabaster factory where our host explains the difference between the cheap street vendors’ fake statues and souvenirs and theirs. We ended up buying some scarabs’ representing the God of Marriage, Happiness and Good Luck.

On our way back, we stop at the Colossus of Memnon. Two huge statues which were found in the Valley of the Kings, transported to Cairo to be built and then taken back to Luxor (against the Nile stream) to be put on display.

We parted ways with our extremely knowledgeable guide and had the afternoon off. Planning to go to Luxor temple, we accounted a charming Arabic man which claimed to be a chef on our boat. He took us to the real Luxor into the markets where we stop at a spice shop and buy Saffron. Once done, we thought we were free, but hell no. He tookus to all his brothers’, sisters’ and cousins’ shops and got pissed off when we didn’t buy anything and did not tip him in Euros! Lesson learned.

Thursday: 14 Feb 2013

We had the whole day to ourselves without a guide and decided to explore Luxor on foot. Damn the hassling! They’re government did attempt to have some off the walkway along the Nile cordoned off which made the walk a lot more pleasant.

We walked 3km to Karnak Temple, which is on 64 hectares of land! Sheep statues on the sides of the walkway to the temple with a larger than life entrance way. The temple was massive with huge pillars, various entrances and great statues. It even had its own lake. Two massive obelisks of about 50m each occupied the courtyard. Loads of tourists and school groups visited the Temple on a daily basis. A group of Arabic girls were freaking out about my hair colour and tattoos, asking to take pictures with me.

Thu 14 Feb Karnak (35)
Karnak Temple

After exploring the temple for about 2 hours, we headed back to our boat and discovered a McDonald’s nearby – our first westernized meal since the beginning of our trip.

Luxor temple was next on our list. The temple is right in the centre of the town and next to the Nile. Sadly a mosque was built on parts of the temple, and we almost went in there which would have been a huge mistake. It also sported massive statues at the entrance and 2 big courtyards with once again hieroglyphics telling the stories. There was a painting from medieval times painted over one room’s wall, with some colour still showing bright. Outside was a small temple with what seemed a roman statue. The temple like Karnak has not been restored yet fully and big parts of it is still being excavated.

Thu 14 Feb Luxor (11)
Luxor Temple

Next up we headed back up to the “safe zone” to visit Luxor Museum. Much more organized than Cairo. The museum had statues from the surrounding areas which were very well preserved, some of them very different in facial features being exaggerated and narrower. The weapons of the Kings were amazing with details on the blades, axe blades and arrows. A black and gold bull’s head, a great coin collection probably worth millions and pots dating back to 2500BC. They also had 2 mummies, one being unidentified as it was found in the 1980’s in Nigeria, speculated that it’s Ramses 1. A sarcophagus was on display in full preserved colour as well as its inside.

We watched the sunset and only realized then it’s Valentine’s Day. Heading off to Downtown Luxor for dinner to kill time before our train leaves at 10:30 the eve.

We ended up walking another 2km until we were lured down a side street by a British flag. And discovered a gem, the Taste of India where I satisfied my curry craving I’ve had for days and probably ate the best curry I’ve ever had. While walking back to the boat, power went out and we walked the streets of Luxor in complete darkness all safe and sound. Our driver picked us up eventually and we departed again by sleeper train to Cairo.

Friday & Saturday: 14 Feb 2013

After a train ride from hell due to the driver breaking as hard as hell all the time, the lack of sleep and Friday protests persuaded us to stay and chill at the hotel, reading watching movies and resting after our week. Saturday was spent the same way and I must admit when we landed in Cape Town on Sunday, I was happy to be home.


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