BootsnAll Travel Network

Up the Nile

After writing the last blog entry, Tyson and I decided to take a look around the local area. As our hotel was near the Nile River, we decided to head in that direction. After crossing several lanes of ferocious traffic, we made it to the river’s edge (actually more of a small channel separated from the main river by an island). There were many people out strolling about in all manners of dress from full burkas and the full length cotton dress worn by the men to people in western clothing. We walked down to one bridge and walked back along the other side of the river until we could cross again on the bridge. We were officially in downtown. Like most developing cities though, it’s hard to actually pinpoint a downtown as big buildings sprout randomly in all directions instead of in one central location. There were several mosques brightly lit up for the night.  After ending the walk, we stopped in a sandwich shop and ate chicken schwarma wrapped in flat unleavened bread. We also got sucked back into the shop that I had been in earlier when I went to the ATM. The worker persuaded us to hire a car and driver from him to take us to some outlying pyramids the next day. It seemed like a good price so we agreed and then returned to the hotel. As I was walking up the stairs, one of the hotel staff confronted me speaking in Arabic to which I responded in English. He apologized and went away. I think he thought I was Egyptian and was asking if I belonged in the hotel. Unlike India where I could barely pass as Indian, here unless I open my mouth or have my camera, 3/4 ths of the people think I am Egyptian. The majority of the population has my skin tone which is now, I believe at maximum, tanless. Pale eyes are not uncommon. Earlier, I had been in the elevator with two burka clad ladies who kept repeating something in Arabic. I didn’t realize they were talking to me until one of them said five in English indicating they wanted me to push the button for the fifth floor.  At least this means that when I am not in my full tourist regalia I can walk down the streets fairly unaccosted.

 In the morning we went out to the shop where we were told to meet our driver. We were a few minutes late so the car and driver were already there. (I won’t be able to mention names so much in this entry as I have been cramming my head to try to remember the names of the people in my group and have a hard time retaining others.) We got in the car and wound our way through streets winding in and out of traffic. The majority of construction in the city is made of red brick as opposed to concrete like Asia. Many of the buildings are unfinished giving the city a very utilitarian appearance. (This is on purpose. As soon as the building is declared finished, massive taxes have to be paid to the government. Up to 130% of the building cost.) As we headed through the city on the ring road, the main pyramids made an appearance and loomed large in the sky behind the modern buildings. We headed out of the city on a road lined with a canal. On both sides of the canal fields stretched off in the distance shaded by innumerable date palm trees. Literal forests of them.  At the end of the fields the deserts began not gradually, but suddenly. It almost looks as if someone laid down a sod lawn which ended at bare dirt. This is a common scene in Egypt all waterways are bordered on both sides by relatively narrow strips of greenery and habitation and then the harsh, yellow, sandy desert begins with absolutely zero plant life.

We visited two pyramid areas which highlighted the history of pyramid construction. The first was Zoser’s pyramid. This is one of the oldest pyramids and rises up as a series of terraces instead of one continuous slope like the pyramids most people know. Entry is not allowed because excavations are ongoing inside. Around the pyramid are various tombs which people can enter. The first tomb we entered contained many scenes from ancient Egyptian life, but no color as the sand had worn this away years ago. (It’s unfortunate that I don’t have a guide book for Egypt so I can’t tell you all the dates. Suffice it to say, this whole site is about 5000 years old give or take 3-4 centuries.) Leaving this tomb, we then entered Titi’s Pyramid which is very small, but special, as it is the only pyramid still containing wall scenes. All other pyramids have lost theirs. We had to inch down a short shaft that measured about 1meter by 1 meter, so Tyson (who is about 2.5 inches taller than me) and I had to crab walk down. Inside the burial chamber, there was a huge sarcophagus under a ceiling decorated with stars. The stars symbolize Newt the sky goddess.

Leaving this site, we were then driven to Dashur which contained the next stage in pyramid construction. Even though we didn’t go all the way out to it, we could see the bent pyramid in the distance. The bent pyramid was the first semisuccessfull attempt to actually get a continuously sloped pyramid to stand. Unfortunately, they started with too steep of an angle and had to change the slope halfway along giving the pyramid a bent appearance. We stopped at Dashur’s Pyramid which was the first one built right. It was built by Pharaoh Cheop’s (great pyramid builder) father or grandfather. We could go in this pyramid. We had to climb up a series of steep steps about halfway up the pyramid and then crabwalk down a very long and tiny shaft. The inside of the pyramid was very hot and smelled of ammonia. The oxygen content was quite low. Inside the pyramid no decorations were present, but we could see the how the stones all joined to support the massive structure. After seeing the inside, we then walked around it before heading back to the car. After returning to our hotel, we met up with the tour group. Our group is a mix of all ages and consist of 13 people including us. It is a mix of Canadians and Americans. We were given a three hour trip briefing by our trip leader Meyer. Meyer is a 26 year old Egyptian. He is Coptic Christian which is rare in a country which is 95% Muslim. Coptic Christianity is a very old form of Christianity and comes from the Byzantine instead of Roman tradition.

In the morning, we all met for breakfast and then put our bags on the bus. We headed out to the main pyramids on the Giza plateau. The morning was very hazy so it was hard to see the pyramids until we got close. Our bus let us off on a high hill. We then rode camels down the hill to the pyramids. The pyramids sit in the desert outside of Cairo. There are three pyramids. The first was built by Cheops and the other two by his son and grandson. The Great Pyramid rises up 400 feet. Two of the pyramids were originally covered with a smooth limestone casing now mostly long gone. There is some left on the top of Cheop’s son’s (Khafre) pyramid. Now long stolen, the pyramids peak was made with a silver/gold alloy called Electrum. We only know how to make this alloy with electricity, so no one knows how the Egyptians made it. Evidence for this material comes from a obelisk in Paris taken from Egypt which is also topped by this material. They pyramids would have shined blindingly in the sun. The third pyramid is much smaller but was much more expensive as it was covered in granite taken from Aswan over 1000 kms away. Each block had to be floated down the Nile. I went inside the second pyramid which again was devoid of decoration. This time I had to crabwalk not only down but up passages as well. Again the air was low in oxygen.

Leaving the pyramids, we went to the Cairo museum. The museum contains statues and artifacts taken from all over Egypt. The most interesting were the treasures from King Tut’s tomb including the golden mask and coffin (more than 150 kgs of gold. Gold is currently $1000 per troy ounce (12.5 troy ounces/lb). There was also a large statue carved from dolomite. The problem here is dolomite is very hard. Only diamond is harder. No one can figure out how the Egyptians carved it without steel tools. They only had copper/bronze.

After the museum we went to the train station and caught the sleeper train to Aswan. The train was a special train that had only sleeper cabins with two beds per cabin. The cabin also had a sink and towels. There was a lounge/bar car where several of us spent time before going to bed. In the morning, we arrived in Aswan. Aswan was much smaller than Cairo, but similar in construction and setting. It was built out of mostly brick and straddled the Nile River. Again the land near the river was green and ended at barren mountains. The weather here was hotter than Cairo and the sunlight much more intense. We checked into our hotel and then had a few hours to ourselves. In the afternoon we headed out to do some felucca sailing. Feluccas are Nile sailing ships. We sailed around looking at some of the sights of the town. We passed the Cataract Hotel in which Agatha Christi stayed while writing Death on the Nile. (I think this is the right title.)  We stopped on Elephantine Island which was once the border of Epypt. Once on the island, we went into a Nubian village.  In the Nubian village, we were served a meal by a family there and spent the evening lounging on the roof of their house which was flat and covered in seating mats.

 We set out early the next day for Abu Simbel. We got a wake up call at 2:30 am. We had to leave the hotel to meet up with a convoy going there at 4:00 am. Since a series of terrorist attacks in southern Egypt in the 1990’s, one has to drive as part of a military convoy to get to certain areas. Abu Simbel is one of them and lies close to the Sudanese border. Our small bus joined an absolutely massive convoy of about 30 buses or so. In the front and back of the convoy were military/police vehicles with machine gun toting guards. Some buses also had special forces on them. (Tourism makes up a tremendous portion of the Egyptian economy and they don’t want anything scaring tourist away.) I don’t see the convoy as being overly effective though as during the 287 km trip we got quite spread out.  Once at the temple, the mass of people from the buses were disgorged onto the temple area. The temples sits on the edge of Lake Nasser which was formed in the 1960’s by a dam. The temples were painstakingly moved to higher ground. Abu Simbel was built by Ramses II. Out in front are four massive sitting statues depicting him in various stages of life. They are covered in 19th century French graffiti. Inside are some incredible scenes from his life. The temple was meant to proclaim his godhood by way of various scenes depicting him with the gods. Next door is the temple to his wife Nefreteri. (different person from Nefretiti.)

 Returning to Aswan, we once again boarded feluccas to sail down the river toward Luxor. The sail of the felucca I was on broke and we had to be towed by the mother boat which accompanied us. It had an engine and bathrooms. We also ate our meals on the boat. We tied up for the night at a sandbar with numerous other feluccas. After eating supper on the  mother boat, a group of us headed down the beach to where a Kiwi/Aussie group (massive group) had built a fire and were dancing and playing games while Numbian musicians played music. (The people in this part of Egpyt are known as Nubian and are much darker than northern Egypt. They don’t look fully black African though.) After leaving the fire, we joined a group of Germans on our mother boat and sang and danced with another group of Nubian musicians. After a while, I was really tired from the long day and went back to my felucca where we were sleeping on the deck.

We boarded a bus the next morning for the trip to Luxor. We had to join another convoy. On the way to Luxor, we stopped at Kom’ Ombo and Edfu Temples which are dedicated to Horus and Isis. They were built during the time of the Ptomelies who ruled Egypt after the death of Alexander the Great. These temples are mostly famous for the fact that they still have some color left on the wall scenes and columns. When new all Egyptian temples were full of color. Edfu Temple is especially well preserved and still has a complete roof and walls. It has been damaged though. Its roof was blackened by candles when Christians hiding from persecution used it as a church. Arab invaders defaced many of the scenes due to the fact that Islam prohibits human images.

We arrived in Luxor in the afternoon and checked into a very nice hotel. There is a swimming pool on the sixth floor. From the sixth floor one can watch boats sail up and down the Nile with the barren mountains as a backdrop.Luxor or Thebes was once the capital of Egypt. After the pyramid building phase, kings started to be buried in the Valley of the Kings which was our next destination. It sits at the base of a mountain that resembles a natural pyramid so it was deemed an acceptable spot. It contains 65 or so known tombs. Two of which were just discovered in the last few months. To get to the valley, we crossed the Nile in a boat. (The west side of the Nile was thought of as the death side with the east as the life side due to the path of the sun. Therefore, all tombs are built on the west side and everyone lived on the east side.) We then boarded donkeys for the remainder of the trip. My donkey was a bit stubborn as they can be and kept to his own pace despite whatever prodding I gave him. The road out to the valley weaved between barren hills and the sun was intense. It’s a small blessing that the humidity is so low or it would be very uncomfortable.  

The Valley of the Kings was the site of a tourist massacre in 1997. Six men disguised as policeman came in and shot and hacked over 100 people to death. Security all over Egypt is much tighter now, but I was still a little concerned. Once inside the valley, we toured three tombs. (You buy a ticket and you can choose three tombs which are open to go in.) The tombs are carved into the mountain sides and are accessed via shafts which lead to the burial chambers. The only complete tomb ever found was Tut’s in 1922. The rest were robbed long ago. Unlike the pyramids, these tombs are still full of decoration and color. They contain false rooms and other tricks such a floor doorways and false walls to try to thwart thieves. The most interesting was of Tutmoses III which was built up on the mountain instead of the valley floor. It was accessed by a high stairway through a path chipped into the mountain. The chisel marks are still visible. He also built ten other false tomb wells to try to confuse thieves. It was to no avail but many think that someone had plans to the tomb.

After the valley tour, we stopped at an alabaster and stone factory. There were many beautiful vases and canopic jars (jars used for storing organs during the mummification process) for sale. I had originally decided to buy a set of canopic jars made from basalt. They come in sets of four as they did in ancient times and are topped with the four sons of Horus, I think. In the end a nice, but very expensive, limestone engraving caught my eye. They did throw in an alabaster vase. The limestone carving is meant to look like it came from a tomb wall. The problem is people often get stopped with these things as they are very good fakes. I got a card from the store to hopefully head off any problems.

Our last stop for the day was the temple of Hatcheapsuit (definitely spelled wrong, but I spelled it how it sounds to me.) She was one of the few women to rule Egypt. She was the mother of Tutmoses III. She wanted to rule Egypt so she sent him away. To legitimize her rule, she dressed as a male pharaoh including the false beard that all pharaohs wore. On here death she couldn’t be buried in the Valley of the King’s or Queen’s as she was neither.  She did need a sanctified spot though. To solve this, she sent an expedition to Somalia to get some sacred trees and built a temple and gardens. The walls of the temple have the world’s first written joke involving a donkey that had to carry the ruler of Somalia’s very, very Rubenesque wife. The temple was built on three levels in a valley on the opposite side of the mountains from the Valley of the Kings.

This morning a group of us got up early to take a hot air balloon ride over Luxor. This was my first time in a balloon. Twenty people got into a basket divided into five sections. The ride was very smooth and topped out at 3000 feet. It was a bit scary though as there isn’t much but canvas, steel cable, and wicker between you and the ground. We could see all of Luxor and desert to the horizon. The trip was longer than anticipated as the wind kept blowing us toward the main power transmission lines so we had to wait for the right wind. The landing was the roughest part and we had to duck in the basket as it bounced and scrapped along the ground to a stop. The ground crew then deflated the balloon and loaded the basket and balloon onto the back of the truck. The van coming to pick us up got stuck in the sand. So we had to hop back into the basket on the back of the truck and were driven back into town.Tomorrow our tour takes a different turn, we leave the world of ancient Egypt behind and head out into the  western deserts to visit oasis towns. We will go all the way to Siwa which is very near Libya before returning to Alexandria.

 Side note:

1.      Still have computer problems so no bald pictures.

2.      I warned you the blog would get long again.

3.   As I said, many people think I am Egyptian. I am darker than my tour guide and more than once had people approach me as they thought I was the tour leader.

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One Response to “Up the Nile”

  1. DAD and MOM Says:


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