Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Egypt and the Nile

 Winter is an easy time to reflect on voyages taken, recent and distant. The cold settles us into quieter occupations than ambling. Well, some of us anyway. I am not a skier or snowshoer but do like to get out a bit. The snow keeps the landscape distracting from the chill. I took my daughter to Egypt.

 What an expedition it was! My daughter and I long dreamed of going so finally we just did. Waiting for the perfect time, the safest time, the holiday time is not an option anymore. One must seize the day.

We chose Egyptair as it was direct. Probably not something I would do again. It is a long flight with relatively poor service. I would have been happier doing an overnight or couple of days at a layover point on a better airline. Live and learn.

I chose to go with a tour agency- Audley, connected with Emeco in Egypt, a rare event but recommended for places which may have very different customs and attributes. I was glad I did. They brought the car and said go here, meet this guide, see the history. Did we ever!

Egypt is a complex country. We think of it as being it’s history, but it is also very present. There are 22 million people in Cairo, part of which is modern and recognizable, Skyscrapers, offices and architecture and part of which is houses of clay bricks, donkey carts and neighborhood stores. They coexist comfortably side by side with the craziest traffic I have ever seen, anywhere in the world. So glad I wasn’t driving. I don’t recommend renting a car in Egypt. Just. Don’t. Do it. From the city, in the distance you can see the pyramids of Giza, 2500BC so  5000 years old. It’s all here, the new the old, the always, the ancient. Mosques for Islam and churches for Coptic Christians. Between neighborhoods are plots of farming. Tumbled houses, folks on foot and plenty of dogs and cats.

I always felt safe. In every hotel, museum, historical spot there are security scanners and police presence. I felt welcome and was always treated politely- everywhere -for the entire trip. There were not a lot of American tourists. I believe we are a gullible bunch to media stories. There seemed to be a lot of Spanish speakers and lots of Asians but each stop seemed to have a wide variety of global representatives.
But I chiefly came for the history. In Cairo we had a fabulous guide, Abeer, a woman in a man-guide world. She was knowledgeable and open, very clear and willing to answer any questions. We found out about ancient life as well as family life in current times. Not too different issues in modern homes and family relationships, accenting the commonality of people anywhere. The first couple days we just tried
to wrap our heads around the history and the scale of production, in quantity and size. She showed us the Giza pyramids, sent us off on camels, took us to ancient Memphis, the Museum of the History of Civilization and introduced us to the most delicious food that locals eat. Thanks to our driver, Mohammed as well for knowing little places to go for food treats and making us feel welcome. Cairo was a bustling crowded city.

The center slice of the trip was on the river cruise on the Nile which is an extremely popular way to see this portion of the world. We are told that there are currently over 300 river boats that tourists can take going up the Nile (which is actually traveling

South). Most of the time you don’t feel the quantity of boats. They are not running at the same time. When you dock you sometimes walk through the boat next door to get to the shore. But we were with  pleasant international group of visitors so it was a minor inconvenience. What are you going to do? Our guide for this segment was Hani. A gentleman from Luxor who also was knowledgeable and looked after everyone in the group. With him we saw the Temples of Luxor, The Valley of the Kings and
Queens, Hatshepsut’s tomb, Aswan, Philae, Kom Ombu. It was spectacular. Paint that was 3000+ years old, some graffiti from travelers in the 1800's, foundations of pharoahs that were eradicated, the importance of the system clearly made these monuments last. It was awesome. That is an often used word that doesn’t impart the real awe you feel looking at these iconic achievements. I will let the pictures speak for me.  This is a very small portion. Keep in mind that all the paint is the original paint, yes, 3000+ years old.

The cruise ended in Aswan where we drove across the desert for 3 hours to Abu Simbel. We stayed at a charming “Nubian” Hotel- the Eskaleh Chez Fikri. Again, super hospitality, clean, good food and pleasant location on a cove of Lake Nassar which was frequented by many birds. The staff was attentive and the rooms well enough appointed, although simple.

Our guide picked us up in the evening for a Sound and Light show at the tomb of Ramses ll and his favorite wife, Nefertari. It was well done, a little hokey but also pretty awesome to see at night all lit up. The highlight, however was at sunrise the next morning when we were taken back to see sunrise on the tomb and go inside to view the spectacle. With so few visitors there it was really a special place and you could feel the reverence for this king gone over 3000 years before. What an achievement! Quite moving actually.

For a fascinating look at the history of moving this huge monument check out this documentary