When I look back over our last two weeks in Egypt I can’t believe how much we saw in such a short time and how much I want to go back.
Egypt is a country that truly has everything: beautiful relaxing beaches, great sandy deserts, incredible ancient history, fascinating recent history, big bustling cities, and amazing sites and monuments. In a country that seems to have something for everyone and feels as safe as anywhere else in the world, I can’t believe that recent political uncertainty has caused such a decline in tourism.
I wish that everyone had the chance to visit and experience this unforgettable country, if not for the sites, beaches or history, then at least to meet the people. Why you should visit Egypt.
I can still picture each of the individuals that we met and recall their hope, passion and pride for their country. It was unlike anything else I had experienced when traveling around the world. I saw passion in the gestures and stories of the Egyptologist who guided us through the ancient ruins. I saw hope in the pushy hands of the locals selling goods and touristy artefacts at the popular monuments. I saw the pride of the tourist police who watched over us as we wandered aimlessly through the Bazaar. I experienced the passion while I danced along the banks of the Nile River, to the beat of Nubian drums. I smelt it in the perfumes and scents made it the ancient Egyptian way by the elderly, fifth generation essence maker. I saw the hope in the eyes of the Bedouin boy who played curiously with our camera as we learned how to make bread in the traditional Bedouin way.
With over 82 million people, Egypt has one of the largest populations in Africa and the Middle East, and is one of the top 20 most populated countries in the world. The majority of its large population lives near the banks of the Nile River, an area of about 40,000 square kilometers, where the most fertile land is found. Egypt has one of the longest histories of any modern state, having been continuously inhabited since the 10th millennium BCE. The rich history and cultural heritage, as well as the attraction of its Red Sea Riviera, has made tourism a vital part of the economy and this great country a top priority on any traveler’s bucket list.
Our tour, with Encounters Travel, started in Cairo with a visit to the Egyptian Museum and Great Pyramids of Giza. For this particular holiday we had decided that a tour group was the best way to fit in everything that we wanted to see and to ensure safety while traveling. Our tour guide, Sam, was a highly knowledgeable Egyptologist with a passion for sharing the stories and history of his ancient country. Sam skilfully showed off his country and taught us it’s fascinating history in a way that was interesting and well-spaced out over the first 9 days of our 14 day “Nubian and Beaches” tour.
The Egyptian Museum in the centre of Cairo is very near the Tahir Square where recent protests against the current government have been staged. The square is also where millions of protesters rioted against the 30 year President Hosni Mubarak’s republic and started the Egyptian Revolution in January 2011. While we felt safe at all times, a very blunt reminder of recent Egyptian history was a burnt out government building, destroyed during the 2011 Revolution, overlooking the statute garden of the Museum.
After learning all about the famous Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, Tutankhamun, and seeing the artefacts discovered in his tomb in 1922, Sam treated us to a lunch of traditional Egyptian Koshari (a dish of pasta, noodles, rice, tomato sauce, onions and lentils) and guided us to the three Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. We enjoyed a camel ride through the surrounding desert and were lucky enough to crawl through a tunnel into the humid second Pyramid.
As a result of the 2011 Revolution, and the obvious lack of police presence, sights are flooded with locals targeting tourists with dodgy artefacts, fake papyrus and faded postcards. While it is sad to see young children skipping school and the obvious poverty caused by a significant decline in tourism, we were strongly advised to keep our wits, and our valuables, with us at all times to avoid being caught in a situation where we were likely to fall victim to a scam or dodgy purchase. After avoiding the hassle and gratefully sheltering in the air-conditioned bus, we were transported to the Cairo train station where we boarded the 8pm train for Aswan. We were treated to a very comfortable sleeper room complete with sink, hand soap, blankets and pillows.
After a number of delays throughout the night we arrived in Aswan 15 hours later and were immediately driven to Isis hotel on the Nile River and across the road from the local Bazaar (markets) where we could stock up on anything from Egyptian cotton tunics, local spices, scarfs, toiletries’ and snack food. We visited the very impressive 3.8km long Aswan High Dam that was built between 1960 and 1970, creating Lake Nasser. The building of this dam was a significant achievement for Egypt as the reservoir storage increased control of floods and drought across the region.
The erection of the Aswan High Dam cause the flooding of surrounding desert and valleys, creating the largest manmade lake in the world, stretching 5,000 kilometres long. The lake quickly spread, threatening temples and ruins found nearby. Philae Temple, was one of those affected and in date it was moved 60meters to avoid rising waters. It now sits on an island in the lake and is accessed only by boat, guided by the local Nubian people. We visited Philae Temple and Sam taught us about ancient Egyptian Gods and the story of how Horus protect the Egyptians from the desert god, Seth.
Later, at the hotel, we were treated to a traditional Nubian meal, made in large clay pots and consisting of delicious fish, rice, babagnosh and vegetables. The following day we were up before dawn in preparation for a 4am departure in a police lead convoy 4 hours east to the two massive rock temples in Abu Simbil. The twin temples were originally carved out of the mountainside during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II in the 13th century BCE, as a lasting monument to himself and his queen Nefertari, to commemorate his alleged victory at the Battle of Kadesh, and to intimidate his Nubian neighbors. The complex was relocated in its entirety in 1968, on an artificial hill made from a domed structure, high above the Aswan High Dam reservoir. The temples are located literally in the middle of nowhere, 4 hours south west of Aswan, and we could only get there as part of a large convoy of tourist buses full of hundreds of sleepy tourists.
After our visit to Abu Simbil we spent 2 very relaxing nights sailing north on the Nile River on a traditional Nubian felucca where we ate, slept and just lazed about. One night we were treated to a Nubian party on the banks of the Nile under the full moon, complete with drums, singing and dancing.
On the second morning we departed the felucca at Ko mombo and visited Ko mombo Temple, with the Nile o meter and crocodile mummy museum, and Edfu temple, still containing some traditional artefacts in the Holy of the Holies and secret passage ways and rooms used by the priests of centuries past. One thousand years ago the temple was used as a rubbish dump and the ceilings remained burnt black.
That afternoon we checked into our incredible 5 star luxury resort in Luxor and visited the Luxor Temple in the cool of the night. The temple, lit by hundreds of strategically placed lights, was impressive and huge. It sat on the south end of the Sphinx avenue and was used by the Romans when they settled in Egypt.
We were up bright and early on the seventh day of our epic tour to enjoy a scrumptious buffet breakfast and for a short bus ride to the west bank of the Nile to the Valley of the Kings. In the Valley of the Kings we were able to explore three of the 62 tombs located in the expansive valley. The temperatures skyrocketed with each passing hour, giving reason for such an early visit. We had a quick stop at the rebuilt Al-deir Al-Baharii Temple dedicated to the sole female Pharaoh who ruled Egypt for 20 years, Hatepsup. We also visited the smaller Habu temple where we could see stories of war and punishment depicted by colourful engravings.
That afternoon we visited the enormous Karnak Temple which was located at the north end of the Avenue of the Sphinx and spread over 70 acres. The public section of the temple consists of 137 columns deeply inscribed with many hieroglyphics and writing. We learned about hieroglyphics and saw the mud ramps used to build such enormous structures.
Exhausted after visiting so many temples, tombs and incredible ancient sites we were treated to a night at a local Irish Bar in Luxor where we said a sad good-bye to half of our tour group who were returning to Cairo that night. The remaining eight travellers departed the next day for a four hour bus ride across the East desert to Hurghada for four nights of serious rest and relaxation on the Red Sea.
In the tourist city of Hurghada we spent one day exploring a small village of the Bedouin people in the Eastern Desert and some traditional Egyptian entertainment as we devoured a traditional Egyptian meal and sheesha. The highlight of the four day Red Sea resort holiday was a day of snorkelling in the Red Sea, exploring some of the best corals in the world.
We returned to Cairo on the twelfth day of our tour and celebrated my birthday eating dinner in a local café with glimpses of the Great Pyramids. In Cairo we also visited the Bazaar for some last minute shopping and had the great pleasure of meeting 5th generation essences maker, Adel Ghoneem. Adel is the owner of The Flower Temple Essences in Cairo and proudly distributes hundreds of traditionally made essence oils all over the world to large perfume companies.
Thoroughly relaxed and exhausted from our priceless 15 days in Egypt, we returned to London on the 6th of April, prepared for 4 degree weather and threatening rain… Egypt was almost just a wonderful dream…