|I arrived in Cairo to my first taste of warm, sunny weather in seven months. I was just in time for the group welcome dinner. There were 90 of us to entertain. We would later be split into smaller groups – approximately 50 over seven feluccas, and the remainder between the Nile cruise and the overland bus tour.
Cairo was culture-shockingly hectic – rough neon-lit cars, perilously loaded trucks, and donkeys and carts all vying for road space. Then there was the constant sound of horns, the unfinished buildings and pushy street vendors – a great cultural experience.
Our first stop on the tour was the Sakkara step pyramid (the first pyramid built) and the Great Court of the Pyramid Complex of Djoser (Zoser). For an example of a decorated tomb we visited Titi Pyramid full of detailed carvings and colourful hieroglyphs. To save repeating myself, ALL the temples we visited and the majority of tombs were decorated from floor to ceiling with intricate hieroglyphs, paintings, and detailed carvings.
It was then onto the Giza Plateau and the Great Pyramids – Cheops, Chephren and Mycrenos. They lived up to all expectations. The presence of monuments was incredible, let alone the numerous facts and figures, and theories of construction that surround their existence.
A few of us chose to venture into the middle pyramid. Despite the tomb being bare and undecorated, it was incredible to have explored one of seven wonders of the ancient world.
There was of course a visit to the equally impressive Sphinx before an Egyptian lunch overlooking the pyramid/Sphinx plateau.
Before retuning to the hotel we also visited a perfume shop/factory, where I have to admit to learning that modern day perfumes are actually made from flower oils, and are not just mixtures of ethers and other chemicals.
After a quick dip in the pool we boarded the overnight train to Aswan, a 12 hour train ride. With our guide’s (Sam’s) constant reminder that this was not a holiday, but a tour, we proceeded straight on to see the Unfinished Obelisk (an obelisk part completed in its quarry), the Aswan High Dam (an impressive engineering feat, damming the Nile and creating Lake Nasser, the dam’s reservoir), and the Philae Temple (a Greek/Egyptain temple on an island). We also attended a papyrus paper making demonstration.
After more pool action (remembering I haven’t been swimming in seven months), we motored down the Nile to a local village (Nubian people) where we were entertained for the evening. There was traditional Egyptian food (already a few had succumbed to the perils of the foreign diet and as a precaution I had become virtual vegetarian), and entertainment in the form of crocodile petting and dancing with the local kids.
That night we made the 3am, 300km, armed convoy trip to Abu Simbel. The temples were (again) amazing – the structures alone were incredible and one of the highlights of the trip, but what added to their impressiveness was the fact that they had been moved from an area now engulfed by Lake Nasser 70m below. It was an exercise that took five years and involved cutting the temples (each originally carved out of a single piece of stone) out of the cliff face and delicately replacing the 3,000, 10-40 ton blocks 70m above.
Upon our return to Aswan we boarded our Felucca and began our cruise down the Nile. We spent two nights aboard the feluccas peacefully sailing down the Nile. Predictably this proved one of my favourite activities on the trip – the sailing/swimming combo quietly reminding me of home. The food was excellent, and the days were relaxing: listening to music, playing cards and swimming. The last night we gathered around a bonfire for an inter-felucca competition of song, show, and satire.
Come day six we were back in tourist mode, visiting Komombo Temple and the huge Edfu Temple. We later arrived in Luxor where I took to the pool for three hours before we overran Murphy’s Bar for a late night of drinking and dancing.
The next day we visited the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, and the Colossi of Memnon, before more swimming and then boarding the overnight train back to Cairo.
Back in Cairo we visited the Egyptian Museum where, amongst thousands of other ancient artefacts, we saw the golden mask, sarcophagi, and other treasures of King of Tutankhamen. We later visited the Citadel of Saladin and Mosque of Mohammed Ali, and the Hanging Church. The last stop of the trip was a bout of bartering fun at the Kahn El Khalili bazaar.