Nile River Cruise
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Before I begin sharing all the information, I'd like to give you a geography lesson. Although, Cairo, Egypt is in the northern part of Egypt it is considered Lower Egypt. I am currently traveling in Upper Egypt even though it's southern Egypt. The rationale for this is that the Nile river runs from South to North. Does this make sense? I hope I haven't confused you. So right now we are on a Nile River Cruise and have worked our way through Luxor and are headed to Aswan.
First, let me back up a little bit. Before leaving for the cruise on Sunday evening we had a Fulbright seminar that discussed survival Arabic. It was only a couple of hours and I am no where near to understanding or saying as many words as I want. I always want to answer in Spanish for some weird reason because that is what I know. Anyway, I have learned to say yes, no, thank you, thank God, and "My name is . . . " very well. All of that doesn't get me very far but luckily the professors are fluent in Arabic and many people speak English. Gestures get you real far as well.
We took an overnight train from Cairo to Luxor on Sunday evening. That wasn't so bad but the food certainly was. We each shared a room and were able to complain about the 4 different kinds of meat for dinner, which some were probably baby camel. How sad! I'm definately not about being an adventurous eater here. I've also realized how spoiled we are in the USA when it comes to being cigarette smoke. Between the pollution and cigarette smoke, I've had difficulties with my allergies.
In Luxor we visited Karkan and the Luxor temple. It is amazing to see the carvings of the heiroglyphics and the colors that have been preserved so well due to Egypt's dry and arid climate. I also can't imagine how someone could carve so many intricate statues that are literally hundreds or thousands tons each. It truly was breathtaking. I took a bunch of pics but it'll take me awhile to remember which was what.
We also visited the Valley of the Kings were many tombs have been found. King Tut's tomb was there as well. (The King Tut exhibit has arrived in the US and I think it'll be coming to Texas. I highly recommend you visit it.) We visited several tombs and it neat to see how many safeguards, although unsuccessful, were used to prevent tomb robberies. The Egyptians often began preparing the tomb for the King when he took reign and would work 24 hours a day completing them. Some Kings reigned for decades so you can imagine what their tombs looked like and what was inside. Egyptians believed in the afterlife and often carved things such as food, beer, etc on the wall so the king would have something to eat. Also, they made 365 plus statues that would serve as servants for the king as he never had to work that hard in his first life. The info. could go on forever so please take the time to visit the King Tut exhibit. P.S. - Because King Tut died at 19 and did not reign very long his tomb is very small compared to others because they simply did not have time. Once the mummification process was completed at 70 days they would then close the tomb. Also, a tomb is not simply one room but several rooms each serving a unique purpose.
There was one Queen who served as King by pretending to be a man. Her name was Hatshepsut or as the guide says "hot chicken soup". We visited her temple yesterday that was carved inside of a cliff in the sahara desert. Her stepson was upset over her ruling and ruined many of her statues and often times changed her name on the statue to himself or others so that she would not get credit..
Our guide for the Nile cruise is very intelligent and is a local of the area. Yesterday we visited his home that is more than 350 years old in a small village. Now when I say home it is not like what you and I would live in. It is made of mud bricks and the floor is of dirt. He no longer lives in the house but it does not have electricity or running water. The reason he moved is because he and his family found a tomb beneath their house! It was of a high ranking official and we went down to see it. I don't do well with small places but it was amazing to see. There were even life size rock statues inside. Because the Egyptian gov't is constantly finding tombs like these they don't completely excavate them all, therefore, many people have found tombs under their homes and still live there. They Egyptian gov't is trying to slow down the excavation process to allow opportunities for future generations as well.
His village was very small and we were immediately attacked by a group of kids. I had brought McDonald's happy meal toys with me and gave them out to the kids. Most were beanie babies but they seemed to be really happy. The girls were asking for our chapstick, hair clips, watches, or anything that visible to them. When you take a picture of a kid or adult you are expected to pay them about .25. Many men also stay at the tombs or temples in traditional dress all day in the sun and solicit people to take pictures of them so they can make money. I gave one girl the equivalent of $1.00 and she was very appreciative. She took me to her home (a shack out of mud bricks) to meet her mother and I took a picture of them together. The poverty here is absolutely unreal.
Many people sleep outside in the villages on their straw beds because of the heat. Even in Cairo, a large urban city, air conditioning is highly uncommon. The Egyptian Museum, home of 40,000 plus priceless artificats has no air conditioning either. (Wow! That was a tough tour!) It is much hotter in Upper Egypt (the south) than Lower Egypt (the north). For example, last night at 10 pm it was 104 degrees. If you see me in the pics wearing sleeveless or short sleeve shirts it is only because I am in toursit areas.
One funny thing about Egypt is that most of the buildings are unfinished meaning you have cinder block apartment buildings with the steel sticking out of the top. This can be for several reasons:
1) there is not enough money to finish the project
2) a family owns the building and are waiting for the next family member to get married before building the next level
3) you don't pay taxes on unfinished buildings
I recommend the Nile cruise to anyone who plans on coming to Egypt. They are very nice for Egypt. Please don't get them confused with the advertisements we see on cruise ships who have rock climbing walls, etc. Basically they are big barges with rooms on top. We have been entertained by another belly dancer and games of bingo. The ship is fairly small and caters to European or American tourists. When venturing out into the little towns I have yet to see one Egyptian woman during the night or day. Little kids are out late and will yell out "hello" or "madame" in hopes of you taking their picture and paying them. You bargain for EVERYTHING including a coke or bottle of water. A coke can start at the equivalent of $3 then you end up paying .30. It's an extreme pain to shop because you get harassed with buying things and they mark everything up so much then chase you as you walk away. I've done shopping several other countries and this country has been the biggest pain. In the mornings, there is a group of us that walk around 6 am to get some exercise and see the sights in the towns. Plus, it's only about 100 degrees then with a breeze compared to extreme temps at the sights. I've taken some great pics of the sun rising on the Nile.
One thing that I have attracted a lot of attention with is a battery operated fan with a spray bottle attached. It basically serves as a little mister. I guess these haven't hit other countries and definately not Egypt because countless number of people have come up to me asking where I got it. It's been great though.
Well, I realize this entry is extremely long but it's been difficulty finding an internet cafe since we've been on the cruise. We're off to Aswan tomorrow and will return to Cairo by train on Saturday. I can tell you that our intinerary is FULL and between readings, seminars, and visits, Fulbright keeps us very busy.
More later . . .