Valley of the Tourists - Days 10-15

Trip Start Mar 09, 2006
1
7
8
Trip End Mar 28, 2006


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Flag of Egypt  ,
Sunday, March 26, 2006

As I sit here in Alexandria, I realize that we've traveled the entire length of the country in the past nine days. From Abu Simbel, about 20 miles from the Sudan border, to Alexandria, on the northern edge of Egypt. I thought about comparing it (culturally) to travelling from San Diego to Seattle, but the reality is that it's much more like the transition from Mexico to Canada. Though they are all Egyptians, the people are radically different in each of these parts of the country. In Nubia (southern Egypt) you will encounter some of the friendliest people in the world. Dirt-poor, yet always with a smile on their face. Interestingly, we have seen very few women working in the restaurants, hotels, stores, etc until we reached Alexandria, which seems to be a breath of fresh air as far as women's rights are concerned. There are other differences too, especially in their rabid pursuit of the tourist and the almighty-dollar, but those are harder to pin down. Mainly, it seems like the presence of the sea has calmed everyone down, and we're not pursued relentlessly here in Alexandria by touts looking to sell us their (to put it nicely) crap.

Buying things in Egypt is a fun experience. Nothing has a fixed price. You are expected to bargain, and bargain hard for the things that you want. Here's an example, in U.S. dollars.

Seller: "Hello sir. I have what you want."
Ben: (under his breath), "Oh lord, here we go again".
Ben: "How much for this set of ten postcards?"
Seller: (looking concerned, like he's holding the Hope Diamond), "For you, sir, $20."
Ben: "How about one dollar?"
Seller: (looking like I just spit on him), "How can you even offer that, you need to try and meet me half way."
Ben: "Okay, how about two dollars?"
Seller: "Sir, I have worked hard all my life to provide quality postcards like these, I can maybe part with them for no less than $15".
Ben: "Okay, thanks anyways" (starting to walk away).
Seller: "WAIT!! Okay, take two sets of postcards for one dollar".

And there you have it. True story, actually.

Days 10-13
Our Nile Cruise was just as epic and romantic as you might expect. You actually don't have to sail very far to get anywhere, so the ship drifts slowly downstream during the day, usually reaching the next destination by evening. Much of our time is spent relaxing on deck, reading some good books, napping, waking up, napping again, and watching the shore slip by. Can't complain.

We saw a few temples during the cruise, notably the Temple of Isis and the Temple of Horus in Edfu. It's kind of hard to describe the feeling you get while exploring these ruins that are almost 4000 years old. Having grown up in L.A. and then living in Orange County for the last 12 years, I think that you can imagine the awe that I feel when walking around these ancient sites. Also, there aren't really any restrictions on what you can touch, and we're often leaning up against the walls of these temples as Mohammed "lectures" us. Running your hands along ancient heiroglyphics, it's an unbelievable experience.

Once we arrived in Luxor last Friday, we had our marathon day seeing the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, the temple of Hatshepsut, Karnak, and the Temple of Luxor. You might think that it's too much to see in one day, but of course you could also spend weeks exploring these sites. Mohamed is wonderful at showing us the most interesting aspects of each. In the end, I don't think that we felt rushed or that we missed out on anything. Interestingly, Luxor contains 1/3 of the antiquities that still exist in the ENTIRE world.

The Valley of the Kings is basically like a Nevada missile site, in its barrenness and lack of shade. And, unfortunately, the temperature that day topped out at 102! We nicknamed it the Valley of the Tourists because it was packed with buses and travelers from all over the world. The French were especially pushy. But, we got to climb down into three tombs that morning, and the painted reliefs on the walls were unbelievable. Who cared how hot and crowded it was?!

By the way, the Egyptians must have invented the concept of exiting an attraction through the gift shop. At each location in Luxor, the government forces visitors to exit past dozens of vendors selling their junk, all shouting greetings in different languages at you, hoping that you'll answer to one. It's amusing to hear these hardened desert salesman shouting in Japanese!

The photos will tell more of the story (to be posted later this week), but the highlight for the day was definitely Karnak Temple. The lighting in there was magical, with the famous 65 foot tall pillars falling in and out of shadow in the late afternoon sun. Caiti and I spent a good fifteen minutes just sitting amongst the columns, soaking in the moment, and watching the sunlight play on the architecture. I will remember those moments for the rest of my life.

On day 14 we flew back to Cairo, and then boarded our "luxury motorcoach" (it's actually a Mercedes Benz bus!) for a drive through the desert to Alexandria. As we spotted the Mediterranean cresting up ahead we burst into spontaneous applause. The temperature here is a delightful 70 degrees and there are clouds in the sky! The first time we've seen clouds since NYC. Our hotel is set right on the beach and we've got a breathtaking view of the sea from our balcony.

Today (day 15) we explored the catacombs of the city and an ancient Roman theatre before seeing the new Library of Alexandria. A nice way to end the trip before our drive south to Cairo tomorrow morning. We also found the local supermarket, which was a fun and surreal shopping experience. We were definitely the only non-Arabs in sight.

We fly home on Tuesday morning, arriving in NYC mid afternoon and then fly to Long Beach after that, arriving at Hibiscusland around 10pm or so. The best word to describe this adventure is "epic", and it's certainly been the trip of a lifetime. I don't think we can call it a vacation though, since we feel like we've been working a lot of the time. But it's been rewarding work!

Once we decompress and feed the cats I'll start to get photos posted. We've shot about 800, though of course I'll edit them a bit! I'll also probably go back and flesh out some of these entries with more details. As much as you enjoy reading these, we also find them useful to keep as our own journals.

xoxo
Ben
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