The short version: I loved Egypt. It was amazing. My blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale skin went over really well with the men there, and I ended up getting a lot of free stuff. I got to ride a camel, see the Pyramids, go to Luxor, take a felucca ride, and get closer than I realized to a crocodile.
A lot got cut from this one. I'll tell you about it when I get home.
Oct. 31, 2007
“Are we joining the camel caravan? No, we’re just riding the camel bully.”
Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt
I woke up kind of early to meet Ashley and watch us pull into port like I always do. I headed up to the 7th deck, but it was so foggy that there was no one up there. I spent a little while trying to find her. I found her in the dining room. We went ahead and had breakfast with Meghan and Laura. After breakfast, I packed for my trip and went to the Union. There was a bit of ambiguity in the time we were supposed to report, so I just relaxed up there until the trip leaders started taking attendance. There were 3 different leaders for the trip. I ended up on Dr. Mabbutt’s bus.
The bus ride to Cairo was around 3 hours, but I can’t be exactly sure because I slept most of the way. When I woke up we were at the Pyramids. Most of our group took a camel ride up to the Pyramids. It was an interesting experience. I had a very difficult time actually getting onto the camel, but in the end one of the workers gave me a boost. I shared a camel with Lindsey. Our camel took a pretty slow pace, which was good because there really wasn’t any place to hold onto. The little boy leading our camera took some pictures on my camera for us, but he wouldn’t give me my camera back until one of the other workers made him. We had been warned at preport that there was a chance we wouldn’t be able to get off our camel unless we had baksheesh for the camel “leader” but our tour guide had promised us that we definitely would not have to pay baksheesh here. The little boy in charge of our camel let us off, but then hounded us for baksheesh. We both gave him a little something, but not a whole lot.
When we actually got up to the Pyramids there was an SAS group for Cairo/Sharm El Sheikh already there, and I saw Donna for a few minutes. Meghan and I had decided to go into one of the Pyramids. Our tour guide (Mohammed) had told us that we would have to walk bent over, but that was a problem for me. When we actually got to the entrance, it was pretty apparent that bent over was not really an accurate description. If he had said, “You are going to have to walk curled up into a little ball,” that would have been an accurate description. My hip was really hurting from the camel ride, but I tried it anyway. After about 45 seconds of walking in “curled up ball” position, it was pretty apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to make it up the path on the way out without horrible amounts of pain, so I turned around and went back. I got my first marriage proposal while I was on my way back to the bus. I was offered 150 camels. Lots of Egyptian men said hi to me, and I was always called sweetie or beautiful or something like that. I actually got followed around by a group of little boys that wanted to get their pictures taken with me. After I took a picture with them, a group of teenage girls got their picture taken with me. After I was done posing for pictures with everyone who wanted them, I got back on the bus to head to the Sphinx.
The Sphinx was really, really crowded, and the vendors were just everywhere. One of the vendors took quite a liking to me, and followed me around trying to get me to buy scarves. I lost him and got to get a bit closer to the Sphinx and get my picture taken there. On the way out the scarf vendor found me again. I wasn’t really interested in buying any scarves because I have so many from India, but he just kept following me and his prices kept falling and the number of scarves included kept going up, so I bought some. As soon as he left me alone, a new vendor took his place. He started calling me Shakira. I tried my best to just ignore him and get to the bus, but you can imagine how much I laughed when he asked me if I was Shakira. I told him that I wasn’t, and he asked me, “Why not?” I laughed pretty hard at that too. I got to the bus and the ‘Shakira’ vendor had followed me to the bus, watched me board, and then gave me the thumbs up.
We finally got lunch at a hotel across the street from the Pyramids. It was one of the most amazing meals ever. I have never seen so many desserts in one place. Pretty much as soon as we were done eating we went back to the Pyramids for the Sound and Light show. It was pretty cheesy, but it was so much fun. There were excerpts from ancient Egyptian love letter that still crack me up (Seeing you is better than eating and drinking/I want to walk hand in hand with you through the fields). These might not seem so funny to you right now, but imagine a booming male voice saying that as lights danced across the Sphinx. Hilarious.
We checked in at the hotel. Lindsey was my roommate for the duration of the trip. The hotel we stayed at was super nice. We went to lunch, and Donna’s trip group was there, so I ate with Donna and Jenn in addition to some girls from my trip.
November 1, 2007
“We baksheeshed our whole way through this place. We’re out of baksheesh.”
Cairo and Luxor, Egypt
The morning started at 2:15 with a wake up call. Lindsey and I got ready and headed to the lobby where we got ready and checked out before finally figuring out where to meet the group. We got our breakfast boxes (mine had an amazing green apple juice in it) and got on the buses.
At the airport we learned that in Egypt your name on the ticket doesn’t actually have to match your name, so we all just got random tickets. I ended up being Beth Forman for the flight. The flight to Luxor was relatively uneventful. I would even go so far as to say that I don’t hate flying anymore. I don’t enjoy it, but I don’t sit on the plane terrified anymore either. When we got to Luxor our first stop was the Valley of the Kings. We got to get on these little glorified golf carts connected together to travel an easily walkable distance. While we were waiting on the group members that we straggling to the golf cart shuttle the vendors were already out and trying to rip us off. One of the LLLs bought some books for the vendors original offer. He thought that he was going to sell to me for that price as well, but there was just no way. He kept putting the books in my hand and saying, “Free,” and then he would whisper, “85 pounds,” like that wasn’t a rip off. I got him down to my price right as the little golf cart shuttle was leaving. We got to go into King Tut’s tomb plus three others of our choice. Mohammed suggested the three he thought that we should go to, and then let us loose. I went to Tut’s first, but I wasn’t really super impressed with it. It was cool to see, and when that was the only one that I had seen, it was pretty cool, but it just paled in comparison to the other 3 that I saw. I know it’s because his tomb wasn’t finished when he died; the finished tombs were incredible. I went into the tombs for Ramses III, IV, and IX. They were just unbelievable. We weren’t supposed to take any pictures in any of the tombs, but people were doing it anyway. A lot of people got their cameras taken away from them until they left. On the way out there were lots of vendors, and at this point you know how much I love buying from street vendors and haggling. I got the price on something lowered from $50 to $5, and then Lindsey took advantage of the price that I had negotiated, and got the same thing.
The next stop was the Temple for Queen Hatshepsut. This was one of the only places in Egypt that I was really uncomfortable with being so obviously not Egyptian. I got a few inappropriate comments from the vendors here that made me pretty mad [Oh, God check it out], but I just continued on my way to the little golf cartesque shuttles that we got to take again. I got teased a little by some of my friends who weren’t picking up that kind of attention, and looking back on it now, it was kind of funny. The temple was fabulous. There were Egyptian men all over the place trying to get baksheesh just for pointing out what they thought was a great spot for pictures, but I wasn’t too generous with my baksheeshing here. Afterwards we [Kara, Meghan, Kristy, Caitlin, Lindsey] got ice cream and I braved the vendors on the way to the bus. One started following me, so I sped up about as fast I could and still be walking, but he managed to catch up to me. He put a necklace around my neck and gave me a scarf for my hair, and just said, “Free gift for a beautiful lady,” and walked away. It was nice and all, but the other vendors here were still bothering me so I just got to the bus as quickly as possible.
We stopped briefly at the Colossi of Memnon; it was mostly just for us all to take some quick pictures and then get immediately back on the bus. We proceeded to Karnak Temple, which was the coolest place we went in Egypt by far in my opinion. Mohammed was giving a long talk about the temple, but I wasn’t information in listening to him talk; I wanted to see the temple. Meghan and I split off from the group and explored by ourselves. We weren’t able to get through the whole thing before we had to go back to the bus, but we got through more than the group that stayed with Mohammed did, plus we got to go to a section that was being restored/excavated that was closed to the public. We had to baksheesh to go, but it was so worth it. Meghan and I were the only 2 tourists in the section at the time, so it was so quiet, the complete opposite of the rest of the temple. We got asked by a lot of Egyptians what race we were, and they almost all took a guess at it. We got to be Russian, Australian, English, Norse, Canadian, and New Zealanders. On the way out of the temple, Meghan stopped at the bathroom. I didn’t go in with her, which is a decision I kind of regretted. There was a really creepy man lurking around outside of the bathroom. He started to make conversation with me and asked me where I was from. I told him Canada, and I feel like I said it very believably, but I guess he didn’t believe me, so he started asking me all sorts of questions about Canada that I couldn’t come up with the answers to under pressure (the capital of Saskatchewan, etc.) I was very glad to see Meghan come out of the bathroom and we got out of there quickly. She apparently hadn’t baksheeshed very much for the bathroom attendants, so we were both glad to leave that section. We headed back to the bus, but on the way we got stopped by a vendor who told us he wanted to give us free gifts… He pointed at one of his items and said, “I’ll give this to you for free if you give me something in return.” Neither Meghan nor I were interested in finding out what the something was, so we just booked it out of there and back to the bus. We were the last ones to make it back to the bus, but we got there right on time.
We went to the hotel for lunch and check in. The lunch here was amazing. Lindsey and I got our room key, got some rest, and then explored the hotel shops a little bit. I actually needed the smallest size one of the clothing stores carried, which was a nice change from SE Asia where I was told that I “exceeded maximum size.” The shirt probably fit a little tighter than the loose fit that it was designed for, but I wasn’t a fan of the loose fit. I didn’t end up buying it though. They only had bright pink. When it was time to meet for the trip to Luxor Temple we got on the bus and Meghan and I decided we were breaking off from the group again. The trip back to the bus was the only other time that I really was uncomfortable with how much I stood out. A ‘papyrus’ vendor was lurking around the bus area and he was trying desperately to rip Meghan and me off when another joined, and they both tried to rip us off. I had already bought some actual quality papyrus for much cheaper than they were selling theirs for, so I wasn’t interested in buying any. One of them grabbed me by the arm and pulled me around a little bit trying to get me to buy from him. Meghan bought from the other vendor after she got his price down, but I still didn’t want any. The vendor that was trying to sell to me followed us while we were trying to find our bus, and finally his price fell to what I thought was ridiculously low, even for fake papyrus. I bought a couple and then got on the bus.
Once we got back to the hotel some of us decided to look around at the shops outside of the hotel until dinner. I went into a clothing shop because I wasn’t satisfied with what I had found at the hotel shops. One of the salesmen in the shop took quite a liking to me and after my experience with vendors at Luxor Temple I wasn‘t really in the mood to get attention like that, so it made me really uncomfortable at first, so I was on my way out when he took my ‘papyrus’ out of my hands and wrapped it for me. At about this time an older British couple came in and started looking around. It made me feel a lot better to have other people in the shop, even though my group was just next door, so I looked around a little bit. The salesman that wrapped up my papyrus actually introduced himself and actually turned out to be a pretty nice guy (not to mention really, really cute). I’m not sure what it was about me, but he gave me whatever price for anything I asked for without any kind of bargaining and my offers weren’t generous. The British couple thought that I was just too stupid to bargain, and so they advised me that I needed to, but then I told them what I was actually paying and they couldn’t believe me. They couldn’t get any such deal from their salesman. Mine (Abrahem) invited me out for dinner later when he closed the shop, but I didn’t quite trust the offer, so I declined and went back to the hotel for dinner. I told my friends about my experiences in the shop and one of them asked if I got a picture of Abrahem. I hadn’t, and I decided that I really wanted one, so after dinner a couple of us walked back to the shop. I had a pretty good feeling that Abrahem wasn’t going to mind me taking his picture. I was right. He did ask for me to take a picture with him, which I guess I should have seen coming. He was actually kind of sweet about it; he asked before he put his arm around me for the picture. We exchanged email addresses, and he again asked me to have dinner with him, but I still declined. He gave me a beautiful purple perfume bottle as a gift, and told me that it was so I would never forget him because he would never forget me. It was actually kind of sweet.
After this I got repacked and went to bed for the early morning wake up call for our drive to Aswan.
November 2, 2007
“I think our horse might just plop down in the middle of the street and die at any moment.”
Luxor and Aswan, Egypt
I got up at 5 and got breakfast at the hotel. They had mashed potatoes, which I thought was an interesting choice, but they were actually real mashed potatoes compared to the instant that we get on the ship. We boarded the bus for the 4 hour drive to Aswan. I slept the whole way there. When we arrived it we went straight to Philae Temple. We had to take a motor boat out to the temple because it is on an island. There were vendors on the boat trying to sell necklaces, but it was impossible to haggle with them because one of the LLLs bought the necklaces without haggling so the vendors refused to budge on their prices anymore. Meghan and I seperated from the group again, and explored. The tourist police showed us what was supposed to be a very picturesque spot. They obviously expected baksheesh and since they were carrying giant rifles with them, I didn’t refuse. The temple was beautiful, especially because of it’s location of the Nile. After Meghan and I got through the temple we still had some time to kill, so we got ice cream and sat in the shade and soaked in as much Philae Temple as we could. We met the group for the boat ride back, and the got hounded by vendors on the way to the bus. At this point I was actually fed up with vendors. I really didn’t want anything to do with them. I think they must have been able to get that vibe from me, because they didn’t bother me.
We took a quick photo stop at the Aswan High Dam and went to the hotel. The hotel was actually on an island in the Nile, so we had to take a ferry across. When we got there it was lunch time. There was a lunch station that made pasta cooked to order, and a male SASer decided that he didn’t want to wait in line, so he cut in front of us (all female) and made his request. He of course got his first, and this really pissed me off. I guess I expected it from Egyptian men, but not someone who is supposedly trying to help watch out for the 70 women on the trip. After lunch we took a felucca ride down the Nile. It was beautiful, and we got to have a “felucca party.” Basically what happened was that workers on the boat played the drums and started chanting and dancing and most of us on the felucca joined them. When this was over, I browsed the shops at the hotel. I got measured for a skirt at the tailor shop and picked out a fabric and then met my group for a carriage ride around Aswan.
I shared a carriage with Meghan and Doc Linda (well, about half of the trip with Doc Linda). We were told 3 could fit in a carriage comfortably, but this wasn’t really true, so when we stopped and there was space in another carriage she switched out. Our carriages all stopped at this beautiful mosque. We were all allowed to go in and take pictures, and then we continued on our tour. Our horse was really pathetic looking. I think it might have been the most underfed animal I have ever seen. There were a few times where Meghan and I thought that the horse was just going to give out on us, but we made it back. The driver wanted baksheesh, and our tour guide had told us not to give more than $1.00. I gave a little more than that, and Meghan gave the same as I did, but he continued to hassle us for more. We went back to the ferry pretty quickly to try and avoid the hassle. We were late for the start of dinner. I ended up eating with some professors and the librarians. They are quite an interesting crowd. I had a great time. After dinner I went to check out the situation at the tailor shop. They told me to come back in an hour. When I did, my skirt was perfect. It was time for bed at this point, because we had another ridiculously early morning (4:15).
November 3, 2007
“Is this one pastry or three?”
Aswan and Abu Simbel, Egypt
Our wake up call was surprisingly pushed up to 4:00, so when it came we got ready and headed down to the lobby. We picked up our breakfast boxes (which were not good) and got on the ferry. We were running late to the airport, but we caught our plane just fine. The flew right over the Abu Simbel temples on our descent. They were spectacular to see from the air. When we landed, we took a shuttle that was run by Egypt Air straight to the temples. Meghan and I split off from the group yet again, and explored on our own. The temples were just amazing. When the Aswan High Dam was built, the Nile flooded the original site (as well as Philae and 28 other temples). The temples (the ones that could be preserved were moved to different locations. I can’t even begin to comprehend how something like that must have been done. Meghan and I got some ice cream after we finished touring the temples and then met the group on the shuttle to the airport. I got to be someone named Rubin for this flight.
A lot of people in my group decided they wanted to go shopping when we got back to Aswan, so Mohammed arranged for us to be able to go. We were of course taken to over priced shops where we couldn’t afford anything, but I guess it’s the thought that counts. While we were waiting to leave, a bunch of boys selling bookmarks started harassing us. A boy gave me a bookmark and just said, “gift” then grabbed my chest and ran away. Another one of the boys started stroking my arm. I moved quickly to stand next to Mohammed until I could get on the shuttle back to the hotel. We got lunch back at the hotel. Meghan, Kristy, Caitlin, and I decided to go to a different restaurant in the hotel than we had been going to. After lunch we all ended up taking naps.
When Kristy woke up, I went down to the business center for a little while to use the internet. When Meghan woke up she joined me down there, but at that point I was pretty much done on with it, so I went outside and explored the hotel grounds a little bit. There was a “mini zoo” which translated into chickens, goats, and sheep. When I was down walking around, I found a bench and watched the sunset over the Nile. While I was just sitting, some of the birds on the river started freaking out. I assumed this had to mean that there was a crocodile around. It took me a little bit to find it, but I did. It was actually relatively close to where I was, separated from me only by a wall and a little bit of height. Meghan and I walked through the hotel shops again, and then we met Kristy for dinner. When we were done eating, we took our drinks out to the gazebo and just enjoyed the serenity of the whole situation. A British/Israeli couple came out too, and we talked to them for quite a while. They had lived in India for a while, and I talked to the man about Agra (how much I hated it) and Varanasi (how much I loved it), and he told me that he quite agreed that Agra was a wretched place and Varanasi was fabulous. We went into the hotel and got to watch a processional for an Egyptian wedding.
November 4, 2007
“It’s like being in someone’s basement.”
Aswan, Cairo, and Alexandria, Egypt
We had another wonderful early morning wake up call. I was a little slow getting it all together in the morning, but I got to the lobby on time. I skipped the breakfast boxes this time around. Lots of people were very late, but we boarded the ferry to take us across to Aswan mainland and waited for them. We were almost to the point that we were going to leave them behind. They finally showed up and we left. We got to the airport and through security in plenty of time. Like every other time, I got any random ticket. I got a Twix bar for the plane while I was waiting. By the time I got through the line it was time to board the plane. I got in line, like all of the orderly people, but there was a French tour group there that seemed to think they were much better than waiting in line. They cut in front of the whole SAS group. It really irritated me. I’ve found in my travels that French people are generally the most rude, inconsiderate people you’ll meet.
I got to sit next to Meghan on the flight. We had quite a good time and enjoyed a little bit of irony. We were discussing how we think it’s really rude to put your seats back on a plane, and then the people right in front of us reclined their seats. The person in front of Meghan asked her first if it was ok, but no one ever really says it’s not ok when they’re asked, even if it secretly makes them mad.
When we landed in Cairo, we asked Mohammed if on the way back to Alexandria we could reroute to see the Library at Alexandria. He gave us a flat out no. I was a little upset, but I wasn’t really relying on seeing it, so it wasn’t a major disappointment. When we left the airport, we went to the Egyptian Museum. We had major difficulties getting in because our tour guide bought the wrong priced tickets. We had to each take two of the tickets to be able to get inside. Once we got in, it was like walking into the most unorganized, overwhelming basement of Egypt. There wasn’t really any order to things, and it was like everything was piled on top of each other. Like always, Meghan and I split off from the tour group and explored on our own. Because of the unorganized nature of the whole place, Meghan and I had a few difficulties finding the main King Tut exhibit. We got there alright in the end. We decided to go to the Royal Mummies exhibit even though it cost extra. We paid the student rate for the ticket, even though we had been getting a hard time about using our SAS ids. The man taking tickets at the exhibit really obviously didn’t believe our ids were student ids, but didn’t actually care either. This was the coolest exhibit in the whole museum. It was also the only exhibit that was truly organized and had good information. We got to see the mummy of Queen Hatshepsut and King Ramses the II, as well as a few others. Ramses II had at least 13 sons, not to mention daughters and had arthritis in his hips.
We proceeded to lunch after the museum. It was at the same hotel as the first day lunch, and like before, it was fabulous. I had to use the bathroom, but I had no money for baksheesh (ok, I had baksheesh, but I didn’t feel like baksheeshing anymore). I was leaving the bathroom without giving money to the 2 bathroom attendants who didn’t actually do anything for me. They started talking to me in Arabic, and I just looked at them bewildered. They switched to English and were asking for baksheesh (no surprise). I pretended to speak Spanish and left. When we got on the bus back to Alexandria, Mohammed announced that our route through Alexandria had been changed, and we were going to pass by the library. I slept until we arrived in Alexandria and then woke up to make sure I got to see the library. We stopped alongside the road to be able to take pictures of the building from the bus and then back to the port. I did a little bit of final shopping at the port. I was burned out from haggling though, so I didn’t stay long. I said goodbye to Mohammed, which was accompanied by what I consider to be an inappropriate hug, and then went back to the ship. Security was so nice to me getting back on the ship. I had 3 large shopping bags and my backpack stuffed, but the lady working where we swiped our cards to get back on the ship was really nice about it and took my bags for me so I would have hands free to do what I needed to get on the ship.
Some afterthoughts on Egypt: It was an experience. I got to hear the muezzin make the call to prayer, and it became just part of the everyday. Trading my email in exchange for a scarf was actually more accepted than you would think. Baksheesh was the most annoying part of being there. It was like tipping people just because they were there. My blonde hair definitely got me noticed, but it wasn’t horrible. The attention was nice, and if I ever got uncomfortable with it, there was always an SAS guy nearby who was actually willing to help out (unlike India). My tour guide fell into the same category when it came to attention. He was constantly putting his arm around me and told me once that he loved me. Egypt was actually a nice boost in self esteem. Like most everywhere else that I’ve been, I want to go back.