part 1: cairo, giza | part 2: aswan | part 3: luxor | part 4: cairo
Day 0: Fri May 1 - Leaving USA
before we left, i did a lot of research on women in egypt. i learned it's best to cover tattoos & definitely cover skin - no cleavage, bare shoulders, or waist, & clothes should not form-fit. a friend of mine who had lived in egypt said i didn't have to cover my hair - dreads are understood - but he suggested i hide my facial & ear jewelry. many sites said to expect street harassment to the point that women are even groped on the street, & that sunglasses are helpful because the men take eye contact as an invitation. (speaking of invitations, i also discovered cairo has its own craigslist; my favorite personals title: "Single Man want thin girl to have a Sex - 30 (Cairo)". :D) but yeah, i bought a pair of linen pants & a long-sleeve button-up shirt that breathed & would fit loosely over a tank top or tshirt, a pair of clip-on sunglasses (as i was also advised not to wear contacts in egypt due to the sand & dust), & a giant floppy sun hat. i packed some long, light skirts, & felt pretty well-prepared. i opted not to hide my body jewelry, as the hat would hide most of it anyhow. i didn't need any new vaccinations, as i was covered by what i'd received for the philippines trip a couple years back. & i had my bank convert a bunch of cash into egyptian pounds for me - a 200LE note was worth about $30US; 10LE was about a buck fifty.
i saved us over $500US by buying our airfare separately from the living social coupon, & we had two flights ahead of us: a 9.5h trip to frankfurt, then a 4h hop over to cairo. we got to seatac airport early due to travis insisting on driving us, which was nice. at the gate we met a chatty perhaps-military guy in our age range who also going to cairo; i couldn't tell if he was going on a boat with the navy or just connecting to a middle eastern cruise. he ate the leftovers of my lunch & was friendly to us through the whole travel to egypt. they fed us twice on the first flight & gave us several snacks, including totally delicious leibnez biscuits. pence & i watched "ex machina" together on two carefully-synced in-seat tvs, & it reminded me heavily of "black mirror" - amazing.
somewhere in there, it became saturday. we had the shortest "night" as we flew. i napped in pence's lap & touched down safely in germany.
in frankfurt, we had to leave security, basically walk around the universe, & then reenter pretty much across from where we'd left. no one cared shit about our passports - our ID wasn't checked once. near our gate, pence & i found the best thing to ever be put in an airport: a giant springy seesaw. he humored my enjoyment of it for a while before he drank a $12US double shot of espresso. i bought some weird mentos (strawberry lime) & a hanuta haselnuss-schnitte which looked like a big naked kitkat. (it was wafers with chunky nutella & i could eat it all day.) on the plane, we taught ourselves arabic phrases from my pocket translator: "please", "thank you", "i am (well, pence is) vegetarian", & my favorite, "go away". they fed us again though it was only a 4h flight.
Day 1: Sat May 2 - Arrive into Cairo
Upon arrival our staff will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel close to the Pyramids for the start of your trip. They will help you settle in, introduce you to the local area, and explain tomorrow's arrangements. Overnight: Cairo 4* hotel.
Extras: Extra days in Cairo / Evening Dinner Cruise on the Nile
entering egypt, all the buildings looked identical - same boxiness, same color, same structure. it looked to me like the city was made from cardboard. at first i thought she hated us, but the woman sitting in our aisle seat was losing her shit repressing giggles at our comments. we left the plane & made our way through the terminal. before customs, we had to stop & pay $25US each for an egyptian visa - no idea how that works, but whatever - it had an eagle of saladin hologram on the front & it got us through, anyhow.
& then i started spotting the comic sans. *sigh* this was just as prevalent in australia - why?
we met up then with our transfer organizer, islam, & four other people from our upcoming party of twenty. the travel company had promised us no more than 18 on a tour, & said if they got to 20 that they'd split it into two groups... but honestly, as weird as i was in this conservative muslim land, i didn't really mind having a bigger group to blend into. we met SquareBeard & Mousy from philly, & waiting in the van were Awkward Cute Brit & MuchBlonde, folks from the UK who had flown in via vienna.
we made it to the soluxe cairo hotel in less than an hour by avoiding downtown traffic. we were told we could see some pyramids on the drive, but i fell asleep between "they're right around this turn" & "okay we're at the hotel". the hotel was oddly chinese for being in africa, but it was well appointed - even if the hotel computer insisted upon using IE. they gave us little glasses of sweet pineapple-tangerine juice [by my best guess, anyhow] & reviewed some brief details for tomorrow. i could barely stay conscious i was so exhausted at this point, having not had proper sleep in well over a day. we went to our hotel room & passed out heartily for 2.5 hours.
we woke to what sounded like a dubstep rave happening at the pool just below our balcony, but turned out to be a birthday party of... three egyptian businessmen. it was very weird. i fully expected to see a giant rager going on, & everything was abandoned. i recorded a bit for posterity & then we got dressed to explore a bit & seek food.
we went downstairs to ask for a map & where to find dinner. islam ran into us & gave us two-turn directions to a restaurant. he then drew us a map of these two turns. as we left, we got through the first turn before he drove up behind us & got out to show us personally - he said he was going this way anyhow so he may as well. i don't know if he was overprotective or thought we were idiots, but we found the place just fine. just then, another dude came up & started telling us he was from our hotel too. (turned out this was a common lie.) he wanted us to go to the next restaurant over that had much better food & more than just sandwiches, & was also owned by his father who was also the mayor. oookay. he was super friendly & pushy & i realized we'd already met the egyptian marco. i ran with it as he repeatedly called me his queen, asked if i'm pence's wife, & wished us "500 years of good luck", advising "happy wife, happy life!"
the food was quite good - we didn't get a menu & i expected we'd be paying more than we might want to, but whatever, local culture! i told the waiter to bring me whatever his favorite was, & pence ordered something vegetarian. the waiter told us that if i like it, i pay, but if i don't like it, he'll pay so long as i tip him two million dollars. good plan, buddy! we ended up with a starter of chickpeas, dressed cabbage, marinated cucumbers, & roasted eggplant with an assortment of breads; my main was a mixed dish of grilled chicken, two beef kofta, & a beef chop. the chop was awesome - it didn't taste or look like american beef, & was quite good. i loved the spices they used. the short-grain rice was a high point, too - very flavorful & really made the dish. we also each had a fruit juice - strawberry for pence, mango for me - & i've never had a pulpier mango juice. delicious. they brought us a few tiny desserts too, which were okay. the tab ended up at 270LE, & we tipped 50LE (about $7.50US) which was clearly too much, but the waiter was very sweet.
we walked back towards the hotel & ran into egyptian marco again, who insisted we come into his shop to "sign my book" & see photos of him with jack black & marvin gaye. we relented. he showed us signatures from all over the US, then tried to sell us a bunch of perfumes made with essential oils & no alcohol. they were quite nice, but pence quickly pushed that we've been traveling & need to rest, & we left. after yet ANOTHER encounter with a very friendly & very pushy egyptian man on the walk back to the hotel, we started to get the culture in mind & began saying "le shukran" a lot more - arabic for a firm "no thank you".
pence had wanted to swim, but decided against it & passed out hard instead. the beds were much like in ireland - duvet covers, but no top sheet. i stayed up & wrote, caught up on wifi, including checking in on vasuki via the snekcam, & then joined pence in unconsciousness.
Day 2: Sun May 3 - Cairo. Museum & Pyramids tour
Our tour of Egypt begins with a trip to the Egyptian Museum in central Cairo. Home to the fantastic Tutankhamun exhibit the museum hosts many other ancient Egyptian artifacts. Following on from the museum we then make the short trip to Giza to visit the Sphinx and the great pyramids of Egypt. This evening we transfer to the station for the overnight sleeper train to Aswan. Overnight: On board train (1st class carriage, reclining seats)
Extras: Sleeper train upgrade
The standard tour uses the 1st class carriage with reclining seats. If you prefer, you may upgrade to a private twin cabin on the overnight sleeper train instead. Your cabin includes two comfortable seats and fold-down beds with sheets, blanket and pillow. The cabin has a sink and storage cupboard and an airline style evening meal and breakfast are included. Prices include transfers to and from the station, your cabin and meals on board. Single cabin supplements apply.
so we accidentally left part of the balcony door open, which let in about a million mosquitoes. the downside was waking up to nine bites on one forearm; on the upside, i didn't react nearly as badly to them as i normally do to american mosquitoes, so it wasn't too uncomfortable. i squashed one in the bathroom before my shower, & left a big smeared streak of pence & lish blood across the wall. hardcore. i joked with pence that the staff won't go through biohazard cleansing procedures, so our blood will always remain here in egypt. X)
after a serviceable buffet breakfast, we met sharif, our egyptologist & guide for the entire tour. he was a very charismatic, fun guide, joking & laughing with all of us. we also met tom, a city guide who was with us in cairo only. (i think his real name was tamir.) we boarded a big coach & visited pyramids in giza first. this was outstanding. they're just as huge & significant as you'd think. the 2.3 million blocks that constitute each pyramid are as tall as me & standing on them was insane. it was one of those moments that refuses to be properly captured in a travelogue, so i took plenty of pictures & touched them & felt very young.
there were salesmen everywhere, & even pushier than in china - they'd actually put their wares in your hand & you had to let them drop onto the sand if you didn't want to buy. sharif told us that tourism has been rough, so where these hawkers used to sell to 30,000 people, now there are the same number of salesmen trying to sell to 1,000 tourists. we had to learn quickly to avoid conversation at all, even when they just seemed friendly, because it all led back to buying something.
pence & i found egyptian graffiti carved into one of the pyramids; later i had the chance to ask sharif about it, & he said it was the name of a salesman! maaan, don't buy from that guy. i also snapped one of the SUPER FAST enormous ants running all over the place.
at the third pyramid, menkaure's, we were able to go inside... but pence & i fucked up & didn't buy supplemental tickets for that at the gate. after begging sharif, he worked it out that tom would pick up tickets for us & we'd stay behind while the rest of the group went up to the next photo stop. after ten or fifteen minutes, we cheered tom's arrival & went in. this worked out way better than expected - all of the groups had cleared out, & pence & i got to experience the tomb totally by ourselves. we entered the pyramid & went down a steep bank with boards for traction every step; even i had to duck to avoid the low ceilings. quite well underground, the room opened into a plain, echoey chamber. there was another boarded ramp, & we went down further to find a smaller room with some graffiti on the ceiling. cameras weren't even allowed in the pyramid, due to tourists not knowing how to turn their flash off, & tom was holding mine for me outside... but pence took the opportunity of our solitude & stole a couple of illicit smartphone photos of the chambers. (can't say i hate that, since he made 100% sure he wouldn't trigger a flash.) back up in the main room, i paused pence & pointed out the utter silence; i made us take a full minute to appreciate how still & quiet it was. near the end of the minute, we began hearing the tourists outside again, but it was still a pretty cool experience we had down there, underground, beneath thousands of kilos of rock, in a king's burial chamber.
returning to the sun, tom & islam drove us up to where the rest of the group was waiting. we reluctantly joined a group photo where i hid behind the big floppy hat that was saving my skin from total annihilation, & we got more photos. this vantage showed the three big giza pyramids as well as some wives' pyramids - junky little things next to the kings' tombs that looked like they were made of the rocks that broke or were imperfectly cut. the patriarchy!@ we were told yesterday that egypt has 118 pyramids, so that's only 112 to go. X)
we headed out to the sphinx next. sharif told us about the process of mummification (using SlashMouth as a model), which i recorded mostly to showcase his charisma; every time people from outside our group would get close, he'd switch whatever he was teaching us seamlessly into "& then the aliens came down from their spaceships... oh, er, hello" & the like. we walked on to our photo ops with the sphinx. i went around back & made pence pose with the sphinx's butt, as that's not really an angle you get to see very often. the whole experience was awesome. i said to pence many times that hey, we're right here looking at this, for real.
back on the bus, we made a stop at sharif's favorite falafel place, & he picked some up for all of us to eat on the bus. we watched giza life go by while we waited - tons of horses, horse carts, camels, bikes, motorbikes, cars, & pedestrians all sharing the same road. we each had two simple falafel sandwiches in a pita, & it was highly delicious. pence said it was the best he's ever had, & he's no stranger to falafel, so it was good to know my assessment was accurate.
we went on to the egyptian museum next. there were a lot of half-built buildings on the way - no windows or roofs, rebar sticking out the top, that sort of thing. we learned that the lands hadn't been properly zoned, so a lot of it was meant to be agricultural, & they had to stop building when that was determined. most of the empty half-done shit we passed was going to be torn down anyhow.
we weren't allowed cameras in the museum either, sadly. we followed sharif around as he explained various treasures & talked about egypt's history. my favorite parts:
i was going to pay the 100LE to see the mummies, but pence didn't want to & i didn't care that much (after all, i've already touched a 650yo mummy anyhow X) ), but we did check out the animal mummies, & i liked seeing the mummified pet mare & oddities like the baboon & antelope.
i basically passed out on the bus after the museum. we went to a perfume shop that i'm pretty certain was owned by a friend of sharif's, & a bunch of people bought in on pre-label paris fragrances while i drank peppermint tea & tried to not fall back asleep. i finished my nap on the way back to our previous night's hotel - some people were flying to aswan & would be staying another night there; we swapped buses to go to the train station.
we'd been forced to upgrade from the sitting train to the sleeper train, as the tour company discovered last minute before the trip that the former was just made unavailable for tourists. this was fine by me, as i'd had enough sleeping sitting up for the week. i'd ridden a sleeper car in china, but pence never had. funny how being on a train makes people act like kids - grown-assed adults were running around pushing buttons & playing with cabinets & trying to open the adjoining doors between compartments just because there were things to mess with. adorable. we were fed on the train - meh, about as good as airline food - & our bunk beds were folded down for us. i let pence have the top bunk & i relaxed with a book while riding the rails to aswan.