Part 1-The Pyramids, the Seven Wonders of the World

(November 2007)

We finally made it on our second attempt to Egypt and this time, we didn’t get kicked off the plane.  Yeah, it’s a long, painful story I would rather not discuss.  To get there, we took Delta Airlines from Atlanta to Frankfurt then Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Cairo.

As soon as we exited the airport in Cairo, we were bombarded by  many beggars and strangers.  It was dusk and no one spoke English.  Our plan was to get a taxi from the airport to the train terminal to get on an overnight train down to Luxor.  After sightseeing the sites in Luxor, we wanted to get on a cruise up the Nile River back to Cairo.  However, this was no longer an option since we couldn’t even get a taxi.  In the midst of hopelessness and fear, an Egyptian man came to us and asked us in English if we needed help. We told him our story.  By luck, he happened to be a manager of a travel agency in Cairo.  He said he can take us to his office and organize a personalized tour for us, depending on our schedules and what we wanted to do and see.  We were doubtful whether to trust him or not, but at the time, he was our best bet.  We followed him to his van parked at the airport but immediately, we were surrounded by three men.  They asked him in Egyptian where he was taking us and how he knew us.  There were lots of questions.  Somehow, things got cleared up and we were on our way.  It turned out that the these incognito men were tourist police.  They were trying to protect us.

MISR Asia Travel, located 101 Saudi Egyptian Building El-Sawaah Square behind qobbah palace in Cairo, Egypt (misrasia@intouch.com; 02 2 4554655) was legit.  For about $600 per person, my friend and I had our own guide and air-conditioned minivan, hotel and three meals for a week stay in Cairo, Luxor and Alexandria.

In Cairo, we visited the Egyptian Museum and saw the artifacts of King Tut Ankh Amon.  It was spooky to see the real mummies preserved inside the coffins of the Royal Mummies Hall.  But this got me excited to all the things we have left to see on this trip.

The Sphinx, a mythical creature with a lion’s body and a god or king’s head, represents a sacred symbol of a union of a strongest physical being with the highest intellectual power on earth.   Ironically, in front of the Sphinx is the Pizza Hut and KFC.  15 miles from Cairo city centre and 5 miles inland from the old town of Giza, the Great Pyramid of Khufu is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids.  It is also the oldest and the most intact of the Seven Wonders of the World.  Built for King Cheops, it took over 20 years and was finished in year 2560 BC.  A few hundreds of meters southwest of the Pyramid of Khufu is the Pyramid of Khafre, Khufu’s son, and another few hundreds of meters southwest is the Pyramid of Menkaure, Khufu’s grandson. Because of the angle of inclination of construction and its elevated location, it appears that Khafre’s pyramid is bigger than the Great Pyramid of Khufu.  It is a must to go camelback riding in the Sahara Desert around the pyramids.  Make sure you negotiate a price to get on and off the camel before you get on, about $5 USD, not $30-$60 USD.  Otherwise, you can get stuck on top of the camel and won’t be able to get off until you pay again.

Mudbrick homes keep the internal temperatures comfortable, warm during the winter and cool during the summer.  These homes look very run-down but they are actually the finished products where people live in. Winter months are about 70-80 degrees F and over 120 F during the summer.

Khan El-Khalili, an outdoor bazaar in Cairo, have a wide range of gifts you can buy, from spices, tea, perfumes, gold and silver, rugs, brass to glass ceramics.  The market is chaotic and vendors are very aggressive, pulling you into their stores or trying to entice you as you walk down the alleys.  I was even approached by one of the vendor with, “How can I take your money?” humor.  The key if you want to shop here is to haggle or bargain all your prices since nothing is a fixed price.  Take note that whatever quote they give you is about three times more than what you should pay.  If they say no, simply walk away.  There are many vendors selling the same items.  In some cases, they will call you back to accept your offer.

I found interesting paintings at a papyrus factory.  The Final Judgement painting, is a ceremony of the weighing of the heart led by Horus (in front) of Osiris, the chief gods of the dead & afterlife. One side of the balance weighs the heart, which measures the sin of the Pharoah, and the other side weighs the feather, which is truth and justice. If the Pharoah’s heart weighs more, god Ammut, who has the head of the crocodile, devours the Dead, whereas if the heart is light, Anubis, goddess of Truth & Justice guides the Dead to afterlife. On top were tribunal of 42 dieties acting as witnesses.  King Tut’s royal chair and the Final Judgment paintings were not cheap, but I could not resist taking home such great souvenirs.

Sadly, I lost my 18k gold cartouche at a ski cabin in Sweden.  To this day, I still have not gotten over the fact that I lost something so important.  The meanings of each hieroglyphics were:

 

G  a jar stand; means stable
R  a mouth; means talkative, outgoing
A  an eagle; powerful and strong
C  a basket; full of good qualities
E  a reed leaf; fair and just

 

I thought about ordering a duplicate cartouche online, but I figured it wouldn’t be the same. Some day, I hope to go back to Egypt to get my cartouche. Thankfully, I still have the 18K gold cross that I bought at Coptic Cairo village where Mary and Joseph hid Jesus after King Harod ordered Jesus to be killed when He was born.  The Coptic Christians built  “the Hanging Church” on top of the cave of a Babylon Fortress to preserve this special hiding place.  Taking photos of the underground cave were prohibited.  The Hanging Church or the Staircase Church is one of the oldest church in Cairo, dating back to 3rd century AD.  The church is approached by 29 steps and inside, the ceiling of the church looks like Noah’s Ark.

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We stopped by a famous Fouad Al Fayed perfume factory and smelled dozens of scents…lotus, jasmine, frankincense, nefertity…and ended up purchasing 6 bottles. These original oils are exported to Italy and Paris where they add alcohol and label it  “Chanel No. 5” perfume and such.

Passing through the sakkara area, a desert with many pyramids, we arrived at a train station to board a nine hour sleeping train down to Luxor.  It could have been that we were young, female travelers so we were a target.  We had an unusual experience on the sleeping train.  Our onboard steward kept opening our locked door in our room with no reason.  Not to mention we barely got any sleep but we were scared to go to the bathroom by ourselves in the middle of the night.  When we arrived in Luxor in the morning, we reported what happened during the night to a travel agent who came to check up on us.  He who was in the opposite end of the train the whole night with a big tour group and was there to escort us to our own guide in Luxor.  The manager of onboard services came and apologized to us and had the steward come and apologize for his misbehaviors.  That same day, we received a call from our travel company that the steward was put in prison.  To my disbelief, the police asked us if we wanted him to be in prison for life.   In a Muslim country,  sexual harassment especially with foreigners deserved a heavy punishment. We said it was unnecessary and asked for him to be released, hoping that he learned his lesson for good.

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The Pharonic Village is a replica museum of the style of life the ancient Egyptians had with reproductions of buildings, clothing and arts.  Visit the mummification and Cleopatra’s exhibits, nobleman’s and peasant’s house, get on the nile boat ride and enjoy the scenes of ancient agriculture and the scenes of Moses.

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Egyptian cuisine consists mainly of a variety of kabobs, kofta, lots of vegetables and little meat.  Pigeons grown in farms are considered delicacies.  Egyptians also eat camel meat but it is impossible to find it in restaurants.  Although we took high precaution to not drink or brush our teeth with tap water and eat only fully-cooked food, we still got sick and suffered for two days.

A cab experience is pretty daunting for travelers.  Our first cab was a piece of junk.  Then again, most cabs are missing headlights, bumpers, hubcaps or other parts.    The engine shut down every few minutes, so we were stranded multiple times in the middle of the road with cars coming in all direction.  The lanes are not marked and it’s a complete chaos with honking horns every few seconds.  We changed to a different cab but by the time we got to our destination, my legs were trembling.  Night driving is also pretty intense because no one drives with lights on since it is considered rude.  Surprisingly, the system works.

Henna tattoo probably lasted less than a week for me but it was beautiful while I had it.  I can see why Egyptian women love to adorn their hands and feet with such embellishments.

Afterlife was huge in ancient Egypt. As soon as the King got enthroned, Egyptians started to build the pyramids, preparing for their tombs. Pharoahs were worshipped because the people believed that they were mediators between the gods and the people.

Egypt was a very unique travel experience for me, thrilling and the most memorable.  It was an epic journey to the time of pharoahs, pyramids, and mummies, which date back as far as 5500 B.C.

 

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