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Luxor Travel Blog

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Jared and I caravaning to the Pyramids
Now I have some time to bring you up to date on whats going on over in Egypt -- or as I like to think of it, the land of blind trust and total faith in an antiquated and third world system. It is a system which has miraculously gotten me this far (though not without problems) and will deliver me back to the waiting arms of my friends and family -- hopefully. When I last left you, I was excited about my visit to the Pyramids. This is a good story about blind faith and trusting smiling people -- sometimes it works. Jared and I worked with our concierge to book a tour guide, a driver, and entrance fees into the Pyramids of Saqqara and Giza, plus a visit to the site where Memphis stood. The price was fair -- around 50 dollars for both of us for a full day tour, so we agreed. There was no receipt, no confirmation number, just the agreement to be in the lobby at 8:45 am. We got there at 8:45 am, and our tour guide soon arrived. His name was Osama, and his first joke was that his name was Osama bin Laden -- that went over like a ton of bricks with the two slightly edgy Americans. Off we went though, into the traffic of a Cairo morning -- goats, horses, donkeys, busses, cars, pedestrians, motorcycles, and endless taxis. When I say goats, I mean herds of goats on the side of the city streets feeding on hay. Its like if you were pulling up to Lenox Square, and there were 75 goats in the right turn lane onto Lenox Road -- seriously. We drove through the really poor part of Cairo out to the edge of the city, where amazingly, it got even poorer -- and then we stopped, it was a moment of panic. So many people have been saying to be careful and watch your surroundings, that it was a moment of panic, because I realized I had no control. The guide got out of the van and we were left with the driver, who didn't speak English. Terrorist plots and kidnap scenarios were racing through my mind -- Osama returned a few seconds later to give Jared and I water, since we were heading into the desert -- no terrorism, just being friendly and hospitable. We ended up in Memphis as our first visit of the day. Memphis was the capital of Lower Egypt (the Northern part of Egypt) and was the home of the Old and Middle dynasties. It is a total ruin,. buried in sand, so you basically look at some of the statues that have been dug out. It was your basic outdoor museum. Next we were off to Saqqara, the home of the oldest pyramid in Egypt -- the step pyramid of Zoser. Standing next to pyramid is pretty amazing, they are really big and impressive, and you can feel the antiquity about them. We visited our first tomb there as well. Our guide was great and handled everything. Tipping is a big deal in Egypt, and I have to admit I don't get the nuances of baksheesh (as it is called here). Osama, was doling out bills left and right -- most Egyptian money comes as bill (including 5 piasters (which is worth less than a penny)) -- and all that tipping allowed us to climb on the ruins, take pictures where "no photo" signs were, its an odd system. From the step pyramid, you could see all the major pyramids -- from the red and bent pyramid of the south to the giza pyramids in the north -- truly spectacular. This is where the tour takes a turn for the annoying. Basically tourist are open wallets to Egyptians and we were conveniently dropped off at two "schools" of particular Egyptian handicrafts -- rug making and Payrus work. My friend Brian would have loved the rug school as 10 and 12 years olds were hard at work knotting their tiny fingers away, all for the equivalent of two dollars a day. We were handed over our complimentary tea and then led into the showroom so the high pressure sales pitch could begin. Suffice it to say that we were there for almost an hour, presented every type of rug imaginable, offered more tea, shown figures on calculators, etc -- as we walked out with my camel saddle (!!!!????) and three tote bags for Jared we realized we had been screwed. It was back to the van and onto the Papyrus "school." We were educated in the production of paper, something I was chomping at the bit to learn about, and then shown what appeared to me to be the equivalent of black velvet painting, but had the government seal of authenticity on the back. I walked out of there with a cartouche of my name, and some bookmarks -- once again, screwed. I found that if you just want to leave somewhere, just buy something cheap and run for the door. After a quick lunch, basically at the strip mall that sits at the base of the pyramids we were onto the goal of this whole trip, the Great Pyramid. It was quite an entrance for us, as the wind picked up, and the sand blew all around us and it started to rain. It rains about 6 times a year in Cairo, and I managed to be soaked by it at the pyramids. The Great Pyramid is impressive though, it covers 13 acres, The stormy sky, actually made some of the pictures look great. We visited a tomb, sort of like you seen on tv, that you have to hunch down and climb into backwards, one false step and you are history. It was about 50 feet down the sloping entrance, but really a cool thing to do. Next we were up into the desert a bit, to get a view of the three pyramids and have our camel ride. Camel riding isn't easy -- easier than elephant riding, but still the mount and dismount are tough. Its a three stepped process that has you basically parallel to the earth at points and the camel groans and moans the entire time. Hanging onto the saddle (don't forget I own one, if you ever need to borrow on) and a camera was an adventure. My camel was tied to the back of Jared's and we were caravanning through the desert. My camel farted most of the way, it made for an interesting trip, although as touristy as it was, riding up to a pyramid on a camel is a highlight of my life. Later that night, we went to thank the concierge for the trip and ask about our train tickets to Luxor for the following day. Long story short -- bad news, its a holiday week for Muslims and the trains are booked until the weekend. Total panic. Our only hope it seems is that we may be able to fly to Luxor, but it might be expensive. We ask about the price, but we are told the office for Egypt Air is closed. A few minutes later after the concierge and business center woman are both on the phone for a while on our behalf we find out that the ticket is about 175 round trip and that there are some seats available -- we don't know who they called, but they had specific information, that was unavailable on the internet and at none of the numbers we tried for Egypt Air. Bright and early the next morning we were the first people in line at the Egypt Air Office and the exact price we were quoted was what we paid for our 2:15 flight. It was back to the hotel, to pack and clean up and just look at the Nile and the city. We left around noon and traffic, as usual, was atrocious, We got to the airport at 1:30, practically swatting guys with carts out of the way. We made it to our gate and there was no plane and barely any people, there wasn't even anyone at the security checkpoint -- more American panic. A little before 2, we found an employee who told us there was no Egypt Air flight to Luxor at 2:15 -- dread filled me. We raced back through the airport to the Egypt Air offices there. After about an hour, it was all worked out. The woman sold us tickets for a flight that existed a month ago and Egypt Air was extremely wonderful about us, they found us seats on the next flight out at 6pm -- which was a full flight. We sat around the airport for 3 hours, we were in the domestic part of the airport, called the Old Airport, it was about a million times nicer than the Internatlonal terminal, in case you are curious. They even bussed us to the plane, which was parked on the tarmac about 75 feet from the terminal -- it seemed a little strange, but its a national airline, so everyone gets a job. We made it into Luxor around 7:30. The Airport looks like a warzone, it really looked bombed out, although it appears they are building a new nice one, but you drive right by that on a bus into a little room with a baggage ramp and a lot of mosquitos. We got our luggage and headed into town to our hotel. The cab was a Peugeot station wagon from about 1972 and could easily be classified as a death trap. Luxor is very small compared to Cairo and also totally dependant on tourists and seems much poorer. The hotels are basically compounds offering you everything. We are in the Hilton and as we arrived the lounge singer was singing Frozen by Madonna -- we knew we were home. There is lots of security here. In 1997 tourists were killed at Hatshepsut's Temple on the west bank of town, and since then the police are everywhere. Racial profiling is big here, I can walk through a metal detector with my bag full and set it off and I am waved through, Egyptians aren't that lucky. We had dinner by the Nile at the hotel last night and there was a police boat and 2 officers stationed on the bank who sit there all night long, I guess to make sure no one pulls up by boat who isn't supposed to be there. Around 10:30 we found the Thomas Cook representative -- late you say? There is a siesta here that lasts from 1pm until about 5pm when everything is closed, but from about 5 until 11 things open again. We booked our tours of Luxor and the west bank, once again a driver and guide for the two of us for about 100 dollars for both for 2 days of touring. Having a private car seems very decadent here, but it kind of rocks tearing past the tourists on giant motor coaches -- we get to park closer. It was off to bed, where Will and Grace and the Golden Girls were on the television -- yes, even in the Middle East, there is a Lifetime moment, we even saw a glimpse of the Lifetime movie about anorexia today -- how strange is that. We went to Karnak and Luxor temples today. Karnak was amazing, it is gi-normous. It was on par with Pompeii as far as unending spectacular vistas of the well preserved old building goes. There is still 3500 year old paint on some of the columns and ceilings. The pyramids were my dream to see, but Karnak is the place I want to come back to and spend a week wondering around. Next was Luxor temple, which was beautiful, but in comparison was tiny -- about a tenth the size -- I was spoiled by Karnak. We came back to the hotel. It was a beautiful day, a warm wind off the desert, so I sat by the Nile drank some tea, smoked a sheesha with Sayed -- the host at the tea bar on the banks of the Nile while Jared tried to get his internet to work. I took a nap before we headed into town for dinner -- I had to eat at an Egyptian McDonalds -- for those of you who don't know, I eat at a McDonalds in every country I go to -- it is my benchmark for a country. From McDonald's I learned that it is men who work in Egypt, tourism is king, hospitality and service are a prime concern, and that pork is never served. We then went into the Luxor souk -- it was SO HIGH PRESSURE. Jared ended up with a string of turquoise for about 110 dollars and I bought a 1 dollar bag of indigo (once again, jsut to get the hell out of some stall I wondered into). I did learn to say no thank you in Arabic -- tis pronounced somehting like "la sho kran" -- I believe I said it half a million times tonight. Tomorrow, we are off to the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatshepsut (the only female pharoah), and the Colossi of Memnon. Also, we hear there is a stop at a local alabaster and stone "school." I wonder what trinket I will end up being forced to buy just to get out of there -- I guess I've always wanted an alabaster bust of Nefertiti. You'll probably get the next e-mail from Paris, the next few days are going to race by. I leave Cairo at 7:15 am on Friday, thats a little after midnight on thursday/friday night in Atlanta. I hope things are going well at home. Brett
travelteachr says:
I have to tell you...I was in stitches reading your story. I literally had to stop reading at one point because I was laughing so hard. =) a camel saddle??? lol
Posted on: Oct 07, 2006
vances says:
Please know that I am no expert...but I was taught that (phonetically), saying "no thank you" is pronounced "la shuc-ran" (the "C" being in the first syllable). A minor point --- sounds like we both got by with our respective pronunciations, lol.

An awesome blog, by the way!
Posted on: Jun 03, 2006
vances says:
You write very well...but the absence of paragraphs is truly agonizing! Also, please know that to be transported by a large vehicle is busing...if you are bussing, you are kssing, lol!
Posted on: Jun 02, 2006
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Jared and I caravaning to the Pyra…
Jared and I caravaning to the Pyr…
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