Don’t be scared to visit Egypt!
Entering Cairo airport in Egypt we discovered there was no ‘On the Go’ office based here and somewhere in the e-mails sent to me regarding our tour, I had overlooked some vital information (like providing them with our flight details).
Before even leaving the airport the hustling began, with taxi and limo staff trying to coax us to use them to get a transfer to our hotel for a hundred Egyptian Pound (~$17 AUD). While this may not be expensive to us, we knew we could get better and approached the official airport information desk to get some more info and help with figuring out if we still had a tour booked. The guys were extremely helpful and managed to contact our guide from ‘On the Go’ and told us there was a shuttle to the bus port then a 4 pound bus to downtown Cairo.
We shuffled passed the hustlers and limo service, onto the shuttle and caught it to the bus port. With our Arabic being non-existent the confusion set in, another man speaking a little English offered us a taxi for 50 pound and with the sun setting we agreed. This is where things got dodgy as the man lead us a few streets away from the airport where groups of men in old vans congregated. The man spoke back and forth, the only word I caught was that of our hotel ‘Safir’. We reached his car, a beaten up little sedan with a homemade roof rack.
Inside, the rear seat was covered in plastic, perhaps to protect from blood stains, i’m not sure. The car had no visible signs of it actually being a legitimate taxi and both Jen and I became a little nervous. “Is this it? Am I going to get dragged in to the desert and shot?” I wondered for much of the drive. He hadn’t even tied our suitcases to that dodgy roof rack.
Some tense minutes later he pulled over on the highway and made his way to the boot. “Yep this is it?” I thought winding my window up. Then he walks to Jen’s side holding an orange rope in his hand. “F*ck!” I think.
“I’m just tying the suitcases on.” He says. “Thank God for that.” Back on the road he starts to tell us a bit about Cairo and the tension eases a little and we take in all the chaos of the busy Cairo streets and unusual apartment blocks. He had some Arabic music playing which really set the tone. We were so far from home it wasn’t even funny. There are literally no road rules here and the horn seems to be the best form of communication. 30 minutes later we arrive safely at our hotel and say goodbye to our driver, who turned out to be harmless. This was our first taste of Cairo, and the following day we would meet Ahmed and the rest of our group for our 9 day King Tutankhamen tour.
Next afternoon we moved to another hotel and had our first glimpse of the great pyramids. We were getting excited now and spent the day kicking back in the pool before seeing a sound and light show of the pyramids and Sphinx with some of the tour group. Ahmed greeted us and told us we would meet Haytham (our guide) the following day. We woke early and met the rest of the group (about 18 people) and Haytham, a 28 year old Egyptian man. Our first stop was the great pyramids and a camel ride into the desert. Haytham gave us plenty of warning about what was in store for us with the hustlers around the pyramids, trying to sell their junk trinkets and camel rides. Even with this warning it still took us by surprise at how determined they were and I received many offers of camels in exchange for my wife.
After our initiation to the world of hustling, Haytham informed us it would only get worse as the trip went on through Aswan, Luxor and Abu Simbel. From our camel ride around the great pyramids, we visited another dozen around Cairo, visiting 17 by the end of the day and began to learn about this great civilisation which existed over 4000 years ago. With a visit to a papyrus museum our time in Cairo was over for now and we boarded an overnight sleeper train to Aswan, south of Cairo. Here we would begin to explore the many temples of the Pharaohs and prepare for a couple of days floating along the Nile on a Felucca.
After a bumpy sleep on the train we arrived in Aswan and headed to a few temples including the Philae temple near High Dam, which was actually underwater at one stage until the UNESCO helped move it to another island nearby. The afternoon was spent being harassed and offered many more camels for the girls in our group. I was called “lucky man” and “casanova” on many occasions (which I didn’t mind to be honest). The hustlers would try anything to get you into their store including memorable quotes: “i don’t know what you want but i have it” & “everything in my store is free”. After the market Haytham our guide showed us how to smoke the Shisha (a flavoured tobacco through a water pipe) which I soon became hooked on.
Tuesday we went to Abu Simbel, one of Egypt’s most impressive temples which has also been moved by the UNESCO in the 60s. This temple is carved into a mountain and the entire thing was cut up and moved, almost as impressive a feat as its actual construction by the Egyptians. The Egyptians were truly genius and everything is millimetre perfect including the fact the sun shines 60 meters into the temple, lighting up 3 statues on Ramses II birthday and coronation date. From Abu Simbel we returned to our hotel and boarded our Felucca, our home for the next couple of days.
The felucca (a kind of raft/ sailboat) was by far the best part of the trip and with the group split over two we soon discovered Haytham’s dark side. After a night at a Nubian house smoking shisha, getting henna tattoos and eating traditional food we prepared to sail down the Nile. “Ardun come with me we need to get supplies.” What this really meant was “let’s get weapons to throw at the other felucca”. With a boat full of water bombs and a strange fruit pod full of itchy milk, we descended on the other felucca in full attack mode.
The best quote coming from Haytham “have a banana!” as he threw a banana onto the deck of the felucca. The other felucca was not impressed but eventually forgave us i think. After the fight, a bond was formed with myself, Haytham and Todd, the 3 guys on our felucca, we became “the three best friends”. Todd being the youngest was forced to endure a few taunts including having “i’m a sissy” written on his chest in Arabic. That night we docked again and enjoyed more food, drinks, soccer with local kids and dancing by a bonfire, where Todd brought out his milkshake dance.
The next day we left our feluccas and visited more incredible temples and arrived in Luxor. The next morning a small group of us woke early to jump in a hot air balloon set to fly over the Valley of the Kings at sunrise. However, we missed the sunrise while nervously watching our crew struggle to inflate the balloon. We nearly pulled out, not sure if they knew what they were doing, but finally were thrown on board. We had missed the sunrise but it didn’t matter, the views were spectacular. The Valley of the Kings and the farmlands along the Nile, we could see everything. The captain took us close to the open roofed homes of locals and at one point a little too close, hitting the corner of a house destroying a wall. Feeling a little shaken, we all agreed it was a memorable experience but one we weren’t sure we would survive. 5 minutes later our nerve was tested again as we headed straight for a palm tree, deviating at the last second and ducking as palm branches swept over the basket. At this point we were ready to get off and 20 mins. later we finally came to land in a field where a farmer and his sun helped keep our balloon on the ground. I’m sure the captain was embarrassed and as we returned to our hotel he proceeded to tell us about how many years experience he had.
That afternoon we visited the Valley of the Kings and the many tombs here, including King Tutankhamen. We also visited Karnak Temple and then returned to our hotel to pack for the sleeper train once more. This was a very emotional time as the group was splitting in two, with some returning to Cairo for the Egyptian Museum and some continuing on to Dahab. We said goodbye to all our new friends and the “three best friends” said farewell, then we boarded our train back to Giza. The next day we visited the Egyptian Museum and the mummies and had drinks that night for all our homies from felucca one & two. We said goodbye to more of our friends and flew out of Cairo to London.
Dedicated to all our friends from Egypt: Haytham, Todd, Jenny, Allison, Domenic, Daniella, Stacie, Toya, Corine, Jathan, Sarah, Andrew, Kerry, Jen, Jena, Kim, Clayton, Ray & Carol. Thankyou for making our time in Egypt so much better we won’t forget you!