Kom Ombo, Edfu and Luxor

We wake early and have breakfast while the sun rises. We take some photos and say our heartfelt goodbyes. The crew had been so cool, fun, friendly and generous with their humour and hospitality. It felt like they really enjoyed the trip as well. Even though it’s hard to perceive that as they do this all the time. They made it feel like it was their first time.

Crew
Crew
Crew
Crew

Crew
Crew

Crew
Crew

Crew Together
Crew Together
Adam, me, crew, Melung
Adam, me, crew, Maulung

We jumped in a minivan and heading for Kom Ombo. There we checked out the Temple of Sobek and Haroeris. A duel dedication to the crocodile and falcon gods. It was a little underwhelming after all the other ruins we had seen.

Temple of Sobek and Haroeris
Temple of Sobek and Haroeris
Temple of Sobek and Haroeris
Temple of Sobek and Haroeris

Next stop was Edfu and the Temple of Horus. The temple is the most preserved of the Ptolemaic period in Egypt and it is spectacular and awesome. It is massive and being so intact it invites people to transcend time and image they are there 3000 years ago. It is full of amazing and detailed carvings and hieroglyphs. It is one of my favourite temples and I really enjoy exploring it and imagining what it would have been like all newly painted, vibrant and full of gold.

Temple of Horus
Temple of Horus

We head for Luxor but take a detour due to a major crash where a truck had gone off the road and onto its side. The back road is bumpy, dusty and slow but it goes through a little village and we see more of rural life.

We stop for tea at a roadside café and stretch our legs. Out of nowhere, an American couple who are in the minivan with us just start going nuts at the driver for taking too long and making them two hours late. They are real twats and everybody else can’t help but think how unreasonable and disrespectful they are being. They just perpetuate the negative stereotype of Americans and sour the mood on the bus. However, most just laugh at their uptight demeanour. I feel sorry for people like this who get upset over little things, ruin their own time then make other people feel bad and uncomfortable.

Happy Travel
Ironically this sign is in front of the cafe, right behind the American couple as they yell at the driver.

We arrive at Luxor and get dropped at our hotel. We hang out and chat with our Christian contact about the tour for the next couple of days. We also speak a little about politics and religion. He says it is hard being a Christian in Egypt and they have many problems in society. He says he does not like Muslims and Arabs and thinks they have closed minds. He also expresses his dissatisfaction with the current government and president.

We check in and then head over to a hostel we have heard about with free wi-fi. We get some dinner and then start talking. Adam and I have a very interesting conversation/debate about religion and human nature.

The debate about religion is a little too sensitive and contentious to be discussed here but I am happy to discuss further if anyone is interested.

Unable to reconcile our views about organised religion we seamlessly moved onto human nature. Here Adam and I were split along the nature verses nurture lines.

Adam believed, inline with much popular belief I have come across, that it was biologically human nature to want to survive as an individual and that in the end self interest and your own life are the most important things in determining ones actions.

I on the other hand, believed that our notion of human nature as being naturally based on individual survival and self-interest was much more a result of nurture or social constructs that have been developed and reinforced over time. I believe the West could just have easily have been convinced that community survival and community interest was the most important thing in determining ones actions.

It is the way we have been nurtured over time, the path dependency of conventional thought, that has given the West the idea that human nature is based on individual consciousness rather than social consciousness.

I tried to convince Adam that we needed a social, economic and political system that would promote and capture social consciousness because this would paradoxically lead to greater overall individual freedom. More people would be able to have more choices in a society that tends to equality and this would give greater scope for human progress in whatever direction society chooses.

After our conversation, I check my emails and see that many people have liked my first batch of photos. I am glad they did.

On our way back to our hotel we start talking to a local who invites us for a tea. He is funny and wants to practice his English. I soon find out there is another comical motive. We talk for a while before he asks me to write a text message in English to a girl he likes in London. For the next 5 minutes the three of us laugh as we construct this shameful love SMS. It went something like this

‘Hey darling, I hope you are feeling better. I love you, I miss you, I can’t wait to kiss your lips and caress your breasts. I will wait for you in June. Our hearts are one xxx.’

It was classic! We wondered back to the hotel and I passed out again in less than a minute fully clothed. This seems to be a recurring them. We pack so much into everyday we are always exhausted at night.

The Nile (Felucca and Camel Market)

We wake on the boat a little worse for wear but once breakfast is served, it’s all good. We are picked up by a minibus and taken to the Camel market. This market only happens once a week on Tuesdays so we are lucky.

The Camel Market is amazing, a really sensory experience. It is packed with people, animals, dirt, dust, blood, and shit. There are lambs being slain, meat being chopped and camels and cows being smacked. The smells are pungent. We walk around for a bit and then head into the near by village for a cup of tea. Here I meet Jimmy who is very well spoken and tries to sell me some weed.

Camel Market
Camel Market
Camel Market
Camel Market
Camel Market Sheesha
Camel Market Sheesha
Camel Market Butchering
Camel Market Butchering
Camel Market Slaying
Camel Market Slaying
Camel Market
Camel Market
Camel Market Posers
Camel Market Posers
Camel Market
Camel Market
Camel Market Kid
Camel Market Kid

Old Man in Cafe
Old Man in Cafe

We drove back to the felucca and chilled out as the crew prepared lunch. By this time there was only six of us left; Adam, Melung, the Germans and I. Lunch was bread with two great sauces, a tuna and onion and a tuna and tomato. We also had some hand made chips and hummus.

We spent the rest of the day sailing slowly, almost just with the current. I spent the afternoon reading about the history and politics of the Middle East. It was very interesting and gave good context to the current social situation I was witnessing.

We docked the boat and had some dinner – rice and potatoes in a spicy red sauce with bread. We cracked some beers we manage to get cold by borrowing some ice from a felucca near by.  We ate, we drank, we talked and then we sang. The crew started banging on an empty water drum and singing and before long, we were all singing in Arabic, German and English. We must have sung to the same beat for an hour clapping the whole time. Things eventually chilled out and me and Adam talked a little longer while we finished a couple beers and the Germans made a dutch oven and smoked dubees with the crew in a cabin at the front of the boat.

The Nile (Felucca and Nubian Home Visit)

We are dropped to our felucca just outside of Aswan. There we meet our shipmates – 3 Aussies (Josh, Matt and Tristan), 3 Germans (Matais, Kat, and Andres), 2 Dutch (I didn’t catch their names) and Maulung from Hong Kong via New York. All are great and really nice people. We all seem to hit it off straight away and begin chatting and finding out everyone’s story.

Melung
Maulung

We get to know each other over lunch and then start sailing down the Nile. The chatter slows down as everyone starts relaxing and taking it all in with their bellies full. It is so surreal to be finally sailing down the Nile, guided by the current and help by a light wind. It is as idyllic is I had imagined and I savour every moment.

The Love Boat
Our felucca, aptly named "Love Boat"
The Skipper
The Skipper on the first day
Crew
Crew

We don’t sail for to long before we arrive at the spot where we will dock for the night. We stop near the small village of one of the Nubian crewmembers. He takes us up to his home and introduces us to his family. It is a really nice gesture and everyone appreciates his and his family’s hospitality. We are all seated inside and everybody smokes as tea is served. I feel a little queasy so I step outside. I walk around the courtyard as the sunsets and notice a ladder to the roof. The crewmember’s little sisters come outside and start laughing at me. I climb up the ladder and onto the roof to get a great view of the village. I relax up there and take some deep breaths.

Eventually everybody comes out and sees me on the roof. Some climb up as well to see the view. We hangout in the courtyard and everybody starts taking pictures of themselves with the crewmember and his father and mother. I approach the grandmother of the house sitting in a corner and I politely gesture, as if to ask if I can take a photo of her. She humbly nods and I take an intimate portrait. Everybody goes quiet as they notice me taking the shot and they seem to become interested. The mother of the house smiles at me with approval. It was one of those moments when I realised that through this small gesture with the camera I had shown an interest in the old woman who had no attention at first and is possibly often ignored. Old people can become obsolete and uninteresting to many. I hope the little attention I gave her made her feel a little more meaningful.

The Grandmother
The Grandmother

Cameras are funny that way, that can make you look like an ignorant tourist and evoke a sense disgust in flashy opulence, or they can create more intimate connections with people and show respect and interest.

Crew member's Sister
Crew member's Sister

The crewmember takes us around the rest of his village and shows us his big empty block of land.

Woman in Village
Woman in Village

Woman at Shop
Woman blowing me a kiss

Old Man in Village
Old Man in Village
Village Kids
Village Kids

We have dinner, crack a cold beer and chatter by candle light. Life couldn’t get any better. After dinner, the crewmembers show us some magic tricks and we play some games.

As the crewmembers are preparing tea, the gas bottle and cloth catches alight! Everybody moves like lighting to the back of the boat and are about to jump in the water when the blaze is smacked out. It gets the blood pumping and wakes everyone up a little. Once the crew felt they had fix the faulty seal on the gas bottle, they proceed to check for gas leaks with a lit match – funny times.

People eventually start fading and going to sleep. I have a very interesting conversation with Tristan about free diving and his insane spear fishing adventures.

We all hit the hay being eaten alive by mosquitos but are content with one of the nicest days you can possibly have.

Aswan (Abu Simbel and Philae)

I wake up to a loud banging on the door at 2:45am! Our pick up for Abu Simbel is here. I think this is the earliest start to a day I have ever had. We grab our take away breakfast and jump on the bus. We pick up a bunch of other people from their hotels and then go and wait for like an hour in a military holding area. You can only drive to Abu Simbel in a military escorted convoy. I am not exactly sure why this is but if I had to guess, it would be the proximity to Sudan’s border and the worry of the illegal shipment of guns into Sudan.

Most people pass out and sleep on the bus but I am wide awake. It’s a beautiful moonlit desert landscape and after a few hours I see my first Egyptian sunrise over the sand. It’s a long four hour drive and we arrive at 9am.

Barren desert
Barren desert on the way

We walk to the ruins of the Great Temple of Abu Simbel in the early morning sun. It is early but already over 30 degrees, at least the air is extremely dry so you don’t sweat that much. The Temple was commissioned by Ramses II and dedicated to his ego and some gods. The Temple displays the power and wealth of his rule but also shows how much of a megalomaniac he was. It was skilfully and intricately carved out of a mountainside by Egyptian workers and artists. Four huge 20 metre high statues of Ramses guard the front of the Temple while inside they are complemented by 10 or so more massive sculptures of Ramses. Almost all the hieroglyphs inside show offerings to various gods. There is a smaller less impressive temple for his queen next to the main attraction.

Abu Simbel
Abu Simbel
Ramses Statues
Ramses Statues

Ramses Statue
Ramses Statue

Inside Ramses Temple
Inside Ramses Temple

After a short hour and a half, we are back on the bus and heading to Philae.  This is another Temple that was moved brick by brick from the area that was flooded to make Lake Nasser. It is a nice set of ruins on the water but at this stage I am starting to get a little ruined myself.

Philae
Philae
Philae Corridor
Philae Corridor
Philae Hieroglyphs
Philae Hieroglyphs
Philae Hieroglyphs
Philae Hieroglyphs
Ferry captain
Ferry captain who takes us to and from Philae
Houses near the waters edge
Houses near the waters edge

We drive back to Aswan opting to bypass stops at the High Dam and Unfinished Obelisk. Everybody is a little over it, something to do with the 2:45am start I suspect.

I spend the rest of the afternoon downloading and uploading photos. In the evening, Adam and I have a couple longnecks at the felucca captain hangout. This is where all the Nubian felucca captains and crew come to drink after a day sailing around foreigners on the Nile.

Sunset at Aswan
Sunset at Aswan as the Nile rowing association trains

Aswan (Elephantine, Nubian Village, Felucca and Tombs of the Nobles)

I wake as the sun is rising on the sleeping train. I peak out behind the curtains and see the Nile not so far away. Green streaks of agriculture dotted with palm trees lead up to the waters edge. As the train moves on, the countryside passes by and I see more decrepit and crumbling houses and villages. It makes me wonder when Egypt’s heyday was, when was everything new and in good working order? I also notice lots of smog and see farmers doing some back burning. I see a number of industrial complexes spewing smoke into the air.

Is nothing left natural, must everything beautiful, pristine and life giving be exploited, polluted and destroyed?

We arrive in Aswan and at first I am left wondering where this dreamy quiet town by the river is. At first sight, it seems not so relaxing. We catch a taxi to where we want to stay but find the prices highly inflated from the guidebook. We start roaming the streets and run into a hustler named Abdullah. He says he can get us accommodation for 50 pounds a night, half of what a couple other hotels were quoting. So we walk with him and he calls a guy from a local tour company. The tour rep is extremely well spoken and seems very genuine. He quotes us a great price for the room and a four-day trip. For 275 pounds ($53 AUD) we get two nights accommodation in Aswan, a trip to Abu Simbel and Philae (a 12 hour round trip almost to the Sudan border) two days and two nights on a felucca sailing up the Nile to Kom Ombo with all meals included, a minibus to ruins in Kom Ombo and Edfu and then a transfer to Luxor. Pretty sweet deal.

With that sorted we check in and head out for the day. We catch a ferry over to the island on the Nile called Elephantine. As we are disembarking, a young Nubian dude starts chatting with us and invites us back to his home for tea. We follow him through a Nubian Village to his place. We have a cup of tea and get to know each other. He seems like a really nice, chilled out guy living the island life. He compares the island to Jamaica saying they party, drink, smoke weed and listen to Bob Marley.

New Nubian Friend
New Nubian Friend
Random Ancient Relic
Random ancient relic in the middle of the village

We say we want to walk around the island and he offers to show us around. We walk through his village to the edge of his island. There we find some nice Ptolemaic ruins and we chill in their shade while our new friend rolls up a trumpet splif. He sparks up and smokes most of it. We share it around so as to join in the experience but I just bum puff a couple tokes. I don’t feel like getting ripped in the 40 degree heat. We chill for a bit and then decide to get a felucca, cruise around and get some food. Our Nubian mate grabs one of his friends and we take out a boat called Babylon. We sail down the river and I steer the boat for a bit zig zagging with the wind to our lunch spot.

The west bank of the Nile at Aswan
The west bank of the Nile at Aswan

Ptolemaic ruins
Ptolemaic ruins

Blowing a trumpet
Blowing a trumpet
Feluccas to choose from
Feluccas to choose from
Me steering
Me steering the felucca

We grab a nice spread of food and share chicken, rice, salad, potatoes and beans in sauce, lentil soup, hummus and bread. We eat on the felucca, it’s an awesome feed and a great experience to just be hanging out with these dudes. We get some beers and cruise down the Nile relaxed, full and as content as can be. The sun gets lower in the sky, everything starts turning golden and a nice breeze picks up. We sip the cold beers and head over to the Tombs of the Nobles as the Nubians blaze blunt after blunt. Adam and I check them out the tombs. They are pretty cool and we get a great view of Aswan from the west side of the river, but we really don’t know the significance of the site.

Beers and Blunts
Beers and Blunts
Tombs of the Nobles
Tombs of the Nobles
View down the Nile
View down the Nile
Inside a noble tomb
Inside a noble tomb
Hieroglyphs inside a noble tomb
Hieroglyphs inside a noble tomb

We sail back to Aswan and hook up the guys with some cash for hiring the felucca. The friend of the first guy we met tried to get some extra cash out of us but in the end our friend just asked us to pay for the feluccas. They were great guys and it was sweet hanging out with them for the day.

Fishermen in the afternoon
Fishermen in the afternoon

We get back to the hotel and I have a four-hour afternoon nap. When I wake, we go in search of a restaurant recommended by our guidebook – Shawish. On the way we stumble upon a huge bazaar with hundreds of little shops and cafes. The streets are full of colourful ground spices.

Spices in Bazaar
Spices in Bazaar

We find the restaurant and get a great cheap spread. Adam gets the stuffed Pigeon, which looks interesting. After dinner, we cruise around the bazaar and have a nice tea with apple sheesha.

Punching Sheesha
Punching Sheesha
Me and Sheesha
Ohhh that's good apple sheesha

We walk around a little more then head back and pass out despite the loud beeping traffic outside our window along the Corniche and the banging of Islamic music on the floor above us.

Cairo (Citadel, Dead City, Square Mosque, Coptic Cairo and Night Train)

The jet lag is still in me and I wake at 6:30am. Adam eventually wakes and we have some breakfast. We check out and leave the hostel with plans to see the Citadel. We meet a helpful local, Aladdin the Masseuses, who helps explain to the taxi driver where we want to go. The taxi driver is a funny old character who doesn’t speak a word of English. For some reason he absolutely insists that we smoke a cigarette with him. We accept so we don’t offend and I bum puff the cigarette like a cigar.

When we arrive at the Citadel it is heaving with people and kids, most of them appear to be Egyptian or of Middle Eastern descent. Something we have noticed is that Egyptian people and schools seem to be just as interested in their historical sites as travellers and tourists. Egyptian people’s presence out number westerners at the Citadel and would have been almost on par at the Pyramids and the Museum.

Middle Eastern people at the Citadel
Middle Eastern people at the Citadel

We walk around the site and check out some of the mosques and incredible views of the city. We spend a few hours just chilling up there as Friday pray (the most important of the week where the Iman (priest) gives his weekly Khutba (sermon)) is on from noon until 1pm. In the meantime, we also check out the Palace Museum where some of the rulers of Mohammed Ali’s dynasty would have been seated. Mohammed Ali’s dynasty ruled much of the late 19th and early 20th century. His body is held in a huge coffin within the main mosque of the Citadel.

Cairo Views
Cairo Views
Cairo Views
Cairo Views
Me and some friendly kids
Me and some friendly kids
Women on the Skyline
Women on the Skyline

When pray finishes we enter the massive mosque and see Mohammed Ali’s coffin. We sit down and I take some time to think about what it is like to be a Muslim.

Courtyard of Mosque
Courtyard of Mosque
Citadel Mosque of Muhammad Ali
Citadel Mosque of Muhammad Ali

While we were over looking the city from the high perch of the Citadel, we notice an amazing square mosque and decide to go and see it. As we leave we are greeted by a very well spoken Egyptian who tells us about the mosque and the dead city. He sets us up with a taxi (he is obviously a taxi organiser) to take us around for the afternoon for 50 pounds.

Our first stop was the Dead City to see how people live amongst the dead in a huge cemetery. Poor people were forced to move into the area as Cairo grew beyond its capacity. It’s quite disgusting as the area stinks and is full of rubbish and sewage. Its all a bit eerie but the poor Egyptians have made this area their own often living near their dead loved ones and integrating the graves into the household as practical objects e.g. making a cloths line between two gravestones. It was easy for the Egyptians to move into the area as:

The cemeteries built in the City of the Dead are much different than the western idea of cemeteries. This is because traditionally, Egyptians buried their dead in  room-like “burial sites” so they could live in them during the long mourning period of forty days. 1

Dead City
Dead City
Skyline filled with Mosques
Skyline filled with Mosques

Next stop was the architecturally beautiful and grand Mosque of Ahmad ibn Tulun (Square Mosque). It is a minimalist and simple mosque but it is so perfectly structured it invites peace. We walk around the mosque slowly and climb to the top of the minaret. At the top we are treated to spectacular views of the city and again hang out for a while and savour the moment.

Arabic Writing at Entrance
Arabic Writing at Entrance
Man in Square Mosque
Man sitting there as we enter the Square Mosque
The centre of the Mosque
The centre of the Square Mosque
Minaret Square Mosque
Minaret of the Square Mosque
View from Minaret
View from Minaret
View from Minaret
View of Square Mosque from Minaret
View from Minaret
View from Minaret
View from Minaret
View from Minaret
Me in the minaret with spooky horns
Me in the minaret with spooky horns

We jump back in the taxi and drive through yet another side of Cairo en route to the Coptic Quarter. The city seems to have so many faces. On the way we see heaps of roadside stalls full of meat, fruit and vegetables. The dirt roads are dusty and the whole are has a very peasant-rural feel to it even though we are still very much in the heart of the city. It’s a funny contrast to other parts of the city.

Coptic Cairo itself was a bit of non-event and not that interesting. We visited the churches and got a bite to eat but there was nothing special.

Coptic Church in Cairo
Coptic Church in Cairo

We caught the metro line back to the square near our hostel and chilled out for bit.

Metro Line
Metro Line

We then grabbed a taxi to Giza train station were we caught the Sleeper train headed for Aswan. We meet a nice Spanish couple while we were waiting in the cafeteria and we parted saying ‘have a nice life’ as you do when you are travelling.

The train itself was nice and comfy and we had a very nice attended who was the first Egyptian to have a trickster kind of sense of humour. Again, I fell asleep very quickly once the beds were pulled out.

Cairo (Giza Pyramids, Sphinx and Zamalek)

In the morning, we wake early and meet some nice Americans in the common room. Adam and I head out to catch a local bus to Giza where the most famous Egyptian pyramids can be found. We wanted to travel on local public transport to get a feel for how Egyptians move about their city.

Women overlooking th Nile
Women overlooking th Nile

As soon as we arrive, we are sweet-talked by a local hustler. He takes us off in a van to the secondary entrance to the pyramids. There he tries to sell us camel and horse tours of the pyramids but we resist insisting that we want to go by foot. He leaves pissed off he did not get a sale and make some commission and we walk over to entrance with the help of another hustler. He is much nicer though and helps us in the hope of getting a sale but when he realises we are not buying, he is not angry and wishes us a good day.

We buy our tickets and enter the area, as you come out of the ticket office BAM! Right in front of your face is the Sphinx with two huge pyramids in the background. You are practically still in the grimy suburbs of Giza but you are looking at the most romanticised images of Egypt. You have seen a million and one photos of it so it is a little surreal to be there and see it with your own eyes. We walk up to the Sphinx and take many photos like a good tourist. It’s pretty cool, smaller than I expected but still a marvel of ancient Egyptian stone carving.

Sphinx and Pyramid
Sphinx and Pyramid
Sphinx and me
Sphinx and me
The million tourists
The million tourists

As we started walked up to the pyramids a hustler came up to me and said ‘hey you look Egyptian my friend, here have this hat for free, it is a present from me’. I thought this was too nice to be true and I tried to resist but he persisted. He put the hat on me and then made me take a bunch of photos with it. He then tried to give me more presents, small pyramid souvenirs, but I refused and tried to leave. He started saying that he wanted backshesh (tip) for the photos and for giving me the hat even though it was a gift. I laughed and thought this guy is good, he is persistent and has a game plan.

I pulled out 10 pounds just to get him away from me as he was starting to get on my nerves. He didn’t want to accept it, he said it wasn’t money, ‘no good, no good’ and pointed to the fifties in my wallet. I didn’t want to give him anymore and he started getting more and more aggressive. He then took the 10 pounds and persisted that he wanted more. I said no but he kept on and it heightened in to a bit of a macho showdown as our voices raised and I began to get worked up as well. Egyptian school groups and their teachers were looking on in dismay. I think they really didn’t agree with what the guy was doing but felt they couldn’t do anything. These are the hustlers of the pyramids and they don’t give a fuck. I eventually stood my ground and he grabbed his hat back off me in anger. We both walked off but I was a little shaken up by the experience.

At first I was angry with how two faced this sinister tout was. I understand that it is a hard life in Cairo and it’s about survival everyday and making a buck any way you can, but I felt he went to far. He was rude, overbearing and threatening. I can rationalise and justify his behaviour to the point where it can be understood, but it still feels malicious at the time.

To justify the tout’s behaviour we could think about how Egypt has prostituted its history in an unstructured and haphazard way. How the lack of a functioning economy and social system has led to mass poverty and stark inequality. How due to this the easy dollar coming from tourism and the West’s fascination with Egyptian history is a focus for exploitation by the government and the mass of poor people. How all the ignorant travellers that pass through come to see ancient relics and then leave without as much as a thought for the local people and their daily struggle. Why not then, if you are a local Egyptian, take advantage of the tourists’ ignorance, try to squeeze every unaffectionate pound out of the plundering sight seers. They don’t care about modern day Egyptians, why should locals care about the feelings of tourists.

At this point of reasoning, I too have no regard for the white man walking up from the Sphinx to see the pyramids of the Egyptians ancestors. The white face in the sea of other white and yellow faces. The typical tourist in his expensive clothes, stylish hat and thousand dollar camera around his neck. I bet he is good for a few pounds, ‘hey you look Egyptian my friend’.

So what can I do about the situation?

It is so difficult because everywhere I go I see the same thing, similar systems of disempowerment, poverty and desperateness that leads to malicious or what appears to be malicious behaviour. Apart from being a traveller who tries to be as nice, courteous, culturally sensitive and non-damaging as possible, I will I guess share the story and raise awareness somewhat. Although raising awareness is so difficult to measure, I often think it is a cop out, but it definitely can invoke a big difference in some individuals. I have benefited greatly from awareness raising efforts and learned a lot about my world that way.

Further to this though, I would like to, maybe once I can command enough resources or encourage a donor to invest in local people, sponsor and support at least one person from each country I visit to attend some form of social entrepreneurship training. It would be great if I could assist local people in implementing their ideas and developing their enterprises to address poverty in their home countries. If anyone reading this wants to help with this now, I am here and can search for potential candidates. 🙂

After my experience with the Egyptian hustler we strolled around the pyramids for a few hours and took a bunch of photos. It was great to see them but I couldn’t help thinking about how we have romanticised ancient Egyptian history and culture so much. At the time I was up there, I was under the impression that the pyramids were built by slaves in an inhumane way. However, after a little research I have found varying theories of whether the pyramids and tombs were built by ‘slaves’ or by ‘workers’. I will inquire further.

Pyramid of Khafre
Pyramid of Khafre
Pyramids and Camels
Pyramids and Camels
Pyramid of Menkaure
Pyramid of Menkaure
Behind a pyramid
Behind a pyramid

I chilled out for a little while at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Khufu while Adam payed 100 pounds to walk inside the pyramid and up to the burial chamber.

We caught the local bus back to the hostel. It was absolutely packed and took about an hour in the stifling heat. At some points it was physically impossible to fit another person on, there must have been over 50 people crammed on there.

Awesome Fruit Drinks
Awesome Fruit Drinks

In the evening we head to Zamalek an upper class island in the middle of the Nile. It is a really pleasant walk over the bridge which is obviously a hangout for young couples. We walk around a little and get a pizza at an upmarket restaurant. We then found a very swanky bar nearby and had an extremely expensive beer. We didn’t realise it when we ordered but the two beers cost us the same as three nights accommodation (120 pounds or $24 AUD). It was full of rich tourists and locals. I was so tired that after one beer I felt tipsy. We caught a taxi back to the hostel and I passed out again fully clothed within a minute.

Cairo (Egyptian Museum and Islamic Cairo)

I arrive at Cairo airport around 6am. I pick up my bags and pass through immigration without hassle. Security seems to be very lax. I walk out to find my airport pick up waiting for me.

The drive in from the airport gives a strong first impression and is literally an eye opening experience. Cairo at an initial cursory look is not exactly a welcoming city. The route in was like driving through a city that had just been hit by some disaster. Houses and buildings, thousands upon thousands of them, are crumbling, decaying and covered in dirt and dust. The pollution and smog in the city is so thick it reduces visibility and makes breathing taste dirty. The sun had not risen yet and the early morning purpley orange glow added to the apocalyptic atmosphere, as did the fact that in a city of millions the streets were empty.  It was an eerie journey but immensely interesting and exciting if not a little worrying.

My driver was also a bit of a character, he comes from the school of driving where hands are optional and generally only used to avoid stationary or moving solid objects in close proximity. Beeping is also necessary at least every 5 to 10 seconds, sometimes to indicate to other cars you are there, sometimes to tell other drivers they have done something wrong, sometimes to get the attention of a friend and sometimes just for fun where after you smile at your passenger as if to say ‘this is great ay, welcome to Cairo’.

I arrive at the hostel and am shown to my bed. The hostel is very basic and a little dusty but suits my needs. I have a little nap and wake up to meet a Canadian named Adam sleeping in the bed next to me. Adam is from Toronto and seems to be a nice guy. We decide to hang out and check out the Egyptian Museum together.

We get down the street and immediately see the Cairo I was expecting. People everywhere! We walk through the chaos and cross massive roads the Egyptian way – just start walking through speeding traffic, hold your line and hope for the best. It is quite an experience; you get better at it every time.

We grab a bit to eat, typical Egyptian Shawarma. This is basically like a street chicken or beef kebab but in a bread pocket with few vegetables. It’s pretty much just meat and a little bit of diced tomato, cucumber and lettuce.

We then stroll through the museum at a leisurely pace from the oldest kingdoms and dynasties to the newest. Its all very interesting, the 3000+ year old relics are amazing and beautifully crafted but the poor labelling makes it difficult to go through by yourself and really understand what each of the pieces mean and how they fit into history. At times I had flashbacks of walking through the Egyptian part of Sydney Props Warehouse.

By far the most interesting things in the museum were Tutankhamun’s room and the Royal Mummy rooms. I had a moment with Tutankhamun’s famous death mask and his golden sarcophaguses (there are three, they are like Russian dolls and are placed inside each other) were pretty cool too. It was a little surreal to see the mask in real life. The Royal Mummy rooms are where all the most illustrious Pharaohs and Queens bodies are kept. Seeing these bodies mummified is a little confronting at first, it is kind of half way between seeing a skeleton and a dead body. You get used to it pretty quickly though and then marvel at how well preserved some of the bodies are. You can still see the hair, eyelashes and nails of many of them with most of their skin leathered and brown.

After the museum, we decide to walk through a substantial part of the city to Islamic Cairo and to the Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar. We walk for hours and get lost. Along the way we are approached by a guy who asks where we are from and invites us back to his shop. He is very persistent so we go with him and check it out. He shows us all ‘his’ hand painted art work on papyrus and tells us how papyrus is prepared. He tells us he is off for an exhibition in Paris the next day so we have to buy his art now. He offers us tea and we refuse saying we really should be getting on. He persists saying it is Egyptian hospitality and that it would be rude to leave, we still say we would like to go but he gets a little worked up so we say ok and we stay for tea and chat. At this point things that were priced for 80 Egyptian pounds he tries to flog to us for 20. He just didn’t get that we were not interested. He was a relatively nice guy though, a street business man looking to take advantage of ignorant tourists. After the tea and the realisation that we weren’t going to buy anything he let us go to our relief.

Once we got our bearings back we headed for Islamic Cairo and got some street food along the way – more Shawarma. The streets were full-on the whole way, pack with people and cars. The city is really really dirty but this does not take away from its charm, in fact it adds to it. It would be an impossible feat to keep a hustling bustling city of 18 million clean.

Once we arrived in the Islamic quarter and saw the first big mosque, we decided to try our luck and see if we could take a peak inside. It is the Mosque and Madrassa of Al-Ghouri. A man at the entrance asks us to take our shoes off and let us in. He showed us around the grand mosque and then showed us the way to climb to the top of the minaret. He ushered us through the door and allowed us to go up by ourselves. We climbed the stairs stopping at each level to explore until we get to the top. It was the most spectacular view of Cairo. The sun happen to be setting and this gave the city a beautiful orange glow. We just chilled up there for ages, taking it all in and savouring the peacefulness high up above the hectic city. It was really special, an unforgettable welcome to Cairo.

Window of the minaret
Window of the minaret
Minaret Window
Minaret Window
Cairo Sunset
Cairo Sunset
Cairo from the Minaret
Cairo from the Minaret
Cairo
Cairo
Cairo
Cairo
Me cheesely savouring the moment
Me cheesely savouring the moment

We stayed up there for so long that by the time we were coming down the calls for pray had started. This slightly distresses the kind man that let us up but after some backsheesh (tip), it was all smiles.

We then strolled through the markets and shops in the Bazzar as evening settled in. We got a felafel pocket and met a really nice and educated Egyptian. Ismal invited us back to his tent shop and we talked with him and his brother about who they were and Egyptian life and culture.

I ask Ismal why some people have these weird marks on their foreheads. It almost looks like a burn mark and everyone’s is different. He tells me that it is a sign of a good Muslim. If you are praying five times a day and putting your forehead on the ground a number of times during each session, its bound to leave a mark. He explains that men who are very devout and pray very hard, press their head into the ground hard. He says that younger less serious Muslims put their finger down between their head and the ground to stop the carpet or ground marking their foreheads.

On the advice of his brother Mohammad, we walked over to the other side of the Islamic area. There we found two huge beautifully lit mosques. We decided to just chill in front of them for a while and shoot the breeze.

Crossing over to north side of Islamic Cairo
Crossing the bridge to the north side of Islamic Cairo
Mosque at night
Mosque at night

Adam is a interesting guy, he is really funny and a good mix of smartness, crudeness, forthrightness and niceness. He has lived in Korea for the last two years as an English teacher and has very enjoyable stories of his time their.

We explore the architecturally beautiful mosques of Al-Ashral Barsbey and Al-Mutahhar. We take our time and chill in them as they are awe-inspiring and humbling. As we enter the second mosque we are asked by a shady character if we would like to climb to the top of the minaret for 100 Egyptian pounds each. We laughed and said we would pay 20 for both. He disappeared and reappeared as we were walking through the mosque saying ok 50 pounds, we eventually got in for 30 pounds for both of us. We secretly climbed to the top of the minaret. I am not sure if the secrecy was a façade to make it seem like we were getting our moneys worth or whether we actually would have got in trouble if we were caught.

Inside Mosque
Inside Mosque
Inside Mosque
Inside Mosque
Inside Mosque
Inside Mosque
Light with Arabic writing in Mosque
Light with Arabic writing in Mosque
Ceiling of Mosque
Ceiling of Mosque
Men Playing Backgammon
Men Playing Backgammon
Kids playing football infront of a Mosque
Kids playing football infront of a Mosque

By this point we were absolutely exhausted, it was a big first day. We walked to the end of Islamic Cairo and caught a taxi back to the hostel. I passed out within one minute fully clothed and completely spent.

Sydney to Cairo via Singapore and Dubai

Walking up to gate 54, I catch a glimpse of my mammoth plane. I board the Airbus A380 flight SQ222 destine for Singapore. Once onboard I am taken aback by how remarkably huge the vessel is. It is a bewildering marvel. My seat I pre-booked is 43A, a window seat. I thought it would be near the wing but I was sure I would have space to see the landscapes under the plane. I was wrong. The enormous wing of the Airbus almost completely engulfs the view from the window. You cannot help but laugh at the ridiculous size of the wing; it has to be close to the size of a football field. I imagine playing 6 a side soccer with my friends on it.

The planes gargantuan stature really inspires thoughts about the magnificence of human engineering and how far it has come. In the short time since the Wright brothers first flight in 1904, we have built previously unimaginable ships to take us around the world and into space.

I wonder how much the plane weighs, how long it takes to make one, who designed it, what special design elements it has and what the physics are behind how it actually flies.

It turns out the plane weighs 276 tonnes, its Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) is over 650 tonnes and its wing span is 80 metres (close to the size of football field). Apparently, Airbus has the capacity to build four a month. A man named Jean Roeder engineered it. If you are in the market for one they cost around US$ 337.5 million.

Sitting in the seat as we were taxiing around the airport I found it hard to believe that the machine would ever get in the air.

The flight to Cairo was uneventful, we stopped in Singapore and I rushed to the connecting flight, we stopped in Dubai and I sleep through. The movies I watched were also forgettable.

I did however end up sitting next to an Egyptian man on the last leg of flight and we talked a little about Egyptian politics and Arabic language.