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Trip Report Egypt

From Beirut I flew to Cairo. Stayed in Giza and spent a day at the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Had a look at the enormous Egyptian Museum which would take days to see properly, also the demonstrators camping out in Tahrir Square though there was no other action while I was there. Then got the overnight train south. Very nice sleeping compartments with dinner and breakfast thrown in, real sheets and towels too. Train was a couple of hours late but it was pleasant watching the Nile valley go by out the window. Reminded me of southern India without the crowds.

Got off in Aswan and had a nice view of the Nile corniche watching all the comings and goings on the river. Hot hot hot. Too hot to walk about really and good to catch up before a stupidly early start for Abu Simbel. Tourists have to travel in convoy with police escort and these leave at 4am and 11am. Guess which? It takes over 3 hours to get there from Aswan and even by 7am it was hot. But how amazing especially when you realise it was moved 250 metres up when the High Dam was built in the 60s. Quite a stunning
experience especially at the moment when there are so few tourists and it’s possible to wander through the tomb almost alone.

Back to Aswan and a day on a felucca on the Nile. What a restful experience with no motor power and no sound, just the water and practically no other sailing craft. We passed lots of big Nile cruise boats all out of use as their tourists are not here. Parked for a while and had a swim watched by a boy and his camels. Surprisingly cold but clean and green. Spent an overnight on the felucca under the stars which of course at this latitude are all in different places. And no light pollution either.

Next day to Luxor, the big tourist resort which again was practically deserted. The downside of this was the hassle factor: we were a magnet for all the sellers of tourist tat, drivers of horse-drawn carriages, taxis, restaurant owners etc. Even stepping outside the hotel at 5am to see Luxor temple and the avenue of sphinxes, I ran into these. We had a ferry across to the West Bank and a look at the Valley of the Kings which was every bit as good as I expected, wonderful colours still preserved on the tomb walls and incredible pictorial stories. After several of these and a look at Queen Hatshepsut’s temple, followed by the Colossi of Memnon, we were pretty much templed out but had to make the effort one more time. Karnak was the most spectacular of all and one of the highlights of the trip. Also helped by the lack of tourists which meant we could walk around in and out of those gigantic columns for as long as we could stand the heat. It wasn’t that long: with temperatures around 45*C we were drinking litres and litres of water and still wilting and gasping for air.

Back on the overnight train to Cairo into a day of electoral uncertainty and worry for the tourist police. The results of the election the days before were inconclusive or if not that, there was speculation about corruption and what authority there is here now suspected trouble was coming. They sent us a minder who came with us on our trip to Islamic Cairo. This included the Citadel with its mosques and the souq. When I sat down in a café for a mint tea and was joined by the others in my group the café owner must have thought he had a windfall. The minder was there too just to keep an eye! And he had a barely-hidden nasty-looking automatic weapon.

We left Cairo and drove through Sinai next day. What a bleak and desolate place. Miles and miles of sand and red rocks with no vegetation, no water, occasional fly-blown settlements, lots of abandoned rusty vehicles and several military checkpoints on the road. Tunnel under the Suez canal and an eerie glimpse of container ships in the distance which looked like they were gliding through the desert. When we hit the coast at Taba there were miles of half-finished tourist resorts, even the completed ones were deserted. Very sad. Looks like they anticipated a tourist boom but didn’t anticipate political unrest. The coast is spectacular with rocky mountains coming right down and untouched beaches. We have a laid-back hotel right on the beach in Nuweiba with hammocks, palm trees, snorkeling on the reef and diving for those who can. Paradise indeed.

Finished the day with a cultural experience: went to the nearest village to watch the European football. Sat in plastic chairs in the square and drank tea or soft drinks surrounded by men wearing the white clothes and head-dress of Saudi Arabia across the Gulf of Aqaba. Camels wondered in and out. No other women in sight, no booze but a good match!

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