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Trip Report Egypt Quickie Trip

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Inviting my friends and commenters to offer their thoughts on an upcoming September trip to do a classic tour of the typical sights of Egypt. This time around I'm joining a group, and won't be able to go off road to do any long riding or camel adventures. What I would very much appreciate would be the typical terrific advice on what you guys think about bringing back. Those of you who have visited often and know the ropes, I'd so value your thoughts on authentic souvenirs, items of beauty, things that speak to the history of the place and where to find them that might be a little off road.

I've got about 11 days, Nile river cruise, most of the big sights, more on this later. What I love to bring home are odd, unique, weird, atypical but remarkable statements of a culture.

This is a mid-September trip, and I am expecting major heat. Those of you who have experienced this time of year, any additional thoughts about what to bring will always be most welcomed. Thursdays and Julie, and all you entrepids who know this area, hoping to hear from you. I will be providing a trip report once underway.

Thanks kindly to all in advance for all advice and suggestions. I read and take all seriously, and as a result, there are some amazing goodies in my house due to the intelligence offered on this Forum. In addition, if any has a cubbyhole, special spot, gift shop or hidey hole to recommend on nights off, I'd love to hear, and will share if I can find.

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    Thank you so very much. When I was in Angkor Wat I got a rubbing, got it properly framed, and that inexpensive piece is now a gorgeous piece over my mantle. That's exactly what I'm hoping to find.

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    yes, DH brought home a lovely papyrus of typical Egyptian figures [allla hieroglyphics] which we had framed and it still looks great over 10 years later.

    Easy and light to transport too.

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    Okay here is the trip, now that I'm done with that and I've taken another in the meantime. I'll do my best to relay the trip to express the jist.

    First of all, I went with a group, which I rarely do. My first thought was to get the feel of the Middle East beginning with probably the safest and least conservative of all the Middle Eastern countries. Egypt is so very hungry for tourists, after the revolution the industry has taken a terrible, terrible dive, and the impact of it is everywhere. From vendors who are (quite understandably) very agressive to legions of starving horses and dogs, some cast aside in massive piles of garbage in Cairo's old town. You can't escape the reality of how the lack of tourism and the over dramatism of danger has kept people away.

    For my part I was not only warmly greeted by a number of people at the airport, but was guaranteed safety by several ex military generals (I am ex military myself) who provided me with personal numbers in case I had any kind of difficulty, felt danger or needed help. People went out of their way to ensure that I as a single woman of a certain age, felt safe. When I stayed at a venerable, ancient officer's club in lieu of a fancy new place I was treated to the experience of very old Cairo, the only real elevator left in town that really works, and a dedicated staff. The soccer game that was on meant that every bar in town had a television place out on the street.Men with pipes filled every seat, usually about fifty or more making driving impossible. Everyone watched the game like this and I hardly saw a single woman in any direction.

    My group gathered us all together at the Oasis, a rather questionable but well located hotel/ older resort close to the Pyramids. The newer rooms were acceptable. But as with so many Third World countries, the smoke in the checkin area made breathing impossible and this is the norm. We were assigned roommates, found food, and got our briefings. Walid was our assigned guide. Armed with a PhD in Egyptopology but a voice with the volume enough to explode eardrums, he called us "family" and would be our fearless leader for the next week or so.

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    I'll be at this slowly but surely as I am now prepping for a trip to Cuba in two weeks with speeches and trips in between. Bear with me!

    My stories about Walid are expressed with both affection and a sense of humor, as I have a lot of respect for his knowledge and especially his love for his country. However since I was usually seated up front at the table, or in the first seat in the bus, you have to understand that his considerable volume, delivered with gusto, and his penchant for lengthy storytelling (which comes from an endless enthusiasm for his subject) led to a certain penchant on my part for hiding under the chair, the bench, anything that might break the sound wave, with my fingers in my ears. That only slightly helped, as I could hear him just fine. Had I had plugs, they would have done little more than protect my ear drums from the onslaught. That said, Walid's effusiveness was a pleasure. You have to keep in perspective that our group was the first in three months, and his energy was to be expected, and if I were in his shoes, I most likely would have been just as eager to make us happy. That he was also armed with a microphone and we often wore ear buds only exacerbated the situation at times, which I add with some humor, so you can understand that I had to periodically remove said ear buds, wander off, or leave the group if for no other reason than to allow my eardrums to recover. There's actually a reason for this- as an adventure traveler, I have had some ten serious concussions resulting from Class V river rafting, horseback riding, and every kind of sport you can imagine over the last five years, and those concusssion have had side effects. Apparently this sensitivity seems to be one. I'm not without a sense of humor about it, it hasn't slowed me down a bit, but it does mean I have to be a bit more circumspect about volume.

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    The trip to see the Pyramids- what I thought would be a trek- was a quick drive to the edge of town the next day. Busy work traffic, and suddenly these icons are looming on the horizon. There was something jarring about seeing such ancient buildings that one's impressions would think would be placed in some isolated spot. But no, here they are, with neighborhoods right up to their edge. Our bus parked nearby and we gathered for Walid to pontificate about the stories. Again, volume. I was eyeing the camels- one of my favorite animals- off to the side as Walid plied us with stories, and warnings about who to avoid and why, whether to go down inside the pyramids (no, don't bother) and what was next. This went on a little long for my taste and besides, my crouching position on the floor beneath the first bench on the bus got uncomfortable after half an hour (Walid is profound). Finally he gave way and allowed us to disembark. We poured forth and I made beeline for the camels.

    I've spent a fair amount of time with them, and I carry a forty dollar goat hair brush for their faces- this brush is extremely soft, great for eyes. You have to get their permission to touch, and you do that through the owners, who are eager to get you to ride them. I only want to pet, don't care about photos. I've taken long safaris in Africa so my interest really is in the animals themselves, which are imperial, funny, sensitive and, IF they choose to like you, will ALLOW you to pet them. You get there through the handler.

    This took some doing, for natch the handler assumed that if I didn't ride he didn't get paid. We sorted ourselves out, and finally he gave me the skinny on his big boy. One step led to another. I am an animal masseuse, and almost every time if an animal is wearing a bridle or a halter, the skin underneath itches, and the animal loves it if you scratch where the leather or rope has been irritating. Worked for this boy. Soon as I got my nails going under his neck he laid out his head, closed his eyes, and a few of the men nearby started laughing. Once I did this and he could smell himself on my hands, relate the good feeling to my smell, he wasn't going to bite me. Works with most any animal I've ever massaged.

    He trusted me to scrub the inside of his ears, which is a miracle for most domesticated animals of this kind as it doesn't occur to most owners to do this. Next to heaven. That won me a buss to the face, which doesn't smell very good but is the highest compliment you can get from an animal this big who can kill you with a kick or, if he really does like you, can pick you up with his teeth and send you flying quite a few feet. This boy was on the ground, and he wasn't moving as long as I was willing to give him all this attention.

    Finally, knowing we had limited time, I paid the owner 15 LE and headed over to the pyramid.

    While I have heard some wags complain that the pyramids aren't as big as expected (a complaint also thrown at the Sphinx, which is smaller, but honestly?) when you are inspecting the size and solid nature of each of the blocks that make up the base of the pyramids, it boggles the mind. The logistics of moving the blocks to this location, the design of the buildings, the planning, the orchestration of the tombs, that kind of insult demonstrates the lack of appreciation of the time this was all accomplished. As with Mayan culture or any architectural achievement long ago, how easy it is to forget nobody had cranes back then.

    The heat rose swiftly, even though this was September and we were called back to the air conditioned bus. Our next destination was the third pyramid, where the option to ride a camel (of COURSE) for half an hour or walk to these smaller structures was made. A young man whose camel sported some very cool tatoos, and whose camel made some toothy swipes at me (they will at times) was my choice.

    Mounting a camel is a most simple process. If you watch the way a camel rises, you move in a way that supports the camel's movement. There is no need to hold on to the horn of the saddle, most of us who ride simply hold on with the legs. When the front of the animal rises, you lean forward. When the rear rises, you lean backwards. That supports where the animal is using its strength, and puts the least amount of burden on him as he is rising. The walk is like a long, lazy stroll. Like riding a horse, you sit straight and your hips move with him. While I have seen many a Bedouin ride hunched over like a turtle, this is wicked on the back long term. I rode a camel for seven days across Tanzania. Every country is different. I've ridden horses nine hours a day for three weeks straight. All I know is that good posture protects my spine. I look at the elders and the shape they are in, and if they are walking around looking like old turtles, then I am going to ride sitting up straight. I can't speak for anyone else, but I've found that allowing my upper body to be still and the hips to follow the animal tends to be a pretty good way to ride.

    Our group set out en masse to see the three pyramids from another and more scenic viewpoint. Each camel's owner had draped his animal with a uniquely gorgeous patterned blanket to attract tourists. My camel's neck had tattoos, likely just shaved into his neck and dyed. I doubt he would have been patient enough to endure the tattoo needle. As we made our ponderous way towards the pyramids we would stop for photo ops against the backdrop of these magnificent structures, the wind in our faces, and blowing the turbans of our guides.

    Periodically I reached forward and stroked my animal's neck and found a spot where the rope scratched him. His ears switched back, the only indication that he acknowledge my presence.

    When we got back, I took the last few minutes to convince my tatooed camel buddy to allow me to scrub his ears- now this he DID like- and I tipped my guide. We were off for lunch.

    Lunch was at a little stop and go. Now this would have been fine but for the fact that everyone in there smoked. Cigarette smoke tends to give me bad headaches so I'm not terribly fond of being trapped in small spaces, my clothing soaking up the reek, standing in line with my food, a long line at that, while a great many people puff and puff and fill the air. So I left. Egypt is like that. You CAN leave but you WILL go hungry.

    Walid took us to a perfume oils perveyor. NOw I have mixed impressions about such visits. Guides get kickbacks from these visits, its part of how they make money. However, we are all expected to buy something, and while I find it mildly and at times, genuinely interesting to learn about where perfume oils come from (and in this case it WAS an education) I don't buy stuff like this. I most certainly don't choose to carry a mass of delicate oils in my luggage, don't wear the stuff and have no one to give it to. While this doens't apply to us all, I wasn't alone in this after there were three such side trips to stone carvers and the like. When the visits end up eating some two to three hours out of the day and the implication is that we buy, and many people resent the implied pressure to purchase something when we'd have rather spent that time in the market or a museum, well you get my drift.

    Later we went to the National Museum. Here, we outfitted with ear buds. Oy. This was like Walid on steroids. As we entered this extraordinary and marvelous museum of Egyptian antiquities, Walid's voice was a bit like standing in front of ten foot tall speaker at a Poison concert.

    I pulled the ear buds out and wandered. And took photos and photos and photos and photos. I kept the group in my peripheral vision and could hear Walid just fine even in the cavernous halls, even with the murmurings of other groups.

    The massive status, the tombs, everything we have all seen in photos was laid out for us to see touch. To touch. What an extraordinary thing. Touch the hieroglyphs themselves. This perhaps was what drew me so much. As I moved silently among these ancient yet so familiar figures from my childhood, now touching, studying, some of them with crystalline eyes nearly focusing on my own, I was mesmerized. A walking monk so lifelike he terrified the diggers.

    We didn't have enough time to see it all. Up the stairs we went to see Tutenkhamen's exhibition, which is breathtaking. And here was one of the few times I got annoyed at Walid. He drew us all into a circle in a corner and began to tell stories. Yet beyond our small corner become this young king's ransom of beauties, treasures and priceless artifacts. We had very limited time. I did not wish to spend it listening to stories. I wanted to SEE. Photograph. Touch. Explore. I may never be here again, given my penchant to not return to countries, given my age and how many there are yet to see. So I walked away, and since I was on the periphery in the shadow,probably unnoticed.

    While I know this might be disrespectful, at some point I have to pose the question of what I'm investing in. Walid's stories or the things I paid to see- and that's the problem. Walid and I had already had some long conversations and he understood my interests. I came to learn- but it's also an issue of quality time. We only had limited time and how does one choose to spend it? So I wandered among the sarcophogi, the tombs, the gold, the scarabs. Places where later, when Walid disbanded the group, we didn't have time to go. And that's my point. I have photos of exquisite painting and vases and faces and artwork that I would have missed. It's a hard choice.

    We finally made our way to an inner sanctum to see the boy king's greatest treasures, the pure gold masks. This was what has often traveled the world, what I saw in New York years ago. The gold beds, the heartbreakingly beautiful artwork. Walid filled in the story of the politics surround his life, and we got to see the glory of his death.

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    I'll be at this slowly but surely as I am now prepping for a trip to Cuba in two weeks with speeches and trips in between. Bear with me!>>

    exciting. We went last January and loved it. You're probably all sorted by now but if you want to ask me any Qs, go ahead.

    thanks for sharing your thoughts about your trip, the good and the bed. And your tales about the camels are fascinating.

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    Our next stop was a perfumer. Now those of you who have been on these trips know that there are gratuitous side bars involving concessions, some of interest, some not so much. They often involve people the guide knows well, and he gets a commission from anything sold from the visit. That's how it works. We had about three of these. This first, I found interesting enough, albeit I don't use this kind of perfume oil, don't wish to carry a bunch of precious vials in my luggage and have no one to give them to. The story behind them is indeed engaging and for that, which was educational, I enjoyed it. The sales part, not so much. My group was patient, and I'll jump ahead here and note that by the trip's end had endured three such trips and gotten weary of two and three hour imposed "side trips" to merchants with the clear implication that we were all to buy something. I understand a tough economy but most of us would rather choose our own goods in the market place and as well, spend our time in the museums, which is after all why we are here. That enough of my fellows chose to speak up made it worthwhile to mention it here, it became an imposition. The groups are a closed, controlled community much of the time for good reason, and we are polite about that control, and we trust that we are being shown worthwhile sights. Occasionally that trust is taken a bit too far and that is why I mention it here. That's all.

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    That night, some flew to Aswan, for extra, others of us boarded an overnight train. That was pretty fun, although I most certainly would not recommend the food which was primarily bread, bread, bread and a great deal more bread. As one who does not eat bread at all, this was something of a surprise. I did order a different meal, and got someone else's vegetarian dinner, gave it back, and got bread. So I skipped dinner. That night the beds came down and we were treated (and I happen to like this) a rockety rail ride that took all night. I slept well. The toilets were down the hall, and we were admonished to PLEASE not use them at the station. Apparently whatever we did would sit on the rails at the station. Poor form. Advice taken.

    It is a fine thing to remember to pack almond butter packets to ensure that at least some nourishment can be had when none is available, also when little clean water is available, I use the NatGeo and very strongly recommended SteriPen. They come in various sizes. I've used them on some pretty ugly water. It does NOT improve taste or color. What it DOES do is save your guts. I never leave home without it, and as some of my pals who climbed Everest Base Camp with me a few years back can attest, it works just fine. Carry extra batteries, you only need one water bottle the entire trip.

    I also sleep in my day pants, because whether they are REI or North Face versions, having to get up in the middle of the night on a rocking train (or wherever) and attempting to do the one-legged Masai stork dance of getting on your pants to go pee is ridiculous and dangerous at best. Wear the damned things. You can change your undies in the morning when you are stopped.

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