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Trip Report teacherCanada + 41 students + 2 weeks in Egypt = lifetime memories

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We are a school group who will be travelling to Egypt from Canada in March 2009. I have travelled with school groups to Europe in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008 and once before to Egypt in 2005.

While this forum is primarily geared to individual or family/friend travel and tends to be more upscale than not, it is a tremendous resource for adventurous school/group travel planners like me.

My purpose in creating this thread is to provide readers and contributors an insight into the joys and tribulations of this type of travel. I will describe our planning process and how we have worked for the past two years to bring this wonderful travel opportunity to fruition. Following our time in Egypt I will endeavour to write a trip report worthy of this forum.

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    I'm really looking forward to your reports, teacherCanada. How wonderful that your school group will be going to Egypt! I seem to recall that the highlight of my high school senior trip was playing mini golf during a rainstorm in a city park.

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    Bookmarking, as I want to follow this process, though I would NEVER have the guts or energy to tackle such a thing myself.

    Loved you earlier trip reports on the Europe thread!

    :-)

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    We started our planning for the Egypt 2009 trip in January 2007, about 26 months before departure. Why so early? We have found that a long lead time allows students and their families the opportunity to raise the money to pay for the trip. Each traveller (students and adult chaperones) will pay $3800 (Canadian funds) to participate. This sum covers all costs while travelling (except sundry items like ice cream, soft drinks and souvenir purchases). The only other anticipated costs are passport (about $90 Canadian) and immunization for Typhoid and Hepatitis A (about $75). Our contract with the travel company includes all meals (water or soft drinks with meals), accommodations, transport, attractions and all tipping.

    This trip will be one of my last as a teacher ( I am eligible to retire within 2 years) and I do so want students to continue to have travel opportunities – so I asked a fellow teacher at a nearby school if we could “twin” together and have students from both schools participate. This teacher is no neophyte to travel or chaperoning student groups, but Egypt was a new destination for her. We had worked together organizing and chaperoning student trips to Carnaval de Quebec in February for each of the four previous years. Each of these trips lasted four days. (Those trips deserve a trip report by themselves!) I felt very comfortable working with her and we did (and still do) work well together. I am hoping she will continue offering international travel opportunities to students after I have left the system.

    Each school supplied about 20 students each (my school 19, her school 22) and we have 6 adult chaperones travelling with us – a total of 49 bodies. Students are aged 15 – 18 and adults are aged 23 – 55 years. It is a large group. We anticipate excellent behaviour from all the students. From what we know now, they are a good group who will be respectful, patient and polite. The adult chaperones all have a heartfelt desire to visit Egypt. Their responsibilities are limited while we are travelling. Their role is to support decisions made by the two lead chaperones. In the past, in other groups, parent chaperones have been used by students to get permission to do something when a lead chaperone might have said “no”. Our protocol works well for our adult chaperones, since they can always tell students who ask permission to check with one of the lead chaperones for anything they think might be questionable.

    Our community is predominantly rural. Many students have families based in agriculture. We are located just over 2 hours drive from Toronto, Ontario. Some students have paid the entire cost of the trip themselves by working part time jobs, summer jobs, Christmas and birthday cash gifts from parents and using provided fundraising opportunities. I believe all students have paid for at least half of the cost of the trip. I strongly support this approach because I believe when you pay for something you take more ownership. If the trip is “a gift” from parents or grandparents, one might not appreciate the effort required to make it happen.

    It is a rigorous process to get permission from our school board to offer an educational excursion such as this. We must submit a complete trip plan, with itinerary, costing, educational objectives, insurance, methods for determining success, fundraising plans (to allow financially disadvantaged students equal opportunity to participate) and more for approval. We must use a certified, insured travel provider to ensure all money provided by participants is held without risk. This means a tedious, thorough application requiring hundred of hours of work be completed before we know if there are enough students interested in participating.

    Next chapter - the first parent meeting, student selection, a subsidiary trip for participants.

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    Teacher Candada, I also look forward to reading about your adventures. Long ago, when my son was in highschool (we also live in Canada, but in Vancouver) he signed up for a Global Education class, that I believe is still running. The 17 students, along with the Global Ed teacher, studied the chosen country all year, and fundraised for a 'project'. Their project that particular year was to build a playgound structure at a school for deaf orphans in a small town in rural Viet Nam. For two weeks at Spring break the students, 2 teachers, a nurse, a dentist and a few other chaperones travelled there & built the playground structure. It was hard work, but they also did get to see some of the country, and do some sightseeing both in Saigon, the rural highlands of Viet Nam and Seoul, Korea. Many times our son has told us it changed his life.

    I know it made him the global traveller that he is today (of course my itchy feet would have helped him there too....)

    My hat's off to you and I look forward to reading about the kid's adventures.

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    Hi TC,

    Like Anselm, I too am 'fingerprinting' this thread to find it readily as you post updates to it.

    Theres certainly as much enjoyment in reading of your planning procedures as there is in reading the final trip report. Great stuff !

    M.

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    ShayTay, nukesafe, LyndaS, Anselm and Mathieu - thanks for your encouragement. Anselm, I loved your recent report from France.

    As mentioned earlier, I had chaperoned 36 students to Egypt in 2005 and we contracted the services of a company based in British Columbia that specialized in travel to Egypt. They were not specialists in school group travel, but were willing to try hard to do their best. We were very pleased with the results in 2005. This did not, however, ensure they had our repeat business. I had asked 5 other travel companies that specialized in school group travel to provide a quote for the itinerary we provided to them. Some companies were not flexible and were just interested in selling their package tours, others were flexible, but were more costly and others I felt would not be able to provide our group with the type of “on the ground” support we might need if things didn’t go perfectly.

    We ended up staying with our travel professionals from 2005.

    As an educator responsible for chaperoning international trips and charged with the safety of teenagers, it ultimately falls on my shoulders to do everything in my power to ensure their well being and safe return. Unfortunately, the students don’t grasp this concept well and generally just want to have a good time. Our school board ensures the educational component of trips such as these (a concept I wholeheartedly support). I do try to balance the learning moments with fun because I have found everyone learns more if we have fun.

    During the spring and summer of 2007 we fleshed out our itinerary and our travel professionals gave us a reasonable price. There always seem to be caveats to “contracts” and this was no exception. The price was firm – except if departure taxes change or fuel surcharges change. They made a commitment to honour their price – we made a commitment to do business with them. Now we had something on paper, the lead chaperones felt we could hold a “see if anyone is interested” meeting. We prepared an agenda that explained our qualifications as chaperones, the itinerary, what was included, the cost, the extra costs (passport, immunization, travel insurance), our expectations for student behaviour, etc. We showed a video from the 2005 Egypt trip to provide parents (and their children) an idea of our activities, modes of transport, hotels and such. Over 70 people attended (most were parents and possible participants).

    We asked anyone interested in participating to provide a $500 deposit cheque. Over twenty people took out their cheque books. What a vote of confidence for us. The cheque was fully refundable until we had Board approval, but would be binding at that point. Each following payment was non-refundable.

    Our application to the Board for approval requires a detailed itinerary, copies of contracts with the travel agency, evidence the travel agency has the requisite insurance through TICO, an extensive review of the curriculum connections (to justify the educational component of the trip) and provides details of fundraising activities that will be offered (to allow financially disadvantaged students equal opportunity). The application is detailed and a bit of a pain, but it forces trip planners to plan very well.

    The Board approved the trip in December 2007. We were in business.

    Once we received Board approval, many other students approached us with cheques. Chaperones had concerns about 2 students who brought in deposits. One student had recently travelled with me to Europe and exhibited immaturity regularly. He would pester others on the trip to the extent that half way through the trip, no one wanted to share a room with him. I had the task of phoning parents to talk about how some of his previous travelling behaviour had impacted our group. I hoped for a “good” response from his parents. They were flabbergasted at the description of his behaviour and couldn’t quite believe we were talking about their child.

    The other student had travelled with us (the two lead chaperones) twice before on multi-night trips. Our concern with this student was his apparent inability (or unwillingness) to take direction from chaperones. He often spoke “out of turn” and was often rude. He wanted to purchase weapons (swords, knives) and pestered for hours to be allowed to do so. He did have difficulty establishing and maintaining friends. When sleeping arrangements put him and another boy in the same bed, he marched off to sleep in the bathtub. I prepared to telephone this boy’s parents with reasons for our decision.

    As I record these memories these incidents may seem a little petty, but they don’t fully reflect the circumstances. I guess you had to be present to get the full impact.

    Our school Board has a policy of “inclusion” and if a field trip is related to curriculum (as this trip was) the organizers are not allowed to restrict who participates.

    This was turning into a real dilemma. The Superintendent said we were not allowed to say these students weren’t allowed to participate. On the other hand, we felt if these students participated it could jeopardize the success of the trip. What to do??

    We determined the best approach was to try to convince the students and their parents that this trip to Egypt was not in the best interests of their children. This was not going to be easy and required the smoothest, least confrontational approach possible.

    The phone calls were made and we tried to explain how the culture, traditions, language et al were markedly different from what they were used to and we were concerned how their children would deal with the differences in protocol, the police state, the presence of many armed police etc. We stressed that travelling with a large group may not allow each of them the attention they deserved. We talked about the importance of the group mentality where individual needs come second to the needs of the group (and mentioned several instances where their child had not demonstrated that capacity). We also talked about the need for trust and respect that need to be shown to chaperones and others and how we had witnessed episodes where that had not been demonstrated. We concluded our discussions with a reminder of how long (fifteen days) we would be away from home, the distance involved and that if there were incidents that required severe disciplinary action it would be a very expensive return trip.

    Thankfully, both students, after consultation with their parents decided to withdraw from the trip. We appreciated their enthusiasm to travel, but this was not the best trip for them.

    Over the next months students continued to bring in their instalment payments, most of them on time.

    On our international trips we promote the “family” approach wherein ideally, everyone knows everyone else. If all travellers are from one school that is not usually an issue. However, we were putting students from two schools together, and they didn’t really know each other. The chaperones wanted to do some “team building” activities.

    We arranged a full day field trip to Toronto in September, 2008 for all participants (and all chaperones). Our destinations? To see the IMAX movie at Ontario Place (a large amusement/recreation area) called “The Mysteries of Egypt” and to have a guided tour through the Egyptian exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum. These activities were designed to “whet their appetite” for the “real thing” in March. All but one of the group attended. On the coach ride we had prepared “ice-breaker” activities where students from different schools had to interview each other and introduce that person to everyone else on the bus. We had a great day weather wise. Everyone had a great day.

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    Teacher canada, I am so glad that you are doing another trip. Your last report was amazing and fun to read. I hope that parents of children who are going on "school" trips read this and take in how much work it is to organize and carry out trips with teenagers. Teachers everywhere struggle with the logistics of travel, getting the best bargain for the students, having the best learning and fun time possible, and hoping that all students will present the best possible image of their home country. You seem to be at the top of the heap in all of these aspects.

    You say the incidents with the two students who are not going sound petty. They don't sound petty to me! I understand fully how the needs of the group come before those of individuals. So often this is true in the classroom back home as well.

    Good luck!

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    Thanks for your encouragement irishface. I do love opening the eyes and minds of my students to new locations and cultures. This trip looks like it might be the best one ever.

    lincasanova - I would love to meet up with you again. I have such fond memories of that wonderful afternoon driving around Valencia. I am confident somehow, somewhere our paths will cross again.

    When I attended the Toronto GTG in August I thought how nice it would have been to have you there to share your stories. Quite a number of those present (there were about 35 Fodorites) knew you from your contributions on this forum.

    tC

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    i sure hope i can eventually get to a GTG although having met a few fodorites individually has been a lot of fun.

    i should keep an eye out as i hope to be in the chicago area in august.

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    Much of the time dedicated to the execution of Egypt 2009 has been spent on fundraising activities for students. Both lead chaperones want to be associated with successful activities, rather than have the trip tagged to events that either didn’t please someone or didn’t raise money. We did try to have activities that would promote togetherness and bonding, but this was not always possible.

    Please bear in mind that the two lead chaperones have full time jobs teaching (and both of us with additional administrative roles), we have active families and occasionally active social lives. We could not dedicate too much time to fundraising, but did want to give opportunities to those who wished to pay for the trip or supplement their spending money.

    Individual fundraising activities included: selling boxed “Kernels” flavoured popcorn, selling Pizza Cards (valid for 6 months) that cost the purchaser $10 and allowed the card purchaser to buy three pizzas for the price of two (the seller kept the entire $10 proceeds), and grocery tape collection (this involves collecting $1000 worth of grocery sales tapes then redeeming them at the local store for about $3). Each of these three techniques worked well for those who were enthused about doing them. About 15 – 18 of the 41 participants used these fundraising avenues.

    Our two big fundraisers were the “Turkey with Tut” dinner and facilitating a local women’s volleyball tournament.

    The “Turkey with Tut” dinner was a great success. All participants (except two) participated. Proceeds from the dinner were divided among participants based on the number of hours dedicated to the dinner. Essentially, our group served a complete turkey dinner (with coffee/tea/juice and desert) to nearly 300 people in two different sittings (5:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.) at our high school cafeteria. The turkeys were cooked in the cafeteria and classroom ovens, 200 pounds of potatoes were peeled, cooked and mashed, 100 pounds of turnip were peeled, cooked and mashed, ... well you can imagine the effort by the great parent organizing committee and the efforts of all the students.

    All student travellers wore black pants and white tops. They served and bussed the tables, set up lots of decorations (we had a massive sugar cube pyramid, had hieroglyphics pasted all over the cafeteria and even a life sized mummy wrapped in toilet paper and surrounded by sand as a focal point). There were door prizes and raffles too.

    Everything (and I mean everything) was donated by local merchants. Over 300 pounds of solid turkey meat, the stuffing, the potatoes, vegetables, plates, the coffee, the desserts – everything was donated, so all the proceeds went to the deserving students. We live in a very supportive community. Over $3000 was raised for students in that one successful night.

    Students from the two different schools were matched on teams and “forced” to work with others they didn’t know. This allowed them to socialize and get to know each other, yet still remain focussed on the task. The lead chaperones were very pleased with the results.

    The second big fundraiser involved facilitating a ladies recreational volleyball tournament. These ladies sponsor an all-day 24 team tournament, but all would rather play than organize. The offer was made to our group to take over all aspects of organizing. All proceeds would go to our group. The group provided lunches, healthy snacks, water, a monitored coat check room, set up the scoring ladder, recorded scores, washed floors – anything that needed to be done for the ladies. Again, very successful. This event involved only about 9 participants – but raised nearly $2000 to be distributed based on the hours dedicated to the task.

    We did try to organize a coach tour to CasinoRama (about 2 hours drive away). Try as we might, we just couldn’t get a sufficient number of people interested in going. We ended up cancelling the coach and calling those few who did want to go with the disappointing news.

    Next instalment – closing in on the final details, the final parent meeting, tshirts and our matching travel sweatshirts, and a few “negotiables” with the travel agent.

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    teacherCanada,

    I'm enjoying reading the details of your planning and look forward to following the trip adventures through your trip report. I was a big fan of your Europe trip last year.

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    Our departure day looms closer and closer. The two lead chaperones are creating two lists – “must do’s’ and “should do’s”. Of course the first list is comprised of things that need to be done, but the other list is much more fun to work with.

    All participants have paid in full for the trip. All participants have valid passports (we have photocopies of each one).

    We have collected nearly all the required school board permission forms. We use an additional form from Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) that allows non-custodial adults (like me) to take children (the students) that don’t belong to me across an international border. These are signed by both parents in the presence of a Commissioner of Oaths or Notary Public who affixes his/her seal to the sheet. We also collect all passports. They are kept in the school safe until our departure date.

    All students have applied for (and received) International Student Identity Cards (ISIC) and teachers have the equivalent ITIC cards. They cost $17 Canadian each, but allow us free entry into all Egyptian government sites and allow for free upgrades at various accommodations because we will be an “official” educational excursion.

    Our air tickets have been received by our travel agency in Vancouver. They are being checked for accuracy before being forwarded to us next week.

    Prior to departure, chaperones hold on to the passports, identity cards and air tickets. They are distributed on our coach just prior to crossing into the USA (we fly from Detroit). Why? This way we ensure that no matter what a student might forget, their passport and air ticket are secure and they can go on the trip.

    Those Fodorites who have read of our exploits in Europe know that I try to keep a few surprises for students when we travel. The big surprise this time was to be a hot air balloon ride at sunrise over the Valley of the Kings at Luxor. My research indicated it was possible and I became excited that this could be the biggest surprise ever. Further investigation unveiled the need for a waiver to be signed in case something went wrong (we crashed) on the flight. I was not prepared to sign all the student’s permission forms, so we have had to tell the students about the possibility of the hot air balloon flight in order for their parents to sign these forms. (This opportunity is optional – no one will be forced to go up in the balloon.) Instead, we have told students we probably won’t be able to do the hot air balloon ride, but just in case it does work out, we want to have the signed forms with us. Well, it has all worked out – but the plan is not to tell the students until the day before. Of course, weather and winds can cancel the balloon ride too.

    The other surprise (which hasn’t been finalized yet) is to have those who love horses go for a ride on Arabian horses in the desert near Hurghada. There are a few “horse enthusiasts” in our group.

    Each participant was provided with an “EGYPT 2009” t shirt as a Christmas gift from chaperones in December. The front of the shirt has a map of Egypt and our travel destinations. The top of the front has the phrase “Travelling in Peace from Canada” written in Arabic in large characters. This allows Egyptians who don’t speak English an opportunity to try and connect with us. It certainly brings out some smiles as we walk through towns. The back of the t shirt displays our itinerary by date, destination and event. Students were urged to wear these shirts whenever they wanted prior to the trip, but to be sure to pack them to wear in Egypt. Guess what colour the t shirts are? You’re right – sand colour (light brown) with dark brown silk screening.

    All participants will receive a “custom-made travelling sweatshirt” at the parent meeting. These are all black, full zippered, hooded sweatshirts with CAN ADA at the front (chest height), EGYPT 2009 (bum height) on the back, one sleeve will have their name and the other sleeve will have the Egyptian symbol for life (the ankh). Participants are asked NOT to wear the sweatshirts until departure day. We have found that if we all wear the same sweatshirt, it provides us a sense of community and often we receive special group privileges. It also makes it easier for chaperones to spot our travellers. If nothing else, it encourages other travellers at the airports to talk with us.

    Our travel agent has done a great job preparing what looks like a wonderful itinerary. We have asked for a few changes – and of course they cost money, but they have been very reasonable. We agreed to have students put 3 to a room (instead of 2) if we were moved to finer hotels. My logic was – we won’t spend much time in the rooms, as long as they were clean and secure. Moving to 5 star hotels gives us higher security. We also agreed to cover the costs ($750) of a second full-time guide for our group after we realized that 49 people and 1 guide just wasn’t going to make our tours workable.

    Last week chaperones had a 2 hour meeting with 2 participants and their parents. These two great kids have type 1 diabetes. Parents wanted to meet with us to explain their concerns. We had arranged for a Certified Diabetes Educator to be present. We worked through how travel and changes in diet might affect Blood Glucose levels. Both students are insulin dependent, one injects insulin with needles and the other is on an insulin pump. Everyone left the meeting feeling more confident.

    We have made plans for the final parent meeting (scheduled for about 9 days prior to departure). We use this meeting to review the itinerary, flight schedules, luggage limits, behaviour expectations and to answer any questions that might arise.

    Next instalment to cover last minute adjustments and currency exchange procedures.

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    Great stuff, tC. I eagerly await your next installments!

    Good advice on getting the ISIC card. Egypt seems to one of the few places left that give significant discounts to ISIC holders.

    The hot air balloon will be a wonderful treat. Luxor must be one of the the cheapest spots in the world to do this. It cost us just $80 USD per person in May '08.

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    Well, all my plans to keep everyone posted on the pre-trip activities have been pushed aside with other tasks. I haven't forgotten them. I will be contributing them after our return.

    We depart tomorrow morning. All is in place. I have all passports, all permission forms, all airline tickets etc. I have arranged for the coach bus to come to my house to pick me up (I felt I deserved this little perquisite) before we get the students and the other chaperones at the school.

    We are all healthy.

    If the opportunity permits, I will provide an update or two from the land of the pharoahs.

    tC

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    Hey TC (A),

    Wishing you and all on the trip safe journeys and fantastic adventures ! The details of your pre-trip plans sound amazing and I eagerly look froward to your trip report when you return.

    Godspeed,

    Mathieu

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    It is an hour or so before the coach stops in front of my house to pick me up. I was surprised that last night there were no phone calls from parent or travellers with any last minute concerns. I hope that is because we have done such a fine job preparing all our travellers.

    The weather is very good for travelling to Detroit (about 4 hours away) for our flight and we anticipate no weather-related traffic delays. We have a short (2 hour) layover in Frankfurt and then on to Cairo.

    All students have submitted their "Ask the Expert" presentations. Their excitement is palpable.

    Last minute advice from althom1122 and Casual_Cairo have added to my excitement. Thanks to everyone for their advice and support.

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    teach,
    have a wonderful safe trip.
    i just read about an incident in egypt involving a school teacher and immediately thought of you and your trip.
    have not yet read this post in it's entirety but i'm sure i will enjoy it as i did your report from paris.
    just wanted to wish you safe travels and a wonderful time.

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    We are back safe and sound. Students and chaperones collectively had wonderful times together. Over the two weeks we purchased many packages of Antinal for our travellers with stomach problems. Over the next few weeks I will try to compile a trip report worthy of this forum. Thank you to everyone for their advice and suggestions over the past two years.

    tC

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    Welcome back TC.
    I hope that your troubles were no worst that the tummy ones, and that the rest of the trip went swimmingly well for everyone.
    Looking forward to reading about it all whenever you're ready.

    Cheers,

    M.

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    Most Fodorites are aware of the (alleged) terrorist bombing in the Khal el Khalili bazaar in Islamic Cairo on Sunday, February 22. Recent reports tell us of the death of at least one tourist, a 17 year old female student on a school trip from France. About 20 others were injured from the blast. Our best wishes go to those affected. From our point of view, we have to wonder how our trip will be affected by these events. Since our trip is supported by our School Board, it can withdraw permission if it perceives the safety and security of the students may be threatened. Fortunately, our Board does not react rashly to events like this and seems to take a lead from the Government of Canada if and when they issue a travel advisory.

    The chaperones talked briefly about the increased level of danger. We decided to carry on, but exercise more caution than we might have if the bombing had not occurred. Surprisingly, no students approached the chaperones with concerns. Very few parents expressed concern to chaperones – but I am sure they were thinking about the incident in Cairo.

    We did have our parent/participant meeting ten days prior to departure. All travellers were represented. All parents signed the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade document that allows us as chaperones to take their children across an international border. We had arranged for a Notary Public to be present who witnessed the signatures and affixed his official seal to the document.

    The meeting lasted about 35 minutes and covered a wide range of topics which chaperones felt were necessary.

    We had offered our travel agency three options for departure gateway: Toronto, Buffalo or Detroit. Each is within a reasonable drive from our area. They were asked to find the lowest airfare to get us from Canada to Cairo. Detroit won.

    There are potential upsets departing from our area for an airport at the beginning of March. Weather. We live in a Snow Belt area. Several times each winter many local roads and highways are closed due to snowstorms. It is not always the amount of snow (although this plays a part in the picture), but the visibility on the roads that impacts whether roads are open or not. Our driving time to Detroit is nearly 4 hours. We needed to cross the Canada/USA border at Sarnia. We had to factor in some “fudge” time for bad weather. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 6:10 p.m. local time. We were to be at DTW (Detroit International Airport) 3 hours prior to departure. The decision was made to leave our area by 8:00 a.m. Fortunately, the weather was great and didn’t factor into our timing at all.

    Students and teachers from two secondary schools were involved in this trip, but the lead chaperones made a decision early on that we would travel as a family, one group treated equally. For this reason there would be only one pick up spot (at one school) and upon our return one drop off spot (the other school). This would place all participants on a level playing field with respect to seats on the coach, placement of luggage under the coach etc. It would also allow all parents to share the experience of watching their child/children depart.

    The two schools are in different towns about 12 km (8 miles) apart. We had requested a coach driver we knew well, who had taken us on many trips. I had a special favour to ask of him. Since I didn’t want to leave a car in the other town or have someone come with me to bring our car home, I asked our coach driver if he would come to my house to pick me (and my son) up. He agreed. At 7:30 a.m. a sparkling clean 56 passenger highway coach rolled up outside the house and the two of us loaded our bags. I can’t imagine what the neighbours were thinking. We had a quick stop at Tim Horton’s coffee shop where (by coincidence) we met another chaperone. She loaded her bags on board too and sent her sister-in-law home. We trundled down the highway to pick up the rest of the travellers.

    Loading the coach with luggage and travellers went smoothly. Everyone was wearing their matching black zippered hoodie sweatshirts. These shirts had CAN ADA embroidered on the front. EGYPT 2009 was embroidered on the back (at bum level). Embroidered on one sleeve was the participants name and on the other sleeve was the “ankh” the Egyptian symbol for everlasting life. All travellers were to wear these shirts at airports because they identified us as an educational group and sometimes gave us special privileges. It also allowed chaperones to identify group members from a distance. We also found that other travellers are more likely to engage us (and our students) in conversation if they have something to initiate the conversation (like our shirts). We paused for our first group shot outside the coach. Many Moms were anxious and some were crying. Before the coach door closed, we addressed the waiting parents, thanked them for allowing their child to participate and for trusting us. We said we would do our best to bring them all home safe and sound.

    The bus ride to the border was uneventful. Lead chaperones brought along the Travolta/ Newton-John DVD of Grease. We had hoped to make the move the “theme” for the trip.

    Since we didn’t know how long we would be waiting at U.S. Immigration and Customs we had planned a washroom break at the duty-free store by the bridge in Sarnia just prior to the border. I used this opportunity to purchase a digital travel alarm clock and a Swiss Army knife. Unfortunately at the border there were two busses ahead of us. One held 40 grown men who had just spent massive amounts of money at the duty free. I sensed we would be waiting a while for them to be processed. We ended up waiting only about 40 minutes. Our bus approached the customs station. Everyone on board our bus had a Canadian passport, each in their own passport pouch. We had photocopied each “picture page” of the passport and our driver took this package into the Homeland Security office. After 10 minutes or so, an officer came onto the bus, asked a few questions and let us pass into the USA.

    Our timing was excellent. We had a few hours to spare and our task now was to find a good spot for lunch. We didn’t want to eat lunch at the airport (too expensive). We ended up at a “Bob Evans”. The manager assured us she could serve a group our size within 20 minutes. The food was really very good, but the service was miserable. It took over one hour for some of our group to get their food. It was a good thing we weren’t under time pressure. DTW was only minutes away and we arrived, unloaded our bags and said goodbye to our coach driver all before 2:30 p.m.

    The Lufthansa gates were not yet open, so we waited about 30 minutes to offer our checked luggage. Excellent service from Lufthansa clerks followed. We moved as a group past the Homeland Security checkpoint and now had a few hours to kill in the waiting area. As mentioned in related threads, we had two students with diabetes travelling with us. At each check point we needed to explain the syringes one was carrying and the insulin pump the other was wearing. At no point in our travels were the accoutrements of these two travellers a concern – it just meant one of the lead chaperones needed to be close by to explain if needed.

    The new $2 billion North terminal at DTW is just super. Opened only about 6 months ago the terminal made for a pleasant few hours of waiting.

    Some students were becoming a bit more anxious. We could see our Lufthansa 747 waiting for us on the other side of the window. About half in our group had never flown before and they were determining who in our group was sitting next to whom. Questions about on-board washroom facilities, would we get any food, are we allowed to sleep, what if there are snakes on the plane etc. started to pop up. We did our best to allay fears.

    Boarding went smoothly. With a group this size (49 people), lead chaperones were particularly concerned that no one be left behind. We had a check list of names and as they passed the check point, ensured everyone was on the plane. We identified ourselves to the purser and Lufthansa staff as tour organizers when we boarded the plane. We asked that no students be served alcohol.

    The flight was uneventful. We landed in Frankfurt a few minutes early. We had just over 2 hours before our flight to Cairo departed so we took everyone to the retail area of the terminal. Students were “grossed out” at the glassed-in smoking rooms. None of our travellers (students or adults) smoked. Some students bought candies and sweets. Most students just wandered, “people-watched” and listened to the variety of languages. The “moving sidewalks” were a great hit with the students and they passed time walking forwards and backwards on them. I was grateful they weren’t familiar with the “Ministry of Funny Walks” from Monty Python.

    We had to pass through a security check to get to our next plane. Everyone made it through smoothly but one chaperone. In his carry-on luggage was a CPAP machine. This small device (about the size of 4 stacked hard cover books) is a medical device designed to permit positive ventilation while sleeping. When worn it reduces the frequency of sleep apnea and snoring. It allows users to get a higher quality sleep with fewer involuntary “wake-ups”. The CPAP was causing concern to one of the security officers and was taken into a screening room to be tested for residues of explosives. It didn’t take long and we all carried on.

    Frankfurt airport is massive. From our departure gate (where normally one would board the plane) we boarded a bus which must have driven 2 or 3 kilometers to our waiting plane. We boarded via the back door, up an open-air staircase. Once again a wonderful crew from Lufthansa made our travel very comfortable.

    Our flight to Cairo was on a Lufthansa Airbus 300. It was a lovely airplane. Lunch was served. It was an uneventful flight. I had hoped to view Greece and the Aegean Sea out the window as we travelled to Egypt, but cloud cover prevented this. We did glimpse a little bit of the Alps (either in Switzerland or Austria).

    We landed in Cairo in the middle of a kham sin (sandstorm). Visibility was reduced. I was concerned how the airborne sand would affect the jet engines – apparently not.

    Compared to Detroit and Frankfurt, Cairo International (CAI) is a dirty airport with many fewer “amenities”. Apparently CAI also has a new terminal which is due to open to travellers very soon. I am sure it will be an improvement. We were met by Mustapha, our handler, who quickly arranged our visa stamps and shepherded us through customs. Our checked luggage was identified and loaded onto two carts. We then left the secure area to walk to our waiting coach. We were met by Khaled and Avril (the co-owners of our travel company) just outside the airport door. They had a welcome flower for everyone in our group and cold bottled water waiting for us on the coach. Our adventure in Egypt had begun

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    Thanks everyone for your words of encouragement. Please don’t feel obliged to read any or all of my ramblings. This forum is geared much more toward individual, family or small group travel, not school groups. I must say early on that this group turned out to be the best group I have ever travelled with. They never ceased to amaze me with their resilience and positive attitude. The chaperone team was truly blessed.

    If anyone has any questions or seeks clarification about any of our activities, please don’t hesitate to ask. I won’t be focussing on the sites of Egypt as much because others have already done a super job such as “Karen and Julies Egyptian escapades” by Althom1122. I take my hat off to them for a superb trip report.

    Casual_Cairo: I am truly sorry I did not contact you while we were in Cairo. I really wanted to chat with you. You have provided so much helpful information on this forum that I wanted to thank you in person. Please accept my apologies. We did have a busy schedule, but that is no excuse.

    Saturday, March 7. Our luggage was placed in the coach. It was around 4:30 p.m. Cairo time when we left the airport. There was lots of construction, road detours and activity as we headed towards the capital city of Egypt. Our tour busses were always very nice. I had a fear on our first trip to Egypt (4 years ago) that we would be in old rickety school busses, but without exception our coach transportation has always been first rate. The biggest concern for this group was the size of the bus. We had 49 in our travel group – and the bus had exactly 49 seats. This provided zero flexibility to bring ill students forward to empty seats. It also gave no empty seats for chaperones to use for planning etc. I will have to remember to ask for busses that have more seats than we will fill in the future. Both Avril and Khaled came on the bus with us for the drive through Cairo to Giza. Khaled is a wonderful guy, an Egyptologist and archaeologist, former officer in the Egyptian army, and civil engineer. I quite enjoyed his commentary on our 75 minute bus ride to our supper destination. Avril is a details-oriented woman who was always looking out for our best interests.

    For those of you who know Cairo, you know what is meant by gridlock. Sometimes we thought we were in a parking lot rather than a highway. The lane markings on the road were described (quite accurately) as “decoration” for they were rarely used. Cars, trucks and busses jockeyed for position no matter how quickly they were moving. Horn-beeping seemed like a national sport. Their protocol for driving was alien to us, but it certainly seemed to work for the locals. I think there must have been a system for beeps and headlight highbeam flashes that you need to be a local to understand.

    Only two of our travelling group had been to Egypt before; myself and a 21 year old chaperone who attended the previous trip as a student. The rest of our group was tired, but awake as we drove through the “brown-ness” that is Egypt. You will never see as many shades and tones of the colour brown anywhere else in the world. Shouts emanated from the bus when students saw donkeys pulling carts along the highway, when pedestrians crossed the highway, when pickup trucks loaded 8 – 10 feet high with furniture precariously roped to the bed passed, when 50 cc motorbikes with three people on (none with helmets) snaked between rows of traffic.

    We crossed the Nile River into Giza and headed straight to our dinner location. Dinner was in a tourist restaurant about 1 km from the pyramids in Giza. We could look out the second floor window and by the end of dinner see the sound and light show going on.

    Following dinner we travelled about 25 minutes to our accommodation for the next 3 nights - the Swiss Inn Hotel (about 12 km due west of the pyramids). It is quite new (built within the last 2 years) and offered us very nice rooms and a lovely pool. It is quite isolated and there was nothing within walking distance of the hotel.

    Students were either 2 or 3 to a room. Students were placed in rooms with their friends. On the first few nights, homesickness is more likely to occur and chaperones believed it was best for students to be with their friends, rather than strangers. Chaperones determined all rooming arrangements. Everyone had their own bed. The rooms were spread out over 3 floors and not really close together. I prefer our rooms to be close to each other for security reasons. The 8 chaperones (4 men, 4 women) had 4 single and 2 double rooms. Lead chaperones always had a room to themselves (the two of us needed somewhere where we could go to relax) and we had purchased 2 other single rooms (at each hotel) to allow the other chaperones a turn where they could be without a room mate.

    As one of the lead chaperones, my room had a bath robe, slippers and a bowl of fruit waiting for me. I found out later that I was the only one to get this special treatment. I shared the fruit – but kept the bathrobe and slippers!

    We gave the students 30 minutes to find their room and then asked everyone to change into their swimsuits and meet at the lovely pool for a refreshing swim. Nearly everyone showed up and we splashed and cavorted for a good 45 minutes until hotel security showed up and told us they had put chemicals into the pool earlier and we had to leave the water. They said we could swim again tomorrow. It was bed time for our tired group.

    Sunday, March 8. Wake up phone call for everyone at 6:15 a.m.. Breakfast at the hotel buffet was at 7:00. Three chaperones (including me) went for a 6:00 a.m. swim in the pool. What a great way to wake up! Students were reminded to carry their toilet paper in their back packs and to wear closed toe shoes (not sandals) for today we would visit the pyramids and go for our first camel ride. They were also asked to obtain a bottle of water and keep it with them during the day.

    We met our guide, Mohammed, in the lobby of the hotel. He would be with us for the next 9 days. He was about 30 years old, tall and quite calm in his approach. On our way to the pyramids we had several of our students present their “Ask the Expert” topics using the microphone on the bus. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this aspect of our trip planning, I will offer a brief summary. Each student (and chaperone if they wish) has a topic related to our travels to research and present to the group. Research is completed prior to departure and a copy handed in to teachers at the parent meeting 10 days prior to leaving. Students take a copy of their presentation with them. While we are at breakfast, in the bus, waiting in the airport etc. students make a 5 to 7 minute presentation about their topic. We do this for educational reasons, but also to allow each participant to have a vested interest in at least one destination or subject. Topics this trip included: the pyramids, Sakkara, sports in Egypt, the Valley of the Kings, food and dance in Egypt, Abdul Nassar (and 36 others). It is really exciting to watch a student who has researched a topic and presented it to our group actually visit the spot. It all “comes together” and they truly grasp what they have studied. From a teacher’s point of view – it is energizing.

    On the bus we also talked about the mini-bars in the rooms. We declared them “out-of-bounds”. Students were told they were expensive to use and we would get the bill at check-out. Some of them believed the contents were free. Cute eh! We commended the group for their politeness to everyone over the past two days of travel.

    Our visit to the Great Pyramids at Giza was wonderful. Truly they are awe-inspiring. They are massive in all dimensions. We were humbled to stand beside them. After about an hour during which we took pictures, heard from our guide and climbed up a few levels to look into an entry passage we returned to our bus. This was our first exposure to the locals who try to sell items to tourists. We had prepared the group for their aggressive approach, but all the prep in the world didn’t mean much until we saw them in action. Now the group understood why our number one travel rule was NEVER BE ALONE.

    Our bus drove us a short distance to the middle of the three great pyramids where we had tickets to enter into the tomb room. Those of you who have done this know the short and narrow, passageway that descends into the bowels of the pyramid. It is exciting to imagine the procession 4000 years earlier that brought the Pharaoh to his resting spot. I was the last of our group to arrive at the pyramid because two students needed a quick washroom visit. Our tardy threesome was the last to enter and we met many of group on their return journey. Pictures are not allowed inside the pyramid. I had forgotten to check my camera at the entry. I was surprised when we entered the tomb room that there was no guard present. We did sneak a few pics of our group in and around the sarcophagus. Everyone in our group made the trek inside the pyramid. I was very pleased because some had expressed their hesitation due to fear of closed-in spaces.

    We returned to our bus for a short ride to the plateau to the west of the pyramids and a chance to ride some camels.

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    My wife and I toured Egypt in January 08. We had a wonderful time and have discussed returning. We have been anxiously awaiting your trip report. Great start, keep it coming.

    You know, we (and maybe others) would love to read what your students thought of the trip. Perhaps you could have one student from each school prepare a summary of comments or preferably a complete trip report.

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    Great stuff, TC.
    Reading of your adventures reminds me of my own in Cairo 2005 (and I did meet CasualCairo - she was instrumental in organising, arranging and guiding parts of my trip there - Hi,D!). An hour after I'd left the Museum of Antiquities to head off to Jordan there was a shooting incident outside the gates.

    As usual, your thoughtful planning for the enjoyment of the students is most admirable. You deserve those perqs !

    Looking forward to more reading.

    M.

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    DaveJJ - A wonderful idea you have. There were several girls who kept a daily journal. I will ask them if they are interested in posting it. It would certainly provide greater depth to this trip report. Even if they were willing to summarize the experiences it would be valuable.

    Mathieu - thanks for your patience and encouragement. It must have been a shock to hear of the shooting. I do regret not chatting with Debbie. She sounds wonderful.

    Back to the trip.... From the middle pyramid, our bus drove a short distance (about 1 km) to the west of the pyramids to a plateau from which we could get super views of the 3 great pyramids with Cairo hardly noticeable in a background haze. We did the requisite group photos and tried to set up some shots that made it look like we were touching the pyramids (similar to those photos at the leaning tower of Pisa that make it look like you are holding up the tower). It takes a good photographer and a cooperative group to see success. My shots didn’t work out, but others were very successful.

    Following our photo time the adventures began. Our camel challenge started 50 meters away. Gosh, how can an animal be so cute and so ugly at the same time! The students mounted up, two at a time. Some were familiar with horseback riding; some didn’t have a clue what to do. It took about 30 minutes to get everyone onto a camel. The shrieks coming from some of us as these animals stood up could be heard for miles. The technique involves leaning far back because the camel stands up using hind legs first. Some students just couldn’t grasp the concept. No one actually went for a tumble – but there were some anxious moments. Our “camel trek” was about 1 km towards the pyramids. Both the front and the back of the camel saddle had a vertical wooden grip about 6 inches long. These were all a rider had to stabilize themselves while on the camel. One poor girl was in the front position and had a saddle that sloped forward. She had a most uncomfortable, personal experience being thrust against the handle. At the end, the Egyptian helpers asked for tips/baksheesh. They had already been paid and tipped, but they were persistent. I had told as many students as possible to say “see Mohammed”, our guide if they were asked for tips. Sadly, some of our group were so polite, they paid.

    After the fun on the camels we boarded the bus for another short ride to the Sphinx. We spent about 1 hour looking around the necropolis and Sphinx. Group photos were taken.

    From the Sphinx we travelled by coach to a perfumerie. In the “olden days” Egyptians apparently were quite absorbed by how they looked and smelled. Make-up, hairstyles, perfume were all a part of the upper class lifestyle. This perfumerie was one of many available that took tourists and tourist groups in for demonstrations and explanations. The manager spent 45 minutes describing his products, and then lo and behold there was an opportunity to purchase some. Who would have thought they were trying to sell anything?? The perfumes are not watered down with alcohol, they are more like oil. They were expensive – about US$40 for a small bottle – but probably good value if you would use the contents regularly.

    Our next stop was a papyrus institute. A quick demonstration and history to papyrus was offered. This was followed by – you guessed it - an opportunity to purchase papyrus. There were samples of about 100 different scenes painted on papyrus. If you liked a particular scene you could order it by number from a service counter. Prices varied by the size of the product and the level of detail in the painting. Our group had dropped a lot of cash at the last two stops and I started wondering if the tour agency or our guide or someone was making a commission from the thousands of dollars we were spending.

    I have already mentioned our hotel (the Swiss Inn Hotel) was in the boondocks – far from any stores. Students had mentioned the lack of a “variety store” or similar where they could purchase snacking food like drinks and chips. Chaperones decided that it would be a worthwhile educational experience to stop at a Cairene grocery store and let them loose for about 40 minutes. Well, they ended up purchasing some chips with the most unusual flavours – and liking them. Of course they purchased Coke and 7 Up. There was a carcass of a goat hanging in front of the butcher section. This caused great amusement to some students. I was surprised because we are from a farming community – but I suppose that doesn’t mean they all would have seen sights like that before. The local shoppers were quite accepting of this invasion by foreign teenagers. The challenge for our students came at checkout time when they had to interact with the cashier. Egyptians are wonderfully friendly – and they love to practise whatever English language skills they have, whenever they can. I bought a box of “Bimbo’s”. These were chocolate covered biscuits with a chocolate center. I didn’t care what they tasted like – I just wanted an empty box of “Bimbo’s” to put on my file cabinet at school. Actually they tasted fine – and disappeared quickly when passed around the bus. I carefully collapsed the box and it now has a place of honour in my classroom. Some people never get one Bimbo in their whole lifetime. I had a boxful!!! – and could prove it!!!

    From the grocery store we went to supper. It was late now, about 8:00 p.m. and we were all hungry. Supper was at the same restaurant as the previous night, but this night they offered a candlelight dinner with a pasta main dish. It was very nice. After supper we were supposed to board the bus and return to the hotel. It was a lovely evening and I thought it would great to walk toward the pyramids (less than 1 km away) to see them from the street at night. I gathered our group outside the restaurant and we walked about 50 meters towards the Pyramids. I noticed a “Tourism and Antiquities Police” officer walking toward us. He asked, in his limited English, where we were going. I said we were going to walk for a few blocks to wear off a good supper (as I patted my round belly). He didn’t respond, but joined me leading the group. We came to a corner, stayed on the sidewalk, and continued walking. By now there were three more T and A police walking with us. I proceeded to have the group cross the cross street to continue walking towards the Pyramids. He said I should turn. I said I wanted to go straight. He had a gun. I didn’t. We turned. By now (only 2 minutes into our walk) we had 3 more uniformed police walking with us and a police truck (which is a small pickup truck with a high cap on the back). Moments later we had a total of 7 armed and uniformed police officers and a vehicle escorting us on what would become a walk around the block. I also noticed that a nice looking Egyptian man dressed in a suit carrying a leather briefcase had joined our escorts. Apparently he, too, was police or secret service. My idea for an energizing walk to the pyramids nearly turned into an international incident. We were shepherded back to our waiting bus. The students were stunned by the lack of freedom of movement. It was an interesting lesson for our group. At the hotel many went for a quick swim, then to sleep. It was hard to believe we had only spent one day in Cairo – we had done so much.

    Sunday, March 7

    Another early start. The breakfast buffet was great. We met for about 30 minutes in the hotel courtyard to have 5 students do their “Ask the Expert” presentations. We boarded the bus to travel to downtown Cairo to visit the Egyptian museum. We were all pumped to see Tut’s death mask and the mummy room. As you may know, cameras are not allowed inside the museum. We all went through a security check at the gate. Mohammed (our guide) did a wonderful job herding this large group of 49 around the museum and explaining (sometimes in great detail) as many items as he could. We had explained to him that we were not students of Egyptian history and asked him to limit his explanations to the bare minimum. He was very good to do that – but he knew so much. It was difficult for him to “cut to the quick”.

    Our next stop was the Mummy Room (which required a supplementary ticket for entry). A fellow chaperone had noticed a few young Egyptian men (about 19 – 20 years old) following our group. I watched from a distance. The boys were focussing on a few of our girls. The girls had already commented to me about the boys “closeness” and contact. Now, I need to explain that of our 41 students, 28 were female and 13 male. Some of our girls were (and they still are) very pretty, tall, with long brown or blonde hair. They were dressed conservatively. They were getting unwanted attention. As long as the boys stayed their distance I felt I could monitor safely. My concern jumped when they moved close enough to the girls (the room was crowded) to make physical contact. “Physical contact” was made and I walked over to the three boys and introduced myself as their teacher and asked them to keep greater distance between their group and “my girls”. One spoke good English and they politely stepped aside. I relaxed. As we walked to the other end of the museum (on the second floor) to the Tut exhibit, I saw them once more following very closely to the same group of girls. I walked over to them again and said in no uncertain terms to “bugger off” right away or I would walk over to the Tourist Police (about 20 feet away) and tell them how they had been harassing Canadian tourists in the museum. We didn’t see them again.

    The Tut exhibit is phenomenal. Standing within one or two feet of the death mask makes my knees go weak.

    After the museum we went for lunch at the “Fish Boat”, a permanently moored restaurant boat at the side of the Nile. Again, a buffet lunch with similar fare as other places, but a few more fish dishes. Very nice, but already meals were getting predictable.

    In the afternoon – to Coptic Christian Cairo and the Mohammed Ali Mosque at the Citadel – then feminine concerns.

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    Many thanks TC, very well written, interesting, easy and fun read. Looking forward to much more. God bless you and the other chaperones for taking the responsibilities to organize and lead the trip.

    I've only been to Egypt for a couple of days a few years ago. To see the pyramids, Sphynx, the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Karnak, all those that I had heard about and seen on TV was truly awesome unforgettable.

    regards - tom

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    I was expecting someting this good from you! I follow your group and observe from a prudent distance and can visulalize the entire scene. Thanks!

    I am sure it is a bit unnerving at the beginning to have such police escorting, but Egypt must be at Red terrorist alert year round anymore.

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    I so enjoyed the continuation of your report. My fascination with Egypt has not abated even though my visit already took place. It is so interesting to view Egypt through the eyes of a school group.

    Susan

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    Our next stop was a papyrus institute. A quick demonstration and history to papyrus was offered. This was followed by – you guessed it - an opportunity to purchase papyrus. There were samples of about 100 different scenes painted on papyrus. If you liked a particular scene you could order it by number from a service counter. Prices varied by the size of the product and the level of detail in the painting. Our group had dropped a lot of cash at the last two stops and I started wondering if the tour agency or our guide or someone was making a commission from the thousands of dollars we were spending.

    We too visited a "papyrus institute". The first visit, we bought nothing. When the rest of my family had left for Sharm El Sheikh, my daughter and I bought 6 of them, since framed, and looking fabulous!

    Some people never get one Bimbo in their whole lifetime. I had a boxful!!! –

    You have a great sense of humor. Fun to read.

    He said I should turn. I said I wanted to go straight. He had a gun. I didn’t. We turned.

    Ditto.

    We had explained to him that we were not students of Egyptian history and asked him to limit his explanations to the bare minimum

    We didn't do this and should have. Our guide was fantastic, but maybe just a little too much detail for our group (we're very superficial people :-) )

    The Tut exhibit is phenomenal. Standing within one or two feet of the death mask makes my knees go weak.

    I'd seen the Tut exhibit when it visited my city years ago. So while it was interesting to see it again (an understatement, of course), this time we were more fascinated by Tut's underwear!

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    teacher, thank you for investing the time to write this. I love the details that you share. You know that you are a phenomenal teacher to commit so much of your efforts and time for these students. It sounds like you really make a difference in these kids lives! I love how protective you are of these kids... papa bear coming out!

    I remember reading (early on perhaps?) how you 'encouraged' two kids not to come - sounds like was a great group and you must be thankful that those two listened to your wisdom.

    I know it is tedious to write this, but keep the details coming!

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    Thank you to all who take their precious time to read of our adventure. It is energizing knowing that others are on the "receiving end" of the trip report.

    surfmom - what a good memory you have. The lead chaperones reflected on that very issue on the airplane on the way home. We believed we made the right decision. One of the two would not have demonstrated the flexibility necessary for travel in these circumstances. His presence would have been destructive to the nature of our travel group. The other student may have been able to adapt to the dynamics of the group - but it would have required a significant shift in how he deals with people. This trip could have had a markedly different outcome if they had participated. Both students are still in school and active in the community. I think they realize it was a lost opportunity, but, in part understand why they were discouraged from participating.

    As I look at some of the previous postings, it might appear I was the only chaperone. Nothing could be further from the truth. The other lead chaperone is an experienced world traveller (but it was her first trip to Egypt) and we made all decisions cooperatively. The six other adults were kept in the “loop” and were always supportive and caring. Students quite often would talk with them first and share concerns because the two lead chaperones were caught up in conversations with the guide, discussing options or planning the next day. Each chaperone was integral to the success of this educational excursion.

    Following lunch we boarded our bus to travel to Coptic Christian Cairo. The students had been primed about the 10% of Egyptians who are Christian and how they follow a church similar to Greek Orthodox, rather than Western churches. We spent about 90 minutes viewing the Hanging Church (inside and out) and also went to a very nice church about half a block away that was “in the round”. This day (Monday) was some type of local holiday and the area was teeming with youngsters. There were about 100 Egyptian school kids aged 10 – 12 in the courtyards of both churches. Each group of about 10 children had an adult leader (teacher?) with them. All the leaders were men. I don’t know whether this was by design or coincidence. Maybe the women were having a day without children. These kids didn’t want to listen to anyone. They extinguished the candles in the church, tried to fish the offerings out of the wooden boxes, climbed on the chest high wall next to the steps that lead to the church etc. They were a boisterous crew. Our group looked decidedly dull in comparison. I lit a candle in this church for my Mum. It was exactly one year since I lit a candle for her in Sacre Coeur in Paris.

    Once again, the girls in the group were attracting attention by virtue of their appearance. Nothing concrete to respond to, but the male chaperones were quite aware of what was happening. We reminded the boys in the group that it was their job to “respect and protect” the girls in our group. Likely the best “non-confrontational” manner to do this was to literally position themselves (our boys) between our girls and any locals who could become problemsome.

    We returned to the bus for a drive to the Mohammed Ali mosque at the Citadel. The drive was uneventful, but as we were approaching the Citadel we saw a very large quarry that apparently is (and was) the source of a lot of the stone used for many of the buildings in Cairo. I had not seen a quarry of this size before in Egypt.

    The Citadel is positioned on high land towards the outside of Cairo. Once inside the walls of the Citadel we took a group photo with the mosque in the background. When we entered the mosque 5 of our girls were asked to wear robes because their knees and/or elbows were showing. We all took off our footwear and walked in bare feet or stockinged feet to meet our guide. He did a great job explaining the history of the Citadel. As we were listening to Mohammed in the courtyard, a group of 4 young Arab women (about 20 years old) came close to our group. They were unobtrusive and just listened to Mohammed. Two of the chaperones started talking to them. They were all in university in Cairo. Three were studying English, one Italian. They wanted to hear what our guide was saying so they could practice their language skills. They stayed with us for the next 30 minutes or so. They were ever so polite and respectful – but I think they had their fill of English by the time they left. The main mosque is quite big with the largest chandelier I have ever seen in my whole life. We all sat cross-legged in a circle inside the mosque. Our shoes were carefully placed by a pillar, sideways, with the bottoms facing each other so the soles of the shoes did not touch the floor. These were very interesting differences for our students to grasp.

    Following our chat within the mosque we went outside to view Cairo. It is a magnificent spot. In the distance (through the Cairo haze) you can make out 2 of the 3 Great Pyramids. I can hardly imagine the view 800 years earlier.

    It was at this site that we had some of our most difficult times with locals selling items. They were very aggressive. Pushing and grabbing elbows to get our attention while Mohammed was talking with the group. The sellers (always men and boys) were, once more, targeting some of our girls with their attention. Male chaperones and male students tried to position themselves appropriately. Finally, Mohammed spoke to them in their own language and they backed right up. I don’t know what he said, but I wished I could learn that phrase.

    As we walked back to the bus we passed an ice cream stand. I suggested to Mohammed we purchase 50 ice creams there, but he said they were too expensive. We could do that at the next stop. I knew supper would be really late tonight due to the Sound and Light show at the Giza Pyramids and I wanted to ensure the kids had some sort of snack. He arranged for two boxes of ice cream to be at the next stop. There are times I love cell phones.

    Our next stop was a jewellery store where we could admire all sorts of cartouches, crystal, key chains, chess sets – you name it, they had it. Best of all – because we were a school group – we could get a special price on everything. Boy – this was our lucky day. The kids believed them. The slightly more cynical adults were less trusting. This day, Avril, the co-owner of the travel agency was not travelling with us. I trust Avril and her shopping instincts. Mohammed had chosen this jewellery store. I was hesitant to trust Mohammed completely at this point (having only known him for about 36 hours) so I called Avril and asked her opinion of the store and the prices we would face. She checked it out for us and gave it her approval.

    As time wore on, Mohammed earned more and more trust from the lead chaperones. Mohammed told us on the bus that most items in this store had a negotiable price. He encouraged us to bargain, then when we thought we had a good deal; call him over for his opinion. He set up a code word for us to use. If he thought we had the best price possible he would say “that is an excellent deal”. If he thought we could do better, he would say “that is a very good deal”. This way he could send us a message without ticking off the merchants that he would continue to see week after week. His system worked very well for us that day and over the next week.

    I ended up purchasing a gold cartouche for my wife. It matches the silver one I had purchased 4 years earlier. The store did a good trade in those 90 minutes. One thing I might have missed when we did our purchases has been a topic on other Fodor’s threads. It involved how we paid for our purchases. I used a credit card and paid in US dollars. I suspect I was on the losing side of DCC (Dynamic Currency Conversion) wherein the merchant charges the purchaser (not in the local currency, but a foreign one) and a hefty conversion fee is attached. Oh well, I can’t complain now. I just need to be more aware next time.

    Following the jewellery store was our Sound and Light show at the Giza pyramids. We were originally scheduled to see the S and L show on our first night, but due to the sand storm it was postponed by the travel company. It was a good decision. The show is entertaining and worth attending. I ended up dozing off during a portion, but that is because I was tired, not because the show was not worthy. After the show the chaperones joked about the overly-dramatic music that accompanied the narration. From the music alone it seemed like Godzilla would poke his head from around a pyramid.

    Supper was late (about 8:30 p.m.). Our restaurant served the typical fare, but this time to the pop music of “Mombo Number 5” and similar songs.

    While we were driving back to our hotel, the other lead chaperone (who is female) mentioned to me that some of our 28 girls were getting their “monthly visitor”. Fortunately, she had brought an “emergency supply” of pads et al, just in case. In our letters home in the weeks prior to departure we had stressed to girls that since we would be gone for 2 weeks and if their cycle was a regular 28 days, one could expect that over half would have their period. They were encouraged to bring the type of feminine supplies they were used to and to have extra in case of extraordinary circumstances. We mentioned that there were 35 – 40 million women in Egypt, but our travellers would feel most comfortable using the type of feminine protection they were familiar with.

    Some of our girls apparently didn’t take our advice. On our third day, nearly all of the “emergency supply” was spoken for.

    This would be our last night in this hotel. Everyone was asked to pack up all their belongings and purchases except for tomorrow’s clothes and toiletries. They were to check electrical outlets for chargers, check under beds for socks, empty any drawers or closets that were used etc. Right after breakfast tomorrow (Tuesday) we would board the bus with all of our luggage.

    Tomorrow – Sakkara, Memphis, carpet school, overnight train to Aswan.

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    (Chuckle !)

    TC, if and when you ever do retire, I think you should organise and lead trips and tours to exotic far-off places for your Fodorite friends...
    Think how much 'fun' that would be ! :)

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    Thanks for sharing! I can't wait to hear more details.

    You would be very brave if you took Mathieu's suggestion to lead adult trips. Of course, all Fodorites would be wonderful, but you might get some others and all it takes is a couple of grumps to wreck a trip! Give me kids any day!

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    Thanks lincasanova, Mathieu, lucy_d and irishface for your continuing patience and encouragement. I think I have at least one more big trip before the doors close behind me. I am presently planning a 14 day Eurotrip to Paris (3 nights), Venice (1), Rome (3), Athens (1), then ending with a 4 day cruise around the Aegean Sea. Aaaaand, I would love to do a flip down to Machu Picchu to walk the Inca Trail.

    Before I continue, I need to make an adjustment to the previous day’s record. Between the jewellery store and the sound and light show at the pyramids we stopped at a “cotton” shop that sold all manner of Egyptian cotton. One could buy shawls, shirts, pants, bed sheets – anything composed of Egyptian cotton. Salespeople were always at your shoulder, but were not pushy. On our previous trip we had stopped at the same store and I had purchased some bedding. This time I purchased a short-sleeved shirt with hieroglyphics imprinted all over it.

    Also – as a follow-up to the feminine supplies story. On this night the lead chaperones wanted to boost our supplies of these feminine supplies. We had purchased one small package (all the store had) during the day – but these were already spoken for. Since there were no stores within 30 minutes walk of the hotel, we asked our guide if he would arrange with our bus driver for him to take us on the bus to the nearest store that would sell these supplies. By this time it was about 10:00 p.m. This request in itself was a bit awkward to ask a Muslim man. First, I asked if he was married (he was) and then I said some of our girls needed supplies that only a female would require (I didn’t know the word for tampons and sign language just wasn’t going to work). We weren’t asking him to purchase them for us (I didn’t know if Egyptian men ever purchased these items or if they are exclusively purchased by women). He was a good sport, understood our request and the four of us (driver, guide and two chaperones) drove away on our large bus to a gas station/convenience store – an “On The Run”. The two chaperones must have looked like a pair of sillies walking through this convenience store. Finally, we found the elusive items – on the lowest shelf – beside the RAID bug killer. We had to laugh. Just as aside here – whenever we had to make a similar purchase we went straight to the “bug killer” section, found the RAID, and the products we wanted were right there.

    This evening, upon our return to the hotel, there were some hijinks between student rooms. There was a bit of water tossed from balconies. A couple of students who had never seen or used a bidet before were given the shock of their lives from others who turned on the “fountain” full force. The chaperones (the ones with leftover energy) met in one of the rooms to discuss the previous days’ events and finish the residual duty-free items in our possession.

    Tuesday, March 10

    Another early morning wake up call was “enjoyed” by all. Breakfast in the dining hall was very good. We had asked everyone to be checked out of their rooms and have their bags in the lobby by 9:30 a.m. The bus was soon loaded with people and luggage. All the room keys were returned. Chaperones had to wait at the desk while hotel staff checked the rooms and the mini-bars. After about 20 minutes we were cleared to go. We really enjoyed the Swiss Inn Hotel. The only downside was the location – it was far from everything.

    Those of you who have been to Cairo know that any drive through this massive city is maddeningly slow. Today was no different. Some on the bus felt that for 40 minutes or so we could have walked faster than the bus drove. We did see a new “ring road” under construction that is designed to speed up city traffic. I suspect it will be out-of-date before it opens, but it could make a difference. The three other male chaperones are all involved in some aspect of the construction business and they were flabbergasted at the lack of safety precautions at both road and building construction sites. Few safety fences, no safety equipment (hardhats, safety shoes, safety glasses etc.), no warning signs, no flag persons. Mix this approach to safety with the driving habits of the Egyptians and one wonders how any survive!

    Our first destination of the day was Sakkara, only about 30 km south of Cairo. We were to stop for lunch on the way at a unique bazaar that resembled a carnival more than a restaurant. As we entered the walled enclosure we could see an earthen oven cooking pita bread, camels, donkeys, goats and many birds in an open area with large tents (roof only) behind. Our lunch was part buffet (vegetables and salad) and part barbeque (the meat portion, cooked on our table in a Hibachi type of bbq). Lunch was subdued. Quite a number of our group were falling under the spell of stomach upsets and gastro-intestinal tension. Some were also tired with the 7 hour time zone change finally having an impact. There was less vibrancy in the group for lunch than we had seen before. I hoped it was only a “time of day” thing and that they would bounce back soon.

    Following lunch the group went to the step pyramid at Sakkara. There is a new visitor center at Sakkara that shows a model in a room with seating for about 75 people. The fifteen minute film presentation was excellent. Our bus brought us up the hill to the entrance to the step pyramid temple area. Mohammed led us through a short, but interesting chat about the area and then released the group for about 45 minutes to explore the area. From a nearby vantage point we could see the red pyramid and the bent pyramid. A group of our students made a human pyramid and others took pictures.

    I wanted to visit the bent pyramid and asked if we could include that in our afternoon itinerary. Our next stop was Memphis to see the horizontal alabaster statue of Ramses II (he didn't have a leg to stand on - ha ha) and a few other items. Following Memphis we drove toward the bent pyramid. The afternoon had slipped by (it was now 4:00 p.m.) and the tourist facility at the bent pyramid was now closed. We did drive as close as possible before the Tourism Police turned us around. Oh well, next trip we’ll do it for sure.

    Our next stop was a carpet school. We were told these “schools” were government sponsored and youngsters (aged 5 – 15) worked creating hand-woven carpets. Half the day they went to school and the other half they worked. They weren’t paid much for their work, but the girls built up a “dowry” that would make them more likely to get married in the future. The working areas (the looms) were in the lower area. When we arrived there were 3 children working. A brief explanation from an employee followed. The children then allowed our students to try their hand at tying a knot. This was a nice photo opportunity – but sadly was always followed by an open hand from each child asking for money. I wondered if these kids had to take classes in looking cute and needy. Our students had a soft spot for these little weavers and it became worth their while to stay late for our bus. Upstairs is the carpet gallery where the finished products were available for sale. A few transactions occurred, but most of us were content to look.

    The group boarded the bus for a slow return to Cairo. A routine supper followed. The chaperones had taken numerous requests from students for a return to the grocery store to load up on drinks and treats for the pending all-night train ride to Aswan. The store was only a few blocks from the supper location, so the decision was easy. Now they were seasoned shoppers, most went directly to the snacks and pop sections. Others went through the remaining clothing, appliance and shoe shops in the small mall. Fully loaded, we headed for the Giza train station.

    The train station was crowded. We had quite a bit of spare time since we arrived about 2 hours prior to our departure time. Everyone deposited their luggage in one area and we gathered around the bags – hopefully to ensure no one took some of our bags in error.

    The washrooms at the train station were the “hole in the floor” type. Boys had a slight advantage using these toilets. Girls, who always had to assume a “squatting” position were more uncomfortable using the facilities. This was our first exposure to the “non-seated” facilities. Lots of “ughs” and “yucks” arose in discussion. I think some of this was people trying to save face – with a bit a play-acting.

    One very unusual incident occurred while we were waiting at the station. A train (not ours) was pulling away from the platform, moving at a running pace, when an Egyptian woman (around 30 - 40 years old) fell out of the moving car and onto the platform. She was screaming loudly and then started running on the platform towards the end of the moving train. This happened only about 25 meters from where we were standing and many of us saw the whole thing. Naturally, we all wanted to follow the woman to see how the incident would unfold. Quickly the chaperones realized that following the growing crowd would be a mistake. Students were told to stay put. This was not our country, our language, our protocols and we would likely be seen as intruders. Police and army types ran toward the end of the station. We never found out any more information.

    Our train arrived right on time (9:30 p.m.). We all lined up at the spot on the platform where we were told the carriage doors would stop. Perfect. There was only about 2 minutes for everyone and all their luggage to move on the train. Some of our boys expedited the process by forming a chain for luggage. It worked well. Mohammed ensured everyone was on board. Our group took up two and one half of the sleeper cars. There were ten cabins per car. Each small cabin held two people. There was a luggage storage area, a small washbasin and a six foot long padded seat in each compartment. Tight, but comfortable. The seat folded out into a bed and a second bed (the upper bunk) folded out from the wall above the seat. Supper was brought to each cabin by attendants. At about 11:00 p.m. the attendants returned to turn the room into sleeping accommodations. Some of our group were not feeling well and retired early – others socialized and played cards.

    My memory of this train on our last trip was the filthy, disgusting toilets. The seats and floor were covered in urine. This time (since we took up the whole car) I wanted a different result. There were two washrooms in each car. I took 2 pieces of paper, attached Canada flag stickers and wrote “Canada Girls” on one and “Canada Boys” on the other. I taped them to the doors and hoped for the best. It worked. Before we left the train in the morning I checked both – and they were in excellent shape. I’m not sure if the signs made a difference, but I would like to think so.

    I mentioned to the group that they could explore the train if they wished. For nearly 75 percent of the group, this was their first time on a train. There was a restaurant car about 5 cars away that served alcohol. One of the boys said he was going to go there and have a beer. I said that the drinks were really expensive on the train – about $3000. Five dollars for the drink and $2995 for the airline ticket home. I didn’t check, but I don’t think he went to the bar car.

    We asked all participants to be in bed by midnight – and they were. I walked the length of our cars and checked to see if cabin doors were locked. A few were roused to lock their door, but nearly everyone was asleep.

    In the morning, breakfast was served (a variety of breads, jams, butter and cheese) to the cabins. People organized their bags and prepared to disembark at Aswan. Overall, people really enjoyed the train ride.

    We had been asked by the travel agency to put everyone in pairs for the train (24 doubles) with one single (me). Our contract had stated (and we had paid for) 4 single accommodation at every overnight location, including the train. The agency said that since we had made arrangements, the train had changed its booking policy and they charged each compartment as if both beds were used. The agency asked if we could pair up as a cost-saving for them. It is times like this that make me wonder if we are being taken advantage of. Since I have no mechanism to find out if what they say is true – it would be difficult to determine whether what they say is valid or not. It wasn’t a great inconvenience, but something that gets a bit under my skin.

    Later this day - the Aswan Dam, getting our rooms on our Nile cruise ship, the felucca ride to Kitchener's Island (Botanical Garden), motor boat trip to a Nubian village, sheesha and crocodiles... wow what a full day.

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    Awesome! Thanks for continuing to write! Not to focus on this aspect of your trip, but
    >>This request in itself was a bit awkward to ask a Muslim man. First, I asked if he was married (he was) and then I said some of our girls needed supplies that only a female would require (I didn’t know the word for tampons and sign language just wasn’t going to work). <<<
    I had a similar experience in Turkey. I refused to speak to the man in the pharmacy and asked the young woman who worked there to tell the man to excuse himself. Even with an example in hand, she didn't understand. Yes, both sign language and lots of money were required before the whole ordeal was over.

    Please continue your wonderful report. I am thoroughly enjoying it

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    I LOVE the "feminine supply" part!

    When I moved to Egypt in 2001, I was told to take EVERYTHING I would need (in "that" department) for the whole year because tampons were NOT readily available. That sort of "thing" was just not used by Muslim women. "Supplies" weren't readily available until a year or so later - and only in areas that catered to expats/tourists. And even then - the options were limited!

    <<This request in itself was a bit awkward ... and then I said some of our girls needed supplies that only a female would require (I didn’t know the word for tampons and sign language just wasn’t going to work).>>

    So sorry, but the thought of asking via sign language just made me LOL!!!!!

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    Wow! I'm sure we all knew you would do an awesome job with these kids, but with each installment of your report I am more and more impressed. The students you brought were so fortunate to have you.

    I am so enjoying seeing Egypt again through your report and hearing about the situations unique to a school group.

    Susan

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    Every installment gets more interesting TC, thank you.

    I'm curious to know what the train supper that was delivered to the cabins consisted of. Rail journeys in Africa are usually known for their hospitality, service and good food served in their dining cars.
    Also, did it come packed in disposable containers or the reusable stainless steele 'tiffin' containers, like you get on trains in India ?

    Also, were any local dishes (like say, Koshary, or veggies/meat cooked a certain way) involved in the everyday meal plans? How adventurous was everyone in tasting, or open to eating, unusual food choices if any ?

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    Mathieu, sorry to say the food on the train was atrocious - dinner was inedible and breakfast consisted of multiple varieties of bread and pastries (and nothing else). We had been warned in advance and so brought grocery-store supplies with us!

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    teacherCanada - I thoroughly enjoyed last year's report on your European trip, so was delighted to find this thread on your Egyptian adventure and am eagerly awaiting the next installment.

    I really admire the preparation that goes into each of your trips, not only from your own side, but also that the students are encouraged to raise funds, and research their 'Ask the Expert' subjects. I'm sure they got so much more out of this experience as a result.

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    I disagree about the train meals. I think they are significantly better than airline food - well the food they used to serve on airlines.
    You get two main courses and appropriate side dishes. Some one even told me they are now catering to vegetarians. That was a surprise to me.
    The seated train serves ALPO for their meal service - IMHO, but the Sleeping Train is OK.
    SF is dead on about breakfast though. The coffee or tea is the only thing worth waking up for.

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    TC, I'm just now catching up with your report (after finally finishing mine). Loving all the details you're giving us. I can't imagine going with a group of 49! I agree with everyone else - you must be a saint. :-)
    Looking forward to more. It's so much fun reading about other's experiences and being able to so clearly picture the places. Keep it coming!

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    Thanks everyone for your patience. Sometimes life gets in the way of a trip report. Family at Easter, report cards, evening meetings etc. all seemed to take precedence over the last ten days or so.

    The "feminine supply" aspect to our trip continued to the very end. Rarely in my life have I carried a backpack with packages of feminine pads and tampons. If anyone had ever looked inside, I don't know what I would have said. Once out of the sight of students, situations like these brought tears of laughter to the chaperones. Nearly every night we would gather and review the funny, memorable events of the day. I laughed and smiled so much over these two weeks my cheeks hurt.

    Mathieu - once again, a great question. Our 2 meals on the train were very properly prepared and served. The supper was piping hot chicken with vegetables (kept hot in foil). Tea and coffee were offered. A pastry desert was on the tray. Some of our group didn't eat much (remember they had just come from the grocery store and had loads of snacking food). I ate nearly all my supper and quite enjoyed it. We found the food we were served consistently had the flavour/odour of cumin. I had no objection to this, but it appeared to be a common theme in the tourist food service industry. Our two meals were brought to our cabins, rather than us going to a dining car.

    How adventurous were we? At the grocery store, besides buying Bimbos, we purchased a wide variety of cookies, snacks and biscuits to distribute on the bus and train. This let our students experience different items they likely wouldn't have purchased. I believe everyone tried new foods nearly every day. This was quite an adventurous group in more ways than I imagined. The buffet meal format is great for a group like ours because we didn't have to take a chance with a menu and we could take little amounts of everything and return to the feeding trough for whatever we liked the most. We saw numerous fast food spots like MacDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken. I had turned down all requests to stop at these spots - I was saving this type of restaurant until we arrived in Hurghada.

    althom - I take my hat off to you for a super trip report and great pictures. I think I am more sinner than saint - but I thank you for your compliment. Great parting advice in your most recent post.

    Wednesday, March 11

    Our air-conditioned luxury coach was waiting for us outside the train station. Our luggage was placed beside the bus to allow the driver to try to squeeze it into the luggage hold. Now, students started to understand why they were limited to only one piece of checked luggage (even though the airline said they could bring two).

    Aswan is much cleaner than Cairo and several students noticed the change. We drove through the city of Aswan to the Aswan High Dam. The dam is spoken of with great pride by Egyptians. It certainly brought Egypt into the 20th century. It supplies about 25% of the country’s electricity and stopped the annual flooding that laid waste to large sections of the lower Nile. By eliminating the flood, farmers were able to plant and harvest 2 or 3 times a year instead of just once. In these areas food production doubled or tripled – which unfortunately may have contributed to the rapid increase in the country’s population. There are problems with the dam’s existence too. The fertilizing silt that was brought downriver during the flood is now building up on the wet side of the dam. Of course, history plays a part in the story of the Aswan Dam. When asked, the U.S. was not willing to foot the bill for the dam. President Nassar asked if other countries were interested. The USSR jumped at the chance to increase its influence in the region and provided enormous amounts of financial and technical support. It is very nice to see, but once you’ve seen one dam, you’ve pretty much seen them all (except Hoover Dam which is in a league of its own).

    Our next stop was the Island of Philae. This is one of the few Nubian temples that was saved (hundreds were lost) from the rising waters behind the Aswan High Dam. Of course we needed to take a boat there (it is an island). We all piled on to one motor boat. The boat ride takes about 15 minutes. Our time there was enhanced by Mohammed who gave roles to our students, brought them forward in front of the rest of the group, and explained the complex relationships between the gods and goddesses. He was able to turn a story into a “play” and made it much easier to understand. He really was an excellent guide. On the boat ride back to the bus, a local citizen selling bracelets and jewellery was able to get rid of much of his stock. Generally, we found better bargains and better quality with vendors in the Aswan area than Cairo.

    We returned to the city and directly to our cruise ship, the “M/S Beau Soleil” (beautiful sun). I asked Mohammed how he would rank our boat of all the Nile cruise ships. He said there were about 300 ships and he would rank it in the top 80 or 100. I’m not sure if he was being nice or not, but we were very pleased with the choice made by the travel agency. By the end of our cruise we had crossed through at least 10 other ships and we felt ours was as good as or better than nearly all of them.

    We obtained our room keys (electronic cards). Our bags were brought to our rooms. Everyone was given 60 minutes to freshen up (remember none of us had bathed since yesterday because there were no showers on the overnight train). Next on the agenda was a felucca ride on the Nile.

    Our group of 49 boarded two feluccas (sailboats) to cross the Nile River to the north end of Kitchener’s Island. This island is presently a botanical garden with various flora and fauna brought to the site from around Africa by an English army officer (Kitchener). The island is about 1 km long and 0.5 km wide. It was a lovely respite with tall, leafy trees providing lots of shade. We walked the length of the island. There were many groups of Egyptian school children (ages 8 – 15) walking with and near our group. Several asked to take pictures of us. Everyone in our groups obliged. Our girls now automatically joined into groups with our boys or stayed with chaperones as we all strolled through this lovely island in the Nile. Once more, some of our girls were getting comments that weren’t welcomed – not threatening, but annoying.

    At the south end of the island the lead chaperones had arranged a surprise. We told the group we were going to continue our felucca ride to a nearby Nubian island and walk there. Instead, our guide had arranged for us to go by motor boat through a series of islands that comprise a nature preserve (protected plants and animals). Mohammed told us there were 3 crocodiles in this protected area. I’m not sure if he was pulling our leg. We never saw them. We needed a special permit to take the boat in this area. Following this very interesting 15 minute ride we continued up the Nile to an alternative Nubian village located on the west side of the Nile. This village was quite heavily commercialized and geared to the tourist trade. There have been other trip reports on Fodor’s about travellers riding camels to this village.

    When boarding the boat at Kitchener’s Island, our guide directed everyone into the boat and then sent me, another male chaperone and himself onto the roof. There were two garden chairs up there. Well, here we were, travelling up the Nile in the late afternoon, surrounded by stunning views, nothing inhibiting our panoramic view, enveloped by a wonderful warm breeze, thinking “Does it get better than this?” The two of us (chaperones) took off our shirts, sat in the chairs and lived those 30 minutes to the fullest.

    After docking at the village we walked up a hill and past about 15 stalls selling trinkets, blankets, jewellery etc. until we entered a house of one of the locals. This house had a living room large enough to allow all 49 of us to sit. (I started to suspect this house was built with the intention of entertaining.) Our host family brought out about 8 sheesha pipes. Some of our group had no doubt seen (and maybe used) these water pipes before. In Canada and the U.S. they are used more often for smoking hashish and other drugs. These pipes are available in head shops in most big cities in North America. In Egypt (where drug laws are incredibly severe) they are used in nearly every coffee shop and everyone smokes some type of flavoured tobacco (I prefer the green apple flavour). Well, you would not believe the look on the faces of some of our kids when the pipes were brought out. I explained that tobacco would be the source of the smoke and that it was entirely optional.

    Some of the students were hesitant at first, but as soon as they saw the teachers puffing away, they attacked the pipes with gusto. Talk about incriminating pictures!! Several comments were made about how familiar I seemed to be with the sheesha. After ensuring everyone who chose to indulge had the chance, the hosts brought out two live crocodiles – about two and a half feet long for us to hold. Holy Moly! You should have seen the body language. Some of the “macho” guys wanted to be first. Some girls wanted that privilege. What a fantastic experience for our group. The poor crocodiles probably just wanted to be left alone. Everyone that wanted to do so held the frightened reptiles. Someone noticed a turtle shell (about 18 cm – 7 inches across) on the floor and picked it up. They nearly wet their pants when the head popped out. The turtle was passed around too.

    Several of our students (5) purchased the water pipes in this village. I had discouraged them from doing so. I said they would likely break in their luggage and if discovered at customs in Detroit they could cause the entire group to be held up or searched. The more the lead chaperones thought about these purchases, the more uncomfortable we became. We didn’t want this wonderful trip to be tainted with stories of students bringing home “bongs”. We knew that they wouldn’t be used for tobacco back in Canada – and stories about where they were purchased etc. could put this trip in disrepute. We asked the five to leave their purchases in Egypt or to try to sell them to some other tourist. I think they all did as we asked.

    Mohammed had arranged for us to hear some traditional Nubian songs performed live by one of the men in the village who had several recordings to his name. He played a guitar-like instrument and was joined by 4 or 5 local youngsters who sang with him. They were very entertaining. At the end, all of us stood up and danced around the house. Before we left the house Mohammed mentioned that the women and girls would create freehand henna tattoos for any that wanted one. Lots of us took advantage of the offer. My son and I had matching tattoos placed on our ankles.

    The sun was starting to set and we needed to return to our cruise ship for the night’s festivities. On the way back about 15 people joined us on the roof of the motor boat. It was fun.

    It was dark by the time we returned to the cruise ship, but the night was young. Before supper, a number of the girls went exploring the store on the boat that sold the traditional Egyptian garb (the galabaya) and some fancier dresses for women. They had a lot of fun trying them on, but I cautioned them not to buy anything just yet since we would have time to go to one or two markets in Aswan prior to departure tomorrow evening.

    At supper time (about 8:00 p.m.) one of our group was given special recognition (and a cake) by the crew because he was turning 18 years old today. This was truly a birthday he will never forget. After supper I went up to the sun deck (which was now the moon deck) and took some really nice time exposure photos of the scenery around us.

    Between 9:00 p.m. and 10:20 p.m. the lounge/disco area in our boat had a dance show that featured traditional and Nubian dancing. Following the show (which involved a lot of audience participation) everyone in our group was asked to find their room and quickly get to bed. The wake-up call would be 4:00 a.m. (only 5 hours later).

    Tomorrow – an early departure to Abu Simbel, an afternoon soaking up the rays on the sun deck, a visit to Aswan market and departure from Aswan.

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    TC - just a comment about bringing back sheesha pipes. I never even gave it a thought (I'm so naive!). When we arrived in the US and had to go through security after customs, we each had a pipe in our carry-on bag. When the bags passed through the x-ray machine, the guard asked us what city we'd come from. We said Cairo, and he smiled and said , "On, ok. If you'd come from somewhere else, those pipes would be cause for questions, but everyone brings 'em back from Cairo." And he waved us on. Like I said, I'd never even given it a thought, so thank goodness it didn't cause any problems!
    We, too, were struck by how much cleaner Aswan is than Cairo. The air was so fresh and the light somehow incredibly crisp.
    Can't wait to hear about your experiences at Abu Simbel!

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    Thursday, March 12

    The morning came early (especially if you didn’t heed the advice of chaperones and go to bed promptly). The phones rang at 4:00 a.m. and everyone was dressed and in the ship’s lobby at 4:30 carrying their pillows. Each of us picked up the “box breakfast” prepared by the ship’s kitchen and trooped through the other boats to our waiting bus.

    Mohammed had arranged for us to be the lead bus in the second convoy heading to Abu Simbel. Nearly all tourist travel outside of cities used to be in an army escorted convoy, but I believe the only escorted trip now is the route to Abu Simbel. Four years ago our convoy had army vehicles at the front, middle and end. This time there were no army vehicles. However, since we were lead vehicle, we were obliged to have an armed escort on the bus with us. Well, we were duly impressed when a handsome Egyptian army officer climbed the steps. We had cleared the front two seats closest to the door. He made no attempt to talk with us, so we didn’t chat with him. He sat himself down on one seat and laid his AK-47 beside him. He looked quite alert. We felt that he would protect us in an emergency. That feeling soon left. About 8 minutes into our 150 minute journey he fell fast asleep. He didn't wake until we arrived at our destination. Maybe we shouldn’t have, but we took pictures of him dozing and close-ups of his guns. We thought the whole incident was rather funny.

    Abu Simbel is a monument carved out of a cliff at the side of the Nile. It is best known for the 4 statues of Rameses II. There is a smaller temple to the side dedicated to his wife. When the Nile was dammed, the water level upriver rose. This would have put this temple under water. An international team dissected the temples and reconstituted them about 200 feet higher (above the new water level of Lake Nasser). As with many other fine temples in Egypt it is truly stunning to visit. There is a celebration called Sunfest held each year when the sun’s rays shine directly into the furthest reaches of the temple and light up 3 of the 4 statues in the sacresty. Which one doesn’t the light shine on? Why the statue of the god of the underworld of course. Those ancient Egyptians, they were “some smart”.

    Mohammed spoke in glowing terms of the monument and released us to explore. I visited the interior for a few minutes, then one of our girls said she wasn’t feeling well. She wanted to return to the welcome area where the washrooms were. Everyone else was busy exploring so, I walked the 750 meters with her. We sat under trees by the cafe for the next hour or so until the rest of the group showed up. Our drive back to Aswan was quiet and uneventful.

    One thing I noticed while I was sitting at the front of the bus driving through Aswan was that the Egyptian road crews had painted the words “SLOW” and “STOP” on the main streets in Aswan. These were appropriately placed to give direction to drivers. I nearly fell out of my seat when I noticed the next one .... “SLOP”. I assume it was meant to be a combination of slow and stop – or the road painter didn’t have a good command of the English language. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to get a picture, but I’ll never forget the sight.

    The late morning and afternoon were spent on the boat lounging on the sundeck, catching rays and frolicking in the pool. One boy (not my son) wrote “EGYPT 2009” in sun screen on his back. He lay in the sun until he burned. The next day – the message was clear – in solid white letters with a red background. He said he hadn’t meant to get burned, just tanned.

    That evening (we were still docked in Aswan) the whole group went to the Aswan market close to the train station. It was only about a 1.5 km walk. Some of us purchased spices (I had a request for saffron from my wife). The girls helped me select a galabaya (traditional Egyptian garb) for the party tomorrow night. The vendors on this market street were typically aggressive. I escorted six of our girls as we walked down nearly the full length of the market. Now all 28 of the girls in our group were pretty, but these six attracted way too much attention. I turned down many offers of camels for them. What would I do with 50 camels – really. I couldn’t take them back to Canada. What would their parents say when I informed them I traded their daughter for six or seven camels.

    While we were waiting for the last few students to arrive, Mohammed purchased a drink (in a plastic bag) for me. I watched as the storeowner took three sugar cane stalks, put them in a crusher and squeezed out the sweeeeeet juices. With a straw inserted into the bag, it was quite easy to drink. Several students sampled it and the reactions varied from “yecch” to “where can I buy one”. Back on the boat, the crew had set up another party in the lounge for all guests. Guess which ones filled the dance floor? Some of our group wandered up to the open top deck. Since we were tied up to the boat next to us, one of our boys decided to climb to the next boat, 4 levels above the Nile. I used to be a teenage boy long ago and I used to do dumb things like that. Regardless, he made it there and back safely.

    Close to 11:00 p.m. a few chaperones decided to go to a second local market along the shore. There were interested in purchasing a few items. A few students came with us. It was an interesting opportunity for our group of six to wander looking at all manner of goods for sale.

    We returned to the boat. After walking the decks and ensuring our stateroom doors were locked (with the right people behind each door), the chaperones went to sleep.

    Those readers who have travelled in a third world country are certainly aware of the stomach and lower intestinal upset that can occur by drinking the local water, eating fruit or salad, drinking juices mixed with local water etc. There is a range of impact of diarrhoea from Level 1 (mild awareness, gurgling stomach and some discomfort, still in denial), Level 2 (casual awareness, noting location of toilets with increased interest) Level 3 (being cognizant of location of nearest toilet, measuring time/distance relationship of your location to toilet), Level 4 (colonoscopy preparation). Since day 2 we had someone in our group at each of the four stages. Those who didn’t have an early episode were urged to be sympathetic to those who were feeling under the weather. It was probably only a matter of time until it was their turn. In fact, by the end of the trip, 46 of 49 had experienced some level of tummy trouble. Today was my turn. My only ailment was a very tight stomach – that was all (and I was grateful).

    We were considering changing the name of our group to “Tut’s Trotters” or “Tut’s Trot’s Travellers” or “Adventures with Antinal” or “Mummy’s Revenge, parts 2, 3, 4, 5... etc.”

    Tomorrow we sail downriver to Kom Ombo and Edfu, dress-up like Egyptians and party like Canadians.

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    Hi Teach....thanks for keeping this up! Just to let you know, army convoys are still the norm. We traveled in a convoy of twenty vehicles from Aswan to Luxor last August -- military vehicles, front, middle and back.

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    Great stuff, Teach! I'm a bit late jumping in but going back to your first day or two, guides in Cairo normally get a commission on the sales racked up by their charges, which is why one is inevitably herded into the clutches of perfume and papyrus vendors and the like. (You can skip this, another time, if you're insistent enough!) Living in Cairio, we discovered most of these wares were available far cheaper at the Khan el Khalili or even at curio shops on Road 9, in Maadi.

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    Our Nile cruise ship (M/S Beau Soleil) was a wonderful home away from home. Sleeping arrangements were very nice. Meals were very good. Service was always up-to-expectations.

    The next morning we worked our way through the various ships that were docked and made our way to the shore to visit Kom Ombo. This temple is right beside the river, literally only about a 30 meter distance. It is impressive (all the temples we saw were impressive), but truly came to life with the explanations of our guide. Having animation and relevant explanations gave a “bunch of drawings” and sketches on the walls much more meaning. Mohammed explained the depiction of the calendar and the medical (childbirth) hieroglyphics. He pointed out the well that indicated the depth of the Nile. Our group was attentive and appreciative. Apparently, Cleopatra had visited the site thousands of years earlier. I wondered if any Roman generals had followed her upriver.

    We all returned to the ship for a lovely afternoon of sailing north towards Edfu. This afternoon was a true blessing. Most people spent the hours on the top deck catching rays, drinking non-alcoholic fruit drinks brought by our wonderful servers. We watched feluccas drift past our ship. The views from the sun deck were wonderful.

    Later that day we stopped at Edfu. I selected to stay on the boat to get some sleep and nurse my upset stomach. The rest of the party took a coach ride to the temple. I was sorry to miss this stop – but I made the right decision to stay behind. I was told that Edfu was fantastic to visit. Two of our chaperones were given a special treat by one of the Tourism and Antiquities Police. They were allowed to veer off into a special area reserved for VIP’s.

    This night we would pass through the locks at Esna, dock at Luxor and – have our galabaya party. The galabaya is the traditional Egyptian garb, flowing, floor length cotton robes, some plain, some quite fancy. They were available for sale on the boat or at the local markets we had visited. Cost varied from about $3 to $25 depending on how fancy they were.

    We all wore these wonderful robes to dinner. Most of the other passengers on the boat were dressed similarly. Everyone was waiting for the party in the disco/lounge following dinner.

    After dinner we all trooped up one level, plunked ourselves down in the comfy chairs and waited for the music to start. Once it started our group packed the dance floor so tight we spilled out onto the carpeted area. The group looked great, had loads of fun and danced for hours. There were the requisite games of passing the water bottle until the music stopped (like musical chairs), stopping the music and having people gather into groups of 4 or 6 or 3 and having the odd person out have to sit down, hanging a potato on a string at floor level from a fella’s waist and have him swing back and forth trying to knock another potato along the floor. Gosh, it was a lot of fun for everyone.

    The night had to come to an end eventually. We had good reason for all of us to hit the sack before midnight. One of my goals for this trip was to provide everyone with the opportunity to fly in a hot air balloon over the Valley of the Kings at daybreak. I had read about these flights years earlier and it sounded like an absolutely wonderful thing to do – especially with this group of teenagers. I had wanted to keep the whole idea a secret until the day – but we needed to have an insurance waiver signed by parents to proceed. Fortunately all parents signed the waiver. Once all the waivers were in, the two lead chaperones told everyone that the flight likely wouldn’t happen because it was too early in the season etc. This lowered expectations for everyone. Earlier in the day we told the group they would be woken at 4:00 a.m. to board boats to cross the Nile to go in hot air balloons. Nearly everyone was excited, but some (including my son) were hesitant.

    The next morning it was still pitch black when we walked along the east bank of the Nile to our waiting water taxis. They were certainly a dopey-looking bunch. Once on the west bank we climbed into 12 seater vans that took us to the launch area. We waited about 30 minutes until the pilots told our guide it was too windy and the balloons would not fly today. I was disheartened, but held out hope for tomorrow. The teens were not impressed with me. They don’t like getting up early for anyone – and to have it all for nowt! Actually, they were good about it all, but I could tell I wasn’t their favourite person in the whole wide world – especially when I announced we would try again tomorrow.

    Since we were up, we had our breakfast and prepared for our tour of the temples at Karnak this morning.

    After the Karnak tour and a very nice lunch at a large touristy restaurant on the shore of the Nile, we returned to our ship to pack our belongings and travel the short distance to the Steigenberger Hotel in Luxor where we would have a one night stay.

    Both check-out and check-in went smoothly. The Steigenberger is a superb hotel. Certainly the nicest we had stayed at so far. It is situated on the east bank of the Nile. Because my name was listed on our travel agency’s list as the organizer I was directed to the “nicer” rooms. My room this time was just superb. Second floor, very large, balcony (about 250 square feet) overlooking the large pool and with an excellent view of the Nile. I thought this was going to be the party room tonight. All of the rooms at this hotel were very nice.

    The afternoon was spent at leisure. Some slept, but most found the way down to the lovely pool. Splashing and sunbathing was the order of the afternoon.

    Mohammed had arranged for a 90 minute carriage ride for the group. There were generally 3 or 4 of us to a horse-drawn carriage. We wound our way through all parts of Luxor. It was very relaxing. We went past butcher shops with carcasses hanging on hooks outside the shop. We saw buildings at various stages of construction. We went through a “not for tourists” market which was truly eye-opening (also nose-closing due some of the aromas). Clothes that were for sale were hung between building across the street. All manner of everything was for sale in these few blocks. We stopped beside a bridge where we could see many small sphinxes (about 8 feet high) about 10 feet apart that were to connect Karnak and Luxor – a distance of about 3 kilometers. These had recently been unearthed. At one point on this journey, our driver passed the reins to a student sitting beside him and jumped off the carriage. We were still moving. We had no idea what he was doing until he returned about 2 minutes later with some flowers he had plucked from a nearby hedge. He gave them to us. A nice touch. During our carriage ride, the sun was setting and it was getting dark. We drove past the temples with the illuminating flood lights turned on – it was beautiful. Our carriage ride finished near a street market close to the river. We had about one hour of walking through this enchanting tourist market and met a number of other English-speaking tourists (school groups) from Canada. I compared notes with the chaperones briefly. We were all very pleased with our tours.

    We did forego the Luxor sound and light show. I had seen it 4 years earlier and wasn’t that impressed. We used the money we saved from that expense to help pay for the carriage ride. Next, we were off to supper at a local restaurant that was being opened just for us – then back on the bus to the hotel – and bed. Another early morning tomorrow (remember our pending hot air balloon escapade).

    We woke a little later (4:45 a.m.) because Mohammed had convinced me the second flight of the hot air balloons had a higher chance of working than the first flight. I was disappointed because I had wanted to watch the sun rise as we floated over the Valley of the Kings – but it was important to defer to his wisdom. This morning, as we walked from our rooms to the adjacent dock for our water taxis we saw about 12 balloons in the air. Now, the students started to get a little bit excited. It was chilly at this time of day and most of our group had worn their “EGYPT 2009” hoodie sweatshirts and were glad they did. This morning, the vans had to find wherever the balloons landed. The first flight passengers exited the gondola as we entered (to keep lots of weight in the basket). The gondolas were large (capacity of about 26 – 30 people) and we were assigned two of the balloons. Everyone jumped in. Those in our group who were hesitant stayed in the middle, the rambunctious ones stayed at the edge of the wicker wall.

    Our time in the air was supposed to be about 45 – 50 minutes, but we spent just over 90 minutes in the air. It was a wonderful experience. Worth the wait, the worry and the expense.

    Our pilot took us up and down numerous times. We skimmed the top of the sugar cane, floated near a school with hundreds of students waving at us from the playground, peered onto the roofs of unfinished homes, watched the animals in their pens and finally landed in a freshly cultivated field. While we were in the air I called my wife on the cell phone I was carrying. It was the middle of the night in Canada – but I just had to tell her what I was doing. She is very patient.

    Our partner balloon (with the other students and chaperones) took a different path than us. They floated over the Nile. Their pilot took them just over the water (about 10 feet above water level) and blasted the hot air to raise the balloon just before a Nile cruise ship sailed under them. One of the chaperones was convinced they were going to get wet and started putting his camera in a zip-loc bag. They ended up catching some ill winds and landed on the east bank of the Nile (which is deeply frowned on by authorities – apparently the airport is close by and the military doesn’t approve at all). We all landed very safely and made our way back to our waiting coach. It was a great experience for all of us. I am grateful the parents allowed their children to participate and I’m really glad everyone came back to ground level safely.

    Next – on to the Colossi of Memnon, the Valley of the Kings, Queen Hatshepsuits temple and the alabaster store.

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    Great to hear that the balloon adventure had a good ending. What a different experience from that of your France/Spain trip. Were any students on this trip also on the Europe trip or was it a whole new group.

    You haven't mentioned any issues so it sounds as though the kids from the different schools were getting along OK.

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    cw - thanks for asking and remembering about Eurotrip. Only one student participated on both trips. I honestly think that if the group that had gone to Europe had been on this trip there would have been very little upset. The destination (Egypt vs. Europe) brought out a whole different side of our travelling group. Since Egypt is predominantly Muslim there is much less access to alcohol. The whole group (chaperones and students) had such a collectively wonderful time that during the final meeting after we returned home I mentioned the long list of the fun, exciting things we had done together. At the end I said, "...and we did it all without alcohol or drugs."

    The students from the two schools did get along very well. As we expected, given a choice, the youth chose to spend time with those they knew best. There were already some friendships between schools before we left and we had planned several activities to bring the group closer before we left (the trip to the Royal Ontario Museum and some fundraising activities). The chaperones (all 8 of us) got along incredibly well together. There was always something to laugh at. Once the student saw the chaperones relax and have such a good time, I think they wanted to do the same. The lead chaperones made it a bit of a mission to boost interscholastic connections. After the first hotel we purposefully mixed schools in rooming arrangements. This "forced" them to chat and share. Since our return to Canada there have been a number of social connections between students from the two schools. The chaperones are pleased. The chaperone goal was to have all 49 of us travel as a family.

    Mathieu - as always, you are supportive and encouraging. Thank you.

    tC

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    waiting with bated breath for the rest of the report :)

    glad the hot air balloon trip worked out - I remember that is one surprise that you really wanted to do and although you took the circuitous route to get there, it sounded great!

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    Wow, I can't believe it is nearly one month since I last made a contribution to this epistle. Thank you all for your patience. I haven't forgotten my commitment to finish, but May and June are two of the busier months for a teacher. The end is near - have you ever heard that line before? Tomorrow we have to make a presentation to the School Board about the success of the trip. Just thinking about it gives me great memories. Soon, I promise.

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    scotlib, surfmom, shormk2 and lucy_d, thanks for your patience as we work our way from ancient Egypt to an area that is very modern.

    The crew from Sindbad (the hot air balloon company) efficiently helped each of us jump over the edge of the basket. Someone wondered why we all had to jump over the four foot high basket wall – why couldn’t they install a door? After a few moments they realized that no door existed probably to prevent people opening it by accident while in the air and taking a tumble several thousand feet straight down. Everyone received a free t shirt with “Sindbad Hot Air Balloons” marked on the front and back. The tshirt was very poor quality for an Egyptian cotton shirt, but we all accepted gratefully. It is always good to have a clean new piece of clothing once you have travelled for a week or so.

    Our twelve passenger vans brought us to the Colossi of Memnon where our coach was waiting for us. We had to wait a little while for the vans to return our group that had landed on the other side of the Nile. One of the vans with that group had been stopped for speeding. Apparently, the driver had to pay the fine on the spot, and didn’t have any money. He turned to our group and asked to borrow some money to pay the fine so he could drive on. They loaned him the cash and he paid them back upon arrival at the coach. This was another story for our students to share.

    The Colossi of Memnon are simply two statues of a sitting pharaoh. One is in a better state of repair, but both have been exposed to the elements for thousands of years and have suffered. I believe there used to be a temple or large settlement nearby, but today they sit all alone beside the roadway. There is only one thin strand of rope to keep people away. I can’t imagine the damage if a car or bus lost control and hit one of them. We spent only a few minutes looking at this site.

    Our real destination following the hot air balloon rides was the Valley of the Kings. It really is a steep-sided valley (side slopes are at an angle of about 45 degrees). The valley is about a dry a place as there can be in Egypt (and there are lots of those). There is no vegetation, zip, nada, zilch, rien, nothing. Since we were there fairly early in the day, it was not too hot, but the winds picked up the dust and whipped it about. For many in our group, this was a high point of the trip. We had taken everyone to Toronto in September 2008 to see the IMAX film about Egypt and as we watched it I told everyone that we would be walking exactly there in a few months. After hearing so much about this place, they were keen to actually be there.

    The new visitor center is very nicely done. There is a three dimensional model of the valley done in clear acrylic plastic. You view this model from the side or below and it provides an accurate image of each of the 62 tombs located in the valley. It shows the various rooms and how long each of the tunnels is in comparison to all the others. I was really impressed with this diorama. After leaving the visitor center we walked about 50 meters to the where the “little train” picked us up to deliver us to the Valley of the Kings entrance. This open-air tram had a series of step-on cars that held about 18 people each. There were four or five cars to a tram. We didn’t travel a great distance, probably less than 1 kilometer, but for any elderly or infirm visitors – or if one visited during a warmer part of the day it would be essential.

    We were disappointed to see that our tickets to the Valley of the Kings did not include King Tut’s tomb. I remembered that there was a separate ticket that was included in our 2005 trip. The price has increased since then. Now it costs an additional $25 for a Tut tomb ticket. Only one of the students and several chaperones ended up going in. We had a short discourse from Mohammed and then were released for about 80 minutes to choose any three tombs to enter (our tickets allowed us entry to only three tombs). I went on my own to see two of the tombs I missed on our last trip.

    Once inside the tunnels (and out of the sun) it is much cooler. The hieroglyphics were amazing – and the colours appear to be every bit as bright and vivid as they were when they were painted on 3500 years ago. Those ancient Egyptians deserve massive respect for their efforts. Truly stunning. Even more amazing is that I can take a herd of teenagers from Canada in 2009 and view first hand what they created. That beats any textbook.

    There were a few little “digs” going on in the valley. Egyptian workers had roped off a few areas and were removing pottery jugs and other small artefacts. There didn’t seem to be a lot of security protecting any of these items, but I can’t imagine what would happen to you if you tried to pick one up.

    After gathering at the gate, we took the tram downhill to the visitor center. I asked everyone to pose for a group picture (students only) with the brown, arid valley as the backdrop. It turned out to be the best group shot of the trip.

    Our next stop was Queen Hatshepsuit’s Temple. This is the famous one with about 100 columns at the front, over three levels, built into the side of a hill. Actually, if I am not mistaken, the high hill behind Queen Hatshepsuit’s Temple may be the south wall of the Valley of the Kings. This spot is quite beautiful too. Mohammed gathered us all at the base and using the students as Egyptian characters explained the relationships between the gods and how they all played a part in daily Egyptian life. Much more entertaining than a lecture.

    We spent less time here (about 40 minutes). It was getting hotter as the sun rose higher in the sky.

    Our next stop was to a typical alabaster shop. Here they show you the alabaster stone at various stages of preparation from raw rock to finely polished art work or bowls. The employees explained the difference between hand-done work and that done by machines. We looked at different colours and thickness of products – then, yes you guessed it, we had the chance to purchase some in a store located nearby. The store owners offered a welcoming drink to everyone (a bottle of Coke or Sprite). Then they sat back and watched the money roll in. Those Egyptians could teach a few courses in Business schools. As we left, the owner gave us 50 necklaces with blue painted stones as a gift for everyone.

    From this site we boarded our coach and returned to the west bank of the Nile for a quick water taxi ride to the other side. We had a lovely lunch at the same lunch restaurant as yesterday, then picked up our luggage and left for the 4 – 5 hour trip to the east coast of Egypt. Our destination? Hurghada, where the Red Sea is about as blue as it gets. We also planned some relax time for everyone with a more subdued itinerary.

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    It was great to read another installment. I too was greatly impressed by the Valley of the Kings. I was wondering what people thought of King Tut's tomb. I didn't visit it but my son did. Was it worth the price? Thanks again for posting.

    Susan

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    jerseysusan - in a word, yes. To me it was like going to Paris and choosing not to see the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre. There is only one original King Tut tomb. We've all heard about for our lifetimes and to get so close, but not enter just doesn't make sense.

    It isn't the most impressive tomb by any means, but it is likely the best known. Everyone who knows you have been to Egypt and the Valley of the Kings will ask you if you went in - and it's always nice to respond positively.

    Also - it's not really about choosing to "do" a tourist thing or not. Everyone in the V of the K is a tourist.

    p.s. thanks for your kind words. The next instalment is in the works.

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    jerseysusan, I didn't opt for a visit to King Tut's tomb either and, despite Teacher's good reasons for wanting to not miss it, I'm not sorry. The tomb isn't "better" than the others we saw, and all the stuff they found inside is either in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, or on tour (saw it 30 years ago in SF, and it's back this summer). Again, I understand why people feel the need to go, but I didn't and don't regret it. I do think Valley of the Kings and Queens are absolutely amazing. That and Temple of Karnak were my two favorite "sites" in Egypt.

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    Mr. Teacher,

    I've also enjoyed reading about your adventures. Your respect of your students is evident in that you refer to them as 'students',instead of 'kids' or some other form of less respect. It's noticeable to me that both high school and college teachers and coaches refer to their charges as 'kids'.

    Your fellow travelers and their parents are very fortunate to have you.

    Thanks for sharing with us.

    Iowa Tom

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    I find it rather disturbing that you would "sneak a few pics" where it is clearly prohibited. What a fine lesson to teach your students; that it's okay to break the law as long as you don't get caught. There is a reason photography is not allowed in certain places so that antiquities are preserved for future generations.

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    Wow, how time flies. It feels like months since I started this epistle and weeks since I added to it... actually that is exactly what has happened. There is no fantastically good reason for the delay. School ended and "the subdued mode of living" kicked in. My family travelled with two other families to Ottawa for four days over the Canada Day celebration at the beginning of July. We had a lot of fun. Since then I have been puttering around the house avoiding odd jobs.

    Let me respond to some of the recent comments: sf7307, I see your point and I certainly don't dispute any part of it. The reason the Egyptian government can get away with charging an extra fee for King Tut's tomb is entirely due to it's reputation. It is likely the least impressive of all - but it has that twentieth century magic and mystery.

    iowatom; thank you for your kind comment. We have few rules when we travel as a school group. The most important is to never, ever be alone, the second is to follow the directions of the chaperone team. In order for us to succeed in the second we must demonstrate we have earned the trust and respect of the students (and the parents who let us take their children with us). The chaperone team appear quite relaxed and the students inevitably follow our lead.

    Missoulasue; I appreciate your candor and welcome your comment. I firmly believe life is for living and making memories. When we travel we attempt to mitigate risk, yet at the same time push our envelope a little because those who are risk averse would choose never to leave home. Some who travel show disrespect to different cultures and societies. I don't believe we are in that group. Taking a few pictures inside the tomb room does not compare to pulling the blackout curtains covering the da Vinci paintings in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and taking flash pictures. There are no hieroglyphics in the tomb room and no threat to any antiquities. On our previous visit to this site we watched other tourists pay a little baksheesh (tip) to the guard and do the same thing that we did. We did not carve our names into the wall (as others had done), nor did we chip off stones from the pyramid as souvenirs (as others have done). We made some digital memories.

    Our bus ride to Hurghada was uneventful. For a short time we were following an open-topped lorry packed to the very top with tomatoes. I can’t imagine the mess that would have resulted if the load shifted. Most of the students were tired from our recent early mornings and dozed off in the comfortable seats. We had one required stop about half way. Most of the group piled off the bus to stretch their legs and use the toilets.

    It was dusk when we arrived in Hurghada and sadly we had to say goodbye to our Egyptologist/guide Mohammed. The tour company had decided (without informing us) that since Hurghada is not “ancient” there would be little need for him to stay with us. We were very disappointed. Mohammed had done a wonderful job with our large group. Many times he had “greased the wheels” and made things happen in our favour. Since our early discussions with our travel agents we had specified one guide to stay with us during our entire time in Egypt. While still on the bus, two students made a presentation to Mohammed and provided him with a cash tip provided by the travellers. He had certainly earned it. He was very gracious. Shortly after our arrival in Hurghada he boarded a bus to Cairo to return to his family.

    We were met in Hurghada by the co-owner of the travel agency and the brother of the other co-owner. They did a good job over the next few days looking after us.

    Our hotel/resort in Hurghada was very, very nice. We were on the shore of the Red Sea. The 3 story building was in a “U” shape with the open end facing the Red Sea. The protected open courtyard was filled with palm trees, a pool, a volleyball court and an outdoor eating area. Avril, the co-owner of the travel agency, had given us the option of having 4 of our chaperones take the Presidential Suite instead of 2 regular rooms. There was an increase in price (there always is) – but it was worth it. The Presidential Suite was at the end of the “U” and the windows opened to a wonderful view of the Sea. It was very spacious. The two male and two female chaperones had separate sleeping areas and kitchens, but a common living area. The four other chaperones each had a room to themselves in the main part of the hotel.

    I tell you, waking up in the morning was a treat. The sun shone in the window. I stretched, moved slowly to my balcony and gazed on a wonderful mixture of dark blue sky, light blue water and the light earthy tones of the hotel – all transitioned by the green leaves of many trees. I sat down in one of the balcony chairs and just absorbed the sight for about 10 minutes. My short drift into neverland was broken by a bellow from one of our female students across the courtyard telling me to get dressed and come to breakfast with them.

    After breakfast we gathered in the lobby with our swimsuits and towels for our day aboard two private chartered yachts on the Red Sea. We walked just one block from the hotel to the pier. Prior to boarding the yachts all of us picked up our rented masks, snorkels and flippers.

    I’m not sure how large our boats were. I would guess about 50 feet. Each could comfortably hold about 30 passengers, had a crew of 4 or 5 Egyptians, had an inner cabin that would seat maybe 16 people, a full kitchen and a large upper sun deck. They were great. The only downfall would become the one toilet on board that ceased to work properly.

    We asked the captain if we could attach the large Canadian flag to the post at the back of the boat. He agreed. Once more, my small roll of duct tape was a godsend. We were careful to post our flag slightly lower than the Egyptian flag. The wind was so strong I was afraid we might lose the flag (but we didn’t). I had suggested to people in our group that it would be very hot while we were on the boat. I hadn’t remembered how chilling and strong the wind would be. There were a few on both boats who had brought their hoodie sweatshirts and were glad they had. Others wrapped themselves in their towels.

    We sailed (motored) for about two hours until we reached a few small islands with reefs nearby. We stopped for about one hour and most people suited up and jumped in. At this site one of our girls had an asthmatic attack while in the water. She was helped by fellow swimmers (and the Egyptian diver who accompanied each boatload of swimmers) to the nearby island. Our boats were anchored about 200 meters from the island and couldn’t move closer. One girl in our group swam from the island to the boat and picked up the appropriate puffer medication (sealed in a ziplock bag), stuffed it in her swimsuit and returned to the island. After about 20 minutes, the affected girl had regained sufficient awareness of her surroundings to consent to be brought back to the boat by the Egyptian diver. He placed her in the rescue position and swam back to boat. One of the female chaperones (a strong swimmer and scuba diver) was with the girl at all times and swam beside them on their return. Once on the boat, she was wrapped in towels and blankets. I spent the next hour with her to ensure she was recovering. She did not go back in the water. We believe the cool temperature of the salt water and the exertion of swimming might have triggered the asthma attack.

    Our boats moved to a different spot to see different reefs. This time I joined the group and jumped in. I am not a strong swimmer, so didn’t venture far from the boat. I did see some lovely coral and a few little Nemos. I was in the water for about 10 minutes.

    During our day on the Red Sea the crew of each boat made a hot lunch (fish of course) for everyone. It was very tasty. On our return journey the crew used some of the towels to dress up a few of our girls in fancy headgear (they looked like elephants with large ears and a trunk). The girls were good sports and wandered around the boats while others took pictures.

    We returned to Hurghada after nearly 8 hours on the boats. Supper was at the hotel. Our group was going to the Arabian Folk Lore evening show tonight. It was located about 20 minutes bus drive from the hotel. Prior to the actual show we walked through a pseudo museum which had mock artifacts. Valuable, but only if you hadn’t seen the real things. How can I describe what followed? If you have ever attended a Medieval Times performance – this is the Egyptian version. It lasts about 70 minutes and includes an acknowledgment of Egypt’s history with a sound and light show of the pyramids, Abu Simbel, the obelisk etc. This is followed by about 20 minutes of “dancing fountains” set to music and then a display of horsemanship and “camelmanship”. While it was markedly interesting I would not recommend this. Following the show we were shepherded to a large tent to see a belly dancer and whirling dervish. I enjoyed this part of the show much more! Our group was very tired after the day on the Sea. Some stayed awake, others slumbered. We made it back to the hotel where everyone collapsed into their beds.

    Tomorrow - some fun in the desert.

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    Today was St. Patrick’s Day. Everyone was asked to wear something green. It was another wonderful day to wake-up. As I sat on the balcony absorbing the warm breeze and lovely colours, I wondered how much snow had fallen at home.

    This morning was relaxed. No official wake-up call, breakfast at leisure. At about 12:00 noon everyone was to gather in the lobby for our day in the desert with the Bedouin. How would we get there? by coach? no, by camel? no, by hot air balloon? no, by train? no. When we left the lobby of the hotel there were 6 four wheel drive Landrovers waiting for us. The covered backs of the vehicles held two padded bench seats facing inwards. Each bench comfortably accommodated 4 bodies. The exuberant travellers piled in. They already figured out this was going to be fun! Some of the students wanted to drive. I was pleased each of the vehicles came with an Egyptian driver. We set out convoy style driving through the paved roads of Hurghada. After about 15 minutes we turned off the asphalt road and onto the sandy desert. There were no roads now. I am sure each of us would have become disoriented and lost quickly. The drivers obviously were masters. We drove for about 45 minutes towards the distant hills. We stopped once to witness the mirage of imaging a lake in the distance when there is only sand. Our pictures show the lake quite clearly – but it wasn’t there. Our next stop was at the base of an 80 meter hill. Everyone walked up the steep hill to see the wonderful mixture of the colour brown on the other side. Honestly, except for the sky, the only colour visible was brown. Truly, nature at it’s driest. We watched as the vehicles drove away and some of the group were a little worried we were being left in the desert to “dry”. I remembered from our previous trip that the drivers were taking the Landrovers to the other side of the hill. What the students didn’t know was that on the opposite side of this big hill was a steep wind-blown sand hill that we would run down. The sand was so soft, it was like running on talcum powder. We all had a blast running top speed downhill to the waiting trucks.

    We had taken some group pics on top of the hill while we were holding the Canadian flag. They turned out really well. Our next stop was the Bedouin village. For those of you not aware, the Bedouin have been a nomadic group found all over the middle east. Traditionally the would eke out a living with a few animals, trading goods as they moved from place to place. Rarely did they settle in one spot for long. The environment in which they lived (the desert) provided few resources for wealth generation and generally they settled in an area only when they found water – and if they settled, moved on when the water dried up. Modern technology has changed many Bedouin and now instead of camels, they drive vehicles. This village, while appearing traditional, used the tourist trade as a source of wealth. Thirty eight people of all ages lived in this spread-out village. Besides the small mosque and housing there were animal pens, a pharmacy, large covered areas for tourists to eat meals, a weaving area (with items for sale) and a store.

    Why did we visit this village? This was a great opportunity for our students who have so much, to realize there were people in our world who have very little. I also hoped to stress to them the importance of access to fresh potable water. We take it for granted. These villages did not take it for granted and it was the most precious commodity.

    Our day was spent visiting the various buildings, walking to their well, and seeing all they had to sell. One area everyone will remember was the little bakery area where a village woman was baking fresh pita over a small fire. Nearly everyone sampled some and it tasted delicious. After our little snack the guide let us know that since wood was non-existent in the area, they burned dried camel dung as fuel to cook the pita. A few students choked, but most just accepted the reality of how different lives can be based on resources. Everyone had a chance to go on our second camel ride (the first was at the pyramids in Cairo). Just at the end of one group’s ride, one of the girls commented on how she “just hated going down on camels.” The rest of us smirked and agreed. Dismounting is often a challenge. We walked to the top of a nearby hill (about 1 km) to watch a wonderful desert sunset. Fantastic.

    Following the sunset we returned to the large covered area. It was now set up for our dinner. Good and tasty local fare. Everyone seemed to eat their fill, served with Coke too! I suspect the warm Coke was a concession to our group, rather than a traditional drink. After dinner the villagers set up lanterns just outside the eating area on the ground in a square about 25 meters by 25 meters. They sang one or two traditional songs and had everyone dancing in a line around the lanterns. It was a nice way to end the evening.

    Upon our return to the hotel we had a brief group meeting in the lobby (as we always did) to discuss the next morning's agenda and wake-up times etc. The two lead chaperones had brought (from Canada) a variety of St. Patrick’s Day silliness like hats and banners. The group was very tired, but we decided to hand it all out anyway. We had a quick St. Patrick’s Day quiz (we are teachers after all) and the four winners had to wear “Irish for a Day” sashes and pose for pictures. Everyone wore a ridiculous-looking green paper hat for a group shot. They were a patient bunch.

    Most went directly to their rooms and to sleep. Tomorrow we depart for Cairo with another long bus ride.

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    I was just bemoaning the absolutely horrible weather we have been experiencing here in NJ when I saw you continued your wonderful trip report. Boy did you cheer up my morning! It was great to be transported back to Egypt. Your time on the Red Sea sounded like so much fun.

    Susan

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    Thanks jerseysusan. We're not finished yet (of course), but I am leaving today for a drive out to British Columbia (from Ontario), so will once again put this travel diary on hold. Thanks for your patience.

    tC

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    The next morning was a chance for all participants to do some last minute shopping in Hurghada. There are lots of tourist-oriented stores that sell a great assortment of stuff to take home to parents/brothers/sisters etc. Jewellery, trinkets, Arabic DVD’s, t-shirts, sweatshirts, coral – you name it and it was for sale. I especially enjoyed looking at the street vendors and their wares. There were some glass vials with different colours of sand creating remarkable images. They guaranteed the sand wouldn’t shift during travel – but I was not convinced. If it did shift, I wasn’t about to make a return trip to ask for an exchange. I ended up purchasing a series of “Hurghada, Red Sea Divers” t-shirts for my sons. They were top quality Egyptian cotton and looked great. Lead chaperones purchased what turned out to be a pirated version of “The Bourne Identity” with Arabic subtitles for us to watch on the long drive to Cairo.

    Our tour leader had arranged for us to have lunch at McDonalds about 1 km from the hotel. We walked down the now-familiar street to the golden arches. We were to have the upstairs reserved for 12:00 p.m., but didn’t arrive until about 12:25. Our pre-ordered meals had not been pre-ordered (they were to start cooking them once we arrived, not at 12:00). The manager at McDonalds didn’t remember the arrangements made the previous day. All the meals were ordered individually and brought up to the upstairs area. I felt sorry for our Hurghada tour manager because he had worked so hard to make the arrangements – and they just didn’t occur. The lunch took about one hour longer than anticipated.

    We walked back to the hotel, loaded our luggage onto the coach. It was nearly 2:00 p.m. when we set off for the 7 hour drive to Cairo. The students were all counted and safely on board when the chaperones noticed the drivers (we needed two because the bus had to deadhead back to Hurghada right away and one driver can’t go 14 hours) sorting the luggage compartments below trying to create a vacant spot in one area. We disembarked from the bus and asked why bags were being shifted. Apparently, the second driver was preparing a “bed” within the luggage compartment under the seating area, so he could sleep on the way to Cairo. We could hardly believe it. But, try as they might, they couldn’t compress all our luggage enough to make a sleeping space. They eventually gave up on the idea and the second driver joined us in the passenger area.

    The highway to Cairo took us beside the Red Sea for many hours as we drove north. We passed numerous wind turbine farms with hundreds of spinning blades. Personally, I think Egypt might have better luck creating electricity with solar panels, but we saw very few of them. As we approached the Gulf of Suez we saw more and more ocean going tankers heading for the Suez Canal. Unfortunately, the highway veered to the west prior to reaching the city of Suez so we were unable to see the actual canal.

    The coach stopped several times at highway stops for washroom and ice cream breaks. A few of our student travellers were boyfriend/girlfriend and over the previous 10 days had become more comfortable with their displays of affection. Now these displays were really limited to hand holding and occasional lip contact, nothing more, but our agent made a point of asking us to warn these couples to avoid public displays of affection (pda) once we returned to Cairo. The students were a little surprised to hear this, but everyone knew the culture would be different. Personally, I think the warning was a little over-the-top because we certainly saw other examples of pda’s in Cairo.

    Our arrival in Cairo was traffic-stopping. Actually the traffic was stopped regardless. Gosh that city sure brings new meaning to gridlock. It felt like it took as much time to drive through Cairo as it did to get to Cairo.

    We had a very nice (but now repetitive) Egyptian tourist meal at a restaurant near the pyramids. The travel agency had arranged a birthday cake honouring our three travellers who had passed a milestone while we were travelling. They presented each with a lovely bouquet of flowers too. A nice touch that we really appreciated.

    The real thrill of the evening meal was the gift package prepared by A-Z Travel. Each participant was presented with a bag filled with memories of the trip. Each bag held key chains, a small hand woven wall hanging and other sundry items, but the best part was a 16 inch by 26 inch, two fold, full colour series of photos taken on our trip. Each plastic-coated sheet (picture a large two fold menu from a restaurant) had a list of the names of all participants, our itinerary and about 25 pictures taken over the previous 12 days. The travel company has taken some pictures and I had let the agent download my digital pix prior to leaving Hurghada for this brochure. There was a great shot of everyone on the road to the Valley of the Kings that took up a full panel. The students were thrilled. It looked wonderful. The only disappointment was on the listing of everyone’s names. The brochures included middle names and some didn’t like to have their middle names public. The Egyptian office staff had taken all the passport names verbatim, not realizing it might not be the ideal solution. Oh, and they included their company name on several locations ensuring that anyone admiring this gift would know who to contact for a trip to Egypt. This company is very good at self-promotion.

    After our very nice supper, we boarded the bus for a short trip to Hotel Sofitel Le Sphinx about three blocks away. Very nice hotel. It was a pity we arrived late and would leave early. I wish we could have enjoyed the facilities more.

    Tomorrow – our last day in Africa. A day filled with fun and memories.

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    The last instalment!

    Prior to the chaperones retiring to our rooms for the night we wanted to talk with the owners of the tour company to discuss our activities tomorrow. This is where the chaperones (I took responsibility for this blunder) realized we had made an error. The itinerary said “day at leisure in Cairo”. On our previous Egypt trip in 2005 we had filled it with activities (Pharoah’s Village in Cairo etc.) These afternoon activities were really a parting gift from the travel company, rather than on our itinerary. This time there was no equivalent parting gift of largesse from the travel company. I know they were under no obligation to provide the day’s activities. I was blindsided. We had used up nearly all the cash in our “group fund”, so the chaperones could not pay for any grand activities. Most of the students were approaching zero in the cash coffer department too!

    Well, I found out that “day at leisure” meant there were no planned activities during the day. We had to be out of the Sofitel by 11:00 a.m. – with no real plan for a destination. I was flummoxed. What can you do in Cairo with 41 teenagers, a bus loaded with luggage and little or no money?

    We did have prearranged lunch and dinner plans. What to do in the afternoon of our last day?

    Read on to find out.

    The Hotel Sofitel Le Sphinx was a lovely hotel, merely blocks from the pyramids. Sadly our timing did not allow us to use any of the facilities except the beds.

    In the morning we were treated to a wonderful buffet – probably the grandest we had experienced in our time away. Lots of choices, eggs prepared whatever way you liked, fresh juices, just-baked breads etc. We really would have liked to stay one more night.

    After our morning repast, we had a group meeting wherein we told everyone of our plans for the day. After a quick return to the rooms to pick up luggage, then to hand in keys we boarded the waiting bus. We were allowed to leave once Hotel security had checked each room for damage or missing items.

    Our first stop (which took about 1 hour to get to) was our planned “dress-up” lunch at the Cairo Hard Rock Café. Girls made an extra effort to look good and most guys wore dress shirts and ties. Boy, we were a good looking group of Canadians. Very few of us had been to a Hard Rock Café before and we were thrilled. It is located in a very secure hotel/hospital complex area where dogs sniff vehicles and mirrors on poles are used to check the undersides of cars/busses/trucks entering the compound.

    We had a wonderful time at the café. We were joined by the two owners of the travel agency. Khaled (co-owner) brought his young family and their nanny/teacher. What cute children .. and so well behaved. Avril (co-owner) ensured all our needs were met. The buffet style lunch was first rate. The restaurant filled up shortly after our arrival and everyone in the room knew we were from Canada (we weren’t a shy group). Following our meal the servers did what appeared to be a “Hard Rock” specialty and line danced to a few rock songs. We were hooting and hollering too! Prior to departure we amassed for a group pic with all the servers. What a fun time.

    Now it was about 1:30 p.m. What to do? The previous night we had picked the travel agency owners brains for a cheap, safe and fun activity. We decided to go to “Cairoland”. If you’ve never heard of this before, I’m not surprised. It is the equivalent to a theme park (Disney), but on a vastly reduced scale. It is, of course, open year round. There were carnival rides and games of skill. About one third of the rides were not working and the rest were “risky” to say the least. I don’t imagine Egyptians would have the same level of safety standards. They certainly didn’t have the same level of cleanliness within the park. Students were to stay in groups of 5 or more and always have at least one male in any group. At the slightest sign of problems or trouble they were to leave wherever they were and come to a central point where chaperones would be waiting. If you’ve been to Cairoland you will know that only young Cairenes go there. There were thousands of local children having lots of fun. When a bus load of westerners (and quite a few blondes) walked through … everyone stopped. It made us feel like we were the animals in a zoo. Not entirely comfortable for some of us – but we all survived quite well. After an hour or so, we had done everything we wanted to accomplish, but our next attraction wasn’t until 3 hours later. What to do?

    By chance, and because I have a habit of seeing if doors are locked or unlocked, we came upon a 15 lane bowling alley just inside the boundary of Cairoland. After checking with a few of our group we had our guide go in and negotiate renting the entire bowling alley for 90 minutes. Chaperones pooled their cash and in we went. Nearly every one bowled for over 1 hour. Most bowled for the entire 90 minutes. Those who didn’t bowl just sat and watched. What a lot of fun for all of us.

    Four boys had struck up a parking lot soccer match with 3 local youth while we were bowling. They played for nearly 2 hours and had a great challenge. The Egyptians won. They were so good at the game. Our boys were good too, but in a different way. Our guys had never played soccer on a concrete parking lot littered with rocks and small trees.

    It was time to leave Cairoland – but we were still too early for the evening dinner cruise. Khaled and Avril had decided to take us to an exclusive shopping mall on the banks of the Nile close to where our dinner cruise would begin. There were four floors of lovely stores selling items we did not buy. In the center was an open dining area where you could order a meal or a beverage. Most or our group gathered there. There was a wonderfully talented pianist playing in the center. During a break from his songs, I walked up and offered him a Canada flag lapel pin as a thank you. He was very gracious. I was told later he is a very well known Egyptian composer and performer.

    Our “empty” afternoon was over and it had been filled with memorable and fun activities. I appreciated the support from our agents, but I have learned my lesson when I see “afternoon at leisure” on an itinerary.

    From the luxury shopping area we walked two blocks to our waiting Nile dinner/entertainment cruise. Some of the kids were fagged and once we were seated at our dinner tables, put their heads down and slept. I took pictures. The entertainment was great – a belly dancer and two whirling dervishes. All performed in an area of about 4 square meters. Truly a sight to see. The belly dancer had some wonderful attributes. No matter how she danced, they did not budge! Much discussion at our table ensued about how “unreal” they were. Her frontal assets were pretty much in plain view. Some sleeping students didn’t realize what they were missing. I took pictures. The whirling dervishes in their multi-layered regalia were very entertaining. One was a “little person”, a midget, who captivated everyone for about 20 minutes. The other performer (regular stature) had conversations with about 15 patrons – each in their own language – as he was performing. It was amazing to watch and listen. Some students slept. I took more pictures.

    Following the meal, quite a number of us went up to the top deck of the boat. The evening was cool and the view was tremendous. Cairo at night, from the Nile River, really is a treat to experience. Overall, we were on the cruise for about 3 wonderful hours.

    Once the boat docked we quickly found our coach (which still had all our luggage) and departed for the airport for our very early (5:00 a.m.) flight to Frankfurt and home. At the airport we lounged, slept (I took pictures), shopped at duty free (not too many good buys), snacked – then boarded the plane.

    At Frankfurt airport our group became split. Usually we gather after each security checkpoint – but this time the group had taken different busses from the airplane to the terminal. The first group disembarked from their bus and went on to security. The second group arrived, not knowing the first group had moved on, and waited for the first group to get off the bus. Lead chaperones knew everyone was off the plane. Each group had a lead chaperone, so we eventually moved on and met at the next security checkpoint.

    The reason we were on two busses? One of our boys foolishly left his passport on the plane from Cairo. He realized his passport pouch was empty at the bottom of the stairs after exiting the plane. He dashed back up and met a steward who already had it in his hand. Talk about lucky!

    Well, if you thought we had a bunch of layabouts in the Cairo airport, you should have seen Frankfurt. It looked like sleeping gas had been administered. They were flopped on seats, collapsed over tables, on the floor using each other as pillows. I took pictures.

    Chaperones went to the duty free store and loaded up. Our progress to the next plane was uneventful. Our flight over the ocean was eerily quiet. We landed in Detroit on schedule. We obtained special status from Homeland Security as a group (because of our matching sweatshirts) and were herded into lines reserved for us. Without incident we moved to the real world where we were met by our bus drivers from home. They led us quickly back to our coach. One of the parents had placed a snack pack on each seat on the bus. An apple, banana, water bottle, granola bar and treat were in each bag. Boy, we had nice students ….. and nice, supportive parents for this trip.

    Crossing the border into Canada went smoothly.

    Lead chaperones knew everyone would be hungry (and we didn’t have an exact idea of our return time), so prior to departing (15 days earlier) we had given the bus driver an envelope with fifty $10 bills. These would be distributed to each traveller as they exited the bus just past the border in Sarnia where we made a 45 minute supper break. Some of the students were flat broke and would have done without supper if it wasn’t for this “found” cash.

    We pulled into our home town 2 minutes after our scheduled arrival time. We had made up the schedule 4 months earlier and I was pleased we were on time.

    Mothers, fathers, siblings hugged their family members as they jumped off the bus. Within a few minutes the parking lot was empty and our wonderful expedition to the land of the Pharoahs was over.

    Was it worthwhile? Absolutely. All travellers had wonderful opportunities to witness, touch, smell, taste things they never could at home. Nearly everyone suffered from some level of upset GI, but no one complained overly. We were well cared for by our travel professionals and I can fairly recommend them if people ask me.

    Are we doing another trip? You bet! The next trip is planned for March 2011. We travel to Paris (4 nights), Florence (2), Rome (2), overnight ferry to Athens (1), Athens (1), Aegean cruise (4), Athens (1). The first parents’ meeting is next week and we have over 100 students who have expressed a serious interest. We will take only 40 students and we give preference to senior students first. Of course, no commitment is real until cash crosses the palm. We’ll see how our meeting turns out.

    Thank you to all who have endured this trip report. Special thanks to those who offered such great suggestions and encouragement to our travellers.

    tC

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    Fabulous tale... loved it. As I read I watched the scroll button and kept hoping it would not get to the bottom of the page because I didn't want to stop reading. Thanks for posting.

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    wow, I wish I were one of your students. You do a wonderful job planning and directing the trip (not to mention writing such an entertaining account). Those kids will remember that trip forever.

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    MissGreen - Thanks for your kind comments. There were times when I was creating the trip report that I felt it wouldn't end too! We did have a fantastic time.

    ann_nyc - Thank you too, for responding and letting me know someone else has read my epistle. We honestly believe that we offered a great educational experience to our student travellers (plus we had so much fun it bordered on illegal). Actually some of it probably was illegal - but I can't write about that part.

    tC

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    Hi teacherCanada

    I really enjoyed reading your report.

    How did you select which students got to go on the trip. I always feel sorry for those who could not afford to go. Of course not everybody could possibly join these oversea trips. Some families at my kids' school could not even afford to let their kids go on school trips to Ottawa and Quebec in Grade 7 and 8.

    thanks.

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    HappyMom32 - Thanks for letting me know you have read about our adventures. How do we select which students travel? Unfortunately it usually is a function of financial support from the family or the participant. They do know about the trip 2 full years in advance and have that amount of time to earn money in part time jobs or redirect Christmas and birthday presents towards the trip. I know of at least two who paid for the whole trip themselves by working after school at WalMart and other stores. In addition to family/personal funding, we offer a plethora of opportunities for personal and group fundraising. It is possible for a participant to earn over $1500 in fundraising, which, of course, reduces the amount owed.

    We tell all our participants that these trips are not "extras' or "gifts". Something needs to be sacrificed in order to have an opportunity like this come true. I believe each one of the travellers on this trip paid at least $1500 from their own money.

    I understand the concerns about some children not being able to participate on "class trips" to Ottawa etc. I view Egypt 2009 more as an enrichment opportunity, rather than a class trip - at least that is how I justify the situation to myself.

    Thanks for your interesting question. I hope I have answered it.

    tC

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    Thanks for all the hard work in writing this.
    When you did your cruise with the belly dancer, what cruise was it on? Did you enjoy it? How was dinner? About how much was it per person? Considering doing this one night and wondering if it is worth it.

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    koryandleslie - I'm afraid I can't answer some of your questions. All the arrangements were made by the travel agency and I didn't get a picture of the boat's name. We really did enjoy our 3 hours. The entertainment was great. Dinner was very good, but not excellent (they served 150 people in 20 minutes). We never really expected haute cuisine while we travelled as a school group. I'm afraid I don't know the cost. Personally, I would encourage you to try this experience, but I am interested in knowing how others on this board would respond.

    Thanks for taking the time to read of our adventures.

    tC

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    Hello teacherCanada. I saw your reply to someone on the Europe forum, & that reminded me that you were doing another trip, I so enjoyed the Europe one. I found you and have spent a wonderful evening reading your report. We were on a cruise when we visited Egypt, and had a two day visit Alexandria and Cairo You gave me a wonderful insight to other parts of Egypt plus enjoying all the personal experiences of your group. I am in my late seventies & have had some wonderful travel experiences to many countries & God willing hope to have more. I think giving your students the experience to travel is a very important part of education, I hope this trip gives them the urge to go out and see more of the world in the future.And I am sure you will be in thier thoughts when they do. Thank you for a great report.

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    tC,

    I've just caught up with the rest of your report. It was excellent. What a terrific opportunity for the students. How lucky they are to have your organizational skills put to work creating these lovely trips. I've followed your questions on Paris and Rome lodging and will be looking forward to the updates on the 2011 trip.

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    jean253 - Thank you for investing your time reading of our exploits. I'm sorry, but I don't remember reading about your time in Egypt. There are very few adventurers who don't enjoy the land of the Pharoahs. I am glad you had a nice visit there. Thanks also for reading about our fun and educational time in Europe. That was a wonderful trip too. I appreciate your comments about encouraging students to see the world. Our experiential learning is normally limited to the region in which we live. If we can expand our limits we can usually expand our learning. I am confident you will have many more experiences.

    cw - Thank you for your kind thoughts and words. Our planning for Eurotrip 2011 is nearly complete. Of course, we will make adjustments along the way - but we have our itinerary pretty firmly in place now. We had our first parent meeting last Monday (4 days ago) and already have 32 non-refundable deposit cheques in our possession. We will take only 40 students. Things are looking good already.

    tC

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    What a great report. I'm hungry for more! Off to find your other reports.

    We're considering sending our 14 and 16 year olds on a trip to Spain with a school group next summer. It's great to read all of your work and planning paid off!

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    mom23rugrats - wow, you read it. Thanks. I consider that the highest compliment.

    Our next trip is firmly in place. We leave in mid-March 2011 for 17 days away visiting France, Italy and Greece. The group can't wait for departure day.

    tC

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    btw, one of the things that I love is that each kid much do a report on something they see or something about that country/culture. I see firsthand what an impact that has...

    We just went to London and Paris - my daughter, Little Surf #1 (10yo), had a report on any topic she chose about a month before the trip. I encouraged her to do the "Tower of London" and she had a lot of fun learning about it. Her siblings (ages 6yo, and 8yo) had heard it so many times they also knew the facts and information (the oldest crow... how many crows... if anyone ever stole the crown jewels, etc.) It was very fun for all of them to walk around and see what they had learned about! It made that one of the more fun parts of the trip.

    I want to figure out how to do it again for next year's trip - each kid picks something to learn about and they have to teach us before we go...

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    surfmom - thanks for your endearing comments. We have had great success with our "Ask the Expert" process, wherein each student traveller becomes the expert on one aspect of our journey. I am pleased to say other schools in our area now use it too. We will continue to use it on our next trip to Europe in March 2011.

    I, too, have seen the excitement in the eyes of youth when the actually see, touch, smell the topic they have studied and prepared a lesson on. It tickles me to hear of your 10 year old reading about the Tower of London - then living it. Well done Mom. All the best to you in your future exploits.

    tC

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  1. 1 East Africa summer 2014
  2. 2 Kenya and Tanzania Trip Planning Help
  3. 3 Yet another Kruger private reserve budget lodge post + Blyde Canyon
  4. 4 Seeking Itinerary Routing for 3 week SA Trip
  5. 5 Cape Town Safety?
  6. 6 first time family safari in August 2014
  7. 7 BOTSWANA - Maun (Okavango) to Chobe - 4x4 self drive...
  8. 8 Memory cards for camera
  9. 9 Self Drive SA, Botswana, Zimbabwe - help, 4x4 hire/border restrictions
  10. 10 First Time in Israel Tour Suggestions
  11. 11 Sabi Sands camps
  12. 12 Questions on 10 day Morocco winter vacation
  13. 13 London to Tel aviv What to expect at BG /Trans to Tel aviv / booking.com
  14. 14 place to sleep near airport for a 6 hour layover .. switching airports
  15. 15 Help with Rwanda trip
  16. 16 Have you been to East Africa ?Ethiopia?
  17. 17 Tel Aviv beaches
  18. 18 trip report, morocco
  19. 19 Marrakech to Fes by bus
  20. 20 Safari and Beach Honeymoon in September
  21. 21 Generic malarone now availbale in Canada
  22. 22 Morocco for 2 nights
  23. 23 Maldives, Seychelles or Mauritius??
  24. 24 Hotels in Nairobi
  25. 25 Who Plans and Packs for Your Bucket List Travel (Safari)
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