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Trip Report Cairo/White Desert/Luxor/Sharm with Egypt Quality Tours (EQT)

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Nov 10th, 2010, 02:15 PM
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Join Date: Nov 2010
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Trip Report Cairo/White Desert/Luxor/Sharm with Egypt Quality Tours (EQT)

There were 3 of us travelling (me, my wife and a long time female friend). We are 60 and have paid our dues in the past with low budget travel so decided to go a little bit upscale on this trip. Oct. 8-25 2010.

We chose Egypt Quality Tours (EQT) to provide services because we were looking for a very customized trip that would be nice but not over the top. Many of the agencies we contacted seemed to push their “packaged” tours on us and could not understand why we didn’t want to do the standard tour including a Nile Cruise. EQT caught on to this right away and would deliver custom services in Cairo (3 days), White Desert (2 days) Luxor (4 days) and Sharm el Shiekh (4 days).

I won’t describe all our activities at the various sites as many contributors have extolled the virtues of the incredible sites in the past. Here are a few of the things I hope will help and be of interest to other people.

Here is a link to some photos that go along with our story.

http://picasaweb.google.com/dougraym...Iil1NDGl_2GKw#

CAIRO
Right off the plane we were hit by our first scam. We bought our Visas at the bank kiosks and changed some Canadian dollars to EGP. I went first followed by our lady friend. It was not obvious that she was travelling with us and we compared receipts after she was done and found that she was charged a different (more expensive) rate than me. We went back and the clerk mumbled something, asked for her receipt back and all the cash he had given her and re did the transaction at the correct rate. It became obvious to us that single women were going to face challenges so from that point on I always introduced the ladies as “my two wives” which always brought a smile and the response “ you are a lucky man” ...she had few problems after that.

We were greeted by Gaber, our Egyptologist and guide for the next 5 days and young Mohamed, a rep from EQT. Gaber presented each of the ladies with a large bouquet of beautiful flowers as a welcome gift and we had the feeling we were going to be treated very well. We were also very impressed that EQT was able to contract Gaber as our Egyptologist as he is Director of the Pyramids Area for the Supreme Council of Antiquities and reports directly to Dr. Zahi Hawass. He was very knowledgeable and had a great sense of humour. We all became good friends over the next 5 days. It was a pleasure touring the Pyramids, Sphinx, Museum, White Desert and all the other sites with him as he was greeted warmly wherever we went.

In the Egyptian Museum we saw the epitome of the”history-challenged” tourist. While admiring King Tut’s Golden Mask I noticed a gentleman beside me also looking at the beautiful mask. Out of nowhere his wife appeared and said “come on ...you don’t have to look at that...you see it everywhere...it is NOT important...let’s go!”. I couldn’t believe my ears and when I related the story to Gaber, our Egyptologist, he shook his head in disbelief.

Upon entering the Khan el-Khalili market we were suddenly pushed aside by a group of men to make way for another group who were running carrying a coffin. It was quite a strange funeral procession and one of the stranger sights we saw. We also had some great fun with one of the storekeepers negotiating the purchase of several scarves. We saw several others tourists get quite upset when they were approached by the store keepers and they would practically run away when approached. Try to relax and have a good time and treat haggling like the big game it is. On the other hand, I saw some tourists who when presented with a price for something would sneer and offer a ridiculously low amount and insult the vendor. I think respect is a two way street and if you realize the vendor is doing his job and has to make a living then haggling can be fun.

In downtown Cairo, Gaber took us to an ancient coffee shop down a narrow alley and it was like stepping back in time. Outside the coffee shop I looked up and noticed two moulded statues on a ledge. About 3 feet high, one was of a chef that looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy and the other was of a deer that look suspiciously like Rudolph...who knows what they were doing there but it was one of the last things you would expect to see in ancient Cairo and brought a smile to our faces. After coffee we went back to the reality of modern Cairo. As cities go, we were not impressed...chaotic traffic, constantly honking horns, heavy pollution and many piles of rubble made us want to get out of town quick! It really is a shame that some beautiful architecture and antiquities are disguised by the negative aspects of this city. On our flight to Luxor we flew over a very large factory spewing clouds and clouds of yellow smoke that was obscuring the ground completely. I was never an environmentalist but I think I am now! I hope Egypt does something to fix this problem.

We stayed at the Marriott in Zamalek and found it to be an excellent choice. The patio/pool area was a real escape from the noise of the city. After our first day of touring we were met in the patio by Mohamed and young Mohamed from EQT. Mohamed is the Director of Operations for EQT and he reviewed our trip in detail with us. I tried to pay him the balance of our trip (the deposits had been paid by PayPal) and he said we would do that later. It wasn’t until our last day in Luxor that we finally did the transaction. This was unusual too as any other agency I have dealt with were in a hurry to get the money before the trip started.

I have never worked with an agency that would anticipate potential problems and take action on them. Mohamed even anticipated the need for some Antinal and presented us with a box of the pills for “just-in-case”. As it turned out I was floored for a half day and had to use the Antinal. I was glad I didn’t have to shop for it when I needed it. Now that really is anticipating problems!!!

In Zamalek we ate at Abou el Sid. It is an excellent restaurant just a 5 minute walks from the hotel. They serve high quality Egyptian food and served a wonderful chicken in a creamy walnut sauce. They also served the best falafels we had ever tasted. It has great atmosphere and we highly recommend it. We went early and did not require a reservation. In the same area is a store called “Drinkies” that sells wine and beer so we were able to have a pre dinner drink on our hotel balcony. We saw another one of these stores in the downtown area so they must be a chain. Nearby is a Vodaphone store and Gaber helped us acquire an internet stick for our net books so we could keep in contact with home. It ended up being cheaper than the hotel internet and it even worked in the middle of The White Desert!

THE BLACK & WHITE DESERT

It took about 4 hours to drive in our A/C van to the Bahayria Oasis. The time actually went quite quickly and there is a rest stop about halfway there. We arrived at Bahayria in time for a late lunch at Restaurant Rashed where we had a delicious Egyptian lunch on their patio.

From there we checked into our hotel, The Old Oasis Hotel. This has got to be one of the strangest and most charming hotels I have encountered. Like all oasis hotels the rooms are very basic but it is the quirky nature of the hotel that makes it unique. The hotel goes in all different directions and on different levels and on the grounds you would find various artworks that looked like a mad man threw them together. Clay models of the hotel itself were found in two areas, a water well that was a sculptures delight, metal sculptures, and furniture made from trees, murals and conversation pits with fireplaces were all over the place. The restaurant served very good Egyptian fare and a bar (no alcohol) rounded out the place. The owners were very friendly and could not do enough for you. If you appreciate truly unique places this place is for you! After checking into the hotel and getting settled in we headed off to English Mountain to view the sunset. We were a little late leaving and our driver took a short cut to get there in time to watch the sun set. In reality we went “off-roading” in the 4X4 and we were literally flying through the dunes and valleys. It was a rough ride but great fun!

Early the next morning before we headed out to the Black & White deserts we explored the early tombs in Bawiti village and the museum holding a few of the Golden Mummies. At the tombs it was strange to notice a couple of (ancient?) sarcophagi just scattered in a field like they were garbage. Bawiti itself looked like a bit of a war zone. It seems that once someone is done with one of the mud brick houses that they abandon it. Whole neighbourhoods were abandoned and the homes were slowly disintegrating. Some adorable children approached the car selling fresh dates...they were delicious.

Our first stop in the desert was on top of a very large sand dune where we experienced walking along the ridge of the dune. The fine sand was very difficult to walk in and in the extreme heat you would be lucky to walk for an hour without being exhausted. Gaber informed us that this was really the beginning of the Sahara desert. From there it was another hour or so to the Black Desert where we hiked around one of the mountains for about an hour. With the black rocks in every direction it was like walking on the moon. The mountain itself had an unusual formation covering the top and it was like black icing had been poured over the mountain in layers. After our hike and another 1/2 hour drive we arrived at a spring in the middle of the desert. Large quantities of water were being pumped into a pool and the overflow was running in canals through the middle of a restaurant beside the pool. We ate lunch here and rested during the heat of the day. The ladies cooled off by dangling their feet in the water canal flowing through the restaurant. After a couple of hours here we headed off to the White Desert.

The White Desert is the most incredible sight we have ever seen. As North Americans we had never heard of it before. It has to be one of the natural wonders of the world and yet there are relatively few people visiting it. You can’t describe it in words so the best thing to do is to Google it to see actual pictures. The white rock formations go on forever and it is a very mysterious place. As the sun set our driver, Gaber and Young Mohamed set up camp where we would spend the night under millions of stars. Suddenly another 4X4 arrived and we were temporarily joined by our driver’s brother and the two of them proceeded to cook one of the best dinners of the whole trip. It was hilarious watching them cook the rice as it seemed to be a major event and everyone in the camp was having a say in how it should be cooked. After dinner, our Egyptian friends continued to hold an animated conversation that seemed to go on for hours. According to Gaber, they were still talking and arguing about how to cook rice well into the night...it must be an Egyptian thing !

We had the obligatory visit from a desert fox. While we were at the campfire he wandered into to where we had eaten, put his two front paws up on the table and stared at us. I am sure he was saying “well where’s the rice guys?”. He returned at about 3 in the morning with a friend and they made quite racket fighting over the scraps that were left. Young Mohamed, the rep from EQT, is a real city slicker and it was his first time camping. The noises from the foxes made him quite nervous. This, of course, was picked up on by everyone in camp and he was teased mercilessly. Evidently he is now called “Mr. Fox” by all the people at EQT! His story is that he chased the fox away!

Everyone thinks the desert is a quiet place. Not so...5 people lying on their backs watching the stars and sleeping make an incredible racket with their snoring! We all blamed each other for being the loudest snorer and had a great laugh about it. At some time during the night the temperature dropped to about 10 C and everyone one was awake looking for extra blankets. Between the arguing about rice, Mr Fox’s hysterics, snoring, the cold and a very early sunrise we only got 4 hours of sleep but it was the most fun we have had in a long time.

Seriously though, the sunrise silhouetting the rock formations and eventually basking them in a soft red glow is truly a miraculous sight.

After a quick breakfast of bread and cheese and coffee we were back on the road to Bawiti where we transferred to our van to Cairo. This was a very long drive of about 8 hours but we managed to catch up on some of our sleep. All in all it was an experience we will never forget and the vision of the White Desert is burned into our minds forever. If you can...go!

Back in Cairo we went to bed early to catch a 6:30 am flight to Luxor. While waiting in the lobby at 4:30 am for our transfer to the airport we were greeted by Eileen Lawrenson from EQT. I had corresponded with Eileen over several months while planning our trip and we had become quite friendly over that time. Eileen is a Scottish lady and has been commuting between the UK and Egypt before relocating to Cairo. She had arranged her flight in from the UK that night so she could say hello to us. After all the months of emailing it was great to meet her and it was like meeting an old friend.

LUXOR

We arrived very early in Luxor and were greeted by Salha our EQT supplied Egyptologist for the Luxor portion of the trip. As usual, the transportation was a modern A/C van with a well qualified and cautious driver.

We went immediately to the VOK and toured the tombs with the thousands of other tourists. The tombs really are remarkable and when you reflect on their age it is mind boggling. Upon Salah’s suggestion we visited two of the lesser known tombs that had very few people visiting and where the paintings were very nicely preserved. He then suggested we visit Rameses II’s tomb to contrast the difference. Everyone visits this tomb because it has the name recognition. It was very crowded and there was a fair amount of pushing and shoving going on. You could not appreciate the paintings because of the number of people. It was also striking how much hotter and more humid this tomb was from the others we visited. The heat and humidity is strictly from the number of tourists and it is easy to see how this will eventually destroy the tombs. After this visit I understood why it will be necessary to close the tombs to the public one day.

Salah then suggested we visit the Western Valley just behind the VOK. Very few tourists go there and there are several tombs with the main one being AY’s (he reigned after Tut). To visit required an extra fee to cover the cost of an armed guard (with AK47) and to pay the tomb keeper to open the gate to the tomb. I think we may have overpaid for this but it was worth it! The valley is spectacular with towering cliffs and no commercial buildings of any kind. What made it even more spectacular is that we were the only people there! A visit to Ay’s tomb was enjoyed by us alone and Salah recited the theory that this was actually the tomb that Tut was building for himself. Evidently more revelations about this tomb and the valley are going to be the subject of a major media release at the end of the year. We were able to take pictures of the valley but not the tomb.

Salah was very animated and his English and knowledge was exceptional. He was very professional and he was also a VERY good salesman. We had made it clear that there were to be no visits to the alabaster/papyrus/perfume shops unless we asked. Salah was able to spin a story about how local people were being booted out of their homes and it was a last chance to see how they live etc. etc. etc...we said we would like to see that and Bingo...alabaster factory! Next it was lunch time and his description of a fresh Egyptian meal made us drool and next thing we knew we were down a side street at a local restaurant where he would earn a commission. We really did not mind either stop because they were both A/C and it was hotter than hades and we had to eat somewhere. Just be aware these guys are slick but we know they are just trying to make a living so we don’t let it get to us.

By the afternoon it was too hot to do more touring so we checked into our hotel to enjoy the pool. We were very fortunate that EQT got us an upgrade to the Winter Palace from a superior class room at the Nile Palace and we were able to enjoy the beautiful gardens and pool there. If we ever go back to Luxor we would definitely take a room at the Pavilion part of the WP just to have access to the pool.

We met Salah that evening to discuss the rest of our time in Luxor and he wanted to change the timing on our agreed itinerary. We believe he was trying to fit another group into his schedule and seemed disappointed when we didn’t want to change. Our travelling companion then suggested we could visit Karnak at dawn instead of during the day and he brightened up considerably. Even though we felt we were being played it all turned out for the best because Karnak at dawn was quite lovely. No crowds and bearable temperatures made for an exceptional visit. Lighting was very good for photography too.

We were almost finished our tour at Karnak when Salah presented us with another surprise from EQT. During our correspondence with Eileen I had told her that we (and our friend) were brand new Grandparents and in subsequent emails I had mentioned the kid’s names to Eileen. You can imagine how surprised we were when Salah presented a beautiful silver cartouche with the grandchildren’s name in gold hieroglyphics to each of the ladies. They became pretty misty eyed and I think a tear or two was shed. I would like to publicly thank Eileen and Mohamed from EQT for this very kind gesture.

After this surprise we had time to visit the Souk and be back at the pool for the afternoon. That evening the ladies visited Luxor temple while I recovered from a bout of mummy tummy that I used Mohamed’s Antinal capsules for. (They work!)

The next morning was another early morning start to take the cruise to Dendara. We booked this trip because we were not doing a standard Nile cruise but wanted to see the life along the Nile as described by others . It was a very relaxing trip and it really is fascinating to see life along the Nile. It took about 3 ½ hours to cruise to Dendera where we were transferred on nice buses to the temple. We toured the temple for 90 minutes or so and then back to the boat for a very nice buffet lunch in the A/C dining room. We enjoyed great sunsets on the way back to Luxor and we were back around 7:00 pm. We would recommend this trip if you can fit it in or if you are not taking a regular Nile cruise.

Next day we were at it again at 4:30 am to go Ballooning. This is something everyone should try at least once. It is a unique sight to see the gas burners illuminate the balloons in the dark. The basket held about 20 people in separate areas in the basket. This prevents you from moving around and getting a view in all directions. Years ago we took a balloon ride in the Napa Valley where you could move from side to side to see different things. Here we were limited to what we could see from our section of the balloon. Don’t get me wrong it is still a very worthwhile experience! We landed deep in a sugar cane field and were buried in the cane. It was necessary for the ground crew to haul us out with ropes and then across an empty field to a road where we could disembark. When we reached the road there was a group of angry farmers waiting. They were upset about the cane we had ruined in their field. After about 10 minutes of some noisy negotiations, a cigarette and the exchange of some money everyone was happy. Salah had worked the balloons one summer and said that farmers always complain loudly when a balloon lands in their field but get a payment of about 500 EGP and that in reality they consider it good luck to have a balloon land.

Later we visited the Luxor Museum (recommended) and spent more time around the pool due to the heat. In the evening we visited a papyrus shop and loaded up on some nice papyri. It was early to bed because we had a 6:30 am flight the next day to Sharm el Sheikh for some R&R.

SHARM EL SHEIKH

We chose to end our trip at a beach resort in Sharm to recover from our hectic schedule and early morning starts. After all it is supposed to be a vacation!

Thanks to my research I was pretty convinced that a nice place to stay in Sharm would be the Hilton. At our meeting at the Marriott in Cairo, Mohamed convinced me otherwise and said he could upgrade us to the Sofitel for the same price we were paying at the Hilton. He assured us that we would like the location of the Sofitel better and he was right!

Even though I researched Sharm pretty thoroughly I did not appreciate how packed in the hotels were and the amount of activity going on. Marina Street surprised us completely on how busy it was. Years ago we would have loved all that activity but now we appreciate a little quieter atmosphere and the Sofitel was perfect. It is perched on the cliffs overlooking and facing Naama bay so it is completely away from the noise. Because it faces west it provided us with amazing sunsets over the mountains and town. Every night we had to toast the sun going down from the Horizon Bar. They have an Egyptian restaurant and an Indian restaurant and we ate at both. Toronto is a very cosmopolitan city and we have many Indian restaurants here but the Indian food at the Sofitel was some of the best we had ever had. The Egyptian restaurant served delicious grilled meats on a hibachi at your table and was also excellent and reasonably priced.

The Sofitel has excellent beaches and a coral reef that compares favourably to reefs we have snorkelled on in Australia, Fiji and Honduras. There is an excellent variety of fish and even a sting ray or two.

It was a great way to end our holiday! Regretfully we had to leave on guess what?...another 6:30 am flight !
Great8_too is offline  
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Nov 11th, 2010, 12:14 AM
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Great trip report... so many early mornings! You need a holiday to get over the holiday.
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Nov 14th, 2010, 09:24 AM
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Oh man, how lovely that you can remember all these small little details about every day tours in Egypt we have been to Egypt last year also with Egypt Quality tours, they are working in Egypt under Egypt Today Travel(Do you know that?-, they handling their groups tours under Egypt Today Travel, and they tailored the individual tours through Egypt Quality Tours, what we found it really amazing the loads of details which was given by their Customer service Eileen Lawrenson, we spent more than 3 months tailoring our package tours to Egypt, she was very honest and professional, our kids can't forget the lovely moments they had on the cruise boat Miss Egypt, the lovely food, swimming pool, and the sense of humor the crew has, and our Egyptologist Ahmed from EQT was very knowledge and funny, he turned the kids to be in love with the Egyptian history and monuments, from the very early he told the kids that will have exam at the end of the cruise, and every night were we go out for a little walk or set in a local coffe-shops, he was refreshing their minds and the information they got day time, and at the last night with him, he made the exam, and both kids got silver Cartoush with their names written in golden letters, what a surprise was!
At the beginning when one of my friends informed me about EQT, we were worried a bit, that their packages could be expensive, so we contacted some other agencies, we discovered their prices are not the best but much better than many other agencies, and every thing we were told, was very true and honest.
Your report make me miss Egypt more & more, it's lovely country.
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Dec 13th, 2010, 10:37 AM
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unbelievable how much you remember. It seems as though your trip was terrific and you wouldn't hesitate to recommend Egypt Quality Tours?
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Dec 13th, 2010, 10:40 AM
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sounds like an amazing trip. would you say that the ship used down the Nile was deluxe? and you would without hesitation recommend Egypt Quality Tours?
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Jan 8th, 2011, 08:11 AM
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I really enjoyed your very detailed report. We are going to Egypt in March and will also do the overnight in the White Desert -- one of the things I am most looking forward to. There is not much information around on the White Desert, so I was thrilled to read your marvelous first-person account. Thanks for sharing!
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Jan 9th, 2011, 08:44 AM
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magster2005 - you are going to have a lot of memories of your trip to the White Desert. One thing you might find interesting is that you are not really alone out there. At night you can see the campfires of other campers but they will be almost a mile away from you. When you look around and see small patches of light in the blackness it adds to the mystery of the place.

It was also amazing that we were able to get an internet connection on our netbooks...I have no idea where they put the towers because we didn't see one for two days.

Have a great time out there and please write a trip report when you return. I couldn't find much info either before we traveled there.
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Jan 14th, 2011, 08:28 AM
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Great8_too -- Thanks so much for the tips. I will have my netbook with me but would never have thought to try it out in the desert! I will let you know how we do and definitely file a trip report when I return.

One queston: How cold was it when you slept in the desert? I requested that our tour provide us with sleeping bags and I bought some sleep sacks to bring along. Hopefully, that'll work.

BTW your pictures are incredible!
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Jan 14th, 2011, 10:16 AM
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I don't know if the temperature varies by month but in October what we found is that things naturally cool off as the sun sets and then continues to get gradually cooler. We "hit the sack" at around 11:00 pm and it was still warm enough that we were just lying on top of our sleeping bags (we had put on sweaters, extra socks and pants etc. at this point). We watched the stars move across the sky for an hour or so and we all started to climb into the sleeping bags they provided. At about 3:00 am we were all up looking for extra blankets because it got very cold (I think around 10 degrees Celsius). Our guide had lots of camel blankets available so we just layered those on and we were nice and warm.

I'm sure your guide will provide lots of blankets for you. Have fun!
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