Reading, Writing, Walking
Monday, September 03, 2007
Salam Malaykum from Egypt

Monday, 9 April 2007
Salam Malaykum from Egypt

That's Bettina Go, Clang Garcia, Raeanna Cranbourne and moi outside the tomb of King Tut in Luxor's Valley of the Kings, a vast funerary complex at the West Bank. We finally made it after much visa hulabaloo in Manila. Thanks to Kim Harrington who not only helped us get our 'visa upon arrival' but also hosted us at her place in the hippest Cairo-hood in Zamalek, helped us with our tours and even got us an affable taxi driver, Abdul Amin!

We've seen most of Egypt in a week. First stop was Cairo's Citadel (1176) and An-Nasir Mohammed mosque (1318). It wasn't hazy that day and got a clear view of Giza's pyramids from the terrace. From the citadel, we drove through traffic (the city has 15 million population) to visit one of the seven wonders of the world - the pyramids! There are three structures: the Great Pyramid of Khufu (2750 BC) at 146m high, his son's called Khafre (136m) and his wife's Mankaure (62m). It is indeed amazing to be at the foot of a monstrous mountain life-like size tomb and it makes me wonder if there is any truth to its extra teresstial origin.

The next day we flew East to Hurgada and drove down the coast to dive the Red Sea. It was a toss up with Sharm el-Sheikh but we were warned that it was very crowded and most of the corals are damaged so we opted for Marsa Alam, a newly built city with relatively less divers. Brrr! It was freezing at 22 degrees! I felt like a 'Michelin' man in a 5mm full suit plus a 5mm shortie! The dive operator at our hotel (Iberotel), Coraya Divers was run by Germans. They were very organized. I'm referred to #164 - for my locker box number, gear, etc. It was quite expensive at 20 euros for full gear rental per day (without computer) and 30 euros per dive (its an extra 3 euros for the guide). The best dive sites require a full day boat trip to "Elephinstone' and "Sataya".

We did another dive (in Sha'ab Marsa Alam) the next day before heading out to Safaga to cross the Red Sea mountains with a police convoy to Luxor. I've never felt secured with checkpoints every 500 meters or so and a police escort. I guess after the bombing incident at Sinai in 2005, the government is trying to protect its US$6B tourism industry. The drive took almost five hours, 2 hours to Safaga and 3 hours to Luxor.

At Luxor, we went first to the West Bank's Colossi of Memnon where we were welcomed by a pair of massive statues (18m high). Then drove to Deir al-Bahri to climb the steps up to visit the mortiuary complex of the first female 'male' pharoah, Queen Hapsheshut (very difficult to pronounce, just say hot chiken soup). Its a limestone monument carved out of a mountain! First sign of vandalism here with coptic graffiti and also where her stepson Tuthmosis III scratched out her face. Then drove to the Valley of the Kings to visit the tombs of Rameses I, IV and VI. There are 700 tombs and only 15 tombs are open for public viewing. Our ticket allowed us to visit 3 tombs. The highlight here would be the colorful painted walls depicting the life of the pharaoh, scenes to help guide his journey through his afterlife, heiroglyphics and the sacrophogaus at the end of the tomb (the contents - mummy, gold masks, etc - are at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo). After, we drove through the Tomb of the Nobles and stopped at Deir al-Medina named after a coptic temple built by christian monks. Here we visited two tombs of the workers where for 5-20 egyptian pounds, the guards allowed us to take photos! It was extremely hot in Luxor at 40 degrees, so we decided to break for lunch at a resto along the Nile River. After lunch, we spent the whole afternoon in the temple complex of Karnak and Luxor and in the evening, did the Sound and Light show. (note: we bought tickets through our travel agent only to find out its cheaper and easier to do it on your own).

After Luxor, we flew back to Cairo and Abdul picked us up and drove straight to Saqqara, a huge cemetery of ancient Memphis where the oldest pyramid is located called Step Pyramid of Zoser. For 5 pounds, we were able to take photos inside the tombs. After visiting the pyramids and the newly built museum, we drove 10 kms away to Dashur where we climbed the 125 steep stone steps of the Red Pyramid and down the 63m long claustrophic passageway down the tomb.

The next day Kim drove us to Alexandria, the city founded by Alexander the Great. We walked down the Corniche to Bibliotheca Alexandrina, designed by Norwegian architect Snøhetta, it houses millions of books, 3 museums and a planetarium. Then a seafood feast down at the seafood market and walked down to Fort Qaitbey (1480 AD). Back in Zamalek, we were too exhausted to eat out and decided to watch DVD of "The Yacoubian Building", film adapted from Alaa El Aswany's novel.

The next day, Kim booked us to Wadi El-Hatin (western dessert) on a 4WD with driver Moustafa and his side kick Mohamed, to visit the UNESCO world heritage site for the first recorded fossilised skeletons of primitive whales. The site used to be a vast ocean some 35 million years ago. The topography is likened to the Grand Canyon in the United States. We had a picnic lunch at the nearby dessert Waddi Rayyan. Then before heading back to Cairo, a stopover at Tunis a plush domain-secondaire type village to view pottery. (note: town not recorded in Lonely Planet).

For our last night in Egypt, Kim took us to a walking tour of Islamic Cairo. Our first stop was to a bazaar where locals go to (opposite Khan al-Khalili) and then crossed the street to the famous touristy Khan and visited several shops including the famous Fishawi's Coffeehouse. The nobel peace prize author Nagib Mafouz (Cairo Trilogy) grew up in this neighborhood in Sharia al-Gamaliyya.

I enjoyed my trip and luckily, despite warnings by friends, we didn't get harrassed at all by street hawkers or for 'baksheesh' (tips). The magic word is 'la' shukran' which means "no thank you". Also most earn pathetic monthly salaries of 40-50 pounds (tomb guards) or 78 pounds (military solider). That's why they end up harrassing toursits for tips. I'm quite tolerant and in fact, ended giving tips to everybody!
[from: Dyslexia Chronicles,]

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What does "salam malykum" mean?
Something like "Peace be with you".
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