Egypt

From Cairo to Singapore

On Tuesday September 22 we left Cairo for Egypt. Below a picture of the entrance into our hostel. It's a  building used by many others, the hostel is just some rooms in this building. We were on the second floor or so, so you can't really see where we were from the outside.

Here at Cairo airport, and our plane to Singapore in the background.

 

We arrived at Singapore airport at 6.30am, still dark, and 12am according to our body, but we still had an entire day to go!

By bus from Cairo via Taba to Eilat

On Saturday September 5 we left Cairo. The idea was to take the bus to Taba, which next to Eilat, and a border crossing. From there you can walk over the border and take a taxi into Eilat. As we've read that the buses were somewhat unreliable, we were prepared, but it seems what happened to us beat all records.

The hostel had offered to buy the tickets for us. Perhaps at a 30% margin in their favor. We paid 100 Egyptian pounds (about 26 NZD) per person. But later Ida read that tickets were 70 Egyptian pounds. Not sure if that was a current price or not. Anyway, it saved us some hassle.

Unfortunately when giving directions to the bus station, they pointed us in the wrong direction. Left instead of right. So in the morning heat we had to walk a considerably longer distance, with all our luggage, than anticipated. Asking directions didn't always work, but in the end a few helpful Egyptians got us in the right direction. We arrived at the bus just after it should have left, but luckily it took a bit longer to leave. And luckily it was airconditioned. The sweat was just dripping from our faces. The kids were relieved by being in a modern bus. Somewhere after crossing the Suez canal (you go underneath it unfortunately), the bus stopped, and the driver (it wasn't my intention to capture him) had to relieve himself.

He went back to his seat, and rested with this head down on his arms on the steering wheel. We didn't think much of that at the time, and the journey continued. We really got into the Sinai desert. Taken from the window:

About perhaps 1.5 hour after our stop, the driver collapsed, having stopped the bus first fortunately. We had read about buses breaking down, but not about driver break-down. Probably the lack of water, because of the Ramadan, had taken its toll. Passengers gave the driver water and juice. Finally a passenger drove us a little bit further where there was a checkpoint and some kind of first aid post with an ambulance.

We were really in the middle of nowhere there.

And didn't really want to stay there either.

After a short while a second bus came, and we had to transfer into this one. No airco anymore.

After carrying all our luggage into the second bus, we drove on. This time with an official driver I think. After 5 minutes the bus broke down though so we all had to go out again. Our original bus arrived soon, with the driver laying horizontally across four seats. As we couldn't use the front entrance, we had to use the back-one. No idea why we had to transfer to the second bus in the first place.

You wouldn't believe it, but we had to transfer a fourth time after a while. Four different buses, three drivers, one journey. But we finally made it to Taba:

The Coptic area

After leaving the museum, we were immediately accosted by people offering us a taxi. We needed a five person one and we knew the price, so not everyone was interested, but one was. He was a Coptic Christian himself he said. It least his tax looked like it:

I think the taxi driver took a bit of a detour, so we saw two famous mosques on our way. He offered to take us to them, but we told him we had no interest in seeing one from the inside.

I think this is the most famous one, called The Citadel or so:

Here the Coptic area:

Inside the Coptic church. The impression I got was that it was basically Romish, praying to saints, body parts of saints on display, etc.

We were a bit up on another church there, when the call to prayer started. This was a Friday of course, and the Ramadan, but at least 5, and I think more, times a day you here incessant blaring through loudspeakers across the whole city, calling the faithful to pray. They do that everywhere actually, in their shop, they have a specially reserved area in restaurants, religion and culture here mix like nothing else in the world. But anyway, hopefully this gives some indication how it sounds:

Clearly we have only God to thank we were not born a muslim or having to live in muslim areas. His providence has been exceedingly mercyful.

Our taxi-driver wanted to wait, for only a small fee so he brought us back. Here a photo that shows a little bit how crazy driving here is:

Or with four people on a motor bike:

The Egyptian museum

Friday September 4 was our second and last day in Cairo. Here a shot of our room. Basic, but enough. And helpful people here at the Brothers Hostel. But, as with anything here in Egypt, every piece of help has a price. But the accommodation was the cheapest we could find:

Here the elevator, really something from the 1930s:

In the morning, well about 11am..., we went to the Egyptian museum:

The museum was just absolutely chock-full of statues, sarcophagi, and stelae. The museum covers Egypt from before the 1st dynasty, till the last, up to the graeco-roman period.

Akhenaten:

And the most important artefact for me, the famous Merneptah Stele, or Israel stele. I'm not sure I photographed the right side, as my knowledge of hieroglyphics is wanting, but this is the right stele:

This stele was found by Flinders Petrie, and was the first reference outside the Bible about Israel. The discovery made headlines in the English newspapers of that time. Sir Flinders Petrie is supposed to have remarked after the find:

"Won't the reverends be pleased?"

Late lunch

We had a late lunch on our first day in Egypt, at about 2:30pm. Ida enjoys it:

And we all did actually:

We had a late dinner at some kind of cafetaria. Actually really good. Can't complain about the food here.

Papyrus making

Our guide took us to a shop where we got a demonstration in papyrus making:

Basically you remove the outer layer, hammer the inside, leave it in water for a week, and press the water out of it. Very simple. After the explanation you could buy a piece. Again you just don't know the prices or if it's worth anything. But it looked all very nice, so we bought a piece and our names were written on it as well:

Then back to our hostel. This is a fairly typical street scene:

The bus which took us around:

Made it to the pyramids, but barely

As the following story contains a few unpleasant details, those of tender disposition should just look at the pictures...

On Wednesdaynight 21:20 we arrived in Cairo. It was hot, probably above 30℃ still. We are staying at the hostel brothers in the centre of Cairo. Because we stayed for 3 nights, they picked us up at the airport. The driving style here beats anything in this world, and yes, we've been in Paris, Rome, New York and Mexico City. There's nothing like it here. Everyone just drives where they please. There are lane markers, sometimes, but they're not used. So 4 lanes get turned in 5 or 6 lanes, just depending on how much gap the driver thinks he sees. There's also a fair amount of smog, but not like Mexico City. About 11:00 we arrived at the hotel. The kids were very tired, so they went straight to bed. Dad and mum went to an ATM on the corner. On the way back Dad bought an ice-cream.

The next morning Dad wasn't feeling to well. Some cramps. For breakfast he got some coffee, and a little bread, but then felt that things were not going down well. But he managed to reach his room and the toilet in his room in time. It also appeared he had a severe form of diarrhoea, the worst kind, pure water... Was it the ice cream? Or something else? Auke had been sick on Monday, Ida on Tuesday, so perhaps it was just Dad's turn.

But I felt a lot better after having disposed of the invading elements. And just not sick enough to stay in his room for a day, so we decided to stick with our plans to visit the pyramids. The hostel had arranged a cab and a guide. We passed the Nile, where the cab stopped so we could take a picture.

And then we saw the pyramids from the motorway, already an impressive sight. By the way, roads here are used by anything, from cars to camels, to asses.

The cab brought us to a place where we could hire camels and horses to go the pyramids. Glad we did that, and didn't walk. The heat was very impressive.

After some haggling we were able to secure two camels and two horses for a total of 1280 Egyptian pounds (339 NZD). That's not cheap, like a lot of things here are not cheap. You constantly get the feeling you pay the tourist price. So there we went, Ida and AnneRoos on a camel, Auke on a camel, and I and Dieuwe each on a horse. At the checkpoint we had to get off:

After a ride through the desert, we were there, it wasn't that steep, I think our guide just held the camera at the wrong angle.

We got off the camels once more. It's very interesting to see how the camels kneel. And you have to lean back, because when it does that, it is steep!

And yes, wel all found the pyramids:

I was still feeling quite well, I was afraid I would have to go the toilet in the middle of the desert, but no. The only thing was the heat, it is indeed very very hot.

The pyramids are very close to Cairo, just a few hundred metres of its edge actually.

The most left pyramid clearly shows there are some smaller pyramids next to it. It's not really for whom they are, but they are commonly called the queen pyrammids.

The head dresses Auke and Dieuwe bought, made them look really good on this occassion:

Not us, but this is what we would have looked like:

After we had arrived at the Great Pyramid and looked around a bit, the cramps returned. I had to seek some place behind a rock, and empty my stomach for the second time. You would think my dear wife would supply comfort and soothing words, but she got away as far as possible and started to take pictures. If you click on the picture, you get a bigger version and you can just make out Auke and Dieuwe at the bottom.

Luckily that was the last time, in the afternoon I already felt better, had my first real meal in the evening, and was in perfect health the next day. No idea what this had been.

And then on to the Sphynx:

It was built to protect the pyarmids, not that it helped, robbers got inside them all.

Yes, these kids got close:

And then it was time to back. Here Auke getting off the camel, after the camel really goes dow onto its knees:

That were the pyramids. The next stop was papyrus making.

Kia Ora and Welcome to Cairo

This is often how the first few words with people go here in Egypt:

 "Where are you from?"

"New zealand"

"Kia Ora"

Yes, that's right. Most people here hardly speak English and yet still have the time to learn Maori.

 

Anyway, back to the beginning...

On the plane we watched Monsters vs Aliens. the biggest rip-off movie since Spaceballs (the name is actually mentioned in the movie). The flight was fine. The food could have been worse (Just kidding, it wasn't actually that bad). We got picked up from the airport and drove to our hostel. The first thing we noticed was the heat, the second was the driving, but that's another story. First up is... "What we did Today" (couldn't think of something catchy). Second up is... "Driving" (still can't think of something catchy). And last (but not least)... "Just Business" (managed to think of something catchy).

What we did today

We got a guide and a car that drove us around all day. We headed straight for the Giza Piramids. On our way there we drove over the *DRUM ROLL* road, and also over the Nile.

It was great, but more about that in the Driving section. We got to some place and what happened then will be found in the Just Business part (in a nutshell, we got a guide and some animals to ride on). Next we got on our animals. We took 2 horses and 2 camels (I prefer horses now, if you want to know why take a camel ride). Then we headed for the *DRUM ROLL* dessert, and also the Piramids (which happen to be in the dessert only a hunderd meters away from the city). We alternated between camel and horse. 

And as you can see, I am taller than the "Great" Piramid. I also touched it, and climbed on it. Auke and I bought a head-towel thingy (whatever it's called).

Next we visited the *DRUM ROLL* Sphinx. And that concluded the tour.

 

Next we went to the *DRUM ROLL* papyrus factory. They showed us how papyrus is made, and then the whole Just Business thing started again (In a nutshell, I ended up buying a papyrus painting for 130 pounds... EGYPTIAN pounds that is).

 

Then we went to eat lunch. It was a funny lunch, the waiters here really have a sense of humour.

And now I am at home writing this story.

 

Driving

No rules. No trafficlights. No speedlimit. Only your horn. Well, atually thet do have all those things, but htye just ignore them. That is why the police act as trafficlights. The speedlimit is ignored (most of the time it's so busy  you never can go faster anyway). And it seems like they have no rules. If the motorway is 2 lanes wide, they turn it into 3. All the roads are one way. You have pedestrians crossing the motorway, donkey carts, camel riders, you name it, they have it on the road.

 

Just Business

The Egyptains are very hospitable. But it seems it's mostly about business. This is what happened at the places I marked in the story above. First they tell you to come in and sit down. Next they offer you free drinks. Then you start haggeling prices on something you want to buy, or something they want to sell you.

 

That concludes today's story.

 

 

 

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