the Long's Strange Trip

logo4.jpg (9695 bytes)

Questing into the unknown...
Home | About us |   FAQ's |  Sabbatical 2000 | Itinerary | Journal 2000 | Meandering Thoughts |  Images from the Road | Lasting Impressions | The Adventures of Randy | Just like being there



~  7000 Years of History ~
May 16 through May 27, 2000
$1 U.S. = 3.4 Egyptian pounds
(Remember to click on the thumbnails for enlargements of the photos)

Cairo, Egypt
May 16 through May 17, 2000

(ccl)  Somehow, we had managed to be in Cairo for a week and had yet to lay eyes on the main attraction in the city, the pyramids of Giza.  Well, we had actually seen them, but it was from the minaret of an old mosque (a little baksheesh got us up there) in the city.  Oh yeah, and we could view them at will from the swimming pool of the incredibly expensive and less-than-friendly Hotel Mena House Oberoi (I'm still fuming at their 5 pound per local phone call charge).  

By the time we got ourselves out to the pyramids, Cairo was starting to wear on our nerves.  The city has a dirty brown cloud that seems to hang over it from the middle of the afternoon through sunset.  It's hard to say exactly what the makeup of this stuff is, but I feel sure it's made up of equal parts carbon monoxide and sand.  The temperature had been rising steadily all week, plus the wind was getting up, so that the act of walking down the street alone got you dirty.  Giza is an island in the Nile, and it serves as a bedroom community to Cairo.  The landscape is one of grimy, half-finished low-rise apartment buildings, streets that are either grid-locked with horn-happy drivers or speedways for pedestrian-loathing taxis, and sidewalks packed with people hurrying to get out of the fray.  Not the most pleasant place in the world to visit, but we went there in search of the truth for you, our readers.

By this time we were learning to get the price for the taxi ride up front in order to avoid unpleasantness at the end.  Cairo is packed with taxis, and at some point, surely, the free market will take over and force some of these guys into other lines of work.  Typically, it's pretty easy to get a ride for the price you want to pay, but you want to get that price worked out up front.  We agreed to pay our driver 6 pounds to take us from our hotel to the pyramids.  On the way, at a traffic light, another man got in the cab, after being greeted warmly in Arabic by our driver.  They chatted briefly, then the new guy turned to us, and in perfect English, asked us where we were from.  We chatted with him for a while, and in the meantime our driver was passing the gates to the pyramids.  I asked why we weren't stopping there, and the new passenger in the cab told us he was taking us to another entrance where the entrance fee was less (yeah, right) and where he had camels and horses we could rent.  We said we didn't want a camel OR a horse, that we just wanted to go to the pyramids.  The guy who spoke English acted like we were crazy, or that perhaps some tragedy would befall us if we did not rent an animal from him.  Finally I said to stop the cab, we wanted out.  The horse/camel guy began laughing at me, telling me that he wasn't in the Egyptian Mafia, and I said, "Look, dude, I don't know who you are.  You got in our cab, and we just want to go to the pyramids.".  As we walked away, I termed this phenomena "hijacking", where someone takes you to some place you don't want to go while they are in the process of taking you somewhere you asked to go, all in the name of making a little money for themselves.  This is usually a place where they sell perfume, alabaster, carpets, papyrus, and other things you don't want, or maybe it's some dusty corner of a temple where there's a little-seen carving.  Apparently, this is nothing new.  Tourists have been coming to Egypt for centuries and even Mark Twain remarked in his book Following the Equator, the true story of his trip around the world in 1866, that he "suffered torture that no pen can describe from the hungry appeals for baksheesh that gleamed from Arab eyes".  Well, maybe it's not torture, but it does get old.

Standing in front of the Sphinx (duh...)  It's hard to describe the feeling you get standing in front of the Sphinx and looking up at it.  I mean, here is something of which you have seen countless photographs, and somehow, standing there beside it, it still doesn't seem real.  In fact, all over Egypt, you get this weird Universal Studios feeling, like all of this has been built in the last year for the purposes of filming a movie.  The Sphinx is smaller than you would expect, and it has been diminished over the centuries by acid rain, wind, and the guns of the Ottoman Turks, but here is something that has occupied this space forover 4500 years!!!   The ancient Greeks named the Sphinx after a mythical winged monster with a woman's head and a lion's body who proposed a riddle and killed those unable to answer.  No one knows the origin or purpose of the Sphinx.  Some say the pharaoh Chephren, whose pyramid stands behind the Sphinx, thought of shaping the leftover rock from his pyramid into the creature.  Others say that the likeness on the face of the Sphinx is of Chephren himself.  Whatever, this eerily placid sentinel has been staring out at the desert plateau on which it sits for centuries, and isn't likely to give up its secrets soon.  As with many of the great monuments of ancient Egypt, restoration attempts have been made on the Sphinx, but it is being eroded from the inside, perhaps by pollution or rising ground water, and it's not known how to combat this scourge.  

Sphinx, eternal guardian of Chephren's pyramid  On to the pyramids.  There are three pyramids on the Giza plateau, that of a father, Cheops, his son, Chephren, and his grandson, Mycerinus.  Originally all three were covered with white marble on the outside (what a sight that must have been!), but now only Chephren's pyramid maintains some of that covering at the very top.  All of the pyramids were constructed with limestone blocks, and the largest, the pyramid of Cheops (also the largest in Egypt), contains over 2 1/2 million blocks which weigh a total of 6 million tons.  Napoleon apparently calculated that that would be enough to build a three meter-high wall around all of France!  

Lest you think these pharaohs were obsessed with death, let me clear something up for you: they were obsessed not with death, but with life after  death.  These guys usually spent the majority of their reign constructing and filling these tombs, so that they would have everything they needed in the afterlife.  Most of the pharaohs believed, and in turn convinced their subjects, that they were the offspring of the gods, so to them, eternal life was eminent.  These pyramids, and also the other pharaonic tombs throughout Egypt, were merely to ensure that the beloved ruler had all the comforts of home once settled in the hereafter.  

Chephren's pyramid in a sandstorm  It wasn't the greatest of days to be at the Giza Plateau.  The wind was ferocious, and sometimes the pyramids all but disappeared in the swirl of sand kicked up by it.  We ducked into the Solar Barque Museum, which is a large glass enclosure they built around one of the boats discovered in 1954 in Cheops' pyramid.  Possibly the oldest boat in existence, it was probably used to ferry the body of the dead pharaoh across the Nile to the causeway where it was brought to the tomb.  Once Cheops himself was entombed, the boat was buried right along with him, so that he might have transport in the next world.  We got there too late to get into any of the tombs, which apparently aren't all that spectacular anyways.  We figured we'd see plenty of that in Luxor, where we were headed the next day, home of many very well preserved tombs in the two sites known as the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens.

That night we went to the Giza Pyramid Sound and Light.  They light up the pyramids with different colored lights, and use some lasers for effect.  The Sphinx serves as the narrator for the program, and you learn about the history of the pyramids and the rulers who built them.  It was pretty interesting, and at 33 pounds a head, with three shows per night every day of the week, the Egyptian government is raking in some cash.

Luxor, Egypt
May 17 through May 24, 2000

(ccl)  Luxor is ten hours from Cairo by train, and we were happy to see the slums of the big city replaced by the lush farms of the Nile valley from the windows of the train.  There are so many museums, temples, and tombs in Luxor you'd go broke trying to see them all, so we had to chose wisely.  We consulted the guidebook on the way and tried to make a plan as to what to see and where to stay.  

The full-court press from the hotel touts started before we had even gotten off the train.  A guy struck up a conversation with Wiley (they almost always talk to him; it's considered very bold for a Muslim man to strike up a conversation with a Western woman), hello, where are you from, etc.  Soon he was telling us about his hotel, and wanting to take us there.  Wiley gave him a vague put-off, but didn't really discourage him.  Once we stepped off the train, men with brochures descended on us like vultures.  The noise was deafening, one guy saying he had Nile views and that another guy didn't have a pool, etc.  I finally walked away and went to browse at the newsstand, because every time I tried to talk to Wiley, they began shouting over me.  Finally we got in a cab with a guy who said he had Nile views and a pool, which is what we had said we wanted.  On the way to the hotel, he admitted that the pool was actually  under construction.  I told him that he had lied to us, and that we didn't do business with people who lied to us.  We got out of the cab, walked to another hotel recommended by the book, and bargained with the manager until we got our price.  Nile view and pool included.

Avenue of Sphinxes at Luxor Temple  Luxor is divided into two areas, the East Bank and the West Bank.  Most of the monuments are on the West Bank, but the town is on the East Bank, including most of the hotels.  That's where we stayed, so that's where we started our sightseeing.  Luxor Temple is right in the middle of town, and it's quite a spectacular sight.  Built by the pharaoh Amenophis III, who ruled Egypt from 1391 - 1353 B.C., it at one point was joined to Luxor's other spectacular East Bank site, Karnak Temple, by an avenue lined with sphinxes its entire length - three kilometers!  While most of the sphinxes are now buried under the modern-day town of Luxor, you can still get an idea of how amazing it must have looked when it was intact. 

The first pylon at Luxor Temple  One of the really interesting aspects of Egyptian history for me is the fact that pharaohs were continually "renovating" the work of their forebears.  Despite the fact that Amenophis built the temple as a place to worship the god Amun, one of the gods of creation, it was added to through the years by Tutankhamun, Ramses II (who left many carvings of himself slaying his enemies, leaving the visitor to wonder just who was supposed to be worshipped), Alexander the Great, and other Romans.  Even the Arabs got in the act by building a mosque within the temple, which is still in use today. 

Modifying history to suit your own purposes  This principle of reuse sort of went astray when a particular pharaoh was displeased with one or more of his predecessors.  All over Luxor we saw examples of how rulers had tried to literally rub-out the documentation of the exploits of previous rulers by having their likenesses erased from stone carvings, using a hammer and chisel to essentially mar their images.   For example, Hatshepsut and her nephew Tuthmosis III vied for the throne when Hatshepsut's father, Tuthmosis I, died.  Hatshepsut won out, and after her death, Tuthosis III still held a large grudge, so that when he became pharaoh, he systematically had her image hammered out of many of the monuments around Egypt, including her own mortuary temple.

Looking through the Great Hypostyle Hall, Karnak Temple  After our visit to Luxor Temple we headed across town to the awe-inspiring Karnak Temple.  The site itself is huge, and was built and enlarged over a period of 1500 years.  This place is so vast that you could probably spend a good week wandering around in there, poking around the various temples, columns, pylons (Greek word meaning "large wall with opening in the middle", according to our guide), obelisks, and statues.  By far the most amazing structure in the place is the Great Hypostyle Hall.  Built by Seti I and finished by Ramses II (who, again, left his name and exploits all over everything, to the point of replacing the names of other pharaohs with his: "I did this!"), the hall contains 134 huge stone pillars, shaped like the papyrus plant at the top, and covering some 6000 square meters.  Some of the paintings on the underside of the columns are remarkably well-preserved, looking like they were painted 20 years ago instead of 4000.  Pretty much all you can do is stand in the middle of it, look up with your mouth dangling open, and say, "Wow.".  Look up and say "Wow" 

Afternoons in Luxor are hot.  One day the thermometer Wiley keeps on his shoe read 105 in the shade.  Pretty much all you want to do after 2:00 is sit by or in the pool with a book and something cool to drink.  Luxor drove home the value of an air-conditioned hotel room to us for the first time on the trip.  After months of cool days and even colder nights in Mexico, Peru, and yes, even Morocco, we are finally getting the hot weather we've been wishing for. 

The West Bank area of Luxor isn't quite as easy to explore as the East Bank.  While you can easily walk between the monuments and museums of the East Bank, you have to first get to the West Bank, which means a pretty long taxi ride or a ferry.  We worked a deal with a taxi driver to take us over and drive us around for half a day, which is pretty much all our pocketbooks could handle.  If you went to all of the monuments on the West Bank, you'd pay over $65 each to get in, and that doesn't include the photo permit, which costs 10 pounds at each site.  So we chose four of the biggest and most popular: the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, Hatshepsut's Temple, and Medinat Habu.

Death Valley, Egypt  The Valleys of the Kings and Queens would probably be more aptly called, jointly, "Death Valley", due to the fact that not only have there been many mummies found there, but the area also closely resembles that desolate stretch of desert in southern California.  At the Valley of the Kings more than 60 tombs have been discovered, many of which are off-limits to the public.  The tombs were designed to resemble the underworld, with long corridors leading down into a series of chambers, decorated with scenes of the ruler and various gods and goddesses, and also writings from the Book of the Dead in hieroglyphics.  Two groups of workers and artisans lived in the valley while the tomb was being constructed, a task which sometimes went on for many years.  The more time a pharaoh reigned, the more time he had to have his tomb built, and, usually, the more spectacular it ended up being.  

Cheat sheet for the after life  The ancient Egyptians believed that the king of the gods, Amun, cruised the valley at night in his boat, and took on as passengers those rulers who had intimate knowledge of the ancient texts - that's why they decorated the tombs with passages from these texts.  Once on the boat, they were brought before Osiris, god of the dead, who judged them.  If you passed, you had overcome death, and became immortal. 

The Valley of the Queens was used for the same purpose at the Valley of the Kings, except that the wives and children of the pharaohs were entombed here, including Nefertari, one of the five wives of Ramses II and reportedly an extremely beautiful woman.  It costs an extra 100 pounds to get into her tomb, and entrance is granted to only the first 150 visitors who make it there on a given day.  The reason?  The paintings in Nefertari's tomb are exceptionally colorful and well-preserved, and obviously, the Egyptian government and the world's archeological community want to keep it that way.  We decided to forego that tomb, since the rest of the admission charges were already stretching our budget.  We visited three other tombs in the valley, which were quite beautiful, but not as large and ornate as any of those we visited in the Valley of the Kings.

I had been looking forward to visiting Hatshepsut's Temple, not only because I had read that it was one of the finest monuments in Egypt, but also because I was curious to visit the place where 58 tourists were gunned down by Islamic extremists in 1997.  We never considered not coming to Egypt when planning this trip.  For me, it's been somewhere I've always wanted to go, ever since I was a child.  I guess you can take a couple of different approaches.  You can stay at home when these things happen, and hope that the governments of these countries win the wars they are waging against terrorism.  Or you can look at them as isolated events, and realize that you're certainly not any safer walking the streets of any major city in the U.S. (the Olympic Park and Oklahoma City bombings proved that), and you can go on your visit and exercise as much caution as possible.  We chose the later, and I haven't had a moment's concern since we arrived in Egypt.  In fact, the amount of security seems to me like overkill.  In Luxor, there are armed guards at nearly every street corner, and some streets have towers where armed guards sit and watch the goings-on below.  Every hotel has a metal detector and an armed security guard at the entrance.  Every monument also has a metal detector, and bags are searched before you are allowed to enter.  Where the Egyptian government cannot guarantee the safety of tourists in some areas, they have made those areas off-limits to them. 

Temple of Hatshepsut  Hatshepsut ruled from 1473 - 1458, and was the only female pharaoh to rule all of Egypt (they don't count Cleopatra, because the Romans put her in power).  According to what we've read, Egypt had a period of peace and prosperity during her reign.  Like the other pharaohs, she claimed divine birth, and even went to far as to dress like a man in order to complete the pharaoh personae.  Her mortuary temple is an amazing site, a three-tiered structure emerging out of the sheer cliffs of the Theban Mountain.  The top-level of the temple is still being restored, so it's off-limits to tourists, but the bottom levels are covered with paintings and carvings in great conditions.  

Carving of Hatshepsut feeding from Hathor  Hatshepsut claimed divine birth, just like the other pharaohs, and there are some really interesting carvings of her being born and then suckled by Hathor, who is often depicted as a cow.  Hathor was goddess of joy and love, and also protector of women and travelers.  The columns at Hatshepsut's temple were topped with the image of Hathor as a woman, and were quite unusual and very beautiful.  Image of Hathor carved into a column

Ancient Libyans, minus their illustrious present-day leader  Our final stop on the West Bank was at the temple of Medinat Habu.  Second in size only to Karnak Temple, it's not as heavily visited as some of the other sites.  Ramses II put his name all over this place, just as he did in many of the other temples around the area.  Several of the carvings on the wall showed him vanquishing his enemies.  One carving in particular shows him getting ferocious with the Libyans, which we were told you could recognize by their long sideburns and robes (none of them looked like Khadafi).  Several other carvings showed his scribes, tallying the prisoners of war by counting various body parts which had been cut off the enemies, including tongues, hands, and other pieces (take a guess).  Tallying prisoners

There are a couple of good museums in Luxor, and one of them bears noting here, just to give you a little more insight into the burial practices of the ancient Egyptians.  At the Mummification Museum you can learn pretty much everything you need to know about mummifying your best friend, your loved one, or a favorite pet.  The Egyptians developed a complete process for mummification, and it worked, because mummies have been discovered that are 4000 years old or older.  First all bodily fluids were drained.  Then the brains were extracted from the cranial cavity through the nose using a specially-designed hook (ouch!).  An incision was made in the left side, and all of the internal organs were extracted and placed in vessels made of alabaster called "canoptic" jars.  That incision was then sutured and covered with wax.  Then, the body was filled with all kinds of things, including spices, embalming fluids, and onions.  Often the body was decorated with beautiful jewelry made of gold, carnelian, turquoise, and lapis lazuli, then it was wrapped with strips of linen cloth.  As the strips were wound around the body, scarabs, small representations of beetles, were placed in the cloth.  The Egyptians observed the beetle rolling mud or dung and likened it to the sun god, whom they believed pushed the sun into the sky every morning, thus giving birth to a new day.  They believed that the scarabs would assist in the re-birth process for the deceased.  One the body was wrapped, it was often covered with more ornamentation, then placed in one or more sarcophagi, depending on the social stratification of the mummy.  King Tut's mummy was discovered inside a succession of six wood and gold boxes and three sarcophagi!

One of my best memories of Egypt will be of our last day in Luxor, when we rented bikes and rode around the town and surrounding areas.  Observing the traffic from the back of a careening taxi cab, or as a frightened pedestrian attempting to cross a four-lane street filled with cars, horse-drawn carriages, tractors, and mule wagons, I never would have believed that biking in Egypt could be enjoyable.  We rented a couple of old one-speeds that were pretty beat up, but our merchant assured us that they were good Chinese bikes, not Egyptian.  Certainly the first time "Made in China" has been purported to be synonymous with quality.  Anyways, Luxor is completely flat, and despite the fact that the temperature regularly reaches well over 100 degrees in the afternoon, zipping along on the bike generated a pretty nice breeze.  We had already walked all over most of the town, so after stopping at the train station to buy tickets for the next day's ride to Aswan, we headed out to the countryside.  The Nile Valley is home to some of the most fertile farmland in the world.  The locals call it "the black land", because of the rich, deep color of the soil.  Small farms are all around Luxor, so it didn't take us long to get out in the country.  Here, were tourists are few and far between, we were greeted in a style similar to that which celebrities enjoy as they are walking up the red carpet to the Academy Award ceremonies.  Every where we went, people stopped what they were doing to raise their hands and shout, "Hello!" and "Welcome to Aswan!".  Children ran down the roads beside our bikes, yelling "Hello!  How are you?".  I tried but was unsuccessful at getting a picture of Wiley biking along, surrounded by seven or eight kids running at top speed after him, so you'll just have to use your imagination.  It was a lot of fun.

I should mention something about our previously published itinerary at this point.  We had planned to take a Nile cruise at some point during our stay in Egypt.  Due to past incidents of terrorism in Egypt, the government has severely restricted the areas of the Nile that can be traveled by tourists by boat.  Pretty much all you can do is go between Luxor and Aswan, either in a large cruise ship or a small sailboat called a felucca.  There were quite a few of the big ships docked in Luxor, and some of them looked very nice, but it just didn't seem like our kind of crowd.  Most of the people were much older and were traveling in groups together, and we just didn't know if we wanted to be on a boat for four days with 150 German pensioners.  The feluccas look like fun, and are very cheap, but due to the schistosomiasis epidemic (see discussion of schistosomiasis in Aswan section below), we couldn't see spending three days on a sailboat in 105 degree heat with no way to cool off, either.  So we did our traveling by land and enjoyed the Nile from afar.

Great ball of fire  We enjoyed sunset one final time from our balcony, and then went to bed early, in order to make our 7:35 train to Aswan in the morning.

Aswan, Egypt
May 24 through May 27, 2000

(ccl)  One of the most important things to remember when traveling anywhere outside the first world is that things don't always go as you plan, and that you should build a little time into your schedule in expectation of that.  Those of you who know Wiley and me are chuckling to yourselves right now, because you know that we are not very good at this.  Well, we're trying to get better, but we're not there yet.  We got up and out of our hotel room, and were in the lobby ready to check out at 6:45, plenty of time for a five minute ride to the train station, maybe even a little breakfast somewhere.  That's when we discovered that we could not pay our hotel bill with anything other than cash.  I had about 350 pounds, but the bill was 570.  No, he couldn't take a traveler's check.  No, he couldn't take credit cards until 10:00 when the office was open.  The cash machine next door was out of order.  The bank next door didn't open until 8:30.  A mad dash around town in a cab led us to discover that NONE of the cash machines in town worked, and that nobody would cash a traveler's check (American Express, are you listening?).  So I went to the train station and attempted to change our tickets to a later train.  I was told that this was nearly impossible, but that our train was more than an hour and a half late.  Wow, luck was on our side.  When the bank opened, we got cash, paid the bill, dashed to the train station, and still waited for over an hour for the train.  Not all that unusual in Egypt, we were told.

Aswan is the southern-most city in Egypt, and it is powerfully hot here.  Most businesses close from 3:00 until 6:00, because the heat is just too oppressive.  You definitely want to be out of the sun during that time.  Even at night, a dry, hot wind blows, reminding you of the scorching heat of the day.  Life goes by slowly in Aswan, and it's an enjoyable place to spend a few days, taking in the sites in the early morning and taking it easy in the afternoon.

Typical colorful Nubian doorway  Egypt is divided into two areas known as Upper and Lower Egypt.  Remember, the Nile flows from south to north, making the area from Cairo to the Mediterranean Lower Egypt, and the area from south of Cairo to the border with Sudan Upper Egypt.  The southernmost part of Upper Egypt encompasses the former kingdom of Nubia, which Egypt gained control of around 2000 B.C.  The Nubians are a little different from the Egyptians of the north.  Their skin is a little darker, and they dress a little differently, the men with their brightly colored skull caps and the women in beautiful black lace dresses.  

In 1902 it was determined that Egypt desperately needed additional farmland in order to support the demands of a rapidly growing population.  The first Aswan dam was built, displacing many Nubians from their homelands.  In 1971 a new, larger dam was opened, creating the world's largest man-made lake, Lake Nasser, and again displacing many Nubians.  The Nubian Museum in Aswan is a tribute to these proud, friendly people and the sacrifices they have made.

Aswan High Dam  As you might imagine, the building of these dams has radically changed the environment in the Nile Valley.  While increasing arable land by 30%, the new dam has drastically reduced the flow of silt into the valley, which is crucial to the fertility of the land.  This has resulted in heavy use of artificial fertilizers, which are depleting the soil of nutrients, and are also believed to be the cause of the disappearance of the shrimp and fishing grounds at the mouth of the Nile in the Mediterranean.  In addition, the dam has caused the irrigation canals to remain full at all times, which has resulted in the infestation of a water-borne parasite known as bilharzia.  The resulting disease, known as schistosomiasis, is a huge public health problem in Egypt.  Anyone who swims in or drinks the water of the Nile is susceptible to this debilitating disease, which can cause severe damage to internal organs.  I think about the controversial proposal to build a dam on the Colorado River, in order to provide more water for the golf courses and more electricity for the neon lights of Las Vegas, and I am reminded of the need to understand the impact of the actions we take today on future generations.

Nubian friends  One day in Aswan we visited two islands in the Nile, Elephantine Island and Kitchener Island.  Elephantine Island probably got its name from the large gray rocks that protrude from the waters of the Nile here.  Today is is home to three Nubian villages.  We walked through them, and were invited in for a Coke and some conversation at the home of a Nubian named Abdullah.  We sat on the floor of the spic-and-span house and chatted with Abdullah, who spoke a little English, and his sister and some other family members.  When we got ready to go, I made the picture you see above, then showed it to them on the LCD screen of our digital camera.  They were delighted to see their images, and passed the camera around the room, laughing at themselves and each other.  In the picture, on the right side, you can see a handmade ladder.  This went up to the second floor, from which a group of curious chickens looked down on us as we talked.

Death and taxes...two things you can count on   There's a museum on Elephantine Island, and the most interesting thing there is an ancient Nilometer.  Nilometers are all over Egypt.  They were used by the ancient Egyptians to measure the level of the Nile in the spring, when the flood waters came.  Once the government officials knew the flood level of the great river, they were able to determine how much the farmers would be taxed, because a high flood level meant lots of water and a great harvest, therefore the farmers would have more money to pay more taxes.  Simplistic, but it beats the 1040 form.

In the First Court at Philae  When the first Aswan dam was built in 1902, many ancient temples and monuments were partially submerged under the waters of the Nile.  Some of these continued to be tourist attractions, with tourists renting boat ride from locals who would take them out to the sites, where they could float between the old column and look down on the monuments in the water.  Submersion in the Nile played havoc with the ancient stones and carvings, and with the proposed building of the High Aswan dam in 1960, it was determined that a major rescue effort was needed.  Egypt appealed to UNESCO for help.  UNESCO is a multi-national organization made up of most of the world's largest and most affluent countries, that attempts to preserve aspects of the world's history and culture so that they might be studied and enjoyed by future generations.  During the 1960's and early 1970's, UNESCO's member countries, including the United States, worked to move many important archeological sites to higher ground.  One of the most fascinating of these is Philae Temple.  Philae was moved from Philae Island to nearby Agilika Island were it rests today, 20 meters higher and safely out of the water.  UNESCO even transplanted native plants from Philae Island and landscaped the area to closely resemble the old location.  It is a majestic site as you motor up on it from the nearly boat landing.  Philae Temple from the water

We're trying to buy quality goods in each of the countries we visit.  In Peru we got lots of beautiful, hand woven blankets, some of them old, a 200 year old carved bone used to hold caulk, which the Indians chew with their coca leaves, and some beautiful masks used in religious festivals.  In Morocco, we bought metal lamps, goat skin lamps painted with henna designs, a carpet, some gorgeous copper pots, and more colorful hand woven blankets.  In Egypt, there just hasn't been too much that we want.  I don't know what has happened to the local art scene here, but there is a definite lack of quality Egyptian items for purchase.  There's papyrus painted with slightly cheesy Egyptian scenes.  There's vases and ashtrays made of alabaster.  You can get someone to mix up some perfume that smells exactly like White Shoulders, if you want.  All of this stuff is sold in places named "Nefertiti's Papyrus Institute", "Pharaoh's Perfume Palace", and "Valley of the Kings Alabaster Factory".  They all resemble those fireworks stands that line I-75 at the Tennessee border with Georgia and Alabama. 

So we've been scratching our heads, trying to figure out what we're going to bring home to remind us of our visit to Egypt.  A lucite pyramid with glitter inside?  I don't think so.  One day we were wandering the streets of Aswan when we saw a sign advertising an artist's exhibition.  We followed the signs and found ourselves at the artist's gallery, where we met Abdel Badry.  He told us that he had exhibited his work all over the United States, and pointed us to the location of the exhibit.  We went by there, and fell in love with a little painting of three Egyptian men, playing cards and smoking from sheesas.  He had a steep price tag on it, and we didn't quite know what to do.  We couldn't afford it at the price he was asking.  On one hand, everything in Egypt seems to be negotiable, but on the other hand, we could potentially insult an artist by offering him less for his work than he feels it is worth.  We gave it a shot, and ended up getting a good deal, we think.  He told us that when Princess Di visited Egypt, he met here and she bought one of his paintings.  Don't know if that's true, but we loved his work, and if you ever get a chance to go to an exhibition of his paintings, don't miss out.  New artwork for our new home (wherever it is...)

Our last night in Aswan we decided to relax with a drink at the Old Cataract Hotel.  This hotel has been around since 1902, and scenes from "Death on the Nile" were filmed there.  Its Terrace Bar is a great location for viewing sunset.  In 1999 the LondonTimes  apparently declared it one of the greatest views in the world.  The entrance to the hotel was heavily guarded.  Part of that is probably due to the terrorism threat, and part of it is because it's an exclusive hotel and they don't want tour groups piling in there just to have a look.  After some moments of confusion with the guard, we realized he was telling us that we could go to the bar, but that we couldn't go through the lobby, we would have to go around to the side of the hotel.  OK....  When we got to the bar we picked a table and sat down where we would have a great view of the sun setting over the hills.  The waiter prompty came over and asked us what our room number was, and when we told him we weren't staying there, he told us we couldn't sit there, and walked off in a huff.  When he came back I stopped him and said, "So we can't just have a beer?", and he said, OK, but if the manager came by, we were to tell him that we were in room 211.  He was really nice after that, and the sunset was quite lovely, but I was still stinging from being treated like a second class citizen.  It's a different feeling, traveling on a budget like this.  I've stayed in some of the best hotels in the world, thanks to generous company awards and expense accounts.  Traveling on a shoestring makes you realize how having money, or giving the appearance of having money, can cause people to give you respect.  Carrying a backpack seems to cause a lot of people to judge you by sight when traveling.  Granted, we're trying to spend no more than $100 per day, but that doesn't mean we don't splurge from time to time.  When we walked into the Oberoi in Cairo, I was convinced that they were ready to throw us out.  We told the girl at the reception desk that we'd like a room, and she asked if we'd like to see the price list first.  I took that to mean that she figured we couldn't really afford it, but Wiley doesn't read as much into these things as I do.  Anyways, it made me think about the judgments I make on people simply by sight.  It's something I'd really like to get better at, and something I struggle with every day on this trip.  Anyways, the beer was cold and we did get a nice picture.  One of the best views in the world

Click here to continue in Egypt with "Under the Deep Red Sea"


© 2013 - All Rights Reserved -