Monday, 9 July 2012

Exploring Egypt

The first day started with our flight from Sharm El Sheik to Cairo and due to the amount of sand in the air we didn’t get to see much out the window until Cairo came into view, and only then did we get to see just how massive the city really is.  We were picked up from the airport (so nice not to have to negotiate a taxi!) and we were the only ones in a 12 seater van  - it seemed Egypt was a bit low on tourists at the moment…

Around 40 minutes and some crazy traffic later we were at our hotel, and despite the scary elevator that zipped between derelict looking floors like something straight from a horror movie, it was fairly decent  especially since we were doing a budget tour.  We found a cheap place nearby for dinner and excellent smoothies before meeting the rest of the group with whom we'd be spending the next 10 days.  There were 11 people in all, and an interesting mix – 4 from South Africa, 1 Canadian, 3 American’s and another Aussie who’d spent the last 7 years in Dublin and who turned out to be slightly deranged, but more on that later…

For those who want more information our tour was through Timeless Tours (now known as Expat Explorer) and we choose the 10 day 'Egypt Explorer' package....

Day 1 – Cairo Pyramids

We re-met everyone at a decidedly poor breakfast (ultra-oily omelette, stale croissants, day old bread, fake jam, all washed down with Nescafe - no milk) and we hoped that the day would improve.  Already we could tell that our group was going to be interesting, lots of colourful characters and extroverts, so time would tell whether the interactions would be positive or end up in an eruption of personality clashes.  Our policy at times like these is to sit back and watch the theatrics unfold.

Sakkara Pyramid
Our first destination of the day was the Sakkara step-pyramid (the oldest pyramid in Egypt) and it did not disappoint, despite being half covered in scaffolding and surrounded by touts trying to get us on either their camel or donkey.  We continued onto a perfumery (the usual tout stop for budget tours in Egypt) where we were shown the authentic smells of many popular perfumes and where we were offered free lunch with a drink.  We assumed that the owner would put on a hard sell afterwards, but he was actually really relaxed and didn’t pressure us to buy anything at all, so we passed the time looking at all the beautifully intricate perfume bottles on display.  The rest of the group easily made up for us not purchasing anything and it took a good hour for everyone’s orders to be filled (although most of the people in our group later discovered that their bottles had not been sealed properly and all their perfume leaked out (this did mean however that all their clothing now smelt quite lovely…)

The Sphinx and Giza
From outside the perfumery we could already see the tips of the Giza pyramids standing over the city, it’s amazing how close they really are to the metropolis and it was only a short drive before we were there, standing in front of the largest and climbing up it as far as we were allowed.  We had some free time so everyone could attempt their best leaning on / holding up the pyramid photos before we visited the Sphinx, something that Sarah had been looking forward to thanks to her younger days reading Asterix and Obelix comics.

Kiising the Sphinx :)

The Sphinx was larger than we’d expected with a lot of detail carved into the body and face, despite the missing nose.  The only thing that really detracted from it was the numerous touts who were so persistent - we actually saw them take peoples cameras, despite their protests and saying that they didn’t want help taking pictures, and then charging them to give the camera back – needless to say Dave held onto his camera very tightly! It’s a real shame and the group collectively agreed the Government (heh!) should ban the kids from the viewing area.

From there it was back to the hotel for a shower and food before boarding our overnight train to Aswan.  It turned out that most of our group had booked the more expensive sleeper train and only a few of us were braving the cheap train.  We hoped we hadn’t made a really bad decision, but at least our tour guide was taking the cheapo option with us (he turned out to be an expert sleeping in train seats as he does the trip at least twice a week!)

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