Around the Middle East
in 80 days

February 25th to May 14th, 2004

Part 12:

Egypt

    << Part 11: Jordan bis    -    Back to Index    -    Part 13: Turkey again >>


Introduction

Egypt was the 6th country I visited during this trip, but I'd already made a three week tour of this country in September 2003. There's an extensive report of that trip on this site, so go there if you want to read all about Egypt!

This time I visited the one tourist attraction I skipped last time: Mount Sinai. I also revisited Alexandria, Cairo and the pyramids in Dahshur and Gizeh. There are new pictures of those place below, but again, for a full travel report about Egypt with lots of historic information you need to check the report of my first visit.


April 11-14th (day 47-50): Dahab

Jordan to Egypt

I'd already felt sick on the bus to Aqaba, and I spent the three hour boat ride down the Gulf of Aqaba to Nuweiba in Egypt lying down on a bench on deck feeling miserable, watching the Egyptian shore on the right and the Saudi shore on the left. The Saudi shore was one long beach with rocky mountains behind it, and I giggled to myself while fantasizing about Saudi chicks sunbathing on the beach.

When we got off the boat in Nuweiba all the foreigners were gathered and escorted through customs by some policemen, which all took quite a long time. We were all heading to Dahab so we shared a taxi. The taxi driver and the policemen were conspiring to try and make us pay three times the normal price - I was back in Egypt alright!

Dahab

After passing many military checkpoints we arrived in Dahab in the dark. I didn't like my companions much so I quickly ran off by my own. I spent an hour checking out hotels; I was gonna stay here for several nights so I wanted something good. I finally settled for a big room with three beds and a private bathroom, and that still cost me only 4 euro a night :) I love Egyptian prizes.

In the evening I strolled around Dahab, which is a small and relaxed coastal resort that used to attract an alternative crowd and still cherishes a Jamaica-like image (lots of rasta hairdos and reggae music). I forced myself to eat a decent meal in a restaurant but I was still feeling sick, and while I was sitting in an internet cafe an hour later my stomach finally turned over. I ran outside and threw up the whole meal in the middle of a pedestrian square, very embarassing, but after that I immediately felt fit again. I guess I ate something wrong in Jordan, or that all the tea I drank with the friendly Beduins was not so healthy for me.

The next day I just relaxed all day, for the first time in 47 days. I had all my meals in a restaurant on the beach, sitting on cushions, very nice and very cheap too. I also did some sunbathing and went for a swim, but it was a rocky beach and I don't feel comfortable walking on rocks. Most people just come to Dahab for snorkeling and diving in the Red Sea.

On the 13th I made a day trip to Mount Sinai which I'll cover below.

On the 14th I spent the morning in Dahab before taking a bus to Alexandria. It's then that the one thing I always fear on rocky beaches happened: in the water I stepped on a very sharp rock and wounded my foot. I limped back to the hotel, leaving a red trail on the beach. When I'd washed away the sand I saw that a perfectly round bit of flesh had been cut from my heel, about a centimer wide and 3/4 of a centimeter deep. It was still hanging loosely on my foot, and since I didn't feel like tearing it off I just put some disinfectant in the wound, closed the "lid" and put tape over it.

I'd be limping and walking on the side of that foot for a week, but hey I was in Egypt everyone walks funny there! I still felt the wound when I got home a month later, but to my surprise it never got infected and healed without a problem.


April 13th (day 49): Mount Sinai

As I'm sure you know, Mount Sinai is the mountain on which Mozes received the Ten Commandments from God, according to the bible. As with all these places the mountain was randomly identified centuries after the event, but still it is holy to jews, christians and muslims alike and is visited by legions of tourists every year. I made a day trip from Dahab.

I took a bus at 9:30 and arrived at about 11. Once there we were told that there was no bus back to Dahab that day. Most of the other passengers had brought their luggage and didn't care (I didn't know there's a hostel near Mount Sinai), but there was one other guy in the same situation as me, a Canadian called Jeremy. We agreed to meet up on top of the mountain and share a taxi back to Dahab if needed.

I first walked to the 6th century St. Katherine's Monastery, still inhabited by 22 Greek-Orthodox monks.
Then I started the climb to the top of Mount Sinai. It was noon and the sun was burning incredibly hard. and I had stupidly forgotten to bring a head cover. In my backpack I found my pillow cover though (no idea why that was there) and I made a funny hat with that.
I took the easier but longer camel trail to go up since I couldn't find the so-called Steps of Repentance which are harder but quicker. I'd find them on the way down though.
I went up at a good pace; I wasn't in a hurry but I just enjoyed the exercise. It took me exactly 90 minutes to get to the top. The view was very nice. I'd probably say it was superb if I hadn't been on top of Mount Aaron (Mozes' brother!) just a week earlier; Mount Sinai couldn't quite compare to that.
I spent several hours on top of the mountain. At one time there was an American guy who made at least five phone calls to the USA with his mobile, waking up all his loved ones to tell them that he was on top of Mount Sinai; it obviously meant a lot to him :)

Jeremy showed up too after some time, and when he'd had time to take in the view we went down together. Many people were coming up now because people like to watch the sunset from the top (many even spend the night there to watch the sunrise as well), but we didn't feel like waiting two more hours for that and we still had to arrange a ride back to Dahab.
The sun set just as we arrived back at the monastery. A taxi ride to Dahab turned out to be really expensive, but we found a group that was going there with a minibus. They were missing two people and told us we could have those two places if they didn't show up, but to our dismay the driver insisted on waiting for them.

In the end they showed up 1.5 hours late. They had just decided to watch the sunset on top, letting everyone else in their group wait for them below the mountain and miss it. Luckily two other people had decided to spend the night there, so there was room for us on the minibus after all.

Back in Dahab I had dinner with Jeremy. He had made a trip through Spain and Israel before coming to Egypt, and had been in Madrid during the train bombings there - very ironic that that turned out to be the most dangerous part of his trip.


April 14th-27th (day 49): Alexandria

Dahab to Alexandria

On the morning of the next day I wounded my foot on the beach of Dahab, as I already told above, but I still got on a bus to Cairo at 12:30, taking care of the wound during stops. We arrived in Cairo after 9 hours, and I decided on impulse not to spend the night there as I'd planned but to push on to Alexandria immediately. I thought this would only take two more hours, but the bus first drove through Cairo for two hours so I spent another four hours on the bus. This ride was a real torture since I had absolutely no leg space and my foot was hurting bad.

On the bus I was frantically trying to call Salma with the mobiles of other passengers, to ask her to book a hotel room for me since I would arrive too late to go on a hotel search myself, but just that day Egypt's main mobile company had a meltdown. In the end I managed to reach her though and she arranged everything in time.

We arrived in Alexandria at 2am. I was exhausted, but the guy whose mobile I'd called Salma with, a Sudanese guy called Amir who worked for a luxury hotel, insisted that I first go smoke shisha (water pipe) with him, so i did :) Finally at 3am I could go to bed in Hotel Cleopatra where I'd also stayed the last time I was in Alexandria.

JC and Cleo

I'd stay in Alexandria for two weeks. This was as far as I'd planned my trip, and I wasn't in any hurry to go anywhere else. I met up with Salma regularly and also met her family.
One evening we went to a metal concert where two friends of Salma's were performing with their bands. To be honest I didn't expect much of Egyptian metal, I thought it would be much toned down and mildly amusing for my western taste, but boy was I wrong. Alexandria has a small but devout metal scene, and these guys are hardcore.
Here's a little movie of the last concert...



Around Alexandria

I'd already made a tour of Alexandria's main sights when I was there before, so I didn't visit any place in particular this time. I walked around town quite a bit though, taking pictures of whatever sight I liked.
The nicest buildings in town are the mosques, but with all the lantern poles and phone wires standing and hanging about, it's very hard to get good pictures of them. Here are my best efforts.
I'd already been inside Alexandria's finest mosque, that of Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi, but I went again to get some pictures of the interior - last time they were too dark.
When I explored the area behind the main mosques I ended up in something of a slum, but it had its own esthetics of faded colours.
On working days when the muezzin sings the call to prayer, not everyone has time to get to a mosque, so many people just pray on the street. I was already accustomed to this sight, but it still looked bizar in this particular place...
I visited Fort Qaitbey again, the fortress built on the spot where once the Lighthouse of Alexandria stood. It was the third out of four sites of ancient Wonders of the World that I visited during this trip, so I had to get a picture with a III on it, but this time I got a local to do the counting.
I also visited the famous Greek-Roman museum of Alexandria, which was surprisingly small and mostly uninteresting to be honest.
How better to conclude pictures of a beautiful time than with pictures of a beautiful sunset?

Where to?

I hadn't made any plans beyond Alexandria before I started this trip, so during my stay here I did a lot of thinking about whether and how to continue my journey. I didn't feel like ending the trip without some more action, and I considered many possible scenarios. In the end I settled on the most logical one: I'd return to Turkey and make this whole thing a round trip. I bought a ticket to Istanbul, and that put me on a schedule again.


April 28th - April 30th (days 64-66): Cairo

A few days before my flight to Istanbul I went to Cairo. I took a train for the first time this trip - much more comfortable than busses! I arrived in the Ramses station in central Cairo in the evening, and was impressed by a big mosque there that I hadn't seen before. I went back there first thing next morning.
From Ramses station I took a metro to the south of the city centre, and from there I made a long walk along the Nile through the area called Garden City.

Cairo Tower

I crossed the bridge to the big island in the Nile river, and went to the top of the 200m high Cairo Tower. The tower itself is ugly, but the view on Cairo is superb. Cairo is the biggest city I've ever been to (until I get to Mexico City in two weeks) and it's most impressive to watch it stretch out towards all horizons, with the Nile cutting through the landscape.

Here's the panorama to the south:
And these three pics show the panorama to the north:
Other pics:

Islamic Cairo

On Thursday I made a day trip to the pyramids (covered below). On Friday I lazied in the hotel until the early afternoon, and then took a taxi to the Citadel to walk through Islamic Cairo (called thus because it has the oldest mosques).

It was a long ride, and I had the craziest taxi driver ever. No, really. He opened the conversation with asking me "Are you happy?" very seriously, then went on to say "I believe I can do anything", and a bit later he specified "I believe I can fly, I really". And I assure you he was dead serious. But the craziest thing was when I got out and gave him 10 Egyptian pound: he said "That's too much"! Can you believe this? If you can, you've never taken a taxi in the Middle East.

Anyway, back to Islamic Cairo. I'd already been here twice and seen all the monuments, except for one: the Blue Mosque. If you read my Egypt travel report you may remember I could never find it, and was even tricked into another mosque instead by a tourist leech. This time I was determined to find it.

I started from the Citadel and carefully tried to keep track of what street I was in on the little map I had, but I got lost anyway and ended up in a slum behind the Citadel. This time I knew the name of the street the Blue Mosque is in though, and just asking around got me there after all. The Blue Mosque, my very own fata morgana finally made real.

Alas, despite all the rave comments in travel guides, it's not really worth visiting, unless you really like blue tiles. But, you can climb the minaret, and that is always fun.
Having already achieved my goal for the day, I leisurely walked all through Islamic Cairo and had fun making lots of pictures of the monuments. They're all shown in my Egypt report, so I'm only posting a small selection here. Let's start with some minarets...
Actually there was one more thing I'd missed last time: I hadn't been inside the Al-Ghouri mosque yet. And though it wasn't recommended anywhere, that actually turned out to be the one with the most beautiful interior and the most spiritual atmosphere (maybe precisely because few tourists visit it :) ). I should just write my own travel guides.
In the Al-Ghouri mosque I also found a stained glass window with a sign I'd never expected to see inside a mosque...
Near sunset I finished my walk at the mosque near the northern gate.

Khan el-Khalili

I had no less then 4 orders for souvenirs from the tourist souq Khan el-Khalili, so I dutifully spent my evening there to get them all at the cheapest possible price. Actually I was tired and got em all in one hour, but still did some tough negotiating, asking each shop for their gold price per gram like a pro instead of asking the price of particular items. Some shop owners actually gave me an honest price right away, oh glorious day.

I bought two earrings in the same shop in which I'd spent two hours negotiating without buying anything last time, so that should have been good for my Karma. They had the cutest little kittens there, no doubt reincarnations of other bad customers.


April 29th (day 65): Dahshur, Memphis and Gizeh

Dahshur

Dahshur is the site of the oldest true pyramids, those of Snefru, who ruled the Old Kingdom around 2600 BC and is the father of Khufu/Cheops who built the biggest pyramid of all in Gizeh. I explained all this in part 2 of my Egypt report.

As I wrote there, I didn't get near the Bent Pyramid when I was in Dahshur in 2003 due to time constraints imposed by the group, and I'd been very disappointed by that. This time I was going to set that straight. I rented a car and driver in Cairo and went back to Dahshur with the specific purpose of admiring the Bent Pyramid from up close and for as long as I liked.

The car dropped me off at the Red Pyramid, the first perfect pyramid, 105m high.
From the Red Pyramid you can see the Bent Pyramid in the distance.
When I was in Dahshur the first time I'd felt a strong urge to walk through the desert from the Red Pyramid to the Bent Pyramid, so that was what I was going to do now. It took ages to explain this to my driver, who thought I was completely nuts, but in the end he understood he had to drive around and pick me up there.

While walking between the two big pyramids I could see the third pyramid of Dahshur in the distance: that of Amenemhet III, a Middle Kingdom pharaoh who ruled around 1800 BC, 800 years after Snefru. Like all Middle Kingdom pyramids it was built in brick and is now much ruined, while the much older Old Kingdom pyramids still stand intact.
When I'd walked half the way to the Bent Pyramid I made a little movie that shows the three pyramids around me.



After about half an hour of walking I arrived at the Bent Pyramid, and it was just as awesome as I expected.
The Bent Pyramid was started with an ambitious 53 degree slope, but that proved too steep and the ancient Egyptians had to decrease it to 43 degrees halfway, hence the bend. It is still 105m high, and I like to think of it as the world's biggest (literally) and most glorious mistake. The Bent Pyramid is also special because it is the only one which still has much of its outer casing. Originally all pyramids had this, giving them a very smooth appearance.

At the pyramid there were some soldiers, and they started yelling at me when I appeared out of the desert, pointing me to the little pyramid of a princess behind the big one. I just ignored them.
I wanted to admire this fantastic monument from all angles, so I started walking around it in a big circle, stopping every few steps to take more pictures.
When I was at the back side of the pyramid, I wanted to make pictures that also showed the landscape and the Red Pyramid in the distance, so I walked further away from it to get all that on picture. This alarmed the soldiers I'd passed before and they started yelling at me. I should mention that there is a military base in Dahshur, right next to the pyramids. Until a few years ago Dahshur could not be visited because of this, and the Egyptian army is still nervous about it apparently.

Anyway, I'd come a long way to admire this pyramid to my heart's content, so I ignored the soldiers and walked on. The one on the camel started chasing me, yelling at me all the time that I had to stop and come back. He was at quite a distance though so I had plenty of time to take the pictures I wanted, and having him and his camel on them just made them nicer :)
When the soldier reached me I couldn't ignore him anymore. He was trying to say tourists aren't allowed there but didn't seem to know the English word for tourist, so instead he kept saying "No Germans, no Japanese, no Dutch, ...", very creative :) I kept saying I was just watching the pyramid and wasn't going to leave before I'd had enough time for that, but I'm sure he didn't understand.

The conversation heated up as I kept refusing to go away. In the end he stopped arguing and just commanded me to follow him back, but I kept replying "no!" and demonstratively made some more pictures of the pyramid. I was really pissed off by now - don't stand between a history lover and a pyramid! In any other country I wouldn't pick a fight with a soldier with a machinegun, but I had enough experience with Egypt by now to know that (because of the terrorist attacks on tourists in the 90s and the subsequent implosion of tourism) every tourist is to be treated as a VIP.

Indeed he didn't seem to dare to force me to leave, so in the end he just gave up and rode off to get help. I vengefully took a picture of his retreat, and without realising it ended up taking a picture of the military base after all; ironic.
With the annoying soldier gone I now got closer to the pyramid, put my mini tripod on the ground and had fun trying to make pictures of me and the pyramid. I sprinted between my camera and the pyramid dozens of times, good exercise too! I guess I could have made better pics with a companion, but who else would want to spend hours walking around one pyramid?
Afer two hours I'd finally finished my tour around the Bent Pyramid. When I arrived at the front again I saw trouble ahead; an army jeep had arrived and there were soldiers in black uniform now, busily talking to the soldier who had chased me and to my driver. One of the soldiers came to me and started questioning me, but he spoke good English and we had a calm conversation.

I showed him my pictures on the camera's screen to prove I had only photographed the pyramid. But as I flipped through the pictures the one of the retreating soldier came up and I cursed to myself - I had totally forgotten about it. I quickly switched to the next one though and he didn't comment on it. After a while he was satisfied and let me go on.
Back at my jeep I got into another verbal fight, this time with my driver who was totally hysteric. Apparently the soldiers in black had been giving him a hard time. After a lot of arguing we got in the car and drove off. I told him to drive me to the pyramid of Amenemhet III which I also really wanted to see, but he simply refused.

Memphis

On the way back I had the driver, who calmed down quickly after we left Dahshur, make a stop at Memphis, once the capital of the Old Kingdom. There are almost no traces left of it so I knew it wasn't too interesting, but I hadn't been there yet and was passing nearby anyway. The main attraction is a huge statue of Ramesses II.

Gizeh

Finally I had the driver drop me off in Gizeh; I'd find my own way back to the hotel from there. I'd been to Gizeh twice before, but even if I'd already been there a hundred times I still wouldn't just drive by it without visiting it. I arrived at 4pm which gave me two hours to walk around.

First I had to deal with the tourist leeches that swarmed around me as I entered the site, and this was actually fun as now I was on to them right away. One guy after another approached me asking to see my ticket like they were guards, that must be the newest trick to get money out of tourists. I'm sure most fall for it, I certainly would have on my first visit, but now I just said "no you can't" or "can I see your ticket?" hehe.
When the site closed at 6pm I decided to walk around the neighourhood. While driving to Gizeh by taxi for my 2nd visit in 2003 I'd seen the huge pyramids loom behind nearby houses, and that was a really cool sight I wanted to find again. But I didn't.


May 2nd (day 68): Egyptian Museum

This was my last day in Egypt. I'd planned to go to the Fayoum oasis in the desert sout of Cairo to watch the Middle Kingdom pyramids there, since I'd missed the one in Dahshur, but it would have been a long and exhausting trip to make in one day, and after that late night train ride I didn't feel like it anymore.

Instead I used this last day to pay another visit to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo; always time well spent! I took pictures of everything I liked, which was lots. The Egyptian Museum is without a doubt the most amazing in the world. Here's a small selection of objects that weren't in my big Egypt report.



    << Part 11: Jordan bis    -    Back to Index    -    Part 13: Turkey again >>






Godsmurf Tue 24 Feb 2009 @ 11:55
About equally funny I'd say. And I have no problem with anyone calling my clothes funny. Still, it's hard to beat men who wear women's shoes and put plastic bags over their big black hats when it rains. But there can never be too much funny-ness in the world so bless 'em.

Marvin Tue 17 Feb 2009 @ 15:02
You keep mentioning the "funny" clothes that religious Jews wear throughout your writings of the Israeli portion of your trip. Are they as funny as the strange copies of middle eastern attire that Catholic priests; nuns; and the Pope wear?
You look strange as well wearing funny European clothes.

My suggestion look in a mirror before you comment on others.

Flylice Tue 10 Jul 2007 @ 09:17
Alright, thanks for helping me waste 3 hrs at work...but anyway great travelog! I'm going to Syria & Jordan in august, but only have 3 weeks :(

Silvia Thu 29 Jun 2006 @ 04:13
I just love your website. It's excellent. Didn't read everything, but great pics.

Godsmurf Mon 10 Apr 2006 @ 13:41
I wouldn't recommend it, based on what a German girl who lived in Damascus told me (cfr the last paragraph of part 5), but on the LP forums I often see female solo-travelers who say they had no problems.

Ira Sun 09 Apr 2006 @ 20:58
Nice pics...very interesting.
Is it safe for a single woman to travel to Syria? Do we have to wear head scarf too?

Zoltan Fri 07 Apr 2006 @ 17:15
Hi Godsmurf!

Excellent site;I spent hours to read Your comments and check out the photos.
Good Job!

zeituni Sun 02 Apr 2006 @ 12:29
Hi again!

According to my sister(who until recently lived in East Jerusalem), there are quite a few Christians living in the old quarter and other parts of Jerusalem. However, they might not use the churches most commonly visited by tourists. When I was there there was also a grand celebration taking place at the convent of St Mary Magdalene and the neighbouring Greek Orthodox convent. There were hardly anyone but Palestinians there, admitedly, some of them were from areas like Bethlehem or Beit'Jallah.

I know I'm not bringing firm statistics to back up this, but that was her notion and my impression as well.

Anyway, just a comment!

Still a very great travelogue! And on point on the Israeli border personnel!

Godsmurf Thu 30 Mar 2006 @ 22:05
Thank you! If you have any questions feel free to ask, my mail is linked at the bottom of each page.

Vedica Thu 30 Mar 2006 @ 09:17
i love your travelogue!!....it is amazingly interesting!
Am planning a trip to middle east myself (around July - yes i know itll be hot) and your site has been an EXCELLENT guide and resource! thanks for sharing!

cathleen Tue 28 Mar 2006 @ 08:36
great writeing and photos you really have a talent at breaking things down e.i. the formation of the isreali state etc. very objective

Godsmurf Sat 25 Mar 2006 @ 23:04
Thanx for the compliments, glad to have readers :)

Well I'm not sure (I said they're *probably* not christians) but firstly I don't think I ever saw a Palestinian in any of Jerusalem's churches, and secondly I sensed humour instead of devotion in the way they were selling christian souvenirs. But I could be wrong of course. Am I?

zeituni Sat 25 Mar 2006 @ 08:25
Fantastic travelogue! Are you writing a book?

One question however; why do you assume the Palestinians in the Christian quarter are not actually Christians?

hasof_TT Sat 25 Mar 2006 @ 00:11
Great trip report. Was going to just scan, but got intrigued and am reading it word for word. Thanks for sharing!


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