The Last of Egypt

On our last day of sailing along the Nile we stopped at, you guessed it, another temple! To get to this temple, we had to go by horse drawn carriage and were pre-warned that even though payment and tips would be sorted by our tour guide, these guys could be quite aggressive when asking for more tips. So we were given the option of giving them an extra few pounds or running back to the boat with them yelling after us. We figured we’d see how it went then decide what option we would take.

Anyway, after a quick horse ride we were at the Temple of Edfu. As you can see from the photo, this temple is massive which makes the fact that it was buried under 12 metres of sand even more impressive. Because it was buried for so long, this meant it is still very well preserved.

Edfu

Preserved mud walls

Preserved mud walls from the ancient city of Edfu

In previous temples we were told that the hieroglyphics were painted with bright, vibrate colours and this was the first time we were able to see some of the paint still preserved.

Edfu

Our guide, Micheal

Our guide, Micheal

Edfu

Edfu

As you’ve probably noticed from these Egypt posts, there weren’t very many tourists around while we were there for obvious reasons. Seeing the news in the last couple weeks has really made us realise how lucky we were to go when we did. We felt safe and taken care of and never ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It was an incredible experience made even better by the fact that we were at these sites with hardly any other tourists.

From Edfu, we continued sailing to Luxor and went to the famous Valley of the Kings. We weren’t allowed to take photos at this site which was really disappointing since the site was really incredible. The Egyptians decided that the pyramids were too obvious (really?) a burial place so in order to stop tomb robbers from stealing the amazing amount of gold and treasures, they decided to bury them in a valley far in the desert. Of course this didn’t stop them except for one tomb – the tomb of Tutankhamun. It cost extra to go into King Tut’s tomb and since all the treasures are in the Cairo Museum, we decided to skip it. The 3 other tombs we went into were amazing – since they’re underground, they have been preserved almost perfectly. In some areas you could’ve sworn the tombs were created and painted only a few decades ago instead of a few thousand years. Due to the ongoing problems in Egypt electricity is sometimes a problem so while we were in one of the tombs, my worst fear came true. I wasn’t feeling too claustrophobic as the tombs were quite large that is…until the lights went out and we were standing in complete darkness. If I wasn’t able to clutch onto Matt’s arm, I probably would have totally lost it! Luckily it didn’t last very long although it did go out a couple more times before we were done.

Next stop was the Temple of Hatshepsut which was completely rebuilt when the ruins were found. Most of the pieces were still very well preserved though especially the corner of the temple which shows how the temples were painted.

Temple of Hatshepsut

Preserved painting on the carvings

Preserved painting on the carvings

Our last temple site of the trip was Karnak and Luxor temples. At one point in time, these two temples were connected and formed a massive complex in the centre of Luxor. Work is being done now to excavate the site that has been built over by the current city in order to make it a complete complex again.

Karnak Temple

Karnak Temple

Karnak Temple

Karnak Temple

In the picture below you can see that there’s an obelisk missing – turns out it’s in Paris (given as a gift) and I took a picture of it when we were there in April although I didn’t know that story at the time.

The other Obelisk is in Paris

Champs-Élysées

The Obelisk in Paris

Parts of this temple were also buried under sand and as a result a mosque (which is a couple hundred years old) was built over a section of the temple.

Mosque built on the temple before it was discovered buried underneath

Luxor Temple

By this time, we were pretty tired of temples and were looking forward to a change of scenery. Luckily, since we changed onto the Nile Cruise, it gave us an extra day to spend in Hurghada a seaside resort town. We were able to stay in an all inclusive resort right next to the Red Sea and it even had waterslides!

Red sea

Our resort in Hurghada

Hurghada waterslides

Even though we were only there for a day, it was so nice to just chill out and beat the heat with a swim in the sea. Our last day was back in Cairo where we toured the city a bit more than the first day of our tour. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take photos of the good items in the Cairo museum but we were able to see all the treasures and the golden headpiece from King Tut’s tomb (pictured below) and went into the Mummy Room where we saw 12 amazingly preserved mummies including Hatshepsut (whose temple we went to earlier in the trip). I didn’t last very long in that room as it totally gave me the creeps but it was pretty incredible to hear that even with modern technology, the longest a modern mummy has lasted was only a year. The ones we saw were thousands of years old.

We went to the hanging church which was built over a fortress and is suspended by rows of palm trees which you can see in 3rd picture.

Hanging church

Hanging church

Looking down from the Hanging Church

Matt and I were pretty over sightseeing at this point so we decided to stay in the air conditioned bus while the others checked out the Mosque at the Citadel.

Mosque of Muhammad Ali

And with that, it was time to head to the airport where I found Nutella bigger than my head.

Nutella the size of my head

I think we all agreed it was the best trip we had all been on and one that I’d definitely recommend…but maybe in a few years time when there is a stable government in place.

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Egypt adventures continue

At the end of our last blog we were arriving in Aswan after taking the overnight train from Cairo.  As Dayna said, it wasn’t the best sleep we ever had what with the guys with guns, guys fighting over seats in the middle of the night and the creepy local dude who just stood and stared at the girls all night.  But we had made it one piece at least!

Being at the other end of Egypt and closer to the Equator, Aswan was even hotter than Cairo so having thought that 35 degrees was hot we soon found out that was nothing compared to 43 degrees. In order to stay hydrated in that kind of heat, you need to drink A LOT of water. The only problem was, cold water turned hot within 5 minutes of getting off the bus so we had to drink the whole bottle very quickly!

One of the tour upgrades we chose to do was to go from a basic Felucca to a Cruise with our own private cabin.  We weren’t sure exactly what to expect but were pleasantly surprised when we checked in.

View from our room

View from our room – that’s the Nile right there

Present from the crew

The cleaners got a bit bored!

Felucca

What we were going to be travelling on instead of the Cruise

The Cruise had a sweet pool up top which had cold water pumping in to it all day so it was great having that to cool off in between temples.

Nile Cruise

Nile Cruise

Nile Cruise

Sunset on the Nile

In between enjoying the pool on the Cruise we did do a bit of sightseeing too…

Unfinished Obelisk

The uncompleted Obelisk

Unfinished Obelisk

Most of the group were wandering around this site wondering what the heck an Obelisk was, much less what an uncompleted one looks like but we managed to figure out that it was the massive stone structure part way carved out of the rock.   It all made much more sense and the building of these Obelisks was even more impressive to everyone when we saw completed Obelisks as part of temples later on in the tour.

Walking around on a stone quarry with the temperature over 40 degrees was as close to being in an oven as I’ve been so we didn’t last long.  The “security” guy hanging around with a machine gun trying to help people out by suggesting photos to take (and asking for some baksheesh (a tip) for his trouble) didn’t help.

We were soon enough dodging our way through the touts manning the stalls on the other side (that you have to walk through on the way out of the place).  We had been clearly told a couple of times to never buy anything off these touts as they were out to rip you off.  This didn’t stop a persistent couple on our group from buying something off one of them before promptly getting in to a fight over payment.  Our guide Michael had to step in and then 5 minutes of shouting later we were on our way.

Another impressive engineering feat near Aswan was the High Dam which we headed to to have a look around next.

High Dam of Aswan

One (of the many) problems that the dam and early dams created was that large areas were flooded and this included areas with temples that had been there for thousands of years.  And so it was that a UNESCO led project moved the next temple on our itinerary, Philae Temple, to a new drier location.

That new location was an island on Lake Nasser so we hopped on a small boat to cruise over and have a look.

Philae Temple

Philae Temple

Philae Temple

Philae Temple

Philae Temple

Philae Temple

Philae Temple

Philae Temple

Philae Temple was a beautiful spot and it was made even better by the fact that we had it mostly to ourselves (Egypt’s tourism industry is a lot slower than it used to be apparently). Philae was actually built by the Greeks when they were in power in Egypt. They knew the best way to rule people was to respect their beliefs so they built this temple and dedicated it to Isis. To help explain the story of Isis, Osiris, Seth, and Nephthys (which is depicted in the hieroglyphics on the site), our guide used us as models. It’s a very confusing story so I’ll try to simplify it…

Basically, these 4 characters are all siblings. I guess back then, incest wasn’t frowned upon so Osiris (Jono) married his sister Isis (Cath) and Seth (me) married his other sister, Nephthys (Dayna). The already awkward story got even more awkward when Seth killed Osiris and cut up his body into 15 pieces and spread them around Egypt. Isis went looking for them to put her husband back together and found all but a certain male body part which had been eaten by a fish (there was much debate on the size of the fish). Anyway, she managed to get pregnant (possibly the first story of an immaculate conception) and they had a son Horus who went on to kill his uncle, Seth.

Continuing on the theme of beautiful spots with temples (and leaving the messed up mythology behind), our ship pulled up and docked right in front of another temple, Kom-Ombo.  We pulled up late in the afternoon so got to enjoy walking around the temple as the sun was setting.

Sunset at Kom-Ombo

Sunset at Kom-Ombo over the Nile

Kom-Ombo Temple

Kom-Ombo Temple

Horus and Hathor

Kom-Ombo Temple

The first calendar

A really old calendar

There was a really detailed description of how the calendar above worked and how Egyptian calendars evolved over time but I’m struggling to remember it all looking at it now.  Short version was that each season had a picture which would be added to the relevant other pictures to show the actual day of the year.  The original year evolved over time to have extra days added to the end as people noticed that annual events gradually moved later in the year.  The one above was the first one that they found.  

There was also a great story behind how the gods used to cure people of their illnesses.  The wall below is part of a corridor which people would visit when they were ill.  They would call out their problems to the gods and wait until the gods would answer them with what to do to make themselves better.  Little did they know that the holes in the wall led in to a chamber on the other side where the doctor would listen and call out the remedies as needed.  

The physicians hall - where people would come to find a cure

Kom-Ombo Temple

We were very disappointed to hear that since the Dam was built, there is hardly any marine life (and no crocodiles!) in the Nile north of it. But back a few thousand years ago there were plenty of Crocs and they even worshipped some of them and went so far as to mummify them. Right by Kom-Ombo temple is a small museum with some of the preserved Mummies found in the temple that are still in amazingly good condition for being a couple thousand years old.

Mummified crocodiles

Preserved croc egg

Our berth for the night was right by the temple so we had a pretty nice view sitting on top of the ship, sipping beers and playing cards.

Kom-Ombo at night

One of the nights on the cruise was Egyptian night which our guide strongly suggested we buy a get up for and get in to. So it was that we found ourselves to be one of only a handful of people who decided to go along with the theme night. At least we looked stupid together!

Dress like a local night on the cruise

Dress like a local night on the cruise

Next stop Luxor!

The Great Pyramids of Giza

I was 12 when I first decided I wanted to go to Egypt. We spent a term at school doing a massive history project on Ancient Egypt (it was half our mark) and it was the first time I can remember actually enjoying homework. I was fascinated with the stories, all the different characters and by how rich the culture was.

We booked this trip way back in October when at a travel expo with our friends Cath and Jono. It was a pretty great deal with ‘9’ days of transport, accommodation, and most meals for the two of us for only £300. So, we all signed up and the countdown began.

We started off our first day of sightseeing in Cairo by going to Saqqara. I always imagined these sites were way off in the middle of the desert somewhere but instead they’re located just on the outskirts of the city and in some places, smack dab in the middle.

Saqqara is a huge burial ground that has been around for nearly 5000 years. In it, is the first pyramid ever constructed – the Pyramid of Djoser or the Step Pyramid.

Pyramid of Djoser

As you can see from the scaffolding, it’s not in the best shape and we weren’t allowed to go inside but it’s held up pretty well for being 4500 years old!

We were given free time to wander around the site (and get harassed by the local touts) and take photos.

We got a little bored of your normal shots so the boys decided to get a bit creative.

Matt jumping at Pyramid of Djoser

Jono jumping at Pyramid of Djoser

Also at Saqqara was Titi’s (hehe) Pyramid which we were allowed to go into for free if we wanted.

Titi pyramid

I figured I wouldn’t get another opportunity to go inside a pyramid (the Great Pyramid costs extra and isn’t as nice inside) so I put my claustrophobia aside and went on in. Luckily, the tunnel into the Pyramid wasn’t as small as I was expecting and no where near as tiny as Chu Chi so I made it all the way in without having to turn around! Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos inside but it was pretty awesome to see the sarcophagus and all the hieroglyphs and carvings all over the walls and ceiling. I started to get visions of the place crashing down on me so decided it was time to get out.

Coming out of the pyramid

We also got our first look at some sweet hieroglyphics.

hieroglyphics

From there, it was on to the main attraction – the Great Pyramids of Giza. There are times where words don’t do enough to describe just how incredible something is and this was definitely one of those times. All I could do was just stand in awe and wonder how the heck these gigantic structures were made. In Ancient Egypt, tombs of the Pharaohs started being constructed as soon as they came into power and had to be completed before they died. In the case of the Great Pyramid, it was made for Khufu over only a 20 year period. Being comprised of 2.5 million blocks of limestone that would mean a block needed to be placed every 20 seconds in a 10 hour working day  for it to be constructed in that time. Factor in the really incredible fact that the corners align to the compass points and it faces true north and well, consider my mind blown.  Our tour guide said there were two main theories in how these pyramids were constructed – Slaves or Aliens.

He ruled out the Slaves theory based on the beliefs of the people at that time. The afterlife was a very big deal (obvious considering the only remaining structures from that time are pretty much all tombs or temples dedicated to the afterlife) and everyone wanted to make sure they made it in. The best way to do this as a common person was to help your Pharaoh get into the afterlife by building the tomb that would get him there. Basically, the tomb was created in such a way to help the soul find it’s body again as this was necessary to continue into the afterlife. Also, structures and artifacts have been found around the base of the pyramids that would suggest that the people who built them also lived around them and if they were slaves, this luxury wouldn’t have been given to them.

The alien theory was ruled out because a) how would they know about true north, b) they wouldn’t create a structure that would last this long and c) aliens don’t exist.

The great pyramid

Pyramid

The great pyramid

Jono giving some perspective

The great pyramid

We went to a look out to get photos in front of all three of the pyramids but of course, when in front of the pyramids you need to do some star jumps.

Matt and Dayna

Matt jumping

Jono jumping

Matt jumping

Jono jumping

Jumping In front of the pyramids

I was incredibly excited to ride a camel around the pyramids. That is, until I sat on the thing. I’ve ridden a horse as well as an elephant before and a camel is a weird mix between the two. It was a lot taller than I thought it was going to be and did not feel sturdy at all. I pretty much spent the first half of the ride trying to breathe through a panic attack as I pictured myself falling face first into the ground. The guide kept having to reassure me that everything was ok and that no one has ever fallen off one of his camels. Eventually, I calmed down and was able to enjoy the rest of the ride.

Camel riding at Giza

We finished up the sightseeing part of our day at The Sphinx. One thing I hadn’t known before about the Sphinx was that it was (and this was a recurring theme for the rest of the trip) buried under sand (apart from the head and chest) until 1936. Seeing it with the Pyramids in the background was one of the many ‘I can’t believe I’m here’ moments I had and that was only Day 1. It was a dream come true and absolutely exceeded any expectations I had. And with that, we got to tick off number 47 on our 100 things list and got a little step closer to visiting every continent by ticking off Africa.

Sphinx

Sphinx and the pyramids

What’s the best way to end a 15 hour full on day of sightseeing in 35 degree weather? Why an overnight sleeper train of course! We went on a couple overnight trains in Asia but I can safely say they did nothing to prepare us for this one. Our 2nd class sleeper in Vietnam was far nicer than the 1st class Egyptian one. I will say two positives were the large seats and lots of leg room but that was pretty much it. There were what looked like bullet holes in the windows, I wore my hood all night cause the seat was rather dirty, the toilets….I don’t even want to talk about it, there was a local guy with a handgun in the seat next to me, and another local guy who had a standing only ticket (on a 14 hour train ride) and decided he wanted to spend the whole night staring at Cath and I. Oh! and mid way through the night after a stop Guy with a handgun got into a very intense yelling match with a guy who thought he was in his seat (at least that’s what we figured since they were fighting in Arabic).

On the sleeper train

photo courtesy of Cath

So! With that life experience and very little sleep we arrived at the other end of our Egypt to continue the trip in Aswan…