Egypt

Great Court, Karnak Temple, Luxor

Great Court, Karnak Temple, Luxor

After my visit to Aswan and Abu Simbel last week I continue with my throwback diary entries from my journey around the Middle East in 2004, along with some snaps from the trip!

At the Great Hypostyle Hall, Karnak Temple, Luxor

At the Great Hypostyle Hall, Karnak Temple, Luxor

Luxor is an anxiety-inducing mess between Aswan and Cairo. It was once the centre of all Pharonic civilisation, making for great monuments, temples and tombs. Today, Luxor is a town where tourists outnumber locals and therefore hated by locals. Even savvy travellers get ripped-off; as one Brit screamed “You are a tasteless bastard!!” Unfortunately it has to be said that many tourists don’t do themselves any favours, such as women wearing boob tubes walking around the street. It’s not that I think people should dress a certain way, but why draw more attention to the fact that you’re a foreigner? The rising anger against tourists seemed to boil over in 1997 when 58 tourists were mowed down by extremists at a local temple. Since then, entering tourist sites in Luxor is like boarding a plane in terms of security.

The scene of the 1997 terrorist attack, Temple of Hatshepsut, Valley of the Kings, Luxor

The scene of the 1997 terrorist attack, Temple of Hatshepsut, Valley of the Kings, Luxor

 

Great Court, Karnak Temple, Luxor

Great Court, Karnak Temple, Luxor

Having said that, the attractions are well worth the hassle, and many other locals are very very friendly! When looking for a post office one day I asked a local guy, who then offered to drive me there on his motorbike. After that he took me back to his shop and invited me to help him behind the counter (which I happily accepted!). At the end of it he refused any kind of tip, which was unusual for Egypt. Tipping seems to be a bigger deal here than anywhere else I have visited. Baksheesh is a local hybrid of tipping and bribery and applies to just about anything.

Colossi of Memnon, Valley of the Kings, Luxor

Colossi of Memnon, Valley of the Kings, Luxor

On Tuesday morning I caught a train to Cairo. Cairo is the intense, beating heart of the Arab world; it’s home to 16 million people in an area about the size of Newcastle in Australia. This makes for a seething compress of humanity; Egyptians, Arabs, Africans, Indian workers, European businessmen, Palestinian refugees, Afghan traders and even a Chinatown. It is through this that Cairo gained its nickname “mother of the world”. It is a city where survival can be a daily battle; unlike Tehran, Cairo doesn’t seem to have a gentle side. Nowhere is without traffic, noise or people, at any time of the day or night (that said, I did manage to click the below picture early one morning!). Everybody breathes the same polluted air, which is reportedly the equivalent of smoking a packed of cigarettes every week.

A surprisingly empty downtown Cairo, very early one morning.

A surprisingly empty downtown Cairo, very early one morning.

On arrival in Cairo my taxi driver told me there was a traffic jam, and despite my protesting, had to take the long (and expensive) route to the hotel (which was only three kilometres away). About halfway out of town, with his metre ticking overtime, he did a U-turn and joined the inbound traffic. I was contemplating whether to pay ten cents of just get out without paying at all, when he drove straight into the back of a semi-trailer. I sat back, smiled, and said Masha’Allah (a bit like “God works in mysterious ways”) before getting a taxi straight to the hotel. Ten minutes later an ATM ate my credit card, but after my triumph in the taxi it would have taken a lot to bring me down. More frustrating is the fact that anywhere frequented by tourists will only accept US dollars. That’s right – I’m in Egypt, and I can’t even use Egyptian pounds here. On top of this, banks don’t seem to exchange US dollars. So I was stuck with a slight problem which had to be solved on the currency black market.

Ar-Rifai Mosque and the Cairo skyline

Ar-Rifai Mosque and the Cairo skyline

So generally Cairo is an aggravating hellhole, albeit with many attractions. The Egyptian museum is fascinating, home to Tutankhamun’s pharonic mask. The museum is among the world’s largest, with over 100,000 exhibits. To put that in perspective, if you spent just one minute looking at every exhibit, it would take nine months to complete the whole tour.

Pyramids of Giza

Pyramids of Giza

And then there are the pyramids. The pyramids are what draw most people to Egypt; they are Egypt’s face to the world. And they live up to (although may not necessarily exceed) every expectation. Driving towards them, they loom over suburban Giza. You catch glimpses of them towering over side streets. And then you arrive, after dodging the touts, to one of the most famous places in the world. Although overrun with camel touts, donkey touts, bogus tour guides and enough school children to make you wonder about Egyptian contraception, the age-old structures strike awe into the visitor. How did they get the blocks there? They’re huge! And the fact that you step straight out of suburban Giza into the middle of what still feels like a desert is almost eerie. And then you wonder how KFC managed to get a piece of land just fifty metres from the sphinx. I toured the inside of the smaller of the three pyramids, which was just enough to satisfy my appetite for the landmarks.

At the Pyramids of Giza. These tarts wanted payment for jumping into the photo next to me.

At the Pyramids of Giza. These tarts wanted payment for jumping into the photo next to me.

The Pyramids of Giza

The Pyramids of Giza

I’m still trying to decide whether I like Egypt, and especially Cairo. Some people love it, others absolutely hate it. I think I’m somewhere in between. And that just about wraps up my travels in the Middle East, from my first day in Isfahan, Iran, through Turkey and into Arabia. Get set for a final, misty-eyed email from Malaysia next week.

Goodbye, Middle East. Flying out from Cairo, and sunset over the River Nile.

Goodbye, Middle East. Flying out from Cairo, and sunset over the River Nile.

In sha Allah to return one day…

Have you been to Egypt? Did you love it or hate it?

Comments (6)

  • Andrew Boland Reply

    lol I remember well the KFC at the pyramids. We got there late in the day and there were almost no tourists there – although there were still many camels! I rather liked Luxor. How can you go wrong with the stunning Karnak temple?

    December 16, 2014 at 7:36 pm
    • Tim Blight Reply

      In retrospect, I think I was just very tired at the end of travelling like that for the first time, and I just wasn’t in the mood for it. I had a tough time of it in Luxor with things like bargaining – add that to an already over-it traveller, and you get the above diary entry! I would like to go back to Egypt one day though, and try it again, older and wiser! 😀

      December 17, 2014 at 8:49 pm
  • Emily Reply

    We were in Egypt 10 years ago too, and spent a month there staying with family who had a work contract at the time. We didn’t get to do much traveling around (we were based in El Maady, Cairo, and hit Alexandria and Sharm El Sheikh) but we enjoyed it. I think it helped that we were ‘living like the locals’ so we saw more than just the touristy side of things.

    December 18, 2014 at 9:37 am
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Yes definitely – I’m sure Egypt is a place where ‘getting off the beaten track’ is especially rewarding. Niext time, I guess! 🙂 Thanks for reading!

      December 21, 2014 at 7:39 am
  • Marie Reply

    Haha, couldn’t stop laughing when I read “These tarts wanted payment for jumping into the photo next to me”. I guess they’re kind of a tourist attraction as well. 🙂

    January 17, 2015 at 10:51 pm
    • Tim Blight Reply

      lol yeah I guess so!! Thanks for reading 🙂

      January 18, 2015 at 3:59 pm

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