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Saturday, November 11, 2006

EGYPT!

So I wrote thıs before we got to turkey but then the ınternet stopped workıng. :



I haven’t even finished writing in my own journal yet, but I thought I would pound this out for everyone’s reading pleasure before we reach Istanbul tomorrow morning.
I absolutely loved Egypt. I was probably my favorite country so far on the trip. I am thoroughly convinced that we were the first cruise ship to ever dock in Adbiya. Literally when you looked off of the ship all you could see was dirt, a big mountain of dirt colored limestone, and industrial buildings. It was pretty much a cargo port.
Since our trip didn’t leave until the second day Casey, Erin and I decided to go into Suez City the first day. We misunderstood the directions we were given and walked all the way to the ports gate to get a taxi when apparently they were supposed to be right up next to the ship. Walking to the gate we had 3 cars and a truck slam on their breaks the stop and stare at us and all the men working next to the road stopped to stare. They must really not see westerners often, especially western women.
Suez city is really a pretty boring town, and I’m not even saying that from a solely western point of view. Even the Egyptians we met said it was boring. We walked along for while and just observed the culture. The streets were really beautiful in a dirty kind of way. Brightly colored laundry hung from all of the balconies and strings of metallic ribbons and flags hung across the streets, remnants from Ramadan.
Finding lunch was a particularly difficult task. There aren’t many restaurants in Egypt, tourists eat at hotels. We finally asked a man at a hookah bar where we could get food and he led us to a little shop with a crude display of things that looked halfway edible in a glass case. The owner of the restaurant was incredibly friendly, he even offered me his chair to sit in because it was better than all of the others, then he gave us whatever food we wanted, free of charge.. He recommended that we try Egyptian beans so that’s what we asked for. They came plastered inside of a piece of pita bread. They tasted Ok, a little to salty for my taste, but I’m a picky eater. Casey and Erin also ordered potato chips and the funny thing was, they also came inside of pita bread. They were so confused on how to actually eat it. We tried to pay the owner in the end but he would not take it. It was our first taste of Egyptian hospitality.
After lunch we found our way to the Canal. It was a pretty boring view, just dirt and hills like everywhere else in Egypt. The water looked really nice though, I really wanted to go for a swim. We technically weren’t allowed to take pictures, but a guy paid off the police so that we could.
At the canal we met a guy named Amer. He had been at the ship earlier arranging all of the independent travel for SAS students. His office was right next to the canal and he recognized us from earlier so he came out to talk. We ended up spending the rest of the day with him and he paid for everything. We went to a coffee shop, to a hotel café, out to dinner and even shopping and didn’t have to pay for anything. He even took us back to the ship later.
We actually had a really interesting experience while we were in the city. See, Suez city doesn’t get tourists, there’s nothing there to really get them to come except the canal, and they can go to Port Said to see that. When we were walking down the street that night to find a music store because Erin really wanted some music we ran into a big celebration for a wedding. I felt so sorry for the couple because when we walked down the street all eyes went to us. Little kids would run up to say hi and get their picture taken. When we were in the store they all congregated around the door and the store owner actually shooed them away. I’ve never felt so odd in my life. They were just as excited to see us as we were to see them.
The next morning we had to wake up early for our trip. It was the biggest SAS trip people wise that I’ve been on so far. I don’t know the exact number but we had 4 buses and 4 tour guides. Out tour guides name was Mohammad and he was awesome. The two our drive to Cairo was awful. I couldn’t sleep and I had no music to listen to since my IPOD broke in India. It would have been ok if there had been something to look at out the window, but it was the same view for the entire ride. I’m not even kidding, it didn’t change once. Dirt and rocks and hills. It went on forever.
Our first stop was at a place called Sakkara where the first pyramid, the Step Pyramid of King Zoser is. It was pretty small, but since it was the first thing we saw it was awesome. It was the one place we went to where you where actually allowed to climb on the ruins. Not the pyramid itself, but the ruins around it, and from the top of the wall around the pyramid (which now is just a big dirt mound) you could see a handful of other pyramids in the distance, some of them were really big. I had no idea there were so many pyramids, I thought there was only the ones in Giza and then the step pyramid, but I was wrong.
When we were done looking at the pyramid we drove to the mastabas which were in the same complex. When I first looked at them I thought they looked fake, like they were a little to nice looking to be thousands of years old. When we got inside I got more of an impression that they were old. A lot of the hieroglyphics were completely worn off, but when we got to one of the back chambers many of the hieroglyphics still had their paint. It was awesome to see.
After Sakkara we drove to Memphis. Since it was the first capital of Egypt I was expecting an elaborate set of ruins, a really cool site. Today “Memphis” is a museum with a few statues chained off in a big dirt yard and a colossal statue of Ramses II laying down in a building. I was disappointed, It wasn’t what I thought it would be at all.
After we left Memphis we drove to the hotel which ended up being maybe 2 miles away from the great pyramids, either way they still looked HUGE from it. We stayed in the Le Meridian Pyramids and it was definitely one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed in and it was completely overrun with SAS students. Not only was our trip there, but so was the Cairo extended trip and the Cairo/Luxor/Aswan/Abu Siembel trip. I roomed with Chelsea. We were really hoping for a room with a view of the pyramids. We walked into our room and to the window with our fingers crossed and opened it to find a lovely brown hill and a traffic circle. Oh well, I can’t complain, If I went down a few stories to the pool you could see the pyramids clearly. Our room itself was pretty awesome, especially the beds. It was like sleeping on a goose down mattress with a goose down comforter and goose down pillow, like sleeping on a cloud.
Later that afternoon we headed to the Cairo Museum. I was so excited because it was supposed to be one of the most amazing museums in the world. I wasn’t disappointed. Instead of staying with the group Erin, Matte, and I decided to break off and see everything at our own pace. WE headed to the second floor first because of two things: King Tut and Mummies. I honestly don’t know where King Tut’s stud started, or where it stopped. It just kept going and unfortunately only a couple items in the museum actually have descriptions on them. Everything had a number which corresponds to a guidebook they want you to buy, but we didn’t know that.
My favorite room was the room with all of the famous King Tut stuff in it like his Burial mask and 2 of his 3 coffins (the third one and his mummy were left in his tomb at the Valley of the Kings). I honestly don’t know what King Tut stuff is touring America right now because there was definitely a lot of it in the museum. Looking at his burial mask and coffins was like looking at a picture, it was unreal, and it was amazing. The gold sparkled all around the room. It was hard to get a close view because people were crowding from every angle, but after awhile I blocked them out.
At the end of the Museum was a huge hall filled with coffins and mummies, there were literally hundreds of them. It was crazy, they lined the walls and ranged from child size to goliath sized. Some still had the mummies inside but most were empty.
To see the royal mummies you had to pay and extra 50 LE (about $10). At first we weren’t going to do it but then we thought why not? How often are we in Egypt so we shelled out the extra money. The only mummy I remember distinctly was Ramses II. All the rest were a nice mix of a bunch of assorted Ramses’ and Amenhoteps’ with a few other names, queens, and priests mixed in.
After the museum we went to the Khan a Kalili Bazaar. I was disappointed. All that was being sold was a bunch of tourist crap. Magnets, small statues of King Tuts’ head, jewelry that will break in a day. Etc. For the first time in a country I really didn’t feel like buying anything. I guess that was a good thing. I left the market with a pretty pink Tunic and nothing else.
The next morning I chose to get up insanely early to see the sunrise at the Pyramids. For some reason the guides really tried to discourage us from going. If we decided to go we had to sit at the panoramic view of the pyramids for 4 hours while we waited for everyone else to come at 9:00. We couldn’t go back to the hotel without having to pay to get back in again.
I will admit, it wasn’t the most spectacular sunrise I’ve ever seen, but seeing it at the pyramids made it amazing. It seemed to take forever to rise up, a good two hours but that was two less hours that we had to sit in boredom. One weird thing was it actually rained for a little while. It never rains in Cairo, even our guide said it. I knew it had to rain sometime when we were in Egypt. It’s rained in every port we’ve been in so far.
It was funny the panoramic view was on the top of a hill and at the bottom camel and horse drivers paced around taunting us the entire time we sat there. “Do you wanna ride a camel?” “ Camel ride real cheap you just have to come here.” What they knew that we didn’t was that tourists aren’t allowed to leave the panoramic view until the sun is completely up. The guards actually told us that the camel drivers were the mafia to keep us from going down to them.
When the rest of the 120 people in our group came we were given the chance to ride a camel from the panoramic spot down to the first pyramid. Apparently the camel drivers were not in the mafia and the guides from the first two buses (I was in bus 4) had made a deal with them so that it would only be $10 for us. I wasn’t going to but again I thought I’m in Egypt and I can ride a camel. I need to do it. My camels name was snoopy and there was definitely a couple times I thought I was going to fall off. He got mad at the driver and tried to go off a different way, taking me with him. Then going up and down hills was like a skill. You had to lean just the right way to keep your balance. When we got to a flat area my driver made snoopy run and I almost had a panic attack. It’s scary riding a running camel, but I did make it and I came out with a good picture in the end.
Probably the funniest story of the whole trip happened to me next. Every bus had a bathroom on it, and they’re not like US busses with bathrooms in the back. In these buses the seats are raised up higher and there are two doors one in the front and one in the middle, so the bathroom was by the middle door and down half a level. I had had to go to the bathroom for a good hour and had been holding it in so by that time I really had to go and made my first attempt at using a bus restroom this whole time on SAS and wouldn’t you know it, I got locked in. In between the camel ride and the pyramid parking lot was only a short time so I began to freak out that I was going to miss the pyramids up close. I tried unlocking it for a few minutes but it didn’t work so finally I pounded on the door and got Casey’s attention. She tried to open the door for me on the outside but it didn’t work so then Mohammad came back and tried. He couldn’t do it either. By that time Mrs. Berghoudi had come back and she must have thought I was panicking because she kept telling me to stay calm. I was calm but if I couldn’t see the pyramids I was going to freak out. No one could get it open. Finally the bus driver had to pull the bus over and come unlock the bathroom with his key and even then he had to pull extra hard to get it open. I was so embarrassed. Everyone was laughing and clapping when I came out. From that point on no one would lock the bathroom door, they always just had someone stand guard for them.
I was really disappointed that we were only given 25 minutes up close at the pyramids. We were given 4 hours at the panorama but only 25 minutes up close. One thing I knew I had to do was go inside. Rumor is they’re going to close the interiors of both great pyramids next year so it was now or never. We decided to go into the Pyramid of Kephron (I have no idea if I spelled that right) which is the middle one with the smooth part at the tip. It was only 20 LE to go inside where the Pyramid of Kufu was 100 LE.
The inside of the pyramid wasn’t what I expected. I had this fantastic vision of hidden passageways and hieroglyphics, which it didn’t have. We entered the pyramid through a long passage way that sloped down and we had to bend over to get through. At the bottom it flattened out at we were able to stand up. On the other end there was another sloping passageway going up which we had to crouch down for. About halfway up the roof suddenly rose up and you could turn around and see the original entrance that the Egyptians used. At the top of the passage was the tomb chamber. It was a huge, hot, empty room with an empty sarcophagus on one end and the words “SCOPERTA da g. Belzoni. 2. March. 1818,” painted on the wall. I assume the men that discovered the chamber put it there.
When we got out of the pyramids our time was up but we still hadn’t taken any pictures close to the pyramid so we chose to be late to the bus rather than missing this chance. We took our pictures, got yelled at for trying to sit on a block which apparently counts as climbing and got asked to take a picture with a young Egyptian girl by her father.
Just a quick drive down the road and we were at the great Sphinx. I was stuck by how disproportionate it was. The head is much smaller than the body. I was amazing to see the sphinx sitting in front of the towering pyramids. It was like being inside of a book on Egypt. This was a place I’ve always wanted to go, but never thought I’d actually get to and I was really there!
Next we drove across town to the citadel of Saladin. In the center of the citadel is the Mohammad Ali Mosque which is as white as the Taj Mahal and can be seen across the Cairo Skyline. It was so hot outside. There had been a breeze the day before but that day it was non existent.
I brought a scarf along with me to cover my head when we went inside of the mosque, but apparently that wasn’t good enough. The women at the entrance tied a big green satin cape around me. I wasn’t wearing anything scandalous either, just a t-shirt and jeans like everyone else that didn’t get a cape.
The inside of the mosque was big and beautiful, but at the same time I was somewhat unimpressed and I can’t explain why. My attention span was incredibly short that day. As I walked around the mosque for some reason the song “I’ll fly away oh glory” popped into my head. I can’t explain why. I thought, of all places it’s interesting that I started singing it here.
For lunch we had a Nile rover cruise. I thought it would be on an open air boat but it was on perhaps the ugliest boat I have ever seen. I was called the Nile crystal and definitely looked like it had prisms jutting out of it. The food was decent and the entertainment was interesting. While we were eating there was a lounge singer performing. I about choked when I heard him sing “Aisha.” I thought it was a song that the kid in the Ebaums world made up but no, the surprise of my life, the man was singing it. After we were done eating a man dressed like a Pharaoh came out and danced and he was followed by the worst belly dancer ever. She must have been new because she was terrible. Overall it was still fun though. They pulled unwilling people up on stage to dance with them while a photographer took pictures which were later sold to the participants for 30LE each.
After lunch we were thankfully able to go back to the hotel to take a nap. It was a great nap too. I slept very well until we had to get up for the sound and light show at the pyramids. I wasn’t quite what I expected again, but it wasn’t bad. For some reason I was under the impression that it was a laser show so I was picturing outlines of pharaohs running across the pyramids. Instead there was narration blasted over loudspeakers and at key moments the pyramids or sphinx would light up. They also projected pictures onto the temple next to the sphinx and at times a face was projected even projected onto the sphinx. It was creepy.
The next morning our wake up call was at 2:30 to catch a plane to Luxor. SAS pretty much took over the plane. There were only a few others on there with us. The airline rules in Egypt are so lax. I didn’t even have my own ticket. They just passed tickets out like it was a brochure or something. Some people ended up with first class seats because of that. I can’t say I wasn’t jealous although the rest of the plane was really nice and it was only a 50min flight.
We landed at Luxor “International” Airport at 6:00. I put international in quotes because both times I was there, flying in and flying out our plane was the only plane there. It was very lonely.
As soon as we landed we headed straight for the Valley of the Kings. I couldn’t say how long the drive was because I nodded off. The next thing I remembered was getting a wake up call and seeing brown dirt hills all around me.
From the parking lot we had to take a shuttle a while 100 feet to the entrance. I made me wonder why we couldn’t have just walked. Our entrance tickets were good for admittance into three tombs and we had to get a separate ticket to go into King Tut’s. Mohammad walked us in and stood the group right next to King Tut’s tomb and then made us stand there for half an hour. It was brutal. My attention span is not long enough for that, especially with so many distractions and so many fun things in store.
King Tut’s tomb was actually really small. Usually it takes around 20 years to build a tomb but because he died after three years when he was about 17 there was no time to make it any bigger. We had to walk down another passageway like the one in the pyramid and at the bottom it opened up into a chamber and on the far right was a larger opening where the coffin and mummy were. Behind the coffin were some pretty amazing hieroglyphics. It was amazing to think that all the junk we saw in the Cairo museum could actually fit in here. It must have been jammed up to the ceiling.
Mohammad told us that the 3 best tombs were of Ramses IV, Ramses IX and Ramses III so those were the tombs we decided to see. They were all so much bigger and more elaborate than King Tut’s. I wanted to take pictures so badly. Erin took one and got caught and the man made her erase it while he watched. At the entrance the Ramses III tomb the guard actually let us take a picture but then he wanted baksheesh. I didn’t give it to him. Some of the hieroglyphics were so amazing. My favorites were the stars painted on the ceiling. We actually saw that a lot.
After the valley of the kings we went to the Temple of Queen Hatchetsup, the only female pharonic ruler. The discovery channel was filming an IMAX movie there which I believe was called Mummies II or something along that line, anyway it comes to theaters next March. We were able to talk to the director and we saw them filming one of the dramatized scenes up at one of the tombs on the hill.
The temple was fantastic. It was built onto the Cliffside in three layers. The bottom layer was for the common people, the middle was for the nobles, and the top was for the queen. There were dozens of statues and still a lot of hieroglyphics with paint still on them and again there were stars on the ceiling. I remember looking at an article in Smithsonian magazine before I came about the temple so it was cool to actually be able to see it.
After the temple we made a brief stop at the Colossus of Memnon for pictures and that’s really all it needed, they really weren’t that interesting. Then we headed to the hotel. Again the hotel was amazing and so much more than I expected. It was from the same chain as the one we stayed in in Giza, but it was called the Le Meridian Luxor. It was very much in a European Mediterranean style. From the lobby there was a big open courtyard where room with balconies lined the edges. On the other side was another exterior courtyard also lined with terraced rooms which had the pool. The hotel itself was perched right on the edge of the Nile river with the mountains containing the Valley of the kings looming in the distance.
After lunch we had a 4.5 hour break. Me and Chelsea planned on taking a nap but it took forever to get our room because it hadn’t been cleaned yet. Our crappy view in Giza was completely made up for in Luxor. We got a HUGE room with a terrace overlooking the Nile. It was amazing. I felt completely undeserving. We actually made a quick glance at the prices when we walked down later and the room we were in was $250 night! It wasn’t something I would stay at for any other reason, I had no control over where I stayed but it was definitely amazing.
We did get to take a wonderful nap again and woke up in time to go see Luxor Temple illuminated at night. The only thing that was crappy was that my camera sucks at taking night pictures. I’m totally glad we saw the temple at night though. It looked like it was from a movie because the color of lights they used made it look like torch light. I could imagine having stumbled upon the temple 100 years ago when most of it was buried in sand. It had actually been so buried that a mosque had actually been built over one section. It’s still there, but it’s not used because the entrance is about 25 ft in the air.
Guarding the entrance to the temple are two towering statues and right outside is an obelisk. There used to be another obelisk on the other side of the entrance, and the base is still there but the obelisk itself was hauled off to Paris awhile ago. Inside of the temple were a ton of columns with hieroglyphics decorating them and many other statues. There is also a pathway leading up to the temple that used to connect Luxor and Karnack temples and is lined with sphinxes. It looked really cool, unfortunately I don’t think any of my pictures turned out.
The next morning our wake up call wasn’t ‘til 8. That’s sleeping in! It felt really good too. Me and Chelsea got all of our stuff together and checked out although we technically didn’t have to do that until lunch time. We spent our morning at the Temple of Karnack, which was even bigger and more impressive than Luxor temple. The deep hieroglyphics on the columns is really what stood our the most. Even though I could take pictures of them I still wanted to draw some of them like I did at the Valley of the Kings. In one part of the temple is a statue of a scarab which was the god of good luck for the ancient Egyptians. Apparently if you walk around the statue 7 times your wish will come true within three days. I’m waiting for an answer.
The temple complex is so huge it’s hard for guards to watch every place. I’m sure me and Laina walked on some rocks that we shouldn’t have. I know we went up a staircase we shouldn’t have because we got yelled at for it. We didn’t know though. The gate had been moved away and we had seen other people climbing it so we just followed them. I got some good pictures on it and from it so it was worth it. My favorite part will forever be area with all of the columns though. They just looked so cool. The temple of Karnack was exactly how I pictured ancient Egypt.
Unfortunately visiting the Temple of Karnack was the last event on our tour. When we got back to the hotel we still had a few hours before we had to be at the airport though so Chelsea, Hallie, Laina, Professor Vetters wife Val and I all rented a Faluka (Egyptian sailing boat) for an hour. It was called the Princess Diana. Unfortunately there wasn’t much wind, but it was nice to just be out on the Nile river and to be able to say we sailed on the Nile. The water was beautiful and peaceful too. I wanted to go swimming and it would have been safe because they don’t have crocodiles in it anymore. When they built the Aswan dam they all got stuck in Lake Nasser and all the ones that were already below it were killed off.
The plane we flew on back to Cairo was amazing. Possibly the nicest plane I’ve ever been on. It was the type that had 2 seats, then 5 in the middle, then two seats again. On the TV screens we were actually able to watch the plane take off and land. It was the weirdest feeling I’ve ever had. The plane ride back seemed even shorter than the one two luxor. I planned on getting some good journal writing done but I was only able to get about a page and a half by the time we had to put our tray tables up again. The worst part was the 3 hour drive to Alexandria once we got back to Cairo. Me and Hallie played cards for awhile, but that got really old really soon, especially flying over bumps and not having anything to put the cards on except out purses.
On our last day in Egypt, Laina, Hallie, Val and I went out to explore Alexandria. Chelsea was supposed to come too but she wasn’t feeling well. Right out of the port we got a horse carriage to take us to the catacombs for 5 LE each. Riding in a horse carriage was fun. I had always wanted to do it in downtown Seattle and in Central park, but it’s always been so expensive. At first our driver took us to Pompeii’s pillar. It was cool but that’s not what we wanted to see and the police at the pillar must have realized it because they told our driver to take us to the actual catacombs.
The catacombs were cool but I’m sure they don’t compare to the catacombs in Rome and Paris. In all it was relatively small, about the equivalent of a house underground with passageways going here and there. A few painting survived and it was weird how they combined roman and Egyptian ideas, trying to combine hieroglyphics in Roman art.
After the catacombs we headed for the famous Library of Alexandria. We were under the wrong impression that we could walk there, and we walked for awhile but eventually we gave up and got a cab which was a good idea because the Library was actually very far away.
No part of the original Library actually survives and the Library that is there now was built only a few years ago and it’s absolutely gigantic. I think our free Library tour guide said full capacity is like 8 million books and they only have around 700,000 now. It was completely evident when you got close to the book shelves and they were only half full. They also have 300 computers with free internet which I took advantage of, and the second largest internet archive in the world. I could have spent a great deal of time in the Library and I’m pretty sure Hallie could have moved in.
After the Library (Which I forgot to mention was on Alexandria Harbor) we ate lunch at a restaurant which ended up taking two and a half hours because the service was so slow. Afterwards Hallie went back to the Library and Laina, Val and I continued walking along the harbor through back streets. We saw the furniture and gold markets and again got a lot of stares.
Finally we made it to as Mosque that Val really wanted to go to. I actually thought it was prettier inside than the Mohammad Ali Mosque. By that time we had made it so close to Fort Quaitby, which is on the spot where the Lighthouse of Alexandria once stood, one of the Ancient Wonders of the World, that we decided to go see it. I’m sure it would have been much cooler if the lighthouse were still there. Afterwards Laina went out to dinner with some other SAS girls and me and Val took a taxi back to the ship. I spent my last few LE at the little shops next to the ship and was ready to say goodbye to Alexandria. I loved Egypt but Alexandria wasn’t my favorite city.
Unfortunately I was unable to say goodbye to Alexandria. Because of bad weather the captain decided to delay departure until the morning and then in the morning it was delayed ‘til 12:00 noon then delayed again until 5pm. Finally we cruised out of the harbor at around 6pm. It was brutal having to sit in classes and stare out at the port. We just wanted to get moving. When we finally got out to sea we were hit with the waves that we had been trying to avoid they ship rocked back and forth and slammed back down into the water sometimes causing things to fly off of our shelves. The sea was completely calm by the time I woke up this morning though. We’re trucking though the water. By the end of global studies we were passing the Island of Rhodes on our starboard side. Apparently the captain turned on 3 of the four engines and last time I checked we were going nearly 23 knots so we’re actually going to make it to Istanbul on time although we left a day late.
Now for Istanbul it should be an experience. It snowed there last weekend and they are expecting rain. Rachael, Jennifer, Izumi, and I are going to try to make it down the coast to Ephesus. I hope it all works out. It should be a fun time either way.

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