28 years ago (1988) as I ate some scrambled eggs on toast at my parents’ house, my Mother suggested going away for a trip to ‘see some wonderful things’ and would I like to go with her?
Yes I would.
She originally wanted to go to Israel, however when I ran down to the Travel Agents, they told me it was too hostile at that time and to choose somewhere else. I went for Egypt as I had always been drawn to the mystique and charm of this wonderful country with its rich, diverse history with beautiful strange constructions, artefacts and hieroglyphic carvings.
This trip is really where all of my travels began and where I got ‘the bug’ for globetrotting.
So Egypt it was, following a short flight of just under 5 hours we arrived in Cairo and for the very first time I stepped out into hot, heavy night air, something that to this day never fails to surprise me when it hits and something that I always enjoy.
There was a small group of us; the others were John and Ema, Jo, Barbara, Peter, Terry (Mummery) quite an apt surname considering we were in Egypt I thought and lastly an American writer called Monica.
CAIRO – The capital city of Egypt and the largest, this place was a bustling metropolis of people, animals, cars and mopeds, crossing roads here was not easy as motorists seemed to have no sense of the pedestrian. The company (Hayes and Jarvis) had over booked us all so our small group was upgraded to the Sheraton Hotel in Cairo, overlooking the Nile.
One of the most prominent memories I have of Egypt is the very loud singing over a microphone by a Holy man reciting prayers at about 5am in the morning and then again at about 7pm in the evening, it sticks in my mind to this day.
Our guide for the whole trip was called Farid, he was a huge plump man who really knew his stuff on Egyptology and encouraged us to see as much as possible, our driver was a funny little man who was also very likeable, he taught me some Egyptian swear words including “Imshi” which I would shout out daily to all who passed us by, not realising until it was too late that I was in fact telling them to ***k off!!!
Giza has three Pyramids, the largest is known as ‘The Great Pyramid’ was constructed around 2560 BCE and is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the World, then there is ‘The Pyramid of Cheops’ built as a Tomb for the Pharaoh Cheops.
This Pyramid has three chambers inside starting with the lowest chamber which was cut into bedrock and was unfinished, then there is the Queens Chamber on the mid layer and the Kings Chamber is at the top of the pyramid structure. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the only pyramid in Egypt known to contain both ascending and descending passages.
You can go inside and up to the King’s Chamber to see his Tomb which is a granite rectangle coffin called a sarcophagus. To get to see it you have to climb up wooden rungs via the Robbers Tunnel for about 89 feet, it was very hot and stuffy in there but I did not care as I just wanted to get to the chamber, it felt highly exciting to be experiencing this.
The sarcophagus is larger than the entrance of the passage which leads up to it suggesting that it must have been put into the Chamber before the roof was built, it is clearly rough and unfinished with saw marks still visible in several places. Generally these are finely finished and decorated as found in other pyramids of the same period, however, it has been said by guides that the original coffin was lost in the Nile so a replacement was quickly made and used instead.
Monica (the incredibly annoying woman from America) actually complained that there should be ‘an elevator’ up to the chamber…..I remember looking round at her in utter disbelief at such stupidity!!!
The Sphinx are fascinating to see, these ancient stone statues based on mythical creatures have the body of a Lion and in Egypt the head of a human and were used as a guard to the sacred temples, these statues are huge and very impressive, though over time they are now eroding quite badly.
They have an air about them, a presence that cannot be explained other than perhaps my being in awe of these huge statues and what they stand for, I certainly felt that they would make effective protectors for the temples.
The annoying American woman was getting on my nerves; the joy of travelling in a group, never again thought I and hastily moved off to avoid her and headed to an Egyptian who was hiring out camels to ride across the desert.
The camel I chose was a really bad tempered male who spat at me when I attempted to stroke his nose, he also did not make it easy for me to get on him and he tried many times to shake me off. It was fair enough, if I was a camel I would not want anyone on my back either.
The ride started off well until he took off at full speed across the desert so I had to cling on hard and wait for him to stop running, still I managed to stay upright and once further out into the desert it felt suddenly really peaceful to be in such a vast, stark area and my camel calmed down.
The deep blue, cloudless sky was a real contrast to the colour of the sand of the Sahara desert and out there with my bad tempered camel I felt a real sense of escapism from the rest of the World. It is not a place, however that I would want to be lost in, going a relatively short distance from the Pyramids was enough for me to experience seeing just desert and nothing else and easy to imagine what it must be like travelling for days with just that starkness and nothing else.
The group members were really nice, apart from Monica, who I was not keen on, as she compared everything she saw to Arizona, it bugged us all that she could not just appreciate the beauty and history of where she actually was, in one of the most fascinating places in the World.
Farid took four of us on a walk across the desert, I cannot remember how far we went, I do remember that it was for about 8 hours walking with some lunch in a tent in the desert, no vegetarian food, all very odd looking meat, just meat, nothing else so I went without that day, it did not matter to me as I was more thirsty than hungry.
On the walk if you needed a wee you could go and bury it in the sand, there was one ramshackle old wooden cubicle in the desert, I thought it was hilarious that there was a toilet pan in there going just into the sand, I had to go in just to experience it, I wish I had not, would have been better going in the sand, once I had the door shut I saw a huge spider Egyptian giant Solpugids, or better known nowadays as the Camel spider, these things can jump and have a nasty bite, but unlike the internet warnings you see of them they cannot kill humans.
Even so, I did not fancy being bitten by this thing so got out as quick as I could but without alarming it and making it jump, in order to get out I had to get very close to it and squeeze by, I was very pleased to be away from the thing, nowadays I am fine with any spiders, I love photographing huge tarantulas, but back then this was my first encounter with one and camel spiders are pretty large.
The Museum of Antiquities
You cannot go to Egypt and not see this museum, built in 1835 it houses the largest collection of Egyptian Antiquities in the World, including the show piece mask of Tutankhamen made from 11kg of gold. The museum has everything from papyrus, to ancient coins to mummies, the mummies were incredibly eerie to look at, it felt like an imposition to be viewing them so publicly somehow.
Tutankhamen’s death mask was incredible to see, housed in a glass case it felt surreal to be gazing upon this blue and golden wonder and is something that stayed with me for some time.
We also went to the Papyrus museum which was interesting, the papyrus plant grew along the wetlands of Sudan and the pith of the plant was pressed into a paper like material that could be painted on. I bought a couple of small paintings on the papyrus, it is a very effective way of portraying romantic ancient scenes.
We wandered through the local markets too, these were colourful, bustling and great fun, to buy something you must barter, they do not like it if you try to pay the price marked on the item, rather they enjoy the game of the customer haggling to get the price down, they will barter and once a price has been agreed only then can you buy the item. It is a tradition that they like to keep going.
Power cuts were an ongoing part of day to day life, usually every few minutes and something that you quickly got used to, not so great if you were visiting the Dentist though.
I remember Jo biting into a lychee at a fruit stall and breaking her tooth, she walked about until she found a backstreet dentist to get it filled. Unfortunately the electricity kept going so not only did the light in the windowless room keep going out, plunging them into complete darkness but also during the drilling of tooth, it caused the drill to stop every few seconds.
We also had a power cut at hotel in the early hours when we were due to set off for the day, so we made our way through the corridors and down stairs with our torches, it just added to the experience, if anything I much preferred it
LUXOR – This part of Egypt is lusher, greener and hotter, it felt instantly more humid on arrival, we stayed at the Hilton resort and spa, a lovely retreat. I got the ‘jippy tummy’ that everyone seems to get in Egypt at some time or other, it was bad timing for me though as I missed one of the highlights if the trip, the Valley of the Kings. Tombs cut into stone where the pharaohs Tutankhamen, Seti I, and Ramses IIwere buried. I would love to have seen this and must go back to have another chance at exploring this exciting area, pets were buried nearby too as well as material goods and treasure, much of which has been robbed over the years and surviving artefacts are in the museums.
Karnak Temple – Karnak temple was one of my favourite places, this impressive temple took over 1,500 years to construct and has had over 30 Pharaoh’s walking amongst its uniquely inscribed walls. In the evening there was a ‘Son et lumiere’ – sound and light show of ancient tales told to the viewer by music, illuminations and projected images, I sat in the sand (see photo below) and was instantly mesmerised by the wonderful and evocative depiction of Egyptian times past.
Kom Ombo Temple – This was a beautiful small Temple overlooking the Nile and the hottest day when we visited, so much so it felt hard to breath as the air was so stifling and seemed to sick in our throats, however it held my attention and was fascinating to see mummified crocodiles in glass cases. These crocodiles were there as it was once a place to worship the Crocodile God Sobek, so these crocodiles were preserved in this way and looked upon with awe, they looked creepy to me but I was fascinated by them, the Egyptians also worshipped the Falcon God Horus here.
Amada Temple – This was the oldest of the Lake Nasser Temples with carvings from Military events
Denderah Temple – This Temple is in excellent condition with much of the walls still intact it was dedicated to the Goddess of love Hather, part of this complex is now closed to the public as a tourist got too close to the edge and died falling to the rocks below, but back then we could wander freely around the whole site.
Kalabasha Temple – Dedicated to the Gods Horus and Mandulis, this construction has a fascinating history in itself as it was once under threat from the rising waters of the high Dam at Aswan, so this 323BC building was taken down in over 15,000 pieces and moved to the banks of Lake Nasser where it now safely remains.
ASWAN – This area is even hotter and greener, the banks of the river Nile are lined with lush green palm trees and white sailed feluccas glide on the water allowing the tourist to get the breeze in their hair and cool down from the heat.
We were very fortunate in that we got double booked at the hotel where we were to originally stay so we were taken by feluccas across to the 5 star Old Cataract Hotel, which was a stunning Victorian Palace right on the banks of the Nile. The interior of the Palace was by Sybille de Margerie and blends Moorish arches, with marble floors, red chandeliers and rich Persian carpets.
My favourite day was sailing in a Felucca on Nile to Elephantine Island and Kitchener Island, the first one being the larger of the two and having botanical gardens on it, sweetly scented tropical flowers that I had never seen the like of before. It was intoxicating and wonderful to see these brightly coloured flowers covered in butterflies and dragonflies, all very magical.
The smaller island was Kitchener Island 2,460 feet long and given as a gift to lord Kitchener for his loyalty and serving in the Sudan campaign in 1896 for 2 years.
It was simply beautiful.
In the evening of our last night there we went to a buffet outside and I got to experience dancing with Nubians, the Native Africans of Egypt, they were a lovely friendly bunch and great fun to spend that last evening with, the music was enchanting.
I loved Egypt so much that I went back a second time, sadly though in just a few years it had lost much its magic due to so many hotels being built, many of them very close to the Pyramids, the locals also latched on to tourism and would bombard you with goods to buy whilst saying over and over again ‘lovely jubbly’ quoting from Only Fools and Horses.
It is a real shame as I still remember my first sighting of the Pyramids all those years ago and how the silence allowed the awe to set in, with the chaotic sense of tourism that now surrounds the area it is very difficult to appreciate the beauty of them as you are constantly being distracted by salesmen.
If anyone is planning to go, I definitely recommend hiring a camel and going off to a quieter spot where you can enjoy the view of the Pyramids without the hustle and bustle that now surrounds them.
I will most definitely be visiting Egypt again as I want to revisit it all again and this time must see The Valley of the Kings.