So, recently I was in Egypt. Yes, just in time to enjoy the country’s hottest stretch of year, with temperatures going up past 40 deg C.

I was not being a foolish tourist, however (well, not totally foolish). I was inspired to visit because my friend Phenomenon and her husband — who have been living in Cairo for the past couple of years as he works there — will be returning to Singapore soon! So basically, this was my last chance to visit them and experience their Cairo-expat lifestyle, with both the good (driver to chauffeur you everywhere) and bad (hour-long blackouts, no fun when that means you can’t switch on the air-con).

I was there for a week, four days of which Phenomenon and I spent on a rather nice boat on the Nile, going from Aswan to Luxor and visiting historical sites along the way under the care of our guide Alaa from Abercrombie & Kent.

Phenomenon mentioned that it is much better to start at Aswan and go up to Luxor (but down the Nile, which runs north) than the other way around, so that you save the best for last. I agree. Because the Aswan dam, while an engineering marvel no doubt, is not very photogenic:

Like so.

Like so. (The bit we’re standing on isn’t curved, it’s just a trick of my panorama app.)

But I was rather charmed by these feline backsides at the nearby Philae temple:

This temple isn't at its original island site: it was disassembled and reassembled on another island to save it from flooding caused by the Aswan dam.

This temple isn’t at its original island site: it was disassembled and reassembled on another island to save it from flooding caused by the Aswan dam. Another engineering marvel.

I also rather like this photo, taken at a dock:

in the nile

Later, after checking into our ship, we enjoyed a ride on a traditional felucca (wooden sailing boat) on the Nile. Or endured it maybe, it was kind of hot.

One thing I noticed is that the white clothes in Egypt are very white (see felucca pilot's clothes) -- I would like to know their secret.

One thing I noticed is that the white clothes in Egypt are very white (see felucca pilot’s clothes) — I would like to know their secret.

Favourite moment of the ride: seeing these people standing on the roof of their boat, the kids shouting to us in greeting:

'Welcome to Aswan!'

‘Welcome to Aswan!’

The next day, at the Temple of Kom Ombo, my favourite hieroglyph:

I believe that's the goddess Isis giving birth to Horus. She was a single mum: her husband Osiris was killed by his brother and dismembered, his body parts strewn all over Egypt. She managed to reassemble him by retrieving all his parts except for his penis, which had been thrown into the Nile and eaten by a catfish. Yup.

I believe that’s the goddess Isis giving birth to Horus. She was a single mum: her husband Osiris was killed by his brother and dismembered, his body parts strewn all over Egypt. She managed to reassemble him by retrieving all his parts except for his penis, which had been thrown into the Nile and eaten by a catfish. Yup.

And at Edfu temple, dedicated to Horus, we spotted this tourist with a hula hoop:

I was also very impressed by her group's fortitude in general as we overheard them saying they were from Alaska... how they could stand the heat I don't know.

I was also very impressed by her group’s fortitude in general as we overheard them saying they were from Alaska… how they could stand the heat I don’t know.

But it was the next day on Luxor’s west bank that we started to see the really good stuff. Our first stop was the Valley of the Kings, where pharaohs such as Rameses II and Tutankhamun were buried in tombs dug into the hills (no, they weren’t buried in pyramids, those are much older). I couldn’t take many photos as photography is theoretically forbidden — though in practice, baksheesh makes many things possible. But my most vivid memory is of the attendant in King Tut’s tomb waving a flashlight over his mummy in its glass case.

‘See his face… his feet,’ the attendant said solemnly, casting the beam over the shriveled black skin. O how the mighty are fallen.

I did manage to sneak a pic of this ancient high-five in the Valley of the Queens though (same concept as Valley of the Kings but, well, for queens). That's not a dog, by the way, but a baboon, who represents dawn as baboons make a lot of noise at dawn, apparently.

I did manage to sneak a pic of this ancient high-five in the Valley of the Queens (same concept as Valley of the Kings but, well, for queens). That’s not a dog, by the way, but a baboon, who represents dawn as baboons make a lot of noise at dawn, apparently.

We also dropped by the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, much of it restored by the Polish. Hatshepsut is rather remarkable: a woman pharaoh, often depicted as a man in statues (though everyone knew she was a woman). Her temple looks somewhat ’70s to me — think it’s the rectangular columns:

Hatshepsut Temple

And I got the closest I was ever going to get to an Ozymandias moment (everything is too touristified now) with the Colossi of Memnon:

Nothing beside remains.

Nothing beside remains (because of the cunning way in which I’ve framed the picture).

The next day, before flying back to Cairo, we visited the Karnak and Luxor temples on Luxor’s east bank. If you can only visit one place in Egypt for temples, this is it. Great columns, colossi, obelisks — they’re all here:

A row of ram-headed sphinxes at Karnak temple.

A row of ram-headed sphinxes at Karnak temple.

A lovely little kitty. Despite ancient Egypt's reputation for worshipping cats, there were disappointingly few cat-related statues or hieroglyphs. As for modern-day Egypt, apparently they regard cats as pests :(

A lovely little kitty. Despite ancient Egypt’s reputation for worshipping cats, there were disappointingly few cat-related statues or hieroglyphs. As for modern-day Egypt, apparently they regard cats as pests 😦

These guys await you at Luxor temple.

These guys await you at Luxor temple.

Funny family shot.

Funny family shot.

I was also entranced by this Egyptian tour guide (in black headscarf), who was speaking to her Chinese charges in flawless Mandarin. I am humbled and awed.

We spotted quite a number of Chinese tour groups on our Nile trip -- which surprised me, as I'd the impression that Chinese tourists 1. favour European cities where they can shop and 2. dislike the sun (I say this as an ethnic Chinese person myself).

We spotted quite a number of Chinese tour groups on our Nile trip — which surprised me, as I’d the impression that Chinese tourists 1. favour European cities where they can shop and 2. dislike the sun (I say this as an ethnic Chinese person myself).

Last shot in Luxor: the view of Luxor temple from the second floor of McDonald’s, where we ate before heading to the airport. Hey, don’t judge.

So much for lone and level sands.

So much for lone and level sands.

On the plane back to Cairo, I spotted some interesting structures during our descent:

At the edge of Cairo.

At the edge of Cairo.

Back in Cairo, between being driven around in a car and sitting in an electricity-less apartment, we saw some stuff too!

This is a generic but representative shot of a Cairo main road:

I took this for our friend Mrs O, who was 'curious what Cairo looks like'.

I took this for our friend Mrs O, who was ‘curious what Cairo looks like’.

Here is a less representative shot of a street, because this street is unpaved and flooded:

No one in Cairo wears helmets or seatbelts.

No one in Cairo wears helmets or seatbelts.

Here’s a souk:

Actually not touristy at all except for the main street.

Actually not touristy at all except for the main street.

And here’s a shop selling Stanless China, whatever that might be:

Who is Stan and where is he?

Who is Stan and where is he?

Here’s a bridal couple taking photos in Al-Azhar Park:

Cheesy poses are universal.

Cheesy poses are universal.

And here’s the view of the sunset over Cairo:

I love the Cairo sky, how it's completely cloudless, so you can see the smooth gradation of colour.

I love the Cairo sky, how it’s completely cloudless, so you can see the smooth gradation of colour.

At the Egyptian Museum, you can get right up close in the face of mighty kings such as Rameses II… or you could just click here (another blogger’s covertly-shot photo).

We also saw a litter of adorable kitties at the outdoor cafe… hope someone gives them a good home:

kitties

Oh, and the street leading to the museum was lined with tanks and fenced off with barbed wire… I was stopped from taking a photo of the tanks, but here’s a shot of the barbed wire:

The Egyptian Museum is not just a noteworthy building but is also near Tahrir Square, a focus for political demonstrations. So that could explain the high military presence. There were also metal detectors at all the major sites and hotels we visited, though I have to say that security at most of them was lax (people who set off the alarm would just be waved through).

The Egyptian Museum is not just a noteworthy building but is also near Tahrir Square, a focus for political demonstrations. So that could explain the high military presence. There were also metal detectors at all the major sites and hotels we visited, though I have to say that security at most of them was lax (people who set off the alarm would just be waved through).

Since I was in town, I also decided to check out the Pyramids, which people say are very famous or something:

The Pyramids pre-date the Valley of the Kings and were built between 2,700-1,700 BC (compared with 1,600-1,100 BC for the valley).

The Pyramids pre-date the Valley of the Kings and were built between 2,700-1,700 BC (compared with 1,600-1,100 BC for the valley).

Inside the Great Pyramid, it gets pretty narrow at parts…

Not recommended for the claustrophobic.

Not recommended for the claustrophobic.

But soon opens up to reveal a high ceiling:

Up the stairs there's a room where the mummy and all his worldly goods were, but it's empty now.

Up the stairs there’s a room where the mummy and all his worldly goods were, but it’s empty now.

There’s also a lookout point from which you can see all the Giza Pyramids:

Not pictured: all the touts trying to sell you miniature pyramids and camel rides.

Not pictured: all the touts trying to sell you miniature pyramids and camel rides.

And as it turned out, I did have the time to see the Sphinx:

Obligatory annoying tourist pic.

Obligatory annoying tourist pic.

Nearby, this camel friend was doing his own Sphinx impression:

camel

What I don’t have photos for: Phenomenon’s phenomenal hospitality, which made me feel very comfortable despite the whole blackout situation. It also helps that she has two awesome cats, who will soon become Singaporean kitties!

I can’t say I enjoyed Egypt the way I did Scotland, or even Egypt’s fellow North African nation Morocco. I guess I tend to judge countries by whether I could imagine myself living there, and Egypt is just too chaotic (and HOT) for me. But the historical sites of Egypt are probably the most ancient monuments to human civilisation that I have ever visited (even older than China’s), and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Though according to this list by Wikipedia, the Giza Pyramids aren’t anywhere near the oldest buildings in the world! So, lots of ideas for future adventures…

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