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:
But I was rather charmed by these feline backsides at the nearby Philae temple:
I also rather like this photo, taken at a dock:
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.
Favourite moment of the ride: seeing these people standing on the roof of their boat, the kids shouting to us in greeting:
The next day, at the Temple of Kom Ombo, my favourite hieroglyph:
And at Edfu temple, dedicated to Horus, we spotted this tourist with a hula hoop:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
On the plane back to Cairo, I spotted some interesting structures during our descent:
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:
Here is a less representative shot of a street, because this street is unpaved and flooded:
Here’s a souk:
And here’s a shop selling Stanless China, whatever that might be:
Here’s a bridal couple taking photos in Al-Azhar Park:
And here’s the view of the sunset over Cairo:
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:
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:
Since I was in town, I also decided to check out the Pyramids, which people say are very famous or something:
Inside the Great Pyramid, it gets pretty narrow at parts…
But soon opens up to reveal a high ceiling:
There’s also a lookout point from which you can see all the Giza Pyramids:
And as it turned out, I did have the time to see the Sphinx:
Nearby, this camel friend was doing his own Sphinx impression:
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…