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Egypt – Nile and Red Sea

Author: Jose Claudio B R Cardoso
Date of Trip: January 2010

It was the first time we would go to a country with a completely different language. So I booked mid to top rated hotels, where English should be spoken. I also tried to learn some words and expressions in Arabic just in case. Except for a few ones as “la” (no), “schokran” (thanks), “la mouskila” (no problem) or “maha salama” (bye), they did not work very well…

My wife and me arrived in Cairo at night and took a taxi to Marriott hotel in Zamalek, in a Nile island not far from the Cairo Museum. We knew from another Brazilian tourist, that we met on the connection in Paris, that they call “limousine service” the official taxis of the airport. There are fixed prices according to the part of the city to go. These guys speak English, and the price was not expensive: 90 LE ( Egyptian pounds: 1 US$ =~ 5 LE ). The hotel is very nice, it was a governmental palace in the time of the monarchy. It was US$ 205,00 daily, including breakfast. Every morning, tours were ready to go to the main points of the town.

We spent the first day at the Cairo Museum, to see the mummies, the treasures of Tutankamon and much more. The other two days we take tours to the Pyramids (including a camel ride), to the Islamic Cairo, and the Christian old part of the town. Friday night we had a dinner in a boat (Maxims) cruising through the Nile, with music and dance, including belly dancing. On the Saturday, before flying to Luxor, we went to the Cairo Tower to have a perspective of part of the town. Cairo is a big metropolis with a chaotic traffic flow. Some poor neighborhoods have a lot of buildings that seem to have been invaded before being finished. As rains are scarce, everything seems covered of dust. The lack of rains also may explain why the Nile looks like cleaner than expected for so a huge city. Rains have the bad consequence of sweeping all the trash to the rivers. In the great Cairo it is possible to see the very beginning of the Pharaonic era (Pyramids) the first Christian communities during the Roman Empire, and the Islamic mosques and fortress since Saladin.

We arrived in Luxor at night. There were not “official” taxis as in Cairo and we arranged a price ( 50 LE ) with a driver dressed with a tunic, that is common in Egypt. After some time another man entered in the car and talked in English to us and Arab to each other. The situation was a little strange and frightening, but we were driven to the hotel Sofitel Karnak without problem. By the way there are a lot of police controls everywhere, when entering airports, when leaving airports, when entering hotels, when entering touristic places. Except in the airports however, a beep in the device to check for metals is not always a problem and is sometimes ignored.

The hotel is quiet, 4km from the center, and have a shuttle to go there. The price was 70 Euros per night, including breakfast. The main atractions of the east side (Luxor temple, Luxor Museum and Karnak temple) can be seen walking from one to the other, so may be it would have been better a hotel in the center.

Next morning at 6:00, we went for a balloon flight over the west bank, were the VIP’s of the Pharaonic times were buried. The balloons are heated by a torch, and allow a wonderful view of the range of cultivated land adjacent to the Nile, and the mountains and the desert after them, where the tombs are. According to the guide for the Giza Pyramids, the kings soon realized that big pyramids are a perfect guide for the treasures thieves. And really there is nothing today to be found inside them. On the contrary in the west bank of Luxor, tombs are hidden as caves in the mountains. The Tutankamom tomb was found there intact in the XX century. So, we only saw the tombs from above and that was the west side for us.

After the balloons trip we visited the Karnak Temple, the Luxor Temple and the Luxor museum. The later is very well organized and a newcomer in egyptology can learn easily about the old Egyptian history there than in the overcrowded Cairo museum. The sculptors liked to write a lot around the bas-reliefs and statues. It is a pity not to be able to read them, knowing that the code was broken since the XIX century and it can be read by the scholars. Well, the same can be said about arabic scripture. We can have plenty of the sensation of an illiterate person in Egypt…But anyway the size of the constructions is something, It is also interesting the cultural changes overtime: there is a mosque in the Luxor Temple built over an old christian church from the Roman era, that was built over a pharaonic temple. In Luxor the harassment to tourist is maximum. If you walk in the streets, taxis and caleches (carriages) ask for a ride. In the temples, guides offers themselves. Shop keepers, restaurants ask you to ]enter. “Excuse me”, “where are you from” are typical calls. “La schokran” is a good answer.

After Luxor we take a flight to Sharm el Sheik, a set of big hotels, cassinos, restaurants and private houses at the south of the gulf of Akaba, in the Sinai peninsula. The dry climate, south of a peninsula, wonderful reefs and transparent waters remind me Los Cabos in Mexico. All the place is brand new: there was nothing there before 1970. We stayed at the Camel Hotel, that is at the center of the town, and is a good place if you are a diver, wish to learn to dive or only snorkeling around some reefs. The price was 489 LE daily including breakfast.

I had a dive class (first time in my life, only to have a taste of the thing) half a day, and in the next day went to a boat trip to snorkeling near Tiran Island. My wife doesn’t swim and resigned to go, and all other guys in the boat were divers. So I had the luxury of having a private snorkeling guide, pointing some fishes and warning about the currents. The underwater sights are amazing, full of colours and life, a complete contrast to the desert surroundings.

Next day my wife and me had a tour by bus to the Ras Mohamed National Park, where was possible to snorkeling around some reefs near the beach and contemplate the underwater realm once more. After the sunset, we always walked through the streets of Na’ama bay, full of tourists from several parts of the world and restaurants and bars where one can smoke the “sheesha”. Well, not for me. In the last day, we take an hour trip in a boat with glass bottom, to see more corals and fishes. There are many of them and cost 50 LE.

During the return fly to Cairo, it was possible to see again the Sinai desert, the gulf of Suez and the Nile. I had booked Airport Novotel because the fly to Paris next day was 7:30. The driver first let us at Iberotel and it was necessary someone from the hotel explain him that Novotel was the next one. When we finally came to Novotel, I gave a 50 LE (the ride was arranged for 45 LE) and he seemed to refuse (he didn’t speak any English). I started to think that he was trying to get more money, but soon realized that it was not 50 LE but 50 piastras (0,50 LE). Airport Novotel is pratical to whom will stay only one day, costed 600 LE. There is a shuttle to the airport. So, at 7:30 we took the flight to Paris and Rio. Back to Rio, out of customs, the big cultural difference: in each official radio taxi box, a smiling woman trying to catch the arriving passengers. In Egypt tourists almost only meet men in hotels, airport, shops and restaurants.

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