The pyramids, the sphinx, the temples, the tombs, the mummies. The legendary attractions of ancient Egypt, as awesome as expected. The surprise - besides the lack of crowds, the variety of transport that conveyed us to these sites!
Our guide Tarek (who was in
Tahrir Square and who, like so many we met, is now hopeful and proud of their new Egypt), said that sometimes he has had to wait ten minutes to get his group close to a particular display in the Egyptian Museum. The morning we visited, there were no waits. At one point, I stood totally alone in front of the mask of
Part of the advance allure of the trip, besides the antiquities, was floating down (ok, motoring up) the Nile and stopping at the monuments. Tours of Egypt frequently follow similar itineraries and probably use similar facilities. Our tour company, Overseas Adventure Travel, used various modes of transportation, great experiences in themselves, with logistical precision. The small shuttle buses, the walking tours, the cruise and the two flights were the basics. Then there were the ferry crossings, the hot air balloon ride, the felucca sail, the carriage rides, and the camel ride. Except for the balloon, we needed all these kinds of transport to get where we were going.
But back to the bus. Every trip afforded new sights from the bus windows:
Cairo's historical landmarks and places of interest (plus its traffic - five lanes of vehicles where four are marked, plus weaving motorcycles and pedestrians and incessant horns); sugar cane fields with their irrigation ditches and smoky burns; villages with crowded streets, galabeya and rugs hanging from balconies, and sidewalk hookah smokers; houses which looked unfinished but were just waiting for the next generation to add a new story; the desert stretches en route to Abu Simbel; the donkeys with their carts and of the trucks with their heaping loads of garlic. A moving panorama, often with narration.
The optional hot air balloon ride in Luxor reveled in many spectacles.
The Valley of the Kings, the
Temple of Hatshepsut and the
Colossi of Memnon, seen from ground level the day before, passed below us, as well as groves of palm trees and a patchwork of sugar cane fields. We crossed the Nile and looked down at the
Temples of Luxor and Karnak, at the waiting cruise ships, and at the roofs with patios or chickens and goats.
The cruise ship was an oasis on the water. After taking in the history and marvels of a temple, re-embarking guests were met with moist washcloths and hibiscus tea. We drifting travelers enjoyed excellent and abundant food, views of ever-changing landscapes, and incredible serenity. There were other travels on the river: a felucca sail to the Botanical Gardens in Aswan; and the several ferry trips back and forth across the Nile over the course of the trip.
We walked as well, everywhere we visited, and we rode in carriages with painted wheels in Luxor, Edfu, and Aswan, swiveling to catch the exotic market sights and sounds. Walking in those cities proved a magnet to hopeful drivers. Bargaining over the fare with them and with taxi drivers was a lesson in cultural exchange.
Here is an Aswan morning that illustrates the travel variety. Outside the hotel, we board the shuttle bus, which takes us the short distance to the river and to the waiting ferry, which takes us across the Nile. On the other bank, a camel and driver waits for each of us. We ride the camels (yes, we do) to the desert monastery of
St. Simeon, where we tour the ruins of this monastery/fortress, and then ride the camels to a Nubian village where we have tea in the compound of a local family. We walk through the village to our waiting ferry, which takes us to an island. There, we enjoy an outdoor buffet lunch; then we re-board the ferry to go back to the bus, which takes us to the hotel. And that is just the morning! Egypt's many ways of going: a great surprise!
Traveler Michelle H. Norell, PhD, has degrees from the University of Rochester, Brown University, and George Mason University. She is an amateur photographer and retired educator with a professional history in school administration and teaching English, Film Study, and Advanced Composition.
Michelle Hull Norell
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