Our Egyptian Adventure
When we visited the Queen Hatshepsut Temple in Luxor, we felt quite safe. We were shocked when, only two weeks after our visit, in November 1997, several dozen tourists were killed there!
Our hotel in Cairo was conveniently located on El Gezirah Island in the Nile River, within a walk of Tahrir Square, where, a month before our visit, nine tourists were killed.
Here is a "blow-by-blow" description of our tour.
NOTE: Freedom Pointe Independent Living is celebrating Egypt this month and I have volunteered to give a short "travelogue" presentation to the residents about the trip Vi and I took back in 1997. I found the posting I did back then on my old Prodigy blog on the "Wayback Machine" and have updated it here (mostly replacing the tiny photos we had to use back then due to slow internet speeds with larger versions, and adding more photos).
From New York to London to Cairo
We flew from New York-JFK to London, where we visited Hyde Park and had lunch in Piccadily Circus during our layover.
(Sat 10/25/97, Leave London Heathrow 4pm to Cairo)
We then flew to Cairo where we were met by our tour company director, Tariq, and our mini-bus driver, Zacharia, who took us to our hotel, the Sheraton, on El Gezireh Island in the middle of the Nile, with a terrific view of the Nile and Cairo. (Arrive at El Gezireh Sheraton, 11:30pm)
(Sun 10/26/97, Visit the majestic pyramids of Giza, the timeless Sphinx, and the Valley Temple. Lunch at Mena House, visit Sakkara Pyramid.)
The following morning, we met our tour guide, Mona, and the other three members of our tour, a newly-wed couple (in their 60's) and his son (in his 30's). This was a nearly-personal tour!
Cairo Traffic is an Adventure
In Egypt, lane markers and traffic lights are strictly for decoration. Drivers squeeze around and between each other, honking their horns not out of anger, but just to let each other know they are there and coming through! Meanwhile, donkey carts, people on bicycles, people on foot, and even the occasional herd of sheep, cross the streets between the cars and trucks and buses, and no one seems to get hurt!
Camel Ride Adventure
The camel driver rushed over to Vi and pulled her next to the camel, which was kneeling down. She (and I :^) figured I was just going to take a photo of her standing next to the camel, but, next thing we knew, the camel driver maneuvered her leg over the camel and she was sitting. I asked the driver, "What is this going to cost me?" He said, "Whatever you want to pay." Then, UP went the camel!
Then it was my turn. I willingly got on the camel and the driver exchanged my hat for his head scarf. Then UP went the camel!!! Camels get up and down one end at a time, which makes you feel like you will slide over the the front or rear. Once fully up, they are level, but VERY high!
As Vi prepared to take photos of me, the camel driver grabbed the lead and ran with the camel to a place where she could get the pyramids in the background of the photo. I held on for dear life as the camel trotted along!
Vi took a picture of me on the camel, with the pyramids in the background. Then the driver told Vi to hold the camel's lead and he would take a picture of the two of us. As he fiddled with the camera, the camel developed an interest in Vi's backpack, as you can see.
The Camel Was Sniffing Vi's Backpack!
When we got back to the mini-bus, we told Mona, our guide, all the details. She left the bus and returned with the camel driver a moment later. He handed me my three $10 bills and said he was sorry. Mona told me to pay him 20 Egyptian pounds (about $6). I tried to give him $10 but Mona was insistent, and the Camel Adventure cost us only $6 (if you don't count the extra big tip I gave Mona that evening.)
Police-Escorted Convoy to Alexandria
The next day we were driven to Alexandria, about three hours northwest of Cairo. We were stopped by police along the highway and put into a convoy of tour buses and mini-buses for part of the drive there. We thought nothing of it and did not feel the least bit uneasy, but, considering the tourist shoot-up that occurred a couple weeks later, perhaps we should have.
Flight to Our Nile Cruise Boat at Aswan, Flight to Abu Simbel, Nile Cruise
Early the next morning, two couples joined our original group, and we were all hustled to the airport for an Egypt Air flight to Aswan, a few hundred miles south of Cairo. We and our luggage were hustled through airport security, which didn't seem too effective (but it was fast!) We were supposed to check our luggage, but, due to poor instructions, we just left it all on a cart, and hustled to board the packed flight. When we reached Aswan we were concerned about our luggage, but, it showed up!
In Egypt, we learned, things are not always planned fully, but somehow, thank God, they seem to work out!
There were a couple dozen English-speaking people in the Nile Cruise portion of our tour, and our guide was Vivian. Most of the other tourists on the boat were Italian or French-speaking.
(Wed. 10/29/97, Fly to Abu Simbel to visit temple of Ramses II with its four colossal statues and the smaller temple of Queen Nefertari. Return to Aswan where ship leaves for sail down Nile to Kom Ombo. Visit Ptolemaic temple at Kom Ombo after sunset.)
After the guided tour and lunch, I walked about two miles in Aswan, including some back streets and local market areas. Although I was clearly a lone tourist, I did not feel at all in danger.
(Thu. 10/30/97, Leave Kom Ombo at 4am and sail down Nile to Edfu. Tour Edfu Temple. Sail to Esna and tour Temple of the Ram-Headed God Khnum at Esna. Continue sailing to Luxor and attend Galabia Party at dinner.)
Galabia Party on Nile Cruise - Do I Look Like a Rabbi?
(Fri 10/31/97, Cross Nile by local ferry to visit Colossi of Memnon, Valley of the Kings, Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, and Valley of the Queens.)
In Luxor, after our morning escorted tour that included the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut where several dozen tourists were to be mowed down two weeks later, I rented a bike. For an hour I rode around the Luxor, all by myself.
At one point, to get off the heavily traveled main street, I strayed into a lower-class residential area with dirt streets. I was wearing a hat that had "NY" on it and children called out to me, in English, and said "hello" and "welcome". One boy grabbed hold of the rear of the bike and I shouted "La-a" which is "no" in Arabic, but he held on until I shouted "don't touch!" in English. The dirt streets were winding in and out like a rabbit warren with many dead ends. I had trouble finding my way out and back to the main street, but, eventually I did, with no harm done. I felt quite comfortable during that ride.
(Sat 11/1/97, Tour Temple of Karnak and then Luxor. Fly back to Cairo. Arrive at hotel at 11:30pm.)
(Sun 11/2/97, Visit Cairo Egyptian Museum, Royal Manial Palace, Saladin’s Citadel, Alabaster Mosque and the Sultan Hassan Mosque.)
We Get the "Mummy's Curse" Also Known as "Pharoh's Revenge"
(Mon 11/3/97, Tour Bab Al Tutuh and Bab an Nasr, two great citadel gates in the old city walls. Lunch at El Khan Restaurant, shop in bazaars and open air markets of Khan El Khalili Suq.)
Bumper Car Adventure
Cairo Subway to "Old Cairo" Adventure - We Got Stoned!
Due to a poor map and a dumb guide (me), we missed the tourist area (Coptic Church, Mosque, and a Synagogue) and ended up in an area of lower-class housing, a cement processing area, and a dump. A small boy called out in English "Good Morning" and I answered back "Good Morning" (although it was afternoon!)
On the way we passed a tourist (from Sweden) who told us he had turned around because the area didn't look good. But I pigheadedly led our little group on.
As we walked along, a boy came up to us and, in English, said "welcome" and asked us where we were from. A moment later, he winced and backed away and I saw a stone (about 2" in diameter) rolling near us, then another stone and one of my companions said he was nearly hit in the leg. I looked across the street and saw a boy throwing a rock and I waved to him and that was all. We didn't run, just continued walking and headed back to the subway station.
I don't think the boy throwing rocks was trying to hit us, perhaps he was angry with the boy who was talking to us. I don't know. However, recent events show that my feeling of comfort may have been misplaced.
(Tue 11/4/97, Tour of Christian and Jewish Old Cairo with Coptic Churches of Abu Serghius and Al Molaka, the Coptic Museum, and Ben Ezra Synagogue. Visit Modinet Nasr to see the tomb of Egypt’s late president Anwar Sadat.)
"Shalom! You're Jewish?"
The synagogue site may date back to the founding of Fostat (Old Cairo) in the seventh century. The building itself, though rebuilt several times, dates from the tenth century. Between 1177 and 1204 the congregation was led by our greatest Rabbi and scholar, Moses Maimonides, who was also physician to the Sultan. In the late 19th century, the scholar Solomon Schecter studied paper fragments from the synagoge genizah (storeroom for discarded holy books), and found some in Maimonides own hand.
It was a pleasure to tour this wonderful example of the tenacity of the Jewish people, and contribute a bit to its preservation. I hope the congregation will grow and prosper! The recent appointment of an Orthodox Jewish American as US Ambasador to Egypt could add another family to the congregation. he Jewish population of Cairo may grow.
(Wed 11/5/97, Visit Islamic Museum, Gayer Anderson House (a pair of traditional Arab houses joined together dating from 1540 and 1630 AD) and Ibn Toulon Mosque. Evening visit to the Sound and Light Show near the Pyramids at Giza.)
(Thu 11/6/97, Morning visit to Pharaonic village, lunch at Felfela restaurant. Visit to Mona's apartment.)
Visit With Mona's Family
The cab driver offered to wait for us and we negotiated a total price of 70 LE (about $20) for the round-trip plus waiting for an hour and a half.
A special treat was meeting Mona's six-year-old daughter Sara, her four-year-old son Khalid, and her baby daughter. We also met the girl who takes care of her children and Mona's sister, who speaks French. Her husband, also a tour guide, was up in Luxor with some Spanish-speaking tourists.
She and her husband have owned this apartment for five years, but they are not yet living there. It seems loans are not available and they are fixing it up incrementally, as they can afford it. It is a very nice two-bedroom apartment with a large living room. All floors have been tiled and the walls are nicely painted. However, bare light bulbs hang from the ceiling and the wall outlets are not completed yet. A neighbor had to put a jumper around a fuse-box to get the lights to go on.
The only furniture consisted of a nice area carpet, a couch and some easy chairs, all brand new. In the kitchen, a stove and refrigerator were still bundled in plastic and the sink had not been installed yet. They hope to move in in two years or so. They purchased the apartment for about 30,000 LE from a military officer who obtained it for only 10,000 LE. It is now worth over 60,000 LE.
In Egypt, Even a Sheraton Hotel Checkout Requires Negotiation!
Relaxing at the SheratonI spent over a half-hour checking out of the Sheraton hotel. I expected to pay only for the bottled water which is an "extra" in Egypt (like alcohol would be in the US). However, they tried to charge me for all the meals (over 800 LE, about $250) and I had to point out to them that we had a voucher for them. Then, they tried to charge me for the extra on one meal where we went over the 144 LE limit plus the room service meal Vi had on our last day, which, with the water, would have been about 130 LE. We probably owed them for Vi’s meal since it wasn’t covered, but our charges for other meals had been way below the limit, mainly because we were sick. Therefore, I told the clerk to add up the cost of all meals and compare it to our total allowance. He did so and said they owed us money :^) In the end, I paid 18 LE (just for the water), but it took me over a half hour to settle the bill.
(Fri 11/7/97, Tranfer to airport for 8:45am flight to London Heathrow, and on to New York-JFK.)
Postscript: About Living with Danger
Since reading that story, I've decided that my time will come when it comes and I'll enjoy life, within reason, until then. If there is a bullet (or a pumpkin) with my name on it, so be it!
Vi and I discussed what we would have done had the terrorist event at Luxor occurred while we were in Egypt. As you may have heard, British Airways sent seven empty planes to the Luxor airport to evacuate tourists who wanted to leave. We both agreed that we would NOT have left, but would have continued our vacation. I asked Vi what she would have done had the shoot-up occurred a week or two before our vacation, rather than two weeks after. She said, and I concur, that we would have taken the vacation!