The excitement really began when we arrived in Egypt, we were looking forward to exploring such a different culture, not knowing quite what to expect. We were met by our hostel's driver Mohamed, who was full of wise cracks as he drove us through the city. Giant murals bought us up to play on the history and sightseeing spectacularrrs, and every so often an intriguing building, monument, or the turrets of a detailed mosque would pop its head out of the heaving metropolis.
To add to our experience, Mohamed played contemporary Egyptian music with an urd, an exotic beat that made the jammed traffic seem like a dance floor. Quick turns and manoeuvres were executed with such bravado that you sometimes felt that this really was a choreographed dance extravaganza that would leave you with your mouth agape in amazement, and sometimes a little scared at the proximity of other drivers. All it took was a little toot or beep, and like a sonar signal being received everyone would adjust accordingly. AMAZING! To make it feel more precarious a rather large proportion of vehicles seemed like they were more worthy of time travel than road travel, not to mention the odd horse or donkey pulling a cart.
Walk like an Egyptian brought on a new meaning when it was time to cross the road to our hostel, under guidance from Mohamed, who told us the way to cross is to close your eyes and go for it, translated, don't hesitate or chaos truly will rain down upon you, and guess what, sure enough, it worked every time.
Everyone was really friendly and welcoming, despite a few strange looks. We stayed in Downtown Cairo, where the "cheap" hotels were, so we were told, but despite this we didn't see many tourists around. 'Welcome to Egypt,' greets a guy at the local store when we were buying water, was kind of cool. We try to blend in at the local kosharyi joint, serving up a delicious pasta-type dishes and super cheap at about 80p a pop.
Day one, first priority has to be the pyramids. So we hire a camel and horse to see the pyramids, desert styles. Half way through our pyramid trek, Taui starts sneezing, which is weird as although he gets hay fever, there is no grass or pollen in sight, so we wonder if its the dust. And then after a while he starts itching all around his neck, and by the time we get back he is starting to wheeze and we realise that he's allergic to horses. Ughhh.
We took the opportunity to take plenty of silly photos, but our big camera started playing up, then the little one battery putts out, and we were down to Taui's iPhone, and this was the very beginning of the day, eeshk.
After checking out the most famous Giza pyramids, the home of the largest pyramid we headed to the oldest at a site called Saqqara. Here we descended into a pyramid down a deep stairwell into the tomb, where you can see the the hieroglyphs up close. It's really quite amazing to see how well preserved it is despite it's age and really eerie to see the opened sarcophagus sitting there.
We check out the Egyptian museum; full of mummies, giant statues and tiny trinkets. Although full of artefacts it is pretty thin on information – we have been spoiled in Europe with an abundance of information in signs and brochures for free. But as is the way here, information is a commodity and if you want it you have to pay for it. We gleamed what information we could from the various signs, and made up the rest in between. You find yourself wanting to know more about everything, there is so much to see and each new thing creates a new question.
One of the highlights of the museum was the findings from Tutanakmen's tomb. There was a little bit more info on this; he ruled during an enormous period of wealth and as such his tomb was stacked. Gold everything, and everything had a container, and then a container to contain that container and so on, one is never enough, and gold is the only respectable medium. His mask that went on the mummified body was super impressive, and apparently fashioned in the actual appearance of his face so the gods would know he was, handsome guy. One can only imagine what sort of egos these Kings had, fashioning themselves after gods and create such rich temples for their afterlife.
Having explored the more famous sites we were pretty keen to leave behind the city of Cairo and head south to check out some more sightseeing in Luxor. We spent the night on the sleeper train brushing up on a few Arabic phrases so we could converse with the locals, or just get directions. On arrival we knew it was a short walk from the station, there was this one guy who really was determined for us to take a taxi. Instead we ask for directions to which we followed, in the opposite direction of our accommodation, only to be met by him on a motorbike down the road, still determined we headed back the other way, refusing a ride on his bike and eventually find our hostel.
Luxor temple is pretty impressive, built on the scale of gods. We arrived just after a bunch of tour buses, which was really quite packed, with loads of cheesy photos going round, but after about a half an hour the tour buses go, leaving us practically by ourselves and it was really cool. Huge, monolithic columns and plenty of hieroglyphics to get the mind wondering about their meaning.
We decide to check out Karnak temple at night, as most places advertise a 'light and sound show,' and we think we ought to check out at least one of them. You got led through with a bit of show and history, with the narrator sounding like he was out of 'Conan the Barbarian.' Although we would have preferred to wonder around by ourselves like at Luxor temple, it was cool to see the place lit up at night, the columns there are even more imposing and really majestic bathed in ambient light.
After a little bargaining we find a taxi driver who takes us sightseeing for the majority of the day. The touts and vendors are really something else here, and they're a lot more prolific on the West bank attractions. We had to get creative to fend them off, trying to pretend to speak a language they didn't know, as they are versed in English, German, French, Spanish and Russian, so it was a bit of a lucky dip. At the tombs "Valley of the Kings", "Valley of the Queens", and "Hatshepsut" there is usually someone stationed inside who will jump up and try to act as a guide and offer information, all in return for baksheesh of course. Most of them it was someone pointing at a wall painting, saying 'Look, look, Ramses,' which we would mimic for the rest of our time in Egypt. And beyond.
Talk about amazing burial tombs! One could only imagine the cost of such dedications, especially when everything that you owned was buried with you. What about the missus??? Valley of the Queens? Can't be that simple can it?
After all the sightseeing and heat we take a felucca ride down the Nile, was a really relaxing way to spend the afternoon, not bothered by any touts. Our captain was quite sweet and was cool talking to him at a little cafe up the nile about politics, tourism and his hopes for his family. We sailed back into Luxor just as the sun was setting. Pretty gorgeous.