Egypt III

the Eastern Desert

 Rusty got fixed and we were happy to be on the road again…Towards Luxor…We knew that road along the Nile is bumpy, overcrowded and one of the reasons of going through Hurgada was avoid The Nile Route and drive longer, but on better roads. We were driving through the region called Eastern Desert. It is not that spectacular like Western Desert, but still nice landscapes were appearing during the long drive. Generally good road – freshly made. Some parts still were not finished and very dusty, but it was not that bad. Some photos below:

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Craziness in Luxor

When we were reaching Luxor, the sun started going down. Time to time, happy, local people were trying to stop us and invite for a common meal. We never used their offer as it wouldn’t be fair. We could eat all day, while them not really. (It seems that during the Ramadan, in some places, local people like together break a fast. They set up tables, chairs just along the road and prepare food and drinks for everyone, who is nearby – especially drivers. Just after sunset everybody can take something to drink and eat and in groups enjoy first meal and beverage before last dawn).

Unexpected meeting

When we finally drove into Luxor it was totally dark. We didn’t have any accommodation planned, so we were just driving around looking for some cheap accommodation. Suddenly our attention was attracted by backlit colonnade. We drove closer and we saw the beautiful Luxor Temple. We parked Rusty near the road and we get off to take some photos of that majestic structure. Few moments later a policeman came and said that we are not allowed leaving our vehicle in the place it was parked. That policeman was actually very nice. He didn’t want to fine us; he just came to warn us. This warning actually turned into seriously nice conversation. The young officer actually was living in Poland for some time, he was studying over there for a while and he knew some polish language. Surpassingly, it was a nice unexpected meeting. He gave us his phone number and told us to call him if we need any help or assistance.

Happy Land Hotel…. No, thank you I will stay away

After that great chat, we seriously started looking for a place to sleep. It was so noisy and overcrowded around that we got lost in our minds. We took our Lonely Planet Guide and looked through their budget accommodation in Luxor. We decided to try “their pick” and set GPS to the Happy Land Hotel…The name of that hotel was so optimistic…, but in real life wasn’t. First of all, we couldn’t find the street or a sign of the place, but someone finally showed us the building. Then, the hotel outside didn’t look interesting, Charlie went inside and stairway wasn’t convincing either. And last part reception – that part looked much better and the oldish guy sitting behind the desk also seemed to be nice.

The conversation started:

Charlie: “Salaam alaikum, I am looking for a cheap room”

The guy: “Yes, we have a nice room, with mini bar and air condition, good price, good price!”

Ch: “How much?”

G: “Good price, 80 Egyptian Pounds…”

Charlie smiled and said to him politely:  “ No sir, we don’t need mini bar or air condition, we would like to a really cheap room and only for one night…”

Plus he told him our story about travelling through Africa, travelling on a low budget and so on…

The guy was not interested in listening what Charlie was saying. Suddenly, his attitude changed extremely. He stopped pretending a normal receptionist and became a full of aggression person. He stood up and started yelling half in English half in Arabic. He was PUSHING Charlie OUT OF THE DOOR and in one moment he did what Charlie had never expected. The Egyptian guy SPAT AT HIM and CALLED HIM AN ISRAELI BASTARD.

Charlie didn’t want to spend there any minute longer, and he quickly came back to Rusty. The old man was following him for a little while and the last words we had heard from him, before we drove off were: “….Bastard…You have a car and you want cheap…”

I think I don’t have comment that situation…Well angry, tired and hungry we needed to find another place to stay, but in Luxor after dusk everything looks similar. We couldn’t find any place at logical price. Finally, Charlie asked taxi driver for help. The guy directed us to the cheapest hotel in Luxor and probably even in Egypt!!! We don’t remember the name and street of that place (and Even Google map doesn’t show it), but it was very close to the Luxor train station. (Photo below).

The Cheapest hotel in Luxor…or even in Egypt

The room we got was very, very basic (Shame, we don’t have photos). It had 4 wall, 2 very used beds and a working fan in the ceiling. It had small but nice balcony and old, wooden shutters. The most basic of basics.  But what could you expect for 2 USD/ room? Luckily just on the opposite side of the street, there was secured car park and we could leave our Rusty there. Ironically, parking for our van was more expensive than our hotel. The parking was huge, people working there nice and we paid 4 USD/night. The hotel had quite interesting neighborhood , however every day at around 6 or 7 am there was a car driving around the are with gas bottles. To inform other people that gas is available they were hitting those bottles with a stick or something giving extremely annoying noise! That was especially traumatic for Charlie as he got sick.

Charlie’s  Disease

 In the middle of the night he woke me up and asked if he had a fever as he was feeling weird. I checked his head – he was like a radiator! He had to feel horrible. I was doing cold compresses for him and I was giving him pharacetamol to bring down the fever. The other symptoms Charlie had (beside high temperature) were: shivers, lack of appetite, tiredness, vision problem, chest pain, which converted to back pain. We don’t know what that was however, but we called it “3 days virus”. After 3 days Charlie finally felt better and next few days he was recovering.

Around Luxor

Luxor was built around 4000 years ago on the site of ancient Thebes. It is a curious mix of provincial country town. Luxor has been characterized as the “world” greatest open air museum – plenty of ruins, monuments, temples and tombs.

It also looks that a fairy large community of Christians live in Luxor and West Bank across the River. We discovered some Christian relics and seen two or three churches on our mini tour around Luxor. Additionally, we met a nice Christian guy, who told us a little bit about Christianity in Egypt.

Because of the fact that Charlie was sick and we both barely managed to walk in that heat we didn’t do lots of sightseeing. Moreover, when we were in Luxor, there was much less tourists than normally (thousands of tourists from all around the world arrive annually to visit this city and its ancient surroundings, contributing a large part towards the economy for the side) and we were stopped on every turn and besieged. We seriously felt hemmed and that is what we heard around: “Where you go? “ “Taxi, cheap, cheap”,” Why you walking, we drive you”, “do you need guide?”,” Don’t go, I just want to practice my English” and more and more.Time to time we were pretending that we didn’t know English and we were answering in polish: “We don’t understand“, “We don’t speak English”…Some of them gave up, but some of them wanted to speak in polish as they knew few words…

Most of what we have seen in Luxor besides two main Temples you will see in the photos, but generally we walked along the Nile and we limited ourselves to East Bank, plus we visited Railway Station (Charlie found that place very interesting).

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Luxor’s Temples

We have decided to visit two main Temples in Luxor. First one was Karnak, formally known as Temples of Karnak.  It is a spectacular complex of sanctuaries, kiosks, pylons and obelisks, dedicated to the Theban gods and the greater glory of Egypt’s pharaohs. We paid 35 EP/ person (price based on student ID)

Luxor Temple – We paid 25 EP/ person (price based on student ID). It was built on the site of an older sanctuary dedicated to Theban triad and it’s absolutely graceful piece of architecture close to the Nile.

When we saw that Temple for a first time; it was backlit beautifully in the dark. We decided to visit that place during the late evening (Yeah, it was open to late hours) and feel that magical, ancient vibe. We bought tickets, and before we went to see the main part of the site we had walked around Sphinx’s Avenue. When we were getting closer to the first pharaohs’ sculptures, first guide came and started talking and talking and convincing us that taking a guide in that site is necessary. He showed us his ID and said that he was professional guide, who would tell us the whole history of Luxor Temple. We didn’t want a guide as we wanted to explore that site on our own. We were politely refusing his services for more than 10 minutes. Finally, he understood, that we really didn’t want a guide and he walked away saying: “If you change your mind, please ask for me”. When he was gone, another intrusive guide came and started his spiel – and it started all over again. He said that he was the only professional guide around the place as he finished historical studies and he would be very happy to tell us stories connected with that ancient temple.  For more than another 10 minutes we were trying to explain that we didn’t need anybody to walk with us, as we wanted to discover Luxor Temple by ourselves. In the end the guide left us reluctantly, leaving us his business card. After 30 minutes we finally thought that we could go alone to explore the site, but the first guy came back offering his services again. He saw when we were chatting with his competitor and I guess felt jealous. Politely, but firmly we refused him as a guide. This time he left us his phone number and said: “Remember, I was talked to you first!”.  So we wasted more than half an hour just on getting rid of unwanted guides, but walking on our own was very worth it. No other people, no tourists. We felt the spirit of that place. It was like back in time to ancient time. Discovering that Luxor Temple after dusk is highly recommended!

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Quick sprint around “the Valley of the Kings”

The West Bank of Luxor was the necropolis of ancient Thebes, a vast city of the dead where magnificent temples were raised to honor the cults of Pharaohs entombed in nearby cliffs and where queens, nobles, priests and artisans had tombs built with spectacular design (Lonely Planet, 2006). Many people call the whole area the Valley of the Kings, but the area is much more than that, the valley is only small part of the site.

Due to the fact that Charlie was sick we didn’t visit much over there. We saw the famous Temple of Hatshepsut, but only outside. We took only one photo (as taking photos of temples without paying is forbidden – even outside). When we went for a second to the Ticket Office just to use toilets (not to buy a ticket), guards were watching us whether we were talking photos or not.

We decided to explore only one temple called Esana Temple. We paid only 15 EP/person and we got our private guide. I am not quite convinced whether we really saw the Esana Temple, but the site we were exploring was interesting.  The guide was actually nice and funny. Maybe he a little bit overdid with acting, but still we got a private tour🙂 . What I mean by acting is that, when he was talking story connected with that Temple, he was adding comments such as:

-“ There is Mummy, so we need to be quite, because we not allowed to be here, I am just doing you a favor” or  “we need to bend, because they will see us” or “no photo here, but you can take I will watch if somebody follows us”

Well, it was a sort of a show, but still interesting adventure. At the end our guide asked us for some baksheesh. We paid him some monies  – We never agreed the price at the beginning, but he did a good job.

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Aswan and our amazing Nubian home

Aswan is southernmost city in Egypt, which sits on the banks of particularly beautiful stretch of the Nile. The river here, has dark blue waters and it is decorated with dense palm -fringed islands and flotillas of white sailed feluccas. Behind the Nile, gentle hills of sand rise creating incredible landscape.  Aswan is associated with the Nubian people, a distinct ethnic group with their own language and customs. Lots of travellers claim that this town has more African character than the cities in the north.

When we arrived to Aswan, we sort of knew where to drive. We have read about  a Camping, which was especially designed for overlanders. Plus our GPS suggested this place a first position. This Campsite is called ADAM HOME and it was our peaceful home for 2 weeks as that amount of time we had to stay in Aswan (without any choice), before we got to Sudan. Why we needed to stay in Aswan that long?  You will read about that in next posts🙂

Regarding ADAM HOME – This place is run by very friendly Nubian guy – Sammy, who is also known as a Egyptian Eddie Murphy (see photo). Staying it that place was a seriously different  in comparison what we had already experienced in Egypt. We could rest there in tranquil atmosphere. When we arrived, Charlie was still really sick and all he needed was just to lie down. He was negotiating price for a room lying on the little stone wall in front of the Campsite. Because there was no way to get Rusty inside the camping (really high thresholds),  we got offered to take one of the little mudbrick rooms, for which we were finally paying  40 EP/night. The guy we were discussing price with, knew English very well and he was one of the nicest people we have ever met in Egypt. His name was Mohamed, he was Sammy’s cousin, and his help in Aswan was invaluable (it would be more extended in next posts).

Nubians are amazing people – we had this opportunity to experience a proper Nubian hospitality. We were told many times by Sammy or Mohamed :Please, feel like homeor This is your Nubian home. It was so, so nice to hear words like those. Adam Home provides camping facilities and we  were also told to use kitchen/ cooker/ fridge whenever we had a need. It was so nice of them and to us it was kind of salvation – especially fridge as finally we could drink something colder than the outside temperature, which sometimes was reaching 50°C degrees.

During the day, the place was rather empty . Firstly, because our Nubians were at work and secondly we were only overlanders/people at Adam Home. Nevertheless, we didn’t feel very lonely. Time to time, during the evenings, we were being invited for an amazing Nubian tea in the company  of Mohamed, Sammy and their friends and we were chatting. We have learnt something more about their culture and also we were told that they don’t like when people call them Egyptians as they are the Nubians .

From my observation it seems that the Nile divides Aswan into two parts. Driving from Luxor – on the right bank the Nubians’ villages are settled, while the left bank is more Egyptian. Most of the travellers stay on the left side of the river as there is more hotels, shops and restaurants. Nevertheless, tourists can take a boat/ felucca and ride on the Nubian side. Adam Home is an example of really beautiful and colourful Nubian House. Once, we had a really funny situation –  when we were cooking, a guide with bunch of tourists came to Adam Home. I think everybody got confused seeing each other, but when the guy started talking about Nubian’s traditions and customs, his sightseers started taking photos of the place and us…! Well, we didn’t mind, however I don’t think that we were very exciting to them as we looked very similar🙂

Exploring the right side of the Nile river, we also had opportunity to visit different Nubians homes. People were very nice and welcoming. Once we even got invited for a tea by an adorable lady. When they were offering their tourism services (felucca ride or being a guide in a temple), they actually never were pushy or aggressive. Me and Charlie really liked the colourful style of Nubians’ houses.

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