Monday, 13 July 2015

Summer of Fun: Egypt Part 1

Egypt 16 May - 25 May
"What was Egypt like? Was it safe? It looks incredible! I don't think I could do it though…"

If I had a penny for the amount of times I heard this when I returned…I'd have about 10 quid. Which is still quite a few times to be asked the same series of questions.

Egypt was amazing.
It was safe, although I did get food poisoning.
I've already said it was amazing.
Of course you could! Do a tour…

How did I come to be in Egypt? The same way a lot of my best decisions are made: I was drunk. 

I went to the Travel Talk brochure launch way back in October 2014 as I had already decided I would do a Croatia sailing tour. While there, I downed a large cider and stood chatting, becoming more and more convinced that Egypt is a place I need to go. £179 for 9 days? Only a £10 deposit, right? I've spent more on less, I thought to myself, and whacked down my tenner.

I had originally booked to go on the Felucca Odyssey tour but after researching exactly what a felucca was, I decided that I would be unable to do it. A felucca is a traditional Egyptian sailing boat, the clincher being no shower or toilet on board. For someone with my belly issues, I wasn't game to risk that, and so just on the day of the deadline I switched to the Jewels of the Nile tour, which swapped the felucca for a cruise ship. And so it begins.

Read part one of my Summer of Fun: Greece.

16 May
Extremely out of character, I slept almost the whole flight. The scent of dinner woke me up. As a result, I was pretty rattled when I landed and when I was roughly halfway through customs I saw a Travel Talk sign, held by Bishu. He raced me through the rest of the process; getting my visa, propelling me over here, propelling me over there, chatting briskly with this security guard, leading me at a quickened pace through customs before we burst into the hot night air. We chatted away on the drive about all sorts of things. My ankles were eaten by mosquitos by the time we reached the resort (yes, you read correctly, resort) and I checked in, having arrived a night early.

The tour wasn't to start until the night of the 16th so I spent the day gently meeting my tour mates, my roommate Emma and lazing by the pool. At one point, a few of the girls and I covered up as much as we could bear to in the heat and walked down the street to get some water and snacks. What ensued was honking, whistling, more honking, honking from the other side of the highway, cars slowing down, yelling and more honking. I assume our ankles showing was quite the sight. At the hole-in-the-wall store, I discovered POP, little ice-cream balls that were to become my new favourite thing ever. 

After our induction, we all piled into the bus to head to dinner. I was extremely hangry and joined the queue before the rest of my table. Later that evening, our entertainment was a beautiful belly dancer and two men dancing the tanoura, a traditional Egyptian men's dance that involves spinning, and a lot of it. The belly dancer dragged Zoe and myself up onto the stage, where I attempted to wiggle between fits of laughter. Zoe had the moves! Meanwhile I wiggle about as much as a ruler. This was followed by a short statured man who took to the stage in a spinning skirt for the tanoura dance. He was then replaced by a gentleman who appeared to be the "proper" dancer - this all seemed a little contrived and awkward as we weren't comfortable laughing at the little man.

Either way, the man began to spin. And spin. And spin. In my position at the corner of the stage, he continuous toyed with me - pretending to throw something in my direction to make me jump, or moving behind me so I couldn't see him. 

Spinning around like a top

Round of applause, and that drew day one to a close. We had an early night as there was a big day on the morrow.

17 May
First up on this stiflingly hot day: the oldest pyramid in Egypt, the step pyramid built by King Zoser in 2700BC. Let that sink in for a second. 27th century BC. That's 5 thousand years ago. The pyramid was largely under construction and it was not long before we were back on the bus and making our way to the pyramids everyone knows: the world famous pyramids of Giza, build for Cehops, Chephren and Mycrenos. 

The urban sprawl has extended almost to the base of the Great Pyramid, which stands 139m tall. Originally, all three of the pyramids had been covered in limestone. This would have caused the pyramids to glow and sparkle white across the golden barren dessert. However, over the course of the years, much of this fell down, and a lot was also used for other ancient constructions. Only the tip of the Middle pyramid remains. 

The pyramids now can be seen as giant building blocks, each one standing almost as tall as I am. There are many theories of how the rocks came to be in place: aliens or slave labour being the most popular. Our guide, Sam, explained that in the low seasons, there was a significant amount of unemployment and so the pharaoh paid for his subjects to help build the enormous structures. Willing participants work much better than slaves!  

There are also a great number of theories as to the stones were placed there, some of which are similar to that at Stonehenge. To move the rocks, a small amount of water was poured onto the sand in front of a pulley system. This prevented the rock from piling into the sand and allowed it to glide with more ease across the now more rigid surface. Finally, how do each rocks fit into place? Many rocks were quarried from the same area, and so the rocks were able to fit back in next to their brothers and sisters once reassembled.

The Middle Pyramid, with limestone tip, seen through the building
blocks of the Great Pyramid

Utterly fascinating! I spent some time climbing up the giant rock steps, before haggling (poorly) with a local for a couple of headdresses with Smita. We were about to board our camel and I had to look the part! The camel was to take us from the middle pyramid to the smaller, third pyramid. I scurried on top, and tried to organise my belongings in my hands before suddenly I was pitched forward.

I screamed. I was pitched backwards. I screamed some more. The camel had chosen exactly that moment, when both my hands were full, to stand up. Not having any stirrups, I had to rely on my incredible thigh strength to keep me on the humpy beast.

The camel ride lasted about half an hour, during which time I squealed an awful lot. My hands shaking, I took a few terrible selflies before gaining confidence that I wouldn't drop my phone (that seemed to be my primary concern, not falling off). I looked around and spotted others with stirrups - I continued to clasp with my knees and thighs. We stopped with the perfect view of the pyramids behind us and I tentatively passed my phone to the child who had been leading our group of 2. He took a series of slightly askew photos before finally handing my phone back to me. 

We continued on a short distance before it was time to dismount.
"Lean forward," he said. I leant forward. the camels back legs dropped.
"Now lean back."
I held on tight and leaned back as the camels front legs dropped. We were now resting on the ground so I swung my legs over, quickly scurrying away from the boy who was demanding more tips despite us already having paid a tip.

What an experience, what a ride! 

Our next stop was a quick peek at the Sphinx, before the long, long drive to Hurghada. We arrived late at night and Emma and I decided we wouldn't go to the foam party at the resort. Ok, we will go for a short walk around the resort and have a peek at the foam party, but we won't go in.

Nek minute, we're shoes off, free-poured vodka in hand, dancing it up in a giant pool of foam.

The music and lighting were excellent, the drinks strong. The foam came pouring out of a funnel in the middle of the room and it was all encompassing. We were soaked and slippery. The detergent stung my eyes, and I took the foam as an opportunity to half wash the clothes I was wearing. We danced and slipped and slid and before long, tt was time to break the seal, so I jumped out of the foam pool. Straight onto a shard of glass.

Fuck, I said. Ouch. I hobbled my way to a couch and inspected the damage. A large, approx 1/2 inch long shard had lodged not upwards, but across under the surface of the ball of my right foot. I couldn't see it, but I could feel it. Kaisha had also jumped out and, sitting beside me, I pushed the shard upwards while she dug around with her fingernails until she could grab and extract it. 

Less than ideal. I sat there with a napkin pressed to my foot, trying to stem the flow of blood. A waiter approached me, looking concerned. He glanced at my foot and said, "Do you want another drink?" I was confused, as I thought my bleeding foot was rather obvious. "No, could I have a bandaid please?" He left and returned with a napkin. Close enough, I guess.

This concluded the night for me. I put my shoes on and with Kaisha I hobbled my back to the room, stopping for a quick dip in the forbidden pool. When I took off my shoe, the inside and my sock was red with blood, and I cleaned it best I could. Water to hydrate, then bed.

18 May
I had decided to go snorkelling this morning in the Red Sea, which in hindsight probably wasn't one of my better decisions. My sliced up foot was now rather sore and, with the cut being on the ball of my foot, made walking rather difficult (especially when it was filling with gritty sand). I also had some difficulty with the snorkel and putting my face under the water - every time I had a panic attack and I can't quite fathom what was going on as I snorkelled a lot while I was in Vanuatu and New Caledonia. I think it may have been the fact the water was a little rough. Either way, it was a beautiful day, the ocean and the glass bottom boat were fascinating - we saw a lot of fishies and even more wiggly jellyfish…

We were back on the road again. This afternoon we visited a perfumery which made "flower essence" perfumes. I was a little skeptical that it was another front of a business like they do in India, and I'm still reasonably convinced it was, but never-the-less the perfumes smelt divine and I bought myself one as I do not own any perfume. Now I can casually say, "Oh this? I bought this in Egypt, it's made out of flower essence…" 

On the road again, now to Luxor. I took myself off to bed reasonably early as I had a 3am start the next day.

So many pretty bottles!

19 May
Today was the day I was looking forward to the most. Today I was going to be going up up up in a hot air balloon. About twenty of us departed with sleepy eyes across the river on a cute little ferry where they gave us tea, before piling into a big basket. My hands were shaking, and my fear of heights was at the forefront. I prepared myself for the take off when…

No jolt, no lurch, just a gentle, slow ascent into the stratosphere.  It was calm and peaceful, despite the occasional burst of flames into the basket.

Pretty pleased with myself and holding on tight

The view was beautiful. On the left, desert. We could see the Valley of the Kings from here. Beneath us was fertile green farm land. To our right, the Nile and the rising sun, and on the other banks the city could be seen in the morning light. Three very distinct landscapes all in one view - breathtaking. A few other hot air balloons ascended into the sky, silhouetted against the sunrise.

After some time floating up and down and over the river, it was time to land. We landed very suddenly in a farm yard in a tiny patch of un-cultivated land - I'm still impressed the hot air balloon operator could navigate so perfectly! - and waited for the hot air balloon crew to find us to let us out of the basket. While we waited, the man's family and many children came out to look at us, at this odd spectacle of people emerging from a basket in their backyard.

Desert, green and city

It was a beautiful start to what was going to be a long and uncomfortable day. We returned to the resort for breakfast before setting out to see the Colossi of Memnon, two giant seated statues that have sat there for 3400 years. Today was hot. Very hot, and I was quite glad to get back on the bus again.

Our next stop was the Valley of the Kings, where pharaohs were buried in elaborate tombs during the 16th-11th century BC. The most notable pharaohs found here were King Tutankhamun and Ramesses II. No photos could be taken, but it was a privilege to be able to descent under the ground and see the magnificent tombs. 

The walls, for thousands of years, have remained largely untouched and bright coloured paint adorned the hundreds of hieroglyphics that covered every single available space on the wall. The ceilings were painted too, often dark blue with twinkling stars, or elaborate works of art that told the circle of life.  The colour captured my attention - I had only ever seen hieroglyphics carved into the stone, but we learned that in ancient times they were all brightly painted. It was amazing to see it in colour here as it would have looked thousands of years prior. 

I was flagging by lunch time, but before we ate, we visited the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut - a temple I would have paid more attention to had I been feeling better. She was the first female pharaoh but as women were not allowed to rule, she was acknowledge as a king. As a result, her statues depict her female face on a male body. Kudos to girl power! At her temple I nearly blacked out from the heat and lack of food and water, and was extremely pleased when it was time for lunch.

Lunch was delicious but it turned out to be my downfall. By the mid-afternoon, my whole body ached and my skin was sore to touch. That night I was to be sleeping on the cruise ship set to sail for the next 3 days. I was feeling very, very bad but decided to still head out to the Nubian family dinner, one of the optional extras. Again, hindsight dictates that I should not have gone as I continued to decline; I could not eat any of the delicious food they prepared, although I have a bit of a cuddle with a baby crocodile.

My next few days I was even more thankful to be on the cruise ship, and I progressively became thinner and weaker.

To be continued - read Part 2 here.