EGYPTIAN ADVENTURES 1
April 12 - 27, 2005 -- We arrived in Egypt at Port Ghalib after a windy run up the coast from Sudan. The weather had not been quite as favorable as we had hoped. We got pinned down in Port Berenice for 2 days with high winds and bumpy seas. The water here is beautiful -- azure blue with clarity down to 50 or 60 feet. We could see exactly where our anchor dug in around the coral bommies. The water may be pretty, but it is awfully cold. You can tell that we are getting closer to the Med as the water gets cooler. Somehow or another, I was goaded into taking a flying leap from the bow into the chilly waters. Aieee!!
Port Ghalib and much of Egyptian Red Sea coastline seems to be a perpetual construction site. There are resorts and hotels going up every where. We stopped at the Intercontinental hotel and marina on our way up the coast, and were told that they had been constructing the resort over a 12 year period! We’ll call that the typical Egyptian timetable. Some people say that this will be the future Riviera with its beautiful water, pristine coral, arid desert, and balmy climate. It looks like the Egyptians are staking a lot on the tourist industry. Right now, Europeans and Russians flock to the Red Sea coast for a little fun in the sun. But from my perspective, it would only take one major attack or veritable threat to foreigners, and the whole tourist industry would dry up. They are intent on protecting their tourists here, so security is pretty serious. All of the resorts are gated communities with armed security. Along all the major roads and tourist towns there are checkpoints with armed guards. Nevertheless, there were 2 terrorist attacks in Egypt while we have been here. We managed to enter a Sheraton resort here with ease because we were foreigners. But within minutes, hotel security had descended on us, demanding to know if we were guests of the hotel. We quickly discovered that anchoring off the beach of the Sheraton hotel does not include guest privileges. We were politely asked to leave the resort and its property.
Our sail up the beautiful coast of Egypt was marred by other bureaucratic intrusions. We found the Coast Guard to be most annoying. We had just sailed through horrible conditions through the night which forced us to turn around. We encountered 35-45 knots of wind and steep seas. None of us could sleep with those conditions. The funny thing was, when we left our previous anchorage the previous afternoon, the sea had been flat calm and there was not a breath of wind in the air. Strange how that weather changed in the blink of an eye. Along with another sailboat, Delicado, we managed to find shelter in a small bay, Ras Abu Soma, near some resorts. It was a tough sail coming into the bay in the early light and then having to dodge the coral in order to find a suitable place to anchor. We were all thoroughly exhausted after our bumpy night that we slept through half the day. The next morning, a small motorboat approached our boat. It had no markings and the persons aboard had no uniforms. They simply stated that they were the “Coast Guard” and wished to come aboard our boat. Dave demanded some identification which they could not produce. So when they asked to come aboard again and to have our papers, we refused. Well, then they became all huffy and puffy, telling us that we had to either move into the local marina or sail 20 miles south to the port town of Safaga. Even though we were silently fuming, we finally relented and moved into the bouncy marina at the Intercontinental Hotel. We figured that the “Coast Guard” had been called by one of the resorts nearby who did not want sailboats anchored off their beaches regardless of the conditions offshore.
Once in the marina at the Intercontinental, we had the opportunity to visit the nearby town of Hurghada. This is tourist central. It seemed like all the tourists were either German or Russian. The vendors are everywhere selling oriental lamps, papyrus paintings, silk scarves, hieroglyphics carved into stone, statuettes of Pharaoh, belly dancing costumes,… Let’s call it a tourist trap! These fellows have perfected their silky tones and smooth talking ways. They are experts at the “shake-the-tourists-hand-and-not-let-go” technique. They all beckon, “come, take a look in my shop … everything for 5 Egyptian pounds (approx $1) … a small gift for you …” We like to call it getting “slimed”! How many tourists have I seen getting drawn into these shops only to exit with glazed eyes and a load of trinkets. One of the vendors favorite tricks is not having any change, so that the buyer is forced to accept his change in goods -- small stone scarabs, hand woven mats, painted hieroglyphics on papyrus … After a few undesirable encounters, David and I seem to have mastered the technique of getting by these guys unscathed. Just walk far enough away from their stalls that they can’t reach you, never look directly into their hypnotizing eyes, and never ever engage in conversation! And gals, watch out for roaming hands. A few friends of mine received some unwanted attention, including groping, pinching, and marriage proposals. Now if you really want to shop for something, there is fun to be had. Just be sure that your bargaining skills are up to snuff or these guys could take you to the cleaners and you might end up with the traditional dress of a Bedouin that you never thought you wanted!
Up the coast we continued to Abu Tig Marina at El Gouna. This is where we plan to stay for a few weeks. This place is veritable oasis in the desert. There are over 10 different hotels and resorts in this planned community. The entire resort town is designed and decorated in middle eastern style -- adobe-like architecture in desert colors of terracotta, mustard, and pale green, apartments with rooftop terraces and hidden gardens, narrow and winding paths between buildings, sidewalk cafes with “knock you over” coffee and sisha pipes … They cater mainly to Europeans and wealthy Egyptians. The marina is lovely, surrounded by great restaurants, small shops, and the beach.The marina is packed with yachties who are headed for the Suez Canal. We are planning to get a little R&R here, clean up the boat, do a little touring of Egypt, do a little scuba in the Red Sea, learn how to kite surf, and enjoy getting back to “civilization”!
But really, this community is just a façade, a mirage in Egyptian desert. Just beyond the gates of El Gouna is the workers community and other small towns where many people live in poverty. It reminded me a lot of Sudan with its corrugated tin homes, donkeydriven carts, dusty streets, mountains of trash wandering like tumbleweeds, andwomencovered from head to toe. Egypt is an agricultural community, but only 5% of the land is arable. The population is clustered around the Nile river. Twenty-five percent of the population lives in the capitol of Cairo. For all its grandiosity and amazing history, Egypt is still a developing country; and in many ways still like a 3rd worldcountry.
April 27-May 5, 2005 -- We had a great 8 day adventure into Egypt. We traveled by bus, riverboat, and train, as we explored ancient Egypt. It was an early morning start () from Abu Tig Marina in order to meet a security convoy. Since terrorist attacks on tourists in 1997, tours travel together with armed guards in a convoy of 10-20 buses. We joined up with a large convoy of buses to make the 4 hour drive from Safaga to Luxor. We had the dubious honor of being first in the line of buses when security learned that we had Americans aboard. This was to be the first of many times that had a passport from any place but the US. Our bus was only half full, so we got to stretch out and catch a little shut-eye. When I next woke up, we had left the desert behind us and were entering the verdant NileRiverValley. What an amazing difference!! People were outworking in the fields just as they have done for thousands of years with donkeys and water buffalo. Women washing clothing by the riverside and children playing happily in the water.The people here might not be well off by western standards -- living in mud huts (although everyone seemed to have a satellite dish on the roof), wearing ragged clothing or going barefoot, not having clean running water, but they seemed happy. The convoy speed through the villages with amazing speed. Looking out the window I could see how the roads were blocked off by security forces so all the buses could pass unhindered. Finally, we arrived in downtown Luxor, known as Thebes in ancient Egypt. As we entered the city, our guide started pointing out right and left some of the sites we would be visiting. Here the ancient and the modern mix freely. Down on the NileRiver we boarded our riverboat, the MV Commodore. Just imagine it being like a smaller version of a carnival cruise ship! These riverboats were everywhere. And dodging between were the local fishermen and their sailboats known as feluccas.
That afternoon we visited the ancient Temple of Karnak in company with our guide, a personal security guard, and 17 other yachties. The temple was magnificent, huge, awe inspiring … need I go on. According to our guide, Tamer, this temple is the largest in the world, supported by 134 columns that are 23 meters high. I’ve heard that the Temple of Karnak was so big, that you could fit the Cathedral of Notre Dame inside! Here the ancient Egyptians worshipped the god Amun. On the columns and walls of the temple were delicate hieroglyphics depicting stories from the Book of the Dead, great achievements of courtesans, and of course praise to the Pharaoh. I was shocked to discover how the ancient Egyptians used color. I guess I had always imagined the temples as they appear now, dusty and worn down and drab. But in ancient times, they were filled with color. The hieroglyphics were painted in vibrant colors -- red, blue, and yellow. Occasionally, you could find hieroglyphics that still retained their color. How beautiful this temple must have been at its peak. Hieroglyphics were not deciphered until the later 19th century when a French archeologist, Mariette, discovered the Rosetta Stone. This stone provided the translation of hieroglyphics from ancient Greek. And suddenly, the ancient world of the pharaohs was unlocked. One of the fun things to do at this ancient temple is to walk around a huge stone statue of a scarab beetle. According to ancient Egyptians, this small and pesky insect actually represented good luck. Supposedly you walk around the beetle once for good luck, three times for marriage, and seven times for a first child!
From the Temple of Karnak, we made our way down to the Temple of Luxor. In ancient times, it would have been connected to the Temple of Karnak by a 3 km long path lined by small sphinx statues. But now that path lies buried beneath the modern city of Luxor. The temple of Luxor was built by Amenhotep III and sits on the edge of the NileRiver. At one time, it was completely covered by sand and a mosque was built on top of it. The temple was only excavated in the last 150 years. But even now, the 14th century mosque still sits on part of the ancient temple. Outside of the temple sit 2 huge statues of the pharaoh Ramses II. There used to be two famous obelisks here, but now there is only one.The other one was taken to France in 1833 and put in the Place de la Concorde.The history of Ramses II fighting the Syrians and Hittites is inscribed in hieroglyphics on the walls. The Muslims were not the only people to leave their mark on this ancient temple. The early Christians were also at the Temple of Luxor and changed it into a cathedral. The Christians (and later the Muslims) defaced many of the hieroglyphics. Apparently, this was common practice by early Christians and an effort to eradicate the old beliefs. After visiting 2 temples in Luxor, we decided to call it a day. Having to deal with the oppressive heat, being on our feet for 6 hours, and battling with the slimy street vendors left us in the mood for a good nap. So it was back to the riverboat to prepare for the next day of touring in the Valley of the Kings just across the river.
It was another early start to make our way to the Valley of the Kings. It provides a little relief from the sweltering heat of the mid-day sun. We drove across the NileRiver and went from luscious river valley to arid desert in about 30 minutes. Our first stop of the day was to see the Colossi of Memnon. These are 2 massive statues and all that remains of what used to be a large temple and palace. Supposedly the statues were covered in mud by the flooding NileRiver and then a layer of sand. Would you believe that they were already a tourist attraction in Greco-Roman times? There was an ancient legend that one of the statues would sing every sunrise. Modern archeologists have determined that the singing statue is actually the combined effect of the change in temperature each morning and a crack in the stone from an earthquake in 27 BC.
Next up, Deir Al-Bahri, also known as the Temple of Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut was a woman who became the pharaoh of Egypt approximately 3400 years ago. After her brother, pharaoh Tuthmosis II died early, she took control as regent. The former pharaoh’s son was too young to rule at that time. Under her rule, Egypt had peace, prosperity, and growth in the arts. However, to protect her power and prove her right to rule, Hatshepsut often depicted herself as a man in hieroglyphics. Her temple was beautiful! It was built right out of a mountainside in pink granite with 3 terraces. There were some beautiful and colorful hieroglyphics inside the temple that showed just how the temple was constructed -- transportation of timber and stone down the Nile River, workers building the temple ... One of the amazing things about these ancient sights is that largely, there is nothing separating you from the building or the hieroglyphics or the statues. You could reach right out and touch the stone that workers carved so many thousands of years ago.
It is getting really hot now and we have yet to reach the Valley of the Kings. We hear how kings were born on the east side of the Nile where the sun rises and they were buried on the west side of the Nile where the sun sets. A mummy took 70 days to prepare.Many of the graves and tombs found here are unfinished. The priests often took mummies of kings out of their tombs and hid them away in the mountains so they wouldn't be stolen and destroyed by grave robbers. There has been a village built on top of many tombs for hundreds of years. The people started making a hole in the floor of their houses and digging down into the earth.If they discovered a tomb, the would sell what they found in the tomb. There is still a village in this place today. Every house seemed to be selling souvenirs.
Next we headed to the Valley of the Tombs. The group went to see three tombs:Tomb of Thutmosis III, Tomb of Tawosret and Sethnakht, and Tomb of Seti II.The tombs are cut right into the cliff face. No pictures allowed inside the tombs, unfortunately. But I must admit, I cheated a little a put my camera into video mode for a little underground entertainment. To access the first tomb we had to climb up a long staircase into a steep ravine and then down again. Tuthmosis III was the first pharaoh to build his secret and booby-trapped tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Going down into the tomb it got hotter and hotter (no ventilation). You first came to a room that originally had a hidden door and was supposed to fool tomb robbers. You could see where they had dugdown only to discover no treasure. But across a small bridge and into the inner chamber and then down another set of stairs to the burial chamber where the pharaoh’s sarcophagus and beautifully painted walls with hieroglyphic stick men. The next tomb was one that was shared by a king and a queen. You walked down a gently sloping hill to the first burial chamber. All the walls were covered with hieroglyphics showing scenes from the Book of the Dead, the royals meeting the god of the Underworld … etc. One ceiling was painted to resemble the astronomical placement of the stars in the sky. The funny thing about this visit was my camera technique. I was doing a little illicit videoing so that Donna could see the interior of the tombs (she is claustrophobic and didn’t go into any). I accidentally had the camera upside down, so there were a lot of great butt shots (very disorienting) and just when we got to the most colorful part of the tomb, I ran out of memory. Must have been the curse of the pharaohs! The final tomb we visited was Seti II. He used to be housed in the previous tomb mentioned with his wife, Queen Tawosret. But both of their mummies were kicked out by Sethnakht when he took up residence. None of these tombs contained any treasure or any trace of the mummies that used to live here. The only tomb in the Valley of the Kings found to contain any treasure was the tomb of Tutankhamum in 1922. We had the chance to see that treasure later at the EgyptianMuseum in Cairo.
After our day of exploring the Valley of the Kings, we headed back to boat. It was to be the first day that we actually cruised down the NileRiver to our next stop in the town of Edfu. On the way there we passed by many small villages and farming communities centered around the river. Get too far away from the Nile and all you have is desert. We made an exciting passage through the locks at the town of Esna. Local boats came right up to our riverboat and latched on. The locals would throw up their tourist trinkets -- towels, traditional dress called the gallebiya, statuettes … et al to people standing on the top deck. If you wanted to buy something, you simply threw your money back down in a plastic bag! This made for some pretty hilarious shopping with goods being thrown up and down. The locals would be yelling, “hey, lady, lady … very cheap …” A few people in your group bought some stuff. We cruised down the Nile all night until we reached Edfu in the morning.
Overlooking the chilly waters of Port Berenice
Our first Egyptian anchorage
A beautiful sunset at Abu Soma Bay
David enjoys the high winds at Abu Soma Bay
Resorts under construction in the background
Safe and sound inside luxurious Abu Tig Marina
Off to cruise the Nile from Luxor to Aswan
The lush Nile River Valley is still
the center of agriculture in Egypt
The historic and gigantic entrance to the
Temple of Karnak in Luxor
Dave and Donna in the hypostyle hall
of the Temple of Karnak
Huge columns are covered with
intricate and colorful hieroglyphics
They say that Saint Paul's cathedral
could fit in here!!
A tall obelisk at the Temple of Karnak
Going to the temple and we're going to get married!
Hypostle hall of Karnak Temple illuminated by night
Capitals are carved to look like lotus flowers
David makes his way around the
luck scarab at Karanak Temple
Once for luck, three times for marriage,
seven times for a first child
The entrance to the Temple of Karnak by night
Dave walks down the Avenue of Sphinxes
This path connected the two temples
of Karnak and Luxor over a distance of 3 km
Most of the sphinxes now lie buried
under the modern city of Luxor
Checking out the collosal Colossi of Memnon
They once guarded a huge palace and temple complex on the East bank of the Nile
The beautiful Temple of Hatchesput
carved into the mountainside
Colorful hieorglyohics cover the walls of
They recount stories from the Book of the Dead, record military victories, tell of the temple's construction, and demonstrate the pharaoh's divinity
The face of the goddess Hathor
carved into a column
Hatchesput considered this goddess her protector
Me and Horus at Hatchesput's Temple
More beautiful hireoglyphics from the
Temple of Hatchesput
This scene shows the slaves
who constructed the temple
Statues of Hatchesput in Pharaonic
regalia as a man
Valley of the Kings
Stairs leading up to the Tomb of Tuthmosis III
No cameras allowed
Another tomb in the Valley of the Kings
Dave and Donna sweating it
out in the Valley of the Kings
Dusty little village on the edge of Valley of the Kings
Guardians or tomb robbers?
Cruising down the Nile ... the desert is not far away
Learning to navigate our riverboat down the Nile
Looking like a natural!
David got a little stressed out behind the wheel
Sunset on the Nile River
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