A Travellerspoint blog

May 2010

Parting is such Sweet Sorrow

sunny 40 °C

Our Arabic is virtually non-existent, but many of the locals think they can speak English. We have no right to criticize their garbled grammar but sometimes it is very funny. The masseuse at the Basma hotel in Aswan asking seriously, “Would honourable sir like to try to make massage today?” brought a smile, as did an elderly gentleman in Luxor. This dapper septuagenarian, dressed in western clothes rather than the commonly worn galabia robe, had learned English entirely from tourists and books and spoke in clipped Shakespearean rhyme. He ended our brief conversation by intoning, “Ah fellow – well met. But parting is such sweet sorrow.” His salutation nicely summarized our time in Egypt and, despite all the over-enthusiastic sales pitches and demands for baksheesh, we loved our time there – leaving was sweet sorrow, but England and France awaited.
The Pharaoh’s temples and tombs were breathtaking …
… the mosques and minarets were spectacular…
… the souqs were crazy…
… the views from out hotel rooms were fabulous…
… the food was interesting…
… and the people seemed genuinely happy to see us …
Au revoir Egypt. But to anyone wondering if they should visit the land of the Pharaohs, we can only say, “You absolutely must.” Photos and blogs can never do justice to the experience of touching a 5,000 year-old pyramid or clambering into a richly decorated tomb that was carved into the rocks by sophisticated craftsmen two-thousand-years BCE. Nor can this picture of a young Nubian girl convey the moment of consanguinity when we look into each other's eyes and realize that, despite the chasm between our two worlds today, we are all of the same ancestry, and that her forefathers once populated the most advanced civilization in the world.

Posted by Hawkson 00:50 Archived in Egypt Comments (2)

Escape from Luxor

sunny 42 °C

Congratulations to Christine for identifying the Winter Palace Hotel in Luxor.
Here is the grand old dame of the Nile – although, like most of Egypt, she’s looking a little dowdy in places.
Here’s the lounge where Agatha Christie once sat to write…

We have left Luxor now – escaped is probably a more apt expression; escaped from the mobs of taxi and caleche drivers waiting to pounce the moment we left the hotel; escaped from the mayhem of tour guides and storekeeper’s touts trying to drag us to places we didn’t want to go; escaped from the excruciating discordant wails of a dozen muezzins calling their flocks to prayer from 4.45 am to 11pm everyday. Our room was well padded, but nothing keeps out the fervent incantations of a determined Minaret-jockey pumping out more watts than a Mick Jagger concert through honking great speakers.
But even a padded prison is still a prison, and we found ourselves using devious routes to slip past the touts guarding the entrances.
However, as the week progressed matters took an ugly turn. Caleche drivers, felucca captains and shopkeepers would accost us fiercely. “I see you everyday. Why you no take ride? Why you no buy my …” whatever. We would like to have replied, “Because everyone so far has lied to us and tried to rip us off,” but we didn’t. And when we did buy gifts we nearly caused a riot as shopkeepers angrily accused each other of stealing potential customers.
We finally broke down and took a felucca ride in the sunset …
We paid a fair price and were happy, but when we disembarked a furious young captain bitterly complained that we should have gone on his boat and not his cousins.
And then we were guilted into taking a carriage ride with these two con-men.
We should have realized they were rogues – they both smiled sweetly and were so kind … until the end of the trip when they demanded ten times the agreed price. Jim’s policeman’s voice and no-nonsense tone took them by surprise and they got only what was due, but it is easy to see that many tourists would pay up. Our best advice to visitors to Luxor is: DO NOT TAKE A CALECHE RIDE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.
At the hotel pool we met a French couple on their seventh visit. “How do you put up with all the hassle?” we asked. “Oh. We never go outside,” they replied, as if suggesting that only lunatics would venture into the fray beyond the hotel’s beautifully manicured grounds. We must be crazy because, even at 6 am as we scuttled to a coffee shop in the cool morning air, touts of all type shook themselves awake and come running to offer their services.
However, in fairness, they’re not all rogues and Jim was pleased to discover one apparently very honest old shopkeeper who sold him litre bottles of water for just $1.00 while most places charged $3.00. On our last day Jim discovered the true price was actually 40 cents.

Posted by Hawkson 11:37 Archived in Egypt Comments (3)

Egypt - TripAdvisor

sunny 39 °C

With at least 50 different hotels a year under our hats we could run our own tripadvisor website. Our No.1 pick would be a mid-range hotel with local character and a swimming pool – essential in tropical climes. We would definitely stay away from backpacker’s hovels, as well as pricey multi-nationals where only the bit of local bric-a-brac in the lobby and the bellboy’s name reminds us that we are not in Vancouver.
However, Egypt has been a challenge. The seemingly few hotels matching our criteria cater to the package tour crowd and there are still boatloads of tourists being shipped in and out daily. However, with the season ending, and the world still mired in recession, the bottom has dropped out of the top-end of the market. Luxury heritage hotels are in free fall and are grasping at the likes of us to fill empty beds.
So, where are we staying?
We are in Luxor, geographically and historically the centre of Egypt, and we have put down roots for the week at this hotel, on the banks of the Nile; a hotel made famous by the likes of Agatha Christie and Noel Coward.

Many mid-range hotel rooms don’t have enough room to swing a dead cat, but in our suite here we could comfortably swing a dead camel. And, for a little baksheesh, our bellboy even gave us a personal tour of King Farouk’s royal suite - $4,000 US a night – a suite which has hosted Nicholas Sarkozy, Tony Blair and Condoleezza Rice, in addition to the king himself. (Although, for what it’s worth, we thought it was a little overpriced!).
Here is the pool …
The manicured gardens are exquisite; exotic flowers scent the air while we are surrounded by tropical fruit trees laden with dates, bananas, papayas and oranges.
Here is Sheila at breakfast in the garden restaurant ...…
And here we are having dinner au plein aire...
After dinner we were entertained by belly dancers and Sufi whirling dervishes.

So for competition lovers – This week’s question is: What is the name of our famous hotel?
The winners will receive one complimentary buffet breakfast at this hotel, (airfare, taxes and gratuities not included). Note that we try to be consistent with the value of our prizes – You may recall that the previous prize was a week’s holiday for two in Benidorm!

Posted by Hawkson 06:08 Archived in Egypt Comments (3)

Egypt ..No Pain - No Gain

sunny 44 °C

In the twelve days since we arrived, there hasn’t been a single cloud in the sky and the temperature has gone from a pleasant 28 celsius in Cairo to a sizzling sauna here in Luxor. Scientists have apparently debunked the theory that eggs can be fried on the pavement here, but we’re not convinced. Our swimming pool is a tepid 29 degrees, but it actually strikes cold when we get in. To beat the heat, and the incredible crowds, we visit temples and tombs at dawn. By 9am the temperature is above 36 degrees, and by mid-afternoon waves of hot air make all exertions uncomfortable. We see the vacant looks of package tourists as they are herded from temples to tombs and force fed mind-spinning names, dates and historical facts by guides working on the premise that the more they talk the more baksheesh they can expect. We take our time to meander and be awestruck.
This is the 3,400 year old Temple of Amun in Karnak. Pictures cannot convey its sheer enormity. It is the height of a ten storey building, and the size of the pillars; the height of the roof; the complexity of construction; and the intricacy and beauty of the carvings, leave us speechless. So does the policeman who tries to lure us into some dusty corner to see ‘something very special’ because his wife’s cousin lives in Toronto, and then tries to shake us down for backsheesh. Unofficial guides try to latch onto us at every turn and, uninvited, start their spiel. If they get out 3 or more facts before we can stop them they consider themselves hired.

We are just about temple’d out now; Abu-Simbel, Aswan, Kom Ombo, Edfu, Luxor, Karnak … been there, seen that. But now in Luxor we are in the land of the dead. Here in the arid mountains overlooking the Nile are the most celebrated Pharaonic relics – the tombs.
While everyone knows of Tutankhamen’s tomb, discovered by Howard Carter in 1922, there are hundreds of richly decorated burial chambers deep inside these arid mountains. The hieroglyphs and murals are breathtakingly beautiful. We’d love to show you, but the penalty for taking a photo is a 1,000 dollar fine and the confiscation of our camera’s memory card.

However, we can show you a picture of Howard Carter’s gas stove.

Interesting eh! Carter’s house opened as a museum last year and is preserved exactly as the great man left it. But don’t expect to come here on a package tour – the museum is free and the knowledgeable guides won’t take backsheesh, so there is no money in it for local tour operators.

As we walk the streets in Luxor we are constantly yelled at by taxi drivers, felucca skippers, caleche (horse carriage) drivers, shoeshine boys, newspaper sellers, and restaurateurs and storekeepers of every imaginable kind. We slip in and out of our hotel like film stars trying to shake off the paparazzi. Because we have been here four days we have an entourage of hopeful venders lying in wait whenever we emerge onto the street. “Hello Canadian – Where you go? You want felucca? You want taxi? You want caleche?” Etc. etc.
This is one of the caleches that race around the town to the crack of a whip. We would show you one with a driver, but if he saw us taking a picture he would hound us for baksheesh for an hour.

To get our attention drivers of taxis constantly beep their horns and stop to yell at us. One taxi stopped and a caleche driver ran into the back of him. The poor horse was stuck on the trunk of the taxi while the two drivers screamed at each other – we quietly left the scene … there were four more taxis and another caleche waiting for us around the corner. While there is no shortage of modern buses and cars, (though almost no higher-end models other than very ancient Mercedes), many of the locals get about on donkey carts like this …
Or trundle their wares in old wheelbarrows like the baker’s wife struggling off the ferry with a barrow load of bread…
We like the bread here, although we worry about the way it is transported in dusty old baskets and on donkey carts. We saw one young girl sitting on a public bench outside a restaurant carefully slapping the dust off each piece of bread before stacking it on the dirty stone seat. We ate at another restaurant. God knows what they had done to their bread, but at least we didn’t know - maybe it had been sitting about in the gutter like this lot?

Posted by Hawkson 07:37 Archived in Egypt Comments (2)

Life on the Nile

sunny 42 °C

I was thinking of titling my next novel, “Death on The Nile,” but someone beat me to it. Therefore, I will call it, “Life on The Nile,” and I will write poetically about the languid river that meanders roughly four thousand miles through Kenya, Uganda, Zaire, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan and Ethiopia before crossing the Sahara in Egypt and dissipating across a fertile delta into the Mediterranean. It is claimed to be the world’s longest river by some, but Amazonians may dispute that.
Here is Sheila looking for a Nile crocodile in Abu Simbel …
And here is my first attempt to immortalize the river in a haiku …
Equatorial Africa’s tropical waters. Turn oases green.

O.K., maybe I should stick to prose or just let our photos speak for themselves…

Few rivers in the world have as much an impact on a nation as the Nile. Without the Nile, Egypt would be completely arid. Annual rainfall is negligible while temperatures frequently top off in the high 40s.
All life here revolves around the Nile: all significant habitation, all agriculture, most of the transportation and, of course, the fishing. We have had delicious local fish throughout our trip and have seen some monsters leaping out of the gently swirling waters. Here is one of the local fishers!
The relative coolness of the river is a major draw to the millions of tourists who flock here from all over the world – tourists like us from countries where the mercury runs out at 35 – and in cities like Aswan, and Luxor, the banks of the Nile are crammed with hotels seeking relief from the desert heat for their guests. Some of the pushiest hotels manage to shoulder the competition aside and keep the river to themselves. This is the view from our hotel’s pool in Abu Simbel …

No Egyptian package tour is complete without a Nile cruise but buyers should beware. Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of ships like this ply the river.
While not all Nile cruisers are aging, slab-sided germ factories belching clouds of black smoke like this – some are.

These traditional feluccas, on the other hand, are entirely friendly to the environment.
The feluccas are here purely to amuse the tourists, and as we walk along the riverfront promenades we are constantly approached by felucca skippers who want to take us for a ride – for a very special price, (because we are Canadian). But all prices are actually based on the prospective client’s ability to pay. Here is the formula they use: Pick a number from 1 to 100. Add enough to feed your wife, 3 kids and the family camel for a week. Then multiply that figure by the number of stars of the hotel where your prospective customer is staying.
P.S. We are now in Luxor and we’re definitely not telling anyone where we are staying

Posted by Hawkson 08:14 Archived in Egypt Comments (2)

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