2nd January 2023: Lies or oblivion? {Egypt, Winter 2022-2023}

I was awake at 6:40, but no phone call ever came. I was distressed because this gave way to two options. Either the tour guide had lied to me, or someone had forgotten that I existed. Neither was a happy thought. I tried to cheer myself up with a cup of Espresso from the room complimentary bar, and around 8:30 I went to have a quick breakfast. I was not hungry and to be honest quite upset. I had insisted five times about this beforehand.

A bit after 9:00 I tried to call the ground agency, Galaxia Tours, and I texted them through the website. But around 9:20 I said screw it. The hotel had a mini travel agency – I had noticed this because we had made an attempt to go see the light and sound show at Giza on the 30th, which the tour guide had walked around. Instead of telling us “you won’t have the time” he had deflected every question we asked about it.

Had I had more time to organise things, I would have hired the mini-agency to take me back to the Egyptian Museum, the Museum of Egyptian Civilisation, or even the Valley of the Whales. However, since the tour guide had mislead me, I was out of time. Then again, the hotel was not in actual Cairo, but in Giza [الجيزة], and a nominal 20 minutes away from the Giza Plateau and thus the pyramids, so I hired a tour over there. And, believe it or not, I ended up… on a “camel” – actually a dromedary – for a few hours.

I had been resisting doing a dromedary ride of any kind out of concern for animal welfare, especially after seeing how they were treated at the Petra site in Jordan. However, this time it looked like it was the best option to spend my three hours around the pyramids, introducing Moses the dromedary (Camelus dromedarius).

Moses the dromedary kneels looking at the camera over his shoulder. He exudes personality

I checked out at the hotel, left my luggage at reception, and was driven towards the The Pyramids of Giza Archaeological Site [مجمع أهرامات الجيزة]. My driver was a bit creepy, so I tried to keep it light. We arrived at a backstreet next to the Great Sphinx [أبو الهول] entrance, from where I had a great view. This entrance was a bit different from the one we had used on the 31st next to the tourist bus parking lot. Most people using this entrance were Egyptians, and they were thoroughly patted down. Upon entry though, the view was astonishing – the Sphinx, and Pyramid of Khafre standing right behind it, the Pyramid of Khafre [هرم خفرع], the Pyramid of Menkaure, with the Pyramids of the Queens peeking to the side.

A front view of the sphinx, with three pyramids behind it. The pyramids decrease in size from right to left

Riding the dromedary was easier than I thought. The trickiest part was managing his kneeling down and standing back up – I did get a cramp on the very first standing up – but it was mostly a matter of leaning forward and backwards. Through this new walk around the Giza Plateau I got to see the modern cemetery on the left, then we moved onto the archaeological site itself. From this side, I saw the path that joins the Great Sphinx with the Funerary Temple of Khafre and the Pyramid of Khafre. I also got to see the Tomb of Queen Khentkawes I [مقبرة الملکه خنتکاوس] and the Central Field of Mastabas and rock-cut tombs. It was weird, having such a vantage point of view! I got used to the rocking very quickly, so I got a few good pictures.

Two views of the archaeological area of Giza, with pyramids in the background and low, excavated tombs in the foreground.

My guide – and Moses – took me to a a different Panoramic Point of the Pyramids, the picture perfect one, a few metres south of where we had been the previous day – this spot is not reachable from the bus, but I honestly cannot calculate if I would have had the time to get there and back the previous time – it’s hard to estimate distances in the desert, and the pyramids are too big to gauge good references.

A general view of the area of Giza. All the big three pyramids and the small six are visible.

We rode around the Pyramid of Menkaure, and actually passed between two of the Pyramids of the Queens.

A collage showing the approach to the Pyramid of Menkaure. The smaller pyramids of the Queens are in the foreground, and the camera seems to go through them until it focuses on the bigger pyramid.

Then we moved on towards the Pyramid of Khafre. Coming closer was really cool, as I could see the granite blocks that would have made the pyramid smooth back in the day, along with the rest of some columns. Also, two sides of the pyramid are actually somewhat sunk in the ground, with a vertical wall of rock-cut tombs. I know I was paying for it, but being able to walk around the pyramid felt special, and allowed me to feel awed at the size and technology again, considering these were built about 4500 years ago.

The pyramid of Khafre. The top is still smooth as granite blocks have not fallen. At its foot, you can see the granite blocks that have fallen, some aligned next to the pyramid so you can guess how it would be smoothed. Another picture shows the moat like structure around the pyramid - it is the back-wall of some tombs

The Pyramid of Khufu stood to the left, and we continued our ride towards the Central Field of Mastabas and rock-cut tombs and the Tomb of Queen Khentkawes I.

A view of the Great Pyramid from behind.

A number of basement-like structures excavated in the desert. They are the tombs of the nobles and the pyramid builders.

I dismounted again and walked into the Valley Temple of Khafre [معبد الوادي لخفرع]. This time, not running and with fewer people, I got to see the megalithic structures for real. I also could go to see the rump area of the Great Sphinx of Giza.

Collage showing the sphinx with the pyramid of Khafre behind it; the megalithic temple through which you access it; then a lateral view of the sphinx and a view from the rump.

Afterwards, there was an “essence shop” experience, but as I told the lady I would not be buying anything, she dispatched me really fast. My driver got only creepier in the way back, so I tipped him and ran off to the reception of the hotel, where I sat down to wonder whether someone would pick me up from the hotel, or they would forget me like they had for the dray trip. Fortunately, I spotted some people I had seen during the New Year’s Eve party, and it turns out that they had the same pick up. That was good, because handling the transfer for Cairo Airport – and the airport itself – would have been more stress than I was willing to deal with. I actually think I was forgotten indeed, but this family was not – I did approach the representative they pointed out, and made him aware of my existence. Firmly.

At 14:05, we were off on the mini bus towards the airport, and it took a bit over an hour. Meanwhile, they gave me a questionnaire to fill in – I tried not to get personal, nor attack anyone, but I was very sincere about the things that had gone wrong. Being forgotten is not a nice feeling.

We reached the airport past 15:00. There were two security controls for luggage, and one pat down. In the second control, the guards got money to let a group go before me, and the guard actually gestured that money would make things go faster. However, waiting had an interesting consequence… I met the people who went on the day trip, to Saqqara again, and they entered other pyramids there. So there had been another day trip – and again, lied to, or forgotten about?

But I had had my own fun, so I did not let that rile me up. I checked in, dropped my luggage, got my exit visa and settled down to wait – I was now just destined to have to listen to We wish you a Merry Christmas on loop for as long as it took to board. I got myself a cheese sandwich for lunch – this was past 16:00 by now, I was a bit hungry after only a fast breakfast. Cairo Airport is anything but traveller-friendly. Half the shops were closed, but without signs, so they just yelled at you if you walked in. There are no sitting areas next to the gates, just the shops, and I did not want to sit on another floor and rely on their English to know when boarding was ready, so I just walked up and down “a few” times. I was lucky enough to be next to the gate when boarding started – with yet another X-ray control, getting separated by sex, and being frisked. And yet, you have to take off your shoes, but you are allowed water bottles on the plane… Weird.

We finally took off around 19:30 for very uneventful five-hour flight. We got dinner on the way, which was unexpectedly nice, and I had a window seat, extra water, and got to see Cairo goodbye.

An aereal view of a city at night. The streets are lit, and light pollution diffuminates in the background. There is a black line in the middle, north to south - the Nile.

Overall balance: things were left unseen, and maybe one day I’d go back to see the rest of the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, and the new Grand Egyptian Museum. Possibly the Valley of the Whales. But I don’t really feel I must come back any time soon. It was the adventure of a lifetime, and I am very grateful I got to live it. I do admit, however, that I dropped by my travel agent’s to make it known that someone had either forgotten me, or lied to me, and that I was not happy – similarly to what I had done with the questionnaire. I don’t know if I’ll ever get a reply, but I have to say the experience has left me not feeling up to trusting anyone with my travelling for a little while. Though I had to admit, my first solo experience with a group was all right… nice people all around, so I’ve been lucky in that department.

30th December 2022: Philae and the Aswan – Cairo jump {Egypt, Winter 2022-2023}

Belonging to the city of Aswan [أسوان], the Philae Temple [فيلة] complex is currently part of the Unesco World Heritage Site Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae. When the first Aswan Dam was built in 1902, the monument became semi-submerged, and it would have completely disappeared after the completion of the High Dam. Between 1972 and 1980, through the International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia, it was dismantled and reconstructed over at Agilika Island, 20 m higher.

The main feature in Philae is the Temple of Isis. Isis was the major goddess from the Old Kingdom to the Roman period. Isis was the spouse of Osiris, and is considered a mother and protector goddess, divine mother to the pharaoh, and mourner of her husband. In the Osiris myth, after he was killed and dismembered by Seth, Isis looked up and down Egypt to gather all the pieces. After she did, she breathed upon him to resurrect him, they conceived Horus (there are more or less gory versions of this), and Osiris went back to the Underworld, where he became lord of the Afterlife. Isis was the longest-revered goddess of the Ancient Egyptian religion – her cult survived in Philae until 550 CE, when Christians took over, defacing the gods and carving the Coptic cross all around.

I left for breakfast having vacated the room, suitcase ready at the open door, and hoped for the best. I settled my drink tab, which rounded up to 235 EGP; however, with the same smirk I had been given the previous day, I reminded the person at reception that they owed me ten pounds. The debt was honoured and I left with a giggle – yes, it was not that much money and I could have let it slip, but nope. Not this time. After that, our luggage was loaded onto the bus (luckily) and we drove off to a tourist dock to board the boat to Agilika island, which we reached after a few minutes. We landed and climbed up towards the archaeological site.

The Temple of Isis holds the general structure of an Ancient Egyptian Temple, with a pylon, a court, a hall and finally the inner sanctuary of Isis. An obelisk stands before the pylon, in the outer court that has been preserved.

Collage. View of the outer wall of Philae, with the colonnade and the pylon; entrance to the sanctuary, richly engraved with deities and hyerogyphs; a cat sitting in front of the columns.

When looking carefully at the pylon, it shows the different water marks from the time the temple was submerged – at two different levels, depending on whether it was flood season or dry season. During the rescue, a cofferdam was built around the original constructions to dry the area out. Then, between 1977 and 1980, the whole complex was dismantled into 40,000 blocks, moved and rebuilt. The old position can still be spotted 500 m away, marked by the remains of the metal anchors for the cranes.

Close up of the pylon showing carvings of Hathor and Horus. Two water lines can be appreciated above and below them

Another structure in the island is the unfinished Kiosk of Trajan. I even managed to be alone in there for a heartbeat.

A cube-like structure built from columns, with the river behind them.

The final building is the Temple of Hathor, Horus’ wife.

Collage. A ruined building with derelict walls and a few standing columns - from land and from the river.

Next in the plan was shopping (joy -.-“) and we went to an essence shop. The lady claimed that Egyptian essences were the base of many brand-famous perfumes. I have no idea, but I was irked by the rigid sex separation of scents, and I developed a rash from one of the testers… While some people in the group shopped, someone else found the adjacent papyrus shop, and a small number of us went to snoop there.

After being spared a second shop – this one for spices – we were shuttled to the airport to take our charter to Cairo. It was a surreal experience through which I was patted down twice. The airport segregated by sex because you got the pat down even if you cleared the metal detector, which was weird. Also, it turned out that we had an extra suitcase in the bus! Creepy!

Our tour guide did not fly with us. When we landed in Cairo [أسوان], we were taken to the hotel by another representative, who assigned rooms and called our names in the bus, before we even arrived, but did not hand the cards until we were there and had handed in our passports for check-in. It was of course too late to try and go to the Pyramids light show – seriously, everything would have been so much easier with a “sorry, no time”, especially considering the crazy Cairo traffic. At this point we were already planning to try it on our own – I had found out that the hotel had a mini travel’s agent that we could use.

A traffic jam heading to the Cairo airport traffic control. The green neon on top reads Welcome to Cairo

We met up for planning – and paying for the Night Cairo Walk, which was to take place the following day – and I sat down to catch up on everything that had happened in the days when I had been internet-less (have I mentioned that it was not such a bad experience?).

The whole trip was a New Year’s special and came with an optional 190 € dinner that I had not booked because… no. I had packed some cereal and chocolate bars just in case, and it turned out that only one couple out of our eighteen-people group had reserved it. There had been a tiny riff-raff when I asked my travel agent about dinner that day, and she received an email about the “Gala Dinner” being compulsory (demanding the extra money), and I asked her to reply that nope, I would not be attending.

Well, that night we were told that the local agency was treating us to the dinner – my theory? The restaurant they had agreed for the Night Walk would not take us for New Year’s Eve, the walk would be impossible due to people celebrating. Thus, they found themselves in a tough spot – so they used the spare from the overpriced optional trips to pay for it. Then, the night walk was bumped to the first of January. Looking back, I believe that they had completely overlooked the NYE factor.

Also, the hotel not only had free Wi-Fi, it also had complimentary water in the rooms, and free mineral water during dinner. And a bed that did not vibrate. It was a good night’s sleep. But before that I took a shower so long and so hotm, that I almost glowed in the dark afterwards.