Posts Tagged With: Nile

“But isn’t it dangerous?”

“Aren’t you worried?”

“How are you going to do this?”

“Are you serious?”

And the last, most common question, “Isn’t it dangerous?”

When we told my parents we were visiting the Middle East for a month, my parents took it really well, to be honest. There was a sharp intake of breath, a grimace, closed eyes, and then, “you already bought the tickets?”

Once we assured my parents that yes we looked up travel warnings, yes we read the news, yes we would be careful, and yes we were intent on going, they smiled bravely and said, “Be careful!”

The rest of my extended family didn’t take it quite as well. I got a couple of phone calls begging me to change my mind. I had to remind a couple of people that I was an adult, I made my own choices now, and I wasn’t stupid. And here I am, at the end of the six-month trip, alive and well!

Many of us Americans live in a relatively safe, middle-class bubble and watch the news at night, filled with fire, bombs, wailing children, and first-class apocalyptic rhetoric. If you listen to that, and only that, then yeah, the world is a dangerous place with ISIS headquarters in Cairo, bombs under the Temple Mount, Colombian drug runners setting up shop across the street from UNICEF, Russian missiles pointed toward the nearest NATO countries, and etc., etc.

And there is some truth to it: the Malaysian airplane downed by a Russian missile was heartbreaking. The issue in Syria and the ISIS activity in the Levant is so infuriating I am left speechless at the atrocities committed on a daily basis. There are tragedies around the world that we must face.

But honestly? After traveling the Middle East/Mediterranean for a month and backpacking Latin America for five, I can’t think of one time where I was scared for my safety. There were definitely uncomfortable moments, upsetting times, and frustration, but never a fear over bodily harm. And this is coming from a girl that was completely ignored or mistreated by men because they were machistas. Granted, solo female travelers need to be a bit more careful, but then we have to be careful even in our own neighborhoods sometimes.

I know some people that were terribly concerned over their daughter visiting Colombia because of FARQ and drugs, even though the 1990s were a huge turning point in the Colombian drug war. That, to me, is like saying, “Don’t visit Los Angeles because of those riots in ’92! You know that place is dangerous.”

So, is the world a dangerous place? Yeah, parts, I think. You won’t see me signing up for a tour of South Sudan or Crimea any time soon. But it is also filled with beauty and goodness and kindness. We have had complete strangers offer us directions, give us a place to stay for the night, buy us drink and medicine when sick, and safely see us to our next destination. It’s always smart to use your brain and read a situation, looking for dangerous people or places, and avoid those. I certainly did!

Before reacting to the idea of traipsing off into a war zone, consider these things:

  • The media reports bad news, not good. Sometimes they even exaggerate the proximity or intensity of violence.
  • The world is full of good, well-meaning people. Think about it: isn’t it rather nationalistic and xenophobic to believe our country is safe and kind, while all other countries are dangerous and brimming with criminals?
  • There is danger everywhere, to an extent. There are uncertainties and bad things in every place on earth, and they happen to every human at one point or another.
  • Research, learn about the culture and the political climate, and make educated decisions. We didn’t go to the Red Sea because it does cross territory ISIS patrols, just as we didn’t hike through the Darien Gap into Panama because the drugs do flow through the jungle there.

Safety is great and important, but an over-emphasis on unneeded precautions keep you from living out your adventure!

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Categories: Culture Quirks, Lost in Translation, Practical Matters | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Egypt travel tips

Spending a week in Egypt has been great, and we’ve gathered a few tips and helpful things along the way. Some were passed on by our tour guide, some were learned the hard way. Here’s a list of things we think you should consider when traveling in Egypt.

1. They will ask for tips (“baksheesh”) everywhere. Except perhaps Aswan. But still, expect to be asked for tips. In most places, tips are appropriate because that is really a part of how Egyptians earn a living. Their wages are too low to depend on those alone. But be reasonable and don’t let them bully you into much higher tips that you think are deserved.

2. Nothing is free in Egypt. And if someone gives you a very cheap price on something, there’s probably a catch. For example, getting a horse carriage ride around town may only be ten pounds, but getting off the carriage afterward will cost quite a pretty penny. If vendors at huge attractions push things into your arms and tell you it’s free, don’t believe them and push it back into their hands.

3. Egyptian museums aren’t the best in the world, so we were glad we had a guide to explain most things to us. There usually aren’t signs or any details at ruins or old temples either, so either have a guidebook or an actual guide. Several people told us that the big Cairo Egyptian museum wasn’t really worth it unless you paid the extra fee to see the mummies, so we didn’t end up going. They are building a new museum with lots of exhibit halls now, but that probably won’t be open until at least 2016. When it’s open, it will be amazing!

4. Egyptians, like many people around the globe, have a very flexible, fluid approach to time. So when someone tells you “ten minutes,” don’t expect it to be an actual ten minutes.

5. Many taxis do not have meters, so it is important to negotiate a price BEFORE you get in the cab. Yellow taxis usually work by reservation only, and black-and-white taxis are more likely to have meters. All others (varying shades of white) have no meters. Often taxis will charge an extra 10 pounds to put luggage in the trunk or to turn the car off at the destination while they help you get out of the car and to the place.

6. When a temple site says “no photos,” such as Abu Simbel or the Valley of the Kings, they mean it. There are guards in normal clothing patrolling the area, watching for cameras. If you’re caught, they will delete your photos for you, and if you resist, suggest calling the police. If they begin to call the police, it’s usually because they want you to bribe them to put their phone away. So just don’t get in that situation, and enjoy the tombs and ruins peacefully.

Categories: Egypt, Practical Matters | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Luxor and the return

After arriving in Luxor (ancient Thebes) we rested, then went out to a nice, Egyptian dinner. This restaurant was a little more tourist-friendly than others, partly because it was in a very touristy area. Pizzas were listed on the menu right next to camel meat. I did try the camel meat, and it tasted a lot like beef.

Luxor’s population is almost 32% Christian, though nation-wide Muslims make up about 90%. It was immediately evident by the number of church towers throughout the city. We stayed in Emilio Hotel (a nice option for people on a budget, so we recommend it) just a block from the Nile and the ruins of the Luxor Temple. While we could’ve paid to get into the temple area, instead we walked around the perimeter and saw everything we wanted to see.

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In the morning we went to the Valley of the Kings. This is rather expensive, but it’s also a must-see, so we tried not to grumble and went in. For a donkey ride to the valley and a three-tomb ticket, we paid roughly $56. There are over twenty tombs to pick from, some of which are open or closed depending on the season. Our guide suggested that we try KV14 (Tausert and Setnakht) or KV 15, KV11 (Ramses III), and KV6 (Ramses IX), because they have the most color in them. Really, it was amazing to see colorful pictures and hieroglyphics. Only two of the three tombs we went in had glass covering the walls.

“It’s really incredible,” Jordan told me. “There’s nothing here to keep me from reaching out and licking these walls!”

He didn’t. Don’t worry.

There’s a running joke among all tourists in Egypt that nothing in Egypt is free. Ever. Period. People will randomly come up to give you direction to a place you don’t want to go and then ask for a “baksheesh,” or tip (Except for in Aswan, we noticed). So while we were down in one of the tombs, a corridor was without light. A French tourist had a flashlight with him and shined it down for everyone to see. As we passed by the platform and then went on, I thanked the man for the light. He said “you’re welcome,” then laughed and stuck out his hand. “One euro,” he deadpanned. We just laughed together and moved on.

The Valley of the Kings is incredibly strict about no photographs, so I have none to share this time. Jordan was quite bereft without his cameras and made many comments about how he wished he could sneak something in. On our way out of the grounds we had to pass through a tourist bazaar, which our guide jokingly called the “Valley of the Hunters.”

After the Valley of the Kings we visited Hatshepsut’s partially restored temple. She was a very successful pharaoh and the one of the only woman pharaoh, her reign lasting around 22 years. She began as the primary queen of her half brother, Thutmose II (both children of Thutmose I) but outlived him. After a few years of acting as regent to her stepson/nephew (Thutmose III, her husband’s son from another wife) she grew tired. She then said she was supposed to have been the heir of her father from the beginning, as she was older and the child of his father’s primary wife, unlike her deceased half-brother/husband. After she died her stepson/nephew took over the throne and tried to erase most images of her as pharaoh in the country.

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Once we finished up in the desert, we had lunch with a local family in Luxor (whose dish of mixed vegetables was sublime) and later spent some free time bartering in the markets. I’m still practicing my bargaining skills, but was able to team up with a girl in the group who has a first-class poker face. I think we did well together.

It was our last night together, and we spent it hanging it out at the train station waiting for the overnight train to come. From there, we went to Cairo, the beginning and end of our journey.

Categories: Egypt | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Banks of the Nile

After a somewhat lazy morning, we boarded a felucca on the 31st. This is a traditional sailboat on the Nile, used as for fishing, ferrying, sailing, and whatever else the Egyptians and Nubians can think of. We spent the afternoon lounging in the sun, drifting down the Nile. It was peaceful and beautiful.

At lunch some people in the tour decided to jump into the Nile. It was cold, around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, so I elected to only wade in it. Jordan went ahead and joined the group. I guess you just have to do it—how many people can say they’ve swam/jumped in the river Nile? The water is a deep, rich shade of blue and the sunlight is always warm and yellow. Palms, farms, and herds of goats and cows lined the shore and we could just see the desert stretch out beyond the trees.

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We continued to sail until sunset, going about 20 miles in total, when we ate dinner on the service boat (run with an engine, not a sail) and got to use the bathrooms. For New Year’s Eve we sat around a small campfire, fueled by palm branches, and sang nonsense songs. Jordan and I were old fuddyduddies and went back to the felucca to sleep before midnight. Although the weather is decently warm during the day, along the Nile it gets very cold at night. Everyone wrapped up tight in blankets and sleeping bags and huddled close for warmth.

The next morning we went to the East bank and hiked up the road with luggage to a waiting van. The service boat’s sewage tank was too small for everyone, and I got to enjoy some raw sewage on my socks and in my shoes from a last-minute trip to the bathroom. That was fun.

The tour stopped in Kom Ombo and Edfu, two towns with famous temples in them. Kom Ombo was built by Ptolemy III after his son was killed by a crocodile while hunting in the marsh. He dedicated the temple to Horus and to Sokbet, the god depicted by a crocodile head. As the creator of the Nile, the Egyptians believed he protected them from the dangers but also had the power and right to bring death to whatever he wished. Edfu was a very famous temple for Horus, celebrating how he defeated his uncle Seth in a giant battle of good versus evil. There was still paint on some of the columns inside the temple, and it wasn’t hard to see how beautiful and grand everything was when first built. Throughout the entire trip Jordan and I have both been amazed at how large everything is (except for perhaps the Sphinx)! We have seen all these things in photos and been told about the pyramids, but the walk through these temples under 90-feet-tall columns and doorways is incredible.

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After a many-hours long and bumpy bus ride through rural Egypt (in which we saw sugar farms, small towns, cane factories, the ever-present Nile, and such) we arrived in Luxor. As soon as I arrived I threw my socks away and took a shower. Sailing on the felucca was great, but sleeping and stepping in overflowing toilets, not quite so much. But we are both weathering the minor inconveniences well because, hey, we’re in Egypt, and we’ll put up with a lot to be here.

Now we’re resting in our hotel (a nice hotel with free internet in the lobby and lots of toilet paper!) and will join the rest of the tour group for dinner in a few hours. I’ve picked up a little bit of Egyptian Arabic and want to try it out in the market tonight or tomorrow. Although everyone we’ve run into seems to be fluent in English, it’s nice to know a few words, just to prove that I won’t be an easily ripped-off tourist in the market.

Egypt so far really has been amazing and we’re loving it. We highly recommend visiting, especially before prices go back up and lines become long again.

Categories: Egypt | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Temples and Current Events

Early, early in the morning we woke and loaded into the van at 3:30 a.m. This wasn’t too hard for any of the people coming from the States, because we’re still getting over jet lag. Right now waking up at 3 is normal for us!

After joining a long convoy of other tour buses, we began the 3 hour drive to Abu Simbel, an ancient temple far in the desert. When we signed up for this, back in August, the 3 a.m. wake up call was not advertised. But we were able to sleep some on the bus, so it wasn’t bad.

Around 7:30 a.m. we arrived in the tiny town of Abu Simbel, on the shores of Lake Nasser. This lake was created in the 1960s to stop some over-flooding of the Nile, only about 40 miles from the Sudanese border.

Abu Simbel and the neighboring, smaller temple is the famous one you’ve all seen in history textbooks. Built by Ramses II, it was erected way out in the middle of the desert along a trade route to show his power and his military prowess (carved on the walls are details of his military campaigns against the Nubians/Kushites and Assyrians). It was just massive. And gorgeous.

The temple was discovered in 1817 by a European archeologist and a local boy (named Simbel). It had been buried with sand for over a thousand years, perhaps two thousand, and they discovered the top hieroglyphics. Another archeologist arrived from Cairo to help start and expedition to dig deeper, and the famous faces of Ramses II were found. Soon the smaller temple, dedicated to his favorite wife, Nefertari, was also discovered. Ramses II placed himself at almost equal with the gods, his statues beside them to be worshipped. His wife was portrayed as the goddess represented as a cow, and hieroglyphics also show her being crowned as queen. The goddess of the cow symbolized motherhood, milk, sustenance, and nourishment.

20141230_084047After watching a video describing how the temple was cut into pieces and moved 6 km away from the flooding area, we drove the 3 hours back across the desert.

For dinner later that night our guide, Abraham, took us walking through the bazaar and to a local Egyptian restaurant. I ordered stuffed pigeon on the recommendation of Ahmed, and Egyptian on the tour with us, and Jordan ordered grilled lamb chop. Somehow by the end of the meal I had promised Ahmed that in Luxor I would try the meat from a camel’s head. I drew the line at the brain and probably the tongue also, but I suppose when in Egypt you should eat like the Egyptians.

Abraham has opened up a little bit about the revolution and his thoughts on it, which are fascinating to hear. Almost everything he has told me has been exactly what I learned in my graduate classes, so it’s niceto get confirmation that everything is accurate, and a local, eye witness perspective is really great. Most educated Egyptians, such as Abraham, are glad the revolution took place, glad the people joined together to oust Mubarak, but are very disappointed in the power grabs afterward, as well as the continued free reign of the police, which are see as brutal and henchmen for whomever is in power. The military is considered a more legitimate form of power, because they are made up of many Egyptians. Service is required from a man in the family with more than one son. While the high leadership was/is probably just as corrupt as Mubarak and his personalistic cult, the regular military men are very sympathetic toward the Egyptian people because they are their families.

However, many people in the Middle East—even well-educated ones—do not understand the concept of democracy. Expediency and ease are not the points of democracy, often, democracy slows the decision-making process down to make sure only wise decisions are made (no rash ones) and make sure everyone has had a chance to be heard. This is completely foreign to them—they would much rather get something done quickly and have strong leadership. While I already knew this, it’s fascinating to have conversations with people that believe these things. Ideas and culture really do affect the beliefs of all of us.

Categories: Egypt | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Nubia

We arrived in Aswan this morning. Aswan is a city in the far south of Egypt, toward Sudan. With a population of roughly 275,000 it is one of the larger cities in Egypt.

Nubians are Egypt’s second main ethnic group, and they usually live in southern Egypt or northern Sudan. They have lived there for thousands of years, often trading or battling with the Egyptians.

While our tour group went off a did a formal tour of the city, Jordan and I opted out because it was over $30/per person. Instead, we searched online for interesting places in Aswan, then grabbed a taxi outside our hostel. The driver knew immediately where we wanted to go (Nubian Museum) and took us there–for a hefty fee because we’re tourists. Pictured below is a Coptic Orthodox church.

IMG_1090At the museum (which we both got discounted tickets for a youth and student) we saw plenty of Nubian artifacts and pictures of daily life. Afterward, we walked down the hill, guided by Jordan’s phone GPS, and slipped into Fatimid cemetery.

Also known as the Islamic Necropolis, it houses many of the tombs of the Fatimids. They were part of the Shia Fatimid Caliphate, which ruled from the beginning of the 10th century until the end of the 12th, when Saladin took over.  There are tombs here from the 9th century to the 21st.

The Egyptian men hanging out at the cemetery were very helpful in showing us which dirt paths to follow to get out the other side and didn’t even ask for any tip in return.

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We saw the famous unfinished obelisk, then haggled with a taxi to get us to the Nile ferry to Elephantine Island. The public ferry separated men and women, and I had a scarf/hijab so we tried to blend in with the locals in the boat. We had intended to visit the Aswan museum, but a Nubian man told us it was closed. We weren’t sure if we should believe him, but we didn’t know any better, so we allowed him to take us around the island, where two Nubian villages are. After going down tiny little alleys and along dirt paths past very undeveloped houses and gardens, we arrived at Animalia, another museum we wanted to visit. It was smaller and less official than what we had read online suggested. A Nubian woman came downstairs to greet us and walked us through a little museum dedicated to local Nubian life, homes, and decorative baskets. The price of admission was steep for what we got: 15 Egyptian pounds a person, but I suppose helping someone stay out of poverty by purchasing a service from them is good. Everyone was so friendly and kind.

A large portion of the Nubian people lived just south of here for hundreds of years, but flooding along the Nile was getting worse and threatening several temples and parts of Aswan. So in the 1960s the Egyptian government, with some funding from other nations (including the U.S.) moved the temples, built a dam, and permanently flooded the area the Nubians lived. About half were moved to Sudan, while the rest (around 80,000) were moved to the Aswan area. The Egyptian president Nasser declared that Nubians could claim any land between Aswan and Luxor along the west bank of the Nile.

This evening we ate dinner in a local Nubian home, and the food was delicious. Along the ferry ride we were able to see the monastery of St. Simon, one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world. The ancient Desert Fathers, seeking the solitude of the Egyptian desert, began practicing Christian monasticism.

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Taking a ferry across the Nile reminded me so much of Agatha Christie’s “Death on the Nile.” I think Jordan was relieved because the BBC version doesn’t have any singing for me to imitate, unlike “The Prince of Egypt” (from yesterday looking at alabaster stone) or “The Sound of Music” (when going through the Vienna airport). As long as I sing quietly, no one hears me and it makes me very happy. So far, Egyptians seem to like us. Actually, I was expecting (As an American) to be met with cool indifference or slight displeasure by the Egyptians, but instead everyone is very enthusiastic about us being from America and seem very excited to have American tourists back among them.

Categories: Egypt | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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Morgan S Hazelwood

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