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Cairo to Cape Town – Egypt Part 1

Wednesday 29th July

So I find myself in Egypt again, it seems like only yesterday I was in the back of a cab hurtling through Cairo’s mental traffic to a hotel where I would meet a travel group. Nothing much has changed although I sat in the front of the cab is time and had a prime view of the traffic and driving.

The Egyptians manage to squeeze 4 cars along a road that is slightly narrower than a 3 lane motorway!

Still I made it to the hotel in one piece and crashed out for a few hours well-earned kip.

In the evening I wandered down to reception to see what was going down and found a few members of the group lurking about and got chatting to them. Wilma (from now on called The Pink Lady due to her hair colour) and I sat chatting until Jan and Alison arrived looking slightly frazzled after their day trip to Alexandria by train and vast quantities of taxis!

Not long after Jan and Alison returned I had a message from Waleed (my friend and tour guide from last year) to say he was at the Swiss Inn hotel and I wasn’t there, we had arranged to meet for a drink to catch up and for him to fill me in on his wedding and future plans with his lovely wife. Anyway turns out there are 4 Swiss Inn hotels in Cairo! So he made his way over to the one I was at and sat with Wilma and myself for an hour or so having a good natter.

Come 11.30pm he left and we popped to a shop to grab some drinks and snacks…orio biscuits no less, before we crashed out for the night.

Thursday 30th July

Up early and down to breakfast for 8am, arranged to accompany Jan and Alison to Saqqara, Memphis and Dahshur. So we met in reception at 10am and headed off in a taxi to Dahshur to see the bent pyramid, then we drove over to Memphis which was the ancient capital of Egypt. We wandered around the museum looking at the giant statue of Rameses and getting accosted by a guy who wanted his picture taken with us and then asked for ‘baksheesh’, I threw in my arabic for ‘I have no money’ which worked well but led him to then ask for a pen! So I dished out one of my spare pens thinking the situation would be dealt with only to have him say he had 2 children and he wanted 2 pens! No pleasing some people!

After Memphis we went to Saqqara and went into the tomb of Titi, again we were accosted by a man who insisted in telling us all about the tomb and Titi. We crouched down and descended into the tomb to be met with a room with walls full of hieroglyphs and a room with a large sarcophagus in. He told us to look in the sarcophagus…even though it was relatively dark and there was nothing in the sarcophagus to see! I told him I didn’t need to climb up and look in as I had been there last year to which he practically shouted at me to look in the sarcophagus!

Upon nodding and making suitable appreciative noises over an empty dark sarcophagus he relented and let us leave and head back to the surface at which point we had the whole baksheesh conversation again! I was thinking ‘christ I haven’t bought enough pens for all these baksheeshs’! Luckily my last pen was saved by Jan who dished out 5 egyptian pounds (50p) to keep him happy!

We then wandered over to the stepped pyramid and temples and again got accosted by a ‘helpful’ man who basically walked in front of us pointing out the bloody obvious…there is a shaft into a tomb, these are columns, that is the stepped pyramid! I was thinking this could be a good outlet for me to earn myself some pens back by pretending to be a guide and accosting people and pointing out the obvious!

Anyway Jan and I opted to sit in the shade for 5 minutes before we passed out through heat stroke and left Alison (David Bailey as she is now known) to wander round in 43 degree heat with the ‘guide’.

Once Alison re-emerged from the temple we jumped in the car and headed back to the hotel, sweaty, tired and slightly sandblasted!

I then chilled out in the room with Nicole (roomie) for a while, had a kip then we had the group meeting at 5pm. 21 of us on the tour with 1 driver and 1 tour leader. Once all the admin was out-of-the-way we went for dinner in a restaurant next door which was the first proper food I had eaten since Athens airport! Shared a big meze platter with Nicole for the princely sum of 35 egyptian pounds each, about £3 each.

Anyway off to bed now as up at 7.30am tomorrow for breakfast before hitting the Pyramids of Giza and the museum tomorrow.

Friday 31st July

Up and out on minibus to the pyramids of Giza. We had the option of riding a camel, horse or horse and cart for 2 hours in blistering heat and paying a huge privilege for it, or paying nothing and going on the minibus to the gate and walking around ourselves, most of the group opted for that option some having had dodgy experiences with camels in the past which had clearly traumatised them.

So we visited the pyramids and had a wander round getting accosted by various unscrupulous characters trying to sell us fake papyrus paintings, crap jewellery and camel rides than appear to be a total bargain until you want to get off the camel and they refuse until you pay them $200!

After wandering around the pyramids we headed up to a panoramic view-point where our guide insisted I stand on the wall and pretend to push the pyramid, hold the pyramid in my hand and poke the top all ridiculously cheesy but when in Giza……

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We then headed over to the sphinx for a quick 10 minute stop to get pictures before heading back into the semi cooled minibus out of the heat.

We headed for the egyptian museum next, where we had a quick fire tour around some of the headline pieces before all rushing into Tutankhamun’s room as it’s the only room in the museum with air con!

After lingering in there for a while we had to come back out into the heat and headed for the cafe for a long-awaited cold drink and ice cream. As it happens we ended up disappointed as the drinks were 10 times the price of outside in a shop and the ice cream man hadn’t even bothered to turn up to work!

We then sat waiting for Tony and Malcolm to re-appear from the museum, after 20 minutes and 2 trips around to find them we were about to leave without them when they suddenly emerged claiming to have been waiting inside the door! The rest of the group told them they have to donate $10 to the beer kitty for being late and keeping us waiting…….note to self make sure I am always on time……

Anyway we finally got on the minibus and headed through tahrir square and back to the hotel all of us keen to get into air-conditioned rooms and have cold showers!

In the evening a few of us went for a wander around to find a good place to eat some traditional egyptian food, we food a nice place that had koshari on the menu which is a traditional egyptian dish of pasta, rice, lentils, chickpeas, onions, chicken and a chilli tomato sauce. After eating we ordered an apple shisha to round our authentic egyptian dining experience off.

Saturday 1st August

A long day, today we had a long drive in the truck from Cairo to El Quesir on the Red Sea. We left early in the morning and drove all day until reaching the campsite late afternoon. The journey was hot and sweaty with the right hand side of the bus being in the sun the whole way down. We worked together to knock up some shade using sarongs and clips which helped. We stopped briefly for lunch on the side of the road, much to the amusement of the locals, which consisted of cucumber, tomatoes, cheese, bread and watermelon.

Sometime late afternoon we arrived at Roots Campsite at El Quesir on the Red Sea. It was a pretty cool campsite with lots of sand, some small wooden huts, a nice and clean shower/toilet block and a pool.

The first job on arrival was getting the bags off the truck and off loading the tents from the roof. Nicole and I were partnered together so Nicole went off to select a tent…they have all been named after famous hotels, when asked which one I fancy, I replied any apart from Fawlty Towers. I had visions of a tent with holes in, taped together that fell on your head in the night!

So next job was putting up the tent, Mikkel the driver had given us a quick demonstration so as someone who avoids anything to do with tents I thought I better pay attention! Personally I think Nicole and I did an excellent job and we were one of the first to get ours up.

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So once the tents were done it was time for a swim, apart from the poor people on cook group that had to prepare and cook dinner. So for us non cook group people we had a cool down in the pool before a quick shower then dinner. Dinner was chilli and rice with watermelon for dessert and cook group did a good job with it.

After dinner we all participated in washing up, cleaning and tidying away dinner stuff. Then we crashed out in the tent which was like a hot canvas coffin. Managed to sleep for a few hours before waking up sweaty and stuck to the sleeping mat! How people do it for fun is beyond me! Lol

Sunday 2nd August

We were woken up early by the ‘early risers’ of the group, 5am! So Nicole and I managed to doze until 6.30am by which point the sun was up and the tent was unbearable to be in.

Cook group were up making scrambled egg and people were generally milling around camp in the morning, a few people went for an early morning swim.

After breakfast most of the group went snorkelling and scuba diving across the road so the rest of us sat around the pool or in the pool until lunchtime.

Just before lunch we all showered and dressed and then had some more cheese, cucumber, tomatoes and watermelon.

We all helped to pack up the truck and we headed off at 1ish to Luxor. It was supposed to be a 4 hour drive which turned into a 7 hour drive! We tried a road about 40 minutes from the campsite which we were refused entry onto as they wouldn’t give us a police escort, so we had to turn around and drive back 40 minutes past the campsite and up onto the high road which cut through mountains and desert.

I had unfortunately found myself on the right hand side of the truck in the oven seat! So spent a few hours cooking away as we traversed the desert. Still it kick started my tan!

We eventually re-found the Nile and followed it along through small settlements until we reached the outskirts of Luxor at which point we picked up a police escort to whizz us through checkpoints and along to our hotel. If the road was dangerous then the police escort would have certainly had the opposite desired effect! Blue lights flashing and siren screeching at hundreds of decibels a huge truck trundled behind it with everyone looking at what was going on! Not very conspicuous!

Still we arrived at the hotel, which is like fawlty towers, hot, hungry and tired. Some of us agreed to dump our bags in the room, cool down under the air con and then come down to the restaurant for dinner. Well, what a palaver! Nicole, Bruce, Ann and I ordered some drinks and food. Ten minutes later a different guy came and reconfirmed our order. Still no drinks! Slowly our drinks arrived except my pineapple juice and a different guy came and again reconfirmed our orders. At which point more of the group had arrived for food. About 15 minutes later everyone who had joined the group later had their food but Nicole and I still hadn’t and the pineapple juice still hadn’t materialised. Nicole asked where her mushroom and onion pizza was only to have the answer ‘yes pizza’, the suitably Egyptian Manuel was flapping around not achieving much. After more than an hour of waiting Ann stormed off to the shops, Nicole and I had given up and gone to KFC, which apparently here stands for Kentucky Fried Camel! In the meantime, after we left for our fried camel and chips Nicole’s pizza turned up but Manuel tried to palm it off to David and Sissy as a pineapple pizza with no pineapple, when they refused to accept it, it went back to the kitchen had some shrimp thrown on it and bought out to Steve as his shrimp pizza. As it turned out my chicken schwarma never materialised so it was a good job we opted for the camel!

Monday 3rd August

This morning we were up early for breakfast which consisted of a hard-boiled egg, bread, cheese and something that was supposed to pass as meat!

After breakfast we jumped on the truck and headed to Karnak temple, nothing much had changed from last year except less russians posing and generally fewer people. Mikkel had told us there had been a suicide bomb attempt a few months back at Karnak and a car had screeched in close to the temple and either blown up or failed to blow up and the guards had shot the bombers! Couldn’t quite get the events correct in my head but the basic understanding was if you see something strange or see lots of people running, run with them! Excellent advice from Mikkel! As it was we saw barely anyone and had no issues so that was a bonus!

After an uneventful trip round Karnak in 45 degree heat we jumped back on the truck and headed back to our hotel. I had volunteered to head out into town with Andrew P and Steve to source beers and sort drinks for our upcoming 2 nights on the felucca. So we were whisked into a salubrious part of town to a couple of ‘shops’ to buy everything. We then lugged it into the truck upon returning ready for the next few days and then made it back into our air-conditioned rooms for rest! Had a couple of hours sleep under the air con before meeting a few if the group at 5pm to head to the souks for a wander. Nicole, Jacqueline, Ann, Wilma and I jumped in horse carts and headed off to be accosted in the souks. We wandered the length of the souks feeling like parrots who can only say ‘no thank you’ and ‘we have no room to pack it’! Nicole found a good place to eat on trip advisor so we headed off for an early dinner (as we had no lunch!) of hummus, falafel, bread, chips and chicken wings/camel knuckles! The rest of the ladies joined us half an hour later and had some dinner also.

We then headed for a cafe in the centre of the market where the rest if the group were meeting for drinks and shisha.

After a couple of drinks we hailed a horse cart back, we ended up with 2 drivers having a full on physical and verbal fight in the street over our custom! Eventually the successor hollered across for the horse and we jumped in and headed back to the hotel for air con and rest.

Tuesday 4th August

Everyone got up at the crack of dawn to visit the Valley of the Kings this morning, having been before I decided not to go and to have a lie in instead. I eventually got up at 7.30am as the air con had turned off and I was sweating and dehydrated! I showered at a leisurely pace and headed downstairs to see if Jan was around as she had also stayed back, as she had visited the Valley before.

Found Jan, so we both sat downstairs under working air con writing our blogs. Late morning we managed to get the air con working and headed up to my room to chat and stay cool.

Everyone returned about 11am, so after a couple of hours of uploading photos one by one onto Facebook Nicole and I decided to headed to an Italian restaurant for lunch.

So we wandered along to the restaurant to find it open but with no chef, he had decided that due to drop in business in Egypt over last few years he would only come in when called. So a quick call to the chef and within 10 minutes he was there and preparing our lunch.

Nicole and I enjoyed lunch at a very italian style leisurely pace before wandering back to the hotel for a siesta and a cool down.

We all met up again at 6pm and after chatting with Em (Tour Leader) about 12 of us headed out to a local restaurant called Jewel of the Nile. The food was amazing, had myself a vegetable tagine which was loaded with local fresh veggies.

After dinner we strolled back for an early night prior to our 4.30am start to Aswan.

Wednesday 5th August

Up at 4.30 and on the bus at 5.15am ready to leave. Spend the first couple of hours driving along the east bank of Nile past little mud brick villages with locals riding around on donkeys or donkey carts.

After a couple of hours we arrived at Edfu temple and hopped out for a quick march around to see it, built by one of the Ptolemy’s for Horus the Falcon god.

We ran the gauntlet of shops and shopkeepers trying to sell us hideous outfits and shoes and the normal old tat.

We hastily jumped back on the truck and headed off in the direction of Aswan as we had a Mr Fix It to meet and we had to attend the Sudanese Embassy to apply for our Sudanese Visa before 2pm as they shut for a bank holiday tomorrow as it’s the opening of the Suez Canal.

So there we were motoring along, well as fast as an old truck can on potholed roads and just shy of Aswan we find ourselves amidst a funeral procession! A hundred men idling down the road behind a cadaver on a plank of wood, well you can’t suddenly accelerate and tear off rattling loudly in a cloud of dust so we creeped behind it for a while until they veered off into the graveyard and literally millimetres past them Mikkel stamped on the accelerator and off we went…on a mission to get Sudan visas…..

We made it to Aswan with half an hour to spare, screeched to a halt on the Nile front, two Sudanese men jumped in the truck…apparently Mr Fix It 1 & 2. We roared off in the direction of the embassy…already armed with passport, copies of passport, photos and $50. Em frogmarched us all over there in groups of 7 or 8 so as not to freak them out as 23 people tear through the door half an hour before closing wanting visas. Unfortunately they had no forms so when the second group of 7 or 8 wandered through the door the first group were still milling around with no form and no progress made!

We waited about 10 minutes for the forms, then once filled out we had to go up stairs to see a woman on the next floor who basically checked your form and asked you questions. I got grilled over putting ‘none’ in the religion box and what my job as Supply Chain Manager meant. Once she had approved it we had to go up another floor and wait in a stiflingly hot room to pay someone else the money and hand in the forms. This took about another 15 minutes to organise, then once completed we were told to go back downstairs and wait. Another 15 minutes passed and we then were relieved of our passports and told to come back Monday! So christ knows whether we will get them, whether having no religion means I could be some kind of terror threat! We will have to see! Lol

Anyway after all that excitement we made it to the hotel, checked in and promptly went out for an early dinner (as no lunch) to a very local place where they knock you up a plate of either egyptian meat dishes or veggie dishes with rice and a drink for £4.

Everyone appears to be having an early night as we are all knackered after the early start and the excitement at the Sudan Embassy. Will see what tomorrow brings in Aswan!

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