Day 4 – Aswan to Edfu
There’s something quite special about waking up and opening your curtains to see yourself cruising down the Nile, past a varied selection of moving desert, palm trees, camels and mosques. After a lovely breakfast further enjoying the views, it was time to head out and see some more sights. To be honest, for once I can’t really remember half of the week that’s how much we saw and what a whirlwind it was.
Our first stop was at Abu Simbel’s incredible Unesco World Heritage Site, the two Temples of Ramses II. As well as being monuments to the King and his wife, they also celebrate Ramses victory in battle. At 1264 years old and shimmering in the hot sun, it is quite a spectacle to behold. The rock temples, with their seated statues, have been carved into the surrounding landscape and inspire images of other similar notable endeavours in the world, namely Petra in Jordan or even Mount Rushmore. On the border with Sudan, they are huge and part of the “Nubian Monuments.” You’re allowed to go inside, but like with many monuments in Egypt, photo taking is strictly prohibited. This doesn’t stop people though, as our tour guide pointed out, if they are able to without being caught, most people will be tempted by a ‘Sneaky peeky’.
Arriving into Edfu later on in the afternoon, we headed over to the perfectly symmetrical town of Kom Ombo, the Temple of Two Gods. This temple is dedicated to the God of Crocodile and the God of Falcon.
At some point on this trip, but I can’t for the life of me remember where we actually managed to cram this in, we did some traditional Egyptian shopping. The first was a visit to a perfumery where we secured a deal to take some home. I still have three medium bottles, of which the liquid never seems to diminish, even seven months later. The second place was a hand made papyrus workshop where we could buy art. I got a glow in the dark chariot scene which I didn’t realise changed to two outlines of figures making out when the lights are turned off (also discovered six months later when I finally mounted the artwork on my wall) Wherever you go and whatever you do, there sex is. It made me think of my most recent trip to India when we went around the supermarkets looking for a deck of cards and one of the girls hilariously asked a shopkeeper in a loud voice ‘Excuse me, do you have the Kama Sutra?’
Day 5 – Edfu to Luxor
The morning’s activities included another temple visit and history lesson – this one the Temple of Edfu, built between 237 and 57 BC – before sailing off again to famous Luxor. We were due to have a ‘bit’ of time in Luxor tomorrow as well so luckily didn’t have to cram all of Luxor’s activities into one afternoon. No, that day we were able to focus on the Avenue of the Sphinxes, a grandiose display of Sphinx heads carrying on for 3km. The site also has many hieroglyphs carved into the walls, and it was useful having our guide around to translate some of them. I actually ended up buying a book on hieroglyphs at the airport going home, because there is a hell of a lot of information to take in at one time, and I wanted to understand them better. “Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs” by Janice Kamrin, comes highly recommended, not only for educational content but realisation that there a lot of rude and weird symbols to keep you occupied and laughing for the plane ride home.
Day 6 – Luxor to Hurghada
Super busy day the next day. Rising at dawn, an excitable group of us got ready to take a hot air balloon flight over Luxor. I’ve been in a balloon once before, during my trip to Australia’s outback, and I can safely say as amazing as that was, this was a hundred times better. Jaw dropping ancient scenery, multiple balloons taking off at once and a bumpy landing in a green field of crops, tractors and surrounding balls of colour was extremely memorable. Our guides got really into filming the whole thing, and a celebratory dance off and drink happened after landing in the crop field. It was something I’d dreamed of doing since I was 15, and it didn’t disappoint. Another tick off the old bucket list.
However (after a brief stop at the Colossus of Memnon along the way) no visit to Luxor is complete without a visit to the legendary Valley of the Kings, otherwise known as ‘City of the Dead’, and the Pharaoh mummy tombs. They’re pretty incredible. Again, authorities open the tombs on a rotational basis and yes, Tutankhamun’s tomb was open and yes, I lost my ticket to get into that particular one and the guards weren’t feeling generous. Apparently I didn’t miss much, as people reckoned the other tombs and carvings we saw were better, but I’m not sure if they were just being nice. By way of revenge of the guards I managed to get in some sneaky peakies.
Later that day, and being right by the Nile, it was easy to head straight off the boat and onto another animal for a ride through a local village. Some people picked tiny little mules, a few free standing and some with carts, whilst a few of us picked camels again, laughing at how low down everyone else was. We visited a local home and saw its inner and outer workings before handing out sweets and bubble wands to the village children, who couldn’t get enough of them. Eventually we were virtually running back onto our boat to escape the hordes!
Our last port of call for the day was a night-time visit to the Temple of Karnak. It’s fantastic seeing such ancient complexes lit up at night, I really recommend it. There’s still people there, but the crowds are less intense too.
Finally we cruised into Hurghada, checked into our sailor themed accommodation, enjoyed some food, drinks, shisha and music in the hotel’s huge garden complex, and slept very well that night.
Day 7 – Hurghada back to Cairo
Hurghada, a pretty little beachside town with crystal clear waters for snorkelling and dreamy golden beaches, didn’t disappoint. Our group as a whole decided to go on a day cruise of the Red Sea, where we could jump on and off the boat at whim, swim, snorkel, sunbathe, eat, drink, play music, dance, chat idly and all the other delights that go with bobbing about on the waves.
It was lovely to be able to relax again and be in one place for a while before our last journey back to Cairo, and the hotel where the adventure began.
Egypt was amazing, and I would of course recommend to go, but please give yourself at least 2 weeks there 😉
JORDAN AND ISRAEL
You’ll have to forgive me for this one, as I have done a hell of a lot of blogging lately and feel quite burnt out with writing, so this last one will just be a summary instead of a day to day account!
It was merely one week later, having barely touched down and arrived home, than I had to turn back around and head to Jordan for my next adventure. I say ‘had to’ – of course I wanted to, but in all honesty I’d reached a point of physical and mental exhaustion and in retrospect think more travel was probably not needed right then. I’d seen so much of the world in such a short space of time that the wow factor was diminishing and famous sites were just becoming ‘yet another building or mountain’, a blur. This was the total opposite of what I want to feel while travelling, and not, I would imagine, what anyone wants to feel. It defeats the purpose in the first place.
Seeing Petra was incredible enough that it did lift me out of my jaded travel funk though, and this is why I would probably recommend it as the best world wonder. Or maybe the second, I don’t know, as Machu Picchu is damn out of this world too. What most people who haven’t visited don’t realise about Petra, is that it isn’t just all about the famous Treasury that you see images of in guidebooks and on Instagram. There’s a whole city to explore. We spent an entire day there, climbing and exploring ancient tombs, the Monastery and an alternative view of the Treasury, but you could easily spend several days. Take into account that it is scorching hot, each hike takes an hour or two at least (depending on your fitness level) and also factor in climbing and stopping time, as well as drinking plenty of water plus shooing away sellers at every corner.
The views you get and the sense of archeological achievement as echoes of history ripple through a ruined city will leave your spine tingling. Nothing will ever quite compare to the original 40 minute walk to get to the Treasury, towering caverns of rocks around you as you head ever deeper into the mystery – before the Treasury finally opens out to you from between a gap in two rocks. I’ll never forget the expression of sheer wonder and delight on a frail old man’s face as he was being driven by a donkey cart and saw that view for the first time. Tears actually welled up in my eyes on seeing his emotion.
Night time is also an unmissable time to visit – we went the night before our day visit, when the entire trail was lit by lanterns, hundreds of people sat on the sands and a man went around in the dark playing a beautiful instrument. There was something about the whole performance that was so peaceful and hopeful – and then at the end, the Treasury was lit up in a multicoloured light display to many surprised cries of wonder. Unforgettable. Even writing about it now, reignites a normally buried playback and makes me smile, remembering it properly again.
Other sights you absolutely need to see and or experience in Jordan are floating in the Dead Sea, which lies at the lowest point on earth. Still reeling some from that high altitude trip to Bolivia or Tibet? Come here as an antidote 😛 Technically a salt lake bordering Jordan and Israel, it is at least 9 times as salty as the ocean and it is this very salinity which will help you float and bob around with no effort. Sit or lie awkwardly, stick your limbs out, roll over, try to thrash around and still – you will not sink. Even deliberately try to sink yourself, and you will feel an invisible oily force push you upwards and almost out of the water. It is a very bizarre, but very pleasant sensation. You may even want to buy some beauty treatments with the minerals from these waters afterwards in the shop, but be warned they are naturally pricey.
We started and ended up in the city centre of Amman – which is pretty uninspiring – apart from the massive Roman Amphitheatre to see and climb, not to mention the King Abdullah Mosque (be prepared to get covered, both ladies and gentlemen).
Far more interesting are the sites to see near the outskirts of Amman – the ancient site of Madaba, views of the promised land from Mt Nebo and the Crusader Karnak Castle, with additional explorations of great Roman ruins in Jerash. There’s quite a bit to walk around here, from a Greco-Roman hippodrome for chariot racing, to the Citadel, to a moderate museum on site. Consider Amman as a base to hop to Petra and Little Petra and from there, to Wadi Rum. As the Wadi Rum desert is obviously going to be in the middle of hot nowhere, and it is fun camping overnight in Bedouin tents, be warned if you bore easily because there really is not much to do at camp. A highlight of your stay here will be the 4×4 jeep drive out into the desert, where you get to visit famous movie locations, climb sand dunes and rocks, explore caves and race downhill in your guides vehicle. A really fun few hours with stunning sunset.
Aqaba, which is Jordan’s only coastal town and sits by the Red Sea, is also worth a visit for some R&R and good quality diving or snorkelling at the end of your trip. If you truly want to relax though, hire a private space like a beach or hotel where you can wear your bikini and not get stared at like a dirty being from outer space.
If you are lucky enough to be able to head onto Israel, I really recommend the trip, and it seems quite appropriate that I’m writing this at Easter. It’s a bit of a bore getting through security to Israel and you’ll probably get questioned, but hopefully it won’t take you too long to make it through to the other side.
Despite any political and historical tensions, it is an incredible country to visit for its esteemed religious sites and pilgrimages, whether you are religious or not. I liked Jerusalem, considered a Holy place by both Christianity, Islam and Judaism, which meant people of different faiths living side by side together and therefore all places of worship equally respected. The Western Wall (or wailing wall) is really interesting to witness, despite there being separate sections for men and women, everyone can write a wish on a piece of paper and insert it into the wall. Other well known and must see sights are the Mount of Olives, the garden of Gethsemane (where Jesus spent time the night before his death), King David’s Tomb, the glittering Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (the Holiest place in Christianity, the site where Jesus was tragically crucified and also the site where his tomb is)
It is definitely worth checking out Bethlehem after, and isn’t too far away to reach at all, a mere half hour drive, in-fact. Visit a real life Nativity scene, buy some souvenirs and tuck into a falafel wrap, before visiting the astonishing political graffiti all along the West Bank. Some incredible works of art there with very strong and powerful political messages.
Once you have tired of religious sites, it’s high time to head to coastal Tel Aviv, one of the party capitals of the world with fantastic nightlife. You can see why. The place has an incredibly different feel to it, as much of a difference as between, say, Amman and Jerusalem and Bethlehem and there. It is also very liberal, with a popular gay and trans community. You’re more likely to see half naked people rollerskating down the beach promenade than anything else there, and hanging out in one of their lively, trendy side streets like we did – well, you could be in Shoreditch, London, to be honest.
So! Both Jordan and Israel, blew my expectations out of the water. Isn’t that why we travel? I don’t think any country I’ve ever been to has been exactly as I anticipated, and that’s the fun of it. This brings me up to date with my blog, finally. Well, nearly. I’ve got a trip planned to Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland this summer so I’ll be refocusing back on Europe and really digging back in time to when I began travelling around the continent. Until then…