Monday, July 5, 2010

Egypt... 2004

If you are staying in Israel as a volunteer you get a 3 month volunteer visa. If you want to renew it you have to leave the country and come back in again, the easiest way of doing so is to cross the border into Egypt and come back again after a few years. Most people tend to go and spend a few days in Dahab and then come back again. I decided to travel around the whole country in 10 days (on an extremely low budget) to at least make the most of it.

I spent $150 while I was there and left with a small back pack, containing underwear a couple of t-shirts, a towel and a bathing suit. I wore jeans and a sweater seeing as it WAS in January and I had no idea how cold it would get. Three girls together, Kirsty from South Africa (who had never traveled before), Andrea from Colombia (seasoned traveller) and myself (also used to traveling). I would honestly never do it again that way - it was an amazing experience, but we ended up staying in the worst hostels ever (ever seen a shower that drips water on you OVER a toilet?! Go to the cheapest hostel in Cairo).

Taba to Cairo: six hours on a bumpy bus with Egyptian music, not really expecting the culture shock when you finally get off the bus (shaky legs and all). People shouting at you in Arabic, pulling at you (especially Kirsty with her blonde hair, light skin and terrified expression), and trying to get you to pay extortionate amounts of money to go to the "best place in town".
I don't like Cairo. Too noisy, too many people staring at you, too many crazy drivers and just WAY TOO BIG. The pyramids were incredible though... If I ever go back again I will ride a camel all around them, as it was something I didn't end up doing.

Cairo to Aswan: 12 hours in the 2nd class cabin on the train. I kept one eye open all night in case we were robbed, but it was actually pretty safe. Aswan was my favourite place - much smaller and friendlier, and I actually felt I could breathe there! We met a lovely Egyptian man who resided in the UK, but who's family lives in the Aswan Nubian community. He decided to be our tour guide for a couple of days and took us to visit his family, and to a lot of different places off the beaten track. He even got us a great deal on a felluca trip back up the Nile, so we didn't have to share with a bunch of strangers - and he didn't ask for anything in return. I think we were pretty lucky, if I think back at it now I realise we were a little naive to trust this guy, but in the end, right to.
Sadly the felluca trip back up to Luxor didn't work out because of very heavy winds, but we did end up spending the night on it, on the deck, under the stars. Amazing.

Aswan to Luxor: there were no 1st or 2nd class seats left so we had to go 3rd class. Tourists are actually not allowed to travel 3rd class for safety reasons, but someone must have taken pity on us as there wasn't another train until the next day. We were asked to sit next to a group of soldiers, and spent three hours with our heads stuck out of the window to avoid the stares of the other passengers and the stench of the overflowing toilet between the carriages.
Luxor is a strange place. It feels safer because it's very touristy and cosmopolitan, but we had our worst experiences there. on every street corner someone tried to lure us into a dark alley to buy drugs, and the pickpocketing situation was insane. Andrea had her wallet stolen without even realising it was gone.
The ancient architecture in Luxor however is mind-blowing. The temple, the Valley of the Kings, the statues... I don't even know how to explain how incredible it was to actually stand near these creations.

Luxor to Dahab: 22 hours on a bus through the desert, breaking down by the tip of the Suez canal and realising that the desert is FREEZING at night when the sun is not there to warm it up. Dahab was wonderful - and just what we needed to relax after 7 days of hardly any sleep and a lot of traveling.It was off-season so we got a cheap bamboo hut to sleep in and spent a lot of time sitting in comfortable cushions on the edge of the red sea. The showers only had cold (sea) flowing through them so we ended up not even showering for the last three days ( :D ).
Once I got back to my aunt's on Moshav Hatzeva in Israel and I had the longest and best shower of my life.

Egypt is full of extremes. One moment I never wanted to leave, the next I couldn't wait to get out of there. If I ever go back again it will be to do a cruise on the Nile: good food, comfortable beds and showers that work. Or maybe just Dahab in the summer: swimming with dolphins in the Red Sea, backgammon on the beach and dancing to good music at night.

Or maybe next time I am in the Middle East I will just go to Jordan. Or Lebanon.

More Pictures

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