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Egypt was part two of a trip taken in November-December 2001 that started in Jordan. The Egypt leg started in Nuweiba and ended in Cairo. Tourism was at an all time low and major tourist sites, such as Luxor and the Pyramids, had only 3-5% of the usual visitors. While this made conditions nice for lack of crowds and choice of hotel rooms at very competitive rates, it also created situations where vendors of services (taxi, shop owners, camel rides, etc) were extremely pushy and aggressive towards getting money out of you. Of course to make things even more interesting, this vacation was taken during the holy month of Ramadan where fasting occurs during daylight hours and many businesses shut down in the early afternoon to prepare for their 'break fast' immediately following sundown. See more info about this country and others on my Virtual Tourist homepage.
The Sinai. We opted for a taxi from Nuweiba due to the frequency of the buses from Nuweiba to St. Catherines. A very grumpy taxi driver didn't make the drive that pleasant. Anyways, you did see wild camels walking in the desert. Keep your passport ready for various police and military checkpoints.St. Catherine's Monastery. It's closed to visitors on Fridays and Sundays, but we were able to sneak in, but didn't get as far as the burning bush before being escorted out. The hostel next to the monastery charges a ridiculous rate of US$30 per person per night -- it's cheaper to stay in town and get a taxi around 2am to the base of the mountain for your hike.You can climb Mt. Sinai (the highest point in Egypt). Guides will likely introduce themselves to you and should charge about LE 25-35 (US$8-10), but you don't need one. Start your hike about 2-3 hours before sunrise and make sure to bring a flashlight with you and dress for below freezing temperatures.
View from the top of Mt. Sinai about 5 minutes before sunrise. During peak tourist season the peak is crowded with 200-300 people, but the day we were there only 8 tourists were on the peak!There's a little church on the peak top, but it's closed to visitors. Vendors also rent blankets and sell warm and cold drinks along the trail and at the peak.Hiking down the mountain after sunrise, sure looks different in the daylight.
More viewpoints on the hike down. Where does the water come from to water those trees?Oh, did I mention that about 3 minutes before sunrise that a huge fog bank moved in and obscured the sunrise?.Onto Sharm El-Sheikh. Lack of tourists meant you could really bargain hard -- 10 minutes of bargaining brought a US$85 room down to US$27. This resort only had 4 rooms occupied with a total of almost 100 rooms available.
A sheesha. You must try one of these things! The top is filled with apple and molasses flavoured tobacco which is then burned while you suck air through the hose. The air passes through water contained in the bottom and cooled before being inhaled. You can buy one to bring home, but don't call it a hubbly-bubbly or a bong to custom officials.Onto Luxor, a city on the Nile River. I wouldn't recommend touching the water due to possible somiasis (liver flukes) infectionValley of the Kings. See my article on Virtual Tourist to learn how to get here and other places in Luxor if you are not on a group tour.
Entrance to a tomb. There's a lot of tombs in the VOTK, but not all are open. You need to buy a ticket for each tomb you enter.Beautiful paintings inside a tomb. Take a good SLR camera with you that's loaded with a fast film (automatic cameras just won't cut it) as you need to be able to set time exposures without using a flash. Almost all tourist sites in Egypt charge a camera fee, and at the VOTK the fee is LE5 (about US$1.50) for EACH tomb. You may leave your camera at the entrance of the tomb to avoid this fee, but then you have to pay baksheesh to recover your camera (say LE0.25-0.50). Note the fee for tripods is LE50 for EACH tomb, but if there's not too many people around you can likely bride the guard a few LE to use your tripod, a flash, or go somewhere that you're not allowed to go (believe me, everything works on baksheesh!)
It's always a toss-up to pick the right tomb to pay the camera fee. Some are very uncolourful and others are beautiful. Read whatever guidebook you have prior to entering the tomb. Note the general lack of people in this tomb, attributed to the lack of tourists in the middle east in general in the fall of 2001.You can walk about 20-30 minutes from the VOTK to reach Hatshepsut's Temple. Refuse any offers of guides along your walk (including children) as you'll be hit with a ridiculous guide fee when you reach the temple.
Overlooking the Nile and the 1 km stip of greenness that boarders the riverThe first views of Hatshepsut's Temple -- very impressive!Ramesseum, not usually visited by the tourist busses. Security officers might follow you around and talk gibberish English to you. Either pay them baksheesh to go bug another tourist or try and ignore them. If you can let on that you don't understand English then they usually leave you alone pretty quick.
A head within the Ramesseum. One of the guards talking gibberish English insisted on showing the big toe for a little baksheesh?!Everyone stops at this picture and looks closely at the Coke cans on the table. Yes, the writing for Coca-Cola is in Arabic.View from the top of the Merryland hotel showing the Nile cruise boats and a felucca.
Karnak. Built over 1300 years, this is one very impressive site! Even with today's engineering and huge cranes, construction of a site like this would be a very serious undertaking. Prepare to get a serious neck cramp from looking up in awl. Karnak also has a cheesy night laser and light show for an extra charge. If you want to attend then make sure to check the board outside the entrance for times and languages (English, French, Spanish, German, Arabic, and Japanese).
One of the tuthmosid obelisks located at Karnak. There's another one at the Luxor temple (below) and another one in Paris (see the France 2002 page)More of Karnak. Lots to see and very impressive. I recommend a slow film due to the bright sun and sand-coloured stones.Medinet Habu. Another impressive building on the west side of the Nile.
The outside of Medinet Habu.The fertile Nile valley. Taken on a walk from Medinet Habu to Colossi of Memnon. We kept having a pick-up truck pass us and insisting that we needed to pay him to take us about 500 m down the road. Finally the guy gave up, swore at us in Arabic, and sped down the road.Inside the Winter Palace's gardens. You can visit the gardens to enjoy some greenery and escape the constant harassment of vendors, without being a guest of the hotel. Didn't see Agatha Christie sitting on any of the benches though...
Luxor Temple. Save your visit until dusk and take a camera with fast film. Take a little tripod or beanbag to support your camera for timed night spots. I couldn't figure out why there were always little rocks in the way on all the spots where I was resting the camera for night spots, until I starting collecting rocks to prop up the camera as well.
Nile sunset."Caleche, Caleche, I make very good price for you" Found everywhere in Luxor, rides on these can be fun, but be warned about extremely cheap fares to 'Old Town' where in exchange for the cheap fare you will be pressured to buy touristy stuff from specific vendors.Onto Cairo. The corner outside the museum waiting for the right bus to the pyramids. The numbers are in arabic (sandscript) and the buses go by very fast.
Traffic around Midan Tahrir.The pyramids! Again the general lack of 95% of the usual tourist volume made these enjoyable to visit, but the vendors really pestered you for camel rides and guiding services (they act like very hungry mosquitoes). Again if you can let on that you do not speak English, you might be able to get rid of them, but the more experienced ones know this trick.
Okay okay, you gotta do the camel infront of the pyramids picture. Set the price before boarding the camel or you'll be held on the camel until the vendor gets the price he wants and lowers the camel back to the ground.Time to do a little geocaching. The Cheops Cache is located about 1km from the pyramids.The Sphinx and the Pyramid of Chephren.
The Egyptian Antiquities Museum. Way too many artifacts and not enough space! Very worth while to visit. Guides will approach you just outside the entrance, but you don't need one. Many of these guides have limited English, so you might just get "Head of King Tut, Foot of King Tut".Oh, "Head of King Tut".
Actually most of the signs in the museum are in French, but there's usually no description of the artifact with the sign.
The cast of Tutankhamun
Located in the Citadel is the Mohammed Ali mosque. This is an absolutely beautiful mosque and once you walk inside you realize how neat it is. Sit on the floor and listen to the wind circulate throughout the mosque and the clanging of the lights. A very peaceful place to relax from the heat (and the vendors). Remember to take your shoes off and leave them at the door or carry them with you with the soles touching each other.
View over Cairo. Not very clean and no green space. The pollution (mainly from traffic) will leave your throat raw.Many of the hotels in Cairo have these really neat and old elevators that you only see in movies. Some are not automatic at all and you need to guess where to stop the elevator to get off.Modern Cairo overlooking the Nile.
Ramadan dinner for poor people. Small tables are set up on the sidewalks in the afternoon and all the spaces are occupied just before sunset. Finally at sunset canons go off and the air fills with announcements from the mosques and people end their fast. The tables will be cleared within 10-15 minutes.Morning in Cairo during Ramadan. Everyone is still asleep and traffic is virtually non-existent... enjoy it while it lasts.Car and foot traffic along the same street at 2am during Ramadan. Don't expect to get much sleep until dinner is consumed just before sunrise.

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