Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Egypt: First 6 days


My unorthodox day began with a bushy eyed 5am alarm, followed by my very first Car2go experience.  After 7 hours of collecting rain event samples at work, and being stuck in rush hour for over an hour with my little smart car, I eventually managed to get my butt off to Egypt…I just wish it was as easy as it sounded;).  My trip involved a 9-hour flight to Frankfurt, (which included 4 rum and cokes, and an entire cup of coffee spilled onto my lap), a 5-hour layover, and finally finishing with a 4.5 hour leg to Cairo.  This reaffirmed my already desperate need to learn to sleep during travel!
Egypt Air on the other hand, was not enjoyable
Flying on an AC Dreamliner is a treat.  Just another good
experience with this company people love to hate.

Darkness had already immersed Cairo for several hours when I arrived, but surprisingly it was still 40 degrees!  Thankfully my driver was waiting at the exit with the hotel name I recognized, and before I knew it, he happily grabbed my bags and headed for the airport exit while I struggled behind to keep up.  Before leaving, I first needed to attempt withdrawing some cash from an ATM; only 6 ATM attempts later, one thankfully worked.  We jumped into his car and sped off in the typical chaotic manner Cairo was known for.  I actually quite liked my driver, and surprisingly even liked his Arabic style beats that blared on his radio which fought to be enjoyed over the 4 windows wide open at 100km/hr. 
yup, it was hot!

After a tense and eventful 45 minute shuttle, we arrived to my first accommodation….Pyramid View Inn.  It was a very simple hostel style….well, to put it mildly, dump, BUT the views and hospitality quickly made up for it.  I eagerly made my way up to my room to get some much needed, shut-eye, a first in almost 2 days.  Unfortunately, the room itself was quite dirty, but because I was so excruciatingly tired, I cranked on the A/C and slept on the edge of the bed with no covers, knowing my 5am alarm would come soon enough.


After a pretty crappy sleep, followed by a cold shower, I enjoyed a couple of instant coffees on the terrace with what I could only describe as a “transcending view”!   It was hard to believe that only 50-100m away, was the majestic Giza Pyramids.  Day 2 had already solidified this trip for me as I thoroughly enjoyed a wonderful breakfast while enjoying the majestic vistas that seemed to be shared by only myself.  8am came sooner then expected, and before I knew it, I was whisked away by my Egyptologist guide Laila (plus driver) for a full day tour of the famous west bank pyramids. 
My morning wake up view
Great way to enjoy coffee at 6am…coffee never gets cold here, literally ha!
The view NEVER got old

Large simple breakfast.  My favourites were the bread sticks mixed with the yummy cheese.   The falafel cakes weren't to bad either.
Literally 50 meters from my room

My driver, a quiet fellow, but extremely nice.
First was the Red Pyramid furthest away and earliest in pyramid history.  It was known to have slightly more red hues in it, and was a second attempt pyramid by the pharaoh after realizing the Bent Pyramid had too much angle on it.  I was able to go in this one, which was included in the 45LE admission.  I was immediately blown away at how deep the trench went.  Just the fact I was able to walk into an ancient relic built 3000+ years before Christ with no one around gave me this awe feeling.  I enjoyed every cool second down there, but eventually had to resurface.  I tipped the guard 5LE and made my way to the Bent Pyramid.  This one was bigger, and still had its smooth granite casings on, but I was not able to go inside this one.  This first site was an eventful one, and right then and there,  it really sunk in how bad Egypt’s tourism industry was being hit….we were the only ones here!!
Red Pyramid, one of the first to be built.  The earlier ones used smaller stones, hence they tended to deteriorate faster.  
About to go inside, not aware how impressed I would be.
My driver and guide.  As you can see, it's just us and the pyramid.  So sad for the tourism here!
The shaft dropping into the Red Pyramid (maybe 70+ steps down?)….way longer then expected.  All I could think of  was, gas tech, confined spaces lol.
Yup, it's a desert out here
My Egyptologist guide Laila looking at one of my favourite looking pyramids…the Bent Pyramid.  My guide used to work every day, sometimes twice, but now MAYBE once a week!
One of the few which was able to retain its smooth outer casings.  Again, we were the only ones here!

The Memphis Temples were next, located in a village that was once the original capital of Egypt.  It was full of large granite statues and tombs, some large, others small with the heads stolen.   It was ok, but I was ready to move on.

See the dog chilling between the legs:)
A big pharaoh made out of 1 solid piece of granite.  
Next was Saqqara, one of the first stone structures ever built on earth.  Tombs and a large courtyard surrounded it, which was hard to enjoy in the blistering heat.   The main 6-stepped structure Saqqara was off limits, but beside it was a famous accessible tomb.  I was able to walk into this one for 45LE, and the detailed carvings on the walls were amazing.  This one had a guard posted in it, but it didn’t take long for him to offer me a “secret” photo session which he emphasized was highly illegal.  I knew he was trying to play me like a fiddle for tips, but I had no energy to push back, so I played along.  I gave him 10LE, which seemed to satisfy him.

In a deep tomb underground.  This is where the guard scammed me into getting photos taken illegally for tips.  It was just easier to go with it.
Saqqara, first ever stone building complex in the world.
By this point, the heat was getting unbearable, and headaches started to set in.  Water consumption seemed to do little, and anything less then jumping into an ice bath was of little comfort.  I’ve never experienced heat to this extent before, and even the locals seemed to be avoiding it.  Famously known for being aggressive, today most stuck to their most sought after piece of shade.  43 degrees was the biggest battle of the day.

We made our way to the Giza Pyramids, but not before stopping for a few yummy falafels.  All 3 of us enjoyed a few in the cool-ish car, A/C struggling to keep up.  Once finished, it was only a few blocks to the main entrance to one of the most famous structures in the world.  I was able to go up a few blocks on the Great Pyramid to truly appreciate the scope of the thing.  My guide wanted me to do the typical touristy things like hold the tip of the pyramid and kiss the sphinx, so I reluctantly agreed.   We finally made our way past the second pyramid, (which still has its granite casings near the tip), to the far southwest lookout point.  Here was where I wanted to do a few silly photos on a camel, but wouldn’t you know it, both my camera and iPhone began to malfunction due to the extreme heat.  I was forced to use my guides phone as backup.  It couldn’t have happened at a worst time as I feebly posed on the camel a few dozen times while my guide struggled to work the overheated electronics.   After many failed attempts, we were able to get a few satisfactory shots, retreating back to the car for some much needed relief.  A quick make out session with the sphinx, and before I knew it, my day was done at 3pm.  I happily said my goodbyes to the driver while tipping him 40LE and retreated to my room for some much needed rest.  I really needed a break from the relentless heat.
Your classic egyptian in white on a camel.
Far southwest corner lookout.  It was unbearably hot at this point…cameras were overheating.
Harder then it looks
On the Great Pyramid of Giza
Cool perspective of how close the city is to these wonders.

Wonder what's going through my head here
Wait, I want to go that way
Just surfin a camel

So hot, even the camel guys had no interest selling me rides.
Ah, the classic sphinx, always a good way to end touring the pyramids.
After a few hours relaxing and organizing my shit, I made my way back up to the terrace to take in the light show.  I was able to talk to a nice fellow from the USA, and another from India while eating my KFC.  The show started at 7:30, and after 40 minutes or so, I dragged my weary body back to my room not overly impressed on what I had just witnessed.   I was able to get a few lack luster pictures with my crappy point and shoot camera, but at least I saw it for free from our hotels strategically placed terraceJ

Tomorrow will be 45 degrees.

 DAY 3

Another sweltering hot, cloudless day welcomed me as I made my way up to the terrace.  I enjoyed my last few cups of coffee and complimentary breakfast one last time before meeting my guide at 8am.  Right on time as expected, and with a new driver and car this time, but this time better equipped with a more powerful A/C.  

What a view!

Our first stop was a massive mosque on top of a hill over looking the entire city of Cairo.  It was home to Mohammad Ali (not the boxer;).  I took this opportunity to really learn the Muslim ways, what was behind the 5 prayers a day, what differentiated them from Isis and other middle east radicals, why they had strict food and alcohol restrictions, and so on, and my guide was more then happy to educate me on the many finer points,  clarifying many myths misunderstood by western cultures.  We took off our shoes and walked around the massive carpeted prayer room.  Apparently on Fridays, I was told it was extremely hard to find any square footage available to pray on as tens of thousands came here each week.
Mohamed's Alabaster mosque
View from the impressive mosque
Inside the mosque

We had a quick gander down at the tumultuous city of Cairo, home to over 25 million people. 
Next was Garbage city…an entire section of Cairo dedicated to working with garbage, which apparently quite profitable to some.  I expected to see more of a contrast then what was described to me online, but non the less, it was still unique.  After 10 minutes, I was ready to move on.
Garbage city, a bit underwhelming

Next we visited the Coptic part of the city, home to Simon’s Church.  We started at the summer cave (a church in a partially covered cave), then moseyed over to the winter cave next (a church fully enclosed in a cave).  It was quite unique and odd at the same time.  We were offered a free-guided tour, but I declined…a quick visual tour was more then enough at this point as my mind was starting to overfill with random knowledge.  It was also at this point my guide noticed my eyes were a bit bloodshot.  I knew the lack of sleep and 45-degree days were catching up to me, but non the less, she was still quite concerned.  She offered to drive me to a pharmacy for some eye drops.  I quickly refused while laughing, reminding her several more times throughout the day I was fine. 

Winter cave Simons Church
This intrigued me
After battling traffic for 25 minutes, we were dropped off at the Khan Elkhalili Market on Elmoez St.  This was a wonderful place to people watch, take in numerous old mosques built over a span of hundreds of years, and enjoy lunch.  My guide treated me to some great local food that included sugarcane juice, Howshi (a yummy beef bread paddy), and Fteer (a local breaded dessert).  This gave me a bit of a boost, but my energy was still edging on empty.  The famous Egyptian Museum was next.

Our lunch while drinking sugarcane juice.
We passed through several security gates, as it was quite apparent security was a serious issue around here.  The tour started as expected with each piece in the exhibit described in great detail.  There were thousands of relics here, many made from solid gold, but after only a few exhibits, I was ready for bed.  My guide was beginning to see the exhaustion on my face and asked if she could improve on anything.  I reassured her she was doing a fine job, but I preferred to just mostly look.  She gave me 40 minutes and retreated to the café outside.  I continued in a groggy fog, enjoying the mummy’s, King Tuts lavish gold tomb which included every accessory possible, and all the coffins and status one could shake a stick at.  I was ready for my next hotel, so I exited the museum, tipped my guide and driver, and bid my adieus as I checked into the Ramses Hilton on the Nile (bomb sniffing dog included!).       

Inside the Famous Egyptian Museum
My corner suite was spacious and old, but all in all, it was a great room for the price paid.  A quick dip in the pool, and a brisk walk down the street for some local food, and I decided to call it a night.  Tomorrow would be another long day.


It was another early 5am start to my morning. which included a street vendor fruit cup and a 30-minute walk to the train station.  It took me awhile to figure out which platform and car was mine seeing nothing was in English, but once seated, I was able to relax for the 2.5-hour journey to Alexandria.  For a first class seat, the train was ok at best, but who can complain I guess, it only cost 104LE (15CAD).

I arrived to a chilly 26 degrees, and it didn’t take me long to get properly oriented and head towards the ocean harbor.  For some reason I seem to have a knack for navigating through complex cities and dealing with the local traffic, which in my opinion, is an experience all on its own.  

Alexandria, lots of kids fishing
I reached the boardwalk in relatively short time, and headed to the Corniche Fort.  The ocean breeze was a welcome change, and I relished every moment of it.  I stopped a few times to watch the kids catching (more like snagging) little fish for the nearby markets, and observed the bustling activity all around me.  I noticed many were eating ice cream while chilling on the harbor wall, so like I always say, do as the locals do, I skillfully crossed the 6 lane street and grabbed myself a cup…5LE (80 cents).  I took my time enjoying my treat while soaking up the surroundings.  Next was the Corniche.

Ice cream here is actually quite good…and cheap!
I paid the 30LE to enter, not really expecting much, but much to my delight, it exceeded my expectations.  It gave me the opportunity to capture great vantage points for a few pictures.  I spent 20 minutes or so until I felt content on the value ha.  Next,  I needed to find the recommended fish restaurant my guide raved about.

Inside was a pleasant surprise
I walked in the general direction as described by Liala, only to find myself in an extremely smelly fish market.  I’ve never puked solely on smell alone, but today was almost the first.  I quickened my stride and escaped the pain I was feeling inside.  Like most of my random walks, this misdirection led me to an amazing alley market full of unique local activities.  Everything from fruit, meats, fish, and even doves, rabbits, and quails were being exchanged.  I kept my walk brisk, as it wasn’t hard to realize I was the only tourist here, and I stood out just a tad. 

An amazing alley market that I stumbled upon
I made my way back to the harbor (stopping for a quick chicken wrap) and walked 10km or so to a coffee shop with a great vantage point.  The 15LE cappuccino was amazing, and I immediately commended myself for making the time to enjoy one. Time was now flying by, so I made my way back to the station 5+ km away.  A friendly old Taiwanese couple pointed me towards the proper train platform, which saved me much hassle.  This time, the train was much dirtier, and almost unbearable to relax in, but similar to the last few days, I was much too tired to care.   I closed my eyes, hoping to build some energy for my remaining walk to the hotel once my ride was done.  Tomorrow would be a 4am wakeup…yahh lol.  


I decided to save myself some hassle by pre-booking a car through the Hilton for 150LE.  I didn’t want to haggle at 430am, and didn’t know if there would be many cabs to chose from so early in the morning.

Good flight, other then being surrounded by awkward Argentineans
The ride was quick, and the flight on the Embraer 170 was painless. I arranged for a driver to take me into Aswan for 75LE…again, saving me the hassle of haggling over a few dollars.  20 minutes later, we arrived to Movenpick's private dock.  The Hotel, (located on an island) ferried me over on their private boat, (probably have to tip him).  Then when we docked, a guy grabbed my luggage and loaded it into a golf cart, (damn, another expected tip).  Then when I waited to check in, another bellman showed me to my room, explaining all the features.  I realized this might add up over my short 2 day stay.

The room exceeded expectations.  Movenpick is one of the largest, nicest hotels in Aswan, and because it's literally 5% full, I was able to receive a free upgrade which included a full Nile river view.  The hotel came complete with 2 pools, a waterfall, a 13th floor restaurant terrace, several bars and restaurants, and gardens galore, I have nooooo idea how they were staying afloat, but who ever was running the place, seemed to not be holding back.  My 2 beers at the pool was serviced by 5 men, one to replace my ice bucket, one to keep bringing my lemon scented refreshment wipe cloths, and one to replace my towel each time I went for a dip.
I continually could not find the scary, media hyped dangerous Egypt during my 5 days in Egypt, only the desperate struggling to make a decent living,  I will miss this hotel.
The Nile and desert staring back at me
love it

This is my view, who can complain eh
I zipped into town for 3 street vendor falafel's…5LE!!, 2 large waters, bag of chips, and a pop…15LE, then ferried back to my hotel one last time.

I'm sure it's not the cleanest, but it was pretty good…and cheap!
After two pricy 40LE beers in the pool without a soul in site, I retreated back to my room to take a break before dinner.  Dinner was shared with a Canadian couple I bumped into, the first since being here.
Tomorrow's wake-up call will be 3am!!
Stella beer from Egypt, who knew lol
This place is huge, I don't think I can drink enough beers to support these guys, sorry.


Yup, I slept in past my 2:50am wake up for Abu Simbel!
I needed to be at the hotel pier by 3:15 am to meet my driver, and it was already 3:20.  Once the police escorted convoy left, I would be screwed.  I left in a befuddled panic which resulted in me forgetting to bring my camera... classic.  My iPhone would now be my only option.

Thankfully I was able to JUST make it, and by 4am, the convoy was ready to go.  Because tourism was struggling so bad, the operator of our car was not able to find a seat in the discounted shared vans due to many being canceled, so being a stand up guy, he soaked up the cost and put me in a private AC car on his own tab.  This resulted in a better ride by only having to share a vehicle with one other.  Lucky for me, that one other was a cute Columbian girl I saw on my flight the previous day.  I couldn't believe the odds.

During the high speed 3 hour dash to Abu Simbel, Lina and I got better acquainted.  She mentioned how she was taking a masters course in illustration, and would be gone later that day to Luxor…ah well lol.  She gave me her business card to have a look at some of her drawings, and all I can say is, she is extremely talented, being published on a regular basis.
Deserts have always fascinated me

We were first to arrive at the temple at 7:00am.  The place was amazing as described.  Included in the description was an extraordinary story on how the entire temple structure was saved from the new hydro dam.  After a thoroughly explained free tour which was included in the admission ticket (115LE), we snapped some photos outside before heading into the 2 temples.  Taking pictures inside was illegal, but Lina had a rebel side to her, snapping away.  Not once, but twice she was caught, being forced to delete her pictures in front of the Nubian man.  Now, I am fully aware I shouldn't have taken any myself, but the 2 attached were my only two, so scold me if you will, I guess I will just have to live with the shame of it.

Pretty quiet for a relic so impressive
A temple for Ramses
The temple to the right was for the queen
The one Ramses statue broke 1000's of years ago during an earthquake
After 2 hours gazing at the detailed wall paintings and massive stone sculptures,  off we went back to Aswan.  We both ended up taking this time to attempt getting a bit of sleep along the way.  Once awake, we were treated to amazing dessert landscapes with mirages glistening in the landscape.  We also passed 10 or so semi trailers packed full of camels, something you don't see everyday in Canada haha.
The details were great

Lina in one of the rooms
When we arrived back into Aswan, Lina and I said our goodbyes at my hotels pier... and that was about it (dang, I really should of taken her recommendation to share some shisha with her for my first time!).  I closed the door and straight lined it to my room as my stomach had been hurting for the last few hours, feeling my Imodium would come into play… it did;)
Tomorrow would be the start to my 4 day cruise.

Part 2 Next


  1. Absolutely engrossing, and not just because he's my son lol.

  2. Hello,
    Found your blog from the lonely planet website. I am traveling to Cairo in a month and will be visiting Luxor and Aswan too. As someone who is over there now, what is the atmosphere like? Are threats of terrorism really as prevalent as the media makes them seem to be? We have already booked all of our trip but do not want to go and be scared the whole time.
    Thanks for any advice and for a great blog!

    1. Without ANY hesitation, I can confidently say once you are here, the last thing on your mind will be safety. I know it's hard to ignore it, but once here, everyone says the same thing…it is safe! You will see lots of security check points, but really, it's just police looking hot in the sun only concerned with non-looking tourists.

  3. Ben, your blog is great mate. We are pretty well following your footsteps, and what you are advising on safety looks pretty good. I will have my 15 year old Daughter and Wife with me so we are looking at your blog every day for updates. I do have some concerns, but I get comfort from seeing the sites and your words on the local population. Travel safe and keep up the great work on your blog! Chris from Australia. I will try and connect through Tripadvisor when I get back to a private computer.

  4. Thanks for reading! My second part which includes Aswan to Luxor cruise, (tons of temples), and Luxor hot air balloon, will be coming in 3 days or so.

  5. Brilliant blog, looking forward to more instalments!

  6. Can't wait, going in August!

  7. Ben, great read! very informative! I am going in March. Would you mind sharing your contact info for your tour guide? I am in the process of shopping around for guides/companies and can't decide if I should just do once I'm there but like the idea and comfort of having an already established agent to go with. Thank you again for sharing your wonderful journey! I too am fascinated by the desert!

    1. Sure…which tour guide are you referring too? For the pyramids/Cairo, I used "Egypt Taylor Made Tours". On the cruise, we used Memphis Tours.