Glad to have missed the trouble

I’ve had some trouble getting my mind in a state to write about this, and it’s no longer all that timely.

I’m glad that the troubles in Egypt and Jordan didn’t get going until after Marion and I had returned from our trip. Apparently, the first incident (in Tunisia) occurred a couple of days after we arrived in Egypt, but we’d finished our tour before it spread to Egypt or Jordan.

I’m not going to recap the entire tour, but here are some of the things that stuck with me:

It was a marvelous tour; besides sights I’d heard of all my life, like the Giza Pyramids and Abu Simbel, we saw things I’d never heard of before looking at the tour schedule, and learned a lot I hadn’t known. I came back with a few thousand photographs, which I’m still going through. I wasn’t the most prolific photographer on the tour, either. I kept a log of what we did day-by-day, so I can associate the photos with what was happening. After a while, many of the temples tend to run together, so you need something to help keep track (“Was that the Temple of Isis at Philaea, or the Temple of Edfu?”). I also took photos of the admission tickets, which helps keep track of what was what.

We got in a day before the tour group met, just in case we had problems getting there, so we had a day to ourselves in Cairo. We ate lunch at a small restaurant in Tahrir Square – in the photo of Tahrir Square in this article, the restaurant is just off the right side of the photo. Or maybe it’s just inside the right side; it’s kind of hard to tell.

Pretty much everyone in Egypt was friendly. Sometimes, too friendly – some days, it seemed like just about everyone you met was a pushy con man. That first day in Cairo, we had someone try to run the “I’ve got a friend at the government store; there’s a sale there today” scam not more than an hour after I’d read about it in our guide book.

I had my pocket picked while visiting the pyramids. I guess the small black Moleskine notebook looked like a wallet or a checkbook. The tragedy there was that it contained my day-by-day notes from the Galapagos/Ecuador trip we took two years ago, so I’ve lost those. It also contained the first couple of day’s notes from Egypt, but I was able to reconstruct those, since visiting the pyramids was the first stop on the tour.

I hadn’t realized just how close the pyramids are to town; Giza and Cairo grew together over the years, so they’re now part of a single metro area, and the pyramids are right on the west edge of town. Our guide told us that Egypt had a population of about 80 million, and 22 million of them lived in the greater Cairo area. I can believe that – the traffic certainly suggested it. Heading from the airport to our hotel in the tour group’s van, there were five lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic at one point, with motorcycles and scooters advancing between the lines of cars. This was on a road with three lanes marked for traffic. Crossing the street was not for the faint of heart.

Abu Simbel was tremendously impressive, not just for what it was, but for the engineering effort put into saving it from Lake Nassar when the High Aswan Dam was built. The massive temples were cut into pieces and moved away, after which the area it had been removed from was built up. The temples were then put back into place, 64 meters above where they’d originally been. There is a sanctuary in the main temple that the sun lights up two days per year – it’s now lit up one day later than it had been lit up before, which shows how closely it was restored to the original alignment.

Marion and I were the only ones in the tour group who took the optional tour in Aswan. We saw the unfinished obelisk, the High Aswan Dam, and the Temple of Isis at Philaea (“feelay”). The unfinished obelisk was impressive. It was abandoned before it was completely carved out of the quarry because it broke. It wasn’t found until 1922, because that part of the quarry had been covered in rubble. The Temple of Isis had been moved from an island that flooded to a nearby island. The High Aswan Dam is a dam – not much to say there.

Our hotel in Luxor was right across the street from the Luxor Temple. We didn’t tour it, though. We were two of the three people on the tour who went to Karnak, though, which was a pretty impressive sight. The third person said she went because, after seeing some photos of it, she realized that Karnak was what she thought of when she envisioned Egyptian ruins.

Jordan was a lot cleaner than Egypt. The people there were just as friendly, but nowhere near as pushy. Drivers actually obeyed traffic signals, even when there were no police around. Speaking of police and similar authority figures, Egypt’s highways were full of military checkpoints. We went through a lot of them when we went to the Sinai Peninsula, and normally, everyone on the tour would have had to show their passport. We didn’t have to, because our driver had a couple of current Cairo newspapers, which apparently sufficed to show that we weren’t dangerous spies or something. We saw sunrise from the top of Mt. Sinai on Christmas morning, which was beautiful, but pretty damned cold.

Metal detectors were a bugaboo for me during the first part of the trip – I got the naked scan and a patdown at the airport when we left, I got a patdown after going through the metal detector at Saladin’s Citadel, and we had to go through a metal detector and bag inspection at the foot of Mt. Sinai before they’d let us climb the mountain.

Everyone on the tour got sick at one point or another. For most of us, it was the normal “tourist trots.” I got them when we were in Wadi Rum in Jordan. The person who got it worst came down with amoebic dysentery while we were in Aswan. She had to stay overnight in the hospital; I’ve got a photo of some dirt floor outside her fourth floor room.

There’s a marvelous bakery that has stores in Amman, Jordan and Jerusalem. Among the things I brought back were two tins of goodies, one of which is not sold online. Of course, my luggage took a detour in Frankfurt, Germany on the way back, and it took me ten days to get it. The luggage had split completely open, but they’d put it into a plastic bag, and nothing was missing.

I’m glad we went, and I’m glad that we missed the trouble. I think I’d be willing to visit Jordan again, but as for Egypt, I think it’s “been there, done that” for me. Sure, there’s more to see – for one thing, I’d have liked to be able to spend more time in the Cairo Museum, but I’ve seen the big stuff, and I’m not an Egyptologist. I don’t need to put up with the irritants in order to see more of the minor attractions.

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