Cape Town to Cairo
Durban to Cairo
Emirates Durban, EgyptAir, SAA, Qatar Airways
EgyptAir, Emirates Johannesburg, Lufthansa, Swiss Air, Qatar Airways
Cairo equals chaos. Donkeys, camels, bikes, cars, people, everything, everywhere, at the same time! My friend and I decided to go in a day early so that we could properly explore this vivid city.
The trip in to town was madness. We literally had to jump in front of a taxi to stop it. Once inside, we immediately regretted our decision.
We were clinging onto each other for dear life as our taxi driver swerved around camels and raced over orange traffic lights. The traffic lights in Cairo only do two colours, orange and green. Orange means “go”, green means “go faster”. It was absolutely crazy and a very cheap adrenaline rush.
Once we were in town, we ran the gauntlet of dodgy shop owners trying to lure us into their “Body Shop”. I never realised the Body Shop made it to Egypt. Anyway, we managed to lose our stalkers and could finally enjoy the sights. Cairo is one of the largest cities in the world and is crammed with people and buildings. On every corner there’s a cafe selling tea, koshary (delicious Egyptian streetfood) and sheesha pipes. It is an exhausting experience. We walked for miles, just exploring and gawking at all the people milling around. Back at our hotel, we rewarded ourselves with a large Stella (Egyptian beer) and a coconut sheesha, delicious!
The next day we went for a proper tour of the city. We visited the beautiful Blue Mosque, shoeless and with a very green sheet covering our clothes. It had one of the largest rooms I’d ever been inside and it was also rather beautiful with hundreds of chandeliers dripping from the bright blue, high ceiling. From the balcony we could see the Pyramids on the horizon.
I was immediately filled with a sense of amazement. I simply couldn’t believe I had made it this far! Afterwards we visited the Coptic Church, the famous Hanging Church and the Citadel.
I also had my first taste of koshary and fell in love instantly. It is very simple, a mix of rice, pasta and lentils, with some tomato sauce, garlic oil and crispy onions, delicious! For dinner, we were entertained on a cruise ship on the River Nile. We enjoyed the most delicious traditional food and entertainment, including a very sexy belly dancer and a Whirling Dervish!
The next morning we had a spring in our step - we were going to visit the legendary Pyramids! As we approached them, tears welled up in my eyes. The scale of these impressive stone structures are just beyond anything you’ve ever seen in a photo or on TV. Just look at how small the people are compared to the massive stones.
This is definitely a sight to experience before you die. We were lucky enough to be able to go inside one of the pyramids. The way down was steep, slippery and incredibly hot. I think I lost about 2kg in fluids whilst slipping around and bashing my head against the low ceiling several times. How the ancient Egyptians managed to haul massive, 10 tonne marble sarcophagi through those narrow tunnels are beyond me. When we reached the burial tomb, we were surprised at how small it was in relation to the massive Pyramid. We were also impressed by the old man showing us around, enthusiastically shouting things at us in Arabic, in his impeccably white robe and turban, not a bead of sweat on his face. We, on the other hand, were dripping with sweat and gasping for air, not quite as elegant as our host! After our sweltering climb back, we were whisked away to the camel bus stop.
Camels are weird. They smell, they spit and they growl, yet, they are kind of adorable in a way, with their long eyelashes and big brown eyes. We rode out to enjoy the desert and a fantastic view of the Pyramids. Some of the people got a little seasick; they don’t call a camel “The Ship of the Desert” for nothing. Another incredible sight is the Sphinx, part Pharaoh, part lion.
Again, I simply can’t get over how big these structures are and that they have been standing for thousands of years, weathering the ages, storms and wars.
Later that night, we boarded a sleeper train to Aswan. I’m not sure why they call it a sleeper train, since hardly anyone onboard slept. One of the girls nearly had her bag stolen by a creepy guy, but luckily she was able to grab it back. An important rule when you’re on one of these trains: wrap any handles or straps around your ankles, this way, if someone pulls on your bag, you will wake up and will still have your bag attached to your body. We arrived in Aswan a bit worse for wear and excited to get to the hotel for an icy cold beer and lunch. We spent the rest of the afternoon wondering around the city, trawling the shops for interesting trinkets for the folks back home.
Just before sunset we hopped on a boat to Philae Island and explored the imposing temple on the river’s edge, the sun’s setting rays colouring everything bright orange.
After taking endless photos of the graceful columns, we were ferried to Elephantine Island for a Nubian dinner party. The entertainment involved two guys dressed as a horse and some embarrassing Egyptian dancing on the stage. The food was wonderful, yet again, and we were sad to go back to the hotel. It was probably a good thing that we left, since nearly everyone managed to contract a severe case of Egyptian Stomach and I was not the only one feeling a bit under the weather the next morning. Luckily there are some excellent little pills for it, and we were all feeling much better after a day or two.
We drove past the Aswan Dam on our way to Abu Simbel and I think it is only a little bit smaller than the Mediterranean Sea! We were also driving in a police convoy - it is compulsory in certain parts of Egypt. Abu Simbel is another one of those sights that you have to experience for yourself. This giant temple was built right on the banks of the River Nile and was actually moved piece by piece to rescue it from the waters when the Aswan Dam was built.
The Egyptians are fiercely proud of their heritage and will go to amazing lengths to preserve it. You can’t help but feel incredibly insignificant when faced with such scale and age. I was running a bit of a fever this particular day (thank you, Egyptian Stomach) and I’m pretty sure that my mild hallucinations made the experience even more incredible. Intricate carvings and paintings covered the walls on the inside and there was almost too much to look at, causing my head to spin a little. The photos don’t do any justice to this sacred place. After we enjoyed a few heady hours in the beautiful temple and surroundings we headed down to the river and our waiting feluccas.
Feluccas are sail boats, probably as old as the River Nile itself, with no engines whatsoever.
One of my best memories of Egypt is sailing down the river, listening to the Call to Prayer echoing across the river and the desert. Beautiful and haunting, I still get goose bumps whenever I hear it. We spent a blissful two days on the majestic River Nile, the longest in the world. I was the first person brave/stupid enough to jump into the river from the felucca, it wasn’t pleasant. Since the river is a constantly moving body of water, the water doesn’t get a chance to heat up, ever. I nearly froze to death as I hit the water and scrambled up the side of the boat as soon as I could. Unfortunately for me, the rope I was clinging on to broke. I fell right back into the icy water, not my best moment.
I had another bad moment when I was confronted by a snake. We urged the captain of our felucca to stop for a bathroom break. As we all scattered around to find a suitable spot, I noticed a snake slithering towards me through the grass. I screamed like a maniac and sent the frightened snake flying the other way, straight towards my dear friend who had, at that point, found a “suitable spot”. I have never seen anyone pull up their pants whilst running, this amazing feat of balance and agility could become an Olympic sport! We spent our first evening on the river near the Purple Village, comprising of several small buildings and a low wall, all painted a vivid purple colour.
We decided to get some intricate henna tattoos done by one of the gorgeous local girls and had a wonderful time smoking from an enormous sheesha with at least five pipes attached to it. I felt very Egyptian and realised that I could easily stay here for a very long time, if it wasn’t for the snakes!
We went to bed on the feluccas with the crickets singing us to sleep. The second night we stayed on the banks of the River Nile, playing drums, singing our national anthems loudly and playing football. We slept under the stars on the feluccas, wonderful. During the night we started to make our way towards Luxor and moored near Kom Ombo until the next morning.
Luxor was all about temples and we enjoyed the ancient splendour of Kom Ombo (dedicated to the River God, which happens to be a crocodile), the temple of Horus at Edfu and finally the impressive temple in Luxor itself.
Luxor Temple is actually open at night and it was a fantastic experience to walk around the ruins at night, it just feels different. Everything looks more mysterious and comes alive in the moonlight.
Afterwards we enjoyed traditional moussaka at a local restaurant with our fantastic tour guide/Egyptologist. Believe it or not, moussaka actually comes from Egypt, not Greece! We stayed in a wonderful hotel with a swimming pool on the roof and a magnificent view of Luxor (formerly known as Thebes), one of the most ancient cities in Egypt.
Another early morning with an interesting start, we were really looking forward to the sights we were about to see. First, we were ferried by motorboat across the river.
I realised it was going to be one of those days when I walked into a solid plank of wood with my forehead. After a short walk and hundreds of little kids harassing us, we got to the donkey bus stop. As luck would have it, I got the freak attacking donkey. It kept biting the other donkeys and I had to stay behind. This angered the donkey; he went completely mental and threw me off his back. Initially I had felt sorry for the poor little donkey, but after that, our relationship changed very quickly and I was envisioning donkey steak for dinner. Finally we reached the Valley of the Queens.
Again I have run out of superlatives; huge, massive, gigantic doesn’t quite cover it. Queen Hatsepsut’s temple is one of the largest and most well preserved. It looked as if it was built yesterday, straight into the red rock face. When you are in one of these temples, you tend to stumble around in a daze of wonderment, so you must actually remember to take photos. After a while we hopped onto large golf carts and slowly made our way towards the Valley of the Kings. We walked for a short while and started to climb a very steep staircase up into the mountains. Soon we were faced with an opening in the rock face with another incredible steep staircase, going down. No wonder it took everyone so long to find these burial tombs! As we walked down slowly in quiet awe, we were struck by the vividness of the paintings on the walls. It seemed as if the paintings were glowing in the dusk; blues, golds, reds, greens glistening wetly on the walls. No photography of any kind were allowed inside the tombs, but I did manage to find an excellent clip which will give you an idea of what we witnessed.
I don’t understand any part of Egyptian hieroglyphics, but you could really see the story of the Pharaoh come to life. His birth, childhood, manhood, triumphs and life eternal, immortalised by artisans thousands of years ago. We visited several tombs and were simply gobsmacked by the complexity of the art we witnessed in these musty treasure chests. As if this wasn’t enough for one day, we visited the temple complex of Karnak with its Sacred Lake.
The sizes of the statues in this temple are simply incredible, I stood next to the leg of one, and I didn’t even reach his knee! The colossal Hypostle Hall with hundreds of stone columns will have you reaching for your camera faster than you can say “I love Egypt”. After a delightfully draining day, we hopped onto the overnight train back to Cairo. I think we all actually slept this time around.
I was happy to be back in Cairo, I felt that I had actually missed the craziness! We visited the manic Khan el-Khalil market, one of the largest in Africa.
Here you can shop to your heart’s content and the shop owners are happy to negotiate. In fact, it is expected and if you choose not to haggle, you are actually disrespecting them. Put on your best poker face and see if you can get away with a bargain! Another wonderful experience was the regal Egyptian Museum, crammed with ancient artefacts, including Tutankhamun's glitteringly beautiful burial mask! Our visit to the Royal Mummies had a very eerie feel to it, their leathery skin and henna dyed hair appeared very lifelike, even after all these centuries.
We also stopped at a famous perfumery where we sampled the delights of Egyptian fragrance. Turns out, they can mix anything you like, from Armani to Hugo Boss and everything in between. I even had a haircut in a salon not far away from our hotel! They were really good, but teased my hair to “80’s Dallas” proportions. I sneaked back into the hotel and quickly brushed my hair before anyone could see me! In fact, the haircut was so good, about four other people decided to go for a trim before going back home!
I ended my once in a lifetime experience with a huge plate of fresh seafood, a Stella and a coconut sheesha. I hope to return one day.
Before you go to Egypt, it is a good idea to have a look through some blogs so that you know what to expect, I found an excellent list of blogs on Traveller's Point, covering all of Egypt. You can even start your own travel blog here if you like, once you've visited Egypt, of course!
Egyptian Arabic is the most widely spoken language in the country.
Physical address: 11 Road 200/203, Degla Maadi, Cairo
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone number : +20-2-2535-3000