Friday, May 13, 2011

Tourists on the Nile

We left Vince with friends in Praia a Mare who drove us to the Scalea train station. We had tickets for an Alitalia flight from Rome to Cairo, Egypt. Initially, we planned only to see some ancient Egyptian sites along the Nile and catch up with our American friends who are both archeologists and the masterminds behind the trip. By the time we left, we were just as curious to see modern Egypt after the January Revolution—once we decided it was safe enough to go ahead. 

Cairo is just 2.5 hours from Rome--an easy hop. Not shown here are scenes from Cairo because we saw it from a Toyota van careening through traffic and were not able to shoot photos. Cairo drivers might defeat Rome cab drivers in a competition.  Although pre-warned, we were astonished at the poverty and squalor in that city of 20 million. Yet, there is opulence scattered around too–like our hotel, the Mena House Oberai. We stayed there a night coming and a night after our Nile cruise. It is by far the most posh place we have ever stayed in our lives. It’s the former hunting lodge of the king until 1890 when a 30–something British couple bought it and created a hotel that has evolved into a huge facility with delicious food and good service. Incredibly, the Great Pyramid is just 700 meters away and looms above the hotel grounds.

The Nile
From Cairo, we flew south to Luxor to start a 7-day River Nile cruise with lots of historic sight-seeing. We were booked on the M/S Stephanie, a boat with beds for 132. Our room was just behind the bridge on starboard side. Our friends had a suite immediately under us.

Cabins on the boat were just fine. The buffet meals were nicely done, but the food we rated a C. Lots of sunning and cruising the first day. Over the week we shared the boat with two English groups, a German group and even some Italians were there for 3 days. There was little mingling amongst groups--mostly because of a rule about eating with your own group to facilitate billing for drinks.

Our Ship

The riverboat trip down the Nile took us past a landscape of irrigated green with a desert backdrop.
Sugar cane is a big crop as is wheat and animal forage. We watched agriculture being carried out by hand as it must have been for millennia. We spent most of our time on the top deck watching the landscape go by. Your eye leaves the irrigated floodplain of the Nile and sees the mostly parched desert.

We went through some locks on the cruise which are guarded by some police or soldiers. There are armed men all over the country. Some in a uniform and many not.  I asked our quide who the guys in civilian clothes and guns were at one stop. “They guard the museum now that the old corrupt police are gone”. Doug asks: So how do you know if they are legit?  

Just because they have AK-47’s? “They are good because they guard our treasures”. I dropped the questions. You cannot believe how old and worn are the pistols and rifles of all these police and guards carry. Also, we were all asked for money from various Tourism Police for minor chores like posing for a photo. The revolution empowers them to hustle for money too.

Our Captain
Many workers on the boat, at tourist sites and the hotel asked us how we felt about their revolution. This includes our guide who is nearly finished with his PhD. Of course we told them all we support them and are proud of them. They went on all the time to praise Obama who had nothing to do with their revolution, but it was calming to us (pro-American talk) after the bin Laden event that went down whilst we were there.

Very old traditions, but even these river people have digital technology 

The ancient art and architecture of Egypt date back 4-5000 years. I was just open-mouthed to see works with colour that have survived so long.

In the south, near Aswan, we visited the sites flooded by the dam in 1960’s where the famous statues were moved about 100 meters higher and still face the rising sun--just amazing. Here too we encountered two days of 45C/114F temperatures. Hellish on the land tours. Even on the ship you had to take many dunks in the pool to remain comfy outdoors. Imagine a conservative Muslim woman wearing a full burka in these temps. We did see them wading in the river with the robes on. This southern country can reach 135F in the summer! We were there just after the main tourist season. Our guide said in summer months, only the crazy Spanish and Italians go there in the heat. Hmm, the Italians I know would not tolerate those temperatures.

Ramses II– the Donald Trump of 2000 BC

Cairo II

We visited the pyramids the morning before our flight left. This apex shot has probably been done since the time of Brownie cameras. In this case, a cop put down his AK, took the photo, and I gave him a Euro.

It is nice to be back to beautiful Italy. We were amazed at how lovely it looked after Cairo. We will probably not ever again take a guided tour or a cruise anywhere–we are too independent and more interested in the kind of information you get sitting in sidewalk cafes--but it was a good experience to have once. One dare not try Egypt on their own -- too dangerous with bandits et al. It was super to spend laughing times with our friends, see the trip through their eyes, and have a chance to see some wonders that we might never have seen on our own. To you photographers out there, I apologize for the spots on my DSLR sensor. Should have cleaned it before the trip. 

Peaceful Travels, Guido


  1. Glad you had fun. Pictures are beautiful! I didn't notice any spots until I read your apology and went back and looked for them....

  2. Thanks, Gil. Our photographer friends never let me get by like that.

  3. Seems like you had a good trip, even if it was a little organised for you. Some great photos too.

    Welcome to my world re temps, when I was out yesterday it was 46c at 10am :D



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