Egypt take TWO!

August 15, 2010

Sorry for the holdup but between traveling through Morocco and the joy of writing 500 papers for my classes my blog has more or less gone on the back burner for the past week or so! But I definitely haven’t forgotten about Egypt yet so I guess it’s time now to keep on typing! And also another quick forewarning…this half of the blog will probably be just as long as the first!

I’ll start this off by saying that Thursday morning we woke up really early (like 4:30am early!) grabbed a quick boxed breakfast for the 300 and some odd students who were all on various SAS trips in Cairo and loaded into the buses again headed for the pyramids by 5am! Arriving to the pyramids just after 5 in the morning just in time for the morning sunrise was AMAZING!

Very rarely do the Egyptian authorities allow people into the pyramid complex before the official opening time long after sunrise but they made an exception for SAS and boy was it worth it! Watching the sun rise behind the 3 great pyramids while sitting scattered around the desert was definitely a memory that I will never forget. I stood in awe with my toes buried in the desert sand for a good 30 minutes just staring at the pyramids, with the sun rising up behind it thinking that this was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity and that I would never again see this again. After taking way too many pictures as the sun continued to rise in the sky, Heather, Kelly and I decided that there was no point in coming to the pyramids if we couldn’t leave without saying that we at least were able to touch them! So after the sun had risen we walked less than 10 minutes to the base of the middle pyramid and possibly ignoring the do not cross rope we walked up to the pyramid and poked it! 

Well after poking it we realized it wasn’t as exciting as we thought it would have been so we joined with another small group of SASers and traded cameras back and forth and may have possibly climbed up a couple feet of the pyramid to get a picture on it! lol…well needless to say when we say the Egyptian guard coming our way we kindly jumped off the pyramids and runaway to join the rest of the SAS groups! While walking back towards the main group of SAS students we spotted in the distance a caravan of camels coming across the desert and knew that it was almost camel riding time! Once my turn came I couldn’t have been more excited! I figured what could be more cliché Egypt than riding a camel around the great pyramids! Needless to say though my first camel ride was definitely an experience! After awkwardly mounting my camel while managing to obtain a large bruise on my shin I quickly face the next task of camel riding; staying on as my camel stood up. After quickly bonding with the girl behind me as we both grabbed each other to stay on Charlie (our camel!) as he stood up we then began our bumpy 15 minute ride that took us to the base of the smallest pyramid and back.

After spending a good 3 hours at the pyramids between the sunrise, walking around, and riding Charlie the Camel we all loaded onto the buses again and stopped much closer to the base of the pyramids allowing us to walk around the bases (apparently we got ahead of ourselves earlier). After our second stop at the pyramids we drove another 5minutes until we were at the Sphinx with the 3 Great pyramids in the background. Once at the sphinx my camera was taken from me by a little local girl about 10 years old who in about 90 seconds posed me and took about 10different poses of me and the sphinx including kissing and putting sunglasses on the statue! After some time at the sphinx we got back on the bus and traveled to a local outdoor market where we were given a little less than 2hours to walk around the area and the market at our leisure. After stopping at the market we got back on the bus AGAIN and drove to the bank of the Nile River where we all boarded 2 river boats for an afternoon cruise down the Nile.

During our lunch cruise we were entertained by both a belly dancer and a sufidervish twirler as well as the not so pretty view of Cairo from the boat windows. After lunch Rhonda’s (our tour guide) habibis (it means “my dear on”in Arabic and Rhonda called us that constantly lol) loaded back onto the bus for the last time of the trip and after a delightful three hour nap I was back in Alexandria before I knew it! After taking a quick refreshing power nap bacon the boat and grabbing a late dinner Heather, Kelly, Christiana, and I walked outside of the port to explore some of the many local market stalls near the ship when we met Muhammad, one of the shop owners. After looking around and talking with Muhammad and his father for almost 2 hours including cups of tea and pop, we headed back to the ship exhausted from our early morning wake up call for the pyramids.

 Still recharging from the long day before I slept in Friday morning (the 4th day in Egypt) and after meeting with a group for an early lunch Christina and I set out by foot to explore the markets and side streets of Alexandria. Walking up and down the side streets though we quickly discovered that Friday’s were may be one of the worst days to go out shopping as all the Muslim men were lining the streets for the afternoon for their afternoon prayers. Because of this not only were many of the shops closed but the ones that weren’t closed were inaccessible due to the hundreds of men crowding the streets. After several hours of shopping for Christina and window shopping for myself coupled with hot glasses of red biscustea we decided that the heat was getting to be too much and headed back to the ship. 

After resting and working on some homework for a but (one of the downsides to studying abroad is they give you homework lol) Christina and I met back up with Heather and Kelly to go out and meet again with Muhammad and his father whom promised the night before to buy us dinner for the night! Getting to Muhammad’s shop around 6pm  we could already smell the food coming off of the boat and boy were we glad that we had taken him up on his offer! Muhammad had gone to a local Egyptian restaurant and ordered several dozen of these pita bread type wrapped food with an assortment of stuffing including eggs, beans, and my favorite falafel (a mix of ground alfalfa, beans, and who knows what else but it was delicious!)After stuffing ourselves far past a healthy capacity and talking with Muhammadand his father for another 2 hours or so we said our good byes and headed back to the ship for the night!

Wanting to make good use of our last day in Egypt, Olyvia, Lydia, and I met up early for a light breakfast before crossing our fingers outside of the port and hailing a cab…knowing it would be hard to get a worse one than before! After talking with our driver for a bit we asked him where a good place in town to get authentic Egyptian food was and he seemed to know just the place. 15 minutes later after driving through all the small streets in Alexandria, we finally arrived at Muhammad Amid and knew the place had to be good…it was packed! After giving us a speedy tour of the place which included pointing at the steps and a picture of the Queen of Spain enjoying herself at the restaurant as well, our cab driver sat down with us to help translate. After ordering 2 of most of the main courses to split between ourselves which included 2 falafel, 2 foul (pronounced fool andit’s a type of bean filling), and 2 dishes of potatoes along with a large assortment of sides and toppings for our pitas, we were quickly served our food in about 5 minutes. Sadly for our food though, it did not last quite that long!The food there was amazing and we quickly stuffed our pitas with every combination possible of food enjoying not only the food but also talking with our cab driving and soaking up the atmosphere of the busy side street restaurant. After eating our waiter brought us out our bill that said 27Egyptian Pounds which is less than $5 US dollars and we were shocked at how cheap it was…until our cab driver told us that was the total for our whole meal not per person! We felt like we were stealing from the restaurant when we each paid the equivalent of $2 which included tip as well and we were all walking away stuffed! 

After eating at Muhammad Amid our driver took us to a government run survivor shop that was way out of our budget but we did enjoy the papyrus shop upstairs that showed us step by step how they make papyrus! After the papyrus shop we asked to go to the local Alexandria aquarium so I could finish writing my biology paper on Mediterranean fish and boy were we shocked again!Luckily the entrance was only 5 pounds (less than a dollar) because there were probably only 15 to 20 half empty and dirty tanks inside! lol After walking through the aquarium with our driver we enjoyed a quick walk down the pier(right across from the aquarium) and then called it quits for the day and headed back to the boat. After stopping quickly at Muhammad’s one more time to pick up the car touches we ordered (pendants with your name in hieroglyphics) we said a quick goodbye to Egypt and sadly boarded the ship for the last time in Egypt.

Well like I said this one was going to be another long one! lol..but I loved Egypt! It was so amazing to see everything that you had once learned about in history classes and to talk and interact with the locals always helps getting a better insight on the true culture and ambiance of the country. Now that all of my papers are done I just have exams to study for so hopefully my Morocco blog will follow soon after this one but I’m not making any promises! I hope everyone had a great summer and I will see many of you in less than a week when I return home…still have mixed feelings about this one!

Egypt...I poked the pyramids!!!

August, 8, 2010  

Ok I just have to start off by saying Egypt was absolutely amazing and completely surreal! For those of you who don’t have time to sit here and read all of this…because as a forewarning this will be a long post lol…I will try and sum up my five days in Egypt in just a sentence or two for you; so here we go…Egypt was amazing I saw the pyramids, King Tut, the Nile, the Sphinx, and just about everything in between along with riding a camel!

     So now for the much less “butchered” version of my blog! I will start off again by saying Egypt was amazing and I loved the country, the people, the food, and the culture that was all around me! We arrived in Alexandria, Egypt the morning of Tuesday, July 27 and after retrieving my passport sporting its brand new Egypt visa Olyvia, Lydia and I were headed for the gangway and stepping out of the port terminal I was surprised at what I saw…hundreds and hundreds of camels followed by miles of desert sand (ok I’m only kidding but many SAS students were expecting this lol) but no really I was surprised at what I saw. I knew Alexandria was a busy and crowded city but I would have never imagined the amount of poverty that I saw throughout the entire city. The streets were flooded with reckless drivers and an overwhelming majority of the tall housing structures appeared haphazardly built and still unfinished with concrete beams and steel wires rising out of most rooftops. After getting past the initial shock of what we saw the 3 of us hailed a taxi and were on our way for a day filled with unexpected adventure!

After arriving at the Alexandria library (which if you have never seen pictures of before you should look it up!) and realizing that our cab driver was not only going to personally usher us inside and then wait for us outside we quickly told him we were meeting friends later and paid him so he would be on his way. After spending some time exploring the inside of the library, making use of their Internet, and then spending some time in their several museums in the lower level, we decided we were ready to venture into more of Alexandria and left the library in search of a less hovering taxi driver! After discussing with our driver for some time what we wanted to do for the rest of the day and assuring him multiple times that we did not in fact want to go to Alexandria’s locations that were closed for the day we were finally able to leave the library headed for Pomey’s Pillar. On the way to the ancient ruins we were able to enjoy a quick glimpse into the life of the people of Alexandria as we weaved in and out of traffic and through countless neighborhoods and market stalls. 

Once at the site we enjoyed walking around the ruins that were left including both the pillar and a set of stone sphinx. After we finished our taxi driver took us to the train station where Olyvia and Lydia bought a set of train tickets and then we headed back to the ship early preparing for the long day ahead of us on Wednesday, but not before having yet another set of taxi issues! While driving slowly stuck in traffic a man ran across the road and in front of our taxi before jumping into the front passenger side door and taking a seat next to our driver. He then proceeded to ask us if we liked to smoke before pulling 50 grams of marijuana out of his back pocket and offering to sell it to us! Needless to say knowing that drugs are closely linked to the death penalty in Egypt we politely declined!

     Waking up early, like super early, Wednesday morning I grabbed a quick 7am breakfast (I told you it was way too early!) and met with a group of almost 200 other eager SAS students headed with a semester at sea trip for Cairo and the pyramids! After a quick three hour nap we were reaching the outskirts of Cairo before I knew it and next thing I know the guide tells us to keep looking out the right side of the bus because the pyramids would be coming into view. Within several minutes we were entering the city limits of Cairo and before I knew it I could see the largest of the Great Pyramids out of my bus window and it was the most surreal thing ever. It was one of those instances where you’ve seen so many pictures of the pyramids before, you’ve talked about and learned about them in numerous classes throughout school, but to actually be able to see the pyramids out of my bus window was something that I had never imagined me doing. 

The rest of the day continued on quickly in this same fashion of surreal sightseeing. After briefly driving past the Great Pyramids we drove on through Cairo and onto the town of Memphis just outside of Cairo to see the step pyramids of Zoser. Once there we were able to walk around the area looking at all four of the step pyramids and were allowed also to go inside two of the pyramids. Going down into the tombs was also such a neat experience! The passage to go down into the tomb was a VERY narrow pathway that wasn’t more than 4 feet high so filling more than a dozen students down into the tomb at a time was more than a momentous task lol. Once in the tomb though it was so amazing! The hieroglyphs and paintings that still remained unchanged in the tombs more than 4000 years after they were created were just incredible to see! After walking around the Zoser Funerary Complex for about 40 minutes we all boarded back on the buses and headed for a wonderful (but sadly non-Egyptian) lunch at a local 5 star hotel. After a filling lunch of meatballs, rice, and tons of deserts we all piled into the buses again but this time headed for the National Egyptian Museum located in the heart of Cairo.

     Once we arrived at the museum and unloaded everyone for the 50th time at the entrance our tour guide, Rhonda, handed all of us “whisperers” so that she could talk in a normal voice and all 50 of us could still hear her via out headset while still being able to wander with a close distance to her. Walking into the museum though I was instantly astonished; first, at the amount of artifacts that were spread throughout the museum, and secondly at the seeming lack of security of the museum. Hundreds of ancient Egyptian artifacts were just almost literally laying around the museum some behind unlocked glass bookcases while others were simply just laying out in the open for everyone to touch at their pleasure. Walking through the museum though was amazing. Hearing the stories from Rhonda about many of the artifacts and the tombs and the mummies in the museum were fascinating and seeing so many artifacts that I had only previously seem pictures of made my first day in Cairo even more surreal. The moment though that sealed the deal and just made me stop in my tracks was when I walked into the room of King Tut and saw the golden head that had once covered his mummified body sitting behind glass in the middle of the room. I just stared at the head and the decorative case that held his body for a while just in awe that not only were these objects over 4000 years old and still looking magnificent, but also just the fact that I was actually seeing these objects and was face to face with the remains of King Tut. After we finished our guided tour of the museum Rhonda gave us about 30 minutes of free time to explore the rest of the museum at leisure and Heather, Kelly and I headed straight for the mummified animals room that we had heard about! Inside the room was case after case of mummified animals ranging from dogs and cats to crocodiles, baboons, snakes, and pigeons. The most amazing thing in the room though was the several animals whose wrappings had began to deteriorate and show the remains of the 4000 year old animal inside. Seeing that a baboon that died 4000 years ago still has the nails and hair on its toes and that a dog the same age is still in perfect condition with all of its fur, ears, and tail perfectly intact was one of the most amazing things!

     After our visit to the museum we all loaded back into the bus (by this time we were pros at loading and unloading if you couldn’t have guessed that by now!) and headed for our hotel that we were staying at for the night for a quick “siesta” as our guide called it! Once we arrived at the hotel and I got over being upset that my room was just across the hall from the rooms with a perfect view of the pyramids, I unpacked and rested for an hour and a half with my roommate before getting ready for the evening! At 7 that night all 400 of the SAS students that were in Cairo at the time (and that is the real number! Lol) met at the buses and went to the base of the Great Pyramids for a nighttime sound and light show showcasing the pyramids as an amazing backdrop. Although the sound and light show ended up being kind of on the cheesy side I loved being able to watch the sunset behind the pyramids before the show began and it made for some awesome photo opportunities! (how many people can say they seen that!) After the sound and light show that lasted just over an hour we all went back to our hotel for a late but much needed 10pm dinner. After another hearty meal of meatballs and rice and again way too many deserts we all went back to our rooms and collapsed for the night but only after scrubbing all the desert sand from off of ourselves and anxious for the day ahead of us!

     Well like I warned everyone at the beginning of this blog this one would be a very long entry! So I’m going to give you this much for now…go enjoy myself in Marrakech, Morocco for a couple days…and then when your eyes have rested up from reading I’ll finish writing and post the second half of my Egypt blog for you! Hope everyone at home is doing great and I can’t wait to hear back from everyone!