In the spirit of living by one of my personal rules, “when debating multiple options, choose the more adventurous one”, I decided to go to Egypt. It wasn’t really even on my radar, but then I was looking at flights and there it was so why not. I spent the better part of the days preceding my flight getting mentally prepared for the hectic, relentless badgering that seems to take place in Arab countries.
Despite it being a popular place for tours, I decided to go in completely unprepared as usual. I went for a private room in a hostel, hoping to find other travelers to figure out an itinerary, and because the private just set me back $16/night compared to $12 for a dorm bed. The plan worked well, as I met a good group of people who were luckily on a similar time schedule.
Due to poor planning, I arrived at about 3am after 2 1-hour flights without a room booked for that night, so I operated on very little sleep. I took a 5am walk to the island in the middle of Cairo around the Nile and watched the city wake up. It’s very dirty. Lots and lots of garbage everywhere. And smog – it’s famous for its smog. But the Nile is nice, the expanse of the city is impressive, and it has some beautiful buildings too.
The Egyptian Museum is a main highlight in Cairo, which starts with an exciting dash across 8 lanes of traffic. It’s just how things are done in Egypt – they don’t do crosswalks and lights, even though technically they are there. The pure volume of stuff in the museum is impressive, although it does get repetitive. Statues, tombs, mummy stuff, more statues, dolls, jewelry, pottery, etc. Whatever they can dig up.
The contents of King Tut’s tomb are the main highlight – very well-preserved and rich looking (but pictures weren’t allowed in that room). Famously, it was the only tomb not raided, until it was raided by people with an official job title and put in a museum.
I went to the museum super tired from my flight on the first day, so I sort of zombied through it. Still, I feel like I saw everything and didn’t miss much.
In Cairo, they have pyramids. They are very old, very well stacked rocks. Pretty impressive to see up close, and extremely hot on the inside. If they had put people in there when they were alive instead of dead, they wouldn’t have lasted long regardless.
I went during an Egyptian holiday, so there were a lot of young Egyptian kids/school groups visiting the pyramids. Their favorite thing to do there was take pictures with tourists. I took more selfies in those couple hours than I have in my entire life. I hope a red beard is worth a lot of points in whatever game they were playing. The kids seem genuinely nice and interested in interacting with foreigners, so I tried to be nice about it, as opposed to the guys there pretending to be friendly but really just selling stuff.
I then walked back from the Pyramids, probably like 7 miles through Giza and back to Cairo. It was a long ways. I saw some mosques and stuff. Wandered some side streets, which were all relatively similar. Lots of cheap food, convenience stores, and garbage.
The next day we went to the bazaar, which was honestly pretty disappointing. Nothing compared to Marrakesh or Istanbul. But it had some spices and cheap trinkets, rugs, etc.
From there we went to the Salah El Din Citadel, which is an inactive, ancient mosque. The inside is cool, and it offered a great view of the city too.
Close to that was the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. It’s big.
The hostel offered a $350 Nile Cruise for 4 days, 3 nights that stopped along all the major sites. That was about $200 less than what I found online beforehand, so I was considering it. The hostel owner heard me discussing it with different people, so it being Egypt and all, he pulled me aside and offered me a secret deal: if I could convince 4 people to do the cruise at $250/each, I could do the cruise for free. So that’s what I did and got myself a free cruise! (I told them all what was happening and gave each person $50 so we all paid $200/each, which ultimately I still think was a great deal).
We also negotiated a free extra night at a hotel in Aswan so we could chill for a day before starting the tour. The overnight train took us like 12 hours to get there, so we were happy for the extra time. I spent the day getting some work done, while some of the group took a boat over to the Nubian village and road camels around. Seemed cool, but they ended up paying a lot than they thought (welcome to Egypt).
The tour officially started with a 3:15am wake up call to drive nearly 4 hours South to Abu Simbel, where we’d spend a couple hours looking at giant statues, and then 4 hours back. It’s actually quite cool, thus the journey, but it’s an extra 300 ($18) pounds to take pictures inside so I didn’t do that. But here’s the outside for you.
From there, we got on the boat. It was surprisingly nice, given the price. Everything worked, shower was great, food was good (all meals buffet-style were included), and the staff was nice. The majority of the cruise was filled with old Germans, plus a few tables of Chinese tourists, but hey – you can’t have it all (very few spoke English). Our group and then a group of 4 people from Chicago made up the English-speaking contingent.
Cruises, in general, are boring. You pretty much just sit there breathing the same air until you get sick, which us 3 guys did. It was hot and sunny, and you could see a lot of sand, quite a few trees on the bank, and some goats/horses and stuff. That’s more or less it for most of the time.
But we also stopped to see some actual things. And by things I mean old temples. Different variations on the same things, really.
editors note: I’m writing this middle section like 4 months after I did this, so my memory is hazy and it will mostly just be pictures.
If you haven’t been on a cruise boat before, the photos of it will not help you very much. Because it’s only this one, of me looking out the window from the “library.”
So you’re on the boat for a while longer, and then you get off at another temple, per usual. One of those template in Kom Ombo. Are the pictures below of Kom Ombo? I think so, but it’s really anyone’s guess. I didn’t take a picture of the outside and I can’t match up any of the pictures.
From Kom Ombo we sailed through the night and arrived very early in the morning at Edfu temple. They like taking you there at sunrise, which is mean. I had already skipped a tour at the beginning (which in retrospect is a good one to skip), so I was determined to wake up for it. In the end, Sweden and I were the only ones to go, and I’m glad I did.
Mainly, for this hawk dude Horus. He’s a real baller, even though his hat is a bit damaged. I got a picture with him and we just chatted for a while.
While getting up early is a real chore, we were the first ones in the place. That allows you to get pictures like the one below, with no one in the temple. Kind of a rarity, even with Egypt’s tourism being down.
So that was a lovely little morning, where we then returned to the boat for breakfast and relaxation. It was then a short ride to Esna.
Esna temple is a small (and cheap) temple that doesn’t take very long to explore. It wasn’t very complete, but it did have some colors that were well-preserved on the inside. So that’s why I took pictures of it. It’s situated right in the center of the town, and it really just has the front part and a small section of the back (I should probably know the names of them).
Usually people just walk the gauntlet from the cruise ship to the temple and back, but we decided on the scenic route back. The locals were a bit surprised to see us wandering around. But they were very friendly and tried to speak with us, especially a couple young boys on a bike. The buildings though… falling apart a bit.
And with that, the majority of our cruise was over. We continued cruising up to our final port to spend our last night, near Luxor. But I think we went to Karnak temple that night first? Who’s to be sure. What I do know is it looks pretty dark when I took these pictures, so I think it was late at night. But I’m no scientist, so it’s really anyone’s guess.
Last on the cruise tour was a visit to Luxor Temple, which was lovely but my phone was dead. So I have no pictures. If that disappoints you, you try plugging my easily jostled charging port in and keeping it that way on a constantly rocking boat.
I remember it had a really nice obelisk. Before Egypt, I didn’t have much appreciation for obelisks as structures in general, but now I feel like I have more respect for them.
The cruise ended in Luxor, home to Valley of the Kings where all the famous tombs were, including King Tut’s. It culminated in an intense day of sightseeing, which started there. Again, we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the tombs, and they were serious about policing it, so I haven’t got much to show here. But, being inside and out of the elements, the colors were more well-preserved here than they were for most of the temples. Other than that, they mostly just looked like empty indoor tombs (but they were tunneled quite far into the rocks).
Next we saw the Colossus of Memnon. Which are just giant dudes sitting. Didn’t take very long to see.
And that officially concluded the tour. We all stayed at a hostel in Luxor for the night, celebrating 4 intense days of foreign culture with a trip to Mcdonald’s. After that, we all had fairly similar plans, so we all headed to Hurghada, a city on the Red Sea. It turned out to be a bad idea for me and the guy from Minnesota who planned to go to Dahab next. The girls and Swedish guy stayed a couple nights, while we just did one (Hurghada is more of a resort town with beaches and diving, and we wanted to get to the more chill diving destination).
Egyptians are quite nice, and I walked into this restaurant and just ordered the “vegetarian meal” in Hurghada. For a couple dollars, I was brought like 7 plates of stuff (everything but the pasta below). I believe this is the highest plate to cost ratio I have every achieved.
While Hurghada to Dahab is just an hour or two by ferry, the ferry wasn’t actually running. So instead, we had to take a 6-hour bus back to Cairo, followed by a 14-hour bus to Dahab (through amped up security checkpoints due to the President being in a nearby city). But we treated ourselves by staying at a resort for a couple nights to finally get some decent sleep.
Moving into town, I then joined the frenzy of relaxing on the beach and diving. I had the intention of doing a bunch of diving, maybe getting my advanced open water, but when it came down to it I couldn’t be bothered. Finally, I did a little snorkeling, but that didn’t exactly make me want to do a proper dive either. So I mostly just sat around being frustrated at shitty Internet.
My plan was then to go to Jordan. But, the bus to the ferry was broken the day I wanted to do it, and my friend also informed me that Jordan used a full passport page (which I don’t have anymore), so I decided to change my plans and just go to Spain instead. Which was more a relief to me than a disappointment, a reaction that was a little sad in itself.
That meant a couple more days in Dahab “relaxing”, and then a night bus to Cairo.
Back in Cairo, I met this Egyptian girl who took me around for my last couple days. We went to a mosque, and then a church that allegedly housed Jesus/Mary/Joseph after leaving Jerusalem. Here are pictures of some of that stuff.
She was really into Egyptian food, so I was forced to try a bunch of that as well. It was too late to tell her I was a vegetarian and not break her heart, so I decided to tough it out for a day or two in an act of cultural acceptance. Long story short, that unfortunately lead to a very pigeon-based meal and my body promptly rejecting it for the next 18 hours. But I survived, and she was a genuinely nice person and I was sad to have to say goodbye so soon.
Here’s something she cooked that I ate (the soup and rice are actually vegetarian), so that was nice at least.