Written by Tom Thrun.
Prior to our recent trip to Egypt, I thought that ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ was just a cute little song from the ’80s. Upon arriving in Cairo, we discovered that it is actually a survival technique. Cairo is a pulsating mass of organized chaos expected to reach a population of twenty million people in the year 2000. This city makes Bangkok look sane. Since no traffic laws are observed or obeyed, we were warned that when crossing a street, go with a local and “walk like an Egyptian” or risk getting flattened like a piece of day-old pita bread.
At first the city’s density, climate, pollution, and sheer culture shock can be overwhelming, but soon you find yourself carried away by the street life where ancient customs mix with modern, cosmopolitan influences. You see donkey carts and limousines, medieval slums and Art Deco suburbs, street food vendors and gourmet restaurants, bazaars and marble shopping malls. One day while driving through Cairo, we encountered a herd of camels in the middle of a busy downtown street (and I thought the Hagadorn and Grand River intersection was impossible). On our first full day, we visited the Egyptian Museum in the morning and the Giza Pyramids that afternoon. Our guide, Hanan Eldeeb, an Egyptologist with a master’s degree in the ‘Book of the Dead’ would be with us for our entire ten-day adventure. She had also worked for two years with world-famous Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass at the Giza Pyramids. Hanan was a wealth of information and by the end of the day, we felt as if we had just completed a college course on ancient Egypt.
After enjoying two days in Cairo, we boarded EgyptAir for a flight to Abu Simbel located near the Sudanese border. Here we visited the amazing Sun Temple of Ramses II. It is impressive enough to stand at the base of these ninety-foot tall statues built nearly three thousand years ago, but it is equally impressive that this entire temple was moved from its original site in 1964 when the Aswan Dam was built on the Nile River to form Lake Nassar. That afternoon we flew to Aswan where we embarked on a five-day cruise down the Nile. Our ship was the modern Queen Nabila with suite-sized cabins complete with large picture windows to view daily life along the river. The Nile Valley is extremely fertile and we were struck at how green and lush it was on the river bordered by desert as far as the eye could see. On the cruise we visited the ports of Edfu, Ko Ombo, and Esna, each with their own Phaoronic temples and rich ancient history. In the evenings we would sit with Hanan and review what we had seen and what we were going to see- we had become totally immersed in the experience.
The cruise ended in Luxor where we spent two days visiting some of the most famous sites in Egypt. The Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, and the must see Luxor Museum are all located in the area. Joy and I took a pre-dawn hot air balloon trip over Luxor and it’s monuments. As we floated silently above the desert, the sun came up over the Nile gradually illuminating the Valley of the Kings, it was one of the most memorable experiences of our travel lives. When we landed, the pilot put us down in the middle of an okra field by the river where we had a party complete with music and dancing to celebrate the ‘happy landing’. While in Luxor, Hanan contacted an associate from Cairo University who was now the director of the new Mummification Museum. Joy and I were treated to a private behind-the-scenes tour of this fascinating museum dedicated to the mysteries of mummification.
We flew back to Cairo for a couple of days where we returned to the Egyptian Museum, visited the Step Pyramid of Sakara, and did some last-minute shopping. In Egypt, haggling is an art form and nowhere is it more refined than at the Khan El Khalili, the oldest and largest bazaar in the Arab world. Needless to say, Joy is a world-class haggler and she impressed even the most seasoned merchants in the bazaar. While she was busy trying on belly-dancing costumes, the proprietor of the shop was so taken with her bargaining prowess that he offered me one hundred thousand camels for her. For a moment I had visions of ‘Classic Camels of Okemos’, but the import duty would have been horrendous. Instead I returned home with Joy and a hundred thousand fond memories of one of the most fabulous destinations in the world.