Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Day 1 in Cairo, Overnight trip to Egypt & touring the Pyramids of Giza, Sphinx, Cairo Museum

My journey to Egypt began last night at 8:55 pm when the shuttle bus arrived to pick me up at my hostel in Eilat, Israel, for the trip to the Taba Border Crossing into Egypt.  The shuttle arrived 5 minutes early, I locked my luggage locker at the hostel, grabbed my backpack and headed out to board the shuttle.  There was one woman on the shuttle, we made two more stops, picking up more people, before reaching the Egypt-Israel border.

Me after Crossing Border into Egypt
There were few travelers crossing the border when we arrived at the Taba Border Crossing.  I stopped to take a few pictures of the border crossing and ended up at the end of the line in our group, I started off towards the front.  There was one border agent working passport control when we arrived, the line was moving slowly.

A few more people lined up behind me, a border agent directed us to queue in the proper lines, we were all line up against a wall instead of lined up in the gates to wait to be called to speak with the border agent.  Suddenly a large group of people arrived, filling up the entire passport control area.  We later learned these were Russian tourists, Russia and Egypt have a special agreement, and many Russians vacation in Egypt.

I had no problems crossing the border when I finally reached the border agent.  I was asked if I was a tourist and if I was with the person ahead of me, I answered yes to both questions.  I took a few more pictures at the border crossing after passing into Egypt, we had a few quick passport checks by the Egyptians when we crossed the border.

The guide who escorted us to the Taba Border Crossing explained we would be split into two groups, Spanish and English speaking.  After we had paid all border fees, we were escorted to the minivans that would take us across the Sinai to Cairo. We were told since we were Americans, an armed police officer would travel with us, we would also cross the Sinai in a convoy for security reasons.  Our Egyptian tour guide explained Hamas is targeting the Sinai from Gaza, thus additional security was necessary.

Camel at Apartment Complex after Crossing Border into Egypt

We made two stops on our way to the convoy meeting spot, our first stop was a convenience store where some of us paid 2 Egyptian pounds to use the restroom.  We also stopped in Sharm el-Sheikh, some people bought Falafel, I was not hungry, I took a few pictures outside the restaurant, noted there were no women except the members of our tour group, then got back in the minivan.

The journey across the Sinai was bumpy, I did not get much sleep, there were several buses in the convoy, the front of the convoy was led by a vehicle with flashing  blue lights.  Every now and then I would open my eyes and look up into the clear sky, I could see the stars clearly and brown scenery in all directions. I nodded off and woke up every now and then.  Our convoy took the long route across the Sinai Peninsula, it took about 12 hours, my understanding is the shorter route is not use at night, I am not sure, I will have to confirm.

We approached the Suez Canal around 7 am Egyptian time, we could see a ship from the minivan.  Before going through the tunnel below the canal, we stopped for an Egyptian breakfast.  The breakfast was good, there was a thin fried egg that covered our plates, beans, pita bread, and french fries.  We wondered if we would get food poisoning, none of us did, we were all fine for the entire day.  After breakfast, we crossed the Suez Canal and settled in for the rest of our ride to Cairo.

Ship as we approached the Suez Canal 
I fell asleep as we drove from the Suez Canal towards Cairo, when I next opened my eyes we were surrounded by urban landscape, in a traffic jam, horns honking, etc.  I took out my camera and took a few pictures, I was still exhausted, I was also excited, I was finally in Cairo, Egypt, another place I have read about in history books and hoped to visit one day.

The first stop on our itinerary was the Museum of Cairo.  Our tour guide gave us a few minutes to take pictures outside the building, then we went inside for the full tour.  At this point I was tired, it was hard for me to focus on everything our guide was saying, I am used to going through a museum at my own pace, looking at what I find interesting and moving on when I am ready.

Lynnae at Museum of Cairo
Our tour guide had a strong knowledge of Egyptian history and the artifacts we were looking at, he gave us detailed descriptions of everything. I cannot say I absorbed much of the information, after being up all night I was not in a frame of mind to listen to a lecture on Egyptian artifacts. I appreciated the effort the tour guide put into the tour and he answered any questions we had.

After the museum we headed for Giza, home of the Pyramids of Giza, the stop on the trip we had all been waiting for.  We were on the highway heading towards Giza, our tour guide pointed out the window, we could see the Pyramids in the distance.  Most of the people in the minivan had fall back asleep, I was wide awake looking in awe at the Pyramids behind the urban landscape. I handed our guide my camera and he took a few photos of the Pyramids for me.

Pyramids from Highway Driving to Giza
Before going to the Pyramids we stopped at a papyrus factory, specializing in artistic prints on papyrus paper, the way the ancient Egyptians made them.  A man demonstrated how papyrus paper is made, told us we were welcome whether we purchased anything or not, told us they could make a print with our name, etc.  I knew I was not going to purchase anything, I do not need anything extra to carry with me during my travels.  I did give in at the pyramids and spend about $3 buying postcards from cute kids aggressively selling them to me and everyone else in their path.

A few people in the group bought the papyrus prints with their names, the employees tried to sell me on them, I politely declined. After the papyrus factory, our next stop was the Pyramids of Giza.  There was no crowd, no lines, when we arrived at the Great Pyramid of Giza.  Our tour guide explained Americans had just started returning to Egypt, before the 2011 revolution there were thousands of tourists at the Pyramids daily.

There were no lines to buy tickets, no line to enter the area with the pyramids, we walked right up to everything.  All of the major tourist attractions I have visited from the Acropolis to the London Eye have had significant wait times, it was amazing, no lines, no crowds for the Pyramids of Giza. I told the tour guide, we came at the right time, now crowds. I am sure the situation will eventually stabilize in Egypt and tourists will return in hordes.  The Egyptians I met certainly hope Americans will return and they were warm and welcoming, at the Great Pyramid, they asked me where I was from, I responded, the US and they chanted U.S.A. U.S.A

Me at the Great Pyramid

The American college students on the tour with me, took a camel tour around the Pyramids, I decided to go inside the Great Pyramid and climb to the top. No cameras are allowed inside the Great Pyramid, I left mine with our tour guide, although I did see people taking pictures when I got into the pyramid. The climb to the top was not bad, but it was hot, I was sweating by the time I reached the top.

I had a few minutes at the top of the pyramid alone, I thought to myself  there may be nothing to see in here, but I am in the Great Pyramid and I have the top half to myself.  I did not encounter anyone until I was halfway down the Great Pyramid.  They asked me for directions, I told them just keep walking all the way to the top.  When I got back down to the bottom of the Pyramid there were several men dressed in military uniforms entering, I said hello to them.  I stopped and spoke to some more men as I exited the Pyramid, I gave them my CIA/FBI cards, we chatted a few minutes, they said they would look me up on Facebook.

Lynnae on Camel with Great Pyramid in background
I went and met the tour guide, our driver and our armed escort at the minivan.  There was a helicopter circling the Pyramids, the tour guide explained they were looking out for weapons.  We left the Great Pyramid and drove to the 2nd Pyramid, this is where an Egyptian man convinced me to pose for pictures on a camel.  I went on a short ride with the camel, in the end I paid 50 Egyptian pounds, it was worth it, I got some great pictures to remember my time at the Pyramids of Giza.

We drove to the Sphinx, I bought some water from a group of boys for 5 Egyptian pounds, I looked back and saw three Pyramids and the Sphinx in the background. I took some more pictures in front of the Sphinx, I joined the group of American college students after their camel ride and our tour guide led us into a site leading up the the Sphinx.  We spent several minutes making different poses near the Sphinx, we had a few persistent Egyptian kids giving us directions on what poses to make, waiting to ask for a tip for their unsolicited services.

Me Punching the Sphinx 

After we got in all our photos, we headed back to the minivans to get our late lunch/early dinner, we had worked up quite an appetite with all the walking, camel riding and climbing.  We had a buffet meal at a restaurant not far from the Pyramids in Giza.  I had learned earlier in the day I would be spending the night in Cairo, there was no bus going back to Israel today.  I was happy, I did not bring a change of clothes, but who cares, I get an extra day in Egypt.

After lunch/early dinner, the guide dropped me off at the hotel, the room is very nice.  I can hear everything outside, but other than that, it is the nicest room I have had since I began my travels.  I will go back to Israel with a group of Mexicans tomorrow, I am not sure what time.  I do know we will do some sightseeing in the morning, the Marble mosque and some smaller pyramids. I am looking forward to it.  I am going to go up to my room and relax for the rest of the night.  I did not bring my laptop so I am using the hotel's computer in the lobby.

Day 1 in Cairo/Giza Photos

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