Hello friends and family!
We hope all is well. The latest destination in our blog was an absolute surprise to us. When we left Rwanda we were nervous because we kept reading how unsafe Egypt is and how unstable the region is. A little while back Josh was reading an article about the top 10 countries that dislike Americans the most. Sure enough, Egypt was on the list. We're here to tell you that this just isn't true. Sure, there has been a lot political turmoil in the country but that's all internal. Some people are not happy with the government but it has NOTHING to do with tourists. The majority of the people had no problem with America and none of them disliked Americans as people. Sometimes you have to wonder where the media comes up with this stuff. Disagree? Write us on the side and we'll argue all day with you about it. We were immediately met by the friendliest taxi driver (at 1:30 a.m.) that brought us to our hotel as we settled in for our first night before heading out the next day.
We started the first day in Cairo by visiting the muslim district. There is a famous market there so Leanne was very excited to practice her haggling skills.
We stopped into a famous mosque while we visited. It was separated into men only and women only. Josh went in first and was very respectful but curious. The men were very happy to have him and went about their way worshipping while welcoming him to their environment. He was very uncomfortable but appreciated the gestures.
He waited outside while Leanne entered.
Can you find Leanne?
She snapped some photos on the women's side. Her experience was the same as Josh's.
It was a real eye-opener for us. Deep down inside, people are people, and are basically good. Somebody told us that Muslims look down on muslim extremists the same as Christians look down on the Westboro Baptist Church crazies. Westboro Baptist Church followers are annoying but at least they don't kill people but we see the point. The people were so friendly and this is yet another example of how our lives will be changed forever.
As we wandered through the streets looking at things for sale we noticed how each antique shop was a work of art on its own.
Josh has been told he looks like so many different we can't hardly keep up with it all. We heard Rambo, McGyver (McGyver?! People still remember him?), and Antonio Banderas. As a matter of fact, the people on the streets were certain we were from Spain or South America. Literally everybody on the streets were speaking Spanish to us so we spoke it right back. We've been learning Spanish so they knew no different when we came right back with it. Who knew we'd get to brush up on the language in Egypt! This guy was so convinced that Josh was Antonio Banderas that he wanted a picture with him. Leanne went ahead and snapped one as well.
Oh Sheesha (Hookah for you Americans) our new friend. We do love you.
We were forced to learn Arabic numbers to make sure that we were being charged fair prices so license plate numbers were a great tool. Flashcards, if you will.
We spent many late afternoons on a city sidewalk smoking sheesha and hanging out with locals. It was great people watching and a way to feel like an Egyptian. Sheesha is a pipe with a flavored tobacco and everybody, including women partake in the social event.
One of the many shops in Cairo.
Early morning on the streets of Cairo before heading to the pyramids. This changed 180 degrees as the day went on.
We realized the pyramids were in the suburbs of Cairo but we didn't realize they were this close. Just outside these world-famous structures is a metropolitan area of 20 million people.
Despite the continuous efforts of the relentless touts, there was something quite magical about the pyramids. You couldn't help but wonder how such structures were created as you peered up in complete awe.
Leanne striking her Egyptian pose.
Someone's excited about seeing the pyramids in person.
Countless touts...you can't blame them for trying to make a living.
Navigating through the inside of the Great Pyramid.
It wouldn't be a trip to the pyramids without a ride on a camel and capturing "the shot" like every other tourist. We promise we weren't trying to make it look like we were the only ones visiting it just wasn't that crowded this day. It's actually sad because tourism is suffering in Egypt at the moment. We are here to tell you to put it on your list of places to visit. It's unbelievable and is up there as one of our favorite destinations on the trip thus far.
Leanne was a camel whisperer and was able to get Oscar to give her a smirk for this shot.
Yep, we are that dorky!
Back on and ready to ride.
Mahmud, the best dressed camel driver out there. Check out those gleaming white shoes!
Picture in front of the Sphinx? Check!
Posed picture next to the Sphinx? Check!
Pretty cool, huh?
It was hard work walking around all day admiring true works of art so what better way to reward ourselves than with a sheesha and coffee/tea break.
On the agenda for the following day was a visit to the Egyptian Museum.
You aren't allowed to take photographs inside of the museum and people are constantly watching you to make sure this is enforced. The museum is filled with priceless pieces of history, many of which we didn't even grasp until we left and read about them. One of the better known items is King Tut's booty (just wanted to slip that word in there). King Tut was only king for 9 years but his tomb was found intact in Luxor. His death mask is one of the most famous objects in the world. We had to download this one from the internet.
Remember the empty street Leanne was on at the beginning of the blog? This is what it turned into in the afternoon. It got even more crazy as the night went on.
After nearly a week it was time to move along to Luxor. We read that the train was the best way to go to get to Luxor. It was a little expensive but we bought a ticket on the night train. This was by far the nicest train we had been on our entire trip. We had a private cabin with sheets and even a mirror with a sink. There was hot water too!
After a good (sorta) night's sleep we arrived in Luxor. After an uncomfortable moment where the person that gave us our food and made our beds said "Now is the time where you tip me" we were at our destination! The ride took about 12 hours but really flew by.
The first morning we visited Luxor temple and it was a little appetizer of what we were going to be seeing for the next few days.
At one time these row of sphinxes led all the way to the temple of Karnak about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) away. Human development took down much of the row but the government is working on restoring it.
There was a mosque inside of Luxor temple that was a reminder that this is definitely a muslim state. The calls to prayer were actually comforting and hypnotizing at times.
We spent the rest of the day taking in the ruins and trying to figure out the ancient language.
This is 2013 so there will always be a McDonald's within throwing distance of any tourist attraction. Yes, we ate there and yes, it was great (said Josh).
Getting a little artsy.
The next day we headed to Karnak, and ancient temple. The early Egyptians believed that the gods were born here so they did their best to make it grand. Throughout the years everybody left their mark here, including Alexander the Great and Napoleon.
These two thought they were going to Cancun but ended up in Egypt. Sorry fellas.
These two ladies wanted us to take a picture of them so we went ahead and took one with them too.
Here's one of just the two of us.
Now for the ugly part of Luxor:
The political turmoil in Cairo has had serious trickle-down effects on the country's tourism. Despite the presence of a few tour groups, tourism is nearly dead in Luxor. We were the only ones staying at our hotel and many places had none. There were once thousands upon thousands of visitors to Luxor but now there are only a few hundred. The problem is that the tourism industry developed lots of tourism workers. You are literally being sold to the entire time. At first it's annoying but you have go to put yourselves in these people's shoes. They are trying to make a living. It was a little comforting at times because you knew exactly what was happening at all times. Sometimes while traveling we can't tell who's being nice and who's trying to sell us something. Sometimes you put your guard up and they were just trying to be nice. This is the worst feeling because we feel like jerks and judged them wrong. In Egypt there is no confusion, EVERBODY is up to something. Nobody is "Just being nice" so we didn't have to worry about it. Yes, they are just trying to make a living but at least the line was drawn and there was no confusion. Does that make sense? If it doesn't then maybe we've been traveling too long and are jaded.
We were feeling bad for all the tourism workers so we rented a horse cart for the day. We don't remember how much we paid but it was very, very little. It actually ended up being pretty cool and we got to help out a local a little.
One famous aspect of Karnak is the Hypostyle Hall, a hall area of 50,000 sq ft with 134 massive columns arranged in 16 rows.
It was impressive to say the least.
It was so HOT! We're talking wring your clothes out type of sweating and we polished off our liter and a half of water within the first 15 minutes of entering.
Leanne's attempt at walking like an Egyptian. She thought Josh was taking a picture but he also snuck some video recording in. She held this pose for several minutes while he kept telling her "hold on, just one more second, I am turing the camera on". She didn't even question what was taking so long. It must have been the heat.
We're not sure if Josh was excited to explore Karnak or more excited that Leanne agreed to wash his dirty jeans that night.
Thank you, Karnak. It was a true pleasure and honor to make your acquaintance.
The next day we decided to visit everything within a 5 mile radius on foot.
An ancient town build on a cliff. Wonder what it must have been like to live here?
5 miles later we were still walking and hadn't even reached our first destination yet.
Desert stroll...good thing we brought plenty of water this time.
We finally made it to the Valley of the Queens. Unfortunately, there were only 3 tombs open for visitation. No photos allowed but our memories are etched with detailed hieroglyphics and vibrant paintings.
It was a good day in the desert.
After much needed showers and a little rest, we ventured out for dinner, tea and in lieu of a nightcap we opted for a sheesha.
Egyptian men love their sheesha, tea and backgammon. The owner of the restaurant informed us that these particular men spend over 7 hours each day gambling away their small earnings.
Josh loves it...maybe a little too much.
At least he shares...
The next day we explored the west bank of Luxor and saw everything within a five-mile radius of the Nile. Most of the day was spent hiking to various tombs.
One of the hikes we took was from Valley of the Kings, where the Egyptian kings tombs were. Included in the Valley of the Kings is the famous King Tut tomb where all his treasures were discovered. Obviously everything had been removed but the paintings on the wall. We had heard that you could hike from the Valley of the Kings to Hapshepsut but it was blocked off when we tried to find it. The Lonely Planet guidebook said to ask a guard to show you the directions. When we asked the guard he was happy to show us and even let us break the rules of no climbing for a small fee (of course). One thing we discovered while traveling through Egypt is that the Lonely Planet is worthless. Luckily somebody gave it to us so we didn't pay for it. After we paid off the guard we were on our way.
One thing that Josh did for fun while we were there was trying to learn very basic hieroglyphics. Armed with his little black notebook we hit the temples and he was actually able to translate a few things. Somebody has been watching too many Indiana Jones movies.
Beautiful artwork like this was everywhere. This is the god, Horus, meeting with one of the pharos.
Leanne trying to fit in.
We had read that a horseback ride through the desert for sunset was a must do so we gave it a shot. We rented horses for three hours one evening to explore.
Leanne had never ridden a horse for that long but she loved it. It was absolutely worth it and was a memory we will never forget.
Yep, beautiful sunset.
After 5 days in Luxor it was time to head up north to Sinai. We originally booked a bus to Sharm el Sheik on the Red Sea but after a little research realized that Dahab (one hour further north) was more our speed. We took an 18-hour bus ride and the next morning we were at our destination!
We spent six days in Dahab walking along the coast, snorkeling amazing coral, hiking along the mountains, and relaxing. Our accommodations were very basic to say the least. The plus side was it was sooooo cheap. We were living it up and dropping $25-$30 per day for the two of us. This was great for the short run but the long run was the jaw dropping change in cost in our next destinations that we'll cover in the next post.
The reason we went to Sinai was to climb the famous Mount Sinai where Moses received the ten commandments. We decided to go with a group for sunrise. You can go easily enough on your own but in order to hike for sunrise it is necessary to go with a tour because the buses don't run. Another way to go about this would be to take a bus during the day, spend the night on the mountain, and then ride a bus back the next day. We decided to just pay the small fee to go with a group and skip the overnight on the mountain part.
A major block we were having was that it was Coptic Easter so the monastery at the bottom of Mount Sinai was only open one day. It was imperative for us that we visit the monastery to see the sight of the original burning bush. Climbing Mount Sinai is a pilgrimage for many people all around the world. So at 11:00 everybody made there way to the top of the mountain to see the sunrise. It was actually an extremely impressive thing to witness. Very, very old people were hobbling their way up the 4 - 6 hour climb to make it to the summit. You couldn't help but be impressed by the determination of these oldies while simultaneously being annoyed by the shear number of them. At one point Josh pointed out that the entire cast of cocoon was in front of us and not yielding for us in the least. So we passed when we could and twiddled our thumbs when we couldn't. With a couple of hours left in the hike we broke free of the overwhelming majority of groups and got to enjoy a little bit of free movement.
We made it to the top and anxiously awaited the sunrise!
We kept a watchful eye but it was over an hour before the sky even began to cast any sort of light.
At around 4:50 a.m. the sun greeted us for the start of another gorgeous day.
Not sleeping for the night was all worth it.
It was an endless view of jagged peaks and ridges.
Side note: An Egyptian man coaxed Leanne into letting him dye her hair with henna. It was ridiculously cheap and she figured it would be an interesting experience. It turned out jet black. Everyone kept saying she looked Egyptian. Now she can truly say she walked like an Egyptian. This will be one souvenir that is going to last for months.
Another summit and sunrise successfully conquered.
We don't look too bad for staying up all night, do we?
As you can see, we were the only ones heading down after sunrise. Yeah right!
We decided to take the road less traveled on the way down. We went down via the "Stairway of Repentance", 3,700 steps carved by one monk. Wow, what legacy are you leaving behind in life? This monk spent his entire life building stairs to the top of Mount Sinai.
We loved every little nook and cranny this route had to offer.
We spy a monastery down below.
Sleep deprived high fives all around. Mount Sinai sunrise summit has now been moved to the completed list.
The most painful part of the trip was that we had to wait for over 2 hours until the monastery opened at 9:00 a.m. Half of the group took naps on a table while the rest of us dug deep to stay away. We all hung tight except for two girls that weren't having it. As soon as the monastery opened they went back to the van to wait. The rest of us didn't understand how they weren't even interested in seeing it after waiting all of this time. To each their own.
Sight of the original burning bush.
You weren't able to take photos of the inside of the church. This photo is courtesy of google images.
At noon, without a wink of sleep, our group of 10 said goodbye to Mount Sinai and made the drive back to Dahab.
Josh went to the same guy that dyed Leanne's hair for a shave. Notice any similarity to the guy's beard and Leanne's new hair color? That's right, the guys dye their beards black. Josh started fancying straight razor shaves after a few in India for the wedding. To be honest, he had to go get a shave because our budget guesthouse had saltwater showers. Most of the locals shower in saltwater so we figured we were living like a local. If you thought getting shampoo in your eyes while showering hurt, try getting saltwater in your eyes. It's virtually impossible to get any sort of lather goings for a shampoo or shave. Our hair felt like straw and our skin was drier than your grandaddy's scalp but we were saving money!
We had one last dinner on the water before heading to the ferry the following morning.
Petra here we come! We were excited to get our Indian Jones: The Last Crusade on (even though Leanne's never seen that one).
Egypt surprised us, changed us and when it all shakes out, may even be our favorite place.
Thanks for following!
Leanne & Josh