Thursday, October 19, 2006

Dear Family and Friends, 10/19/06

Haven’t had time to write an in depth travelogue
for quite some time, so this will probably be lengthy.
I will break it up into parts. The last one I wrote
was from Cairo, and we have been lots of places since
Our tour group is made up of a Canadian couple, a
New Zealand couple, an Australian couple, an English
couple, a young single girl from the Netherlands, an
older single lady from New Zealand who now lives in
Australia, our young tour leader from England named
Shona, and us, so it is quite an international group.
It is also mostly people older than forty five, which
suits us, especially since many are really experienced
travelers. Once the tour started, we visited the
Egyptian Museum in Cairo (awesome), the Citdel in
Cairo where there was an interesting mosque and a view
over the whole city (if the air hadn’t been so
polluted), and the bazaar area called the Khan El
Kahlalli, as well as the Pyramids of Giza.
Surprsingly, these are actually within the city of
Cairo, since the urban sprawl has enveloped them. I’m
sure they used to be even more awesome than they are
now, as they were once covered with a pink limestone
facing, which has been stripped off by preceding
generations and used in other buildings in Cairo.
Elaine and I also wanted to visit the area called The
City of the Dead, which is the Northern Cemetery where
there are tombs, but also somewhere between ten and
fifty thousand people living there. The tombs usually
have extra rooms for the family of the deceased and
poor people just moved into them. Because it is a
questionable area to visit on your own, we drove by it
with our tour group but didn’t actually go in. It is
a statement about how overcrowded Cairo is that people
actually live like this.
That night we took the sleeper train to Luxor.
The compartments were for two people and were
comfortable. They served us an airline type meal
which was basically inedible, then the porter changed
the compartment so there were two sleeping bunks. We
arrived in Luxor at about six AM and then transferred
to our cruise boat. This was also pretty comfortable,
but the cabins were about half the size of the ones we
have had on other ocean going cruise ships. Almost
immediately, we were whipped off to Karnak Termple on
horse-drawn carriages. The temple is awesome and has
a huge hall with one hundred and thirty four huge
columns all covered with carvings and hieroglyphics.
There were also several obelisks that were big and
other interesting features as well which I won’t bore
you with now. Upon our return to the boat, we started
sailing up the Nile. It seems funny to say “up” since
we were sailing south, but the Nile flows north and
also the topography is such that Aswan is higher than
Alexandria, so it really is going up. That evening we
anchored off Esna, waiting for our turn to go through
the lock there. It was late afternoon and we were
enjoying a cold beer out on the top deck, looking at
all the other cruise ships gathering there. Soon
there were lots of rowboats around with men in them
yelling and throwing merchandise to the people on the
cruise boats. These were guys trying to sell things
like clothes and blankets and they were very
persistent. It didn’t even seem to faze them when
people kept throwing the stuff back to them and
occasionally things landed in the water! When someone
wanted to buy something and a price had been
established, then money was put in a plastic bag and
thrown down to the guys in the rowboat. We were quite
impressed that they had such good aim and could hit
the top deck of the cruise boats which were usually
three or four stories tall.
The weather has been tolerable, since it has been
cooler than we were lead to believe it would be.
Aswan is always hotter than Cairo by about eight to
ten degrees, but being on a cruise boat on the Nile
was very pleasant. It was so enjoyable to sit on the
deck and watch the green fields and small villages go
by. In some places we could see the tall, dry, brown
hills behind the green fields which made us aware that
the desert wasn’t very far away. In Egypt, all the
food is produced on only about four percent of the
land, this being the land that is within a close
distance of the Nile so it can be irrigated. The
construction of the High Dam at Aswan has caused a
fife hundred kilometer lake to back up behind it and
it is this lake that has enabled Egypt to survive
through the last two droughts and which is causing
them to try to increase the amount of land that they
can use for agriculture. One thing that was so
obvious is that in the areas near the Nile, the most
predominant animal is donkeys, not camels. They use
them for riding, pulling carts, and carrying produce
and they are everywhere. There are also sheep, goats,
dogs and lots of kids. Another thing that occurred to
us was that we were not seeing many women once we left
Cairo. It is the men who do all the public stuff such
as selling, driving vehicles, working in stores, etc.
This is definitely a male dominated country! Every
employee on our cruise boat, and the other boats which
docked near us, was a man.
By the way, one thing we learned about Nile
cruising is that there are so many cruise boats who
basically do the same itinerary, that when we docked
somewhere, like Luxor, we usually had another cruise
boat tied up on both sides of us, which somewhat
ruined the ambience. You have to walk through as many
as three or four other boats to get to the ramp to
disembark to the bank! This is true even of cruise
boats that clearly were much more luxurious than ours.

There is lots more to tell you but my time is up
here for now so I will send this and write another
installment later today or tomorrow. Sending big
Love, Mary & Elaine

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