Monday, October 23, 2006

Middle East Travelogue #11
Dear Family & Friends, 10/21/06
Don't have a lot of time or energy to write today
but I thought I would throw a few more travel stories
at you while I had some internet time left. We are
back in Cairo today, after getting up at 1:15AM this
morning in order to catch the convoy from Hurghada to
Cairo - ugh! Besides feeling crappy from lack of
sleep, we both have acquired the cold that was
circulating in our tour group. So we are chilling out
today, have our farewell dinner with the group
tonight, and then tomorrow we are back on our own
again. Hooray.
You might be wondering about my mention of convoys.
It seems that ever since the massacre of 52 foreign
tourists in 1997 at a temple in the Valley of the
Kings in Luxor, and the subsequent negative effect on
tourism for the next few years, the police have been
keeping a very close watch over tourists here. On the
roads our buses have to stop frequently at police
check points where sometimes they question the driver
or guide about our nationalities. On certain roads,
such as the one between Luxor and Hurghada, and
Hurghada and Cairo, because there are long stretches
of desert where there are no towns or villages, it is
a requirement that all tourist vehicles travel in a
convoy. These leave only twice a day and we have to
be sure to be up in time to get on the bus and join
them. The other reason for them is if a vehicle
breaks down, then the tourists can be loaded onto
another of the vehicles and still reach their desired
destination. Unfortunately, the convoy from Hurghada
leaves at 2AM, which means an early wake up for us
As a matter of fact, there was a mutiny in our group
over this, because most of us didn't really need to
get back to Cairo early this morning so we thought
Shona should have scheduled us for the noon convoy.
But she wouldn't budge and the group split up into 2
camps over it, which has been rather unpleasant.
Anyway, I ended the last travelogue with our
arrival in Aswan. This is as far up on the Nile as
cruise boats can go because this is where the dams are
located. This part of the Nile is interesting because
there are islands here, and also tombs cut into the
west bank of the river which we could see from our
boat and which were also lit up at night. The
mausoleum of the last Aga Khan is also on a hill over
there. Aswan is the 3rd largest town in Egypt, after
Cairo and Alexandria, although they have millions of
people and Aswan only has several hundred thousand.
There is a large Christian community here, which are
called Copts, so we visited the very different and
architecturally interesting Coptic Cathedral. Nearby
is the Nubian Museum,a most interesting place and with
well presented displays, if somewhat dim in areas. I
believe I mentioned in a previous travelogue that the
Nubians were totally displaced from their land when
the High Aswan Dam was built. Actually, they had to
move three previous times because of the first Aaswan
dam in 1912, then twice more when it was raised
higher, so these poor people were always getting
settled and then displaced! When all their land was
covered by Lake Nasser after 1972, some of them moved
to the Sudan and some settled in Egypt. Lots of them
are in Aswan and there is a chance to walk through two
Nubian villages on Elephantine Island in Aswan but we
never found the time to do it. The museum showed how
they lived, their rather colorful houses and mode of
dress, etc. as well as displaying a lot of artifacts
of archeological sites that were either moved or
covered when the High Dam was built. The most
interesting part was the photographic display and
explanations of all the archeological sites that were
catalogued and moved before the rising waters could
cover them. This was the result of a worldwide appeal
and the response of many nations, including the USA.
Within a relatively short period of time,
approximately 30 sites were cut up into moveable
blocks and set up in other places, including one that
has been transferred to a museum in New York as a form
of payment for all the money the USA provided for this
project. I believe our nation provided about 30% of
the necessary funds.
Besides visiting these places, our group
chartered a felucca and had an afternoon sailing
adventure on the river, visiting a nice botanical
garden on another of the islands. It was clear to
Elaine and me that although we enjoyed the felucca, we
were very glad that we hadn't taken one of the ImTrav
tours which involved sailing between Luxor and Aswan
on one of these. It would have meant sleeping on deck
with all the other group members and also there is no
toilet on board. Young people quite enjoy these
adventures but we are a bit older now and appreciate
our creature comforts! As we sailed back to our
cruise boat, weaving in and out through the many
islands and rock formations, we could see how greatly
skilled our boatmen were.
10/22/06 Had to stop writing rather abruptly
yesterday so I didn't send the above, as planned. Now
we are in Alexandria, where we have come for a few
days of rest and sightseeing and to hopefully recover
from this cold which is dragging us down. So I will
try to finish telling you about our other adventures
Sending big hugs to all and hoping all is well.
Love, Mary and Elaine

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