Egypt (Cairo, Alexandria, Aswan) (1.27.10 – 1.31.10)

On Wednesday, I made my way to the Cairo Museum, albeit somewhat later in the day than I had intended… I’m really not fantastic with early mornings. I am sad to say that photography within the museum is strictly forbidden, so I have no photos of the wonders that this museum holds. I got to see Tutankhamen’s burial mask, which was undoubtedly the personal highlight of the museum. The vast bounty of his burial treasures are enormously impressive and decadent, but for me, the burial mask absolutely overwhelmed them all. I can recall learning about Ancient Egypt back in Fourth Year, when I went to school in England, and I can still vividly remember creating pictures of Tutankhamen’s mask in Paint. I was fascinated, and so, seeing this marvel in person was truly spectacular for me. The museum holds a myriad of treasures from other pharaohs and queens, in addition to collections of sarcophagi, jewelry, and parts of tombs. Among the brilliant goods held within the giant museum, another true highlight was the Mummy Room, containing impressively preserved Royal mummies. It is grotesque, and thus tremendously fascinating. The bodies were mostly covered so that only the heads and sometimes, arms and hands were visible. I’m not sure why they didn’t display the whole bodies, but regardless, what it was possible to see was remarkable; most of the mummies still had full heads of hair, and eyelashes. Some had marble stones placed in their eye sockets, others had eyebrows tattooed on, however, the dark shriveled skin clinging to the skull was consistent in all of the mummies. To get into the Mummy Room, you had to pay an additional entrance fee that was, in fact, double the cost of the entry into the main museum. As part of the normal museum collection, there was a room of animal mummies, that was also extremely fascinating, and at times, almost more impressive than the human mummies. Among the mummified creatures on display was a giant crocodile, easily 25 feet in length, as well as snakes, birds, dogs, cats, and a cow.
After spending sufficient time at the museum, I left to meet Sara and her friends at the Cairo Tower, which offers a view over all of Cairo. We made it to the top as the sun was setting, so we got the view in daylight, dusk, and night. After the Tower, we went to get dinner at an Italian restaurant, followed by another pleasant night at Sara’s house, in the company of her family.
Thursday was a lazy day, and for a considerable amount of the day, I hung around my hostel, reading On The Road. I am sad to recall that this day marked J.D. Salinger’s death; a great man with a fairly modest catalogue of work, but inarguably, the author of one of the most important and influential novels of the 20th century.
That night we went to Sara’s friend Nadir’s to watch the Semi-final game in the Africa Cup of Nations, which Egypt was competing in. Egypt won the game with an exciting 4:0 victory. After the game, Sara took me to the metro station, and after exiting at my stop, I couldn’t help but stop to watch the crowds celebrate with great fervor, as I mentioned here.
On Friday, I had considered going to Saqqara, to see the ancient pyramids there, but upon waking, I decided that I would much prefer a lazy start and to get coffee with Sara. We went to Harris Coffee, and I made my plans for the next few days. That night I was to go to Alexandria with Sara’s boyfriend, Mohammed. We went to Nadir’s for a while that evening, before I left with Mohammed to go to a club called After Eight, where his band, Salalem, would be performing that night. Salalem played a set early in the night, and then a DJ took over playing hip-hop for a couple of hours. Mohammed introduced me to a couple of his friends with whom I was able to spend some time, dancing and drinking. After a while, Salalem took the stage once more and played another set of fun, energetic music. After the show, Mohammed and I went to my hostel so that I could pick up my backpack in preparation for the next few days away from Cairo, and from there went to the train station so that I could buy a ticket down to Aswan for Saturday night. The train station endeavor was unsuccessful, as the ticket office I needed was closed, so we hit the road and headed for Alexandria.
We arrived early in the morning, and went to the Alexandria ticket office in order to sort out my ticket down to Aswan, this time successfully. We then headed to Mohammed’s, stopping first at a food cart to get fuul with eggs for breakfast. Upon getting to Mohammed’s, I went to bed, but he stayed up  because he had to go and take an exam a few hours later. I slept until about 2PM, at which time, Mohammed returned from his exam, and I left to go and explore Alexandria. I headed first for the Pompeii Pillar, which is the largest, fully in-tact ancient monument in Egypt. After the pillar, I attempted to go to the Catacombs, but misinformed by my guidebook, arrived as it was closing. From here, I headed to the library, which stands in memory, and dedicated to the memory of the ancient library of Alexandria. It was spectacular and grand, magnificent inside and out. I tried to contact Mohammed, thought without luck, because we had made plans to go and get dinner before I needed to catch my train to Cairo, and onto Aswan. He was fast asleep after staying up for far too long and taking his exam, so slept right through my calls. I texted Sara, worried about what to do, because I couldn’t remember how to get back to his place, and he had my backpack. Luckily, Sara was able to contact him, and he then met me at the library. We went to have the most incredible dinner where we ate as much seafood as we possibly could for a mere 30LE (about $5). After dinner, there was little time left before I needed to catch my train, but we very quickly drove to the citadel, where Mohammed happily told me he and Sara fell in love (too cute, right?). We then stopped for ice cream, because apparently Alexandria is known for its homemade ice cream. Treats in hand, we raced for the station, which we made with minutes to spare! I made it to Cairo in good time, and then had to wait for the train to Aswan, a journey due to last 12 hours. The journey was fairly uneventful, save for a particularly creepy man who tried to get to me to go to Edfu, his city, with him. I refused, and though I was listening to music and reading a book, he kept talking and talking to me in exceptionally poor English. OK. Here’s the thing. Don’t talk to me if you aren’t actually capable of holding a conversation with me. I know this may make me sound awful, because hell, I can only speak English and French (poorly). But the thing is, I know my limits, and consequently don’t attempt conversation in languages I can’t speak.
I thought I was making it perfectly obvious that I had no interest in speaking to him, but apparently that was not the case. I just wanted to be left alone so that I could read my book in peace. At one point, I got my laptop out so that I could edit some pictures, at which point, he began leaning across the aisle to look at my computer over my shoulder… and then… HE GOT UP, MOVED MY THINGS OUT OF THE SEAT NEXT TO ME, AND TOOK THAT SEAT. He then continued to lean over me to look at my computer screen, to the point that I couldn’t even see what I was doing. Now here’s the kicker. Edfu came, and he didn’t get off. He then commented “I was supposed to get off at Edfu. That is where I work. But now I come to Aswan.” I was horrified. Sure enough, he got off at Aswan, and he tried to carry my bag for me, which only made me angry because… well, I think you’ll find that backpackers are quite sensitive about who touches their bags because well… they contain everything we have with us. We’re like snails; we carry our homes on our backs. I demanded my bag and walked quickly out of the station, and of course, he was right behind me. I turned to him, said “GOODBYE.” and walked away from him, periodically checking to make sure that he hadn’t followed me. Oh, and I forgot to mention that the “12 hour” train ride ended up taking over 14 hours; but that’s Egypt for you!
I walked around in search of the youth hostel, which with some help, I eventually found, only to discover that they were fully booked for the night. I consulted the guidebook, and went to find another hostel, the Nubian Oasis, that I thought was supposed to be good, according to my friend Nathan, who I traveled with in Jordan. I checked in, and signed up for a trip to Abu Simbel, and upon getting to my room, quickly discovered that there was no way that Nathan had spoken highly of this hostel; my memory had served me poorly… oh well. I left to see some of Aswan, and crossed the Nile to go and explore the Tombs of the Nobles. I got a guided tour into a few different tombs, which was fascinating, as they all contained extremely well preserved paintings on the wall. I crossed back across the river and sat down at a restaurant to get dinner, and watch the final match of the Africa Cup of Nations. I ate dinner while watching the excruciating first half, in which neither team scored once. I finished my meal, and with the end of the first half, headed back to my hostel to continue watching the match. The game continued in the same fashion in which it had begun, and only in the last ten minutes of the game did Egypt finally score a point! No further points were scored and with 1:0, Egypt won the game! People celebrated in the streets, and everyone honked horns and waved flags, but it was nothing compared to the revelry that I had so enjoyed in  Cairo for the semi-final victory. I cannot imagine how Cairo would have looked, and I wished that I was there to share it with them. However, I was not, and I had an early morning ahead of me, so by 10PM, I headed to bed.

The Cairo Tower

The view from the tower

Another view from the tower (dusk)

Another view from the tower (night)

(from left to right) back row: Sika, Nader. middle row: me, Sara. front row: Salma

Cairo by night

Cairo wins!!!!

The Pompeii Pillar

Inside the new library of Alexandria

A felucca on the Nile in Aswan

Inside one of the Tombs of the Nobles in Aswan

Another of the tombs in the Tombs of the Nobles in Aswan

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