What seems to be a common practice for one does not mean it is the same elsewhere. This holds true with regards to how used toilet paper are disposed of in Egypt. For most of us, we do our thing, wipe, drop and flush. When in Egypt, you do your thing, wipe, drop and flush except that the drop part is quite different. One would typically find a bin right beside the commode. This is where the soiled toilet paper goes. The pipes used in most of Egypt are smaller so to avoid making a big mess, the soiled toilet paper must go into the bin and not into the toilet. I remembered the first time I had to do it. It took a long time before I found the courage to drop it into the bin. The surprising part was that it did not end up making the room smell bad. I am just not sure whether I got immune to the smell or my olfactory sense is damaged.
Egypt October 2008
I have always been fascinated with ancient Egypt. Egypt has always been on the top of my list of places that I wanted to explore. I was finally able to go in October 2008.
My first stop was the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The museum contains over 120,000 artifacts of ancient Egypt. The main galleries were arranged in historical order, from Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, Modern Kingdom to Greek and Roman period. It would take days to fully explore the museum. I was able to get a good introduction with the limited time I had. The most popular section of the museum was the exhibit on the treasures found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen. It was just amazing to have seen the famous funeral mask which was made of gold, the sarcophagus, and all the fine jewelries. The other highlight of the museum was the royal mummy room. This section required an extra fee but it was money well spent. Where else can you get a chance to see actual real mummies from ages ago? It was interesting to see strands of hair and teeth that were still intact. I was left in amazement. Too bad cameras were not allowed inside the museum. The pictures would have described the experience much better. I ended up taking these pictures from the outside of the museum.
Obelisk is a monolithic stone with a quadrangular base that is placed upright and having a pointed top. It symbolized the sun god Ra.
Notice that most statues have the left foot in front. The Egyptologist explained that this symbolized power, advancement and looking forward to the after life.
Cairo Egypt October 2008
The Mosque of Mohammad Ali Pasha was built in memory of Muhammad Ali’s oldest son Tusun Pasha. It was built between 1828 and 1848. It has a central dome surrounded by four semicircular domes and two Turkish type cylindrical minarets. It is situated on the summit of the Citadel of Salah al-Din which was a fortification built to defend Cairo from the crusaders back in the late 12th and early 13th century.
This Ottoman mosque is the largest to be built in the first half of the 19th century and is the most visible mosque in Cairo.
Here we sat in the courtyard as our tour guide explained the history and architecture of the mosque. Notice that we were all barefoot. This was required for all visitors. Dress code was quite strict. Since this is a religious place and knowing that men are sexual beings that can easily be tempted (thanks to Adam for the genes), women are required to cover their shoulders and legs. Men are also not allowed to wear shorts that do not cover their knees. I guess some men find other men’s knees quite sexy or maybe it’s the hair in the leg.
The mosque is nicknamed as the Alabaster Mosque for its exterior stone sheathing. This is the prayer room in the interior of the mosque with lofty ceilings and huge low-hanging globe-lamp chandeliers.
This is the brass clock tower which was presented to Muhammad Ali by King Louis Philippe of France in 1845. In return France received the obelisk of Luxor which now stands in Place de la Concorde in Paris.
Here’s another shot of the mosque.
Since the mosque is perched on the summit of the Citadel of Salah al-Din, we got to see a panoramic view of Cairo and a realization on the quality of air we were breathing.
Cairo Egypt October 2008
The Khan el-Khalili Bazaar is a must to visit when you are in Cairo even if you are not a big shopper. The experience itself of walking through the labyrinth of narrow streets with a Medieval atmosphere, getting lost in the crowd, and dealing with the aggressive merchants were all worth the visit.
The merchants were shouting out the products that they were selling in an attempt to get my attention. I kept shaking my head and gave my most disinterested look. Without feeling defeated, they would try to strike a conversation and would typically ask “Where are you from?”. The bystanders would guess “Japan”. I guess there’s not much Asian visitors here except the Japanese. I did not want to be impolite so I would answer and say “Canada”. They would answer back with “Canada Dry” or “Alaska”; the former is a ginger ale pop and the latter we all know is not part of Canada. The mischievous side of me was curious about what they would answer if I say some other place. There was this one time when they asked and I answered “Mongolia”. They all looked confused and I was able to move on to another shop. =) It was also common for the merchants to offer a drink of Hibiscus tea. This was their way to entice you to go into their shop hoping that you will end up buying their goods. Being a cynic, I did not accept any of the invitation. Looking back, I thought I should have been more open and trusting and it would have been a whole different experience.
The bazaar is famous for its unusual souvenirs and handmade crafts. I ended up getting a bust of King Tut for my niece. Keep in mind that the prices here are not fixed and remember to bargain to get the best price. I was able to get the bust for only E£30 down from E£70. Not bad for a novice haggler.
In front of the bazaar were cafes and restaurants serving typical Egyptian food and beverage. You can also get to try smoking Shisha here.
Al-Hussein Mosque is also located in this area. The mosque houses some very sacred items such as the oldest believed complete manuscript of the Qur’an
Cairo Egypt October 2008
As we were headed towards Giza, I started seeing a glimpse of the pyramid from my window. I got all excited and filtered out everything that the tour leader was saying. As soon as the van parked, we all got down and the Egyptologist gave a quick overview of Giza and the pyramids. We were then free to roam around the Great Pyramid of Giza (also known as Pyramid of Khufu and Pyramid of Cheops) which is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in Giza.
As I walked towards the base of the pyramid, this Egyptian boy came up to me and offered a couple of what he claimed as precious stones as a gift. Ignorant with Egyptian culture I accepted the gift thinking that it would be impolite to decline. This was my first mistake. I should have listened to the tour leader when she warned about this.
After a short conversation, he managed to convince me to wear his turban and insisted on taking a picture of me. Second mistake, now he has my camera. He then led me to a corner of the pyramid where his dad and camel were waiting and took the picture.
Now both the dad and the boy were insisting that I should hop onto the camel. This was when I started to get really uncomfortable and told them that I can not because I was allergic to camels. They started to get frustrated and I just wanted to leave. We ended up taking this picture at the base of the pyramid with me forcing a smile. They returned my camera and asked for money. I returned the stones and told them that this was not right. They should not scam tourists and give Egypt a bad reputation. After what seemed like an endless argument I decided to give 10 Egyptian Pounds. The dad complained that it was too small while I walked away.
While on the van going to the next stop and thinking about the experience, I thought that it was good that this happened. Although the amount was minuscule, it was the principle behind the dirty business transaction that I was really against. It made me realized that I do not need to be nice at all times. I should learn to be more assertive if a situation requires it.
Giza Egypt October 2008
The pyramids were built to house the remains of the deceased Pharoahs. The Egyptians believed that a portion of the Pharoah’s spirit, known as Ka, remained with his corpse. In order for the Pharoah to perform his new duties as the king of the dead, proper care of the remains was needed. Therefore various items made of clay, stone and gold such as furniture, food, doll-like represenation of servants were also placed in the pyramid. Also, the body of the king was embalmed and placed in the burial chamber for protection.
There are three main pyramids in Giza. On the left is the Great Pyramid of Giza also known as the Pyramid of Cheops or the Pyramid of Khufu. It is the most popular, largest, tallest and most intact. In the middle is the Pyramid of Khafre also known as Pyramid of Chephren. It is somewhat smaller although it may appear larger because it was built on a more elevated location and with a steeper angle of inclination. On the right and the smallest of the three is the Pyramid of Menkaure also known as Pyramid of Mykerinos.
Here is a closer look at the Pyramid of Khufu and the Pyramid of Khafre. Notice that most of the polished limestone covering or casing stones are gone except for the top portion of the Pyramid of Khafre. These were stolen by the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century to build houses and Mosques in Cairo.
Entry to the Pyramid of Khufu was limited. They only allow a number of vistors a day. Unfortunately, when we arrived the tickets were all sold out. According to the Egyptologist, there are three chambers in this pyramid. The first one is below ground level which is the unfinished burial chamber and is inaccessible. Further up to the heart of the pyramid is the second chamber known as the Queen’s Chamber although it has nothing to do with a queen. It was used for storage. Further up is the third chamber which is the real burial chamber of King Khufu.
Fortunately, entry to the Pyramid of Khafre was unlimited. I was so excited waiting in line holding my ticket. There was not a long queue and it was constantly moving so I did not have to wait long to get in. There were two entrances. The visitors go in through the lower entrance which begins at about ground level. The passageway was not high enough, so most people would have to bend while walking down the descending passage. For a short while, the only thing I saw was the bum of the person in front of me. I started to feel a bit claustrophobic. After awhile the passage sort of levels out and then the passage started ascending until I got into the main burial chamber. It was stuffy and humid inside. I guess it had to do with the number of people in there sweating and breathing the same air. The only thing in the chamber was a black granite sarcophagus. At that point it just felt so surreal. I can not imagine that I was actually inside a pyramid’s burial chamber. I took a mental shot of the scene as cameras were not allowed. I could not remember the trek going back out as I was lost in another world. It was truly an amazing experience.
Later that night, the Egyptologist had a few drinks with some of us. He must have been drunk when he started telling a story about him taking his date inside the pyramid and ended up having sex in the burial chamber. I did not know how to make of it. It reminded me of a scene in The English Patient where Hana was lifted up by Kip with ropes and pulleys inside a darkened church, illuminated by flares, viewing Renaissance frescoes. It was sort of at that level of awesomeness and romantic. But when things started to register, it was more like creepy. Just imagine doing it in a cemetery or a mausoleum. What do you think?
Giza Egypt October 2008
I was really distracted when the Egyptologist was describing the mummification process. I just can not help but think that I was about to actually see The Great Sphinx up close and personal. All I remember was that all internal organs were removed from the corpse except the heart. The heart was important because it recorded all of the good and bad deeds of a person’s life and this was needed for judgment in the afterlife. The heart was weighed against the feather of truth. If the heart balanced with the feather, it meant the person had led a decent life and was worthy to live forever in paradise with Osiris. If not, then the person will suffer the complete death. I wonder how I would do with the weighing of the heart. Maybe I’d be better off being interrogated by St. Peter.
The Great Sphinx is probably the most recognizable sculpture in Egypt. It has a human head with a lion’s body. This magnificent work was built of soft sandstone and survived all these years since it was buried for so long. It is located close to the Pyramid of Khafre and Egyptologists believe that it functioned sort of like a scarecrow to guard the tomb.
Here is a closer picture of The Great Sphinx. Until now Egyptologists are unsure who the figure personify. Some say it was King Khafre and some believe that it was the face of his guardian deity. Notice that part of the uraues (sacred cobra), the nose and the ritual beard are missing. The crumbling of the statue were caused by wind, humidity and pollution. It is also believed that the nose was the unfortunate victim of target practice by the Turks during the Turkish period.
This was where most tourist would take those cheesy shots of kissing or punching The Great Sphinx. While everyone else took pictures repeatedly to get that perfect shot, I was just sitting there admiring The Great Sphinx. I remembered being fascinated when reading about it and looking at the pictures back in elementary school. Now I’m actually sitting here looking at it. It was just amazing.
This is another shot of The Great Sphinx with the body and the legs.
Finally it was time to leave Giza. The experience of getting scammed by an Egyptian boy while exploring the The Great Pyramid of Giza, the trek into the burial chamber of The Pyramid of Khafre and the up close encounter with The Great Sphinx will forever be considered as one of the most remarkable things I have done. I was so grateful for being able to just be there and experience it. One would think that the pyramids were in some far off desolate desert. But notice how urbanization is slowly creeping into the complex. I just hope that these great landmarks would stay for many more generations to experience.
Giza Egypt October 2008
It was time to move on to another city. We grabbed our backpacks, checked out of the Salma Hotel, and headed for the train station in Cairo. Tonight we will be taking the overnight sleeper train to Luxor. Here we were on the station waiting for our train. It was loud and filled with lots of commuters. Each time a train stopped, I felt a bit more worried. Some of them were really in a bad condition.
The train finally arrived. This was where I slept for the night. It was not too bad. Better than what I have expected. I had to share the 2-berth compartment with a total stranger. I was hoping not to end up with some crazy guy. Fortunately, he was a soft-spoken Korean architect working in Angola and was spending his vacation traveling in Egypt all by himself. He is one brave man. We were served dinner and went straight to bed. I got to sleep on the bottom. I woke up early and went to the shared washroom down the hall. It was a challenge to brush my teeth and wash my face with the tiny sink while the train was moving. Water was splashing everywhere. The toilet was uninviting so I did not use it. It had a sign that says “Do not flush when train is not moving”. I thought it was probably safer to flush when the train was not moving. Later on I found out that flushing the toilet actually just drops the stuff out to the railroad track. So if the train was not moving, it was most likely stopping on a train station. Well we do not want those smelly stuff around the train station do we? We finished breakfast and finally arrived at Luxor.
Today we were going to see the Temple of Karnak. But before that we had to drop off our stuff in our cruise ship. This was the M/S Melodie. This was where we will be spending the next couple of days cruising along the Nile River. It was smaller compared with the other ships docked there. It was not as fancy too. But it was nice and cozy.
This was my room. It had a tiny washroom that was big enough for one person to stand in. We just had time to drop off our backpack and we were all ready to take the horse-drawn carriage to the Temple of Karnak.
Cairo/Luxor Egypt October 2008
Galabeya Party and Sufi Dancing
After exploring the Temple of Kom Ombo everyone was encouraged to purchase a Galabeya, which is a traditional Egyptian cotton robe, to wear for the Galabeya Party scheduled for that night. A stretch of hawkers were lined up by the dock selling Egyptian goods including the Galabeya. This was where you can practice your haggling skills. The vendors were not as aggressive as the ones in Cairo so the purchasing experience was more fun and I did not feel harassed. Most of us purchased the Galabeya between E£25 to E£35 which was around C$5 to C$6. I ended up being the party pooper and opted out on getting a Galabeya. =(
The Galabeya Party on board MS Melodie started with dinner and ended with an entertainment show and dancing. One of the performances was Sufi dancing. Sufism is a mystical sect of Islam, that believes it is possible to enjoy a personal relationship with God through practices such as intense and sustained spinning around in a circle, leading to a trance-like state. However, this particular performance was more for entertainment purposes rather than a religious practice. It was an array of dizzying colors as the dancer in multicolored skirts was spinning for a long extended time (it could have been more than 20 minutes) while being accompanied by hypnotic drum beats and other traditional Arabic instruments. The dancer was very skillful and was able to manipulate the skirts into many different shapes. The interesting thing was, I think I was more dizzy than the dancer after he finished spinning. =)
Kom Ombo Egypt October 2008