Sorry for the delay in this post, these past few days have been rough with tests and papers to write. We’ve been at sea for three days now, traveling to Morocco from Egypt. Egypt was really something. It’s almost hard to put into words the extreme shock culturally there.
There is a radical gap between poor and rich in Egypt and it’s obvious everywhere you look. Some people are dressed in rags while others are in lavish business suits. Most the women are covered head to toe, more so then in Turkey. I honestly felt like I was in the Bible when I was in the desert in Giza. The men are in long white dress-type things with the whole Egyptian headdress thing on. I felt like everyone was trying to dress like Jesus. I didn’t expect it at all. Everyone, every where, is trying to get your money. Children of all ages, men and women, all trying to sell you something or take your picture in hopes of a dollar or two. They tell you something is free, put it in your hands or on your head, then ask if you are happy. When you say that you are happy they ask for money. Even asking for directions requires a little money. They are super crafty over there, scheming you in all types of ways and trapping you into a situation where either you have to run away and cover your ears or throw them “Obama-money”. They LOVE Obama. If you say you are from America they immediately mention Obama. Kind of sketchy, ey?
Besides the schemers, the Egyptians were pretty friendly. The children we passed in our bus would chase us, waving and blowing kisses. The tourist police (who carry huge automatic weapons on them everywhere) and locals would always say “Welcome to Egypt!” when recognizing that we were not in anyway from there. The language barrier was by far the most difficult here. Taxi drivers didn’t speak a lick of English and we were forced to find someone to write down the location in Arabic before finding a cab and hope it was correct. We learned a few Arabic phrases such as “Salaam” within the first day. Salaam is a greeting for hello and also goodbye. It you put the palm of your hand up when using it, it infers “peace to you”.
The first day in Alexandria we saw tombs, the Alexandria library, palaces, the beach, and a few other places. The library was impressive. If you ever seen a picture it is shaped very peculiarly but the meaning of it is pretty interesting. The worship the sun god, rayas, and the library is shaped as a sun to signify the permanence of the library because the sun will always rise and always set. Pretty cool! The inside was really wild, there are thousannndssss of books, the database is incredibly detailed and you can view books for free from the site, and there are small museums inside as well!
The first night in Alexandria I wanted to get overnight tickets to Luxor for the following night when we would be in Cairo but didn’t want to go alone. I asked Dan to come with me since he needed the same ticket but him and a few others insisted we go out for an hour and explore the scene first. I was in no mood to drink, we had a camel and jeep safari thing in the morning that required us to be up by 6am. Anyways, I settled on the notion that the group would definitely come with me to get the tickets. That never happened. We got into a “taxi” with a man named “Happy” who took us to where “all the Americans go”. Worst situation ever, right? He claimed it was 12 minutes away, after 15 we started to get really sketched out but he said it was close. After 30 minutes we said we wanted to go back but he said it was right up the street. 45 minutes later we arrives at a dirt alley. He said it was down the dark dirt alley and to the left. We needed smaller bills to pay Happy so he followed us down the alley. We arrived at Summer Moon Hotel. Outside were two men sitting in chairs who followed behind us into the “hotel” and closed the doors. Inside the wallpaper was peeling off the walls and the reception desk had begun to crumble. This was most definitely not a hotel and all of us were so confused and angry at ourselves. They take us to a door with a huge Tiesto poster on it (like Tiesto makes everything better and more legit?). Inside the door was a room with red lighting (the worst lightening ever, reminds me of hell) and we were the only people there. There was a DJ in the corner, who he was playing for is beyond me. Immediately the “staff” ran up to us and tried to seat us while shaking our hands and welcoming us. I was pretty aggravated, we were 45 minutes from port in some sketchy place that looked like Satans closet and I didn’t even want to drink or anything in the first place! We ended up leaving and Happy drove us all the way back to the port for free. We think that maybe Summer Moon Hotel was one of his friends that he was trying to bring business to and it just totally backfired. By the time we got back the train station was closed and we couldn’t even get tickets.
The other places we visited in Alexandria were the Catacombs of Kom El Shogafa, The National Museum, Qait bey Citadel, Abou El Abbas Mosque, the Archaeological Museum, and the Montazah palace gardens. For lunch we ate traditional bread and sea bass that was actually really good! I haven’t had that much good fish on the trip at all… mainly because I’m on a budget, I’m afraid of getting sick, and the fish elsewhere has been sketch. I’ve been eating a protein bar everyday to make sure I get some kind of protein since I don’t eat meat either. AS for the weather in Egypt, it was not as hot as you are imagining. We went in the off season too. Usually tourists go in December and January, not July/August! It was hot but there was a cool wind that was really satisfying and made the whole journey a lot more bearable.
The next morning we got up super early and boarded a bus to Cairo. Three hours later we arrived. We visited a few smaller pyramids that were found only two months ago. We were the first to actually go inside these pyramids and they were so cool. The colors are still on the walls with hieroglyphics written everywhere, big and small, all telling some kind of story about the person buried in that tomb. We got to climb all the way down into one of the tombs too. It was the craziest crawl ever. You can’t even stand up, you are bent with your back parallel the entire time until you get to the main tomb area. For claustrophobic people this was super hard because the walk ways are tight and everyone is bent over and uncomfortable. After that we went to the most famous pyramids that you see on TV and in textbooks, the pyramids at Giza.
Driving to Giza was really depressing. The area right outside the pyramids is the most impoverished place I have ever seen. Trash everywhere. Children laying in the streets with there heads on piles of garbage like it was a pillow. A small stream flowing through the town is completely filled with garbage and dead animal carcasses. I never have seen anything like this. We passed a young man kicking his little sister repeatedly in the stomach while she laid on the ground. They didn’t seem wrapped up in their poverty at all though. As we passed the children and adults all waved at us and smiled. They believe that the poverty the live in now will be riches in heaven – which is straight out of the Bible too.
Anyways, the pyramids, they were EPIC. I heard the ones in Mexico are BIGGER then these and it’s hard to believe because these were so much bigger then I thought they were going to be. Desert everywhere then out of no where comes three magnificent structures, BUILT BY MAN. I can not fathom what it was like to build these, or even watch them be built. The Egyptians were (excuse my language) bad ass! I still can’t absorb everywhere from there. I wrote a paper for my global studies class on the conditioning and sensitization people have to where they live that takes away from it. I am so conditioned to only learned about these places on TV and textbooks that I feel like it wasn’t real. I don’t feel like I was there at all. I hate that. On the other hand, there were kids and adults everywhere outside the pyramids scheming you. The obviously see these pyramids daily, and it begins to have no meaning or special “wow-factor” anymore to them. They probably wouldn’t care if they never saw them again. It unfortunate.
Right next to the Giza Pyramids is the Sphinx. A lot smaller then I thought it would be but still fascinating. A little Egyptian boy took pictures of the Sphinx kissing me, kissing my butt, kissing my hand, me kissing the sphinx, and one of me putting my sunglasses on the it. They look so funny! It almost looks as if they are photo shopped. All the hassling of vendors at these places took away from the actual awesome-ness of it. I could barely grasp the fact that I was there and all I wanted to do was concentrate and try to process it and I kept having to say “no thank you” every two minutes. I can’t imagine what this place is like during the tourist season.
After that we visited Imhotep Museum and Saqqara.. The Saqqara pyramid was discovered not too long ago. The found only the very top of it coming up from the sand and kept digging…there came Saqqara. Imagine how many pyramids are all over the desert that haven’t be discovered yet!? The desert is so vast that there is probably TONS of them. Our tour guide said there is so much hidden treasure over there and new pyramids and tombs are discovered quite often. Saqqara is different from Giza in that the pyramid is like huge steps instead of flat. It was really awesome.
A few years ago a kid on Semester at Sea paid the pyramid guards some money to climb the Giza Pyramids and ended up dying. See what money can get you? ANYTHING OVER HERE. A few people climbed the pyramids this year and they’re fine. The stones are really old which makes it really risky because they will crumble out of no where and there really is no place to catch yourself. Some of them looked pretty easy to climb though and it I had enough time I would have liked to try.
After all the sights we had a Jeep Safari through the desert which was basically the coolest sand dune off-roading ever. I was surprised that we didn’t flip. About 10 Jeeps were all driving with SAS’ers inside, racing one another, blasting Egyptian rock music, and screaming. It was a blast! At the end of the safari they brought us to our camels. Camels are a whole lot bigger then expected. My camels name was Obama, of course, because Egyptians love Obama. Dan’s camel was Whiskey. Jordans camel was Michael Jackson. The camel ride was really relaxing after a long day of sight seeing. I wish I could ride camels more often, it was really a great time and they looked so pimped out in there colorful head gear and saddles.
We stayed in a hotel in Cairo for two nights because the Luxor trains were filled for two days. The city of Cairo is busy, kind of smelly, and dirty. The bazaar in Cairo had some interesting things for sale. Papyrus is everywhere and actually really awesome to look at with original art work on it. Sam and I wondered off and did our own thing in the bazaar. We met some really cool Egyptian men that drank orange soda with us and explained more of there culture, specifically the Muslim religion. A really sweet Egyptian man sold his wheelchair to Sam for 50pounds, from them on traveling with Sam became easier for us and her! It was a blessing! Sam and I stayed in that night instead of doing the Nile Cruise because we were beat from a day of trekking. Our hotel was pretty terrible. We had to choose between a bathroom or air-condition. We chose a bathroom but it was a hard choice. Our friends left the second night and went to Sham el Sheik. Sham el Sheik is the number one party place in the world they say but I really didn’t have the funds to do that kind of traveling to the Sinai Peninsula even though I would have loved too. I really wanted to backpack Mt. Sinai but the school discouraged travel to there because of threats from Israel. I heard that the hike is one of the coolest and if you start around 3am you’ll get to see sunrise form the top which is out of this world. Apparently some man at the top rents out mattresses and blankets to watch the sunrise on? That sounds not only disgusting but super weird. We went to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo which was straight out of 1970. Amazing pieces of history just out in the open or behind a thin piece of glass. There were no security cameras or anything. It was the most old school museum of the entire trip.
We got a train back to Alexandria after two days of roughing it in dirty Cairo. The train wasn’t too bad. We paid five extra bucks for first class and the seats were really nice. There was a young boy with Downs Syndrome sitting on the other side of Sam and I and we had so much fun with him the entire trip to Alex. He was so cute and so shy it was the best. I wanted to take him home.
It’s day three on the sea since Egypt now. In two days we will be in Morocco! Our last port! I’m a little bummed out because all my friends got a villa in Marrakech for the week but I’m doing a trip the whole time. My trip sounds really amazing though, I just wish I knew people going on it with me! I’m going to have to meet new friends all at the last port. My itinerary in Morocco is as follows:
Day 1: From Casablanca to Marrakech. Dinner in the medina with an Arabo-anadalucian orchestra and belly dancer show.
Day 2: Marrakech to Tachbibt where I hike 3 hours through the dry but cultivated landscape to the village of Ait Zitoun and stay in a local villagers house.
Day 3: A full day hike to Ait Hamed (4-5 hours) down valleys and up mountains with fabulous views of the Haouz plain and Lake Lalla Tazerkount. We walk through the pine forests and follow the river to Ait Hamed where we stay in another gite with a villager.
Day 4: Walk through the traditional villages in the valley of Amizmiz with well kept gardens upon desert and verdant areas. Mountainsides changing color due to the rich and varied mineral contents. Return to Marrakech for lunch then back to Casablanca.
This trip is going to be a much different experience for me. I will be in the local Berber villages, living and learning, the entire time. There will not be trains and taxis like everywhere else I have been. I’m really excited for this.
Again, Sorry this post was so delayed! These five days at sea are packed with events and work! We had the Sea Olympics the first day at sea and our team won! This means we get off the ship first in Norfolk, VA and also we had a party in the fancy teacher lounge last night which was fun. I’ve had two tests and three papers to do too! It’s none stop over here. I’m looking forward to getting back on my own schedule at school and not being so rushed anymore. I can’t wait to see everyone, especially Brewster!
I’ll update after Morocco, be checking your mailboxes – you may have gotten one of the postcards sent from Egypt! (Egypts post cards look ancient by the way… they all are in terrible condition and look super fake. My apologies.)