Sinai, Luxor and Cairo: Traveling Egypt
The Sinai Peninsula
I arrived in Egypt via the Jordan border at the city of Aquaba, and was soon on my to Dahab, a lovely town located on the coast of the gulf of Aquaba in the Sinai Peninsula. One word describes Dahab: Paradisal. And to no surprise, my first intention of only two days here has turned into six, as I have been practically hypnotized by its idyllic, tranquil vibe, and have spent many an hour on pillows by the water side, sipping on milkshakes and simply staring into the distance. It is places like these though, that remind me how strangely I am wired, as the inactivity of relaxation inevitably leads to depression, and I am delighted, though hesitant, to leave. It hasn't all been lethargy though. My first true experience of snorkeling happened here, at the blue hole, an 80 metre deep cavern off the coast of Dahab. surrounded by massive reefs of coral and home to aquatic creatures I have only seen on television. Schools of electric blue and silver, angel, parrot and blowfish, sea urchins and spindly eels...the reefs are alive with animated colors, an aesthetically magical world just below the surface.
A Hot Hike up the Mountain of Moses
A hike up Mt. Sinai reminded me just how difficult hiking can be after four days of vegetation, and planted in me a new respect for Moses. Wandering here for 40 years is not appealing. It is hot, shadeless, and completely devoid of moisture and life. I had the pleasure of being accompanied by Sindre, a Norwegian who is poised to set a Guinness world record for ascending the highest peaks in every European country in the shortest amount of time. Needless to say, hiking with him was a somewhat humbling experience, and entertaining, as being within the shadow of Gebel Musa invariably leads one to discussions of a theological nature, and eventually to a tiring bout of negotiations with taxi drivers for the best price back to Dahab.
Crossing from Sinai in to the mainland
After an exhausting marathon of transportation, from trains to ferries, to buses, to cabs, I arrived in Luxor, and it has been fabulous. This is, after all, my first exposure to what I consider "true" Egypt. It is a hot, hazy place chock-full of palm trees and awe-invoking temples. This was the capital city of Ancient Egypt during the 11th and 18th dynasties, when it was know as Thebes, and boy, it shows. Luxor, Karnak and Medinet Habu were by far the most impressive temples I saw. From top to bottom almost every square inch was inscribed with hieroglyphs. Towering obelisks pierce the sky, accompanied by the collosal icons of pharoahs long past, wearing faces of menacing solidity.
A sunset felucca ride was another highlight of Luxor. A stroll on Banana Island, assaulted by the gurgling cackles of Ibises and strong scents of greenery in full bloom invoked memories of my youth. Well, not so much the cackling Ibises, but the smells brought back the springtimes of my childhood. It took a while to place it, but this exotically charming island smelled a lot like dandelions. I had evidentally forgotten just how good they smell. A reminder, I suppose, to stop and smell the roses, or dandelions or whatever flower may come acrosse my path. Five Egyptian pounds gains entry to the island, plus a bunch of bananas that, despite my aversion to the fruit, I had to try. After having exhausted a good portion of possibilities in Luxor, a sleeper train, with an extremely accomodating staff transported me to Cairo. Just don't eat the lamb, my stomache has yet to forgive me.
When in Rome...
As I have heard from numerous travelers heading north from there, Cairo is not for the faint of heart. The traffic, the dust, the noise and the smog, plus the inumerable touts, make this a mind-blowing (or numbing) metropolis. I am still amazed that after three cab rides through the city, I have yet to see an accident. Lanes are mere options. Driver move fast, take any inch of roadway they can get, and repeatedly come within inches of pedestrians, horses, goats, camels, donkeys, cats and, of course, other cars. And yet, it works. There is a method to the madness, and who can beat a 20km taxi ride for five bucks? However, nothing cheap comes without a struggle. While haggling over prices can be fun, it is also exhausting. My visit to the Cairo Museum (which hosts a phenomenal collection by the way) was followed by a non-stop hassle walk through Khan Al-Kalili, the Great Bazaar. The nice thing about Egyptians though, is their stellar sense of humor and eagerness to help. The hassling can get old, sure, but thankfully they hardly ever take it too seriously, and jokes, handshakes, and offers of tea and cigarettes inevitably accompany even the most eager touts.