The Excellent Adventure to Egypt is far too long to put into one post, so this will have to happen in installments. So with that in mind, I bring you…Egypt Egypt, Part I.
Last weekend, I was chatting with the coffee shop guys about what we all did over Passover break. (Yes, I get coffee often enough to know all the staffers at both of the establishments that I frequent. Yes, I have a raging addiction to coffee. And no, it’s not crack, so hold the comments about caffeine dependency.) When I said I’d gone to Egypt–and I always find the irony of saying “I went to Egypt during Passover” to be hilarious–he asked if I’d only been in the Sinai.
“No,” I said, “we went to Cairo and down the river to Luxor, and then back up through the Sinai.”
“Oh!” He replied, clearly impressed, “You went to Egypt Egypt!”
And oh man, did we go to Egypt Egypt.
After getting a 7 a.m. bus to Eilat, the Israeli port city on the Red Sea, my roommate Amanda and our friend Audra and I crossed the border and quickly fenagled a sherut to Cairo. The Sinai Peninsula is rocky, mountainous, and dry–it reminds me of the pictures I’ve seen of Afghanistan, with sharp, rocky peaks jutting up as far as the eye can see. As we wound through the narrow, dangerously-close-to-hitting-oncoming-traffic roads, our Bedouin driver listened to recordings of the Qu’ran for a few hours before informing me in Arabic that he had a toothache and could really use some painkillers if I happened to have any. For those of you who know me well, I’m a one-woman stockpile of Advil (years of running has ruined my knees), Tums (’cause everyone can use some calcium and a calmer stomach), and Halls vitamin C drops (’cause my immune system likes to fail me when I need it most). I pulled out my bag of Target brand ibuprofen, handed him two tablets, and watched as the chewed them. Let me repeat that–he chewed them. No wonder he had a toothache. Nonetheless, there I was, sharing my Advil with a Bedouin guy in the middle of the desert. Ain’t that something.
It started raining soon after that, and before long, the roads were washed out and barely passable. Considering that we were in a ghetto jet of a van–circa 19-before-my-parents-ever-even-met-each-other (and since I’m 25, that can give you a rough estimate)–which sat about a foot higher than the road, our toothachy Bedouin at first refused to try and drive through the water. “So help me God, we’re getting to Cairo tonight,” I muttered under my breath before egging him on to at least try to drive through the mini-flood. We argued for a minute, before a car with an undercarriage even lower than ours managed to navigate the water. “See? They did it, so we’ll be fine,” I said. We had to do this a few more times before we got though it all, but managed to make it to Cairo in one piece. (Lesson #86 of living in the Middle East: traveling, and driving in particular, is always a long string of near death experiences. You spend the duration of your time being thisclose to hearing a booming voice from above yell “game over!” Eventually you accept that what you’re doing is unfathomably dangerous, and that aside from holding on tight, there’s nothing you can do about it.)
Cairo was amazing, complete with traffic that follows no rules, regularly hits pedestrians, and appears to consist entirely of cars made in 1970. As Audra observed, Egypt must’ve had it’s industrial revolution in the early 70’s, and it hasn’t progressed since then. Our hostel was on the main thoroughfare in Cairo, and had a fantastic view. When we got up the next morning, we sloppily fastened our chadors (headscarves) to our heads in an effort to blend in–I figured that, given Egypt’s terrorism problem over the last few years, it’d be good to blend in as much as possible.
Looking like wannabe-locals, we hit up the pyramids. We were the first ones there, thankfully, since it was ungodly hot and crowded within a few hours. We went into both the first and second pyramids, both of which felt like they were straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. In order to get into the burial chambers, you have to climb through long, narrow, barely lit tunnels—we’re talking 3 feet high by 3 feet wide, 60 degree incline, damn-near crawling and hardly able to see, thanking my lucky stars for the soccer legs and gym membership that enable me to fly up to the top, passing wheezing tourists who seem perplexed by a girl in a headscarf who leaves them in the dust.
Once we’d seen the pyramids, we went to hike around some of the old burial grounds that sit between the sphinx and the pyramids themselves. While schlepping around in what is basically an archaeological wonderland (however, there’s so much of this stuff that sites like this are neglected because they don’t have valuable artifacts), we found a tomb that had two perfectly-preserved hieroglyphic carvings on the wall. “Omigod!” Cried Audra as Amanda and I, oblivious to the carvings, hoisted ourselves up into the chamber, “there’s a man on the wall!” Being that a) this was, after all, an ancient burial tomb, and b) I’m the owner of a highly overactive imagination, my heart flip-flopped when she said this. Turning slowly to the wall she was pointing at, envisioning horror movie scenes starring the three of us and an angry now-undead mummy, I was happy to see that we were actually dealing with a wall carving. Insert sigh of relief here.
Being that this post is now obscenely long, I’ll leave you in suspense…more to come in Part II!