Egypt (November 22, 2009)

Egypt (both continentally and for our trip) was divided into two parts. In the Sinai we enjoyed some relaxing and judeo-christian sites, while the remainder of our time in Egypt was dedicated to hardcore ancient Egyptian site seeing. We’ve divided our blog entry along slightly different lines to appeal to our different audiences (we’ve done some demographic research on our readers): culture and history. Those more generally interested in the amusing side of our cultural experiences can skip the first section below about our visits to the historical sites in Egypt.

History/Sites

 The Sinai provided nice closure on our exploration of religious sites and cultures that Israel embodies: visiting the oldest monastery in the world (St. Catherine’s monastery, which was actually rather a snooze) and climbing Mt. Sinai at sunset, which was very cool (literally and figuratively). 

After the Sinai, we met up with Jed’s father for a week of vacation from our honeymoon (no travel logistics!) in Cairo. The pyramids were outstanding, just as we’d dreamed of them and amusingly surrounded by the suburbs on two sides (nothing like driving down the street and seeing a pyramid behind the gas station.)

While the pyramids and the Sphinx are certainly in the category of “so popular it is a tourist cliché”, they are justifiably fabulous sites. It is hard not to be wowed by the view of the sun setting behind the Sphinx and the pyramids. However, equally memorable were the much less talked about inside of pharaohs’ tombs--the detail and coloring of the carvings were exquisite. It was breathtaking to see such ancient things in such good shape that they could have been painted yesterday. Especially of note were the 3,000 year-old carvings with perfect details in Sakarra and vibrant colors in the tombs in the Valley of the Kings.

Meg did question at multiple times whether the building of such structures was an efficient use of the Egyptian’s time and resources (especially given there were things like famine and drought to worry about.) However, she still was able to very much appreciate the magnitude and beauty of the sites

Following Cairo, we took a wonderful cruise down the Nile (well, up really since the Nile flows south to north), stopping along the way at various towns and temples. One of the highlights was watching the rhythms of life on the Nile, many of which are unchanged over thousands of years. It brought history books to life to see the boundaries between the fertile green of the Nile irrigated and the surrounding barren desert, which seems to go on until the horizon.

 While temples start to look the same after a while, a couple were of particular interest. In Luxor and Karnak, we liked the enormous columns of a nearly modern scale with papyrus bud and flower tops, a good contrast to the classical columns of Roman and Greek temples elsewhere on our trip. In the Abu Simbel the giant rock-carved temple exterior rivaled Petra while the vast interior of rooms filled with carvings surpassed the (basically non-existent) interiors in Petra.

Cultural

While visiting the modern capital of Cairo, we took a quick trip to the capital of ancient Egypt: Memphis! And what would a trip to Memphis be without a marriage proposal. In a recreation of the dramatic proposal at Graceland, Jed proposed again, this time in the presence of a slightly different king (less style but possibly more soul). Even with the first time under her belt, it still took a couple of tries for Meg to say yes (perhaps less surprise and more consideration this time around?). 

On our first night in Cairo, we experienced the vibrancy of the City as we were driving through the streets as everyone celebrated Egypt’s victory of over Algeria with a last minute goal to force a playoff for a World Cup birth (which Egypt later lost causing a minor diplomatic crisis in the region as the Egyptian Ambassador was recalled from Algiers). It was like no other celebration, we’ve ever seen (and Jed has been several Yankees victory parades) though next time we might not try to take a cab through it- as there were several scary moments when a mob was rocking the car back and forth (Meg thinks it is pretty outrageous, and self-centered, that Jed compares the Yankees with the Egyptian national soccer team trying to qualify for the World Cup).

At every major tourist site in the country there are metal detectors but in many cases they weren’t on and in the places that they were on all the tourists were just waived through as the machines beeped away. It was later explained to us that “they only turn them on after there is an incident”- perhaps symptomatic of the Egyptian problem solving approach (we’ll wait for the problem then we will solve it, no need to worry about trying to prevent a problem that may never come)? Yet there was a large police presence all over the country, with tight controls and frequent check points; many of the officials at these checkpoints were not in uniform (aside from the gun tucked in their back pocket).  A general rule we formulated is that when border officials aren’t wearing uniforms that isn’t an encouraging sign about bureaucratic mechanisms of the country (though, to be fair we didn’t have any problems of this nature in Egypt).

 Finally, a note on traffic and translations. While much is made of the traffic in Cairo; it is true that crossing the street can often be a fun challenge (a man standing on a traffic median with us suggested that closing your eyes while crossing was the best strategy), but the volume of traffic itself isn’t much different than Midtown Manhattan and the (lack of) observance of traffic rules very similar to any major Latin American capital. As for the English translation, it was amusing in both spelling (too many examples to give) and phraseology (the High Dam at Aswan as “The Egyptian challenge against the silent nature”). The more we travel, the more Jed thinks he should open an English translation consulting business (perhaps paid on a commission based on the number of errors prevented).