The Course of The Nile
Egypt is probably the original tourist destination, and the Ancient Greeks put the Pyramids on their "must-see" list of Ancient Wonders 2,000 years ago. When the organised-tour business was created by Thomas Cook, Egypt was his first package tour. And, breaking with our rule of "no tours", we booked into a tour in Egypt. It did not disappoint.
We started in Cairo, and had a day before the tour began. The climate was a bit of a shock; we were in Iceland a couple of weeks before, and now somewhere with 35 degree days. Our hotel room had an inviting view over the pool. Unfortunately, it was the hotel next door. So, we headed outside.
And promptly met a local who was eager to befriend us. At this stage we were easy marks, rather than seasoned travellers, and followed him all the way to what turned out to be his cousin's papyrus shop. Thousands of years of trade in tourists hasn't been wasted in refining Egyptian sales techniques. Eventually we learned how to tactfully escape from them, but we never could spot the difference betweeen a local happy-to-help-out and one happy-to-help-themselves to the tourist wallet. But we also never bought any papyrus.
When the tour began, we discovered that half the group was Australian, so unsurprisingly everyone got on fine. Our first destination was the Pyramids and the Sphynx. They are in remarkably good condition, and the only reason they look as weathered as they do is the effect of centuries of people taking bits away. Initially it was hard to comprehend that we were at *the* Pyramids, and it took an hour or two for it to sink in that this was much more than a movie set. Of course, as we were leaving, we came across a film crew!
We caught the first-class overnight train to Luxor, then checked straight into our Nile-side cabins on the Melody cruise ship. Cruising along the Nile was both awesome and relaxing. Mostly the banks of the Nile were occupied with the sort of agriculture that has been there for millennia, and watching people living that life made you feel a strong sense of timelessness. Then occassionally, the sight of an ancient temple would come into view. It was easy on the eye and on the soul, and was not hurt by the proximity of the onboard bar.
But it wasn't all champagne cocktails - our tour guide, Sandra, regularly had us woken before dawn so that we could ride donkeys across the desert or travel camel-convoy to ancient ruins. One excursion took us to the Valley Of The Kings, where we explored four of the tombs, including Tutankhamen's. We'd already seen Tut's tomb's contents, as half of the Cairo Museum is stuff from this one tomb. If anything shows the lost wealth of the Pharaohs, it's that Tutankhamen was pretty insignificant in the scheme of things.
Finally, the boat brought us to Aswan - a rather idyllic destination. Alas, Sandra woke us at 2am to catch a bus to Abu Simbel. It was worth it to see these massive temples constructed by Rameses II, that were relocated by a UNESCO team forty years ago. If they hadn't moved them, they would've vanished beneath the waters of Lake Nasser - the effects of the Aswan High Dam that also flooded all of Nubia. Given that Nubia was the historical enemy of Pharaonic Egypt, it's ironic that it was destroyed by the modern Egypt.
Returning to Cairo by train, then onto London by plane brought our May holidays to an end. It was an amazing holiday to finish on!
- 10th July 2005