My time in Egypt is somewhat thankfully coming to an end. So is my time on the road ending, which I can’t say I am too disappointed about. Even though I’ve seen and done a lot, the road is a tiring place to be. It is always interesting to see people’s expression when I say how long I’ve been traveling. Its even more interesting to try to get them to understand why I am sick of it. Now though, after nearly 4 months away from Slick, I am finished with another major portion of the trip and I can’t wait to get back to sailing.

Anyway, I finished my time in Dahab with a couple of dives that were really fantastic. I went on a three dive day out to a very famous wreck, the Thistlegorm. This is a British supply ship that was sunk in WWII while waiting to go through the Suez Canal. We woke up early and took a bus to Sharm al Schek and then a four hour boat ride out to the site. The Wreck sits about 75-90 feet down and the water is quite clear. In fact you can see it from the surface. When you arrive a diver goes down and ties the dive boat to the wreck and then unties when you leave – never seen that before. The first dive was a swim around the outside. We entered the water and descended down the mooring line to the deck of the ship. This is the first time I have ever seen a train and a tank underwater, also finally a ship with some guns on it. The prop is still intact as is the majority of the cargo. The second dive was a little more interesting. We penetrated the ship and swam through the holds looking at the cargo. The ship was full of trucks and motorcycles as well as some airplane wings and guns. I can see why this is one of the most famous wreck dives in the world.

On the way back we stopped at Shark and Jolanda Reef in the Ras Mohamad National Park. This is another very famous dive. The reef here has some fantastic coral diversity and no end of giant moray eels. On top of that, there is another wreck here, but it isn’t as interesting as the Thistlegorm. What is interesting though is that it was carrying a cargo of toilets. So when it broke up on the reef it spilled thousands of toilets about. These are now full of sea life and make for some silly diving. Another new thing underwater I guess. The dive finished but I had to wait before surfacing as my computer thought I needed to be penalized for staying underwater so deep and long on the first two dives. So while the rest of the dive group was waiting on the surface I had to sit down at 20 feet and wait 4 minutes, Oops. We returned back to Sharm and then waited a few hours before going over the mountains. The elevation was high enough that we had to let our nitrogen levels in our blood come down so we didn’t have any problems.

When I was all set to leave Dahab, there was a bus bombing in Taba, about an hour and a half to the North. The bus was a Korean tour group that was heading into Israel after visiting a monastery and Mt. Sinai. The terrorists announced they were starting a campaign against the tourist infrastructure in order to damage the income of the government. This was particularly worrying as I was taking a bus to Cairo, 12 hours after the attack. The bus ride was 10 hours long but fortunately was uneventful, except for getting searched by bomb dogs when crossing the Suez. This was a welcome inspection, for a change.

Cairo is a very dirty town. I can’t say I liked it much. The traffic is some of the worst I have ever seen and it takes hours to get anywhere. After quiet Dahab, trying to sleep to the constant honking outside the window was nearly impossible. I met a guy at the hostel though and we decided to make some tours together. In the morning the plan was to go to the museum but instead we got hijacked by a time-bandit. I thought it might be interesting to hear about the revolution and such from a young person who spoke English well. As soon as I brought it up though he told me his brother was killed on the first day and he didn’t want to talk about it. We ended up spending 4 hours with him and he wanted us to purchase alcohol at the duty free shop. We did and he paid us, but it was sort of a weird experience. He then took us through the busy streets to the train station and we got our tickets to Luxor. We were trying to figure out if he had a scam of some sort in mind but he was making a lot of effort. We then stopped by his studio for some tea and bought some small things but nothing worth the hours he was taking. Then he disappeared. I guess to be fair, he was smoking hash the whole time, even though it was like 9 in the morning, so maybe this is what local artists do, get high and lead tourists about. We left, a bit confused and went to the Egypt Museum.

The Egypt museum could be really interesting. Unfortunately it is a lot like walking through a warehouse of antiquities. It is sort of like the Costco experience but for museums. I guess there as everything you would expect, large statues, little scarabs, mummies and sarcophagi about. Much of the stuff though was still in crates or sitting on pallets. It was strange but well worth the walk through. Just outside the museum though is Tahir square, site of all the protests. So there are several tanks and APCs guarding the museum and ready to discipline the square at a moment’s notice. Towering above the museum are the remains of the former Mubarak government headquarters. Its burned to bits.

The next day was spent making a tour of the west side of the Nile, the dead side in ancient Egypt. The first stop was the oldest known pyramid in the world. Its located in Dacha and is stepped in nature. Its pretty interesting to walk around the site and there is only a little bit of harassment by the locals to get you to buy things. Not so bad and I looked forward to the rest of the day. The next stop was the Red Pyramid. On this one we actually got to go inside. We climbed about a quarter of the way up to a narrow entrance and then 120 or so feet down to the middle of the inside. The tunnel was maybe 3 feet by 4 feet and long and sloped. Inside was not so interesting, just a couple of empty vaulted rooms and it smelled like ammonia. It was interesting though to think that you were in the middle of the inside of the third largest pyramid. Getting out was a little bit of a tough climb up the tunnel. Outside we could see the bent pyramid, named so because the architect made a mistake and had to change the angles. On the way back to Giza we stopped at Memphis, the capital of ancient Egypt and then a papyrus museum. Both were interesting but the real crown of the day was the final stop at the Great Pyramids.

The guy I was making the tour with insisted on taking a camel ride at the site in Giza. The driver took us to, I’m sure, his uncle’s place. Anyway, the camel rides were close to US$100 so I wasn’t interested. My friend was though and signed up. The uncle then negotiated the price with me down quite a bit and I decided to go. It was strange that he did this in front of my tour-mate. Anyway, we ended up taking one camel and one horse on a 3 hour tour. Lucky me, the horse was a bit temperamental. Also I haven’t ridden a horse since I was like, I dunno, 10. I don’t think it liked me much as it would frequently buck and jump around, this resulted in me losing my driving privileges and having the reigns take by the boy escorting us. How humiliating. The camel on the other hand was another experience. They are really tall, and smell, and gurgle a lot. Anyway, I think that might be the most touristy thing I’ve done the entire trip but it was fun. We also got to climb one of the smaller pyramids which I don’t think was allowed but no one was around to care. Except a beduin who wanted a little bribe, we didn’t give it to him, but he tried to take some backsheesh to let us climb one of the great ones. We didn’t. The pyramids did not disappoint me and I am glad I got to see them. They were probably the last major ancient site that I wanted to see, so now I am pretty much finished with going out of my way to see stacked rocks.

Or am I? after sitting in traffic for nearly 3 hours to get back to the hostel, we got our bags and boarded a night train to Luxor. And what’s in Luxor? More stacked rocks in the form of the Valley of the Kings and several embalming temples. On the first day we went to the small, but much nicer, Luxor Museum. This one is actually like a museum complete with words describing what you are seeing. The next stop was the very impressive Temple of Karnak. This place is huge and has the largest known hypostyle in the world. A hypostyle being a room full of columns. The columns were enormous and used to support a roof, I think. It was impressive to walk around them, though and the rest of the temple was nice too. Lots of enormous statues of pharaohs and gods and obelisks. Rows of sphinxes seemed to line everything and for the most part, the entire place was empty. That evening we walked through the Luxor Temple. It was not near as impressive but was lit up at night which made it much more interesting. The place we are staying, Bob Marley’s, is great too, the owners are very friendly and helpful and most importantly, do there best to eliminate all the BS of traveling in Egypt.

It seemed that riding camels at the Great Pyramids was not enough of a tourist activity so we decided to take an early morning hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings. OK the real reason for this was that its really cheap to do here and I’ve never been in a hot air balloon. One of the reasons its so cheap though is apparently they crash all the time with a few tourist being killed every other year or if not killed at least stuck to the top of a cell phone tower. So even though it was uneventful, there was an element of danger involved, especially since our balloon was recycled from Alaska. It was pleasant anyway and there were no problems. The remainder of the day we went to the Valley of the Kings to see the ancient tombs, none of which were that impressive except that they are really old. The embalming temples on the other hand were quite amazing. The carvings, hieroglyphics and coloring are impressive, but more impressive is the shear size of everything, especially for being three thousand years old.

We decided to book a taxi to take us to Aswan to see the last major sites along the Nile. It was a long ride down through the narrow green area along the river. There seemed to be an endless amount of speed bumps and traffic jams. The traffic jams I am a little confused by since no one has a job so I don’t know where they are all going. Anyway, the first stop was a temple that still had a roof, then a long ride to Aswan for lunch and the temple of Phelae. This one was moved when the lower Aswan Dam was constructed and you have to take a boat out to the island. When we purchased the tickets they told us the boat ride was not included and we asked them how much it was. No one would tell us, and when we reached the docks the bullshit really started. There is a Nubian mafia that runs the boating service and they wanted an exorbitant amount to take us the five minutes out to the island. We argued and haggled and were about to go try to get a refund for our tickets when a Coptic Christian Woman’s Group invited us onto their boat. I think the dock exploded in screaming Nubians and after lots of screaming in Arabic by the ladies we got a ride for 25 Egyptian Pounds each, about $3.50, only twice the local rate instead of ten times. The temple was pretty cool the way it sat on the water, but by now we were sick of seeing temples. The last stop of the day was to see a rock quarry that still had things that were in the works but not finished for some reason, the most interesting of which was an unfinished obelisk.

The final stop on our two day tour and my 4 months backpacking was the great temple of Abu Simbal. This is another three and a half hours away from Aswan, 40 km north of the Sudanese border. For some reason I am still not sure of, we had to wake up at 2:30 am and then meet a police escorted caravan to the site, which left finally around 4am. I was sleeping in the front seat of our car as we screamed across the Nubian desert in the early hours of the morning, I would occasionally wake up and see the dunes going by and wonder why our driver refused to use the headlights. No one uses headlights here. I suppose this was OK, because even at 90 miles per hour we didn’t hit anything and the road is pretty straight so the chances of driving off it are slim. Unless your driver starts falling asleep, which I think he might have been doing. This kept me awake the rest of the way.

The actual site of Abu Simbal is really incredible. It was moved when the Upper Aswan Dam was made. The site was constructed by the megalomaniac Ramses II and shows how he is equal to the gods, and is a god. The more interesting thing though is the treatment of his favorite wife, Nefertari. Here she is shown often as an equal to him, where most places the wife never comes up past a pharaoh’s knees. There is a separate temple for her and the insides are quite impressive, although she is shown in a see through neglige in almost all the carvings. The site was far away and there was a lot of bullshit to get there, but in the end it was worth it.

Until we tried to come back to Luxor. We had to wait around for the caravan to be ready and then our driver thought it better to text than drive. We later tried to take a highway that would have been fast but the police refused to let us on, again for some reason I am still not sure of. They said it was because I was American and the road is not for tourists (apparently it is OK for the Australian and the Brazilian in the car though) but I think the real reason is that our backsheesh was not big enough. In any case the ride back was an excruciating 7 hours or so complete with speed bumps, an overturned sugar cane truck and a stuck train blocking the road. The driver honked at every woman he saw and texted and texted. When it was dark he still didn’t turn on his lights and hit several potholes and things along the way. Exhausted we made it back to Luxor though and I decided to take the last two days to rest before heading back to turkey.

The whole reason to come to Egypt when I did was that I didn’t want to fight tourist at major sites and I wasn’t let down. Along with no tourists though comes with everyone who relies on tourism trying to sell you things and rip you off. I guess this is to be expected anywhere but here it is really bad. The salesmen are arrogant and rude and sometimes people will just walk up and ask you for a tip. A tip for what? Existing or something, I don’t know. I haven’t seen this much bullshit since Jamaica or Belize. Combined this with the speed-bumps, constant traffic and honking and a strange lack of shower curtains (I hate shower curtains, but I hate wet floors and toilets even more) and Egypt becomes a tiring place to travel. They also have some strange marital practices here and I think more than once I was in danger of getting married without knowing it. Or at least that was what I was warned of. This place also has the most rampant sexual harassment I have ever seen and no one cares – about anything. Oh, and just yesterday, Egypt no longer has a government. I also caught up on all the pictures from the last few months. Anyway, I am flying back to Turkey tomorrow and then will be in Marmaris a couple days later. I’m looking forward to getting back to Slick and keeping my hands and mind busy. Once she is ready it will be time to sail, only a little sailing though – 12,000 or so more miles back to Boston.