Sunday, January 9, 2011

Egypt - Christmas 2010

Our trip to Egypt (Dec 19th - Jan 3rd) was fantastic!!

We started in Cairo - a city of 23 million. It was a culture shock for us to come from nice, quiet Zambia to this LOUD, crowded city with a population almost double all of Zambia! Cars honking continuously, the 5 times a day call to prayer, radios blaring, people continuously asking: "taxi?" "scarf?" "papyrus?" "come into my shop" "eat at my restaurant" ... and on and on... the phrase "la'a shukran" (no thank you) came in very handy.

One of the most hilarious things I read about was how to cross the streets. Pedestrians don't have the right of way, so to get across multiple lanes, we used an Egyptian as a buffer (he/she would take the hit first!) and would cross lane by lane - we could never made it across all four lanes at once! - with the Egyptian on the oncoming car side.

Somehow everyone we met had a brother/cousin/uncle/father, etc. who had a shop, and could we just stop in for a few minutes? No obligation to buy, of course. How can you say no without being rude (of course, in the end, it didn't really matter what we said or did, they acted very hurt that we didn't buy anything). And, naturally, the shops had NOTHING we would ever want to buy anyway!

Oh - and the baksheesh. Everywhere, everyone wants baksheesh - a tip. To use the bathroom, we paid. We were even hiking and we passed a lady who called out "baksheesh!" - and she didn't do anything to deserve it.

Peter is growing his hair out (life is too short to battle this one!) - and random people loved touching his hair. He wanted to say "one dollah!!" to have them touch his hair, but no one was willing to pay.

All that said, we LOVED the change in culture and being in the city! First stop: Egyptian Museum, then on to Giza -pyramids and sphinx. the Citadel and the major market in the city.

The kids took their first train ride - an overnight 12 hour train ride to Aswan at the southern end of the Nile. It was a fun adventure!

Aswan was the most beautiful city on the Nile and the felucca ride (sail boat) was a treat. The wind died down on our way back - and we had to get a tow from a motor boat.

Aswan is famous on it's own, but it's also the launching point to get to Abu Simbel - an amazing monument to Ramses II - buried mostly under sand for hundreds of years. To go there, you need to be part of a bus/taxi convoy which leads at specific times. Ours left at 4am, which meant we were up at 2:45 to get to the departure site. Abu Simbel was an amazing site - and the fact that it was moved from one location to another was even more phenomenal.

Luxor was our next stop - home to many tombs and temples... the most famous area being the Valley of the Kings (perhaps a bit over-rated). Lots of tombs, temples and museums... FANTASTIC sights, beautiful temples with intricate carvings on granite - and paint still covering parts of the tombs, 3-4,000 years later.

Next onto the Sinai Peninsula - snorkeling and hiking to the top of Mt. Sinai. The ocean was beautiful - although a bit chilly - and being one with Moses on Mt. Sinai was pertty cool. How he climbed up there - and climbed down carrying the 10 commandments on the stone tablets is a miracle.

Oh, and the food was great - babaganoush, kofta, tahini, hummus, lemon juice, pita, fish...oh, and we came across our first Mc Donald's and Starbucks in we made the pilgrimage.

Phrases we heard all the time: "where you from?" "America?" "Obama!" "America? But you look like you from_____" - fill in the blank with an Asian country "Mustache" (they would call out as John walked by - they were quite envious of the bushiness of his mustache), "you want to buy..." "only one dollah" "I don't know what you want, but I have it" (that was our favorite line).

Great memories for our family - and really trying to share the joy and value of experience (instead of "stuff") with our kids.

Happy New Year!

Here's a link to our photos: