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EGYPT

Trip report: millennial monuments, deserts, rabbit-shaped rocks and falafels
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EGYPT: PHOTOS AND TRIP REPORT

Here below some of the most fascinating photos from Egypt. Together with the photogallery, you will find a funny and interesting trip report full of info and anecdotes describing the whole travel itinerary. If you haven't read them yet, check out all travel info and precise itinerary here: www.wildtrips.net/egypt.htm.

Luxor
Luxor. View form Beit Sabee hotel.

EGYPT TRIP REPORT AND PHOTOS

Christmas was coming, also in that 2009, and I was struck by the idea of spending my holidays in Egypt. Such desire didn't grow while thinking about the pyramids or the Red Sea: it was a picture of the White Desert to push me.That place was so absurd I had to go.
There are of course many other fascinating places in Egypt, but when I see something extremely bizarre I just can't resist. We must follow the craziness, and not the crowdedness, to do the right thing. With this rule in mind, my girlfriend and I booked the flight to Cairo for December the 23rd, return on the 30th (the classic Christmas lunch with the family could easily be celebrated on the 20th). Additionally, we booked a return flight from Cairo to Luxor, a B&B in the city of temples and a three-day trip in the desert (the latter through the agency Select Egypt, that we found on the Internet: it didn't seem reliable at all, but the low price convinced us).
So, as planned in our travel itinerary, on the 23rd of December Alitalia and Egypt Air brought us to Luxor.
Luxor
Village near Luxor
We had dinner at the Beit Sabee hotel (a double room for 40 euros per night) and we went to sleep. The breakfast on the terrace of the guesthouse was the first thrilling moment of vacation , not for the scarce buffet with jams, bread and flies, but for the spectacular views over the red mountains around Luxor.
Luxor
Luxor
Luxor
Temple of Hatshepsut
Our taxi driver / guide that we had booked for the day (50 euros per person including all tickets and lunch) took us to Medinat Habu temple, to the famous temples of Karnak and Luxor, and to the Valley of the Kings.
Luxor
Luxor
Luxor
Medinat Habu Temple
A travel itinerary in which the grandeur of buildings and columns and ruins meshed with the harsh beauty of the bare landscape, creating breathtaking views. To me, a lover of exotic foods (especially if bizarre, crazy and/or stupid), also the lunch with typical Arabic food was a pleasure.
Luxor
Temple of Hatshepsut. One of the many temples and tombs in Luxor.

In the evening my girlfriend and I decided to have a walk in the center of Luxor. A run-down taxi picked us up at the hotel. We reached the Nile, where a shady man invited us to climb on his small boat. We accepted immediately and, by gestures, we asked the taxi driver to meet us there at 11PM, and to the boatman to make us cross the Nile in the opposite direction just before 11. Honestly, we doubted that those arrangements could work, but we were sure that someone else would be ready to help us for little money.
Nile
Sunset at Luxor: Nile and feluccas
After admiring a beautiful sunset over the Nile, we dined outdoors in a restaurant on the river. The food was excellent. We walked around the city, admiring that strange mix of huge ancient monuments, modern tourist facilities and smashed slums. It was the 24th of December, but there was no sign of Christmas but some waiters wearing a Santa Claus hat in the most touristy area of the town. Anyway, we didn't miss Chirstmas: it was good to be in a warm climate, far from the frenzy of compulsive shopping and from the bright lights of the traffic and the shops.
The return to the hotel was a demonstration of the efficient system of agreements, friendships and bakshish (tips) between Egyptians and tourists. At 11 PM, as planned, we arrived on the Nile, where we met our boatman, who was waiting for us. Without saying a word, he carried us across the river. On this other shore our taxi driver was waiting: we got on the car and, with the lights off (to save gasoline), we reached the hotel. For all these trasports, wee spent a couple of euros each.
Luxor
Luxor by night
The day after, at dawn, our taxi driver took us to the airport, from which we flew to Cairo. At the arrivals there was a man holding a sign with my name. In silence, without providing any information, he guided us to a SUV. We were half asleep, and that long, straight and monotone road that led into the desert didn't help us stay awake. As we watched those endless expanses of sand and stones we were wondering if we were being kidnapped. I asked it to our driver, in English, but he didn't understand. We were likely going to get lost in the desert. After a while we decided that it to be a kidnap: after all, we had paid that three-day tour 140 euros each, including sleeping, eating, drinking, driver, guide, jeep, entrance fees to parks, etc... really too little to be true.
We had lunch in a service station for truckers. The bar was in poor conditions, but the bathrooms were worse. We left again. After a while we stopped in the middle of nowhere. "So now it's time for the real kidnapping," we said. Instead, the driver opened the hood, threw some punches to the engine and set off again. Applied mechanics.
We arrived at the oasis of Baharyia at lunchtime. It was amazing to see the palm groves and houses suddenly rise from the middle of that flat sandy nothing.
Egypt Baharya Oasis
Baharya Oasis. This town in the desert is very peculiar: a big oasis made it possible.
Egypt Desert
Dune in the middle of the Egyptian desert
The town was dusty and looked like it was falling apart, but it was fascinating. The driver, still silent, left us in a nice hotel where other tourists were waiting to go to the White Desert.
Our guide arrived shortly after. He was a typically Bedouin guy, with his tunic and his turban, grown up in Baharyia. His English was very limited, but we noticed that we had booked an English speacking guide, he insisted that his English was perfect.
My girlfriend, the guide and I jumped on a beautiful Toyota 4x4; the driver was very nice and vaguely crazy. We left and we headed again to the desert. However, it was no longer the monotonous flatness that we had seen in the morning, but a fascinating alternation of colors, rocks, hills and dunes.
Egypt Black Desert
Black Desert. From Cairo a long road takes into the desert.
We stopped in an area of dark ground (the Black Desert), then on a long sand dune, and then we continued our organised travel itinerary through the extraordinary Akabat Mountains, where we drank mint tea in a scenic location.
Egypt Aqabat Mountains
Aqabat Mountains. These mountains near the White Desert really deserve some 4x4 exploration.
Egypt Aqabat Mountains
Aqabat Mountains
The two Bedouins were crazy about two things: the tea, which they filled with sugar, and the shisha, that is the water pipe through which they smoked tobacco. It wasn't a healthy life, but for those three days we did like them: we can't deny it, it was a nice life.
Egypt Aqabat Mountains
Aqabat Mountains
Egypt Aqabat Mountains
Aqabat Mountains
It was dark when we arrived in the middle of the White Desert, so initially we could only imagine its beauty. The Bedouins prepared the camping gear and began cooking, while my girlfriend and I looked around. There were white limestone formations, a lot of sand and many stars. The portable camp was built with a tent for us two and a carpet for dinner, around which the Bedouins created a shelter for the wind. We sat down on the carpet and we watched them slicing vegetables and meat that they threw in a big pot. The result was a delicious chicken stew. Meanwhile, we chatted (as far as possible given the language differences) and we sang.
Egypt White Desert
White Desert
Egypt White Desert
White Desert
A few hundred meters from us there was another mobile campsite for the tourists carried by of three or four other jeeps. Together with the Bedouins we reached them and then we talked and laughed with the tourists and the other guides. Someone played the bongo, others danced and smoked shisha. It was a wonderful evening under the clearer sky that you could imagine, a wild paradise worth much more than the few euros we had spent. Surely it was better than an iPhone, for example.
(Here is a useless polemic: sometimes people tell me that they don't have money to travel, but they own a iPhone or a Moncler jacket or a nice car; so maybe the problem isn't money, but different priorities... which is perfectly fine, but I would like to point out that some people travel without any money at all. So let's embrace our different ways of thinking and living, but let's keep in mind that sometimes we give up some amazing things just because we are stuck to objects or habits that don't bring any good).
Egypt White Desert
White Desert. These limestone formations take absurd shapes that make this desert unique in the world.
After a quiet night in the sleeping bags (the temperature at night dropped to 7-8 degrees Celsius) we woke up at dawn to finally admire the spectacular White Desert under the light of the sun. We walked through those senseless rock formations while the Bedouins prepared breakfast and packed the tents and everything else.
Egypt White Desert
White Desert
Egypt White Desert
White Desert
Back on the jeep, we continued our travel itinerary along sandy treks that crossed that spectacular scenery. We had lunch under the shade of the trees of a little oasis (the only vegetables over an area of kilometers). In the evening, we camped in the middle of nothing and we had grilled meat.
Egypt White Desert
White Desert
Egypt White Desert
Camping in the White Desert is a once in a lifetime experience.
The next day, the adventurous travel itinerary by jeep continued. The driver was going at 65 miles per hour along the dirt roads in the desert; in the meanwhile he listened to loud Arabic dance music shaking his body: we were unsure if to die with laughter or fear.
Oasis
No vegetation at all but few palms in this oasis.
Camels
Camels
But we survived this experience too, so we arrived back to Baharyia. We were sorry to greet the two friendly Bedouins. Another driver picked us up on his van and took us to Cairo , in the city center, where we had booked a private room in a hostel.
We went out for dinner, finding a good restaurant near the gigantic Tahrir Square. The town looked safe, lively and attractive.
Cairo
Cairo. The Egypt capital is chaotic and full of monuments.
The next morning we hired a taxi for the day (20 euros), contacted by the hostel. The driver had lived in Genoa for years and spoke perfect Italian. So he was also our guide: we were grateful, even if he tried some of the typical techniques used in the Arab countries to earn some extra money (for example stopping in shops and restaurants that gave him a percentage). By taxi we reached the outskirts of Cairo, where there was the entrance to the Pyramids of Giza. Here we hired a dromedary, on top of which we visited the area.
Pyramids of Giza
Pyramids of Giza. A must-see, of course.
Camel
Nice man with a camel just in front of the Pyramids of Giza.
As famous as it is, the view of the Pyramids in the desert is amazing, even if it's disappointing to see that they are just a few hundred meters from the ugliest apartments of Cairo. But the Pyramids are the Pyramids, absurd and gigantic and mysterious buildings.
In those moments, I decided that when I die I will ask to spread my ashes, in order to avoid unnecessary troubles to so many slaves.
Then we saw the Sphinx, which was smaller and much less impressive than we had imagined.
Sphynx
Sphynx. Not as impressive as the Pyramids.
In addition to the Pyramids of Giza, there were other similar sites around Cairo. These less famous Pyramids are almost as impressive as the ones of Giza, equally insane, but much less crowded. So, our driver took us to Saqqara and then Dahshur. In the latter site, we were able to climb the steps of the Red Pyramid of Snefru and then to enter into the heart of the pyramid through a narrow and steep staircase. We could not see anything, but we could imagine that it was the burial chamber. Above us a hundred meters of oppressive stones. The air was stale, 3000 years old. Of course, this reassured us on the resistance of the structure.
In the afternoon we concluded the trip. Then we wandered alone through the center of Cairo, where we fell in love with a shop of delicious and sugar-loaded sweets. I loved in particular the bakhlava (a heavy mix of honey, nuts and other goodies).
In the evening, by showing our Italian passport we could enter the complex of buildings of the Italian consulate, where there was a restaurant that served pizza, pasta and other typical Italian dishes. The Egyptian food was great, but we found the idea of having dinner at the consulate quite fascinating. It was too stupid not to do it. In fact, when we entered the restaurant it seemed to be in Italy. Only difference, the pizza-maker was Italian and not Egyptian... hahaha.
We dedicated our last day of vacation to visit the center of Cairo. We walked to the lively souk, stopping for lunch at a little bar with two terraces. The place looked as clean as dirty pigsty, but the tables in the middle of the souk and of the crowds passing by were priceless. Surprisingly, also the food turned out great: tasty salads and the best falafels I had ever had - and I had already eaten at least in three or four occasions.
Cairo
Cairo
Aside from the crazy traffic, visiting Cairo was simple and safe. The monumental center, with the alleys and the mosques, was really fascinating.
Cairo
Cairo
At dinner we enjoyed the last Arab dishes of our holiday as our travel itinerary ended. The following morning we returned to the airport and then to Italy and the journey was over and sadness caught us. From those sunny 25 degrees to the cold and the rain. So bad. Finishing the holiday was like finishing a falafel, with the disappointment and the irrepressible desire for some more, or at least for a bakhlava.
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