Friday, August 20, 2010

Alexandria & Cairo, Egypt

August 17, 2010

I am such a slacker. I own up to it. I hope I can remember all the details about Egypt (and Morocco…) enough to write about it and to do my experience justice. I am officially done with summer school now, isn’t that exciting?! Most people on the ship still have a final or two to take tomorrow, but my teachers both made their finals optional, so I am DONE-ZO! It feels good to not have to do anything except finish my blog. It is such a bittersweet feeling to know that I’ll be done with Semester at Sea forever in just 4 days. I don’t know why, but it makes me feel sad to know that a whole new batch of students are going to disembark for an entire semester of traveling and getting to know new people on SAS just 6 days after we get back to the states! But I am also looking forward to getting back to Baylor and starting a new semester and moving into our new house!! I miss my roommates so much! I can’t wait to be able to talk freely to my family and friends once I get back. Life just goes by so fast!!
Okay, I’ll get on with it. EGYPT.

Egypt: Day One
The ship’s port was in Alexandria, Egypt, which is about 3 hours away from Cairo. Lee and I had signed up for a trip going to Cairo, but it didn’t leave until our second morning in Egypt. So, that first day, we hopped onto an SAS bus going into town in Alexandria. We got to go to all the major sites and places to see in the city! It was a good day, but it was so intensely hot. Whenever we were just standing outside, either touring a place or waiting to go in somewhere, we were sweating like PIGS! We were all strongly encouraged to dress “conservatively” too, since Egypt is like 90 or 95% Islamic, and all the women there are mostly covered up. It’s just disrespectful to wear your normal summer attire there, because it’s just a cultural difference – a lot of the men there that you walk by on the street are pretty disrespectful if you’re showing some skin, because they can tend to equate showing skin with a prostitute, since their women in Egypt don’t dress like that! It was more of a problem in Alexandria than in Cairo, too, since Cairo is a big city and a little more modern and such. Anyway, we were strongly encouraged not to wear any short skirts/shorts or super tight clothing, so it was even hotter since we were wearing more stuff.
On our tour, we went to some catacombs, called the Catacombs of Shawqafa – the first catacombs I’ve seen on this trip! It was really cool; we got to walk down a million winding steps down deep into the ground and suddenly, we were in this almost chilly, dark room full of tombs and doorways that led to other rooms full of tombs. It dates back to the 2nd century AC! I loved seeing that. Some of the walls were completely covered with hieroglyphics – and they looked like they were brand-new! It’s so hard to believe how old they are. We weren’t allowed to bring our cameras down there, but I wish I could have taken a picture. Next, we went to eat at a this supposedly really nice restaurant in Alexandria; they fed us salads (which we were scared to eat – the water in Egypt is not drinkable, and so eating stuff like lettuce that’s been washed in the water is not a good idea) and some mystery meat, and goat cheese! Ha! Let’s just say it was interesting. After lunch, we went to the National Museum, Alexandria’s ancient lighthouse, and the Montaza Gardens! We also got to go inside the famous Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which is the second largest library (I think) in the world? I think that’s right – but I would believe it –it’s HUGE! I would love to belong to that library! They had a “Manuscript and Rare Book Museum” in it, as well, but I didn’t have enough time to go inside! You had to buy a separate ticket to go inside and I wanted to go see it so badly! But they had another museum on the bottom floor of the library that I got to see – lots of art and papyrus scrolls, etc. It was fun just getting to drive through the streets of Alexandria and watch all the people there. Men would just be hanging out together, sitting outside of their shops or restaurants, smoking hookah together! Whenever they would see our bus coming along next to them, they’d ALWAYS wave and smile and make funny faces… they just knew the bus was full of Americans and would always stare us down! Ah! Something else that was knew to us SASers: every single field trip was assigned a body guard! My bus had this tall, in-shape man with a huge GUN on his hip! He was always the last on the bus when we stopped somewhere, and would always be looking around, observing our surroundings. We were warned not to take pictures or videos of the security in Egypt, because if they catch you, they’ll come over and take your camera away from you. You can’t take pictures of government/police buildings, either. But the Tourism Police (they wear white and have HUGE, long rifles on them) are everywhere. It’s kind of unsettling to see so many guns everywhere you go, just something strange to get used to, I guess. Anyway, I took a picture of our body guard that day while he was still outside, waiting for the last people to get on the bus. He was like 20 feet away or so, and I didn’t think he would see me, since I was inside the bus taking the picture from the window, but HE DID! HE CAUGHT ME! It wasn’t just me, it was me and my friend, Airecel, but we just immediately looked away and pretended like we were innocent. Our next stop, we were taking pictures of a Mosque, and he came up to me and smiled real big and pulled his jacket away so I could see his gun, and he pointed at it and said something in Egyptian that I couldn’t understand. He was smiling though and kind of laughed, so I just laughed and walked away! HA! I didn’t know what he was saying, and it kind of scared me! I didn’t know if I was in trouble or what, but he didn’t make me delete the picture! Maybe he was trying to let me get an up-close shot of his gun, which was not really what I wanted. I hope he didn’t think I was rude for walking away, but I didn’t know what to do! Oh wellllll!

Day Two: Cairo!
Lee and I got up early to make it to our bus for CAIRO! It took us 3 hours, but as soon as we were on the main road in Cairo, lo and behold, there were the PYRAMIDS! You could see the two biggest ones – towering over the city! AWESOME! But we didn’t get to go there right away. We went to the oldest Egyptian cemetery, Sakkara. We drove onto a dirt road that led into the desert, it seemed – and got out – and we were standing in the middle of these MOUNDS of sand and brick – they were pyramids, too! Just not as tall as the Giza pyramids. We got to go INSIDE them, yes we did! It is so scary going into them, too! They basically built the tombs underneath the pyramids, and the top part is all hollow. You have to walk (more like crawl) through a very narrow tunnel that goes really deep into the ground. They built some thin rails on either side so you can hold on, and there’s a few lanterns so that you can actually see- but I can’t imagine how frightening it would be to go in those tunnels back when they built them – they wouldn’t have been able to see a thing! They must have carried torches or something! Haha. It’s easier to go UP the tunnel than down, too. When you finally got down to the ground and could stand up straight, there were different rooms that were once the tombs of Ptah-Hotep, Mereruca, Idut, Ti, etc. (Yes, I did have to look up those names again in our travel book ☺). There were lots of hieroglyphics on the walls in these tombs, too – and they look so new! It’s AMAZING! You can even see the color that was once even more vibrant when they were first made, it was fascinating. We walked to the world’s FIRST stone building, the Step Pyramid of King Zoser, right after this. Lee and our friend Elaina and I took “pharaoh” pictures in front of it, naturally. Later that day, we went to lunch at this 5-star hotel’s buffet – and it was delicious – one of my favorite meals from my entire summer! The buffet had everything – 2 dessert tables (my favorite), tons of pastas and meatballs and meats, etc, and one huge bread table (pita bread, loafs of different bread) it was DELICIOUS! Ah! Semester at Sea was required to take us to 5-star hotels and restaurants when we were on field trips in Egypt, Turkey, and Morocco, because of health regulations and such, so we were treated nicely! After lunch, we headed to the National Archaeological Museum. We saw an awesome exhibit of King Tut stuff – we saw his funerary mask, his casket/coffin, etc. We saw tons of animal mummies and other human mummies…oh, man. We saw SO MUCH jewelry and other items that they found in all the different pharoah’s tombs. It was really interesting.
We were exhausted by this time (and overheated). We were all taken to the hotel where we would be staying that night, and were immediately grateful. Our hotel was a 5-star, like I said earlier, and so nice! We had to walk behind the main building which housed the lobby and the restaurant, and there were all these nice palm trees and grass. Our room was huge and had two huge queen beds in it that were super comfortable. Oh, and it was AIR-CONDITIONED! Lee and I got to share a room together on this trip, thankfully, and we kept it really cold. We also had a little sitting area, complete with a couch and coffee table and more. Trust me, we were not used to that, even though this looked a lot like a normal American hotel! Our bathroom was nice, too, and we had a balcony that overlooked the HUGE pool – it was the size of an Olympic lap pool, I swear! All the lounge chairs were cushioned and were all really yellow, and the pool was taken care of really well, you could tell! It was so beautiful there! But the coolest part of the hotel was that we also had a view of the Giza pyramids from the front! Since our room was facing the back, we couldn’t see them from our room, but we could see them from others’ rooms, and from the lobby! We were so close to them! We went to a “sound and light show” at 8 that night. It was actually a little chilly at night, so it felt good. The light show takes place IN FRONT OF THE GIZA PYRAMIDS and the Sphinx, so that was our first time getting to see them up close! We all got there early enough to watch the sun set over the pyramids. It was so surreal. The light show was pretty interesting- it was this loud, booming voice that talked about the history of the pyramids and the pharoahs and the genius of the building of them, etc… purple and blue and pink lights would light up the pyramids and Sphinx at different times. ☺ The show ended at 10, and we went back to the hotel and had another huge buffet dinner waiting for us. Lee and I slept soundly that night. ☺

Day Three:
Since I’m writing this a couple weeks after I was in Cairo, I feel so blessed and almost amazed that I can say that I’ve been able to watch the sun set and the sun rise over the pyramids! I almost can’t believe that I even have seen the real pyramids, and that I’ve even to Egypt! The morning after the sound and light show, we all had wake-up calls at 4:15 AM – we were going to watch the sun rise right next to the pyramids! We were tired, but so excited that we barely noticed. We got there while it was still completely dark. There were about 80 of us SASers on the trip, and no one else (the public) is allowed to go near the pyramids that early, so our trip had special permission! We were all pretty quiet, waiting for the sun rise. We could still see lights from the city in the distance, and the silhouette of the two main Giza pyramids (the Great Pyramids) outlined against the sky. It took only about 30 minutes for the sun to rise completely. It was beautiful! We took pictures like crazy, and then finally realized that we just needed to enjoy it. There’s a dirt road that winds in between the Great Pyramids, and we walked down it and got right up close to them. There was no one down there when we walked down next to the Great Pyramid, and there is only a small, thin rope that surrounds the base of the pyramid, so we quickly stepped over it and climbed up a few feet on the PYRAMID! It was me, Lee, and our friend Lindsey! Okay, we had seen a few other people we knew do the same thing earlier, so we did it, too! After we took some pictures of ourselves we got down, and soon came along a tourist policeman! Here’s an example of how corrupt they really are: instead of yelling at us to get away from the pyramid, he looked over his shoulder to make sure the other cop wasn’t in view, and ushered us quickly under the rope. He took our camera for us and took a picture for us. Of course, we had to tip him (he wouldn’t leave us alone if we didn’t!) but still! He’s supposed to guard the pyramids, but instead he accepts bribes from the tourists so they can climb it and get pictures! Not that I’m complaining, of course.
After soaking in the experience for awhile, we headed back to where the rest of our group was. A few minutes later, from the distance we see about 30 camels RUNNING towards us – with Egyptian men riding them! We paid a few bucks to ride them, which was fun. We felt bad for them because they were so old and dirttty and skinny, they looked so underfed! Maybe they were just old, not sure!
The rest of the day we spent looking underneath one of the Great Pyramids (sweet), and visiting the Sphinx. It was awesome to see something that I’ve heard about and learned about since my childhood right in front of me! There were these 3 Egyptian sisters from ages like 7-12 taking pictures for all the tourists who were visiting the Sphinx – and they were pro’s! They would position you so that you were kissing the Sphinx, it was kissing your butt (“Kiss my ass” is what these little girls would scream, haha), you were holding the Sphinx, etc. and all these other creative, fun poses! They were awesome! They took our sunglasses off our heads and would borrow them for the picture so the Sphinx looked like it was wearing them! We loved them! Later that afternoon, we spent a couple hours taking a Nile cruise – we had dinner and watched a belly dancer and a Dervish dancer! The buffet was soo good and it was cool to see the Nile… I don’t know what I was expecting, but since I’ve read about it in the Bible, I think I’ve pictured it like it was during the Bible times…haha so I wasn’t expecting all the usual buildings and boats on the side of the NILE! But it was just like any other modern river through a city! Haha I felt pretty stupid after my expectations did not meet reality ;)

Day Four:
The last full day we spent in Egypt, we got back to Alexandria and had already seen everything there was to see pretty much in the city. At this point, we were feeling a bit America-sick and decided to take the day easy by spending it at a MALL! It was this huge shopping center called Alexandria’s CityCentre. It was sooo big and had a ton of stores we had never heard of but were cool, and a lot of stores that we DID know, like H&M, Zara, Mango, etc…! So we shopped, watched a movie (they had a movie theater inside) that had Shane West in it and was called Echelon ___something! It was pretty bad haha, but it was good to see something AMERICAN!

I wish I could write more but I have to go and EAT DINNER! And this post has been delayed long enough. ☺

No comments:

Post a Comment