Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Friday, December 09, 2011 23:38:10|
Egypt 2011: 1 - Getting there & Giza
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Grandson Adrian Piercy Vargas was approaching the magic age of 10 when he could choose a trip anywhere in the world. His first idea was to see Kodiak bears, but investigation showed that this may not be the best choice because they are difficult to see even with a qualified guide, and the best time to see them is during the school year, so he changed his choice to Egypt.
As seems standard before every trip everything went wrong that could - in business and at home where Marilynn is having a new BBQ area & small pool built that was to be ready well before we left but wasn't. The water went off in the house the morning we were to leave, but was fortunately restored by our caretaker Carlos in time for showers and last minute laundry. Carlos drove us to the airport and the first flight departed on time at 6:05 PM for Madrid, Spain.
I couldn't justify business class - all three tickets in economy cost less than one in business class. A request for an upgrade at check-in produced a look that indicated the request was absurd. I'd booked an exit row seat on line, with Marilynn and Adrian just ahead of me; however the seat map didn't show the kitchen & toilets so they were actually in the next cabin ahead.
The meal wasn't bad; the beer was good and the exit seat leg room wonderful on the Iberia A340. My seat mate was an accountant from Paris who had been to Costa Rica for an 8 day holiday. The possibility of sleep was thwarted by a shaft of bright light that hit me squarely between the eyes each time the toilet door in front of me was opened -- about every 10 minutes. The facing one across the hall gave a more muted light as it reflected in my direction, but was enough to ensure I dozed only for a few minutes at a time. I could have used one of those eye masks, but they are handed out only in business and first class where they aren't needed.
The plane change in Madrid was smooth, but security has moved closer to the US model, including people in transit and removal of shoes. A direction sign estimated the trip between terminals at 27 minutes, which proved about right. It involved miles of walking, moving walkways, escalators, a train and a bus before arriving the boarding gate for London. This flight was the low point - it was necessary to buy anything to eat or drink at outrageous prices and seats weren't great.
In London Heathrow the connection was easy, security quick with shoes on and the flight the best economy flight I've been on. An empty seat beside me allowed for legs in one and the rest of me in the other. Seatback video screens with over 100 on demand entertainment options included a number of current movies, which kept us occupied for the under 5 hour flight. Drinks were served before dinner, wine and drinks with dinner and more drinks after. The food was the best of the trip, and the flight arrived a few minutes early in Cairo.
Assistance in arranging the trip was by Egypt Panorama Tours of Cairo (Email: EPT@LINK.NET, tel: +20-2-23585880), owned by a good friend, Ted Cookson - one of the world's most travelled people. Aymed Kayad, one of his staff, was at the airport to greet us when we left the plane. He had purchased our visas, took us directly through immigration and customs, and turned us over to a driver parked in front of the terminal all within 5 minutes.
The driver took us to the Mercure Le Sphinx Hotel in Giza. En route we were amazed to see that stores were open even though it was past midnight, and that there were lots of cars and people around. It was 1:30 AM before a guide was arranged for later in the day and we crawled into bed. No rocking was needed to get to sleep after the 22 hour trip!
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
We all slept well, oversleeping our 10 AM meeting with the guide Noheir Guirguis, who phoned the room She seemed not the least upset and waited in the lobby while we had breakfast. The driver has a new, comfortable Honda van in which he drove us to a stable area near the pyramids to rent camels, as we wanted to duplicate a previous visit for Adrian. While waiting for the camels we explored the stables. Adrian was making friends with a horse when it took a nip at his arm, then lifted the arm of his jacket as high as he could. Fortunately, the bite caused only a bruise and didn't break the skin, but it gave Adrian quite a shock.
When the camels arrived and haggling over the price done, we mounted up and rode through narrow streets to the entrance of the pyramids. A new high chain link fence has been erected around the whole site, likely to prevent free entrance by camel through the back way as we did last time! The camels were well behaved and fun to ride. We stopped frequently for photos - our guide knew the best spots including from a high sand dune overlooking the area. Noheir proved very knowledgeable, and we got a much better history lesson than on previous trips.
There were far more vendors than tourist in the area - those who earn their living from tourists are having a hard time. We have certainly been made to feel welcome by everyone we have met -- many people have come up to us since our arrival to welcome us to Egypt.
After getting up close and personal with the pyramids we went to see the Sphinx and to say goodbye to our camels. Our driver was waited for us there to take us to Saqqara, about 17 kilometres from Giza, where we had a lunch of local delicacies - many of which I'd not tried before. Adrian participated in baking bread in mud ovens - the meal was very good, all cooked over open fires.
Saqqara is the site of the first pyramid, built in the first dynasty well over 4,000 years ago. Saqqara is a necropolis, serving as a burial ground for important Egyptians for thousands of years. We spent about an hour and a half walking the grounds.
It was 5:30 before we returned to the hotel to clean up, pack and use the free lobby internet to get a message off to Adrian's parents and Marilynn's mother that we are all OK. We didn't want them to worry due to newspaper reports of civil unrest and demonstrations. The hotel didn't charge us for the late check out - everyone has gone out of their way to help us
Noheir and the driver had agreed to wait for us for an hour, and then drive us to the Giza train station for 70 Egyptian Pounds, about $11.60. It took almost an hour to cover 7 km due to traffic, but even so we arrived an hour early, so Noheir got us settled into the open air cafeteria where we had a snack and cold drink to pass the time. The train arrived only a few minutes late.
The outside appearance or the train was shabbier than the on-line photos, but the two cabins with a connecting door seemed fine. There was a wash stand with sink, towels & soap and a 110/220 electric plug. Three of four reading lamps in the bunks worked, but the heat/air-conditioning and music didn't, and the water supply was a trickle. The window in one cabin was OK, but in the other it was impossible to see for dirt - maintenance seems to be a low priority.
A tray with a reasonable dinner was served in the compartment before the beds were made up. Marilynn found disgusting toilets in the next car - none in ours. Adrian & Marilynn turned in early, but I wanted to get caught up on writing so didn't get horizontal until after 11 PM. This didn't help - with lights from streets and stations, and frequent stops of the train to allow other trains to pass I never did get to sleep.