Kasese, Uganda – July 14th

For our first full day in Kasese, we hired a driver and a guide to take us down to Queen Elizabeth National Park for a safari and boat ride. One of Jay’s friend’s sister used to live in Kasese and recommended the driver whose name was Morris. Our guide was arranged by Morris and his name was Dan. We headed out on the ~40 min drive down to the park. Dan told us a little about the history of the park on the way down. 

We we arrived, we paid our fee and headed into the park. There were dirt roads and it had rained yesterday, so they were quite muddy. We slid around a lot which was kind of fun. 

Ticket booth for Queen Elizabeth National Park

The first animals we saw were a huge heard of water buffalo. We learned from Dan that the weak males are run out of the heard by the strong males and become “bachelors.” The bachelors all join up and form their own heard. These are the most dangerous heards because they have already been run out of their pack, so they have “nothing to lose.”

The other large heard animal we saw were impellas. We learned from Dan that the males sat in circles with the strongest in the middle. This signaled to females which one was the strongest. 

Impella

We also saw a lot of birds including Egyptian geese.

 We saw many warthogs as well. They ate kneeling down on their front two legs to get the best baby grasses low down to the ground. He also told us that they are not very smart. They will run away from a predator for a couple of minutes and then just stop and forget that there was a predator in the first place. 

Warthog

One of the highlights of the safari drive was seeing a leopard and its cub. There were about 6 or 7 cars of people all crowded around this leopard and it’s cub taking pictures. It finally got tired of us and went up and hid in a cactus. But it was so neat to see this big cat in the wild. We didn’t see a lion, but apparently you only see them if you’re very lucky. 

Leopard

We drove all the way out to Lake George in Queen Elizabeth National Park. There we saw a very large pelican and a couple of schools of hippos. The hippos eat on land in the morning, and then they head back to the water and huddle in a group. Dan, our guide, said it was like a morning meeting. And once the meeting is over, the hippos will spread out in the water. I’m not sure what their morning meeting was about, but they eventually did leave and spread out around the lake. 

Hippos on George Lake

Another very nice thing was that there were hundreds of small white butterflies throughout the park. Dan told us that butterflies were the original inspiration for fashion. 

Next we drove to a salt lake where a small village of people harvest salt. There is a volcanic crater which has a source of fresh water that fills the crater. Salts from the volcano come up and mix with the fresh water. The village people buy plots and then create little salt flats. Layers of salt form when the water is evaporated by the sun. We did try some of the salt that they made which was used in the local food. 

Dan, our guide, and I on the salt flats

We were able to taste the salt in the Rolex (egg, vegetables, rolled in chapati which is African flat bread) we bought in the market near the village. Then we headed over to Kanzinga chanel for the boat ride. 

Local woman making rolex

The boat dock was next to a small fishing village, so we watched the locals get ready to go catch fish while we waited for our boat to leave. We also tried some fresh fried cat fish. 

Fried catfish

The boat ride was very cool. We saw many many hippos who would swim under the boat. They were also able to swim as fast as the boat which was impressive. We also saw elephants, a crocodile, a large lizard, water buffalo, and many birds. 

After the boat ride, we ate the lunch of bread and cheese and banana chips that we had packed. We also had some beers with Morris and Dan. Then we headed back to Kasese. 

On the way back, Dan showed us where we crossed the equator from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere. So we can now say that we stood on the equator. 

Back in Kasese, Morris dropped off Jay, Dan, and I, and we went to go play some pool. Uganda has a lot of pool halls, so we thought it would be fun to play some games. It was America vs Uganda. I played 2 games and lost them both. Jay played the rest. In the end, the score was 8-6 with Dan winning for Uganda. Jay has already requested a rematch when we get back from our trek in 8 days. We had a great time playing and got a taste of the local pool hall scene. 

Tomorrow, we will head up to the hostel at the trailhead for our Ruwenzori trek. We are really loving Uganda and are excited to see what we have in store for the trek. 

Travel from Cairo, Egypt to Kasese, Uganda – July 12th – 13th

Our time in Egypt is over. There were some things we really liked and some things we didn’t like. The temples and pyramids were impressive, most of the local people were very kind and welcoming, and the food was tasty. However, it was extremely difficult to deal with all the vendors, hagglers, and people asking for money. Overall, the stress of this made being in Egypt difficult, and we were ready to continue our trip in Uganda. 

We finished our last day in Egypt by sleeping in, having a late breakfast at the hotel, and then walking around Cairo for about an hour. Our flight didn’t leave until 10:00 that night, so we had some time to kill. Ahmed invited us to have a very late breakfast/lunch with him and his family at around 3 o’clock before we left for the airport. Ahmed slept in so his breakfast was delayed. We Ubered over to his cousin’s house where he was staying. When we arrived, the guard for the building stopped us and thought we must be in the wrong place but he didn’t speak English. So we called Ahmed and had him talk to the guard. Once everything was smoothed over the guard ushered us into the elevator and dropped us off on the correct floor. 

Ahmed’s cousin’s house was very fancy with chandeliers, ornate chairs, a giant woven rug, and beaded cloths on the tables. Ahmed introduced us to several of his cousins and their families. There was a steady stream of people coming and going that we met throughout our stay.

The wife of Ahmed’s cousin who owned the house cooked us a traditional Egyptian breakfast including ful (cooked and mashed fava beans), Egyptian baba ghanoush dip (eggplant, tahini, garlic, lemon) eggs, falafel, and aish baladi (Egyptian flat bread). The eggs were very fresh and were some of the best I had eaten. The baba ghanoush was also very good and had a whole grain mustard flavor. 

After our late breakfast, we sat with Ahmed’s family and talked. Ahmed translated questions that his family had to English and then translated our answers back to Arabic. His family seemed to understand some English, but were definitely not fluent like Ahmed. His family asked us about about American culture, and wanted to know what we thought the similarities and differences between Americans and Egyptians were. It was a difficult question to answer, but we did our best. In reality, it is hard to say all Americans are a certain way and all Egyptians are a certain way. They said their concept of Americans was that they were very independent which we agreed with. 

Then they tried to teach us some Arabic words. I did not have a very good Arabic accent and Ahmed’s family got a kick out of how I pronounced some of the words. I was unable to say fetira correctly yesterday when we had it for lunch, and Ahmed thought that was very funny, so with every new family member that came into the room, I was asked to say it in my American accent. 

We also had the tv on in the background and they asked us to put on something from YouTube, so Jay showed them his Dirtbags on Skiis video. We thought that snow would be something new that they would like to see. 

We also learned some cultural lessons through interacting with Ahmed and his family. When Jay asked to use the restroom, he had to wait until all of the females could leave the area to prevent a male from being alone around a female. We also learned that you are not supposed to take pictures of Muslim women. 

The owners of the house also had two small children who were very cautious around us as young children tend to be. But they warmed up to us after awhile. They inched closer and closer to us each time they came back into the room, and would lock their eyes on us, looking at us like we were strange people in their house, which we were. 

Another of Ahmed’s cousins arrived. We learned that he was going to be married on July 24th, and he invited us to his wedding. When we told him that we would be in Uganda, he asked us to come back to Egypt for the wedding. We were surprised that they would ask strangers to a wedding, but they were so happy for us to be in their house that I guess it made sense. 

By around 6 o’clock it was time for us to head to the airport. We took several pictures with Ahmed’s family. Then, we thanked our hosts for inviting us into their home and told Ahmed to call us when he comes to American (which is a dream of his). Then we settled in for about 20 hours of travel from Cairo to Entebbe to Kampala to Kasese. 

Bye Egypt!

We flew from Cairo to Entebbe and arrived at around 4 o’clock am. It was interesting flying into Uganda and seeing how few lights were scattered across the hills. This is a very rural area! Then we took a taxi from Entebbe to Kampala. We already liked Uganda better than Egypt just from the short drive we had taken. It has much less traffic, the people are all friendly and welcoming, and the prices are straight forward. It is also beautiful here. Everything is green! 

Our next step was to take a bus from Kampala to Kasese. The drive was long, about 7 1/2 hours, and there was no hope of sleeping. Every single seat was filled and we were crammed in shoulder to shoulder in the back. After a couple stops, some of the people got off and we moved to more comfortable seats. But the driver blared the horn to warn every single person on the road that we were coming. Plus the bus stopped at every single little town along the way. People were getting on and off the bus constantly. We were grateful to finally arrive in Kasese and headed to our hotel. 

After check-in, we got some lunch at the restaurant in the hotel. Jay had goat soup and I stuck with a less adventurous option of chicken and cashews. We also had vegetarian samosas which were our favorite part. 

Samosas

Next we headed out to do what we do in every new town we visit – get water. We also stopped by a grocery store and picked up some snacks for the long 8 day trek we had coming up. 

After dropping off our groceries at the hotel we took a quick lap around the city. We met a group of teenage boys who were very excited to see us. They were killing and de-feathering chickens. It was a little gruesome to see, especially the bowl that they were draining the blood into, but I guess that’s what you have to do to eat a chicken. We also saw a group of young children playing soccer and Jay was itching to join in, but we were tired. We didn’t really sleep the night before and needed to get home and get to bed. We had an early morning with a driver lined up to take us on some tours of Queen Elizabeth National Park.

 

Cairo, Egypt – July 11th

In just 14 short hours, we arrived back in Cairo. We Ubered to our hotel, but unfortunately, there was a fire the day before in the room we were supposed to stay in due to an overheated air conditioner wire, so we got a room at the Australian Hotel down the block. We arrived in Cairo at around 6 o’clock am, so it was still very early and our room wasn’t ready yet, but the hotel let us sit in their main living area and take a nap while we waited. We didn’t get a whole lot of sleep on the night train because they never turned off the lights and people were getting on and off the train all night long. We eventually got into our room and relaxed for the morning. 

At around 1 o’clock, we met up with Ahmed, our Couchsurfing host from the first time we were in Cairo, and went to get lunch. We Ubered up to an area known as Mukattam which is the highest part of the city. Then we met Ahmed and his cousin for some sheesha and cold drinks. Jay and I only tried a little of the sheesha, but we had a nice lemon – mint drink.

After that, we headed out to get lunch. Ahmed’s cousin suggested fetira. Fetira is basically Egyptian pizza. It’s a huge ball of dough stuffed with toppings and cooked in a wood burning oven. It tasted like pizza  except on Egyptian bread. We also were able to watch the people make the fetira. They threw the dough up in the air to form it into a disk just like they do for pizza.

Then they stretch it out very thin, add the toppings, fold the dough over the top and put it in the wood burning oven.

We were all quite hungry by the time we got our fetira, and it was a great new Egyptian food to try. 

After lunch, we went to a coffee shop for some tea and more sheesha. We wanted to stay near the high point of the city so that we could watch the sunset later. The coffee shop was called Santorini and Ahmed told the people that worked there that we had just come from the real Santorini. They did not seem impressed though. 

We hung out at Santorini for some time. Ahmed had the workers change the Egyptian music to American music for us, specifically to Ariana Grande because they thought she was my favorite American artist. I don’t mind Ariana Grande, but I wouldn’t call her my favorite. Lol. 

The African Cup of Nations was also going on here. I had no idea what it was until I got here, but now I know it’s an African soccer championship being hosted by Egypt. Egypt is already out, but Jay saw that Madagascar and Tunisia were playing tonight in Cairo. He thought it would be fun to go, so we looked into buying tickets. Ahmed told us that you had to have a Fan ID to buy tickets. Apparently, this is common with FIFA events. You have to fill out a pretty extensive application to get the Fan ID. 

So after filling out the application and seeing that it had to be reviewed, we figured that it would take days and we weren’t going to be able to buy tickets before the game. But Ahmed insisted that we call them and just see if they would expedite our applications. Guess what? They did! Apparently having an American passport was very useful in this situation. 

So after the long conversation to get our application reviewed, all we had to do was buy our tickets online. However, the website was not working properly. After over an hour of trying and numerous calls back to the Fan ID people, we decided that it wasn’t going to happen. I know Jay would have really liked to see the game, but we went back to plan A instead. We hopped in an Uber and headed up the hill to watch the sunset from the highest point in Cairo. Ahmed’s cousin knew someone who had an area of land on the highest point, so we were able to hang out there. We sat out on some bean bag chairs and Ahmed’s cousin got us some fresh juices. We had a nice evening watching the sunset. Who needs soccer when you have an amazing view of the city. 

Aswan, Egypt – July 10th

We slept in a little this morning since we had some time to relax today. When we got up at about 8 o’clock, we headed out to see the unfinished obelisk. We were hoping that we’d be able to see it from the road because we didn’t want to pay for another tourist attraction. However, we weren’t able to. So we snapped a quick picture and headed back.

Site of the unfinished obelisk.

Across the street was a cemetery so we explored that for a little while. An Arabic gentleman there welcomed us and must have thought we didn’t know where we were because he felt compelled to explain that these were people who were “halas” meaning finished. He made a sleeping motion with his hands and then pointed at the graves. We shook our heads that we understood and thanked him for the explanation.  

On the way back to the hostel, we bought some bread at the bakery on our street to take for our dinner on the train. Then we headed back to the hostel. We met David, the owner, again and he made us some breakfast. 

Our train back to Cairo left at 4 o’clock pm, so David was going to drive us and several other people to the train station at 2 o’clock so another group could catch an earlier train. While we waited to head to the train station, we talked with several people staying in the hostel. We met a gentleman from Mexico who was very impressed that we had tried mezcal. And then we met a gentleman from Barcelona, Spain who we ended up spending the afternoon with.

While we were chatting, David, the hostel owner, asked us to record a video for him about our stay in Aswan and his hostel in our native languages. He wanted to post it on his website to get business for the high season. So, if anyone is going to Aswan anytime soon, I would definitely recommend staying at David’s hostel. The hostel itself is typical with some basement rooms and bunk beds, but David went out of his way to tell us the best things to do and was honest with us about prices. He was an amazing host, and we were so happy to have stayed with David and met him and his family.

At 2 o’clock, 6 of us piled into David’s small car and we took off to the train station.

David had been telling us about a sweet drink made from sugar cane that was a specialty in Egypt, so he stopped along the way and got us all drinks. They were very sweet, but tasty. 

Once we were dropped off at the station, we still had some time to burn, so at David’s recommendation, we headed over to a restaurant called Koshary. It serves its namesake Koshery which David said was the finest dish in Egypt. It consisted of pasta, rice, lentils, chickpeas, and some spiced tomato sauce. David said you haven’t been to Egypt until you’ve tried the Koshary. So now we can officially say that we’ve been to Egypt. 

We ate lunch with the gentleman from Barcelona. We learned a lot from him. He worked for the past 6 months at a Syrian refugee camp in Athens. It was very interesting to get his perspective on Europe and to hear his stories about the camp. I learned a lot about what the refugees have to go through to try to find a home in another country and realized that the immigration restrictions that are so hotly debated in the US right now are happening all over the world. It was an eye-opening conversation. After lunch we headed back to the train station said goodbye to our friend from Barcelona. Then, we boarded the train back to Cairo.

Although our day wasn’t full of sightseeing around Aswan, we met so many interesting people which made for a great cultural experience.

Abu Simbel / Aswan – July 9th

We woke up to our alarm at 2:40am to catch our bus to Abu Simbel. The hostel owner, David, had left some breakfast with a note for us outside our door which was a nice surprise. The bus taking us to Abu Simbel wasn’t able to get up the road to where our hostel was, so we had to walk down the road and meet the bus at the co-op down the street. We got picked up and settled in for the four hour drive. We picked up several other groups from other hotels and then were off. 

Luckily our driver was fast and navigated the roads well. We tried to get as much sleep as we could in the hot van bouncing all over the road. When we were awake, we watched miles and miles of the Sahara Desert go by and then saw the morning sunrise.

Abu Simbel had heavy security check points which we had to wait for and contributed to the four hour drive. 

When we arrived at Abu Simbel our driver clapped his hands to wake us all up and said in his Arabic accent, “Hello, Welcome to Abu Simbel!” We all hopped out of the car and a guide immediately arrived to show us where to go. We were taken to the bathrooms first, which after a four hour car ride was nice, but of course they cost money, so we skipped the bathrooms and bought our tickets. We kindly told the guide that we were going to see the temple on our own and headed in.

We took a quick pit stop to apply sunscreen and then headed around the large man-made mountain to see the temple. 

Abu Simbel was a temple to Ramses II that commemorated his victory at the Battle of Kadesh. The temple was moved in its entirety to a new sight to prevent it from being submerged by Lake Nasser which was created when the high dam was built. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Based on some reviews Jay read online, you were supposed to keep your head down as you came around the mountain so that you saw the site all at once. So I kept my head down and Jay told me when to look. 

Abu Simbel is definitely one of the best temples to see in Egypt. We got there early enough that it wasn’t too hot and we had the whole temple basically to ourselves as the rest of our group was outside listening to the tour guide. The first site you see is four great statues of Ramses and several gods. Inside there are huge pillars, multiple rooms, and grand pictures of Ramses II fighting a battle. 

Next to Ramses temple was another smaller temple for Ramses wife Nefertari.

After seeing the temples, we stopped to look out over Lake Nasser. We ate our breakfast packed by David. Then we headed over to see the visitor’s center which had all the pictures of how the temple was moved and reconstructed. 

Picture of Nefertari’s temple in original location being deconstructed to be moved.
Picture of Abu Simbel in its original location being deconstructed to be moved.
Model of Abu Simbel’s inner chambers that had to be moved to a new location.

We were supposed to meet back at the bus at 8:20am. We timed it perfectly so that we could walk passed the many vendors quickly and tell them that we had to catch our bus if they asked us to buy things. 

Then we settled back in for the long drive home. The drive home was slightly quicker at 3 hours. Once we got dropped off, we found a grocery store and bought some lunch to eat back at the hostel. We also did some laundry in David’s old school washing machine. Then we took a nap durning the hottest part of the day. 

Once we woke up, it was about 5 o’clock. We hung our clothes out to dry and headed to the city. Jay wanted to get a rickshaw to take us into town, but I was more set on walking to avoid the hassle of communicating our destination and haggling the price. But, Jay found a rickshaw and attempted to negotiate. When they gave us the elevated price for tourists, we declined and ended up walking anyway. 

We passed by the Cataract Hotel which we had learned was the place Agatha Christie wrote her book Death on the Nile. We have added this to our list of movies/books we need to watch/read.

Then, we found a nice little park that looked out over the Nile. A gentleman came up to talk to us, and at first we thought he was going to ask us for money, but then he said he only wanted to talk to us to practice his English. He said he had a PhD in psychology and taught physics and chemistry at Aswan University. He wanted to know what books we were currently reading. We told him about Trevor Noah’s book about South African apartheid which Jay had read, and I was currently reading. He wanted us to leave the book for him in a place he could get it, but I still haven’t finished reading it yet. Otherwise, we would have. He also asked us about the definitions of several English words he couldn’t figure out. “Foraging” and “sapien” as in homo sapien were the two that gave him the most trouble. We explained what the words meant and were pleased to hear from someone eager to learn. Then we headed off to see the rest of the park.

Some kids were having a photo shoot on the rocks. Lol.

When we sat down, a couple of kids were taking pictures of Jay, so he took some selfies with them.

Jay taking selfies with local kids.

Then we sat down on a bench to look at the Nile. We heard a shrill “aey-lalalalala” type call and turned around to see an Arabic bride having her wedding photos taken. 

Arabic bride we saw in the park.

When we were done at the park, we grabbed an ice cream and started the walk home. When we saw a rickshaw, we hopped in as this one was a better price. However, the driver had no idea where he was taking us, so Jay had to navigate. We eventually got back to the hostel and called it a night. 

Traveling from Luxor to Aswan – July 8th

We woke up at 7 o’clock to catch our 8:15 am train to Aswan. The hostel made us breakfast and then we headed to the train station. It was Malaria Monday again so we also took our pills waiting for the train. It was about a 3 hour train ride from Luxor to Aswan. 

We had arranged for a driver to pick us up from the train station in Aswan and take us to see a couple tourist sites. When we arrived at the train station at noon in Aswan, our driver, Omar, was there to great us.

We went to the Philae Temple first. This was a temple that was actually moved from its original location and rebuilt where it stands now. Aswan built a low dam that ended up flooding the area of the temple. It was fine until another high dam was built. At this time, UNESCO made the decision to move the temple to preserve its history. We took a small boat out to the temple which sat across the Nile and looked around. 

After the temple, Omar took us to see the high dam. This dam was built more like a pyramid instead of the wall-like dams you tend to see in the US. It was huge and heavily guarded by Egyptian military. 

Next we were taken to a Nubian village. These are the indigenous people of Egypt and Sudan. The town is painted in many beautiful colors and it was neat to see these people’s village. However, it was also another market and we were the only customers. It’s difficult to keep telling people that we don’t want to buy their things over and over again. We have learned our Arabic words for no thank you (“la shoukran”) and when that didn’t work, we would say “halas” which basically meant “stop, we’re finished here.”

After leaving the Nubian village, Omar took us to the hostel we were staying at. We dropped off our things and headed out to find some dinner. We managed to find a bakery and bought a bunch of breads and cookies which we ate for a late lunch/early dinner. We lazed around the rest of the evening and went to bed early at around 9 o’clock. We had to get up at 2:40 am to catch our 3 o’clock am bus to Abu Simbel. 

East Bank of Luxor, Egypt – July 7th

We woke up around 8 o’clock this morning and our plan was to see the sites on the East Bank if the Nile. We were staying on the East Bank, so everything was within walking distance. We headed downstairs and the hostel owners said they would make us breakfast, so we went to an ATM and got some money while they cooked for us. We had a nice breakfast of eggs and Egyptian breads. Then we headed out to the Karnak Temple.

The Karnak Temple was about a 40 min walk from our hostel, and it was very hot, >100 degrees F. We fought off the multiple taxi drivers and horse carriage drivers and eventually found a pathway along the Nile that we walked. It was a well kept area with a nice pathway and lush greenery all around. This area also didn’t have the multiple vendors hassling us for money.

Walking to Karnak Temple along the Nile

We finally made it to the Karnak Temple and the first thing we saw was rows and rows of tour buses. But we persisted and went inside. 

It was a huge temple, and the tourist seemed to just stay in the main area. We almost had the entire outer area of the temple to ourselves. It was a temple built by Amenhotep III and was added on to by several other pharaohs. It had hundreds of large columns with hieroglyphics and was one of our favorite temples so far.

Karnak Temple
Karnak Temple columns

Next, we went to the Mummification Museum. It was a small museum, but it showed the process of mummification and had multiple mummified animals and an ancient mummified high priest. 

Our plan was to visit the Temple of Luxor next. But, we had seen so many temples and it was about 107 degrees F outside. So instead of going inside, we just walked by the outside of it. Luckily we were basically able to see the whole thing from the road. 

Luxor Temple

By now, it was about 2 o’clock, so we headed back to the hostel for a little break. We took a quick look at the rooftop terrace on the hostel, and then headed to the room. We had bought some Egyptian cookies from a store on the way home and had a cookie lunch in the room. 

Then, we were off to meet up with Saber for our Felucca ride at 4:30pm. The Felucca ride was the highlight of the day. We met Saber easily on the dock and he took us down to his Felucca. We met his brother and his cousin who were going to help sail the boat. I have never been sailing before, but Jay has and he said that Felucca sailing was much different and more difficult than sailing a modern sailboat. 

We headed out on the Nile and Saber took out a huge spread of food for us including different meats, rice, and breads.

Jay and Sabe Ron the Felucca

We ate and then sailed to Banana Island. It was a definitely a tourist attraction, but we got to see a grove of banana trees, try a fresh banana and see some monkeys and crocodiles (that were in cages).

We also drank some beers that Saber had gotten for us in chairs set up along the Nile. 

After the beers, we got back in the boat to sail. Saber and his brother even let us captain the boat for a little bit. It was difficult and required a lot of strength. You sat at the end of the boat with your back on an oar attached to the rudder. You had to push or ease up with your back to turn the boat, and if wind came, you had to resist it which was the hardest part. Then you controlled speed with a rope attached to the sail.

I didn’t really know what I was doing, but they didn’t let the sail out til the very end of my captaining experience, so we basically just floated on the river. But now I can saw my first sailing experience was on a Felucca.

Going south up the river was much easier sailing than going north down the river. (That’s why Saber’s brother let us captain going south. Lol). Once we turned around, we were going into the wind and got many more gusts which required much more skill to navigate. We watched a beautiful sunset on the Nile and then Saber and his family expertly docked the boat.

When we got back, Saber had a customer that he had to take out on a motor boat (he makes a living giving boat rides). So Jay and I waited on the Felucca with Saber’s brother until Saber got back. 

When Saber returned, we went and sat on the rooftop of his motor boat and finished the night with the last of the beers. We hung out with Saber until about 10:300 pm and then called it a night. Saber had shown us a great time on the river and we were happy to have had that experience our last night in Luxor. 

West Bank of Luxor, Egypt Part #2 – July 6th

Ok, here’s the story of how we got swindled by an Egyptian. 

I have to give a little history first. So, Jay did Couchsurfing for many years in his 20s when he was traveling around Europe and in the US. If you don’t know what Couchsurfing is, it’s an online community that connects people staying in different countries and cities. People offer their homes to interested travels, show people around their home towns, or just offer advice on what to do in their cities. Jay recently got back into couch surfing for this trip. We have met some amazing tour guides through Couchsurfing on our trip so far who have shown us the best parts of their cities. 

Jay had been talking to a Luxor local named Saber for several weeks now about what to do when we arrived. Saber gave us many suggestions and even offered for us to stay on his Felucca boat. He did not own the boat, but worked on it and this was how he made a living. Let me just say now that Saber is a wonderful couch surfing host and very nice person. This story is not about Saber. 

This story is about an Egyptian street vendor that took advantage of some tourists. Jay and I had arranged to meet Saber on the pathway above the Nile where his Felucca boat was docked. We arrived at 6 o’clock pm and started looking around for him (Jay only knew him through pictures and I didn’t know him at all). We saw a guy who had been waiting on the side of the pathway walking toward us who looked as if he recognized us (Saber had seen pictures of us as well). He shook our hands and Jay asked, “Are you Saber?” The guy replied, “Yes, Saber.” Just to clarify, Jay asked him if he was the guy Jay had been texting for the past couple of months. Jay even showed him the text messages from WhatsApp. The guy, I’ll call him Fake Saber, said yes, he was the one who had been texting. It did seem a little weird, and I could tell Jay wasn’t entirely comfortable with the situation, but we felt awkward asking this guy for proof of identification. So we made small talk and felt out the situation. 

After awhile, Fake Saber wanted to show us his horse, named Lady Gaga, and carriage. We saw his horse and Fake Saber gave us some sodas and acted like he was trying to make us feel welcome. At this point, Jay asked if we could see his boat because that was the whole point of our meeting up with him in the first place. Fake Saber said yes, but that it was docked further up the river. So he said we could take his horse and carriage up the road to see the boat, free of charge. 

On the ride, Fake Saber started talking to us about the difference between the tourist market and the local market. He said he wanted to show us the local market before seeing the boat. So he made a turn with the horse and headed the other way down the road. I started thinking something was off because the guy wasn’t able to control the horse very well, but I figured he was trying to impress us by riding a little faster and showing us how the horse understood English commands. Bad assumption. 

Then, there was another red flag. On the ride, Jay got a text from the real Saber asking if we were ok. Jay asked Fake Saber why he just got a message from him. Fake Saber quickly responded with, “Oh, we just passed the cell tower so the text just went through. I sent that earlier.” And since the WiFi had been spotty here, we figured that was true. He was clever and had an answer for everything. So, ignorantly, we continued on with the ride. 

Then, instead of showing us the local market, the guy pulled up to a store. We instantly knew what was happening from the experience we had earlier with the alabaster store. He was trying to get our money by having us buy things at his friend’s store. Jay was furious. He told Fake Saber that our experiences here with the vendors had been terrible and that Fake Saber was no different. He only wanted our money. Jay continued that he thought he had met a local friend that was going to show him his boat, but he was now very disappointed. 

Fake Saber saw how angry Jay was and apologized and then said he would take us back to see the boat. He ended up calling someone on the phone about the Felucca ride which I thought was weird because he worked on the boat. Then he took us to the part of the dock where tourists buy Felluca rides which was also weird because he supposedly had his own boat docked on the river. At this point, I was suspicious of this guy, and I could tell that Jay was too. 

We got off the carriage and didn’t go down to the dock because something was off. Jay tried calling the real Saber’s number to see if Fake Saber’s phone rang, but it didn’t. Nothing was adding up, so Jay told Fake Saber that things didn’t seem right and that we were done with him and we walked away. 

When we got up to the road again, another guy came up to us wanting us to pay for the carriage ride. We told him we weren’t going to pay for the carriage ride since we were told it was free of charge and he would have to take it up with Fake Saber. 

As we were standing on the sidewalk arguing with the guy about paying for the carriage ride, the real Saber showed up and announced that he was Saber, the person we were meeting. The pieces all came together right then. Fake Saber had pretended to be the person we were meeting just to get our money. He had listened to our conversation about meeting up with Saber and took advantage of us. He took another vendor’s horse and carriage, pretending that they were his, and told the owner that he had tourists that would pay for the ride when we got back. When we didn’t pay, the owner came after us. 

The real Saber helped us to get rid of the guy hassling us for money and saved us from the whole situation. He even told us that he saw us riding in the carriage earlier and had taken a picture of us and the driver just in case he needed to come looking for us. That “are you ok?” text message was Saber wondering what we were doing in the carriage. He sent us the picture after the fact and we were grateful he was looking out for us as tourists. 

We did make sure to verify that this was indeed the real Saber by texting him and seeing that the text went through. Then we went down to see his boat which was, again, the purpose of this entire meet up. He made us tea and we had a short motor boat ride on the Nile. It was very pleasant and the real Saber was one of the nicest people we have met in Luxor. We even arranged to pay him for a boat ride the next day. 

After the fact, we were able to laugh about the whole experience and had a good story to tell, but we felt very dumb and taken advantage of. In the end, we were glad to be safe and to have learned from the experience. 

After speaking with Saber about the experience, he apologized and said that this guy was not like all Egyptians and gave the country a bad name. He told us that after the Revolution, tourism, which is their main source of income, dropped off dramatically. The riots and unrest in the country prevented tourists from wanting to come. Additionally, with the new leadership, prices had gone up while salaries stayed the same. Saber’s explanation helped us understand that the constant haggling, hustling, lying and cheating was out of desperation for money. Although, it didn’t make the situation better, it helped us to understand what was happening in the country to result in its people having to resort to desperate measures. 

Jay and I being swindled by the Fake Saber, before we knew it.

West Bank of Luxor, Egypt – July 6th

The train arrived in Luxor at about 6 o’clock this morning. We were told it would arrive at 5 o’clock, so we had been up since about 4 o’clock. It was a little difficult to sleep on the train because it bounced around, but overall, it was a neat way to travel. 

Sleeper train #86

When we arrived, we walked to our hostel which was only a short distance away. We met the owners and negotiated a couple of deals for sight-seeing tours. There are two banks in Luxor, the East Bank and the West Bank. Our plan was to do the West Bank today and the East Bank tomorrow. After dropping off our stuff in our room, we headed out at 8 o’clock with our tour guide, Peter. We crossed the Nile to the West Bank and headed out to the temples.

The Nile in Luxor

First we went to Habu Temple which is said to be the greatest outdoor temple of all time. Peter told us it was named after the architect Habu who was commissioned by Ramses III, the last of the Great Kings. The temple was impressive. It had huge stone columns with every inch of them covered in hieroglyphics. One of the guards opened up one of the gates for us to climb some stairs and get a “panoramic” view, for a small tip of course. 

Panoramic view of Habu Temple
Habu Temple

Next we visited the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. In order to help us pronounce the name, Peter told us to just say “Hot Chicken Soup” fast. Peter also have us a little history on the temple. He told us that this temple was unique in that it was 3 stories. However, he did say that there had been a 3 story building there 300 years prior which the idea was stolen from.

Temple of Queen Hatshepsut
“Forbidden” picture taken by a temple worker of a closed off area, for a fee.

After the Queen’s Temple, we headed to the Valley of the Kings, but we made a pit stop at an Alabaster store which was the business of one of Peter’s friends. They showed us a demonstration of how the alabaster was made into pots and figurines and then showed us into a store to buy things. This part was a little strange and made us feel uncomfortable for not buying anything, but there was no way we were going to lug around alabaster pots in our backpacks for the next 2 months. 

Jay making alabaster

After this unusual stop, we headed to the Valley of the Kings. We had asked Peter that morning if we could do this one last to try to avoid the tour bus crowds. And it seemed to work. This is not the tourist high season because it’s so hot, but it’s still nice to not have to wrestle the crowds. At the Valley of the Kings, we got our tickets and hopped on a trolley to take us up to the entrance. On the way up the hill, Jay’s ticket flew out of his hand. He needed the ticket to get into any of the tombs, so he jumped off the trolly to get it. All the while, Peter was pounding on the side of the trolly trying to get the driver’s attention to stop. Jay grabbed his ticket and started running after the trolly. The driver finally heard Peter and stopped and Jay was able to hop back on. It was a funny start to the tour.  

Jay running after the trolly after losing his ticket.

Our tickets for the Valley of the Kings let us go into 3 of the tombs of our choosing. There were only about 7 tombs open, so we asked Peter which ones would be the best and he gave us his advice. 

Valley of the Kings

The first tomb we saw was Ramses IV. His tomb was the most colorful. It stated our with a long corridor covered in hieroglyphics and painted with blues, greens, and reds. It ended with a giant stone sarcophagus which was cool to see. Of course all of the riches had either been taken to a museum or pillaged by previous civilizations, but it was still ornate and impressive to see. 

The next tomb we saw was Ramses IX. His tomb was similar to the first one, but didn’t have the giant sarcophagus and the colors weren’t as bright. 

The last tomb was the most impressive. It was the tomb of Merenptah who was the son of Ramses II. This tomb was 160 meters down and had 3 different sarcophaguses. It was the most ornate of the 3 we saw. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in any of the tombs without paying extra money for a photo ticket, so unfortunately, I can’t show you those. 

You also had to pay extra to see King Tutankhamen’s tomb and Peter told us it was overrated. None of his riches or sarcophaguses remain in the tomb and it is otherwise very similar to the ones we saw. King Ramses II, the Great King’s tomb, had been closed for many years after the roof caved in and damaged many of the artifacts. 

After finishing our three tombs, we walked around the complex for a short time looking at the various other tomb entrances and the magnificent natural stone walls into which the Valley of the Kings was carved. 

We left the Valley of the Kings and headed to see the Colossi of Memnon which are two large stone statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III. The statues were meant to stand guard over Amenhotep’s memorial temple complex which was the largest and most opulent in Egypt at the time, but is no longer standing. 

Colossi of Memnon

We ended our tour with lunch. We were supposed to go to a buffet which all the tourist go to, but Jay asked Peter to take us to a more local restaurant. We went to a place called Africa. It had a rooftop terrace that overlooked the Nile and was very nice. We chatted with Peter about the history of Luxor and then got dropped off back at the hostel. 

Lunch at Africa
View of the Nile from the restaurant

We took a break in the afternoon at the hostel, and in the evening we had the most ridiculous experience of the trip. I will tell you the story of how we got swindled by an Egyptian in the next post.

Cairo, Egypt and night train to Luxor – July 5th

Today is our last day in Cairo. Tonight, we are going to take the night train to Luxor. But today, we had some time to explore. After a morning swim in the pool with a view of the pyramids, we packed our bags, and checked out of the hotel around noon. We Ubered down to Khan El Khalili which is the Bazaar in Egypt. The bazaar is right next to Al-Hussein Mosque which is one of the bigger mosques in Egypt.

Al-Hussein Mosque

Like in Doha, Friday is the holy day, so prayers were being broadcast all over the loudspeakers at the bazaar. People had their prayer mats all lined up outside of the mosque which was interesting to see.

Since we weren’t able to go into the mosque because of ongoing services, we headed over to the bazaar. It was a huge area of winding streets with vendors lined up all along the sides. There were many Egyptian figurines, shisha pipes (hookah), fabrics, and lamps.

Khan El Khalili Bazaar

Our shopping list, however, consisted of sunscreen, sunglasses (mine broke and are currently duct taped together), conditioner, and sandals (my sandals are also about to break). We did find some sunglasses, but the price they gave us was outrageous, so we declined. 

Jay trying on some super-cool sunglasses

We walked through quite a maze of streets looking at the shops. We ended up in the back streets of the bazaar where all the products are made. We saw hookah pipes, pots, and shoes being made. One thing we could not figure out was how they sold their shoes. The displays only had the soles of the shoes, and no one spoke enough English to explain where the tops of the shoes were. 

In the bazaar, we got a lot of shocked and confused looks from the people wondering what two white folks were doing there. As we got further back into the more local street areas, people were very friendly. People would say “hello” in their Arabic accents and ask us what our names were. They would call out to us as we walked along saying “Welcome, welcome to Egypt.” Multiple people stood up from their chairs and offered them to us to sit down and relax. We were definitely somewhat of an attraction at the bazaar. 

Local Egyptian who was very excited to see Americans.

We finally got out of the maze of streets and found a couple stores selling shower items. Conditioner and sunscreen were definitely not common products though. We eventually found a bottle that said “step 2 after shampoo” so we assumed it was conditioner. And we got some sunscreen at a pharmacy-like store. Then we had lunch at a small place we found walking. The waiter did not speak any English, but we were able to order some chicken, meat, and rice dishes. After lunch, the waiter and another person who worked at the restaurant, asked for a picture with us so we obliged.

Next we Ubered to the Giza Zoo. It was a pretty typical zoo with elephants, lions, tigers, giraffes, and seals. One cool thing we did see were hyenas. I didn’t realize how big they were. 

However, it felt like we were one of the attractions at the zoo. A couple of young boys followed Jay and I for awhile and finally worked up the courage to ask for a picture with Jay. I was taking a picture of an elephant, and the next thing I knew, I was surrounded by a group of girls wanting to shake my hand and know what my name was. I told them and shook all of their hands and they were ushered away by their dad. All throughout the zoo, people would shout “hello” and “what’s your name?” which must be some of the common English phrases they knew. As we were leaving a small girl pulled on my arm and her mom asked if I would take a picture with her daughter. I did, and then the mom got a selfie with us too. It was quite the experience. Egypt is giving us the celebrity treatment. 

After the zoo, we got an Uber back to the hotel to pick up our bags and hang out before catching our train to Luxor. We were pretty sure it was this Uber drivers first ride. He didn’t confirm that he picked us up, so his app was still telling him to go to the zoo to pick us up. So basically, we went in a big circle and were headed back to the zoo. Luckily, Jay keeps track of where we’re going on his phone and told the driver he was going the wrong way using google translate on his phone. The driver was basically going at a snail’s pace on the highway in Cairo traffic with cars honking at him left and right. We finally get him to pull over and Jay gives him his phone with the directions. It takes a lot of skill to drive in Cairo and this driver just was not ready to Uber people around yet. Anyway, we finally made it back to the hotel and spent a couple hours by the pool. At around 6 o’clock, we got our bags and took on Uber to the Giza train station to catch our night train to Luxor. 

The guards working there immediately took us under their wing as soon as we walked up to the station. They told us where to sit, offered us coffee, and checked on us multiple times, each of them telling us which platform to be at and and to look for a green train. The train arrived a little after 8 and the guards ushered us into the train. Then we were off to Luxor.