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Dany's Diary

A page of Dany's adventures since moving to the UK.

Diary Entries

Tuesday, 04 March 2008

Location: Egypt

A Woman in Denial (de-nile)

SO FINALLY several months on let me return to the pressing issue of my sleeping bag being in the NILE! (Just a warning you’re going to want a coffee and possible a large meal to get through this entry it ended up being a trifle long!)

So splosh… my sleeping bag hit the Nile and Jen one of the Canadians dove after it and caught a loop at the top with one finger – just enough to stop it sailing off down the river and we hauled it back on board. Now to you Australians with your heat you won’t realize the true miracle of the next bit (but let’s remember that for the previous year the hottest temperature I’d been 2 days of about 24, but had mostly been 9c and v. damp….), the sleeping bag was quite wet so we slung it up on the railings and Keir (being the darling little brother he is offered me his sleeping bag – chivalrous or what !?) but after chatting for an hour or so I double checked my sleeping bag (this is the miracle bit) and it was dry… sigh… sometimes in London my clothing takes 3 days to dry… but my sleeping bag on the Nile took under an hour – hurrah hurrah warm weather.

And so we snuggled down to sleep. There is something ultimately relaxing about sleeping bopping up and down gently to the feel of the Nile. Even if some members of the group snored….. The sun rises on the Nile were particularly spectacular and words can’t do it justice.

The Felucca ride was a funny combination of total paradise that you never wanted to leave and unmitigated stress about when you were next going to be able to pee. Because you are madly sailing down the Nile and there is no loo aboard you can be sailing for hours between stops. I asked our tour leader at one point if there were any options because I really was bursting and she handed me a rope. I made Keir go first, but essentially you grabbed the rope and jumped into the Nile and held on REALLY tight as you went flying out behind the boat, it really did have a bit of pace on it for a sail boat. Thank goodness K went first as it really did look like hard work and whilst I’m not a bad swimmer I didn’t particularly want to be left in the middle of the Nile (fear not I’m not particularly brave this part of the Nile has no crocs in it). So I jumped in and held on and it was all going well until somebody suggested they’d pull me in and I realized I’d forgotten the business at hand ie. Peeing!!! Sigh!!!

Final peeing story that afternoon (sorry it was the only point of tension over the 2 days… how much do you really want to hear about me lying in the sun in moments of zen like bliss?) we pulled up on the bank and were told to pick a tree/bush for the girls loo. There seemed to be a nice bushy one about 100m along. The Nile is not crazy busy, but it is reasonably constant, mainly felucca sail boats like we were on and these MASSIVE paddle boat things for other tourists – that frankly didn’t look like a great ways to do the Nile you were so removed from the Nileness... We were all absolutely busting, but being the civilized bunch of girls we were queued up to use our bush, I was last. Standing in the sun, looking at the Nile we were all quiet happy as we stood there talking waiting our turn. Suddenly this Australian female voice behind me says “is this the toilet bush ? Ace!” and patiently stands behind me… There is something seriously nuts about getting a toilet bush going in the middle of nowhere when all of a sudden that damn ubiquitous Australian turns up…. We are a bloomin’ friendly bunch though!

It was over all far too suddenly, after a couple of days out there we docked first thing one morning and that was it. We jumped out with our rucksacks and saw another temple before driving off to our hotel. It is terrible, but I was tired and really really really wanted a shower (jumping in the Nile several times a day can only do SO much) and I just walked around this poor temple in the glorious sunshine thinking, I bet I don’t remember this place and sure enough … nothing… all those people that slaved over that glorious temple and I have no memory of it – not even the name, awful. I remember the Mcdonalds out the front of the Pantheon in Rome where many years ago I needed an emergency loo stop…but not this 3000 year old magnificent temple nothing. Double awful huh?

We finally made it to Luxor that afternoon where I had the best shower of all time and I went to the loo (just because I could) about a million times. That night we visited a temple, this one I do remember! Luxor Temple, in the dark, it was light up and magic. With an enchanting row of baby sphinxes leading up to it. The bit I particularly found interesting is they are still excavating them, they know they are there, in Ancients times there was a road that linked Luxor and Karnak Temples, but they are still finding them. I don’t know, I figure in this modern day we’ve found everything we’re going to find or are pretty close, but nope there is so much more out there to find. Naive really, actually no, probably madly egotistical, of course there is so much more out there to find – hurrah too!

The temple was a really glorious mix of the different architectural styles of the pharaohs, as each built a little bit more on during their reigns. And I’m sure I’m not the only one at this point thinking that Ramasses II was really a bit of a brute when it came to leaving his mark – big and unsubtle was his style! (ok, maybe I was…) We learned a little more at this point about how the artefacts of Egypt came to be scattered around the world, our guide fairly understandably got quite worked up about this point. The twin of the fantastic obelisk that we were looking at is in Paris in the Place de la Concorde – I know I’ve seen it there – it was presented to the King of France in the early 1800s – in exchange for a clock – legend has it the clock never worked….

One of the highlights of the temple was a bizarre level that was about 10metres above us. Apparently dust and sand over the centuries had covered the temple so much so that all that remembered it had died, but it was still considered sacred ground and so about a thousand years ago a mosque was built at that level. Today, they’ve excavated the rest of the temple, but they have left the mosque at the street level from 10 centuries ago - they still use it today, even though it kind of floats in the sky above this temple – told you it was magical!

Keir and I decided if there was ever going to be a place that we were going to haggle in the market place it was in Luxor, it was slightly less aggressive than Aswan, slightly, we knew what we were in for and with gritted teeth we set off. It was tough going. It took us 45mins of solid haggling, but we finally got our scarves. Sigh. I’ve no idea if they are really cashmere, or if we still got HORRIBLY ripped off, but we got them. I gotta admit, haggling and just generally being harassed was not my favourite part of the trip. But, I also got a lovely little carving replica in red granite of a freeze from one of the temples that I’m dead pleased with… Keir meanwhile got a delicious falafel so he was happy – patient patient little baby brother!

The next day was Donkey Day. Actually it was Valley of the Kings day. But we got there on Donkey’s and it quickly became apparent why it was affectionately referred to as Donkey Day – you can only sit on those things for so long before realizing! Actually they were quite sweet and very patient lovely animals (kinda like Keir!), our guides took good care of them and they were lovely and fat just like Donkeys should be. Mine was the prettiest and I called her Britney… (obviously early Britney, before K. Fed and the horrible hair shaving incident). Unfortunately Britney and I had a tempestuous relationship, mainly because she would step 2 inches to the right every time I tried to get on her… so I kept falling off…. Thankfully it only damaged my ego…

We had crossed over the river in the morning for we of course were staying in the east. Egyptians live on the east bank and are buried on the west bank. The east of the Nile represents life, the west death – lovely and simple really. It was only a 30min Donkey ride to the Valley of the Kings – really not far from Luxor all things considered – I’m just saying if I’d have lived 2500 years ago it wouldn’t have been too hard to find – thus perhaps why we only have 1 intact tomb… The Valley is marked by a natural stone formation of a rock that points to the sky. If you look at it just right it is a natural pyramid shape. How cool is that? The pharaohs that were buried in the pyramids at Giza were buried hundreds of years before the Valley of the King Pharaohs – by that point they were onto the problem of looting and decided NOT to mark their treasure laden last resting places with DIRTY GREAT buildings that said – “oy you fancy an easy life why don’t you just come on in and nick a bit of gold?” Instead they drilled into the stone of this Valley, the last resting place so secret that they lost the burial chambers from one Pharaoh to another – so every now and then they crashed into one another… From the day they became Pharaoh until the day they died their workers designed, dug, carved and painted – we were shown the bits where the Pharaoh died all of a sudden and the workers had to finish it off real quick smart – even back then the builders weren’t above a bit of slap dash….

The Valley was heaving. Miraculously we had arrived on the 85th anniversary of the Tutankhamen tomb being found and there were camera crews EVERYWHERE! We didn’t go in to Tut’s tomb, it is actually one of the smaller, less fancy tombs, perhaps why it didn’t get raided. You’ll never forget your first tomb and words don’t describe the magic of them. Colour and images that you know are everywhere. Here is this paint 3,000 years old and it looks like the painter is on his smoko. It was hot and dark in those tombs, how workers spent ½ their lives down them I do not know. Interestingly, they think they have found all of the tombs now, there were only a certain number of Pharaohs in the period when the Valley of the Kings was trendy and their tombs are all accounted for even if their bodies and loot are not present and correct.

We then partly hiked over to the next valley. The Valley of the Workers. Well I hiked all the way, ½ way up the rest got on their Donkeys, but we were incredibly high up walking on teeny tiny paths near the edge and as much as I knew Britney was more nibble footed than I I just couldn’t get on… The view was magnificent you could see the harsh image of the desert on one side stretching on forever, then the sudden blue of the Nile and on either side for a few hundred metres this vivid vivid green. The Nile is life, as we emerged from the tombs I never knew it more.

The Valley of the Workers I think is better than that of the Kings. As you come down the mountain you can see their village, where they lived, loved and died. They lived their entire lives over here, not able to mix in normal society because they held the Pharaohs secrets. But they were free men, who worked reasonable (but long) hours and had days off. On their days off they built their own tombs and this is what we saw. These small, about the size of a 3rd bedroom, tombs again with the vivid vivid colours, but this time instead of gods and goddesses on the walls we had everyday scenes of cows, the Nile, birds and love.

Keir and I had a brother sister moment down in one of theses tombs, all of the rest of the group had seen it and it was just the two of us staring at these magical brightly coloured cows and river reeds. That was my favourite bit of the trip.

We walked down a busy road into town and as we walked we past the Colossi of Memnon two stone guys sitting on their thrones 20m high doing their job of protecting their temple despite the fact that thousands of years on they are all that is left and the temple is now just a paddock. Not something you see everyday. Britney was getting wary of me by this point and I fell off her getting on AND off, thankfully that was the end of the Donkey ride

To finish off this amazing day we had a big dinner in a lovely restaurant over looking the Nile – we had 3 types of eggplant/aubergine, I was in heaven!!! Massive buffet, complete with belly dancer and whirling dervish (despite the fact I thought he was about 3 countries too west I wasn’t complaining as I’d missed out on my whirl action in Turkey). K even got up and had a bit of a wiggle on a chair in front of the restaurant with the belly dancer, there have been some dancing finger pointing, there may be video evidence… MWHAHAHAH!… perhaps that Egyptian beer is stronger than you think…. T-hee hee! About half of the group including K had to go back to the hotel straight after dinner as they were getting up to hot air balloon first thing, but I headed off to the local Irish pub… yup, even in Luxor there is an Irish pub… I sampled local wine… not my favourite moment of the trip it must be said. In the end there was only Julie the tour leader and I, we decided to let our hair down and try out a local nightclub – oooh the excitement! We went to the hotel Tut and into their famous nightclub… Well it should be famous anyway – it really was an educational experience if nothing else. There were about 5 full tables, one with 3 young women from the UK – I’d guess they were on a hen’s holiday, they were all clad in white trousers and matching sparkly tops guzzling lollie drinks, a couple of American woman with bigger hair and more attitude than Beyonce who had befriended a 50 year old local who was doing himself no favours in a skin tight white safari suit and dancing up a storm. Up the back was the most distressing site, it was like a road accident I couldn’t take my eyes off it. A young good looking local bloke of about 25 with an English woman in her, at a guess, late 50s, short very blond hair, over weight, big blousy floral top, A-line skirt and sandals that revealed feet desperately in need of a pedicure – you get the picture. I couldn’t see her face because it was attached to the local boy’s face and that is where it stayed for the entire night, Julie said it happens a lot. It is not for me to judge, they were obviously both getting something out of it – but man… a little less PDA wouldn’t have killed either of them….

After about an hour of us trying to screw up the courage to dance and being put off by skin tight white safari guy (did I mention the chest hair? Shudder….) the power went off. We took it as a sign from a higher being and made our treks for home.

In the morning we went and saw Karnak Temple. It is the temple you know from the movies. Those giant imposing columns. It is simply enormous – Wikipedia assures me it is the largest ancient religious site in the world and I’m not inclined to argue. Again like Luxor temple each Pharaoh added their own extension making it more magnificent than the layer before them. By this clever sedimentary layering outwards like an onion you can very quickly see the different architectural styles of the Pharaoh’s and what order than came in (v. helpful!). If you have been to Karnak you know what I’m talking about, if you haven’t you should go, it is incredible, INCREDIBLE!

Those famous columns might be slightly more magnificent by the way, but we were told the story of an archaeologist in the 19th Century who when confronted with the challenge of excavating the columns, which were half buried in sand, decided to do it in one quick swoop and used the local sacred waters to flush the sand away. Unfortunately the water also swept away most of the paint and was left at the base for years eroding away the columns causing far more damage than all that sand had ever done. Can you believe that these columns had lasted 2500 years and one clown comes along and we all lose.

Finally, another massive drive and a ferry trip over the glorious bright blue water of the Red Sea later and we were in our last stop Dahab – a scuba divers paradise, or in my case a snorkellers paradise.

Dahab is really, really tiny. Which was fantastically welcome after the madness of the rest of Egypt, it is just a little village on the Red Sea. The main drag runs along the sea and wraps around the bay in a crescent shape. On the front is restaurant after restaurant after restaurant, all similar they are a series of scattered cushions and flat tables, terribly comfy, just right for lounging and open to the elements (aaaah….life without rain…) serving every take on the chicken kebab you can imagine. The grooviest thing about it is as you sit there lounging at your chosen restaurant scuba divers and snorkellers are just walking in or out of the sea – I’ve never seen anything like it – there is no taking a boat out to the reef it is just there inches from your table. As you drink your beer you can see the little fishies doing their fishie thang! During the day you could see another coastline not too far in the distance, apparently it was Saudi Arabia, at night in the dark you could see fires on the coast – totally cool. Apparently, one year an Australian (a ubiquitous Australian) boasted he could sailboard over to the coast. Rumour has it he made it too. Unfortunately apparently the Saudi authorities didn’t have much of a sense of humour about it and he got slung on the first plane back to Sydney with just his boardies to protect his honour.

For 4 days we did nothing much in Dahab and after the MADNESS of the previous 10 days K and I were ok with that. We slept, laid in the sun and read. At night we went to the local nightclub, where I FINALLY heard Like an Egyptian, I would have been seriously disappointed if I’d left Egypt without hearing it… I discovered the Dahab bucket o’ punch – like a large plastic punch bowl that a Tupperware lady would prepare they tipped in a bottle of rum, a dash of pineapple juice and a couple of other bits and pieces (that I don’t remember the good ol’ Tupperware ladies having) and a handful of straws = fun for all – well until the next morning! By this point K and I were the only members of our group who weren’t struck down with a Cairo Curse, but we still managed to find some groovy people to drink with!

K after one heavy night of drinking moved to a mango Lassi at about 10pm to ‘sober up’ and announced he was off to climb Mount Sinai (where Moses brought down the 10 commandments)… And he did – let me make it clear this is not a gentle stroll up a slight incline… mad little thing that he is. However, it did not go event free… once up there he managed to lose his sleeping bag over the edge – what is it with us Hawker’s and our sleeping bags!?!!??!? Luckily he had a trusty mountain goat sherpa who dove off down the mountain after it otherwise he might have died of hypothermia/falling down the mountain [Ma did you know that story… sorry K if you hadn’t mentioned it to her!!! Hawker family Skype might be interesting this weekend…]

A real highlight of Dahab was at the Blue Hole – we all caught a frightening jeep ride up the coast a bit to a rather choppy part of the sea and donning fins and masks dove in. It was my first attempt at snorkelling in the Red Sea – so so so different from the Great Barrier Reef or anywhere else I’ve snorkelled. This is the second most buoyant sea in the world – amazing. You dive in at one end and let the current take you down the reef, you literally don’t have to move a muscle – so whilst the water is fantastically warm you end up freezing as you can be really lazy about the whole thing. I’m not whining just observing !!!

On our first attempt we were all desperately looking for the groovy fish like a Lion Fish (deadly) – I saw one right away – eep, luckily he was a few meters down and looked kind of sleepy and of course the mac daddy of snorkeling… a turtle… After a few mins one of the girls screamed “turtle” and we were lucky enough there he was swimming serenely below us, we swam with him for about 10 mins, almost the whole length of that bit of the reef, he was gorgeous, v. friendly bopping up near us and staying close as we all drifted with the current – unfortunately we bumped into another group of tourists who couldn’t resist and started diving down to stroke him…. Rarely have I been so furious. Poor little thing. But that was my other magical moment on the trip, me, the sea and my turtle…

And then all far far far too quickly, when the tan had only just started to come and the memories of tube commuting to fade it was over and we headed back to the UK.

Egypt was fantastic, I learned, no, was mesmorized by, and forgot more history in those 2 weeks than I ever learnt at school. Weird, amazing spooky things like they think they know which Pharaoh chased Moses into the sea forcing him to part it. Cool sure. But this is the really groovy bit , they’ve recently done forensic analysis of his mummy and there is an awful lot of unaccounted for salt in his lungs… no word of a lie. Or that when the chick Pharaoh Hatshepsut wanted to add her bit to the Karnak temple she ordered two obelisks to be built in the red granite of Aswan (it is carved in the quarry all in one piece, if somebody makes a mistake, they start again – actually there is a ½ finished one in the Aswan quarry ¾ complete, they found a fault in the granite on the final surface – wouldn’t that ruin your day?) and they did and sailed them up the Nile to Luxor and placed them in the temple – all in 9 months…. Seriously, you try project managing that! Or that to this day they can’t replicate either the paint of the Ancient tombs or the mummying technique – today’s mummying lasts about fifty years – but I’ve seen 3000+ year old mummy’s – how is it those ancients knew so much more than we do today!?!?!? That is the magic of Egypt.

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Recent Messages

From Elissa
I am also rubbish at checkng this but (usually) read the emails. I'm very tempted to forward this latest one to some important tourism people in the Lakes. Only I fear they would be as equally freaky as the ones you encountered...
Response: Ha Ha trust me they would be!!!!
From xgx
Love it - and the photos. Do u have a drinking problem?
Keep up the good work.

Response: T-hee hee thanks Dad!!!!
From Marnie
I'm rubbish at checking these things so please keep sending me the emails. But I love the photos!! My faves are the one of you in your b'day pinny and the one of you and Kate and the Derby. You look absolutely stunning. xxxxx
Response: Awww shucks chook... every girl needs a b'day pinny shot....