Egypt. The Gothic Traveller, part two.

Given I spent a month in Egypt, it makes sense that I dedicate a couple of blogs to telling the story…! Read part one of this story here

NECROPOLIS LOGIC

Eventually we wound our way back toward civilisation and crash landed in Luxor. There is an important bit of knowledge here for the graveyard geek in all of us. Every city in Egypt was built on the Eastern side of the Nile. The reason is linked to death and the afterlife. The sun rises in the east, and sets in the west. To the ancient Egyptians the sun was born every morning over the eastern horizon, and then died when it set in the west, only to be reborn in the east the following morning.

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So you were buried in the west for hope of rebirth, and you lived in the east where you would prosper beneath the risen sun. Egyptian burial grounds are all on the western bank of the Nile, and the cities are on the eastern bank. Arriving in Luxor brought us to the heart of Egyptian civilisation. I fell in love with Luxor. Its a city of idyllic ancient temple, street markets and good food along the banks of the Nile. I danced for a bride at an Egyptian wedding one evening (because that can happen, you can be on your way out for dinner and suddenly you are stuck in the middle of a big Egyptian wedding where someone decides you should honour the bride by dancing for her). I found an internet cafe run by a lovely transgendered woman, we went out clubbing in a night club with alcohol free beer, and oh, let’s not forget, Luxor’s western bank is inhabited by the most famous necropolis of all, the Valley of the Kings, burial place of several dynasties of Egyptian monarchs. Including the boy king, Tutankhamen.

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I loved Luxor. It was the first city outside of my birthplace where I could have said that I would love to live there. I still would.

WOW IS A CLICHE

The 2am convoy moved us down closer to the Sudanese boarder, stopping in the city of Aswan. From Aswan it was another early morning convoy (safety in numbers, as they say) that dropped us on the doorstep of the Aswan dam.

What’s so interesting about visiting a dam, you ask? Yeah I know. We flood valleys all around the world to accommodate hydropower stations, but to build the Aswan High Dam required the removal and relocation of some of the ancient world’s largest and most awe inspiring temple structures. The Abu Simbel temples were literally cut into chunks and moved from the valley walls to a new home on the high banks of the plateau so the dam could be flooded. Interestingly, it took 20 years to build the temples, and 5 years to relocate them, despite the advance of over 600 years of civilisation.

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Sameh, our local guide had forewarned us that when we rounded the man made mountain and saw the monuments for the first time, we were going to say “Wow!” whether we intended to or not.

He wasn’t wrong. If you ever go to Egypt, the 2am convoy from Aswan is well worth it.

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In Aswan, we also spent some time with a Nubian family and visited a Nubian school before we boarded our own private sail boat and began the three day sail back up to Luxor. For me, this was pretty epic. The only unfortunate part of life on the deck of an Egyptian sail boat is the waiting for land to pee or see to other bodily functions. An Egyptian sail boat makes its way upstream toward the source of the Nile by zig zagging across the river and channeling the wind to keep upstream motion against a rather powerful and constant down stream current. We spent time in the night ducking between the mammoth cruise ships that populate the river like head lice, and during the day we played games on deck, learned songs, cooked, swam in the Nile and generally had a great time.

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THE PEOPLE AND THE WILDERNESS

My final week in Egypt involved the overnight train back up to Cairo once we arrived back in Luxor, (top tip; don’t use the loo. Ever.) and then another road journey into a new desert. Technically this was the third desert I visited in Egypt and though I prefer to call it a wilderness. Somehow the land seemed more lost and alone that the western desert had ever felt. In the western desert I could see that no one was there. In the Sinai wilderness I kept questioning and wondering what I would see around the next bend. Nothing. There was nothing there. The Sinai peninsula is a desolate and lonely spike of rocky landscape. A harsh world of rocks and mountains cut like shards of glass with incandescent veins of colour running through each crack and crevice. I’ve never seen so many colours in such a barren landscape.

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At the base of mount Sinai (yes, think Moses and thousands of Israelites) we stayed at a camp for the first few hours of night. We ate dinner and danced with the bedouin people who lived there. I even played dress up and was taught to belly dance by an Egyptian boy (yes. A boy.) The one surviving photo of me in Egypt was taken on this night.
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At 2am we left for the mountain. While our goal was to see the burnt orange disc of the sun rise over the edge of the earth from the highest peaks of the mountain, over four and half thousand feet above sea level, our morning didn’t quite work out that way.
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Yes we made it to the top, but the dawn was shrouded in an ethereal mist. There was no resplendent sun, but it was enough for me, a magical land above the earth where I could see isolated fortresses peaking up out of the clouds on distant mountain tops. 100% one of the most fantastical experiences of my life to date. Our path down took us via the Siket Sayidna Musa, three thousand, seven hundred and fifty stairs to the monastery of Santa Katharina at the mountain’s base.
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The stairs were carved by a monk several hundred years ago in penitence for what he must have perceived as a hell of a lot of sins. At least we can give thanks years later that he made the stairs, because they are kind of cool. I met a cat friend on the stairs. I counted that he followed me for eight hundred of them 😻.

THE LAST RESORT

Our final destination on my Egypt journey was Dahab. As a stereotypical resort location Dahab wasn’t as thrashed by the tourist culture as Sharm el Sheik and Hurghada are known for being. It was still Fill of local people and local culture, though sadly I think the terrorist attack there only a few months after we left has affected Dahab and scarred the way it is perceived. On a really personal note, I made friends with a boy that worked in the supermarket next to the place I stayed, and it was this supermarket that was completely destroyed in the bombing.

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Our last few days were typical, I booked a private driver and my own bodyguard (he picked me flowers and taught me about herbs that grow in the Sinai wilderness – what a legend) and went back out to explore the ancient monastery in search of bones and graves in typical me fashion, while my mother and travel buddy headed out to the blue hole for an idyllic day of snorkelling and iridescent fish chasing.

And that, as they say, was almost that!

Read my final top tips and travel advice for Egypt….here!

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