- Our visit to Egypt ended just a couple months prior to the demonstrations
that have recently rocked that country. Though I understood that
poverty was pervasive and Mubarak was unpopular - I never knew the
depths of that unpopularity - nor did I ever dream that a country
as seemingly stable as Egypt appeared to be, could change so suddenly
and dramatically. The Egyptian people that we encountered where
overwhelmingly warm and friendly and we truly do wish them the best
and are hopeful that the the current instability leads to a better
life for the people who call Egypt home.
Egypt refers generally to the area from the the Nile
River Delta - south of Cairo, to Lake Nasser in Aswan at what was
once the "first cataract" (before construction of the
Aswan High Damn) and ancient Egypt's border with Nubia. This area
is remarkably rich in remnants of pharaonic Egypt. A legendary Pharaoh
named Narmer is said to have united Upper & Lower Egypt around
3100 BC. Many of the earliest ruins from pharaonic times are located
in Memphis, Giza & Saqqara, near present day Cairo in Lower
Egypt. Upper Egypt however, contains a wealth of remarkably well
preserved temples and monuments from Egypt's glory days - it's height
of power. The Nile was what made civilization possible in Egypt
and as a result, virtually all settlement is along its banks.
(present day Luxor) became the capital of upper Egypt around 2125
BC with the rule of Mentuhotep and his defeat of the north. Power
remained in Luxor for over 1000 years before the empire began to
fall apart. Among the rulers associated with Thebes and Upper Egypt
are Tutmosis, Amenhotep, Hatshepsut I, II & II, Ramses and Seti
I & II. Of course, everyone's favorite pharaoh, Tutankhamun
also rules during this period. By 1070 BC - after 2,000 years as
one of the world's preeminent civilizations - Egypt is a fractured
state. Egypt never again retains the power and wealth achieved during
this period. Though still wealthy and powerful to a degree, Egypt
is ruled by foreigners (Libyans, Macedonians, Persians, Romans and
Turks) until the 20th century.
monuments in and around Luxor are part of a UNESCO World Heritage
Site known as "Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis".
You can link to the UNESCO site at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/87.
first night in Egypt was spent in Cairo after an insanely long flight
from JFK. Then it was up early and a flight to Luxor to begin the
first part of our honeymoon - a Nile River cruise. For four days
we cruised from Luxor to Aswan, stopping at Esna, Edfu and Kom Ombo
along the way. After the cruise we took a short puddle jumper for
an unfortunately brief visit to Abu Simbel and a flight back to
Memphis - located in the suburbs - was an ancient center of power,
Cairo itself was never a pharaonic
city. Originally a 4th century Roman fort known as Babylon-in-Egypt,
Cairo's rise to power came much later in Egypt's history. Built
near Egypt's Babylon in 641, Fustat was the first capitol of Egypt
under Islamic rule. When the Fatimids invaded from Tunisia in the
year 969, they established their own capital nearby. The name of
the new capitol was Al-Madina al-Qahira (the City Victorious) and
it eventually absorbed what remained of Fustat as the old capitol
declined. The name, often shortened to "Al Qahira" was
bastardized by Europeans over the years to become what we now call
is Egypt's first city and is the center of politics, culture and
religion in the country. With a population of 20 million, it is
the largest city on the African continent and has many of the problems
associated with so much humanity. Endemic smog, perpetual traffic
jams and grinding poverty plague the city which has sprawled ever
further from its original center. It is no exaggeration to say that
the primary problem facing any visitor to Cairo is getting from
point A to point B, especially if it requires crossing the street.
There are few (very few) traffic signals, and they are often ignored.
There are no speed limits and lanes are merely suggestions, and
not very strong suggestions at that.
is a certain charm to the city though. On a clear day, the pyramids
are visible from high points in the city and the Nile appears downright
serene. The pyramids of Giza are nearby, as are many other relics
from ancient Egypt, including the Step Pyramid of Djoser, the Bent
Pyramid and the tombs of the nobles. The mosques and fortresses
of Islamic Egypt are impressive and Coptic Cairo is a reminder of
Egypt's Christian history. The Egyptian Museum is not to be missed
and a felucca ride on the Nile at dusk can easily soothe nerves
rattled by rogue taxi drivers and the endless sound of horns honking
at nothing in particular.
Sinai Peninsula has been a hotspot
of conflict for many years. Just a few decades ago, it would not
have been high on anyone's list of vacation spots. There have been
many armed confrontation on the Sinai in the last half of the 20th
Century. Egyptian forces fought with the Palestinians (against Isreal)
in the Sinai during the Arab-Isreali war of 1948. In 1956 - Egypt
nationalized the Suez Canal and ejected the British. In 1967 - in
response to Egypt's ordered withdrawal of UN peacekeeping troops
and the fortifying of it's borders, Israel launched a preemptive
strike against Egypt. After this conflict known as the Six-Day War,
Israel controlled all of the Sinai. Egypt bit back in 1973 and,
after heavy fighting, retook much of the peninsula. In 1979 - Egypt
and Israel signed a peace treaty and Israel pulled out of the Sinai
in stages, thought the pull out was not complete until 1982.
how things change. Now days, the Sinai has gone from hotspot of
conflict, to a vacation hotspot. The Red Sea draws many European
vacationers looking for a place to tan during the winter. It is
home to one of the worlds finest coral reefs and draws divers from
around the world. Ras Mohammed National Park is a protected marine
reserve and probably the most famous of the dive areas, though there
are many sites along the coast with spectacular reefs. The Sinai
(as one might expect) is also home to Mount Sinai. Located near
the mountain's base is St. Katherine's Monastery, possibly the world's
oldest functioning monastery. The Red Sea Mountains with their austere
beauty are also an impressive sight. In the face of this renewed
tourism, there is one remnant of the former violence in this region
that remains. For many excursions, you are accompanied by a security
officer. Dressed in blue suits, they look like secret service. I
think they are a legal requirement intended to reassure travelers,
though I have to say they make me feel a bit uneasy.
El Sheikh has become the preeminent resort town along what is often
called the Red Sea Riviera. It is situated between the mountain
range of Gebel El Igma and the Red Sea and encompasses three bays:
Sharm El Sheikh, Na'ama Bay and Maya Bay. The town is sort of an
Egyptian Cancun, with high end hotels, restaurants and resorts.
It can be a great place to recharge after a pretty intense trip.
If you want a more laid back experience, Dahab has a much more back-packer-friendly
feel. I have to say though, one of the funniest things I have ever
seen was in Naama Bay. We spied a group of young Arab men in robes
(clearly tourists), shakin' their money makers to Wyclef Jean. It
was just a truly odd sight. Damn, where was my camera and why didn't
I use it?