These last four weeks have been such a blur. Time is flying faster than I thought possible. It seems like yesterday that I was saying goodbye to my Mom and my boyfriend, Todd, at the airport.. yet here it is, almost April! I want to apologize for not blogging for so long. In the last four weeks we have had 2 excursions/ trips, including Spring Break. Not to mention I’ve had to squeeze in mid-semester presentations & the accompanying homework load, two Naval Science Exams, class registration for Ole Miss, workout classes, thesis work, and now I’m even in contact with a Naval Intelligence mentor to help prepare me for my future career. Oh! And I’ve had to do this with no wifi in my apartment. That’s right, zero wifi… because of this the girls have essentially migrated to the boys’ apartment and overloaded their bandwidth. The internet is slow but at least I have access… when the electricity doesn’t go out, that is. About every other day our electricity will go out for 1-2 hours in the evening which really puts a damper on attempting to blog. Essentially, I have every excuse in the book. haha. But I’m here now! And I am so excited to tell you about my life in Egypt these past few weeks!
So I left everyone off right before I departed for my Spring Break. That trip was by far the craziest, most spiritual, most wild, jam-packed adventure I’ve ever experienced and it is by far our biggest trip of the semester so I want to do it justice by focusing this blog solely on it. I will discuss my latest trip later this week or this weekend. Promise
It all started on February 28th.. we rolled out of bed and into a van for the three hour ride to Cairo. There we roamed around a bit and found an AMAZING restaurant called RAD. The food there is really good with close to American portions but best of all? Cheap. My spaghetti cost 10.50EGP, in other words, about $1.50 haha. We weren’t in Cairo long, however, as the next morning we were up and at it at 4:15 in order to be on time for our 7am flight to Aswan. The flight was only an hour long but once we landed I could have sworn we were in a different country. EVERYTHING was desert.. or flowers. I have become so accustomed to the city life of Alexandria and Cairo that I nearly forgot that the majority of Egypt is VERY rural. We took the scenic route from the airport and it was great to see so much of the beautiful country-side. It almost felt like home Eventually we made our way to the docks where we boarded our floating home for the next 4 days. A Nile Cruise Ship! It is practically a mini version of a Carnival cruise. There is a swimming pool on the top deck, a HUGE lounge/bar complete with alcohol and a strobe light, a couple gift shops, a small gym, and a sauna. The first thing we did after arrival was throw on our bathing suits and head up to the pool deck. Meals on the cruise ship are the BEST. I can’t remember the last time I saw so many fresh vegetables.. I nearly cried I was so excited. haha. Following a quick lunch we all boarded a bus and were taken to see the Aswan High Dam and then we found ourselves at a tiny harbor. We were hurried into tiny boats and just when I was about to ask what was going on.. BAM! Philae Temple. By far my favorite temple (and I have seen A LOT of temples here), Philae Temple is situated on its own island at the edge of the Nile. Surrounded by wild flowers and standing in stark contrast to the perfect azur sky, the ancient limestone is COVERED from floor to 50 ft (probably higher) ceiling with hieroglyphs. I caught myself with my jaw dropping in amazement sooo many times. I could have stayed there for days but we were mercilessly shuffled along. It was like a perfectly preserved ancient museum. Something straight from a post card. And the stories and explanations of the hieroglyphs easily could have never ended. But all too soon they did and we were back on the bus, then back on the boat.
The following day consisted of more sunbathing and great food and tea before we hurried off to see Kom Ombo Temple, very similar to Philae Temple, although with a twist as this one admired two gods. If I remember the tour guide correctly it is the only temple in Egypt (maybe anywhere) that does this. This temple admired the God “Set” (and his brother), who happens to be a crocodile and so there was a giant crocodile pit beside the temple and a museum with mummified crocodiles.. creepy haha. Following the tour and dinner, the cruise put on a Galabiyya (a long robe lots of Muslims wear) party. It was SOO much fun!! I bought one especially for the occasion. If my camera battery hadn’t died I probably would have taken a hundred pictures. haha
The following day began before dawn. There was just so much to see! Edfu Temple, Karnak Temple, Habu Temple.. too many hieroglyphs and stone sculptures to keep track of! Sadly, after awhile the shock of the beauty and history of the tombs faded, especially after seeing so many right after one another. When I got back from the long day I crashed for a bit and then laid out by the pool trying to soak up what was left of the late afternoon sunshine. Later that night, taking advantage of our last night on the ship, Sarah and Matt and I ordered the signature drinks of the ship – Mai Tais and a King Tut. Totally worth the 60 pounds.. I highly recommend the Mai Tai 😉
Next morning we were supposed to go see the Valley of the Kings/ Queens BUT unfortunately, the Revolution has caused serious ramifications for the tourist industry in Upper Egypt and many folks down there now can’t make ends meet. The day we tried to get into the Valley, those struggling people were demonstrating against the high rent prices of local shops as a result of loss of tourism to the area. I found it all rather ironic… but regardless, we spent the day looking at the Luxor Temple and a couple small underground tombs. One thing I will say for this area too; its really depressing how these ancient wonders are being exploited, taken advantage of, and abused by the local population looking to make a quick buck. Every time I turned around I was being haggled or harassed by peddlers of Chinese made souvenirs. They made me really not want to spend much time there at all. Luckily (and sadly), we had a plane to catch so we couldn’t stay long.
Back in Cairo I began to start packing for the next portion of our trip when I noticed I was missing a good chunk of my jewelry… For anyone traveling to Egypt in the near future, take a lesson from me, don’t leave ANYTHING sitting out you don’t want stolen. It’s just too easy and too tempting for the people here. With the economy in such shambles I’m surprised the cruise ship maid didn’t try to take my laptop or my camera too.
The next morning began my favorite part of Spring Break.. the last minute, crazy, rash, ridiculous but TOTALLY UNFORGETTABLE trip to St. Catherine in Sinai. An eight hour bus ride later we found ourselves in a little Bedouin camp settled right at the foot of the mountains called Fox Camp. I highly recommend it to anyone traveling in the region. Its 30EGP a night per person, the tea is free, the food is spectacular, and the company is truly hospitable and wonderful. The following morning after breakfast we began our day by exploring St. Catherine’s monastery. What a place. Nestled right at the foot of eight thousand foot mountains, in the middle of Islamic Sinai sits a breathtaking yet humble house of Greek Orthodox worship. I was so fortunate to have had the opportunity to see it, otherwise I would not have believed it. It was a little bit of Christianity (and of home) in an otherwise Islamic dominated (and enforced) region. I didn’t realize how much my religion meant to me until I couldn’t practice it anymore. When I walked in I was offered a candle and time to pray… the offer shocked me as I realized how much I missed being able to do that in a church. Being there was certainly an eye-opening experience for me as I realized how much I truly missed being able to practice my religion, I missed being Catholic…. its amazing all the little things we take for granted as an American.
From the monastery we took a taxi to the town where we enjoyed a great Egyptian meal. After we ate we decided to begin our climb to the top of Mt. Sinai, without a guide. Thankfully, we didn’t get very far before a friend we met in town offered his help. I’m pretty sure he was sent by a guardian angel because thanks to him we were able to get to the top before sundown (we started later in the day than we should have). Even though we had to, quite literally, rock climb some of the way up, I wouldn’t have traded seeing that sunset for anything. Sitting there, 8,000ft up watching the sun fall behind dusty mountains… it is beyond description. I felt like I was on top of the world. Above the world. Like this small moment was but a glimpse into what heaven could be. Despite the cold and my sore feet I soaked up the moment there so close to God and everything I believe in. That moment there changed my faith forever. I can’t explain it but now I don’t have doubts, I believe. Coming down the mountain only reinforced that faith. With such little planning, our group had forgotten the essentials.. like a flashlight. Climbing down 8,000 ft in the pitch dark in my TOMS with no water or food… I swear the only thing that got me down safely was my guardian angel. It certainly wasn’t my awesome hiking skills.. haha. That hike was by far the dumbest thing I have ever done, yet, it was an experience that I am beyond grateful for. I do recommend future travelers to bring a flashlight though. haha.
The next morning we were headed back to Cairo and then on to Alexandria. Looking back now it is hard to imagine that just a week could change a person so much, but it did. Its hard to imagine anyone could learn so much about themselves in such a short amount of time, but I did. The history I witnessed was overwhelming – whether standing in front of the ancient temples or on top of the world. Reliving the life of Moses turned out to be an incredible Spring Break. Definitely beats Panama City 😉
Thank you for reading and I look forward to telling you more about my adventures here in Egypt soon!