Monday, January 11, 2010

The Bieters in Egypt

In a million years, if you were to ask me if I would be traveling to Egypt, I would say that you were crazy. My life has taken so many different twists and turns in the past few years, and I feel quite blessed to be so fortunate to travel the world. When we arrived in the Sharm El Sheik Airport, we were greeted by our Sharm representative who drove us to our hotel. Once we arrived, we were told that our hotel was full to capacity and that they would be moving us to the Mirabel Resort Beach Club (the nicest of the three connected hotels) without the added price. So far so good. Once to the hotel, they took our bags and said that they would have them delivered to our room. Nick went to check in, and after several forms to fill out, they showed us to our room at room 2239. The room was absolutely beautiful. The cabinets were all a dark wood, and the master bedroom had beautiful wooden french doors and an adjoining balcony. In the other room, the children had two smaller beds and the hotel resembled that of a condo rather than a hotel room. We decided to go down for dinner at one of the many restaurants included in our all inclusive stay, and chose the outdoor candle lit buffet. Once done, we walked the grounds to familiarize ourselves with our surroundings. We found playgrounds and swimming pools at every turn all set in a beautifully romantic and tropical setting. We also noticed that on the grounds that they had five water slides for use and a private entry to the Red Sea. There was also a Mirabel Market area with several shops selling souvenirs, snacks, Egyptian water pipes, clothing, snorkeling and swimming essentials, as well as perfume and papyrus stores.

The next day, we decided to have a free day to relax swim, and enjoy the sun. The following day, Coretta and I were up at 5 am and out the door at 6 am to catch a 7 am flight to Cairo. Once there, we were picked up by our tour guide for the day. Our first destination on our itinerary was a tour of the Egyptian Museum. Here many relics of Ancient Egypt are housed here including the precious tomb of King Tutankhamun (King Tut) of the 18th Dynasty, the 9 year old King assassinated at 19 years old. This specific tomb was the only one completely intact after the others were raided. We then took a cruise down the Nile River. The Nile itself has much history and biblical significance, it was so great to see it first hand.

According to Wikipedia, "the structure of Egypt’s society made it one of the most stable in history. In fact, it might easily have surpassed many modern societies. This stability was an immediate result of the Nile’s fertility. The Nile also provided flax for trade. Wheat was also traded, a crucial crop in the Middle East where famine was very common. This trading system secured the diplomatic relationship Egypt had with other countries, and often contributed to Egypt's economic stability. Also, the Nile provided the resources such as food or money, to quickly and efficiently raise an army for offensive or defensive roles.

The Nile, an unending source of sustenance, provided a crucial role in the development of Egyptian civilization. The Nile made the land surrounding it extremely fertile when it flooded or was inundated annually. The Egyptians were able to cultivate wheat and crops around the Nile, providing food for the general population. Also, the Nile’s water attracted game such as water buffalo; and after the Persians introduced them in the 7th century BC, camels. These animals could be killed for meat, or could be captured, tamed and used for ploughing — or in the camels' case, travelling. Water was vital to both people and livestock. The Nile was also a convenient and efficient way of transportation for people and goods.

The Nile played a major role in politics and social life. The pharaoh would supposedly flood the Nile, and in return for the life-giving water and crops, the peasants would cultivate the fertile soil and send a portion of the resources they had reaped to the Pharaoh. He or she would in turn use it for the well-being of Egyptian society.

The Nile was a source of spiritual dimension. The Nile was so significant to the lifestyle of the Egyptians, that they created a god dedicated to the welfare of the Nile’s annual inundation. The god’s name was Hapy, and both he and the pharaoh were thought to control the flooding of the Nile. Also, the Nile was considered as a causeway from life to death and afterlife. The east was thought of as a place of birth and growth, and the west was considered the place of death, as the god Ra, the Sun, underwent birth, death, and resurrection each time he crossed the sky. Thus, all tombs were located west of the Nile, because the Egyptians believed that in order to enter the afterlife, they must be buried on the side that symbolized death.

The Greek historian, Herodotus, wrote that ‘Egypt was the gift of the Nile’, and in a sense that is correct. Without the waters of the Nile River for irrigation, Egyptian civilization would probably have been short-lived. The Nile provided the elements that make a vigorous civilization, and contributed much to its lasting three thousand years.

That far-reaching trade has been carried on along the Nile since ancient times can be seen from the Ishango bone, possibly the earliest known indication of Ancient Egyptian multiplication, which was discovered along the headwaters of the Nile River (near Lake Edward, in northeastern Congo) and was carbon-dated to 20,000 BC."

According to the Book of Exodus, Moses was born in a time when his people were increasing in number and the Egyptian Pharaoh was worried that they might help Egypt's enemies. Moses' Hebrew mother, Jochebed, hid him when the Pharaoh ordered all newborn Hebrew boys to be killed, and he ended up being adopted into the Egyptian royal family. After killing an Egyptian slave-master, Moses fled across the Red Sea to Midian where he tended the flocks of Jethro, a priest of Midian on the slopes of Mt. Horeb. After the Ten Plagues were unleashed on Egypt, Moses led the Hebrew people out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, where they based themselves at Horeb and compassed the borders of Edom. It was at this time that Moses received the Ten Commandments. Despite living to the age of 120, Moses died before reaching the Land of Israel. For these reasons and many more, the experience of being on the Nile was remarkable.

Our next destination on our tour was to see the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx in Giza. To put this experience in historical perspective, there have been 138 pyramids found in Egypt since 2008. The Pyramid of Khufu at Giza is the largest pyramid ever built and still remains one of the Seven Wonders of the World still in existence today. It stands 450 feet tall (137mtrs) and consists of two million blocks of stone, weighing from the most common at 2.5 tons up to 50 tons. The weight of the pyramid is six million tons. The four corners are almost perfect right angles and align almost exactly to the four points of the compass. The sides slope at a perfect 52 degrees, or would do had not the smoothly polished limestone finishing blocks been removed and used in building works in Cairo. It is one one of the original Seven Wonders of the World. Impressive though the statistics are, they do not reveal the true magnificence of this wonderful construction.

Once we took pictures around the area and had a chance to climb the pyramids, we were told that a camel ride to the back of the pyramids is well worth it. We were told that there we would see not three pyramids, but nine and a view of the city of Giza itself. The catch was that the only way we could get there was by way of camel. I thought to myself, me riding a camel, with my fear of heights and the need to feel in control of my surroundings. This sounds horrible. With that said, when will I ever have the chance to ride the camels at the pyramids. Next thing I knew, Coretta was hoisted up on the camel, and then it was my turn. I was told to hang on tight and lean backwards. When doing that, the sheer force of the camel pushes you forward and you feel like you are going to fall face first. Then, one more push to get the back legs up and you are towering high above the ground. Not recommended for people with fear of heights like myself.

Once up, the camel driver asks me for 600 Egyptian pounds (roughly 120 USD). Now I have been forewarned of the camel drivers and their tactics, but believed my tour guide had my personal interests in safety in mind. I quickly learned that he didn't in this situation. The idea that the mafia camel guy wanted 240 USD for a short camel ride was insane. I still was ripped off at 60 USD per person when it was clear we could have both rode one camel. I then paid him the 600 Egyptian pounds (120 USD) where I find out that he wanted that for both camels. I said I do not have the money for that, which he then settled for the same price for both. At this point, these younger men took us away from our tour guide, and deep into the desert with no one else around. At one point, he stated that I needed to sit back and put my purse in the front. He was then going to ride in front of me and I had to hold on to the back part of the camel. While doing this, we start galloping fast, hopping up and down on the back of the camel. I was scared to say the least and worried. Coretta was in the back having the same horrible experience I was having. Once to the area we were told about, the man took my scarf and wrapped it around my head and wanted to take a picture of me. He said, "You look like an Egyptian princess." He having my camera, and me on the camel, I felt vulnerable and had to oblige. All I really wanted to do is deck this asshole who was yelling at me and then asking me if I was happy. He then took a few pictures and at one point the camel made a horrible noise and tried to get me off of him. When I told the man, he seemed to be unaffected by this and says, "Don't worry, he is fine." I thought to myself, "Fine? Then why is he making that horrible sound and showing his teeth?" Once Coretta made it up, we took pictures together on our camels. The man wanted to take us further and kept asking for money, which I refused on both accounts.

Once back to my tour guide, I felt relieved and happy, especially when I was off that animal. I had a huge blood blister in the middle of my right hand for holding on to the handle so tight during this excursion. I can laugh about it now, but Nick can laugh harder.

The next day, we had another free day where we lounged by the pool, soaked up the sun, and walked around.

The following day, we prepared ourselves for an excursion on a glass bottom boat. We had a 30 minute van ride to Na'ma Bay. Once out of the van, it was like we arrived at Spring Break. This specific area has some of the best night clubs as well as some of the best snorkeling in the area. We then made our way through the beach to the boat, and walked across what seemed to be plastic leggos hooked together as a segue way between sea and boat. Without good balance, it would turn out with me and the kids in the sea and many people laughing at our expense. Once in the boat, they packed us like sardines into a very small covered room where the glass bottom of the boat was. We were all sitting on benches and must have had thirty people in there. While floating on the Red Sea, we were able to see many different coral reefs as well as different tropical fish. We then were led to the top of the boat where we had fantastic views of the Red Sea that made for some great pictures. I'd say the latter was more enjoyable then being cramped into a small space to look at the bottom of a boat.

The last excursion in Egypt included a two hour safari desert ride in a jeep to the Colored Canyons where they would take a hike for two hours, and end with a tour of Saint Catherine's Monastery. Coretta and Nick left around 8 am. Once brought to the jeep, the back door was opened, to find 8 Russians packed in like sardines on benches. At this point, Nick wanted to flee far away from the jeep. He stated that it was like they were being sold into slavery. When he discussed this with Coretta, she later agreed. Once in, the tour guide catered to the Russians, so the interpretations relied heavily on a Russian woman who translated for them. While driving, Coretta ended up getting a nose bleed due to the dryness. The Russian woman in the car became quite concerned, and immediately started taking care of Coretta. Once the bleeding ceased, they found out that they would not be able to take the Colored Canyon Hike due to water.

Disappointed and tired from being cramped in the jeep, they stopped fro lunch and a swim. After this, they went to the Saint Catherine's Monastery where they were able to see many old relics as well as see where Moses saw the Burning Bush as well as received the Ten Commandments. It is at this time, that Nick reiterated that he was not going to ride any camel....he learned from my experience.

Overall, this was by far the best family vacation we have ever had. Other than having to pay 60 dollars for towel cards we didn't know we needed to keep and being ripped off by the mafia camel herder, it was a paradise like no other. Even being ripped off isn't too upsetting when you put it in perspective. we were in a third world country where the average Egyptian makes 60 dollars a month. Knowing that, I can pay a little extra in the name of humanity. In fact, Coretta became so emotional the last night and read us a touching entry she wrote in her journal. Geno was affected by this trip as well and just kept crying saying he didn't want to go home. I hope to visit Egypt again and found the Egyptians friendly, family orientated, religious, accommodating, patient, with a great sense of humor. As the Egyptians say, "We had a wonderful experience my friends."

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