Luxoriffic Luxor

Hello Dear Readers!

As is surprising to no one, I’m currently in an airport waiting to start the very long journey to Hong Kong. I’ve got a few things left to tell you guys about Egypt though, so buckle in. Today we’re going to talk about Luxor, where Joni and I spent a whirlwind 2 nights before heading back up to Cairo.

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The gorgeous view from our hotel room.

Now, when I vacation I do it either one of two ways. In one, I get up at the crack of dawn with a full day of activities planned and very little sleep involved. In the other, I arrive to a hotel and literally do not move until check-out, whenever that is.

This was the first type.

So it was that Joni and I rose for the fourth day in a row at 3am, dreaming longingly of sleeping in until 6. Alas, our hot air balloon ride was due for the sunrise, which is ludicrously early in the Middle East.

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We need sleep!

It was so cool!

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We soared over the entirety of Luxor, catching glimpses of the Valley of the Kings (King Tut’s tomb!), the Valley of the Queens, Hatshepsut’s Temple, and throughout it all, the Nile winding its way through the ancient city.

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For those of you who don’t know, Luxor is considered one of the best places to go see ancient history, much better than Cairo, and has some of the best preserved tombs in the world.

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So it was that after the hot air balloon ride we met up with our private guide, who spent the entire day showing us around.

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Ok, so. You guys know that Egypt is cheap, right? I’ve spoken about it enough that it should be old news by now. So when the tourism office at the Valley of the Kings wanted to charge us $15 for the ability to take photos, I flatly declined. I mean come on, our guide for the entire day was only $20. I didn’t need no stinking photos.

Or so I thought. I really underestimated how cool the tombs were- definitely photo worthy. And once we got down there, I saw all kinds of people taking photos. So I thought to myself, “hey, I’m gonna do it anyway. What’s the worst that could happen?”

Well, boys and girls, the worst that can happen is that one of the guards can seize your phone, demand you open it, scroll through your photos, and then try to shake you down for a bribe in order not to report you to the photo police.

I pretended not to understand him and Joni and I ran like hell out of the tomb, afraid that he was chasing us. We stuck to postcards after that.

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Behold! The Offending Photos!
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They aren’t even any good. 

But it was cool!

-Carissa “Lawless” Rawson

Flying the Sinai

Hello Dear Readers!

Finals are over, all my papers are turned in (with the exception of my dissertation, which isn’t due until August), and my time in Edinburgh has come to a close.

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It’s bittersweet, but mostly bitter. I don’t feel like I’ve had enough time here, but time moves forward and there’s nothing I can do but go along.

Enough of the moping, though. I haven’t finished telling you guys about Egypt- which was certainly one of the most interesting experiences of my life. After our classes ended we had an extra two weeks in the country itself for…um…studying…purposes. Obviously I took this to mean it was an excellent time to travel.

Now, Harrison and I haven’t seen much of each other recently as we’ve both been extremely busy. So once I knew I had a week off, I thought “Hey! I’ll make the short jump from Cairo to Tel Aviv and go visit him for a week! How hard can it be?”

Well, the answer is: really hard.

In case you guys aren’t up to date on your world politics, even though Egypt and Israel are at “peace” they still reeeeeally hate each other and make it as difficult as possible to connect between the two countries.

This goes for air travel as well as land crossings, so when I attempted to find a direct flight between Cairo and Tel Aviv, I was met with a big fat zero. Honestly, I tried everything I could, but none of my trusty sites served me and in the end I was forced to conclude that I’d need to fly to Turkey first and connect down to Tel Aviv, with a total journey time of around 16 hours each way to make it some three hundred miles.

And then. In a dark, empty, corner of the internet I found mention of a flight. Of an airline, kinda sketchy and secret, with no website and only a hotmail email address with which to contact them. Legend went that they operated once daily a direct flight form Cairo to Tel Aviv and vice versa.

I emailed them and was met with silence. So I had Harrison call their Tel Aviv office (yay for speaking Hebrew!) and they informed him that the only way I would be able to purchase a ticket was in person, in Cairo, in cash.

So when I got to Cairo I rolled up to Egyptair’s office, the parent airline that had purchased this small, secret airline (Air Sinai), and which sells the tickets for this flight. Of course, since they own the only flight in town the ticket price was exorbitant. And yes, I had to pay in cash. I enlisted the help of my friend Shahnaz and together we crept into the Egyptair flight office clutching a wad of bills the size of a baseball.

When I informed the flight agent I wanted a ticket to Tel Aviv, her eyebrows nearly flew off her head, but she let me purchase it and sent me on my way with a paper ticket. (Did anyone know they still made those?)

The morning of my flight I made my way to the Cairo airport, where the flight board registered one flight to Tel Aviv with no specific airline attached. I made my way to the ticket counter, waaaay in a back corner, and stood in line for an hour waiting to check in as the one harried ticket agent attempted to deal with every single person on the flight.

And the plane.

Well, you know that they hate each other. And you know that the Sinai is generally regarded as a lawless wasteland. And maybe I hadn’t mentioned this yet, but the plane flew directly through the Sinai on its route to Tel Aviv.

So it was that I boarded an unmarked plane parked at the wrong end of the airport and flew through the ungovernable anarchy of the Sinai Desert. Twice.

And I made it!

-Carissa “I’m Only Brave Until I’m Stupid” Rawson

The Pyramids: Part Two

Hello Dear Readers!

So I’ve just finished talking to you guys about my visit inside the Great Pyramid of Giza. It was certainly an experience, I’ll tell you that much. However! There’s more to the area than simply going inside, as there are multiple pyramids and (obviously) the sphinx to look at. The rest of our journey around the Pyramids was a lot better, and we got some awesome photos, except for one tiny detail.

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You see, there are a lot of hawkers around the Pyramids. You know, people who will “give you camel ride, best price, for you my friend the Egyptian price!”

They’re everywhere. And they’re vicious. The best thing for you to do is keep your head down, shake your head firmly no, and pretend like you can’t understand their English.

The worst thing to do is engage.

And the worst worst thing?

Let me tell you. Here we all are, meandering our way around the base of the pyramid (immediately after our hike inside), covered in sweat and still trying to make sense of what had just occurred. We’ve been solicited a dozen times already, but as long as you cling together in a large enough pack, they can’t really come at you.

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Safety in numbers

We’re like a herd of antelope, and they’re the lions, looking for the weakest link.

So here’s the thing. We’re here to better our Arabic, we really are. And to that end, we often go out, practice our language, and try to speak with people. And we have this friend, his name is Evan, whose Arabic is amazing. He loves meeting new people and improving his language.

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Except Evan is a little too enthusiastic sometimes. So we’re walking and chatting and all of a sudden we notice Evan has gone missing. After a moment’s search we spot him, taking selfies with a bunch of Egyptians and chatting with them in Arabic. He’s basically famous, this random white guy speaking like a local.

And we can sense it. There’s blood in the water.

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The rest of us huddle even more tightly together and begin hissing at Evan “come here! Come back!”

It’s too late.

Evan says his goodbyes to these guys and begins to walk away, at which point one of the hawkers shouts to the entire world“Hey! This foreigner can speak Arabic!”

And the hordes descend, a million men on camels and donkeys and horses all crowding forward, shouting at Evan (in Arabic) “You want a ride? You speak Arabic? Where did you learn it? We’ll give you the Egyptian price!”

And hapless Evan, finally sensing the danger, tries to scurry back into our herd and lose himself amongst us. And instead we’re targeted, all of us, harassed repeatedly while Evan pulls his hat down over his forehead and tries to look innocent.

One man followed us for half an hour with his horse and cart, even stopping when we stopped, to the point that he got out of his cart and followed us when we tried a diversionary tactic to lose him. He only left when we managed the entire walk without him and he realized there was nowhere left for him to drive.

But, y’know, the sphinx was pretty cool.

-Carissa “The Antelope” Rawson

The Pyramids: Part One

Dear Friends,

Oh my dear dear friends.

A few weeks ago we went to the pyramids. I mean, living in Cairo that’s obviously something you need to check off the list, right? My friend Carlos had been before, and from his grim expression whenever he spoke of the pyramids, I was a little bit apprehensive.

My dear friends. You have no idea.

It took us roughly twice as long as usual to actually get to the pyramids, because the president of Portugal happened to be visiting and they shut down the roads entirely. Four of us were in a cab, sweating as our driver chain smoked and the meter ran in the parking lot of cars. It was an auspicious start, I’ll tell you that much.

But we made it there safely, bought our tickets, and, with bated breath, wended our way up to the Great Pyramid of Giza.

It’s breathtaking, it really is. The sheer size of it is mind-boggling, and when you walk up, the ancient stones above you looming large, you can’t help but be filled with awe.

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We had bought tickets to go inside to have a look around the Great Gallery. “Be careful,” they warned us, “it’s a bit of a climb.”

And yes, yes it was.

Let me lay the scene for you here.

It’s Cairo, mid-April, and a group of eight of us have just purchased our tickets to go inside. We make our way up the ancient stones, where a roughly hewn opening has been cut into the wall.

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Just inside, it’s cooler, as the rock shades the sun and a nice cross breeze drifts into the mouth of the pyramid.

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“This is lovely,” you think, snapping a photo before making your way deeper into the pyramid.

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So excited!

Inside, an angry young Arab man is yelling at a line of tourists, insisting that the narrow path above is a two-way walkway. You look up, eyeing it, and wonder how small people must have been when they built it. It’s not simply narrow, no. It’s barely more than a tunnel, and people are bent over in half, crab walking up a steep incline as they attempt to avoid elbowing each other.

“Here goes nothing,” you mutter, lining up with your friends as you begin to climb. You soon realize you are becoming very well acquainted with your friend’s behind, as the angle of the hike has forced your head to become roughly level with his ass. You feel a moment of pity for the girl behind you, whom you’ve only just met and who is currently suffering the intense view of your sweaty Thailand pants.

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It’s getting hotter now, and humid, as the sweat of hundreds of people begins to condense on the walls of the pyramid. The air is rank with body odor, and you simply pray that your deodorant lasts the length of the climb. Harsh fluorescent lights from the eighties cast unforgiving glows on the people you pass, who prove, indeed, that it is a two way path. Several times you encounter men simply lying on the floor, for whom the walkway is too narrow for them to fit. They are waiting for the flow of people to ebb, so they can stagger down in relative peace. Little do they know that the stream of tourists is only intensifying, and you wonder how long they have before their sweating gives them dehydration.

On and on and on you climb, it’s a millennia of hiking, you with your back bowed and your contacts blurring and your breath coming in short, stuttered pants, punctuated with coughing as you inhale more of the fetid air.

Finally. Finally. You come to it.

The Great Gallery.

Tomb of Kings.

Ancient wonder of the world.

Home of history.

It is roughly the size of your bedroom back home, and empty save for a small stone coffin, devoid of markings, which sits in the back corner.

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Behold the glory.

You’re bent over, hands on your knees, attempting to regain your breath as you look around. “Is there more?” You ask aloud, and from the grimaces on the faces of the people around you, you know there isn’t.

Still, at least I’ve had the experience.

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So. Much. Regret.

-Carissa “You Can’t Pay Me To Go Back In There” Rawson

Ancient Alexandria

Hello Dear Readers!

My very first weekend in Cairo the university had set up an organized tour all the way up to Alexandria. I appreciated this for a multitude of reasons, not the least because transportation in Egypt is a nightmare.

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We started with lunch on the Nile

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It was a pretty good weekend overall, though definitely guided as we were shuffled from place to place:

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The catacombs, in which we explored ancient tombs covered with Roman-influenced hieroglyphics:

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Pompey’s Pillar, which is the largest freestanding pillar in the world:

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We also visited the new library of Alexandria, which was built in homage to the ancient library that was burned way back when:

 

 

The Citadel:

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Montazah’s Gardens:

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And last but not least, Starbucks, because I may be international but I’m still basic at heart. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of it, but I’m sure you guys get the picture.

 

The tour was great, entirely in Arabic, and the food was good. Best part? It was free! The transportation, guide, food, entry tickets, and hotel were all given to us for the low cost of nothing. I call that a win.

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-Carissa “Um Excuse Me Where is the Starbucks” Rawson

Hello From Cairo!

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m writing to you from the middle of downtown Cairo, where I’ll be living for the next six weeks!

I know I mentioned this before, so none of you should be surprised. I’m studying here in order to improve my Arabic, and so far it’s been great! And by great I mean really really hard but also effective. Granted, I’ve only been here for three days so far, so we’ll see what lies ahead.

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The view from my balcony

Apologies for the lack of pictures thus far. The inside of a classroom isn’t all that exciting.

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Ooooh, Tahrir Square

See you soon!

-Carissa “نور” Rawson