After leaving the Sinai, we spent a day in Luxor and 3 days in Cairo at various tourist attractions. I’ve decided that passive sightseeing with hordes of other tourists isn’t my favorite flavor of tourism. Nevertheless, we had good guides and the subject material was pretty interesting to me as a history buff (although I’m not going to try to regurgitate history here). As has always been true in every country we’ve visited so far, the best part of the tour has been learning from the guides about the lives they live in their countries.

Our stay in Luxor was mostly uneventful. Our hotel was a little odd. From the outside and in the lobby it appears to be a 15+ story luxury hotel with very rich, comfortable furnishings. But we paid something like $25/night for a double room. Turns out that only two floors of the hotel are finished. We later discovered that finished buildings incrementally is a pervasive building strategy in Egypt. I guess they don’t pay property taxes on the structure if it isn’t finished. so finishing a structure is often done as the owner can afford it. In fact, we saw whole neighborhoods of apartment buildings with re-bar sticking from the top awaiting more stories. We were told that frequently sons and their families will use future upper stories as their homes when they marry.

The sites in Luxor were probably the best we saw. I learned a ton, but won’t bore you with all that here. We found out that our tour guide had an archeology degree but had become a tour guide because of the lack of archeology jobs. He said that most of the archeology in Egypt is still done by foreigners for reasons having to do with money (I wasn’t sure if he meant other countries pay to do the work, or if it was just the high capital requirements to dig, or what). Even more interesting was that he was a local from the Kharnakk neighborhood and had started in the tourism business at the age of 8 or so as one of the little boys who goes around trying to sell knick-knacks to tourists. Becoming an archaeologist had been his dream. Right now he’s in the process of applying to get his master’s degree so he can lecture at a University.

Our hotel in Cairo was a small semi-hostel run by a fantastic Egyptian/French couple. The hotel just occupied the top floor of a tall building so we had breakfast and dinner overlooking the city. Of course, “overlooking the city” means you can see for about 8 blocks because the air pollution is so bad (by far the worst of anywhere we’ve been). Our guide was a beautiful young Muslim lady named Zinab who we forced to give a play-by-play of her social life. Her social life was fascinating (and by her account often hilarious) to us because it is so radically different from life in the US. Dates are arranged by others, and a couple may see each other only a few times before deciding whether or not to marry, which is a mutual decision. The boy must receive permission from the girl’s father and must prove that he can provide for her, which is often difficult. Muslim men can marry non-Muslim women without a lot of difficulty but the same isn’t true for women because the children are thought to follow the father in religion. Recently, this asymmetry has apparently resulted in lots of Egyptian men marrying light-colored and blond women from eastern europe and Russia. We also asked for and got a long question and answer session about Islam which I won’t post here because I’d probably get something wrong, but it was very interesting in a positive way.

We had some other great experiences in Cairo as well – like the time Cameron, acting as the Navigator in Chief, walked us for 45 minutes towards downtown Cairo at 10:00 at night 180 degrees in the wrong direction. We learned that instead of watching TV, men in Cairo hit the sidewalks at night with their hookahs to play backgammon and talk about current events, whether local or international. Another time, Pope Shenouda of the Coptic Church and a large entourage of his bishops and the press corps walked right by us going to their VIP plane as we were waiting to board our plane to Cairo. The next night we ran into the President of Austria and his entourage touring the Tutankhamen display at the National Museum in Cairo just before closing. Yet another time, we were randomly selected for to take a street-quiz for a TV show which we failed pretty miserably (do YOU know the names of all four of Egypt’s Nobel Prize winners?).

Anyway, Egypt was great. The Sinai was probably still my favorite area, but Valley of the Kings and the National Museum were also highlights of our trip. As with most of the places we’ve visited before, I hope to return sometime (among other reasons, to visit Zinab and her new husband!).

One Response to “Egypt”
  1. Kathy says:

    Gotta talk to you about your trip, particularly Egypt and the Coptic Church. If you are going to be back in time for Thanksgiving, I may actually drive to Utah for T-day just to hear about your experiences there (and elsewhere), but before undertaking that abysmal drive, I’d need to know if you will even be in Utah then. Let me know, if possible. E-mail is [email protected] Then, again, I may rethink that, as it IS a looooong drive by oneself. I can always call if I chicken out.

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