Back to Egypt with Mr. Bob

Many of the people we meet along the way leave an enduring impression. Mr. Bob was one of them.

We’re not exactly sure where we first met Mr. Bob. We know it was in Egypt but aren’t sure if it was Cairo or Aswan. Mr. Bob is a tout/tour agent who seemed to show up everywhere. Perhaps in his mid 30’s or early 40’s, he had a cherubic, honest looking face. He was not overbearing and had good instincts. He quickly picked up that I wouldn’t cave in to his pricing quickly so bargaining become a bit easier as he knew we were ‘value’ shoppers; striking a reasonable agreement was an almost effortless affair. Aside from a taxi ride or two, the one big tour we booked through him was a day or half day of the city of the dead on the West Bank of Luxor. Sights were spread out and we had no transportation so a tour with guide and driver made a lot of sense.

We found out through our guide that Mr. Bob actually worked for the railroad in some capacity. (We’re not sure what his railroad job was really supposed to be but Mr. Bob’s number one job was clearly to take good care of Mr. Bob.) That made good sense as one of the memorable moments was getting off the train in Luxor from Aswan, and amongst the chaos that inevitably ensues when a bus or train arrives at a station, there he was, ready with a taxi driver/friend/brother/cousin to take us to our hotel. It was almost like he knew we were coming…..though, he did say he was at the station “fishing” for customers.

The last time we saw Mr. Bob was at the bus station in Luxor. I don’t know why we were surprised to see him there as he was getting to be such a familiar face wherever we went. And after all, the bus station would certainly be one of his “fishing holes”. I think of Mr. Bob occasionally and wonder how he fared during and after the coup, though, I’m pretty sure Mr. Bob is OK.

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Karnak Temple and Valley of the Kings

Karnak Temple and Valley of the Kings

The Temple of Karnak contains the world’s largest hypostyle. It’s overwhelming in size and scope and arguably the best preserved part of Karnak Temple.

The Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak

The Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak

The Great Hypostyle

The Great Hypostyle

Ram-headed Sphinx at Karnak

Ram-headed Sphinx at Karnak

The Valley of the Kings was one of the sites on our guided tour yesterday. Unfortunately picture taking was not allowed. The tombs are set along a winding road that descends into a valley surrounded by mountains on three sides. It was probably the hottest place visited since arriving in Egypt. One of the most striking elements of the sites there is how incredibly well preserved some of the tombs are. From the physical structure to the hieroglyphs and the colors of the paintings.

Having a guide can often provide an enriched travel experience. Over the years I’ve found that at some point your brain gets “full” as there is only so much information that is absorbable and that, if you’re lucky, perhaps you can remember 5-10% of what you heard. This was more than true about our guided tour to the West Bank necropolis as I’d already heard (and forgotten) numerous facts of Egyptology several times before the tour. Aside from seeing the spectacular sites, the richest part of this guided tour was the time spent with Guada (spelling?), getting to know her and what life is like for an experienced Egyptian guide with 3 kids and a journalist-husband. We wish her and her family well as these are trying times for Egyptians.

Deeper Cairo

Took care of some travel business buying seats on the overnight train from Cairo to Aswan. Taking the metro here is very easy and very inexpensive. For one Egyptian Pound (=14 cents) you can ride anywhere it goes. You just need to make sure you have your ticket to get off–or start singing Cairo’s version of Charlie getting stuck on the MTA. Most everything here is quite inexpensive even if prices are jacked up for tourists on most everything which locals will happily gouge you for. I purchased two delicious sesame falafels and one small water for less than one dollar! The next day I went into the same store to buy two small waters and the cashier wanted to charge me about $1.30! I told him to forget it and went down the street to buy two large bottles for 85 cents. More about scams another time.

Minarets and mosque in Islamic Cairo district

Minarets and mosque in Islamic Cairo district

The Islamic Cairo district was amazing. Filled with beautiful mosques and accompanying minarets, street bazaars with all kinds of chachkes to buy and narrow winding streets that would seem to lead to a dead end. Not until you’d reach the very end would you see a previously invisible entrance to another narrow street. Some alleys/streets we explored were extremely narrow and filthy with so few locals that Cindy got nervous about our safety until we reached a larger street again.

Mohammed Ali Mosque sits inside The Citadel which also contains a military museum extolling the campaigns of the Egyptian army as well as a former (medieval?) prison. The mosque was beautiful with marble walls, intricate wood carvings and vaulted ceilings. Rugs lined the entire floor to give it a warm feeling despite the huge interior.

Mohammed Ali Mosque from El Azhar Park

Mohammed Ali Mosque from El Azhar Park

After leaving there we walked along a busy road for about 25 minutes until we reached our next destination, El Azhar Park. The park was very pretty; it’s environs filled with locals enjoying each others’ company and having fun. It was a wonderful oasis from the noise and chaos of the surrounding roads. We bought and ate lunch there for $5.50–for two! At 3:30pm the park was surrounded by calls for prayer from everywhere around Cairo.

At the pinnacle of El Azhar Park

At the pinnacle of El Azhar Park

Cairo!

Cairo!

It is the end of the second full day here in Cairo and we’ve already covered some serious ground having visited the ancient sites at Dahshur (Red pyramid, “Bent” pyramid), Saqqara (a vast ancient burial ground including the “Step” pyramid) and the Giza necropolis (Pyramids of Giza and the Sphynx). I wasn’t expecting to tour Giza on horseback but the fatigue of a full day of touring and the effects of jet-lag altered our plans.

Giza Plateau joy

Happy to be off the horse

Today we visited the Egyptian museum and were treated to viewing an awesome collection of Egyptian antiquities including the treasures of King Tutenkamen’s tomb. We’re downtown and it’s quite busy with people and very very noisy with the cacophony of car horns from the chaos of the street traffic below. I didn’t think I could get used to it but dang if it doesn’t bother me now. Not too much, anyway.