The Egyptian pyramids are one of the world’s most known and visited sights. Today we went on a day tour from Cairo to discover them. Our visit started at the Saqquara pyramids (shown on today’s picture) which are the oldest stone buildings in the world. It is really hard to imagine how they actually were build more than 3.000 years ago. Quite a number of people must have spent their lifetime just to build one of those tombs. At Saqquara you can visit a number of non-royal tombs which I actually found much more interesting than the royal ones since the walls of the tombs are painted and you can learn a lot about the former life of the owner from these paintings.
Next we went to Memphis were we visited the ruins of this ancient capital. Most impressive was the giant statue of Ramses II. In the afternoon we visited the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Sphinx which is an amazing but quite touristy place. I went with Marek, a fellow traveler from Poland / Canada, into the Great Pyramid. It costs an additional 100 Egyptian Pounds (17 USD) to go inside but it’s not actually worth it. You walk up a long wooden stair and end up in the small room with an empty tomb. There are no paintings on the walls and nothing really special to see.
Tomorrow we will get up early and leave the civilization of Cairo to head off to South Egypt. Next night we will be camping in an oasis so it might take a couple of days until I update this blog the next time…
Today I’ve spent five hours in the Egyptian Museum which is located in 5-10 minutes walking distance from our hostel. The first three hours we’ve spent with our Egyptian guide Sonja who has a very deep knowledge in ancient Egyptian history and seems to know the story behind every piece in the collection. The museum is indeed very interesting and you should definitely not miss it whenever you are in Cairo. There are a number of pieces which are as old as 5.000 years and it is very impressive to see which construction and artistic skills the people had already during this time. It is also very interesting to experience that there was a very strong focus on the afterlife. The ancient Egyptians believed that their second life would even be better than their first one and did lots of work to prepare dead bodies for their second live.
The collection also holds a number of pieces from King Tutankhamun whose tomb was found mostly intact while most of the others got destroyed by tomb raiders. Lastly, the exhibition shows a number of royal mummies which costs another 100 Egyptian Pounds (17 USD) to see but it definitely worth it. I have already seen other mummies, e.g. in die Andes but nothing like this. Some of the mummies are very well preserved and it feels very strange but fascinating to see the bodies of people who died ages ago.
In the evening I went with two other fellow travelers to the huge market of Cairo. The market is divided into different sections such as a shopping area for the locals which I found most interesting but also a touristy section with cheap tourist souvenirs from China.
The taxi ride to the market and back showed us once again how crowded Cairo, the largest city in Africa, is. Crossing one of the large intersections can be dangerous since cars never stop and you somehow need to sneak through them on a 5-7 lane street while everything is continuously moving.
When we were back at the hotel there was a demonstration right in front of the hotel of which you can see a picture below.
This morning at 10:30am the Dragoman pre-departure meeting took place where I’ve met my fellow travelers. During the first part of the tour from Cairo (Egypt) to Khartoum (Sudan) we will be travelling in a group of 10 people. There will be approx. 8 more people joining in Gondar (Ethiopia) and in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). The ages of my fellow travelers reach from an American student who just finished university to a retired banker from the UK. His name is Chris and you also might want to follow his blog called The whingeing Banker. In general the group is quite “old” since the trip from Cairo to Nairobi is not so fancy and popular among very young people in their 20ties such as Southern Africa or the Cusco area in Peru. Probably it is because of the lack of partying locations in the middle of the Sudanese desert. Most of my fellow travelers are quite experienced and have done extensive travels before. There is for instance a Polish guy on my tour who has the mission to travel to all countries of the world. He is now living in Canada and working as a real estate agent. He was even on the phone today because some of his clients called him while traveling.
During the pre-departure meeting I’ve learned that the previous tour from Istanbul to Cairo was cancelled due to the conditions in Syria. The drivers Tom from Australia and Daniel from Ecuador were driving the truck all the way down to Cairo without any passengers. They told that driving through Syria was pretty scary and they did it in one day. Regarding Sudan they said that we will be fine since we are not going to the conflict areas in the West and South and the places we will be going are very peaceful and quite.
Tom, our tour leader, also handed us out an itinerary. Interesting to notice is that the part in Egypt is pretty much planed and we will be mostly travel civilized and stay in hostels but as soon as we hit into Sudan it will be only bush camping and travel on a more flexible route which will change with the local circumstances. Bush camping means no facilities such as a shower, toilet and so. We all will start smelling interestingly at some point in time.
The remaining group meeting was pretty straight forward: showing of passports, showing of the health insurance and the related emergency number and paying the kitty money amounting 470 USD. The kitty is a joint fund which will pay for hostels, entries to sights included in the tour and purchasing food on local markets to prepare meals while camping. The kitty payment will fluctuate as local prices do. So in the end we might get either a refund of unused money or we need to through in additional money if needed.
The rest of the day I was hanging around in the area of the hotel. In the evening we went out for a group dinner were we got to know each other a bit better. We will be spending 2.5 months together so we need to go along well. Actually about half of the people on the tour to Nairobi will continue the tour all the way down to Cape Town.
Now we hang out at the hotel lobby where there is free WiFi. My room mate just came down and told me that she has just killed the third cockroach in our room…
Today I was supposed to fly to Cairo to start my journey around the world. And as always I tended to do things at the very last minute such as organizing things which can’t wait for a year and packing my backpack. Shortly before departure in Duesseldorf at 7am I ended-up randomly throwing things in my backpack to finish-up packing. In the end my backpack was so full that I could not close it, so I quickly took another small bag and threw the remaining things in it. Than I was rushing to the train station but missed the 7:21am train to Frankfurt Airport and also the one leaving 5 minutes later or so. The next train to the airport was around 7:45am but this was not a high-speed train arriving at Frankfurt around 9:35am which was obviously too late for the 10:05am flight to Cairo, especially because I needed to check-in luggage and pick-up my passport which the visa service has send to Frankfurt Airport.
At the train station I decided to return to my house to call the German airline Lufthansa for re-scheduling my flight. I had booked the original flight for 700 EUR taking me from Frankfurt to Cairo and on Dec 31st from Kilimanjaro Airport back to Frankfurt. However, the agent told me that because of the fact that I missed the flight to Cairo the return flight from Kilimanjaro to Frankfurt will expire as well because I need to fly all routes as planned. I was told that securing the return flight will cost an additional 1.900 EUR because it will be changed to a one-way ticket which has a higher cost and of course I will need to buy a new ticket to Cairo which comes on top of the price. I had the feeling that the Lufthansa agent on the phone was not very experienced so I was in parallel searching the internet for alternatives and calling the Lufthansa call center three more times to speak to another agents and listen what they have to propose. In the end I figured out the cheapest option which was to buy a completely new ticket from Frankfurt to Cairo and from Kilimanjaro to Frankfurt amounting 1.100 EUR. It’s absolutely ridiculous that I needed to pay twice for exactly the same flight from Kilimanjaro to Frankfurt which is not before December and which is not the flight I had missed. So if anybody of you knows a way that I can get reimbursed for that, please let me know. However, I got the taxes of the flight back which was 90 EUR…
My new flight to Cairo was scheduled for 3:10pm and this time I did not miss the train and was arriving at 12:30pm at Frankfurt Airport. I picked-up my passport at the luggage storage which was very unproblematic. So whenever you have a visa which is issued one day before departure and your flight is in the morning it is best to request that your passport is sent to the airport’s luggage storage. However, this service comes with a cost of 45 EUR for the delivery and 4 EUR storage fee.
At the airport I also remembered that I will need passport photos to register in Sudan since all tourists need to register within three days after crossing the border. So I found a photo booth and got four passport photos taken.
The 3:10pm flight to Cairo with Egypt Air was delayed for more than one hour and I got reminded that I needed to pay a penalty for being late but the airline does not reimburse me for being late themself. This is somewhat unfair. In the plane I’ve met a guy from Poland whose profession is to draw underwater maps for oil companies and I had an interesting chat with him. The airline food had a strange smell and since I was not hungry anyhow I decided simply not to eat it.
After arriving in Cairo at 8:30 I got a visa which is actually a sticker which you put in your passport by yourself costing 15 USD. The taxi from the airport to the Sun Hotel, a backpacker hotel right in the city center, was 20 USD and the room for the night another 20 USD. The streets close to the hotel are very noisy but luckily I had earplugs with me which gave me wonderful 12 hour sleep.
By the way, the picture of this blog entry shows the view out of my hotel room in Cairo, so the city is not a place you want to spend a weeks’ vacation on.