a country of juxtaposition

First things first.

As-Salaam-Alaikum.  May peace be upon you.

Second things second. 

This post, written over several days, has turned out to be more a marathon than a sprint, so I advise pacing yourself accordingly.  🙂

My experience here during almost 3 weeks in Egypt has been multi-layered to put it mildly, so I’ve been ruminating for a number of days on what  flavor this blog post might take on and it came to me today as I was going through my photos.  Instead of Temples and Tombs and Hieroglyphics, I’d like to share  photos which seem to depict daily life as I saw it while traveling from Luxor up the Nile to Aswan (by coach) and down the Nile to Abydos and Dendera (by coach) and further down the Nile to Cairo (by plane) then over to the South Sinai and The Red Sea (also by plane).  Just photos of things that caught my eye while out and about in this most intriguing Country. 

The very first thing that caught my eye was The Sahara Desert which really surprised me.  According to Google, it is approximately 3,600,000 square miles covering most all of North Africa making it the largest hot desert in the world, but only the third largest desert overall.  The two larger deserts are the cold deserts of Antarctica and the Arctic.  Who knew?  But that’s not what surprised me.  What really surprised me about the Sahara is that it is an expanse of dirt and rocks with craggy mountains, valleys, and dried river beds, at least the parts I’ve seen.  I have yet to see the clean, romantic, and rolling sand dunes of Lawrence of Arabia or Namibia…perhaps because I’m in Egypt???  At any rate, it seems a whole lot of dirt and rocks and more dirt and more rocks.  I bring this up because it really did surprise me.  I mean, I had visions of camels with long shadows traversing the beautiful golden and rolling sand dunes…like in the movies! and because while I am enjoying Egypt quite a lot,  I find it very dirty.  There is dirt everywhere…and trash.  Dirt because of the ginormous Sahara blowing its dirt everywhere and trash, well, I guess because I am told trash isn’t generally seen here quite the way it is seen elsewhere so it’s just around, a lot.  Please don’t misunderstand, I see the dirt and trash as characteristics of the face of Egypt, kind of like freckles.  All part of the charm.

Check out the Sahara in the not so great photos below.  I took this first one while flying in high from over the Med, whose coastline you can see at the top of the photo.

They say this land was lush once upon a very long time ago.  Don’t those look like dried river beds in the photo below?  They do to me, which seems to support the lush landscape theory, at least to my mind but really,  what do I know?

These next two photos show the juxtaposition of the Sahara and the fertile Nile River basin.  A stark line of demarcation, for sure, wouldn’t you say?

As mentioned earlier, I was based in Luxor (I love Luxor!) for the duration of the Retreat.  From there, we drove several hours down the Nile and several hours up the Nile giving ample opportunity to see a variety of local sights while on our way to and from the Ancient Sites.  I’ve clumped some of my photos into loose groups or categories, so let’s begin with the Transportation Category, shall we?  In addition to cars, mini buses with bench seating running down the long sides – knees in the middle facing one another and standing room along the back bumper if you hold on tight, and motorcycles holding families of 4 along with their shopping, there is the humble and ever present donkey. So many donkeys, sometimes standing and waiting as if parked like a car, sometimes trotting along with boy or man on its back sharing the country roads and highways with all manner of vehicle.  

Next in the Transportation category comes the felucca, the sailing vessel and workhorse of the Nile and like the donkey, in use in these parts for thousands of years.  Seen below and in the banner photo at the top of the page, the felucca has long been used for fishing, transportation of humans, animals, and cargo as well as perhaps a sleeping spot or housing.  While I don’t have my romantic sand dunes, I do have my romantic felucca sailing on the Nile.  I’ll take it!

Below, we are back on land and see the motorcycle bus/taxi and the motorcycle pickup truck with a tuk tuk in the background.

In keeping with the Transportation theme, we see below on the left, a new super highway overpass being built with the use of Sacred Geometry/Masonic symbols as decoration and on the right a stylized, Eye of Horus decorating a piece of mosaic road statuary.  Please note the white pickup with 4 horses loaded sideways in its bed. 

Roadside art/statuary is something I saw fairly often and really enjoyed.  My favorite is likely the traffic circle statue pictured below. It was near my hotel in Luxor and for those of you who may not be familiar, the Ankh is one of the most important hieroglyphics of Ancient Egypt. It represents the Key of Life and symbolizes the many aspects of Life like:  Life Force Energy, Eternal Life, Physical Life, and/or Reincarnation. (photo taken by Montserratt)

We’ve now covered the Sahara and Transportation, so next comes Commerce.  Let’s take a peek at some of the many stores I passed along the way.  First up is the Fruit and Veg Store and then the Bakery. In addition to the sidewalk oven, can you spot the hookah smoking men in the later?  The fruit and veg stands, the sidewalk bakeries, and the hookah smoking men are very common sights.

Below you’ll see a Corner Store and a Hardware/General Store followed by the cauliflower and cabbage wagon and a Department Store as I call it due to the variety of wares on offer. 

OK, that wraps up Comerce, so what’s next?  Let’s go with Security.  With the nearby Gaza situation, it seems to be on the minds of many, so I’ll start by saying, I am not sure I have ever felt so secure in such a culturally different Country from my own.  Of course I would not venture out into little populated areas in the dark on my own, but I believe if I were in any trouble, I could without hesitation approach just about anyone and they would help me to the best of their ability. 

On a tangential side note, it is amazing to me the doors within a person a few broken phrases of Arabic will open. I see the attempt to speak the local language have the biggest impact here compared to anywhere else I’ve been, and that’s saying something.  I mean, people go from a vague indifference (unless they are trying to sell something) to heads popping up, smiling wide from the inside out. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been asked if I am Egyption or the number of times people respond to me in rapid Arabic assuming I will understand.  It certainly isn’t because my Arabic is so great.  A friend suggested it’s because I have lived here in former lives and for someone who believes in reincarnation, I find this idea very interesting; however, I digress, so let’s get back to the topic of Security. 

It has not bothered me at all to walk alone in Luxor or Cairo or Sharm el Sheikh or any of the other places I have visited.  Yes, there is the regular occurrence of men approaching to offer something for money and this they do with varying degrees of persistence (some of whom really deserve some sort of prize for their efforts), but that really falls under the Commerce tab, doesn’t it? 

It was a mistake on my part to assume all the security I’ve seen is in response to the situation in Gaza because it isn’t. Not at all. It’s just the way they roll here in these parts, for years and years and years.  Makes sense doesn’t it?  I mean, Egypt is part of a dynamic region with some interesting neighbors so prophylactic security seems to make perfect sense.  For example, while here, I have taken 3 in-country flights  and each time I and my bags went through 3 separate security checks with body pat downs prior to arriving at the gate to board the plane.  Another example is the security to access a hotel lobby, museum, Temple, or Tomb.  There are often sniffer dogs and undercarriage mirrors for the vehicle before the gate is even opened to drive up to the front door and then once you depart your vehicle, there is airport type security for all persons and bags with at least 3 security guards in attendance (one armed) with other armed security outside at the gate with the mirror and the dog.  I mean, who wouldn’t feel safe with all that going on?  And this is just the way it is in general. A friend was here years ago and it was the same.  Take a look at the photos below which I took at my hotel in Cairo.

Tourism is HUGE revenue here and they take tracking and protecting tourists very seriously. You may have seen a couple of my posts on Facebook about Police Escorts and accompanying security on our coaches, but there are also check points along routes where our driver must check in so it is known we were not lost somewhere along the way and notes are made as to where we are headed.  

There is a strong police presence on the streets too.  Little Police huts with armed, uniformed policemen are a normal sight, just watching and keeping the peace while maybe deterring any less than benevolent folks from taking action.  The man behind the black shield in these little stations always has what looks to me like an Uzi in his hands.  I’ve seen as many as 6 men at these little Police stands.

OK.  That feels like more than enough about Security, so let’s move on to Food, shall we?  As with most places I visit, I find it wise to stick with local dishes for the best experience.  My favorite Egyptian breakfast is Fava Beans, aka Ful Medames, with all the trimmings and for all you, Silence of the Lambs fans, no Chianti was served, not even a nice one.  😉

That silver thing is a Damasa or Kedra, the traditional Fava Bean cooking vessel used in Egypt for Ages.  I read fava beans have been eaten in these parts since as early as 1990 BC.  This popular breakfast dish reminds me a bit of American chili because of the beans and variety of topping choices like, spices, green bell pepper, red pepper, some kind of hot pepper, onion, garlic, olive oil, tahini, and lemon squeezed on top.  It tastes nothing like chili, is delicious and filling, and I look forward to making it once I get home.  Yum.

While we are on the topic of food, our Retreat group ate at a fabulous restaurant called, Africa, on the West Bank across from Luxor. Our guides know the owner and arranged for a set meal for all of us, which I think was about $6.50 each. The restaurant is located upstairs over a tea/hookah room on a big balcony with a partial Nile view. Happily, we ate there twice and it was the best two meals I’ve enjoyed on the trip thus far.  Going clockwise around the center plate are, at 9 o’clock an eggplant/squash based stew in its own sizzling stone bowl, then a broccoli/cauliflower based stew also in its own sizzling stone bowl, then the most delicious falafel I’ve ever had (if you look to the left of the spoon on the plate, you can just see the vibrant green inside of one), then fresh mango juice, bottled water, lentil soup, and wrapping up at 3 o’clock, a cold chickpea and veggie salad.  All of that was just for me.  Additionally, the table had family style fresh pita type bread, rice, and the most delicate and delicious fried zucchini.  The zucchini alone is worth a visit.

Moving on from Food, we will now wander into the Roadside Scenes Category.  Below you see our Coach for that day on the way to Aswan.  There were only 17 of us all together, but a coach with bathroom was provided on our longer drives.  Sadly, the bathroom on this coach wasn’t working, so we stopped at a rural Health Clinic in hopes of using their facilities.  We could not have been greeted with more welcoming kindness and hospitality.  

In the foreground, you see the humble donkey, parked like a car, waiting until it is needed.  Many blessings upon his head.  You also see our armed Security attendant in the tan suit.  Many blessings upon his head as well.

The next two photos show common scenes of daily living outside the bigger cities.  It was common to see kids happily playing in these “yards” and groups of men gathered separately from groups of women and children sitting in plastic chairs on the stoops or in the yards.

Below you can compare the pretty green, sometimes hand watered with buckets, fields to the dry, natural landscape of dirt and rock.  You can in the second photo see how trash is often dealt with by sort of pushing it into an available area.

And next is a goat pen on the left and a guy on a corner on the right.  You get the idea. When planted and irrigated whether for crops or landscaping, the scene is lush and vibrant green.  When the land is left in its natural state, it is really just dirt and rocks, so that’s what is normal for many people here.

I guess I can’t have a blog post about my time in Egypt without at least a few photos of my time at Temple and Tomb, so here are a just a very few. There are others on Facebook, should you be so inclined.

Below is a favorite shot of mine  looking up the entrance side of the Great Pyramid.

And below, the stela located between the forepaws of the Sphinx.  I swear there is a staircase under the sand here once leading to underground rooms and tunnels, connecting to the Pyramids and beyond.  There is SO VERY MUCH we do not know or understand about Ancient Egypt.

Below you can see our group walking into the Valley of the Kings.

Below is a courtyard in the Temple of Luxor at sunset. Fairly recently, a large cache of statues was accidentally uncovered underground in the far right corner of this courtyard, presumably placed there to hide them from those who wished them harm once upon a time.

Looking down the Valley of Baboons after visiting the great and beautiful Temple of Ay.

Side Note:  The Great Diety Thoth was often depicted as an Ibis or an Ibis headed man.  He is also depicted as a Baboon.

Ay was the Advisor to King Akhenaten and his son, King Tut Ankh Amon aka King Tut, whose tomb and mummy are just over the hill in the Valley of the Kings. We saw the famous King Tut funerary in the Cairo Museum.

Pigeons flying overhead at the Temple Millions of Years or something like that.  (photo by Amy, I think) The Temple’s name escapes me at present and I can’t remember who’s temple it is, but I remember well the pair of facing Sekhmet statues near the entrance.  Wow, talk about an invisible threshold! In this photo, you can see how well the original dyes/paints have held up in many places and note the two figures on the right.  Gods, not humans, were depicted with blue skin.

And finally, in this Category at least, our group photo taken upon arrival at the Giza Plateau.  That’s Ashraf, our  Egyptologist/Kemetologist guide and Stewart Pearce to the right in white.  This was a Stewart Pearce Retreat.  What a wonderful group of human beings from all around the world.  You can feel the Joy?

So now we (finally?) move into the homestretch to a category I like to call, Welcome to LaLa Land.

When planning this trip, I knew I would want a soft place to land for awhile between the energetic throws of the Retreat and the adventures of Uganda, so I poked around the general area and landed on Sharm el Sheikh, mainly for the world class diving and snorkeling in which I have not been able to take part, but that’s another story.  Sharm is a resort town on the Red Sea at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula.  While resorts and resort towns are not my usual cup of tea by any stretch, I wanted a place where I didn’t have to figure anything out like shopping and cooking nor did I wish to have to get in a vehicle to go anywhere, so here I’ve been at the Sultan Gardens All-Inclusive Resort.  Ha!  Welcome to LaLa Land, indeed.  I am here with a room overlooking the sunrises and  Red Sea and am being very well cared for.  I have not had to figure anything out, nor have I had to shop or cook or drive and for this I am thankful.  Below you can compare arrival at the Cairo airport versus arrival at the LaLa Land airport. It makes me laugh.

And in the next photo, you can clearly see the landscaped and lighted versus the natural parts of the Sahara.  I love the mountains!

It’s like Vegas here.  Tons of crazy, over the top luxury hotels sitting in the desert offering an escape from reality.  (Lots of Russians and Ukrainians here, by the way).  There are many, many All-Inclusive Resorts in Sharm and I imagine they are all versions of the Sultan Gardens, existing behind high walls so the outside reality can more easily be traded for a perfectly manicured and curated one.  Take a look. First up is the view from my room and the next two were taken in the larger common areas.

So that’s it from Egypt.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I find myself here again, poking around the Temples up and down the Nile.  What an experience it’s been and I’ve enjoyed sharing some of it with you.  I have one more full day to enjoy before heading to Uganda via Cairo late on New Year’s Eve, so stay tuned for Gorillas and whatever else Uganda has to offer.

Until next time.

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Comments:

  • Rusty

    December 29, 2023

    Beautiful photos and reflections! I especially love the group photo.

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  • Hill Goodman

    December 29, 2023

    Excellent, amazing and interesting post Margie. The animals, scenery, photos and story!!

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  • Mary Lou & June

    December 29, 2023

    We are certain that you are having a glorious time.
    I am watching snow flurries during lunch!!!
    It’s a different world here.
    Take care

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  • Anonymous

    December 30, 2023

    So enjoy your adventures. Love the photos. Pam

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  • Montserrat

    December 30, 2023

    Dear Margie, what a Wonder and Joy Full adventure we have experienced 😍.
    Reading your words I find myself in Egypt again! You’ve captured some of my impressions, how amazing is that? What a contrast and mix of the most magnificient landscapes and sacred sites and also the messiest, full of rubbish and dirt spots…
    I am so glad we’ve met 💞 I am sure we will meet again (ʾin šāʾa -llāh 🙏) in another adventure in a Wonder Full Land 🌅

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  • Anonymous

    December 30, 2023

    Looking forward to reading about the rest of your adventures.
    Amy

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  • Marcia Bronson

    December 30, 2023

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with us! I so enjoy your travelogues! And I just might have to try fava beans one of these days.

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  • Anonymous

    December 30, 2023

    Margie,

    You should have a TV show!
    What great pics and stories galore!
    Safe travels.

    Mare.

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  • Heather Smith

    December 31, 2023

    I love how you organized this post Margie! I feel like I really get a sense of the “outer” thngs you are experiencing. Know there are a lot of “inner” things happening too! I agree that the group photo is one of my favorite….pure joy! On to Uganda!

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    • Margie

      December 31, 2023

      Well it’s so dang long, I had to organize it somehow! 😆 glad you like it!
      You’re definitely right about the Inner and Outer experiences, for sure. It’s been very rich 💖

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  • Tena

    January 10, 2024

    Wonderful overview of daily life! Thanks Margie. Great pics as usual.

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