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Issue 7
Africa Travel> Issue 7
UPDATED: September 16, 2014
A Pharaoh Land
By Jo Kromberg

Riding a camel to the beach – Egyptian style (Photo by Royston Lamond)

There we were, my photographer Royston and I, waiting for our tour leader Mohammed, as we were told to do at 7 o'clock sharp, at the Egypt Air check-in desk. A well-dressed Arab gentleman was standing there alone, looking around as well. I took a chance and went up to him. "Hello there, are you Mohammed?" He nodded with a beaming smile and we introduced ourselves and then with some mirth and gesticulation indicated that we would see him on the plane in two hours as we were off to the pub. Fast forward and there we are, sitting on the plane in the same row as our tour leader. As we take off, Royston leans over and enquires about the misunderstanding we had about travelling in business class. Finally Royston gives up – he can't make himself heard above the engine noise. He doesn't really speak English. "This is gonna be interesting," he says.

Eight hours of fitful sleep later we arrive at Cairo International Airport. We see Mohammed getting off before us and rush to catch up with him up through the winding airport corridors. As we collect our luggage, we see him heading for the exit gates. "Mohammed!" He turns and seems strangely surprised and a bit frightened. "Where are you going? Are you getting off in Cairo?" I ask him, confused since we are going to Aswan. "Yes!" Now he looks positively petrified, desperately eying the exit gate like a starved mouse chasing a piece of cheese.

A voice behind us. "Jo! Royston! We've been looking for you." We turn and standing there is what turns out to be our host Sphinx Travel's Mariska, other media-looking type people - and a strapping young Egyptian. "Meet your tour leader, Mohammed..."

First lesson - most Egyptians are very friendly, many go by Mohammed and at least one now thinks that South Africans are weirdo, stalker freaks who demand to know from total strangers why they are not booked on business class....

Nile cruise

But I digress. We catch our flight to Aswan to begin our amazing Egyptian adventure. Our tour guide Mohammed – not to be confused with our tour leader Mohammed – tells us that Aswan is the ancient city of Swenet, which in antiquity was the frontier town of Ancient Egypt facing the south. Because the Ancient Egyptians oriented toward the origin of the life-giving waters of the Nile in the south, Swenet was the first town in the country, and Egypt actually begins at Swenet. I listen with half an ear – I am fascinated by the sights, sounds and smells around us. The sky is the shade of pale dust. The men are in dresses and in clusters on the streets, holding court. This is Egypt but mostly it is Arabia – any geographical location in Africa is merely coincidental. Egypt....the mere word to me used to conjure up images of desolate deserts, camels with mysterious riders with covered faces and flowing garb, silhouetted against undulating vermilion horizons and ancient, watchful and silent statues and tombs of magnificent and mighty kings and queens.

After a journey of about half an hour, a very tired bunch of journalists arrive at the M/Y Alyssa Nile cruiser, our floating home for the next three days. The boat is luxurious and family-friendly. Day beds are scattered throughout on the pool deck, where you can lay back with the curtains drawn and enjoy the sights and sounds of the flowing Nile. The cabins are gorgeous and kit for a king. There are 66 cabins - 58 twin, 6 king-bed, and two deluxe. There is a playing area for the kids but believe me, they will be in the pool all day long. After a delicious lunch, we go sailing on a traditional felucca on the Nile, viewing Kitcheners and Elephantine Islands and the Aga Khan Mausoleum from the river.

We then continue to the town of Edfu. We moor and discover that our transport to the Temple of Horus is to be via ancient horse-drawn cart – the one thing in this country I am sure is not meant to be ancient. It is dilapidated and the one wheel keeps threatening to fall off. The horse is straining and foaming at the mouth in the 37-degree heat. "You are lucky," posits Mohammed number two. "In summer the temperature can rise to 55..." The town feels foreign to me – almost like the eerie set of a Western movie. The dry breeze carries on it despair and wonder, like they belong together somehow. The Temple of Horus is the most complete temple of the ancient world. Four thousand years of gods and ghosts wrap themselves around you in a surreal cloak inside the ancient shadows. The temple stands like a gargantuan, vast and silent witness to all that was once great about humanity. I shall refrain from a history lesson here – for that, one has wikipedia. It will only serve to demean and make trite the overwhelming, almost indescribable and inexplicable feeling of this temple making the concept of time moot.

Back to the boat for some frivolity, lazing about the pool and being lulled into a state rapture by the soft, sweet waves of the river Nile as we sail along.

After a hurried breakfast the next morning we cross the river to the West Bank by road transport for our pièce de résistance excursion - the tombs of the pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings. And the tour groups and people are everywhere although Mohammed says that the tour groups are about half the size they were than before the revolution. The Valley of the Kings is literally a valley where, for a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century BC, tombs were constructed for the Pharaohs. The heat is stifling so we head back to the boat for a spot of lunch. I have to say, the food on board was spectacular throughout.

Red Sea

Day four sees us waving bon voyage to the Nile and it's off to the playground of Hurghada on the Red Sea. Located on the southern ridge of Makadi Bay and with more than 600 meters of sandy beach, the Harmony Makady Bay Resort is spread over 58,000 square meters of facilities and gardens. The rates are all-inclusive (including local alcoholic drinks) and basically a steal – and kids stay free. Three splendid swimming pools with open-air Jacuzzi and regenerating waterfalls stretch over 6,500 square meters. For children there is a 250 square meter kids pool and the Pinocchio Kids Club. Evening fun includes a disco, three restaurants, five bars and different live shows every night. Babysitting and childcare services are available on request for a small extra fee.

Our rooms are humungous. The resort has 552 rooms with air-conditioning and all modern conveniences. All of them open on to a private terrace and enjoy a direct view of the Red Sea's spectacular waters or look out onto the pool or the garden. The connected family rooms have more than 100 square meters of space.

Later we laze by the pool like the idle rich and watch the water-aerobics and kiddies gleefully having the time of their young lives in the pool.

Dinner is extravagant that evening and the food excellent. The following day is made to order for scuba diving in the Red Sea. We board one of the world-class Blue O Two vessels and off we go to discover the remarkable wonders beneath the crystal blue surface of one of the richest and most diverse marine ecosystems on Earth. Cairo is our final stop the following day. The city is the largest in Africa and brown highways seem to stretch into infinity, surrounded by a million replicas of dilapidated and seemingly abandoned high-rise apartment buildings. We amble about the Cairo Museum and it is obvious that the place is not well looked after which comes as a bit of a disappointment. After lunch we finally visit the pyramid of Giza. It stands forlorn, small and out of context on the outskirts of the weary, dirty and ancient slum that is Cairo – almost as an afterthought.

The Sphinx lies adjacent - large, defiant and silent under the white-hot sun that burns down on us with impudence.

At the Hilton Hotel later we have a last chance to gaze over the city as the sun slides away. Egypt is barbaric, alive, ancient, loud, silent, passionate, awe-inspiring and guilty of eliciting at least a dozen more cheap adjectives. But most of all, Egypt is unforgettable...


For a tailor-made Egypt holiday experience and information on all the destinations mentioned, contact Sphinx Travel at

Tel: +27 (0) 11 782 6671 / 086 111 2957.

Fax: +27 (0) 11 782 6671 / 086 695 8572.

E-mail: info@sphinxtravel.co.za

Website: www.sphinxtravel.co.za

Getting there:

Go to http://www.egyptair.com/english/Pages/BookaFlight.aspx for information about flights to Egypt from China.

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