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Egypt Letter

 

Sim Comfort Associates
127 Arthur Road, Wimbledon Park

London, SW19 7DR, England
Tel: 44 (0) 208 944 8747

Email: sim@simcomfort.demon.co.uk

 

01 June 1999

Dear Chaps,

It is a beautiful day in London. Played five sets on grass and won three and lost two. No complaints. Paid my US taxes and Mary has finished out the closing down accounts for Comfort Computer and High Hill Leasing and paid the UK taxes on those two companies. Mary and I are free as a couple of Spring fledglings now, with only our imaginations to create weird and wonderful adventures to go on.

This letter is about our most recent.

To see the Pyramids along the Nile.

To brush the teeth of a Crocodile.

Just remember darling all the while, you belong to me.

I’m probably a bit out on the exact lyrics, but something like that, I’m sure.

Mary and I have always wanted to go to Egypt. We watch all of the archaeological stuff on t.v. plus all of the Indiana Jones movies plus read the Graham Hancock books about the Orion Mystery, but something has always held us back. We can handle different cultures within limits. If they mistreat animals, then they are off the list. If they are clearly dangerous to visit, then they are off the list. If there’s no toilet paper – Off the List! So, Egypt wasn’t on the list or anywhere near being on the list. But they had these absolutely wonderful sites to see. Big dilemma.

Then back in March, thumbing through the Sunday papers, not really looking at anything in particular, I came across this advertisement. "St. Catherine’s Monastery, the Pyramids and a three day cruise on the Nile. Seven Nights. Price: $1,000, which includes flights, hotels, tours, and most of your meals." And we had the money, just. So, I put the idea to the boss. We called some people. Looks like Egyptians mistreating animals is a bit over blown. Looks like after killing six Britons (those are the ones the British press tells us about!) at Karnak in ’96, means that the country is safer now. And this rumour about having to use you left hand is greatly exaggerated. You get to use both hands.

But to top it all, there is a war in the Balkans and the flights go over the Balkans, but at 35,000 feet, there shouldn’t be a problem. We book the trip and get out the map.

Sharm el Sheikh is located just at the bottom of the Sinai peninsula and has the Gulf of Suez going up the left side and the Red Sea going up the right side. This is where we landed on Thursday afternoon, 20 May. Curious site as the plane taxied to a halt outside the terminal. There was a large rectangle measuring maybe 500 feet by 100 feet which was entirely defined by solitary men in white uniforms with each standing at attention with an AK-47 at his side. They were spaced about every ten feet. My feeling was "What the hell. If they don’t like the look of us, this will be a very short trip." They ignored us as we left the plane and entered for the first time a world that is both exciting and unnerving. Our Jules Verne tour director was waiting for us, as was the case everywhere we went. And she was indispensable. Egypt is definitely not a country where you just arrive and pick up the rent a car and head out. No, no, no. You take a tour and you stick with the tour because you are a dolphin in a shark pond and it is feeding time. Our first demonstration of this came very clearly as we moved like a herd of beasts through immigration. Fistfuls of money are changing hands and the people in charge are looking relaxed and smiling broadly.

We arrive at the luggage pickup point. There are carts about. I take one. Oh, no, no, no, you don’t. A hand is on the cart and is indicating that I owe him money. The smallest bill I have is a ŁE 10 note. He takes it. I’m trying to find out how much the cart should cost because ŁE10 equals TWO British Pounds or $3.20. I see a sign that indicates the price is ŁE 3 for a cart. I grab my man and insist on change. He looks at me the way you would look at a mugger. I drag him to the cart pay station (a little booth with a man inside and post cards from Rio and Las Vegas stuck on the glass divide. My man hands the other man the ten spot and I start getting some change. First a five, then long pauses, which indicate that anyone with any sense at all would take the five and be thankful. I don’t move. After a couple of minutes, two ones appear. Then my man looks at me. I was going to get to know that look all too well.

It said that Allah had been really rough to this man and that life just wouldn’t be worth carrying on with unless I gave to him personally some of that money. I gave him a pound note. He quickly departed to get another new arrival by the ankle.

Mary and I secure the luggage and the two of us with all of our stuff head for the bus. At the bus there are a couple of fellows taking the luggage off the carts and putting it into the luggage hold of the bus. You guessed it. A pound each, except I have no change and they have no change, so it is five pounds for the two of them.

This place is really getting on my tits and I’ve only been here 10 minutes. The only people who we don’t have to give any money to is the small army of AK-47 collectors who are everywhere.

Inside the bus and we are safe. Mona ("like the Lisa, but with the arms"), starts to fill us in. Tipping in Egypt is a way of life. It is how things get done. We can either manage it ourselves, or we can give Mona ŁE 40 each and she will take care of all of the tips from here. Her wallet ripped congregation immediately sign up for the fixed price deal. In hind sight Mona was right. This was the way to take care of the problem, because it is real and like it or not, this is how the country tries to run itself.

The bus heads off to a resort 160 kms away called Nuweiba. We leave the airport and you can’t help to notice that for the first mile or so, there are those guys in white uniforms every 10 yards with an AK-47. Mona informs us that the security is particularly heavy at Shram today because Susan Mubarak (the President’s wife) is flying in.

Shock! You mean all of that wasn’t for Mary and me! And if it wasn’t for us, why does the President’s wife need this cover. Are we looking at Revolution here?

Our first road block. Two armed soldiers either side of the road. An officer comes to the driver’s window. They talk and paper and money change hands. In a small tower behind the officer is another AK-47 with a bead directly on the driver. Oil drums are used to create a chicane in the road. To the left is a blockhouse. Two more gunmen are inside, both with their weapons aimed directly at the bus. We pass through the chicane and as we come out the other side, you notice a motorcycle with a sidecar and in the sidecar is a 50 calibre machine gun. You are sweating. It is a hot and nervous experience.

But you get used to it after four or five of these little stops. It is just the way things are and it is probably all for our benefit or Susan’s or somebody’s.

The other thing which doesn’t help ease the tension is the landscape. Pitiless is probably the word. Nothing is growing here. The mountains are newly shoved up from the bowels of the earth. There is only one colour. Sand, light and dark. Jagged rocks. Empty flat areas between the mountains with only the black snake of the road to provide contrast. That is all there is to look at. This is Sinai. And I wish I was back home.

We arrive at the hotel. We are saved. This place is an oasis by the sea. Interesting to see no change from the land to the beach. It is all the same. Sand. But the hotel has gardens and lawns and everything is looking civilised again. Once inside the hotel grounds, the men with guns have vanished. The grasping panhandlers have gone. We are safe in the hotel grounds. This is the second great lesson about Egypt. Don’t leave the hotel grounds. It is comfortable, pleasant, beautiful, quiet and safe, so just enjoy yourself here and don’t go outside.

Five hours in the plane and a couple of hours in the bus and Mary and I are feeling a bit frazzled. I didn’t mention it, but in this part of the world it is Hot. And I can’t get the damned air conditioning to work. Our room is on the ground floor and I’ve opened the sliding door to let in some air and am sitting outside on the edge of our little paved area having a smoke and a couple walk up to me.

"Does your air conditioning work?" "Yah, works fine." And he steps inside and Mary says hello and I hear him push one button and he steps outside. "It is necessary to turn it on," he says. I’ve been here before.

Mary is unpacking. "I’ve been robbed!", she cries. We look at this vast empty maw of a pocket in her travel bag. "All of my underwear is gone. All of my tops are gone." I turn the bag over. There is another zipper. Pull that. "Oh, Sim. You are so clever."

"Gosh, I could have brought twice as much if I’d known about that other pocket!"

There really is something wonderful about a wife that can turn you into being a hero with just the pull of a zip.

We have an early night in our now rapidly cooling hotel room.

Getting ready in the morning and Mary has disappeared. I hear a plaintive cry from the bathroom and Mary is locked in. Swiss Army knife to the rescue and I’m a hero all over again. Life is very good sometimes.

Breakfast the next morning has a conga sized queue of hungry tourists snaking around the buffet to one central point. At this point is a man with a very large griddle and he is making fried eggs for the customers. In fact, he is taking one order for two sunny side up, and frying just those two eggs until they are done and then putting them onto the plate that has been held in front of him for the last couple of minutes by the now ravenous visitor. And so it went. New customer. New order. New two sunnysideups. Everybody waits until their order is filled and then to the next one.

We eat with an Israeli couple. He is in his 40s and looking very fit. We laugh about the egg man. "You know, 50% of the people here are Israeli. What does an Israeli have for breakfast? I tell you. Scrambled eggs. Never fried. Do you think they would have a tray of scrambled eggs? No. We have to each ask for one scrambled egg."

Had he been here before?

"Yes, but in uniform, and I tell you we got scrambled whatever we wanted then!"

Sinai is the new Egypt. After the war, it was agreed as part of the hand back to Egypt of the Sinai by the Israelis, that no visa was required for Israelis who wanted to visit Sinai or for people in Sinai who wanted to visit Israel. Sounds equitable until you realise that in Sinai lived mainly a few small tribes of Bedouin, and that the Bedouin don’t have passports anyway. They just go where they want whether this is Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Saudi, or anywhere where the Bedouin are or have been.

Major resorts have now been built along the coast, which boasts some of the finest scuba diving in the world. The coral reefs are swimming distance from the beach and have very wide range of abundant fish and coral for the underwater explorer to feast upon. Nothing like this is available in the Mediterranean. Also, to stay in Tel Aviv or Elat in a comparable hotel would cost two or three times as much. So there is great potential here and Egyptians, Americans and Israelis are trying to make it work.

Mary and I walk along the beach. Have a couple of coffees. Take a nap and get ready for our early start tomorrow for St. Catherine’s Monastery.

In order to make this really early start, we pay the hotel bill the night before. Lots of confusion at the desk and I see my breakfast friend at the centre of it.

"Still trying to get your scrambled eggs?" says I.

"No, I’m just trying to pay for them now."

We are a smallish group, who board the bus at 0600. All but four are going to St. Catherine’s, and then returning to this hotel. The four who don’t return are carrying on to Cairo overland. Mary and I are 50% of this group. Our other half is another couple from London and are about our age. Philippa and David, and we couldn’t have asked for better travelling companions.

Our bus heads inland. Usual road blocks. Up a mountain ridge, and then we take a halt to look at the view. Barren is the view. A great expanse of sand and rock and bleak landscape. We press on.

After a couple of hours, we come to a tawdry settlement of new building. We have arrived at a new town, which is located at the entrance to a valley that will take us to St. Catherine’s. We leave the bus and begin the mile or so trek to this very imposing place. It is here because a very long time ago miracles happened in this place.

Exoudus, The Book of Moses, Chapter III.

"Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led his flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.

"And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in the flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed."

These words and what follow are sacred to the Jew, to the Christian and to the Muslim. All three major religions draw their primary story from Moses.

And so Mary and I climbed the hill (tough climb as we are now over 5,000 feet above sea level), and entered the massive walls of this very old religious settlement. We walked through a courtyard, and there, before us was The Burning Bush.

From the first century AD, solitary monks have revered this place. In the third century a small protective monastery was built, which came under attack by the Bedouin and was destroyed. Then in the sixth century, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and his Empress Theodora (who, history notes that her only regret in life was that she had only three orifices with which to gain sexual satisfaction), built this massive complex in honour of the original site of Moses’ great encounter, but also to commemorate the martyrdom of Catherine.

In third century Alexandria, there was a purge on Christians by the Roman Emperor, Maximinus. One who would not accept the decree was a young woman named Catherine. She debated with her interrogators and won them over, converting them all to her faith. She was tortured on a devilish wheel shaped device, which has now come to us as the Catherine Wheel and is used today as a popular firework. Finally, frustrated with all failed attempts to convert this brave believer, Maximinus declared that the discussion should cease, and with the sweep of the executioners scimitar, lifted her head from her body. It was later at this place of Moses, that legend states, some monks found her frozen body upon the mount which is now termed St. Catherine’s Mount which is adjacent to the biblical Mount Horeb, now termed Moses’ Mount. It is upon this great peak, that Moses made the Covenant and received the twin tablets which bear the Ten Commandments.

Because of the importance of this site to the three major religions of the area, each conquering faith has offered protection for the monastery since its foundation in the sixth century. And it is here and it is a glory to behold.

Within the Church, in the nave, is the original root of The Burning Bush.

"And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great light, why the bush is not burnt.

"And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, ‘Moses, Moses’. And he said, ‘Here am I’.

"And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground."

And as you approach the shrine of the Bush, you must remove your shoes as you are on Holy Ground.

The growing bush is outside of the Church and is a transplant from the original. It is a bit too much to ask a plant to continue it’s greening progress in the dark and dust of a 1,300 year old chapel. Above the shrine is possibly the finest Byzantinian mosaic in existence. It covers the dome of the nave in gold and depicts the Transfiguration. Jesus is in the centre with Moses and Elijah at His sides, and Peter, John and James at His feet. This mosaic alone is worth the trip. I have never seen anything so fine before and it is in perfect condition, where those of the Hagia Sofia in Constantinople have been extensively damaged.

Within the Monastery are many sites. A fee is paid to enter the main areas of the Monastery, but to see its secret places, one pays more. The Shrine of the Burning Bush and the Nave are all secret places. The Library is another. Here is an accumulation of early manuscripts dating from the fourth century and from the many cultures who have made the history of this area. Only the Vatican has a more extensive range of early biblical manuscripts, while both retain their unique treasures, which continue to delight and influence scholars from around the world.

To complete this visit there is one more special place within the Monastery. You will recall that Moses had fled Egypt to escape the wrath of the Pharaoh, for Moses did slay an Egyptian who was mistreating the Hebrews. Moses escaped to the land of Midian in Sinai.

"Now when Pharaoh heard this thing [that Moses had slayed the overseer], he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well.

"Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters: and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock.

"And the shepherds came and drove them away: but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock.

Here, at St. Catherine’s is also to be found The Well. And us tourists sat and talked and took some pictures. The whole schema of this trip is now firmly in place. We will now go to the Nile and see where Moses brought his flock out of the land of the Pharaoh.

Do I detect a whiff of scepticism from my readers? Do I sense doubt?

Well, you can take it from me that all of this occurring in this location makes perfect sense. As noted, we are in a country that has nothing green in it at all. We are in a valley which takes you into the heart of the highest peaks of Sinai. At the head of this valley is a well and by this well is a luxuriant bush. These two things are certainly remarkable in their own right. We have evidence of priests and monks who have protected this place, with their lives if need be, for two millennium. An encounter certainly took place here. What it was and what it means is all down to your personal persuasion.

Mary and I certainly got our ten bucks worth at St. Catherine’s! I have never been so struck by a sense of historic potency as I have at this place. As you get older, the further back you go. And as the book says, In the Beginning, and this is pretty much that spot for me.

We are now enjoying our half hour of rest, before we board our new (much smaller) bus and head for Cairo. I stop by the WC to make a now urgent call. Inside is a Bedouin with one hand out to receive money and the other is extended with four squares of toilet paper. Inside the booth area (no door) is a hole in the ground and a tin bucket which contains the accumulated squares of toilet paper left by my predecessors. Grim. But on the bright side, one could find lots to look at in that bucket, but then this gagging of the breath is a real problem and you don’t hang around.

Once outside, I find Mary having a coke in the little canteen. There is a box of rocks at the corner of the serving counter. I look at the rocks. They are strange. Reddish brown in colour, but with a very unusual pattern which has occurred through some unexplained mineralization. The pattern is that of the fronds of a bush. I find a Bedouin who speaks some English, and through the man behind the counter, who collected the rocks, we learn that they are from Mount Moses (Horeb). At just ŁE1 each, I bought all four of the small pieces. Amazing souvenir, particularly as today is Saturday, 22 May, the traditional anniversary of Moses receiving the Law from upon the Mount.

We say Good-bye to Mona and say Hello to our new guide, Stephen. We are six now, two couples, plus Stephen and the driver. We head east and continue across a landscape desolate with craggy mountains, rock outcrops and desert plains.

And road blocks. Lots of road blocks. Each one with around half a dozen weapons all ready for action. Each of the AK-47 is enhanced with a spare clip bound to the ready for firing magazine. Black or brown or grey or red tape all serve as binding. Every weapon has that heavily used look and every soldier has that Make My Day look on his face.

Pressing on through the mountains, we enter a valley with date palms running along a dried river bed. Our little bus takes a halt and we get out for a smoke and a stretch. Greeting us are three little boys who are all smiles. Bedouin children are very attractive with their light brown colour and white teeth and big smiles. They would like something and Mary decides to give them something. Our guide says that they would like pens to draw with, but we don’t have any spare, so Mary offers three sticks of chewing gum. These are received politely and as we re-board the bus, three happy faces, each animated with determined chewing, are paired with little brown arms that wave us Good-bye.

We drive on and at last come out of the mountains and start to follow the coastal road north, alongside the Gulf of Suez. Driving in Egypt is not to be described. We have a 20 to 30 mph head wind, which at times is picking up masses of sand, thus cutting visibility down to less than 100 yards. Every once in a while there is a broken down vehicle with the hood up. Legs stick out from under the engine and you drive by. Endless assortment of broken down vehicles along the road. The tunnel under the Suez Canal has a large broken down truck stuck inside, so traffic is reduced to single lane with that lane going both ways. We alternate in groups of fifty vehicles a time and go through in convoy.

Cairo. And the city is immediately not enchanting. It is big, hot and very noisy. The traffic is made more precarious by introducing bicycles, scooters, camels, donkeys, horses and mules. Our driver is expert and gets us to the hotel, although in very frazzled and tired condition. But, the Hotel is Magnificent.

A royal hunting lodge built in the 1860s comprises the main element of the hotel complex. This is flanked by four or five other buildings, which sweep in a semi-circle with the area in the middle containing luscious gardens and a swimming pool. Our room is vast and very finely appointed. It is night now and I am sitting on our balcony having a smoke and looking across the vast lawns. This is heaven and the contrast with Sinai is enough to give you religion. My eye looks along the line of buildings to my front right and I notice something strange. A presence. A black looming structure which towers above the people scale buildings of the hotel complex. In the dark is the shape of the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops). It’s all too much and suddenly I have to go to the toilet.

Back in the room, Mary is waging war on a series of mozzies. We have been taking our malaria tablets, so getting a bite shouldn’t polish us off, but Mary just hates these little fuckers. After a while, she discovers a large can of Raid and is now in full attack, taking no prisoners. We are both very tired and hot after the long drive, so have a pizza via room service and baths and bed, Mary keeping the Raid beside her.

Sunday, 23 May. Breakfast with Philippa and David. Beautiful setting for the outside breakfast room. The service is exemplary. A waiter is clearing tables and putting dishes with what remains of each customer’s breakfast, on a side table. A carrion crow (very big and ugly), swoops onto the side table, takes a quick look at what is available, chooses a sausage and flaps his wings once to swoop away.

We finish breakfast and meet our new tour guide who is called Medhat. In his late twenties and very pleasant. Medhat was to stay with us for the rest of the trip, and to prove of great value to us all.

Everybody into our little bus and we plunge into the Cairo traffic to visit the Egyptian Museum. Takes about an hour in time and 11,000 horn honkings. From the outside, the museum is just what you expect. An old French colonial building with really big pieces of pharaonic sculpture situated throughout the palm shaded gardens.

Inside, you step well into the past. The collection is vast and powerful. When I reflect back to all of the trips made to the British Museum, I now feel that my interest in Egyptology has been built on crumbs. Today is the feast. And it is splendid.

I am not a person who is supportive in the least, toward the new wave of museum presentation. I’m not interested in ethnic minorities or political agenda. I also have enough sense to go to Disneyland if I want to meet Mickey Mouse and not go to some modern museum that wants me to get a Mickey Mouse experience from a second rate collection.

What I am interested in is a very strong collection, which is hopefully, organised in a rough chronological order, so as you pass through the displays you pass through time. Simple and for centuries the basis for every great museum. Sadly, becoming a thing of the past. But, not in Cairo. Good to be in a backwater sometimes.

Yes, there is dust everywhere. Yes, the roof does have holes in it and it leaks badly when the rains come. And yes it has all of the charm and mystery of the places that these outstanding sculptures originally came from. And thanks to the shooting of so many tourists, there are no crowds. The museum has just enough people in it so that you don’t feel alone, but not so many that you feel crowded or rushed.

Upstairs in a new wing with a new roof and special lighting and climate control, are the Treasures of Tutankhamun. You gasp. You stand absolutely still and just gawp at the beauty and skill contained in the young pharaoh’s death mask. You never need to visit another site in your life after you have seen this truly glorious object.

And for the rest of the collection, the words of Howard Carter are best. He has just created a hole in the last sealed door to the tomb of Tutankhamun, and has managed to get the candle he is holding through the hole and he takes his first look at what is inside.

"Wonderful things. And Gold. Gold everywhere."

I recall an early art class which looked at the Egyptians as deficient in that portraits were only in two dimensions. You had to wait for the Greeks to bring in the third dimension. Wrong! But to be fair, this really doesn’t come home until a visit to this museum. So many of the sculptures are intimate in style and it is a complete surprise. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all, is how well this 3,000 to 5,000 year old display fits into our modern tastes. Clean clear design which must have influenced men such as Picasso.

The Egyptian Museum also has the best bookshop and replica shops anywhere in Egypt.

Back to the hotel and I’m looking at this afternoon with nothing to do. I mention to Medhat that I would really like to visit the Pyramids today, even though we will be seeing them tomorrow. Plus, this would be my chance for a long distance camel ride.

Medhat looks at me. Raises an eyebrow and as politely as he can begins to impress upon me that what I have in mind, I really don’t want to do.

Aha! Forbidden fruit! I’m now really determined to see the sites from the back of a camel and nothing will deter me.

"OK", Medhat agrees, "I tell you to be careful. I also tell you that the cost should be no more that sixty Egyptian pounds. And make sure that your driver agrees to get you both onto the camel and off of the camel for that price. Sometimes to get off costs extra!"

Mary and I have lunch and I’m mulling over my plan and the thing I am sure of is that at 2:30 p.m., it is getting to the hottest part of a very hot day. I tell Mary that if I’m not out of the hotel room by 3:00, I won’t go. I have another smoke and think it over. 2:55 and I say Goodbye and Mary says that if I am not back by 5:00, she will call the police. I tell her that I’ll be back by then, and do call the police if I’m late.

I’m not too happy about this venture, but then I didn’t just travel the entire length of Sinai to take a nap!

Out the door. I have water bottle, some biscuits, camera and a bunch of money. Changed from shorts to long pants on the basis that a camel can do to your inner leg the same as a horse. Check with the hotel receptionist as to how to get to the Pyramids and she suggests a cab. I tell her that I’d prefer to walk and she raises an eyebrow and I just know that she will make a written note that Room 402 has just left and call the police if he isn’t back at 5:00.

I walk through the grounds of the hotel. Deep green grass and palms. Past the swimming pool and check to see if the oven crisp sunbathers are actually moving or is this some mass suicide cult. They won’t need to be mummified. Just another coating of lotion every century or so. Past all of the buildings and up the long drive. Lovely walk.

I am at the gate now. And they are waiting for me, but my mind is set. I will go to the Pyramids, hire a camel and take my ride and come straight back to the hotel with no deviations whatsoever.

"Hello old friend." says the stranger. These guys are so good at this. You have to look. It might be somebody you know. By this time he has placed himself in my line of walking, so you stop.

"Where are you going?" he asks. Perfectly reasonable question.

"To the Pyramids."

"Come, I take you in my cab. ŁE25 and you see everything and I bring you back to the hotel."

"No, really, I want to walk, get to the Pyramids, hire a camel, see the sites and return to the hotel."

He looks aghast. "You have a very valuable camera you know. You see up that road. I not bet money on you and the camera ever getting to the Pyramids."

I’m paying attention. Big Mistake!

"You want to ride a camel. My best friends are camels and the stables are just over there. Leave it to me. We get you and your camera and a camel to the Pyramids."

He leads, I follow. A sheep to slaughter. A husband lost. How can such a simple plan go so wrong and I am still only ten feet outside the hotel gates.

I am introduced to Mohammed, who is the camel driver and Moses who is my camel. Things are looking up. But, for what I want to do will cost ŁE200. I offer ŁE60. We agree on ŁE100. It ain’t perfect, but I’m hoping that the extra money will help ensure that the trip does what it is supposed to do.

Mohammed says, "I show you not just the three big Pyramids, I show you all nine of them and I show you the Sphinx. And I bring you back to the hotel. I give you a trip you will never forget. And we stop whenever you want to take pictures."

I’m feeling better. The prospect of getting out of this fly ridden stable yard is becoming an important priority. Moses is on his haunches and I climb aboard. Apologies that there is only one stirrup, but a piece of looped rope will do for the other foot. OK, let’s get going. And Moses lifts himself up and up and up until I am pretty far off the ground. Falling off this thing is certainly to be avoided. I visually check my one and a half stirrups and my feet and they look well anchored. The pommel of the saddle is in front of me and I can hang onto that. The saddle is more like a big chair. Very broad and long. As Moses moves out, I find that like riding a horse your butt rises and falls. After a short while, this stops, because you see that Mohammed is just sitting flat in the saddle and swaying with the shifting of the beast. I try the same thing and it works fine. Just sit flat and sway. Comfortable ride. Much better than a horse.

So, I’m looking around. The feet of a camel are like broad hands. Pads underneath, but no hooves. The gait is very relaxed. As my reins are tied to the rear pommel of Mohammed’s camel, I really don’t have anything to do. Just sit back and admire his toothy grin as every once in a while he checks to see if I’m (or his money) is still there.

And then we have a lot of commotion as a rider comes up from behind us. Big swarthy man and he wants to take my picture. I hand him the camera and he gives me his white head cloth, which I put on. And he takes some pictures and I give him some money and he goes on his way. And I have the camera back.

And we go on a bit further, and more commotion and two riders on one camel come up to us.

"Aha, these are my sons, Shemer and Tuffty. They speak better English than me and will take you on the rest of your trip." I look at them and they look at me. Shemer is in his late teens or early twenties, and Tuffty is young. Very young. Can’t be more than seven or eight years old.

"OK" Wrong!

Shemer and Tuffty swap camels with Mohammed and after short introductions, Mohammed leaves us and we set off again.

While we have been progressing, I couldn’t have missed that the direction we are headed in is away from where I thought the entrance to the Pyramids should be. I also notice that we are skirting a massive plateau to our right. The Pyramids are on top of that plateau and I can’t see any way of getting up there.

We continue to ride. We are now in a section of slums. Desperate slums. Have a drink of water and prepare for the worse. Shemer and Tuffty just keep riding on with me in tow. My imagination must be my worse enemy now. Problem is that we have turned into so many alleys and changed directions so many times, that I have no idea of how to get out of here if anything did go wrong.

We carry on. After a long while, we at last come out onto a big street. I see another camel with what looks like a tourist on it. I relax.

At last, we leave the city and enter the desert. Vast dunes are before us. It is hot with a hot 20 mph wind from the north. Have another drink of water.

We head up a large dune and upon reaching the crest, I can see the sight of my dreams. We are in the desert and I’m looking at the Great Pyramid of Khufu. There is nothing modern within view. If I had been on this spot with Napoleon, this is what I would have seen. I take a couple of pictures. Shemer takes this opportunity to let Tuffty slide off their mount, untie my reins and come onboard my camel. Tuffty is in front with the reins. We set off down this great dune and head closer to the Pyramids.

A couple of specks in the valley between us and Khufu are moving toward us. Shemer and Tuffty are talking excitedly. The specs are getting bigger and you can now clearly see two uniformed camel riders. They are both armed.

Tuffty lets out a high pitched Arab cry and Moses goes into a gear that I would never have guessed existed. I have a strong hold onto the pommel and we are flying across the desert. My little driver is urging Moses to get more and more speed.

I am waiting for a tell tale whine zinging past my ear, which would be notice that we are trying to outpace an AK-47.

Shemer is not with us, and I look back to see where he is. Shemer is shouting at two riders as he tries to keep a distance from them, but stay between us and them. It has dawned on me (everything dawns on me sooner or later), that as a result of our entering the Pyramid complex via the desert, we haven’t paid any entry fee, and for the Egyptians not to charge to see the Pyramids is something that I wouldn’t expect.

After a while, Moses slows to a walk and Shemer comes up and we head off toward the right. I can just see the Sphinx off to our left. I’m reaching for the camera when Shemer takes a sudden right hand turn and we are passing though a break in a wall that takes us into a modern cemetery.

A big place filled with coffin shaped monuments on plinths. My imagination is doing double overtime now. What an awful place to die.

But we carry on, and pretty soon are back in the slums. We come across an old Arab who holds out his hand and in it is a blue scarab.

"Gratis, Gratis," he says.

No Thank You.

"You married. Here. Take two. Good Luck. Gratis, Gratis."

I take the two scarabs.

"Oh Allah he been very hard on me."

I give him ŁE10, so we can get going.

We press on through the slums and at last come to an alley, which leads to a main street. Shemer settles his camel to its haunches and Moses also hunkers down. The tricky part about camel riding is the getting off. You have to be careful not to slip down the front when the beast bends its knees.

I’m back on terra firma and surprise, surprise, I can’t walk.

But a deal has to be finished. ŁE100 is the agreed price and an extra ŁE10 each for my two guides for not killing me.

I’m supposed to be just across the street from my hotel. Tuffty and Shemer are gone as I walk the last hundred feet out of the shadow of this alley into the sunshine of the street. No hotel. No recognition of any familiar buildings.

I am lost. Also very tired, hot and my legs hurt. I have a drink of water. Check that I have all of my stuff. Check my pockets. From past experience, I’ve made it a habit to slip into a pocket, a book of matches from whatever hotel I am staying in. Proved invaluable. And there are the matches. Mena House Hotel. No address though. But shouldn’t be a problem.

I go to a road junction. People are waiting for a bus.

Mena House Hotel?

Shrugs. These people only speak Arabic.

I walk a bit. There is a security post with three armed men in uniform. Very friendly, but with the hotel name printed in English, it is of no use to them. I get three different opinions as to which way to go.

I walk some more. Pretty soon I’m joined by some guy with really bad teeth and ugly as hell. I ask him where the hotel is. Looks like I am walking the right way. He needs money. I give him a cigarette. He doesn’t smoke. Money, money. I need money. He tells me how his children are all prostitutes but they are as ugly as he is and they don’t make any money. Money. I give him another cigarette and he lights up the first one. After a while he drifts away.

I keep walking. New guy joins me.

"There you are. I’ve been looking all over for you," he exclaims.

"Oh, yeah. I’ve been looking for you too," says I..

Pause. "What you looking for me for?"

"My car keys are missing. Must have left them at your place last night."

"Car keys? Don’t know anything about car keys. Why you walking. Why not take a cab?"

"No money. I think my wallet went missing at your place too."

I look around. Where’d he go? Disappeared! I’m on my own again and I can now see a Pyramid looming up ahead and I think I’ve recognised a couple of shops.

Really big intersection up ahead. Lots of traffic. A guy comes rushing out of a bar toward me.

"There you are. How’d it go?"

I look at him. He looks familiar. Yes, it’s the cab driver that hauled me off to the stables.

"Mena House is just up here?"

"Yeah, half a kilometre. I give you a ride in the cab."

"No thanks. I can manage."

And I take a dive into the traffic. I have got to get away from this guy.

Across all of the three streets that converge into a massive junction. Trucks, cars, camels, horses, donkeys and cyclists and me.

I can see some green foliage coming over a wall. Could be the hotel. I keep walking. Drink some more water. Keep walking. And there they are. A phalanx of hustlers is preparing to barricade the entrance into the hotel grounds. A couple of early birds come to meet me.

"Hello there. What a lovely day for a walk"

"Fuck Off!"

"Hey, don’t be like that."

I keep walking. A side step and I’m past three of them. Ten yards to the gate. Six of them to get past. Head down and go for it.

I’m through. I’m saved. I’m alive.

And once through the gate, the world and everything in it has changed. Peace, quiet, beauty and security. Quite amazing this contrast.

I’ll Never Leave The Tour Again. I’m With The Tour!

It’s 20 past Five, when I ring the bell at Room 402.

"Sorry, I didn’t hear the bell. I was taking a nap. Have a nice time?"

"It’s 20 past Five! I could be dead. Where’s the police?"

"Come inside dear and drink some water. You look Very Hot."

That night Blossom and I had an Ice Cold in Alice Heinekins at the hotel bar. Really cold beer in a frozen mug. Just like the movie. This we followed with dinner at the Mogul Room in the Mena House. Has to be the finest Indian meal that either of us have had anywhere. But the combination of the very cold beer and very hot meal has given to Mary a very severe attack in the tummy. Not a good night, and they do tell us to avoid very cold drink in such hot weather.

Monday, 24 May

Breakfast and Mary is feeling better. We are six including the driver as we board our little bus and start our tour of the Pyramids. It is an easy and appears a very safe journey to the entrance to the complex. We then proceed to the Great Pyramid of Cheops.

I’m all too aware that this letter is full of superlatives, which I should avoid making use of. But, I’ve got to tell you that if you stand a couple of hundred feet away from this great monument, there really aren’t words that can do it justice. The single impression I had then and I still have is one of disbelief. How man could have built such a structure is hard to imagine. How man had the will to build such a structure is even harder to imagine. If you think that inside this truly massive pile could fit St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Notre Dame in Paris AND St. Peter’s in Rome, you begin to get the scale of this building. A perfect square at the base with each side 230.7 metres in length. The original height is 146.6 metres, with today’s being 138.75. An estimated 2.5 million cubic metres of volume is within the structure. An estimated 2.3 million blocks was used with an average weight of 2.5 tonnes each. Just to impress us, the largest and heaviest blocks are found at the top of the Pyramid. Inside is what is considered the masterpiece of the ancient world, The Grand Gallery. We weren’t allowed to view, but you (like me) have probably read about the massive blocks used to erect this almost unbelievable room.

In addition to the use of Pi as the basic mathematical ingredient that the whole structure conforms to, there is now the fully accepted fact that the three great Pyramids are positioned exactly as the stars in Orion’s Belt and are also exactly the distance (to scale) from the River Nile, that the galaxy of Orion is from the Milky Way. There are other complex astrological sighting points that relate to the constellations and the choosing of the Giza site to build the Pyramids. There are also points from shafts within the pyramidal structures, which align to key stars. The planning alone was an achievement of incredible complexity and a demonstration of knowledge in astronomy, which is only equalled today.

What powers of imagination are at work here? What was around 4,500 years ago and it is argued today, that this date may be short several thousand years that provided the technology to produce such structures. The world of archaeology sees no problem with the conclusions made as to whom built and when built and how built. The unnerving part of academia’s conclusions is that they have no evidence of any other influence than the local people of this place. My view is that the evidence is clearly towering above you as you try to get your mind to take in these structures.

And I have to tell you, there is not one stone placed anywhere in Egypt in the last 2,000 years which can command any of the achievement of those placed twice as long ago that I am currently looking at. Something important happened here. Something important happened to Moses as well. To me, there is still a great deal more to learn and understand.

A friend of mine who also worked at Amdahl, Howard Charing, was considered a bit of an eccentric. In a country founded on the premise of eccentricity being the norm, I’ve always found Howard comfortably beyond anything normal. Wonderful conversation. Guaranteed never to be boring.

He went on vacation one year, probably ’88 or ’89, and came back with a positive glow about him. As he was the network manager for Europe, he lived and worked in an office adjacent to a room filled with large expensive switching equipment that tended to click and purr amid constant flashing lights. Anyway, I stopped by to see Howard upon his return. He had been to Egypt. He bribed a guard at the great Pyramid of Cheops, so that he could spend the night in the Pharaoh’s chamber which is located exactly under the apex and about two thirds of the way up the structure.

"Sim, it was amazing. I just lay there in the total dark. After a while, I could sense that I was no longer on the floor, but floating in space. And then the chamber became alight with a glow from the ceiling. And within this glow, I met every important ancient that I have ever wanted to meet. The talk with Napoleon was certainly the most challenging, but Aristotle was very amusing, although with my Greek, I’m sure I missed some of the jokes."

Howard has now left the computer world and entered another world. His web page may be found on www.shamanism.co.uk where he and another adept have founded a group known as the Eagle’s Wing.

It really is true. There is life after 30 years in the computer business and I think that Howard is in touch with the life after the life after the computer business.

We moved on to the second Pyramid. Khafre. And this one I went into, deep within the bowels of this monster edifice. If you ever wanted to experience an Indiana Jones moment in life, I can guarantee that this won’t disappoint. Down a descending tunnel and then up until you enter the Tomb Chamber. The excitement is only marginally toned by a long piece of graffiti on the wall which reads, "Scoperta da S. Belzoni, March 2, 1818." When you learn that Belzoni cracked the mystery of this Pyramid and found the entrance, you tend to agree that a bit of graffiti is as good a way as any to mark this triumphant moment.

We then visit the Boat Museum which houses the oldest know boat of any size. And it is a monster measuring 43.4 metres long and complete in every respect. This is a boat that was used on the Nile at the time of the Pharaohs and with modification (raise the gunwale and provide a deeper narrower keel), could well have been used for trans-ocean passage. The Solar Barge has the same date as the Pyramids, currently believed to be around 4,500 years old.

We then drove to a point where you can view all of the Pyramids, and I’m taking pictures.

"Pssst. Mister. Good Picture."

And I turn to see one of the white uniformed guards standing at attention with his

AK-47. I take his picture. Wrong!

And I thank him and immediately see my mistake. If the guy with the gun wants money, give it to him. And then his friend came over and his friend has a gun, so he got some too.

Back on the bus, and I mention to Medhat, how really dumb I am. He thought this was curious of me, and asked why, so I told him. Wrong!

Medhat is out of the bus in a flash and I’m trying to find a place to hide because I don’t want to see what is going to happen next.

In a couple of minutes he is back with a bunch of bills in his hand. He gives them to me and I say, "Thank you."

"They shouldn’t do that. And they know it. And you shouldn’t take pictures of the guards. Understood?

"Yes. It won’t happen again. I’m with the tour."

We drive off toward the Sphinx.

The Camel is a very strange animal.

Stranger than anyone thinks.

In a moment of animal passion

He tried to bugger the Sphinx.

Now the Sphinx’s posterior portion

Is blocked by the Sands of the Nile,

Which accounts for the hump on the Camel

And the Sphinx’s inscrutable smile.

 

(thanks to Charlie Berry for this.)

And here we are. Even after being smacked in the face by a French cannon-ball, the inscrutable smile is still there. Rumour has it that the missing nose is in the Louvre.

After years of being enshrouded in scaffolding, the total Sphinx is now available to view. The controversy surrounding its age continues. This is primarily based on the water erosion to the surrounding ledges, which wouldn’t have occurred prior to the Great Flood. There is no doubt that the Sphinx is older than the Pyramids.

We take pictures and generally enjoy the site. Worth the trip.

From here we visit a papyrus workshop and do some shopping and then to the hotel for lunch and then to the airport to fly to Aswan and catch our boat. All more or less uneventful, although one couldn’t help but notice the troops spaced every ten yards for a couple of miles on the road returning to Cairo from the airport. Somebody important is expected to travel this route.

We board MS Salacia in the dark and we are provided with a light supper to tide us over to breakfast. The boat is luxurious. The cabins are roomy and each has its own shower. The after deck is very comfortable with tables, chairs and a small swimming pool. This part of the trip is going to be lovely.

Tuesday, 25 May.

Up at 0600 and go to the toilet three times in quick succession. The Pharaoh has arrived. Beautiful day and we are cruising down the Nile. Mary, though still has tummy problems, and pretty days aren’t big on her list. We are both tired.

0830 and we arrive at our first big site, the temple at Kom Ombo, which is massive with fine columns. I’m not feeling at all well, Mary is feeling better. We both set off on the tour, but after taking the big pictures, I excuse myself and return to the boat. Temperature is extremely hot. I take a rest and drink lots of water. Then return to the after deck and sit in the shade and look at the river. Something very restful about looking at a river.

The Nile is as wide as the Mississippi but there are differences. On the Mississippi, the bridges go from bluff to bluff. For the Nile, they go from shore to shore. Reason is that nobody goes onto a bluff around here, as it is naked desert. Everybody lives in the valley. Housing has a temporary look about it, excepting the ancient monuments.

Medhat has given me an Egyptian pill for sorting out the stomach problem. I’m also put on a strict diet of boiled rice along with consommé soup. They do the job, but I stick with the diet and have another pill to be on the safe side.

The boat sails, and I just enjoy the sites. Herons, water buffalo, palm trees, kids swimming near the bank, mud brick dwellings and maybe a cart being pulled by a donkey to complete the scene. We have a fairly good breeze from the desert. One would think that there would be a high humidity here on the river. Wrong! The air is as dry as a bone. The desert influences everything.

Practically no traffic on the river other than cruise ships. All of the industrial work is done on the Suez Canal. When one cruise ship approaches another, there is a loud bellow from each ship’s horn. Same sound I grew up with on the Mississippi.

 

MS Salacia is 72 metres long and 11 wide. She has 56 cabins, and it looks like we are only about half full, which makes the boat particularly roomy.

Temperature is confirmed at 48 c. / 110 f. Really too hot. The sky has no blue in it. Must be the desert reflecting the rays up. Sky is a sort of steel colour. But inside the boat, all is air-conditioned taking the temperature down to about 75 / 80 f.

Have a light lunch and around 1500, we tie up at the temple of Edfu and set off for a tour. Very hot. The masonry of the temple is working like an oven on the outside, although it is slightly cooler in the shade of the inside.

Huge site with giant pylons and columnar gallery. The carvings on the columns are as fresh as yesterday, although many have been damaged through changing tastes in religion having this or that god fall from favour.

I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to make this trip, but with a 1000mg of Vitamin C to get me going, and drinking water all of the time, everything was OK. Mary is drinking lots of water too and is OK.

This trip might be cheap, but it is also hard to do. November to January are the normal times, but cost twice as much and the crowds are large.

We took a horse drawn buggy to get from the boat to the temple. The driver was whipping his poor horse all of the way, and I could see Mary’s gaze hardening to the look which always spelled trouble. When we arrived, I mentioned to Medhat that if the driver whipped that horse once on the return trip, Mary would get him by the ankle and wouldn’t let go until he promised never to do it again. On the return trip, the whip was not seen. Silly really, it was too hot for anyone to run, especially the horse.

Took my temperature when we got back, and I have one, about 100 f., so took a Limsip and had a nap.

Tonight, we stay tied up at Edfu and have our traditional Nile Cruise Party, so I have to be in shape for that.

Light supper of boiled rice and consommé soup and I’m feeling pretty good. Fever is gone. At dinner, I take the Camel is a very strange animal limerick to a couple of tables to see if the guests would enjoy reading it. All goes well until I come across our two Japanese. A him and a her. He is forty something with thick glasses and lots of teeth. He reads the limerick.

"Excuse me Sir," he said, "But is this a joke?"

"Yes it is," I reply.

"Well, I think it is very amusing," he said, and produced a weedy chuckle.

We retire to the night-club. Many of the other guests have outfitted themselves ala Arabic with flowing robes and turbans. Our Italian group have come forward as a particularly swarthy bunch as they disco away and create streams of garment with each twirl.

The disco music stops and we now have six men of Nubia on the stage. Two have large circular one sided drums which are hand held. The other four come forward as the vocal group. With the percussion of the drums and the singing of all six, there is an infectious happiness about the whole place. The four come out into our crowd and bring everybody they can get to onto the stage. I’m there and across the stage is Mary.

We form a sort of circle and one of the four singles out a girl and they commence a Nubian dance. Although many of the women on board take part, there is no doubt that their favourite is a very attractive young lady from Java who is with the Dutch group. As they dance, we sing and clap and stamp the floor and bend down and slap the floor with our hands. I look up and see Mary and she has a smile on her face showing sheer delight.

Suddenly one of the men breaks off and leads the circle off the stage. A monster conga is underway and we traipse through the tables and loop around and around.

Wonderful night. Get to bed hot and tired but feeling OK. Mary is in good shape too.

Wednesday, 26 May.

0730 and the boat tied up at Esna. Just a small place with a small temple, and as it isn’t on our list of tours, Mary and I decide it is a good time to take it easy. So we stay on board. As we sit on the after deck we keep noticing members of the crew which look more familiar to us, and then we work it out, the crew were our entertainers of last night. Big change though. As crew, these men are a bit bowed and very subservient. Last night they took us to their world and they were kings. But from now on, smiles for everybody. The leader of the group was short in stature and the eldest of the bunch. His face last night was one of complete happiness, and not easily forgot. Today, he is more sober, but given a smile, his face lights up again.

People return from the temple and we continue our cruise down the Nile. Reminds me of the British campaign in 1884 and 5. Canadian voyagers were employed to get the boats of General Wolseley’s army up the Nile and through the many rapids. The Mahdi had Gordon under siege at Khartoum. Word came to the Mahdi that the British were approaching, so he made his last attack and over-ran Gordon’s defences. As a greeting to the advancing British force, he sent the head of General Gordon.

And these thoughts remind me of a flight some years ago from Rome to London. I was sitting next to one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. Very tall, European in features and absolutely black. And we talked. She was coming up from Khartoum to London to go shopping at Harrods. Strange, I thought. The Sudan was under Communist control and everything I had heard described a country of extreme poverty.

So, more questions, and at last her story.

Her great, great grandfather was an Arab/Sudanese trader, who became General Gordon’s left hand man. Following the fall of Khartoum, all of the population was led into the desert and forced to form an enormous queue. At the front of the line, there was an Inquisitor and two men with great scimitars.

As each inhabitant of the city reached the front of the line, the Inquisitor asked only one question:

"Do you accept Allah as the one and only God and the Mahdi as his messenger?"

If you said yes, then you passed to the left of the line.

If you said no, you passed to the right where one of the two swordsmen, cut off your head.

As this young woman’s great, great grandfather approached the head of the line, he again took note, that behind him were five nuns. He turned to them and said, "I think we all can see what will happen in the next ten minutes. If you wish to live, I have a plan. I need to know now if you wish to accept my plan."

They all agreed.

The line moved slowly toward the reckoning, and at last General Gordon’s left hand man is faced with the Inquisitor.

"Do you accept Allah as the one and only God and the Mahdi as his messenger?"

"Yes I do. I also have a request of you."

"What is your request?" asked the Inquisitor.

"I wish to take as my wives in the name of Allah and of the Mahdi, these five women."

"The Inquisitor looked into the eyes of each of the five nuns to see if there was any flicker of guilt about their becoming wives. None showed, and the Inquisitor raised his hand and blessed the six in the name of Allah and they all passed to the left.

Over time, her grandfather and father became great merchants in Khartoum, but then came the Communist regime who took away all of the manufacture and business held by the family. After some years, the Communists came back to her father and announced that they couldn’t make the business work, and asked if he would take them back. He did, and now she is flying to London to go shopping in Harrods and she is a Christian!

Back to the trip. It is now ten in the morning and hot.

We are now at the first dam, which crosses the Nile. Built by the British in the early 1900s, this was the first attempt to moderate the effects of the annual flood of the river. We pass to the left and enter a lock. When the boat has come to the new river level and is about to pass from the lock, the Captain in his flowing blue robes and turban, stands on the bridge and throws wadded bills of money to the lock attendants. He is expert in doing this, as each small missile goes directly to the man it is intended for. Each recipient then unravels his baksheesh and looks up at the Captain and gives him a wide grin and a wave. We pass out of the lock.

Have a read, watch the river and decide to take a nap.

Blossom has been showing me her collection of colourful bug bites. She has them all mapped out with the name of each place "the little fucker" came from. Hopefully, none of these are malaria carrying mozzies, but we keep taking our malaria tablets, just in case.

1500 and we have finished lunch and docked at Luxor. What a name. Luxor. Sounds like everything you ever wanted. And it is a beautiful city with a fine tree lined promenade along the riverbank. We tie up beside the bank. There is another boat behind us, and behind that boat is just the top of the bridge of a boat sunk at her moorings. Probably an insurance problem where nobody is ready to pay for the removal of the wreck. Nobody mentions it as it is a site, which could, just possibly, unnerve a tourist or two.

1600 and we set off for the greatest of the Nile temples, Karnak. Why we are always picking the very hottest part of the day to do the warmest work is beside me, but such it is. Hot it is, but the site is absolutely fantastic. Great pylons guard the entrance to a massive gallery of columns. The total site encompasses many acres and includes everything to feast the eye.

The current theory as to how the gallery was built is that first the surrounding walls were constructed. As the columns are constructed from slices about three feet deep and stacked on top of each other, it is felt that the base for each column was put in place, then sand was brought in to the top of that layer, then the next section and so on until the tops of all of the columns are in place. Then the cross-pieces, which make up the roof are added to finish off the construction. Then the sand is removed a section at a time, and during this process, each of the columns and the underside of the roof are carved and painted. Continue until all of the sand is gone and the temple is complete.

There is a lucky scarab situated on top of a pillar beside the sacred lake. If you walk around it seven times counter clockwise, your wish will come true. Philippa has done this and lost her husband. Big smiles.

Very hot and Mary is running out of steam, but we both finish the tour.

Later, after dinner, Philippa and David and I head off in a horse drawn buggy in search for the Winter Palace Hotel. Not hard to find, and with a few questions, we are directed into the super privee’ hotel bar.

I wanted to come here because of its association with Howard Carter and the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. It is after the initial opening of the tomb by Carter and Lord Carnarvon, that the pair returned here to celebrate. Carnarvon was just sampling the first glass of champagne, when he heard a buzz in his ear, and then a sharp pain on his cheek. He had been bitten by the Pharaoh’s fly.

The next morning, he nicked the bite while shaving. In a few days, he had grown weak and returned to Cairo where he died. At the moment of his death, two other deaths occurred at precisely the same time. His best hunting dog in England, let out a yelp and collapsed, and the master of all Russia, Lenin, took his last breath.

The bar hasn’t changed much in the years gone by, the mahogany bar, deep leather easy chairs, a gentlemen’s club beside the banks of the Nile. As nobody in the bar knew the story of the Pharaoh’s Revenge, I enjoyed spinning it out. Lots of free drinks, which didn’t do my stomach any good.

Connected with the above, is another story about a funeral in London.

Mary and I attended a funeral at Putney Vale Cemetery of her old neighbour, Mrs. Cook. A wintry day in February and Mary’s old playmate from Normanton Avenue days, Douglas Cook is there to see his mother off. He told the story of how during the blitz, there was one particularly fine day, and he and his mother and father were all taking a rest from the war and sitting in the little garden behind the house enjoying the summer sunshine. Mr. Cook was the only owner of a car in the whole road. It was rumoured that he was someway connected with the black market, but nobody cared and it was nice to see such a handsome car in the road. Mr. Cook is a man of very mild manners, the soul of discretion. Anyway, sitting in the garden and watching the white puffy clouds float by, and all is peaceful. Then the three of them heard it. A drone sound. Like a monster bumble bee. Nobody says anything. The sound gets louder and appears to be headed for them. Nobody says anything. Then you can see this thing and its short wings and the drone stopped.

"It stopped!" cried Mrs. Cook.

This was followed by an enormous explosion at the front of the house. This is followed by the crash of falling brick and the tinkle of splintering glass.

Mr. Cook runs through the house and Douglas is right on his heels. Mr. Cook stops in the open doorway and looks into the road. A site of devastation. His car is on its side and has been crushed by falling masonry.

Mr. Cook raises his arm and shouts at the sky as loud as he can,

"Fucking Hitler. Fucking Goering. That was my only car!"

Anyway, as we lowered the pine coffin, which contained the remains of Mrs. Cook into the ground, I stepped away from the graveside as something caught my eye. Directly across the path from Mrs. Cook, is a black marble gravestone chiselled with Egyptian hieroglyphs and below these is a text in English, which reads something like, "Now that you have begun your journey to the West across the river, etc." and below this is the name Howard Carter. "Discoverer of Tutankhamun." Small world.

Returning to the Egypt story and on the boat, Mary isn’t feeling at all well. We have a tough day tomorrow, up at 0400 for an early depart to the Valley of the Kings, and then take the flight to Shram-el-Shiek and then the flight to London.

Thursday, 27 May.

Up at four and there is no way that Mary is going to make this particular tour. So she has a lie in, and the rest of our party head off into the night. We arrive on the other side of the Nile at the Colossi of Memnon just as dawn breaks. Powerful images in the early light and it is cool for once. We carry on past "Carter’s Castle", which Howard Carter had built as his headquarters for the several years that he worked here, and then deep into the hills and the Valley of the Kings.

We are the first to arrive and the guards are having to open the tombs for us to enter. They are a bit repetitive as they all have the same content. Book of the Dead and the burial chamber. You can see the damage that has occurred due to the many thousands of visitors breathing moist breath on these dry paintings. The tomb of Ramesses VI is probably the best we saw. The story of how Carter found the entrance to Tutankhmum’s tomb is told as you visit the site. King Tut’s tomb was completed first, then came that of Ramesses VI. All of the rubble taken from Ramesses tomb was deposited on top of the entrance to Tutankhmum’s, so Ramesses tomb was robbed and King Tut’s wasn’t. After digging everywhere, Carter was left with only one last place. The pile of rubble outside Ramesses tomb. And the diggers uncovered a finished step at the bottom of the rubble, and then another step going down and the rest is history.

Back on the boat and Mary says she is well enough to travel, so we move the luggage onto the river bank and wait for our transport, which is late in arriving. Just then Mary remembers that she left something in the cabin and goes back on board. I notice men are at work with the mooring lines and that the hoist is in place to move the gangway inboard. Then it is lifted and I can hear the boats engines building revs and I just know that our boat is getting underway with Mary on it.

I get Medhat.

"Medhat, the boat is leaving and Mary is on it and I want her back!"

Medhat takes one look at the boat and moves quickly up the levee and starts shouting at the bridge where a head appears. Something about Anglo Mensab and the engines start to bring the boat back and Mary appears at the hatchway and pretty soon she is on shore with her toothbrush.

We make the flight to Shram-el-Sheik where we have a four hour wait before our plane boards. We take a room in the hotel where we have been deposited and Mary goes straight to bed. I can’t get the air-conditioning to work so I call for help. Pretty soon a man arrives at the door and I explain the problem.

He pushes a curtain aside, pushes a button and says, "It has to be turned on first."

I say thank you, let him out and scream.

We get back to London and say goodbye to Philippa and David and catch a cab back to Wimbledon Park.

Pop always said the nicest part about hanging from your fingers from a ledge, was the letting go. We just collapsed. Mary’s stomach ailments worsened and she spent a few days in hospital while they killed off the virus, that was affecting her and I got back to normal.

Summary: This is a trip of a lifetime. The sites seen are not repeatable anywhere in the world. The conditions are hard, but that is mainly due to the time of year that we travelled. To do the trip in November to February should be a delight, but then the trade off in much higher prices and large crowds.

The Voyages Jules Verne tour facilities were absolutely outstanding. The constant pestering by the many hawkers (I really learned what this word meant on this trip, and if I’m the pigeon, they were the hawks), produces a sour note that will be long in forgetting. The oppressive security was another aspect to the trip, which took pleasure away from it.

But then, look at the sites you would see and in the end you are willing to put up with the negatives because these images are just fantastic.

Best Regards,

 

 

Sim / Buz