Day 1 - We flew KLM from London to Amsterdam and then from Amsterdam to Cairo. We were collected from the airport by an Exodus steward and driven to our hotel. There we were met by Tarek, our guide for the next 21 days.
Day 2 - First up was a whirlwind visit to the Cairo museum. We were given a good introduction to the various Pharaohs whose tombs and monuments we would be visiting over the coming weeks. Highlights included the treasure from Tutankhamen's tomb and the Mummy Room which houses the mummies of 11 pharaoh's and their wives, including Ramses II. Next we visited the Mosque of Mohammed Ali Pasha, built in 1824, and the Sultan al-Nasir Mohammed Mosque, built in 1318. We finished up with a late lunch and a browse around the Khan-Khalily Bazaar.
Day 3 - We boarded our bus early and headed out of Cairo. Our first stop was at the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, one of the oldest pyramids. Next up was the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid at Dahshur. We concluded the site visits for the day at Giza where we explored the pyramids of Cheops, Chephren and Menkaure and the Sphinx. Our journey home took in the Papyrus Institute, the first of what turned out to be many detours to dodgy souvenir shops in the days to come. We dined leisurely at 'Restaurant Andrea' before boarding the overnight train to Aswan. And the quintessential quote from our days in Cairo?: "It might be possible to drive in Cairo without petrol, but it is not possible to drive without a horn."
Day 4 - The train pulled into Aswan at 10:30 and we were disgorged into the mayhem that is Aswan Central Railway Station. Fortunately we were very well looked after - our bus pulled up directly outside the station and halted all traffic until we were aboard. The bus brought us up to the Basma Hotel, just above the Corniche. After our long journey we were in need of a little R&R, so we disbanded until 14:30. The rest of the afternoon was spent sailing in a felucca around Elephantine and Kitchener islands. We were able to disembark at Kitchener island and had a very pleasant wander around the Botanical Gardens for half an hour or so. Our felucca collected us again for the journey back to the mainland. We returned to the hotel for a swim and a snooze. Our evening meal was taken at a good restaurant in the centre of the market. Our evening concluded with a walk home along the Corniche.
Day 5 - We arose at 05:30 in order to catch the 07:00 flight to Abu Simbel. This site is one of the gems of all the sites we visited in Egypt. UNESCO has relocated it from it's original position where it was threatened by the filling of Lake Nasser. The new location is some 61 metres above and 210 metres back from the original site. Here we visited the spectacular temples of Ramses II and of his wife, Queen Nefertari. The sheer scale of these temples is just staggering. We returned to Aswan by plane and were back in our hotel by midday. We decided to skip the afternoon tour (of which the only item of interest was a whirlwind visit to the temple of Isis on Philae island) in favour of a lazy few hours to ourselves.
Day 6 - We had a late start today, which was just as well as I had picked up a touch of "Ramses Revenge". Today we began our journey down the Nile. We joined our feluccas at midday - our mobile home for the next 3 nights. Our vessel was the 'Princess Dianna' under the charge of Captin Ramadan (sic). The other, larger, vessel was the 'Nile Valley' whose slogan was "Donwoory Be Happy Smle For Thenile". We sailed on until 19:30, by which time the sun had long since set. The last part of our journey was spent drifting down-river with the canopy down whilst the stars gathered overhead. We all had dinner on board the 'Nile Valley' and Andy and I retired early (I was still feeling a bit weak and 'washed out').
Day 7 - I awoke with the sun at 05:30. We broke our fast on the best omelette I've ever tasted, bread, jam, sweet tea and halvah, a gorgeous mixture of sugar and ground sesame. We drifted down the windless river until around 09:00, at which time we were able to raise our sails. At 09:30 we moored at Kom Ombo, an incredible temple built to honour both Horus and Sobek, the locally worshipped deities. We were off again by 11:30 and sailed on until 18:00. My sum total of achievements for the day was the consumption of a couple of beers and the completion of a book. It was Andy's turn for a bout of "Ramses Revenge" today, so we again retired early(ish).
Day 8 - We awoke with the Sun again. Both Andy and I had recovered from our tummy troubles and were feeling significantly more lively. Our day was a day of unbroken relaxation. We moored for the evening early, against a sand island in middle of the Nile, and were greeted with an unusual sight. An old farmer appeared over the brow of a sand bank leading a donkey laden with alfalfa. His destination was a small rowing boat that was tied up a little way down the bank from us and that already contained several large bundles of alfalfa. He relieved the donkey of its final load, boarded his tiny vessel and made ready for his (not insignificant) row back to the mainland. By this time most of the onlookers had formed the same thought in their mind - "and what about the donkey?". Then, without any prompting, the animal climbed into the boat and off he and his master went. We can only assume that a distinct lack of drowning donkey noises over the coming minutes indicated that their crossing was successfully concluded.
Day 9 - We began sailing before dawn in order to get to Edfu by 06:30. We awoke as the Sun rose and dozed for a while as the dawn-lit banks of the Nile drifted past. We arrived second of the two feluccas and breakfast was already ready and waiting. Parting company with our hosts for the last 3 nights, we bussed the 10 minute drive to Edfu Temple. The temple is a huge, well preserved Ptolemaic cult temple to the god Horus. It was built in 25 years, between 237 and 212 BC. We departed the temple at 09:00 and joined our road convoy to Luxor. Once at our hotel, we all elected to take a few hours to clean ourselves and our clothing. At 16:00 we departed for Karnak Temple and had a good long stroll around the fabulous ruins. At 18:00 we migrated to Luxor Temple, which was also pretty spectacular (although Karnak was my favourite). We had a good meal in the town centre and walked home via the shops and the Corniche.
Day 10 - Today we visited the Colossi of Memnon, Queen Hatshepsut's Temple and the Valley of the Kings. Our first tomb in the valley was the simple tomb of Ramses VII. Our second tomb was the more complex tomb of Ramses IV. Our final visit was to the impressive, 80m deep passage-tomb of Memeptah. After a free afternoon we returned to Karnak Temple for the Sound & Light show. That night I had a feverish sleep - "I wonder if I'm coming down with something?" I thought to myself.
Day 11 - I awoke feeling crook as a dog. The 3.5 hour drive to Hurghada was less than fun. I spent the rest of the day sick in bed.
Day 12 - I have been self-diagnosed with bacterial dysentery. I obtained a course of Norfloxacin from a local pharmacy and spent the rest of the day in bed. I was 'well enough' by evening to eat some dinner, however.
Day 13 - We were up at 02:45 this morning for our long drive to St Katherine's Monastery. We stopped for a brief look at the Suez Canal and St Katherine's Nunnery along the way. We arrived at the monastery's auberge at 17:30 and were finally able to have a much needed wash. We went for a pre-dinner walk in the gloaming of a beautiful desert valley evening. We dined at the auberge's restaurant and retired early - we have another early start tomorrow!
Day 14 - Everyone was up early again today - this time at 01:30! We departed for our climb to the summit of Mt Sinai at 02:00. We climbed in the dark via the camel track (rather than the 3000+ 'Steps of Repentance') but we still had to climb some 700 steps at the end to gain to the summit. We topped out at 04:30 - 45 minutes before sunrise. Our group commandeered a prime observation spot and hunkered down to wait with a cup of hot chocolate (courtesy of an enterprising Egyptian man with a hot drinks stall on the summit). At 05:15 we were treated to a beautiful sunrise. Each group that had done the climb to see the sun rise celebrated the event in their own way - a group of Japanese brought their own priest with them and said a mass together. We descended under the young, but already fierce, Sun, this time taking the much less used, but significantly more beautiful, route down the full 3000+ steps. We arrived back at the monastery just before 08:00 and just in time for breakfast. Andy and I whiled away the rest of the morning drinking Turkish coffee and playing dominoes in the sunshine. At 11:00 we were admitted to the monastery itself. Here we saw the water well beside which Moses met his future wife; the basilica with its stunning mosaics and collection of iconographic pictures; and The Burning Bush (fortunately, now extinguished). Departing St Katherine's at 11:30, we made our way to Nuweiba and spent a hellish 5 hours getting out of Egypt and into Jordan via a JetCat across the Gulf of Aqaba Thank the Lord for our guide, Tarek - not something I'd like to have attempted independently! We were deposited at our hotel in Aqaba by 18:45 local time and were out again for dinner after a swift shower to sluice off the days residual grime. We had a good meal and retired early after a long day. Sparsely populated Jordan instantly felt much more 'civilised' than heaving Egypt.
Day 15 - We spent a leisurely morning exploring some of Aqaba. Andy and I traipsed down to the Crusader fort and had a good look around. I nearly killed myself by doing a classic "step backwards to take a photograph whilst standing on the edge of a very big drop". We returned to the hotel via the sea-front and went for a swim in the pool. At 14:00 we boarded our bus to Wadi Rum. In Rum village we exchanged our bus for a trio of 4x4 vehicles. From the village we drove for about 1/2 an hour into a desert punctuated with 'jebel' (large, sheer hills) until we found our camp site for the next two nights. We pitched our tents at the foot of an enormous cliff, collected some firewood, made a token effort of helping to prepare dinner and sat back to watch the stars come out. We were tucked up by 22:00.
Day 16 - We arose just after the sun - the tents became just too hot. We had a leisurely breakfast and then clambered back into our 4x4s for a bit on an explore. First up we visited a 'jebel' that is covered in ancient Nabataean inscriptions. From here we bumped our way over to the Wadak Rock Bridge which we climbed for the splendid view and 'cause we is 'ard. Next up was a quick visit to the rather unremarkable ruins of Lawrence of Arabia's house. Of more interest was the Barrah Siq, which contained its own set of Nabataean inscriptions and its own desert spring. Last up before lunch was the Giant Red Sand Dune which was... umm, well... big and red and very hard to climb (mainly due to its giant-ness). Lunch was at an authentic desert camp (run especially for the tourists) where we were treated to an enormous amount of lamb (from NZ, as it turned out) and rice soaked in lamb fat - not as bad as it sounds, actually. Back at the camp site, we spent the rest of the afternoon in a state of heat-induced collapse. At 16:00 20 camels appeared out of the desert and we were taken for a ride (both figuratively and literally, ha ha). After that, most people returned to their tents to snooze, but I went for a walk and found a beautiful vista at the end of the valley we were encamped in. Dinner was greatly anticipated and hastily consumed, despite the amount of flying wildlife that seemed to want to share it with us. We went to bed relatively early.
Day 17 - We were up at 06:00, had a quick breakfast and were packed up and away by 07:15. Back in Rum village, we re-exchanged our 4x4s for our bus and headed out on the road to Petra. At Petra we were able to take our hotel rooms early and thus were able to grab a much needed shower (no facilities in the desert, mate) before heading out to 'old' Petra at 10:00. Entry to the ancient city is down the Siq, as made famous by the film 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade'. It is 1.2 km long and winds down a narrow fissure in the rocks. At intervals along its length the ancient irrigation pipe, that brought water from the dam at the top of the Siq down into the city, was visible. The exit from the bottom of the Siq opened out onto one of the most impressive works of human creation that I have ever seen - the Petra Treasury (Al-Khazneh). After a good explore there we headed down the Street of Facades and on into the centre of the city. Continuing on to far side of city, we passed the Uneishu Tomb, Urn Tomb and the massive demi-amphitheatre and walked the length of the Cardo Maximus (Colonnaded Street). After lunch we took the hard path up into the mountains above the city in order to discover the splendid monastery (Al-Deir). We then returned to the city centre and retraced our steps back to the Siq and home - our senses full to the brim. We dined in a five star hotel above the new town and retired happy.
Day 18 - We were all keen to get back in to Petra and so were up and away by 08:30. Again we descended the Siq and made our way along the Street of Facades. At the end of it we took a sharp left-hand turn and began our second climb up into the mountains above Petra. This time our destination was the High Place of Sacrifice (Al-Madbah). From here we took a back path which wound its way back to the city centre via the Lion Tomb, the Soldiers Tomb, the Garden Tomb, the Garden Triclinium and the Obelisk Tomb. Our route rejoined the city behind the Qasr al-Bint. After lunch we took in the Nabataean Museum and the beautiful mosaics in the hillside Byzantine church. Our way back to the Siq went via the Royal Tombs, including the Palace Tomb, the Corinthian Tomb and the Silk Tomb, as well as the Urn and Uneishu Tombs that we had seen the day before. We said goodbye to the Treasury and returned for the second, and final, time up the Siq.
Day 19 - Today we were on the road by 08:00. The road we were on took us past the Dana Valley and on to Karak Castle. Here we had a good explore of the old Crusader castle. From there we travelled up the Mujeb Valley to Mt Nebo - the site of Moses' vision of the promised land, his death and his tomb (still undiscovered). The summit is home to the Moses Memorial Church complete with its giant iron cross. Our destination for the evening was Amman.
Day 20 - Our final full day centred around a trip to the exceptionally well-preserved Roman city of Jerash. We spent several hours wandering here with and without our guide. Andy and I found some very special things that the rest of the group didn't see - particularly the North Theatre. The little museum was also fascinating. We rounded out the day with a dip in the Dead Sea - a truly unique experience - before returning to Amman for our final meal all together.
Day 21 - Andy and I were flying independently from the rest of the group and so had to depart stupidly early the next morning. After a slightly traumatic check-in we were safely ensconced on our plane and away home. A very, very special trip.
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