International Travel

Certified Diver in Paradise

December 29, 2009

Here’s another email from my Egypt trip in 2000 . . .

Welcome to my third and final letter about Egypt. Let’s see if I can remember two weeks ago. Last I left off we had just arrived in Luxor. We saw tons of stuff in Luxor in the two days we had there. The first day, we went to the Valley of the Kings and saw some of the colorful tombs like King Tut’s tomb and then to the Valley of the Queens to see Nefertari’s tomb. This tomb is so well preserved and colorful that they only let 100 people in a day and you have to pay 100 Egyptian pounds (about $30). They send 10 people in at a time for a maximum time of 15 minutes. We also saw Hatshepsut’s temple, one of two woman pharohs of Egypt. She presented herself as a man in the carvings and paint on the walls. And then we visited the worker’s village and tombs – they would blindfold the workers and bring them to work on the pharohs’ tombs, this way they didn’t know the location so they couldn’t loot the tombs. Our guide paid off the guy at the door and I took flash photography of the colorful tomb down below. I feel a little guilty! The next day we went to Karnak Temple which is just too big to talk about (temples within temples because each succeeding pharoah would build on) and Luxor Temple, not quite as big but in better condition that Karnak. It has the Avenue of the Sphinxes. Luxor temple is where the tourists were shot and killed in 1996. Security throughout Egypt is extremely tight because of this. They depend on tourism for their economy. When we took a van from Edfu to Luxor we were part of a caravan led by the tourist police. In the countryside they require you have a police escort.

That evening we flew from Luxor to Sharm el-Sheikh. We were in for a treat! Clinton met with the Middle East leaders just a week prior in this paradise. We got in late that evening, but got up the next morning to check it out. . .and for me to buy a swimsuit (I forgot my brand new swimsuit at home!).

We stayed at the Pigeon’s House, located in Na’ama Bay, which is a cheap little resort hotel that has a scuba dive center next door. Sharm el-Sheikh is more of the town and Na’ama Bay is the resort area. The whole area is not that big, I guess they have building restrictions. The Pigeon’s House was luxury to us until we walked a couple of blocks to the boardwalk along the Red Sea and saw the real beautiful hotel resorts! It was hot out – ninety degrees. The boardwalk is dotted with palm trees, beaches, nightclubs, hotels, restaurants, and shops. The blue water is picture perfect because of the rugged red rock and desert of the landscape. It’s almost like Arizona but without the water and chain restaurants (except they did have a Planet Hollywood).

Ninety percent of the tourists were Italian – Carol’s Italian improved in Egypt! Other tourists included Germans and Dutch. Not many Egyptians were there which made us happy because we were sick of being harassed!

The first day we walked around and then went to the beach and snorkeled. As we were enjoying our snorkeling, Carol saw a big fish hanging outside a perverted man’s pants. . .time to get out of the water!

The next four days were devoted to scuba diving off a boat! The first two days I had to finish up my certification, so I basically worked with my instructor, Sayed, but got to swim around underwater, also. On the third day I was on my own and the currents were strong! On the second dive, Carol and a couple of guys jumped off the slowly moving boat last and got caught in a current next to a reef and had to be pulled out (but then went diving). There were two dive guides, Sayed was one of them. When I went underwater he motioned to me. He grabbed my hand and the hand of another inexperienced girl diver. The other divers went with the other guide, so this girl and I hung onto Sayed and flew threw the water. The coral and fish created an underwater paradise and I was able to relax because I was hanging onto Sayed. We got our own personal tour!

After that experience I was a little timid of diving on my own but dove again the next day. It is so fun! Divers say that the Red Sea is one of the most beautiful places to dive in the world. So I started at the top!

On the last night there, Sayed took Carol and I and an Italian couple to a cute outdoor restaurant right on the sea for fresh seafood. It was so great! We left Monday afternoon on a bus to Cairo. We were so sad to leave not only because of the beauty of the place, but also because of the friends we made. We were there for 6 days.

On Tuesday in Cairo, we braved the metro, Carol more confident than I. Cairo is such a madhouse! Women ride in the first car so we made sure to follow the women because once again we were back in the grips of catcalls and attention! We saw Coptic Cairo first. About ninety percent of Egyptians are Muslim and of the other ten percent, some are Coptic christian. I have never felt the presence of dedication to religion as strongly as I did in Egypt. Anyway, Coptic Cairo had the Hanging Church, one of the oldest churches in the world. The whole area was under construction, so we didn’t enjoy it as much as we thought we would. Then we went to the Khan el-Khalili bazaar which consisted of small streets and a maze of alleyways. All sorts of merchants trying to get people to buy their wares. We were pretty shopped out so just took in the atmosphere. We sat at the Fishawi Coffeehouse — hasn’t closed in 150 years! It was fun to people watch.

The next day we met up with Mahmoud, our friendly Egyptologist from the beginning of the trip. He took us three hours up to the Mediterranean Sea to Alexandria. Not too much to see there, but enjoyed the feel of the little city. It had more of a cosmopolitan feel that we didn’t see in other Egyptian cities. Colorful fishing boats littered the bay and green palm trees filled in the city. We did see an amphitheater from Cleopatra’s era that was unearthed by accident in the 1960’s. Two months ago they found (up until now) two mythical cities underwater. The Pharos Lighthouse (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) was located at the helm of the bay until it fell into the sea. I have a feeling they will continue to find amazing ancient pieces of history in Alexandria. We ended our tour with fresh seafood.

When we got back to Cairo, we went to dinner with Mahmoud and Ashraf (an Egyptologist who played driver for us at the beginning of the trip with Mahmoud). They are both married and would bring up the fact that the Muslim religion allows them to have girlfriends. We said no thanks! They really are nice guys and we enjoyed our culture comparisons with them.

I got home on Friday and am finally feeling somewhat recovered. This trip was beyond my wildest dreams! I still feel a little sadness because now I have to go back to normal life.

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