From Oregon to Egypt – Part One


Sitting in the doctor’s office a year and a half ago, I was asked by my doctor, if I had a bucket list. I looked at her like she was nuts, “I’m only 47, why do I need a bucket list?” I remember saying. Really! A bucket list! Then with a sniffle said, “I want to go to Egypt to see the Pyramids and get my book published.” This said as the tears ran down my face and my nose sniffled. I blew my nose as I looked at the piece of paper my doctor wrote, which read 1) Progressive Bulbar Palsy; 2) Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Lou Gehrig’s disease. Shocked. Surely this is a mistake. I’m too young, I have too much to do! It must be something else. I begged her to run more tests, not this!

That was when I realized I actually ‘needed’ a bucket list. I looked down at the crinkled piece of paper again, my husband by my side for comfort, my tear smeared the ink. I blew my nose and said, “I always wanted to see Egypt and the pyramids.” In part, it was because I used Egypt as a scene in my book, but in truth, I have always been fascinated by the culture, ancient artifacts, the history, everything, which is largely why I used some of the locations and history in the novel, I had just completed. Egypt would provide me with the opportunity to double check my facts, and if we stayed at the Mena House, that would be fantastic since I used this site as well. Then since we were on that side of the world if we could manage a stop over on both legs of our journey to Belgium to visit our good friends, my trip and dream would be complete. I will write about that later.That was the first item on my hurried bucket list.

The second item, I then told my doctor was to get my book published. People had read it, given comments, I had incorporated their minor suggestions, it was ready to go. I had a query letter, all set. Going to Egypt would certainly solidify any facts I would need to change. I really believe and continue to believe it is like no other book in its genre out there. I have since placed a copy on the web, with hopes of gaining readership. I am in the process of getting it published for e-readers, Ipad, the like. So, and having it on the web is almost a check.

The third item, to sell our photography. We are doing that little by little on our website, I put together. Phew and that was so out of my comfort zone. That and the blog. It took me a while to get the hang of it, and I am still working on that aspect of things. Need more hits, but I can check that Item. And 4, to have a portion of the proceeds from both the sales of the book and photographs toward Motor Neuron Awareness and eventually a fund to help in the fight for a cure, or at the very least a drug or set of drugs which will prolong life. Those are my top four. Four will be a work in progress. We have not sold enough yet, but are slowly getting there. But that is for another blog another time. I am working on Numbers 2 and 3, while 4 is a work in progress, since going to Egypt! And this is my story, which is being presented as a series of three articles as there is too much to say and illustrate for one post. Welcome to Part One From Oregon to Egypt. Part One which details Cairo, Giza, Memphis, and Saqqara the first part of our journey.

Our trip to Egypt was spur of the moment.  We had already taken our big trip for the year. We had just returned a few weeks before stepping foot into the doctor’s office. Furthermore, we usually took a few months to plan our trips. Learning I was ill, changed everything. The clock, my clock was ticking. We learned while doing research that guides are generally required for Americans and highly recommended for other non-Muslims when traveling in the Middle East, especially since 9/11. Our safety could not be guaranteed, otherwise. We arranged our trip through a fabulous travel company who were able to accommodate us and our needs on short notice. A first for us, using a tour company that is. Not traveling. We had our entire trip to Egypt planned in about two weeks, thanks to a wonderful travel company – Kensington Travels.

We timed our trip perfectly, as it were. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the day we departed Cairo back to Brussels was the day of the Egyptian Elections and the beginning of the Egyptian revolution. We in fact, were some of the last foreigners to leave Cairo before the uprising began. How is that for luck and planning?

In Cairo, one would never discern trouble was brewing. City life seemed normal. Well as normal as we knew. We never saw any indications a revolution was in the works. We noticed the many election signs posted around the country, not so different from what we have, only they seemed a bit larger, and we ware aware of the upending election. But we were on our vacation, we did not turn on the TV or watch the news. Thinking back, not once did we worry about our safety. It was only we returned to Brussels, (Our first and last legs of the trip) did we learn of the revolution, that and we were some of the last foreigners to leave the country before things got hairy. Very scary stuff. We felt horrible for the people we met there, and to learn of the destruction which occurred in places we had seen and some, which no longer existed.

To say their traffic system works –  not so much. I have driven in Manhattan, and other large cities in the US and all over Italy; I would never drive in Egypt. It was a bit daunting to even be a passenger in a car. Everyone is talking on a cell phone. That and they seem to pay little attention to the limited road signs and road rules. The rules simply are not enforced and for the most part a cluster-fuck. We saw a man riding on the trunk (boot) of a Toyota Tercel. No kidding. I tried to snap a quick photo, but I was too slow.  Moving objects and I just don’t agree. Darn Moving objects.

The roads contain minimal street lights. Traffic for the most part is a free-for-all as I said. Cars, buses, travel vans, people, animals, horses and camels alike all share the road. Seriously, people stand in the middle of the road and carry on conversations. Do they realize they are holding up traffic? They don’t care. It was crazy.

‘Two Kings’

Away from the hectic traffic, we spent the first day and a half in Cairo at our hotel resting up for our big tour.  Our accommodation the Mena House which borders Giza in fact a mere 700 meters from the Pyramids and some stunning views. Vast amounts of barren land occupies the acreage between the airport and Cairo/Giza, with pyramids along the western side of the Nile River all the way to our hotel. The pyramids were constructed on the west of the Nile because the ancient kings believed this side is where the sun sets and the dead were thought to enter the Underworld. Easily, there could have been one hundred small pyramids along the drive. We also observed archeological digs in the middle of traffic and along the roadways. Everywhere really. Needless to say, it was an interesting drive to our hotel.

‘A View From Our Terrace at Mena House.’

The reason we chose to stay at Mena House was this hotel and  Saqqara were both places I wrote about in my novel ‘The House of Thoth’. I did research of course, but never actually had been there. I was a relief to find out I wasn’t far off from how I described the area. No re-writes.

The Mena hotel is significant as it was once used only by royalty throughout its history; converted into a hunting lodge for royalty at some point in its history; in the early 1900s the palace was sold and converted into a upper-class hotel. Because of this the Mena House is so special. The hotel grounds include 40 acres of gardens including a golf course, and a prime view of the Great Pyramids of Giza a mere 700 meters away. The hotel gave the impression you were in an oasis once you passed  the entrance gate with guards positioned on either side and at the hotel at the end of a long driveway. Tranquility immediately consumed oneself, unlike the pandemonium and chaos beyond the hotel – traffic – cars, animals, people – the real Egypt. We were hidden behind the walls, as if for our own protection with guards at every entrance and exit, from the street entrance before one drives up the grand driveway, to the guards which stood outside to the guards standing at their post – our friendly x-ray machine.

A security check greeted us as we walked in. It was very close to going through security at US airports. No kidding. It wasn’t as bad, our tour representative pretty much handled everything for us and afterwards we were fine. Some guests were put off by the security inquisition. It wasn’t as bad as they made it sound. If you saw the inside and all the antiques, you would understand why such security is required – police guards with AK-47s but hey! I would rather endure a few extra minutes of inconvenience, for my life. My days are numbered as it is, I want to enjoy the time I have left, not blown up because of a little inconvenience.

Gold, silver, granite and marble embellished the hotel, indeed fit for a king and a palace. This particular bar was embellished with gold. Amazing. For an Arab nation, we were ignorant to the fact that you can drink alcoholic beverages (full bar lists) in the hotels and nicer hotels. A bit of trivia – Egypt actually has wineries to the north near the capital city of Alexandria, where they produce reds, and sparkling wines. We were skeptical initially, but we tried both the sparkling and red table wine. We were pleased. The sparkling was excellent and soon became our friend, particularly the rose sparkling. It was finished in the french style and actually received some of their grapes from South Africa and France.

We spent a little time at this bar, mostly after returning from our daily excursion for an afternoon happy hour cocktail. More time was definitely spent outside by one of the most amazing pools I have ever seen. We had a driver in a golf cart that would take us to the pool and return and pick us up when we were ready to return to our room. We decided to stay and relax for a while.

Mena House as I mentioned once welcomed kings and emperors, and now Heads of State and celebrities. The royal history of the hotel is certainly reflected in luxurious interiors embellished with exquisite antiques, handcrafted furniture and original art work and magnificent antiques. We could see the pyramids from our them from the balcony of our room.

Let me begin by saying it was wonderful to lay out by the pool with a bottle of Egyptian sparkling wine. The pool is part of a very large and beautiful water feature where water flowed from four directions via a cascading staircase of water which flowed in various directions all leading to the pools or fountains. The pools reminded me, which I am sure was the intent, of an ancient palace.

Fountain Pool

After nearly two full days of lounging in the sun, we begin our tour with our with our guide, Lamiaa. She made the first leg of our trip easy, worry free, and was highly knowledgeable. She answered our questions and explained to us everything we wanted to know about the places we visited. She was excellent. She took us through Cairo and the surrounding areas of Giza, Memphis, and Saqqara. The area known as Lower Egypt, named for the direction the Nile River Flows.

The following image, is Ramses laying down in a large room and guarded. He is about 50 feet long and roughly 10 fee tall. We climbed a set of stairs to capture a better view. To be standing over such sizable statue of Ramses was overwhelming and very emotional. That said, it was a bit strange to see this fabulous piece of history stuck in a building. The building had seen better days. This image is Ramses from a different angle and captures more of his body.

Ramses at Memphis.  He was everywhere. Ramses, along with Thoth, Anubis, Horus, the gods to the goddesses of Hathor and Isis were viable all over the Egyptian antiquities. And seen on the cheese billboards. Yes they have them.

The statue of the small sphinx (small is relative, as the great sphinx which is enormous;  small was roughly 30 feet high) sat tucked away in the middle of the little town of Memphis. This statue among others were held behind a secured area. The town was basically constructed either adjacent or on top of artifacts. Archeologists were on digs all over Egypt. The would be in the middle of a dig practically in the middle of the streets. Local traffic merely drove around a particular dig. From what we saw,  many of the towns and villages were erected around the artifacts, if not on top of them.

This photo is a Sarcophagus made from granite. The details are still present after 4000 years. The buildings in the US crap out six months to a year after they are constructed. A realism that continues to amaze me about our country. What happened to taking pride in constructing something to be proud of; something with intricately designed craftsmanship, and something that will last centuries? You see buildings like this throughout all of Europe. Granted some come tumbling down during earthquakes, but many have survived dozens. We in the US, have buildings that can’t even withstand windstorms. In this age we, our buildings should withstand anything.

This image is a detailed part of Horus from the sarcophagus above. The entire sarcophagus is carved in granite. To see and actually touch some of these monuments is amazing when you think about how many people throughout history touched that very statue, or temple, or other structure. These ancient cultures  certainly knew how to construct buildings to last. I don’t imagine they could have imagined their structures would be standing today.

Hathor

This is a statue of Hathor one of the many goddesses the Egyptians worshiped. Hathor is commonly depicted as a cow goddess with head horns in which is set a sun disk with Uraeus or head ornament.

One of the treasures Saqqara offers is the great step Pyramid of Djoser. There was construction taking place while we were there, I image this occurs on a regular basis.

This is the photo of the largest, of the many step pyramids of Djoser in Saqqara. Okay, to date, I have never posted photos of either myself, or my husband, Lloyd. This time I thought I would because how many people can say they stood in front of Djoser’s Step Pyramid in Saqqara? I merely wish the wind didn’t play such havoc with my hair. Oh well. Hey! Lesson learned. But look where I am standing! In front of Djoser’s Pyramid!

The image below is the entrance to Djoser. I took the photos as we departed because when we had arrived, so had the masses. There simply were too many people standing at the entrance. Luckily when we left, the people were inside.

If you look closely at the entrance, there is a man wearing black. It gives one the perspective of how mighty these structures are. The guard is but a blip on the screen.

The moment I saw the pyramids up close for the first time my tears welled in my eyes. The above pyramids, belonged to great queens, and were similar to those we saw lacing the landscape on route to our hotel.  There was also a larger pyramid next to the three, which was likely the husband and one of a number of kings buried in the area. From a distant these pyramids look like a mound of blocks. It is only when you get close can you grasp the magnitude of such amazing craftsmanship and attention to detail and how large they are. If you see the camel you will know.

The great Pyramid

‘The Great Pyramid’

Standing before the great pyramid was the moment I realized we were actually in Egypt. Never in my life would I have ever thought I would actually travel here, let alone with someone who is as passionate about traveling as my husband.  He shares the same passion as I do for this country, the culture, the people, and hospitality. He is the side of me that completes me as a person and is my best friend. While that sounds cliché, it is the truth.

Lloyd and I both share a fascination of Egyptian culture, history and their artifacts. This passion hopefully is portrayed in out photographs we took while there. The above photo is one of my favorites taken while in Memphis, at one of the first places we viewed.  This followed by seeing the Pyramids a short while later; it could be compared to standing in the Vatican, in Rome; or being in Florence at the Duomo. Both Lloyd and I were awestruck. It was truly something special to stand next to such colossal artifacts. Ramses, was no exception.

The above shot is Lloyd getting ready to make the trek up the large rock steps to the opening of the great pyramid. He was like a kid in a candy store. Filled with excitement! I would be. I opted out. I waited with Lamiaa, and she told me all about wearing the hijab’s. When Lloyd finished, he told me that entirely too many people had been shuffled through the narrow chamber and the air was hot and humid, a bit claustrophobic. Sounds worse than a yoga class in a sauna. Wise choice to stand down.

As we continued our trip in Giza. The next photo is of King Khufu’s solar boat. The boat was reconstructed where it stands, strangely in a building behind the pyramids.The boat structure only required a few repairs. When we returned from our trip I was looking through our books and noticed a picture of Khufu’s boat. I told Lloyd and he agreed with me. Mine was better. 🙂 I generally don’t brag about my work, this time was different because I had better lighting and no one was in the room. They fled – it was too friggen hot in there. I have to admit I thought that I was going to melt. So much for temperature controlled environments.

King Khufu’s Solar Boat, was discovered next to one of the larger pyramids. When unearthed, the entire structure was buried under 15 to 20 feet of sand. How they every located it, is beyond me. Ground penetrating radar? The boat was laying in pieces laying in the ground, mere feet from where it currently resides. The structure was refurbished. The entire boat in pieces for the king to take him on his journey to the afterlife.

Of course we couldn’t travel all the way to Egypt without seeing a camel. They were everywhere. It may be cheesy but, I wanted to ride one. Where else would I have an opportunity to do so again? We did. We went on a wonderful sunset camel ride over the sand dunes saw the Bedouin camps all under a full moon. It was amazing. The moon so full and bright lit up the dunes like a dream. I also wanted to see the Arabian Horses. I saw both.

The thought of riding a camel under the moonlight may sound like a romantic dream which warranted pictures to share. Try to take a picture while sitting on a camel. It is not possible. I felt like I was about to fall off the entire ride. Don’t get me wrong. I would ride a camel again. I loved it. But, they bounce your ass around like it’s a bumper car. Even when the camel stopped, my body felt like it was bouncing. Rather like the treadmill, when you finish your run, step off, you feel like you are still running.  That said, none of our camel pictures turned out. Big surprise – rather disappointing though. We have the memories. I have to say that I have ridden a horse or two growing up, and now a camel, and man those camels do not do nice thing to the body.  Rugged. Wow. I seriously don’t know how people ride these animals like horses. And some do so everyday! Comfort. Not present. Smelly, check.  At least they have pretty blankets. And mine didn’t spit at me. Lloyd’s camel had a severe digestive problem. It wasn’t too fun when my camel for whatever reason wanted to put its head near the camels ass, but hey, whatever floats their boat. Just don’t get the crap on me. We also saw a beautiful black Arabian stallion galloping off under the full moon. No photo, only the wonderful memory.

‘Camel Dressed in Red at Giza’

As I stood staring at the top of the pyramids, and walking around it was amazing to think I was actually walking on ground where some of the great pharaohs Ramses, Queen Hatshepsut, King Unas, once stood. Ancient Egyptians walked on this land for thousands of years, an now I was. The experience surreal.

Our next site –  the Sphinx.  Again, I was so excited and emotional when my blurry gaze stared at the size of the blocks that were used to put the Sphinx together. My eyes were a bit leaky.  Magnificent.  A moment in my life I will never forget. Yet as I write this I have to say it seems so surreal I was there.

Seeing these great artifacts on TV, in a book, or magazine pales in comparison to seeing them up close and in person. One cannot gain the perception of how large these monuments are until you stand up close and personal to them. The only word that can describe it is – amazing! To know, these mammoth  structures were built so long ago,and preserved made the experience even more surreal. I had to include a photo of us that our guide shop of us posing in front of the Sphinx. Yay!

Lloyd and I Standing in at the Great Sphinx. An awesome Day!

I have to say that it was getting a bit chilly. I was glad I brought my scarfs along. I wore them everywhere. They serve a double purpose to keep one warm or cool, and are politically correct. I wear scarfs all the time at home to keep warm. I tend to freeze most all of the time.  I fit right in with my pink scarf. This particular one is a Pashmina, very versatile.

So, some of you may wonder, why I wore a scarf in some places and not in others; or may wonder about how women in general feel about wearing one. I learned while Lloyd was in the Pyramid from Lamiaa. Here is the deal according to our guide. Keep in mind also, there are roughly 1 million Christians in Cairo. For non-Muslim women, a Hijab is not required. It is a polite gesture to bring and wear a scarf when out in public.

That said, it is much appreciated when you wear a scarf, or at least try, as in my case. The locales heavily frown on women wearing clothes that bare their skin especially their shoulders or having their girls exposed even a little bit. So don’t plan on wearing tank tops or short sleeves or any form of shirt that does not cover your shoulders or your girls. No cleavage please. Quarter length sleeves are okay as long as they are below the elbow. In terms of leggings. Well, skirts and pants below the knees are fine. Footwear it seemed as though many women wore shoes and not sandals. I thought I saw one Muslim woman wearing sandals, but don’t quote me on that. I forget. Women who follow these guidelines are definitely treated better and more respectful than those who don’t.  Be respectful of their beliefs and culture and you will be fine. Nothing is ever said, but if you don’t follow the rules then expect the service to be poor.  When entering a Mosque, you must remove your shoes, men and woman. And women must where a scarf over their head. No hair showing please. Or at least do the best you can.

Me and Lamiaa

We definitely noticed a difference in how women were treated. I followed the rules. I wore light weight long pants. Some of my pants rolled into Capri’s, which I rarely used. In the city, dress up- conservatively. Most of all keep covered. We went in November. So, the weather was warm but cool in the evenings.  I always made sure that I was covered. This was never an issue as I carried my scarf everywhere. On the cruise ship the rules don’t apply, but don’t go topless either. You can pretty much wear any cruising attire. Coverup when away from the pool don’t walk around in your swimsuit, sarong’s work well. The resorts are more relaxed as well, you wear resort clothes. The men will not stare at you. Well, most.

Appropriate attire for men is much less strict. Out in public no shorts – period. Khaki pants or other light weight pants are great. Short sleeve shirts are allowed. At night for dinner, men as well as the women, dress up. This includes many times wearing a tie and jacket. Men wear designer clothes as do the women. If you are still unsure, I am sure you can check on the web. I checked the web before traveling, and listened to the advice of my guide. It was true we were definitely treated better than those who failed to follow the Muslim rules.

Lamiaa told me she was proud to wear her Hijab. I have to say wearing the scarf serves a purpose, it actually helped keep me cool during the day when the sun was hot and was perfect in the evening.  And it for the most part controlled my hair from blowing all over the place.They are pretty and are made in a variety of styles and colors. I didn’t mind wearing one at all. I brought along two. Don’t worry if you don’t have one. They are sold everywhere for not much money. As with anything you buy, some are of better quality than others. Men wore them as well, usually white or linen color. It gets windy and the sand does fly. No trees and no fertile soil to stop the sandy soils from staying put. Hopefully this tidbit of advice will help you understand what to wear and not to wear.

As we were leaving Giza, we stopped to take one last glance at the Pyramids without all the people. I had to look twice, I noticed a horse and buggy on the road. I cracked up. Had to capture the moment. Apparently from this angle the buggy didn’t appear to be moving, so the photo actually turned out. For those of you new to my blog. I have a difficult time photographing moving objects. The image nine times out of ten – blurry. No matter the conditions. No matter my skill level. Doesn’t matter, I am working on a better technique.

The pyramids were awesome.  The most memorable part of our journey thus far –  standing next to the great pyramid and touching  the very limestone blocks used to build the mass structures. This part of our trip was merely the beginning. We were now off to the airport for our next destination – Luxor with our new guide Tarek who will guide us through the Luxor Temple and the Temple of Karnak, and the Valley of the Kings and Queens before we catch our cruise ship to more sights Edfu Temple, Kom Ombo, the Obelisks, Aswan Dam, and the Temple of Philae. You see we have only begun.

I hope you enjoyed this part of my Egyptian journey. I hope you will follow me as I post Part II soon.

Cheers!

L&L

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