May 25: Cairo, overnight train to Aswan

Wakeup was 7 or 7:30 AM but I was up at 4:30 and couldn't get back to sleep.  Maybe I was too excited about EGYPT.  I also got "mOBSCENE" stuck in my head, because the air conditioner in my room made a sound for a few seconds before it kicked in, like the song.

My tour group turned out to be small by Contiki standards, but about what I expected.  Total of 8 guys and 6 girls, including 3 couples.  No shagfest here.  By my recollection we had 2 Americans, 5 Canadians, 1 Irish (or "Dubliner"), and 6 Aussies.

The Egypt tour is structured differently from other Contiki tours in that the Tour Manager has a reduced role.  Most of the guiding is done by a local guide.  Ours was Amadeus, a brilliant guy who was a much more integral part of the tour than I anticipated.  This guy was thoroughly familiar with everything we saw, down to individual carvings, and was well-versed in Egyptian history and hieroglyphics.  He was, as Falco noted in 1985, a su-su-su-su-superstar.  Superstar.

On the ride from the hotel to downtown I was again tempted to compare Cairo with Mumbai, the only other major city I've been to outside of North America and Europe.  Two years ago I observed that Mumbai is like Tijuana, with the only difference being that all the signs are in English and Marathi instead of Spanish.  Now my observation is that Cairo is a cross between Mumbai and Las Vegas, of course with more Arabic and less English and Marathi.  Cairo traffic is a bit disorderly but horn-honking and ignorance of lanes are not the norm as they are in Mumbai.

First 4 photos below are from today's first attraction, the Egyptian Museum:

The famous burial mask of Tutankhamun, the Boy King.

One of Tutankhamun's gold coffins.  Tut's boyish good looks have evidently mesmerized Hayley from our group.  When his tomb (visited May 29) was discovered it contained 4 nested gilded wood boxes, inside the innermost of which was the stone sarcophagus, inside which were 3 nested gold coffins, the innermost of which was made of 110 kg of gold and which contained the mummy.  Several of the giant boxes are on display in the hallway outside this room.  I believe the innermost coffin is the one still in the tomb.

Another of the coffins.

Statues of Amenophis III and his wife.  She did something important, which is why she's depicted at full scale and not the standard 1/7 scale in relation to her husband.

Coolest thing in the museum was the mummy room.  No photography allowed.  You can go to other cities and see famous people commemorated with statues or monuments or Walk of Fame stars or graves, but only in Egypt can you actually see famous people like Ramses II on display, with their hair still intact after thousands of years.

We had an outdoor Egyptian lunch that included pita bread hot and fresh out of the oven.  The falafel was green on the inside--much tastier and apparently more authentic than what I'm used to.  There were skinny Egyptian cats slinking around, and I suspect they were the same cats from Rome that are flown in to accompany all Contiki groups.  We heard thunderous explosions throughout lunch, but these were not intestinal in origin; a military training ground was nearby.

At the Pyramids I don't know what was more annoying--the flies or the the gnat-like camel guides, who aggressively offered photo ops in exchange for a price to be announced later.  This was my first introduction to the concept of baksheesh, which is narrowly defined as a small sum given in exchange for a service, kind of like a tip for a service you didn't request.  Best way to avoid paying baksheesh is to avoid being suckered into conversation.  They (not just the camel guides but bazaar sellers, temple guides, random children, etc.) invariably initiate conversation with "Where from?"  Not much I can do being a white guy in Egypt carrying a digital camera and wearing a Swiss Army watch; saying I'm from Oz or Canada instead of the US doesn't really matter.  So the few times I answered I did so truthfully, and the first three camel guides reacted to my "US" nationality with "Hi ho Silver".  OK.

Remaining photos on this page are from the Pyramids area at Giza:

Pyramid of Chephren.

Sphinx and Pyramids.


Pyramid of Cheops (the tallest one).

Pyramids.  The middle one (Chephren) appears tallest because it's on higher ground.

Random dude, me and Dave.  The dude initially took my camera and led me away for a photo in search of baksheesh, and he also put my headdress on for me.  I gave him nothing.  I acknowledge that I look like shit in this photo with my belly and Jon Lovitz body.  I hit an all-time high of 164.5 lb right before the trip, but the day after my return I was down to 154 lb.  Thanks to Pharaoh's Revenge all of the 10.5 lb came out my ass, so I don't know what my true baseline dry weight is right now.

[Followup note, June 15:  My headdress fell apart in the washing machine today.]


Sphinx with his mean paws.

Sphinx and Pyramid of Cheops.

My bad luck continued as I did not have the opportunity to fart inside the Great Pyramid of Cheops.

After the Pyramids we did the usual Contiki time flush by visiting papyrus and perfume shops that have some deal with Contiki.  Few things are more uncomfortable than standing around and waiting while chicks and pussywhipped guys shop for stuff I knew I didn't want before I entered the store.

At night we embarked on a 12-hr (900-km) train ride to Aswan.  In the bar car I tried Stella beer and was not impressed.  The bar car was playing Arabic covers of '70s tunes.  I was worried when I heard the opening strains of "Let It Be", but fortunately they were followed by Paul's comforting voice.  In talking with Dave I learned that Shervo (driver on BE723) has developed a reputation for getting lost, and that both the "in disco" guy and the hunky model bartender at the Rome campsite are no longer there.  And Dave remembers my Venus de Milo joke, validating LG's suggestion that I include it in my eventual standup act.