Egypt truly is a marvelous place. We spent the whole of last week trying to absorb as much of the vibrant culture & ancient history as we could. Or at least, as much as we could in between hanging out on the beach sipping cold fruity drinks and our afternoon appointment for dual Indonesian deep tissue massage therapy. With the occasional dip in the Red Sea for kicks. That hotel definitely ranks up there as one of the great ones.
After a couple of days at the beach, we decided we had unplugged enough from the outside world to get out and see a couple of those old bits we had heard so much about. So we arranged to go to Luxor in an early morning convoy. See, the way it works is that every tourist staying at the Red Sea that wants to go inland has to meet up at a central point and go in, well, a convoy of tour buses, vans, and armed security vehicles. And because we were Americans, we got our own "undercover" police officer. (All of the undercover police officers in our convoy were wearing suits and ties in 100+ degree weather, and had uzi-shaped bulges under their jackets). Mustafa, the Grady's agent for the day, went everywhere with us - it was definitely odd to have a guy armed with a machine gun get up and walk over to stand outside the bathroom when we had to go.
But what we also got was Ahmed. Ahmed was our personal tour guide for Luxor, and given that he had a Ph.D. in Archeology from Virginia State univerity and Cairo University, he was incredibly qualified. We had no idea that we would be the only ones in the van from our hotel, and that we'd get this kind of attention and time with our guide. Ahmed led us through the Valley of the Kings (including King Tut's tomb - how cool is that!), the temples of Luxor, and on a boat ride up the Nile. We had such a great time with Ahmed, we half-jokingly asked him if he'd be available for our trip to Cairo later in the week. (It's about a 4 hour drive from Luxor to Cairo - we were planning on flying, rather than driving up).
Sure enough, Ahmed was there to greet us at the airport later that week. And once again, he was our private guide for most of the day. (We did meet up with a British couple at the pyramids, but after that, they went on their way, and Ahmed stuck with us). Besides seeing the pyramids and the sphinx (between them, that's pretty much the whole reason we wanted to go to Cairo - everything else was gravy), we took in the Egyptian National Museum, a Papyrus factory and a rug-making school - the kind where they still hand tie a trillion little knots to make the giant silk or wool area rugs for your living room.
Cairo was so much more than just the pyramids and the tourist shops, though. Ahmed took us into the oldest parts of the city - literally thousands of years old - and showed us a vibrant amazing community that is just overwhelming in size. There are twenty million people in Cairo - that's just staggering to consider. And of course, what would be a Cairo experience without a flat tire on the bridge over the Nile? Changing a tire on a highway where trucks, cars, and donkey-pulled carts are passing you with near-equal frequency is something else.
We ended our evening in Cairo at a coffee shop in the street markets of Cairo. This was the real Cairo - miles from the pyramids of Giza, with the camel-jockeys and vendors incessantly bugging you to spend your money. The streets were muddy and crammed and the whole place was alive with a messy, vibrant sense of barter and haggling. But at every shop, the Egyptian hospitality insisted that you were given a cup of coffee or glass of cold, fresh hibiscus tea. And wherever we went, the Critter was the center of attention - always being pet or made a fuss over, or given little gifts. I was overwhelmed by the generosity and friendliness of everyone we met.
Oh yeah - and the Critter rode a camel!
All in all, this was a trip of a lifetime. I'm not sure when we'd ever get back to Egypt (there are so many other places on our list still...), but it's definitely a place I'd recommend to others, and if we do get the opportunity to go back, I'd certainly take it.