Archive for February, 2020


The Ancient Temples of Luxor


From the pyramids of Giza to the temples in Upper Nile, these ancient wonders make up Egypt’s history, inheritance and legacy. Unfinished or abandoned projects give a glimpse of how they were made but to this day, the unsolved mysteries still hound the construction of the pyramids, the mix of colours and dyes used, and the mummification process perfected in the ancient world. Questions remain unanswered, and many theories abound. The mysteries remain and such make it all the more compelling to go and visit this land of the Pharaohs.

It is amazing how these monuments withstood the test of time. Like how does one even begin to appreciate how these stones were quarried, dragged and installed 4,000 years ago? And why did they stop making pyramids? Not that those royal tombs in the necropolis comprising the Valley of the Kings is less grand, nor something to complain about. Karnak and Luxor Temples are so grand, one needs to devote a full day just visiting these 2. We were in luck to have a good guide provided by Aggressor River Cruises for the next 6 days and 5 nights as we cruised along the Nile River. Having done this 24 years ago sailing from Aswan to Luxor, I dare say it’s even better sailing south from Luxor to further Upper Nile (Aswan). Luxor is a highlight — and thus a good start — what with both Karnak and Luxor Temples welcoming every guest to this state’s ancient and grand wonders. These Pharaohs do an “overkill” by super sizing every temple, obelisk, royal tomb, and statue. What’s even more amazing is how they’ve dragged, carved and installed every boulder to make these monuments. Majestic even sounds lame to describe them.

No wonder Egyptologists like our guide Mahmoud comprise some of the more interesting persons on this planet. They regale us with these historical tidbits and scientific trivia with such dramatic flair that make our jaws drop. Dedicated to the gods Amun, Mut and Khonsu, Karnak claims to be the biggest religious complex in the world. Even bigger than Angkor Wat. The Cambodians may disagree. But where Angkor Wat is a sprawling temple complex, Karnak is an open air museum consisting of sanctuaries, pylons, obelisks and kiosks built over a long period of 1,500 years by generations of pharaohs, each wanting to leave their mark. Between Karnak And Luxor Temples is the Avenue of Sphinxes — an incredible line of human headed sphinxes spanning 3 kilometers. There is a project to renovate this entire sphinxes avenue connecting these 2 majestic temples. That will be the day! This is why I feel it is best to start the Nile Cruise from Luxor to Aswan. The Theban temples of Karnak and Luxor alone can blow one’s mind and inundate you with so much historical trivia. You just can’t take it all in in one go. And if you must take home a souvenir, go ahead and buy that book or CD.

The entire necropolis that makes up the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Nobles reinforces the might of the Pharaohs . The hot air balloon ride allowed us the “big picture” as we hovered that early morning over the necropolis including the Temple of Hatshepsut. Who is Hatshepsut? Depicted often as a male, Hatshepsut is really one of the few but the most famous female pharaohs of Egypt. Born to King Tutmose I, Hatshepsut managed to gain power as a ruling Pharaoh when she married her half brother Tutmose II who inherited her father’s throne in 1492 BC. When Tutmose II died and left the throne to his infant son Tutmose III (with another wife), Hatshepsut acted as Regent and ruled Egypt. In many paintings and statues, Hatshepsut sought to reinvent herself as she was depicted with a beard and muscled arms like a male pharaoh. Her mortuary temple at the foot of the limestone cliffs of Deir El Bahri is the most impressive (and admission ticket most expensive). Truly one of the best monuments of Egypt, it looks majestic viewed inside as well as outside.

Have a go at Luxor and immerse yourselves in its awesome temples for Egyptian gods and man-gods. Try the hot air balloon (it’s cheaper than those flying in Turkey, Tanzania and Myanmar) and spend extra days to take it all in slowly. Get a good guide. An Egyptologist. Go ahead and book that Nile Cruise. There is so much to explore and learn from a single visit to Egypt and one rule to observe is to give it enough time. Never rush it.


Just 5 nights on this chartered boat sailing from Luxor to Aswan. Offshore excursions included. Karnak and Luxor Temples. Valley of the Kings. Temple of Hatshepsut. El Kab. Edfu. Kom Ombo. Temple of Isis in Philae. All these as we glide through the Nile from Luxor to Aswan. And while sailing, unli food and unli drinks. The 8 cabins good for 16 pax are not big but good-sized and kept clean and neat. Then there’s the salon where we can choose to dine when it turns really cold, and the deck where most meals are served. A lounge for cocktail hours, a jacuzzi, beer and soda ref, coffee and tea stations. Good food, and even better service. What a treat! This is most certainly my kind of holiday.

The boat’s engine runs to make life comfortable for all 16 of us. Well-appointed, air-conditioned rooms. Hot coffee & tea. Cold bevs and hot meals. Good music and adequate lighting. A tugboat pulls us across the River Nile and the splash we make as we glide through the Nile is a symphony we’d likely miss once we get off. How nice to wake up to catch sunrise and enjoy wine or beer as we wait for sunset. A few hours in the morn and another after lunch make up our offshore excursions. Just enough activities for each day. Even more time to enjoy each other’s company on the boat. Life seems slow, unhurried, and savoured. The way it should be.

Captain is a kindly 56 year old Egyptian who has a younger brother also working on the boat. We don’t know what the younger Ibrahim does but we all remember him as the young lad with good dance moves when we feel like turning after-dinner sessions into dancing parties. Where we shake left to right, Ibrahim’s extra moves tilts up and down while swaying left to right. The Chefs cook up real good meals and have good dancing feet too! Same goes for Mandouh who is forever charming us with his stories on his 7 year old twins and always beat us with his keen sense of anticipation of what we need. A vodka here, some toast, more desserts, another glass of wine. To feel spoiled and pampered is an understatement. These men made us feel so comfortable and truly took good care of us.

This isn’t my first time cruising the Nile. Back in ‘96, we sailed on a bigger boat M/S Oberoi from Aswan to Luxor . Meals and service excellent but nothing beats having the boat all to yourselves. Besides, it wasn’t an open bar back then. Our Tour Guide sailed with us too and Mahmoud is a gem of a guide. He doesn’t mind us calling him “Superman”, by the way. His spiel had just the right amount of information laced with just enough excitement to keep us interested. Never too much info to douse our interest or give us indigestion over too much historical facts. This guy knows his stuff.

Over the 6 days and 5 nights cruising the Nile, Mahmoud’s itinerary covered the same spots I’ve visited 24 years ago, plus a couple more which I particularly enjoyed. El Kab and the Sandstone Quarry of Gebel Al Silsilah are worthy sites to visit along the Nile. I am including the link to our boat’s website for those who are planning to do a River Nile Cruise. We still have 2 nights to go on this riverboat cruise but this comes with our recommendation. We are that confident it can only get better! (https://www.divenewswire.com/aggressor-announces-new-brand-aggressor-river-cruises-with-the-nile-queen/)


Some mornings are just better. Woke up early to ride a hot air balloon in Luxor, Egypt. Was it worth feeling deprived of all those zzzz’s?

We arrived early enough to watch how the balloons are made ready for the one-hour sunrise ride over the Valley of the Kings, Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple, Temple of Hatshepsut and the rest of the necropolis.

Rising and getting ready to leave at 4am took a lot of effort. Our Nile Cruise riverboat packed a breakfast and snack bag for all 16 of us. But breakfast without a proper coffee just doesn’t make the cut. And the “take-off” area isn’t your regular terminal. Nor is it your typical departure lounge. I literally climbed up the basket (and with much effort and deliberate moves, climbed out) to make sure the hot air balloon does not rise up without me. Oh btw, the captain handed out “certificates” after the ride, which I was careful to discreetly decline. No need for any certificates. Whatever for? Besides, it just adds to the waste — not exactly environment-friendly. 🤪

Our Egyptian Captain piloted very gently and for a while, our basket was held steady real low such that we could actually and easily make out the Temple of Hatshepsut from a distance, and some Egyptian Bazaar down under the balloon. As the sun rose, the mountains, the palms, roads, farm animals, the River Nile and some green patches across the fields emerged more clearly.

Surely, this morning wasn’t wasted. 😊👌😘👍

Alexandria


This is my first time in Alexandria, Egypt. Of course I was excited to visit this port city facing the Mediterranean Sea. Once home to that famous library and lighthouse which counted among the 7 wonders of the Ancient World, it would take a lot of imagination to remember this 2nd biggest city in Egypt as having once been the most prosperous city in the world. The corniche must have spanned a good 10 miles from the Montaza Gardens to the former site of the Lighthouse where the present-day Citadel of Qaitbay now stands. Like Cairo, traffic along the avenue lining the waterfront promenade was horrendous. Our bus ran the length of the main road passing many apartment buildings, hotels, and commercial buildings which look like they’ve all seen better times. Some look unfinished, even war-torn or bombed out. And one would have even thought this is prime real estate property with that seafront view. We likewise weaved around side streets in the old part of town — markets, souqs and again, dilapidated, neglected buildings that seem to have been abandoned midway through construction. A pity. I imagined it could have looked even better than Miami’s Art Deco district or maybe like Nice in France.

Took us 3 hours driving North from Cairo to Alex, as locals call it. Our first 3 stops were at Pompey’s Pillar and the Temple of Serapium, the catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa and the Montaza Palace. The Temple is all rubble, holes and trenches now but the triumphal column dedicated to Diocletian stands proud in solid granite . Then there’s the Catacombs which date back to the 2nd century AD which exemplify a mix of Roman, Egyptian and Greek styles and where the chambers were both used as tombs and feasting chambers for the living visiting their dead. Having seen all these antiquities, it was quite refreshing to visit the Montaza Palace and its well-manicured gardens. It’s like a park complex where the neatly-designed and well-maintained palace grounds contrast against the filth and chaotic streets and alleys of Old Town Alexandria.

I have to confess I was a tad disappointed. Or maybe I prepped myself to be disappointed because I expected much. With its geography and historical significance, I felt that this city in Northern and Coastal Egypt could have maxed out its potentials and emerged even prettier than the country’s capital. Something is just wrong somewhere. But then again, perhaps an overnight stay here does not do justice nor allow much opportunity to truly appreciate the place. Nonetheless, I like the Citadel of Qait Bay. We were charmed by the locals too — mostly young students eager to have their photos with us. Well, sometimes it’s NOT the place nor destination, but the locals you meet. So there. All’s well 😘

Revisiting Cairo


I am on “review mode” and now appreciate the true value of digicams. Photographs from 1996 were sparse and scarce. Back then, you take your shots and wait till your film gets developed; these days, you take nearly unlimited shots and review to weed out the bad shots. How very neat! I am amused by my 1996 shots now that I can compare them against snaps from this 2nd visit of the capital of Egypt.

It was a challenge to find the exact same spot. The Sphinx — that mythical figure with a human head and the body of a lion — strikes a majestic image, almost like an apparition, in the middle of the Giza plateau. I had a favorite photo snapped there back in 1996 and I felt compelled to have another photo in the same spot. I saw the rock boulder I sat on but there is this big sign that says “No climbing” so I stood right by the edge where a rope or chain kept tourists off. Best I could do. And in one photo (below), I had another friend “replace” an old friend and travel companion. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d have this 2nd chance to visit this land of the pyramids. .

When we paid a visit to the Cairo Museum, I was reminded of a tragedy which struck one of the tour buses we convoyed with while crossing the border from Israel to Egypt. That bus had 16 or 18 casualties resulting from a terrorist bomb. Most tourists were Greek or German. This time, an alarm set off for a good 2 minutes or so while we were inside the Museum. My instinct made me search for the nearest exit while praying for safety. Turned out it was a false alarm. Phew!

Outside of the pyramid complex, Cairo boasts of a few more worthy sites to visit: the Saladin Citadel, the mosque of Muhammad Ali within it, the Bazaar, the Solar Boat Museum. I have not been to the Boat Museum in my earlier trip. But the Citadel and the Mosque, as well as the Bazaar, are exactly as I remember them. I wondered how nearly nothing has changed. Street photography can be quite a challenge but could be very rewarding, with perfectly-timed snaps. I wasn’t that quick with my fingers but am happy with these snaps in my memory keeper.

More snaps below from Saqqara and the busier streets of Cairo. WiFi has been spotty here and we’ve been moving, but will try to post as often to keep you updated.

Egyptian Cotton, anyone?

The Sphinx and Moí


It has been 24 years since I visited Egypt. At the time, I was on a 38-day holiday and the last leg involved a border-crossing from Israel into Egypt and a Nile Cruise aboard a luxurious M/S Oberoi Riverboat. Awesome land of the Pharaohs — that, despite the chaos, noise and dust! I swear my heart skipped a beat the first time I set my eyes on these ancient wonders, let alone when I entered one of the pyramids feeling like an explorer. The sheer size of these monuments and ancient wonders is beyond imagination and I wasn’t sure how I’d feel going through the same experience 24 years since 1996.

Fast forward 2020. Climate change and Covid-2019 looms in the horizon. But we remain unfazed. We arrived in the evening in Cairo, eager to rest our tired bods following a long flight. The next whole day gets a good start with the Great Pyramids of Giza. And let me warn you, they’re not called GREAT for nothing. Standing at the edges of the Western Desert a few miles west of the Nile, this necropolis is this country’s iconic landmarks along with the Sphinx which lies east of the entire complex. Imagine Egypt without the pyramids is like thinking of Macchu Picchu without the citadel atop the mountain. The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt surely knew how best they can be remembered long after they’re dead. The largest (in Giza) and the oldest pyramid (in Saqqara) are the most visited ones but every visitor can’t resist being impressed even with smaller, satellite pyramids found in the sandy fields of Giza and Memphis. The “mastabas” for lesser royals add more charm to the entire necropolis.

Tourism absolutely thrives in Egypt. And every child must have gone through that phase wishing to be an archaeologist, or maybe even an Egyptologist studying and exploring these ancient wonders. Such an inheritance for this African country! And those camel touts must be doing brisk business too. Thank you Kings Khafre, Khufu and Menkaure. Your legacy lives on.

History comes alive in the evening’s Light and Sound Show. Some of my travel buddies braved the cold and sat, stared and listened in the open area as the sound and lighting system did its job. What a perfect way to cap the day!