EDIT: Mr. Incredible blogged too if you want to see even more pictures.
This was our last family vacation using Germany as a home base. We decided to go somewhere not as easily accessible from the US. The all-inclusive route was the way to go, after our success in Turkey two years ago and Mallorca last year (OK, I’d go half-pension there if we went again, but you get the idea).
Amazingly enough, the water slides actually looked exactly like they did in the hotel brochure. They were perfect — safe enough for the kids, exciting enough for the adults. There was a big one across the street at the higher end partner to our hotel on which you could use inner tubes, but with the four here it was too much fun racing each other. The white slide is the fastest. It’s been scientifically proven.
On the fourth day or so, we found the wave pool at the sister hotel next to ours. It was a good concept, but the water was a bit too cold and we were happier spending the day by “our” slides.
In general though, this was our view as we lay in the shade while the kids played in the water.
Aren’t they cute all bundled up like turtles?
We played on the beach too. The kids spent hours collecting hermit crabs in cups (and then setting them free to then catch more).
Zavi snorkelled for the first time. I was amazed that we could just walk out from the hotel, into the water, stick our heads down, and see dozens of colorful fish. Mr. Incredible wasn’t as impressed, as he has scuba dived in the Caymans, and I have to admit the corals were a bit trampled; but given the accessibility, and the traffic, I was impressed.
So have you guessed yet where we were?
The town is Hurghada — which I believe exists entirely for the tourist trade. It is located on the Red Sea (yeah, the one Moses parted). In Egypt.
We couldn’t visit Egypt without visiting something with hieroglyphics, so we took a packaged tour from our travel agent. We had determined that Cairo was too far away although we would have loved to see the pyramids at Giza. Nevertheless, the Luxor trip did not disappoint. Due to problems with tourists being kidnapped in previous decades, there is now a convoy system in place. It wasn’t so much an unsettling as odd feeling to line up with about 30 other buses in a guarded compound and then to be led through the mountains to Luxor by armed police escort.
I noticed that all the towns we passed through had heavily guarded checkpoints. I didn’t get the feeling they were there to protect us though. I think it has more to do with the government’s attitudes towards it’s own people. I also got the feeling that a handful of dollars or euros could speak loudly.
We saw lots of buildings along the way that were hard to tell if they were going up or coming down. This one actually looks like there was work going on. Most just had rebar sticking out of the roof for future additions, and very few looked fully inhabited. I asked our guide about them and he said that many buildings were planned large, but since there’s no pressure to get a roof or windows on anything before winter rain or snow, the building can go pretty slow — depending on the owner’s cash flow. It could take five years to build something like this. Or more.
First stop was at a rest stop in the mountains that lay between the red Sea and the Nile River Valley. The government had built homes nearby for the local beduins, but I got the feeling they didn’t use them as much as expected. There was a small group that came to take advantage of the tour buses and meandered about in colorful clothes, disheveled kids holding adorable baby goats, and of course camels. I loved the camel in the picture above because it perfectly meets my expectations of what a beduin’s camel should look like.
Touristy as it was, we had to play along. Katja was absolutely thrilled to ride this camel. I was happy to pay the owner for the experience. I might as well say here though that it seemed like everybody we interacted with had their hand out in one way or another. The hotel wasn’t quite as “all-inclusive” as the one in Turkey. The guys hawking wares or trips were very aggressive (I was completely fleeced by one guy early on which soured my relations with all the following ones even though they were much more reasonable (my fault for being unprepared, but still…)), niceties like the guy loading bags onto the security belt at the airport or the kid giving you a hand onto a boat then blatantly ask for money, the entrances to the temples were lined with guys shoving wares in your face, and on and on. It got old.
On the other hand, it’s pretty much overshadowed by the REALLY old stuff like the Karnak Temple.
Here we are in the heart of the complex looking out at, I think, the Middle Kingdom Court, and the obelisk of Ramses II. Apparently the obelisks were installed in pairs and this one’s twin is in the Place de la Concord in Paris. (Tonya, I thought of you and said hello to the obelisk from it’s Parisian brother).
It amazed me that although these structures are thousands of years old and live in one of the world’s harshest environments, there is still so much to see — like the color still pigmenting the carvings on the underside of the roof in the Great Hypostyle Hall.
And these look like they were carved yesterday. The kids looked for repeating symbols they liked, such as the scarab beetle in the upper center. I was intrigued by a bee/wasp figure like those on either side of the Ankh in the colored picture.
After Karnak we had lunch at a restaurant on the Nile and then took colorful boats across the river to the western side. Supposedly, as the sun sinks in the west, it was associated with death, hence, all the tombs are on the western side. As time went on and Luxor grew larger, and the era of the Pharaohs was passed, clever people started building homes to the west of the Nile — coincidentally on top of entrances to tombs. The goods were sold on the black market and these “simple farmers” did well for quite a while. Only recently have people been evicted from these homes in order to preserve the antiquities underneath them.
The holes in the hillside are tomb entrances. We made a stop at an alabaster factory which had a great “schtick” for the tourist buses. If nothing else, the stop was entertaining. Then we continued on to the Valley of the Kings. Outside it was convection oven hot, but inside the tombs it was incredible. The paintings are so well preserved it’s hard to believe how ancient they really are. We kept saying to ourselves, “Wow, these are the REAL THING!” I wish I could remember the numbers of and the kings buried in the three we visited, but it’s all a blur now. It is not allowed to take photos, but there are docents who explain the images for you (for a tip of course) and for a larger fee they’ll allow you to take photographs. We tipped for a little of the former but didn’t spring for the latter. One of the chambers in one tomb had these cool cobra snakes with crowns and robes that Zavi loved.
Next stop was the Temple of Hatshepsut, notable for it’s unique terraced architecture.
Again, amazing that it’s real and that we were there.
Our last stop was the Colossi of Memnon. Then we linked back up with the convoy and returned to Hurghada. Long day, but completely worth it. I would have liked to have lingered longer, especially at Karnak, but I’m not sure I could have due to the heat. As it was, a few people sat out a few locations. The kids were troopers though and stuck it out.
Back at the resort, on another night, the kids and I enjoyed the special show (extra, of course). Mr. Incredible opted to stay in bed as he had a short bout with Pharaoh’s revenge. The belly dancers were reasonably good, and I enjoyed the food even if the kids opted for plain pizza.
This guy though, was quite impressive. I had heard of the religious order of the Whirling Dervishes, but I didn’t realize that there was an entertainer version as well. He really did seem to be in a sort of trance as he spun (or at least in a state of extreme concentration inward). As he spun he held up to six of these shallow drums in wonderful feats of pattern and balance. Then he switched to twirling with his scarves.
Then he took off the top layer of his skirt and did fabulous things with it as a wheel and a funnel.
Wearable art enthusiasts take note. This costume is fantastic. The under skirt is appliquéd both top and bottom. So is the upper skirt — which is made of two layers connected at the circumference so that the dancer can have the waist of the underside at his wait and the wait of the upper side over his head to look like a giant spinning top. The appliqué itself is similar to that of the Egyptian tentmakers with beautiful scrolls.
All in all a good vacation. Definitely worth doing once in a lifetime.