We traveled to Egypt in January 2003. Verna had visited Cairo in June, 1997 but this was Jim’s first visit to Egypt. We had received a lot of information from other motorcycle travelers about taking the bikes to Egypt. ALL of the people we talked to who had taken bikes to Egypt said the same thing: Do not take the bikes to Egypt! We discussed this for some time before we decided that we would follow this advise. The bureaucracy in Egypt defies description. Everyone we talked to told us it took them three days to process the paperwork at the border. And then there is the traffic - especially in Cairo. The best advise about driving in Cairo is don’t. If you have to have a car hire a car and a driver. And, you cannot ride south from Cairo to Luxor on your bike because of all of the militant Islamists in the area. Now that we have been there and seen how things work and how horrendous the traffic is in Cairo we are very glad we did not take the bikes. Following the advise of those who had gone before us was the correct thing to do.
Our trip involved flying from Madrid, Spain, to Luxor, Egypt. We spent some time in the Luxor area to see the Valley of the Kings, Deir el-Bahri and the Temples of Karnak and Luxor. We stayed on a floating hotel. There are a tremendous number of very nice cruise boats that have about 50 rooms, a dining room, a roof top sun deck (some even have a swimming pool) and a large lounge. We cruised on the Nile from Luxor to Aswan with a stop at Edfu along the way as well as a stop at Kom Ombo.
From Aswan we took a trip to Abu Simbel to see the temples of Ramses II and his queen Nefertari. This was an interesting trip because there were two options. You could take a plane that covered the distance in a half hour and gave a stupendous view of Lake Nasser and the surrounding dessert. Or you could get up at 3:30 in the morning and join the convoy of 36 busses that take 4 and one half hours to make the trip - one way. We opted for the airplane trip even though it cost twice as much as the bus. When we returned in the afternoon and spoke with some of the people who had opted for the less expensive bus trip we were glad we spent the extra money for the airplane. All of the people who took the bus said they wished they had taken the plane. When the 36 busses with approximately 50 people on each bus arrived at the temples there were approximately 1500 people who were turned loose to look at the temples. And, they only had one hour to look around. Most of them did not get inside the temples. When we arrived at the temples there were fewer than 100 people there and we had more than enough time to see both of the temples and get lots of pictures.
From Aswan we flew north to Cairo where we visited the pyramids, the mosque of Mohammed Ali Pasha, the Khan al-Khalili market and the Egyptian Museum. We also spent time walking about several of the neighborhoods of the city which current estimates reckon is home to 20+ million people. We returned to Madrid from Cairo.
Our tour was a package tour, something we had never done before but are quite popular in Europe. There are good things and bad things about package tours; the good news is that everything is scheduled and managed for you so you make good use of your time once there. The bad news is that they cut corners wherever they can, for example using the lowest-cost rather than the better airlines, resulting in airport delays. Below are some of our travel experiences:
The flight out of Madrid was only 2 hours late. It was a relatively uneventful flight on the a chartered Cairo Air plane though not one of the cabin crew smiled during the entire flight! The plane had not been well maintained (i.e., many tray tables were broken, the seat fabric frayed from use, and the lavatory was filthy (though functional). We arrived in Luxor about 9:45 pm and were met by the tour operator’s representative (the tour operator was Royal Vacaciones from Spain). He was very friendly and helpful, but took a double-take when he looked at our American passports in the midst of this Spanish group.
We waited about 1/2 hour for our bags to show up (there was only one small trailer to offload the suitcases from the plane so several trips were made). We then breezed through customs, no questions asked - though there was a sign that said you had to declare your video camera if you had one. We did not see anyone do this, however. The bus took us to the cruise boat where we had a late dinner (about 11:30 pm - very late for us!). We had a small snack before heading off to bed. Our wake-up call came at 5:00 a.m. with breakfast at 5:30 and on the bus by 6.
The evening we flew out of Aswan, our flight was scheduled for 8 p.m. However, when we got to the airport, it was listed on the board for 9:30. While we waited, the time changed to 9:15. Time has a different meaning in Egypt than we are accustomed to. We had an uneventful flight to Cairo, but after we got our luggage, our tour guide insisted we all put our luggage on one cart for the workers to schlep. Well, it didn’t fit all on one, so they had one big one and two small trolleys. One guy took the the large cart which was now so heavy he could hardly get it moving, while another guy tried pushing the two trolleys and the third guy disappeared. The guy with the two trollies was having difficulty controlling them. He gave up and walked away - just left them sitting there. So much for security and the idea of always keeping your bag with you. Several in our tour group finally had to push the large cart to help the guy get it up the incline to the waiting bus. Now with the bus double parked and the cart and our group in the other lane, we had effectively blocked all traffic trying to enter the arrivals area. An airport policeman walked by several times, noting the buss’s license in his book, but made no attempt to clear the jam. Finally we convinced our tour leader that the other 2 trollies had been left inside the airport and he sent someone to go get them. What a fiasco!!!
The best thing we can suggest about this trip is to avoid an airline by the name of Cairo Air at all costs. Their fleet of planes are old poorly maintained Russian aircraft that are prone to mechanical problems. We were two hours late departing Madrid when our journey started and on the return we were three hours late departing Cairo. On the return we were sitting on the runway ready to take off when they shut things down and took us back to the parking area for the aircraft. We sat on the plane for two hours while they tried to fix it. Ultimately they gave up trying to fix the problem and put us on another plane and we took off three hours late. In talking to people at the Madrid airport we learned that this is normal on all Cairo Air flights.
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