It was early in the morning of Friday 10 November 2006 when Arno and I boarded an LTU-flight from Düsseldorf to Sharm el-Sheikh. For both of us it would be the first time in Egypt, and aside from a hostel for the first nights, a trip to Mt Sinai and a 3-day diving liveaboard, nothing was booked. Package tours simply do not accommodate for the combination of Egyptian culture and a diving liveaboard. Backpacking and finding our way ourselves is much more fun anyway, and we are both used to it from our experiences in Australia.
The first Egyptian experience was climbing Mt Sinai, where Moses received the ten commandments. It required another early rise, as we were gonna watch the sunrise from Mt Sinai. Walking uphill (over 1000m altitude difference) for over 2 hours, in the dark, smelling camels: the sacrifices one makes for a good photo. But the views were spectacular, and afterwards we explored St Catherine’s Monastery.
Back in Sharm el-Sheikh, we were the first passengers to arrive for the 3-day diving liveaboard. The 25m yacht was very luxurious, and the 9 crew could cater for the wishes of 12 passengers. But once onboard, we discovered that we were the only passengers! Apparently no one else had booked the trip, and it was guaranteed departure. It truly was the luxury life of Kings: our equipment was taken care of, we could choose the diving spots (not that we had the knowledge, so we let the crew decide), and had a private divemaster on all dives. Altogether we made 10 dives in 3 days at all the great spots of the Northern Red Sea, including the Dunraven and the Thistlegorm.
After the diving trip, we had another day in Sharm el-Sheikh that we spend relaxing on the beach, snorkelling and shopping. After all, diving is quite exhausting. Pretty much all of the next day was spent in the bus to Cairo, that included the tunnel under the Suez Canal. In Cairo we had no problem finding a centrally located, affordable hostel.
In the morning of our first full day in Cairo we visited the pyramids of Giza. Being the only remaining ancient world wonder, their size and construction could not be more impressive. It was good to be on the site when it opened, because the pyramids are completely overrun by tourists. That was not the case for the sites we visited in the afternoon: Saqqara and Dahshur. We hired a taxi to bring us to these destinations, and in Dahshur we almost had the site to ourselves, while the pyramids there were only slightly less impressive than the ones at Giza. Altogether we climbed into the burial chamber of 3 large pyramids. This room deep inside the pyramid is where the mummified Kings enjoyed their afterlife.
The second full day in Cairo we explored the treasures of the Egyptian museum. The amount of ancient items it was stuffed with was simply unbelievable. Our last full day in Cairo was spent in the old Islamic centre of the city. We visited the Citadel and the Mohammed Ali mosque (not related to the fighter). On our way to the next mosque we managed to get lost in the small streets, but found our way eventually. And a visit to Cairo would not be complete without being ripped off at Ibn Tulun mosque, where we paid for the free access to the tower.
We took the night train to Luxor, and after checking in at the centrally located hostel we went to the Amun Temple in Karnak. This impressive site includes a great hall of huge columns, still standing tall. On our second day in Luxor we booked an organized trip to Thebes, visiting the Collossi of Memnon, Valley of the Queens, Valley of the Kings and Deir al-Bahri. Late afternoon we explored Luxor Temple, and returned there in the evening to make some nice night photos.
Because we had another full day in Luxor, and only visited 3 tombs in the Valley of the Kings, we returned to Thebes on our last day in Luxor. There we rented bikes and biked to the Valley of the Kings, Medinat Habu and Old Gurna, where the lesser known tombs of the Nobles are located. In these tombs we got a private tour from the tomb guardians, one even showing how the tombs could be lighted using mirrors reflecting the sunlight. Late afternoon we did a short camel ride along the river, our visit to Egypt would not be complete without one.
Most of the second last day was spent in the bus to Hurghada. This must have been one of the slowest bus trips I ever made. The 280km took over 6 hours! I guess the large number of stops did not help, including a long break in the middle of the desert. At the last day of the trip we spent a few hours on the beach of a Hurghada hotel, where we realized how good it was not to have booked a package trip. It would have been fairly impossible to have a more varied trip.