EGYPT – April 4





(Written by Steve)

Egypt was fantastic, if you like machine guns. I am not kidding you. I have never seen so many machine guns and people walking around with guns in my life. What does this have to do with Pyramids and the Sphinx you ask? I will get to that in a second, but I first have to give you a lesson in security.

In 1997, near Luxor, a bunch of tourists just like us were just getting off a bus and some Muslim extremists walked right up to them and mowed them down with machine guns and hand grenades. I am not sure of the exact number but I was told that 57 tourists were killed, mostly French and German. There was also a second incident with a larger number of tourists and a few more small ones to follow.  Our friend who is Egyptian told us that this was a very small group of terrorists that wanted to disrupt the economic environment in Egypt by hurting the tourists. She told us that the government will now go to any lengths to get the tourists to come back, so they provide the security. I did not know any of this before we got into our bus to head out for our tour, but I was certainly awake now. We were told that there were 20 busloads of tourists and we would all travel to the city (Cairo) in a huge convoy with police escort. And you want to know something? They were not kidding. We had motorcycle cops on the sides and police cars in front and back of us with lights and sometimes sirens. As we would get to an intersection or on ramp, a car or motorcycle cop would have all the traffic stopped so we could go through without stopping. Nikolas said he felt like he was the President of the U.S. and he was right, it was if we were diplomats or something. In the front seat of our bus and every one of those 19 other buses, sat a plain-clothed police officer with a machine gun or oozie, it was really bizarre. If we drove under a bridge you would see a few police officers on that bridge stopping the traffic as we drove under it. At one point one of the buses in our convoy lost its air conditioning and we had to stop to get a replacement bus. The police guided our convoy onto a huge bridge above the Nile, right in the middle of Cairo. They did not want us to stop, but a bridge was the safest place to do it. It actually made a lot of sense because if we were going to be attacked, they (bad guys) could only get at us from the front or the back. In total, there had to be at least 100 police cars and motorcycles involved in this operation, and god knows how many police officers. So that is how our tour to see the Pyramids started, and I can tell you there is no bigger target than a line of 20 buses reaching a top speed of only 50 Km an hour driving down an empty freeway. I asked one of our friends from the ship who just retired from the Hong Kong police force after 31 years what he thought about all this. He was very aware of the threat in Egypt and was not surprised in the least about the attention we were getting on this day. So that is the kind of security we were given.  Now I will try and tell you about some other stuff. I have to tell you honestly that aside from a semi-relaxing boat ride up and down the Nile I wasn’t overly impressed. (Yes, we had a police boat on each side of our boat and at least 8 armed police on our boat as we floated along.)



It took us a couple of hours to get from the ship to the Pyramids and I can only tell that I was so excited to see them. When we pulled up and drove past them and parked in the lot I was in shock. Not because of their beauty and not because of their massive size, I was blown away that one of the most spectacular wonders of the world was being treated like an amusement park. The parking lot was a huge area and there were people selling post cards, camel rides, toys and anything else you can think of. The closer you got to the Pyramids the worse it got. The ground itself was a combination of sand and cigarette butts. There was no fencing around them, no viewing area, just some Pyramids in the middle of a parking lot. I’m sorry if I sound disappointed, but there is a McDonalds and a Kentucky Fried Chicken within a stones throw of these great wonders. This thing is organized chaos and it is such a shame. I am so surprised that someone has not sprayed graffiti on one of them yet. The Sphinx was just as disappointing as the Pyramids and I can only say that I am glad we came, but am not impressed. Nikolas, Danika and I had a bit of a treat when we climbed down into the centre of one of them; well almost. The opening was very small and you had to walk crouched over for a good 300 metres down into the centre where you find an empty burial chamber. We got just to the bottom and turned around as fast as we could, but we were in there. We only stayed at the site for about an hour in total and were being shuffled around by our security people. Seeing the pyramids in a big group is not the way to go, and if we did it again, we would do it alone.


The Nile was very relaxing and the view of the city was spectacular. It reminded me of going down the river in Bangkok, except without all the traffic. We had a wonderful lunch, and saw a very pretty side of Cairo. You’re going to think I am just cranky, but I don’t have too much more to say about Cairo, well, nothing nice anyways. When you take one of the largest cities in the world and then throw in a garbage disposal problem, you end up with one big mess. Cairo was the dirtiest city we have seen so far, I think even more than Mumbai. I was very surprised at the living conditions and how 3rd world it was. Most of the buildings did not have roofs and it was explained by our guide that the reason for this is cost.  The families that own the buildings cannot afford the roof and they also leave it off in case they need more room in the future.  That way they just add another level and it’s easier because there is no roof!   The people of Cairo live with very little and it was not something we expected from such a world renowned city.

I would love to come back and maybe tour other parts of Egypt that we heard were amazing, like Luxor and the Valley of the Dead.





The Pyramids

(by Helen)


I wanted to write a little something about the main attraction for us here in Egypt.  I’ve seen the pyramids in pictures and on T.V. but I must say that when you see them in real life it is absolutely mesmerizing.  As we entered Cairo, just beyond the cityscape, I caught my first glimpse of a peak.  The sky was cloudless yet there was a haze over the city and the tops of the pyramids were dreamlike in the distance.  But, they were there!  Oh, what a feeling that is when you first lay your eyes on them.  I actually got goose bumps.  As we got closer you begin to realize how truly massive these wonders of the world really are.  They are actually situated on a ridge above the city and they tower down on it. 

There are over 100 pyramids in Egypt and the greatest is the one in Giza called the Great Pyramid of King Khufu, or Cheops.  It is the most massive of all the pyramids and also the most famous.  It still stands at almost its original height of 480 feet with a base width of 755 feet.  The pyramid is formed by 2.3 million limestone blocks and each side of the pyramid rises at an angle of precisely 51degrees 52’.  This is just so unbelievable when you realize that this extraordinary building feat was achieved four and a half thousand years ago.  The massive labour force required to build a pyramid came under the direction of one man, the Overseer of All the King’s Works.  His position required him to be a man of science, an architect and a figure of commanding authority and outstanding leadership abilities.  This guy was responsible for a monumental undertaking of national importance.  His project must ensure the pharaoh’s safe journey into the afterlife.  Every Egyptian household had to help in the project by providing food or manpower for the project’s work crew.  He had a lot of decisions to make like where to build the pyramid.  Tradition required that the site be on the west bank of the Nile, close to the land of the dead (known in Egyptian as “the west”).  Also, he had to consider that the site be within reach of a good supply of limestone.  He also had to establish a quarry, the supply ramp, and the settlement for the thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of workmen.  When you stand beside it, the idea that it was created without trucks and cranes is incomprehensible!  It must have been a sight to behold!


The pyramid shape is closely associated with the sun and the sun god, Re.  According to history, when the pharaoh died, the sun would strengthen its beams to create a celestial stairway or ramp, giving the deceased king a route to the heavens. The larger pyramids were built for the pharaoh’s and the smaller ones for their queens. 


The Great Sphinx is a lot smaller in real life than I expected.  Our guide told us that it’s because most of the pictures are taken with a zoom lens compared to regular lenses used for pyramid pictures.  It has a lion’s body and the head of a king, which wears the royal nemes headcloth and false beard.  Although it’s badly weathered, apparently the features of King Khafre are recognizable.  The function is much debated but perhaps it was built as the guardian of the Giza Plateau.  Remarkably the Sphinx is carved from a knoll of rock that is said to be of poor-quality limestone.  Many legends also state that there are secret passages under the Sphinx.  One explorer hoped to discover a tunnel leading from the Sphinx to Khafre’s pyramid.  The Egyptian Antiquities Organization excavated in and around the Sphinx and located three tunnels under the statue.  They had been found and entered before by an archaeologist who, however, had never published his findings.  There are many myths and legends in Ancient Egypt and it was exciting for all of us to stand before these amazing monuments and it will certainly be an experience we will never forget!





Retrieved from


In the fifth century BC Herodotus wrote of Egypt that 'nowhere are there so many marvellous things...nor in the world besides are to be seen so many things of unspeakable greatness' - and not too much has changed. The Sphinx, the Nile, ancient Luxor, the pyramids - Egypt's scope is glorious.

It's not just the Pharaonic monuments that have drawn travellers to this country since long before the birth of Christ - it's the legacy of the Greeks, Romans and early Christians, and the profusion of art and architecture accumulated from centuries of successive Islamic dynasties.

Modern Egypt is an amalgam of these legacies and more, juxtaposed with modern influences. Mud-brick villages stand beside millennia-old ruins surrounded by buildings of steel and glass. Some townsfolk dress in long flowing robes, others in Levis and Reeboks, and city traffic competes with donkey-drawn carts and wandering goats. Nowhere are these contrasts played out so colourfully as in Cairo, a massive city thronged with people and ringing to the sound of car horns, ghetto-blasters and muezzins summoning the faithful to prayer. Egypt isn't all chaos and clatter, however. It's also a diver's dream dip, a trek across the sands on a camel or a long lazy punt down the Nile.


Full country name: Arab Republic of Egypt
Area: 1 million sq km
Population: 69.5 million
Capital City: Cairo
People: Egyptians, Berbers, Bedouin, Hamitic Arabs and Nubians
Language: Arabic
Religion: 94% Muslim, 6% Christian
Government: republic
Head of State: President Mohammed Husni Mubarak
Head of Government: Prime Minister Ahmed Mohamed Nazif