Egypt 2020 tour
"Close the door as you leave."
We left San Francisco on Tuesday, March 3rd, and returned two weeks later on Tuesday, March 17th, just when the Covid-19 adventure was getting started in earnest.
The plan was for Chu and Moon to join us on our yearly pilgrimage to spend our children’s inheritance. Chu’s mother passed away a few days before our planned departure, so they needed to cancel. Barbara and I were aware of the Corona adventure when we left on Tuesday, March 3rd, but it wasn’t yet as serious as it became.
So off we went to Cairo to join a Road Scholar educational tour of Egypt. The tour was down to 10 fellow friends – the rest of the planned 22 tour members didn’t make it, for one reason or another.
Our guide was Bassem Noah (see facebook Egypt Lover). He was GREAT. Maybe too much information for us and I suspect he was paid by the word, but I would seek him out again in a heartbeat.
And, I should also point out that this was the best group of fellow tourists possible! A wide set of personalities, but very congenial! I would want to travel with them again!
Jerry, David, June, Barbara, Bob, Bassem, Terry, Ralph, Lynne, Richard, Ann
So off we went to ride a camel, see some pyramids around Giza / Cairo and get over our jet lag. Our first lessons: 1. a rest room stop requires a 1o pound note (73 cents) or 1 dollar to someone to receive toilet paper or tissues, 2. Yala means “come on”, and 3. keep moving through the gauntlet of small shops at each location.
We went to see the solar boat and also went to the “red pyramid” and went inside. Not the most comfortable 100 yards of walking.
We had our first encounter with some local “kids” that wanted to take selfies with Barbara and just seemed to be having a good time!
Then off to Egypt Air to Aswan and a drive up to the far south to see the spectacular Abu Simbel – the relocated temple. Long drive – 3 hours – but well worth it! Along the way we stopped at a rest stop that used everything that came their way creating an artistic and functional rest stop with coffee bar!
We even came back in the evening to see the “light show” where they painted the two man-made hills with projected images to tell a story. I think there were 4 overlapping projectors – I tried to see what brand, but -alas- I couldn’t see the labels. For those less technology focused – The images were astounding on the “statues” and the grandeur of the location amazing.
Off on a ship to cruise on Lake Nasser. Nice comfortable ship! We went from location to location and got on/off the ship to take a small boat to go to shore to see amazing Egyptian relics of 3000-6000 years ago. Funny, most of what remains are the rocks. (Although later we saw some papyrus that survived.)
Health Alert – U.S. Embassy Cairo, Egypt (March 7, 2020)
Event: There is an ongoing outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19) first identified in Wuhan, China. The global public health threat posed by COVID-19 is high, with more than 80,000 reported cases worldwide.
On March 7, the Egyptian Ministry of Health announced 45 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on an Egyptian cruise ship on the Nile River on its way to Luxor, Egypt.
About this time we began to get news from the outside world that Corona Virus was detected on ships on the Nile. This was a little concerning, since that was to be OUR next home.
Some of us began to see early attempts to replicate modern activities. Such as a call center. 🙂
We continued moving down Lake Nasser stopping every so often to see yet another amazing site. We also were treated to a tour of the ship and morning visitors in our rooms. Apparently “Nubian humor” involves teasing passengers and the “towel art” is hilarious.
We arrived at the High Dam – the reason for Lake Nasser and providing flood protection for the Nile river. It’s clear that they are very proud of the engineering marvel that is the dam. But onward to old stuff. Next stop just below the dam was the Philae Temple in Aswan – Bassem’s home town!
We went to see the unfinished Obelisk then off to the Nubian Museum. We arrived on our new ship – on the Nile – but not the one that had Corona Virus occupation. We soon learned that tours that followed us were not allowed to be on ships on Lake Nasser. A door closed behind us…
In the evening we went for a walk on a street in Aswan and had an opportunity to see shops – especially spice shops. Navigating the ”enthusiastic and persistent” vendors was a bit off-putting for some of us. Bassem helped bargain and our security guard kept us together. “YALA, YALA” became our rallying cry – ie. “come on.” Note – 2 YALA’s mean – move it!
Then to our ship on the Nile – the Minerva – to see the lights of Aswan and sunrise along the Nile.
Our work never stops, so to the Kom Ombo Temple and a Crocodile Museum in Aswan. We spent some time learning about medical equipment used 4000 years ago – all carved in stone!
Health Alert – U.S. Embassy Cairo, Egypt (March 9, 2020)
Event: There is an ongoing outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19) first identified in Wuhan, China. The global public health threat posed by COVID-19 is high, with more than 100,000 reported cases worldwide.
· Here is the latest Health Alert from the Department of State regarding travel on cruise ships: https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/cruise/index.html. U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship.
· The U.S. Embassy in Cairo has been informed by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that all air travelers who are arriving from or through any airports in the Arab Republic of Egypt must have a complete medical examination (PCR) confirming that they are free of the COVID-19 virus issued 24 hours before boarding a flight to any airport in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The test and exam must be done by one of the laboratories approved by the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Cairo. Please contact the Embassy of Saudi Arabia for more information and a list of the approved laboratories.
· Other countries in the region are also restricting travel for travelers originating in Egypt. Please check with your airline or travel agent for any restrictions.
· The Department of State urges travelers to use good judgment when traveling so as not to put themselves at undue risk of contracting COVID-19.
To my favorite photo of the entire trip. The people, the relics and the security.
Along the way there were many small boats with fishermen working. This boy was rowing seemingly directly into the path of our slightly larger ship – what was he thinking? He made it, but I’m sure glad I was not on the water…
Next up was Edfu Temple. The path from the ship to the Temple was via horse carts. Our horse was “Mornica” and she moved right along, eager to get to her clover reward. Bassem bargained for the carriages as a group and had us watch that the horses weren’t abused and that the drivers were courteous. He succeeded mostly!
Sometimes the drivers had road rage…
Bassem has a cool laser pointer…
We passed though some locks on the Nile
As we drove in the bus the sights along the road were amazing! Butcher shops with carcasses hanging, piles of bread and pastries, fruit, and clothes. It was just astounding!
So now a bus ride to Al-Deor Al-Bahari Temple. Along the way – tomatoes out for drying! Small farm fields were interspersed with 3 story houses making a curious mixture. At the Temple, the digging continues.
We headed to the Luxor Museum. Each stop even more incredible than the last – more detailed carvings, more colors, and more stories from Bassem. Bookmarks with Egyptian themes rewarded us if we answered his questions correctly. Did we mention this was an educational tour?
We headed to Valley of the Kings and departed the ship. No more animals/creatures made from towels. 🙁 As we settled in, we heard that the Nile cruise ships were being shut down due to the CV-19. We were essentially the last tour group to have that ship experience. Another door closed, but wait! There were heavy rain storms in Cairo ahead of us, the worst to hit Egypt in decades. Rain is not normal and can cause problems. But that’s a few days away. And did we mention the Haboob, a huge dust storm usually caused by a collapsing thunderstorm. It darkened the sky and filled it with blowing sand!
Weather Alert: U.S. Embassy Cairo (March 12, 2020)
Event: Due to the heavy rains across Egypt, the Government of Egypt is asking that individuals remain in their homes, unless travel is absolutely necessary. Many roads are blocked in Cairo and between governorates. Local authorities are on the scene in many areas trying to clear roads.
Actions to Take:
· Stay current with media coverage of local events, be aware of your surroundings, and practice personal awareness at all times.
Health Alert – U.S. Embassy Cairo, Egypt (March 12, 2020)
Event: Several countries in the region have implemented restrictions on travelers arriving from Egypt due to the ongoing outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19), including Israel, Kuwait, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. Please consult the U.S. Department of State’s COVID-19 Country Specific Information Pages for updates on entry/exit restrictions. Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice.
The Government of Egypt has reportedly made testing available at various locations throughout Egypt. Please consult the Egyptian Ministry of Health for more information.
At Luxor, the amazing Karnak Temple.
Health Alert: U.S. Embassy Cairo (March 12, 2020)
Location: Cairo, Egypt
Event: The Cairo Water Authority has announced that it has suspended water service to all of Cairo. This is due to the city sewage system being overwhelmed by the heavy rains. Water service will be gradually restored once the weather improves. There is currently no timetable for the restoration of service.
Then to Luxor Temple… which, BTW, was closed the next day. Yet ANOTHER door closes behind us.
Next up, the Egyptian Museum and the King Tut amazing artifacts. (Where we are not allowed to take pictures.) We did get asked to be in a photo with newly weds – which of course we agreed to! Such an obliging group!
And THEN we did a tour of Islamic Cairo. We went to three mosques. Traffic was light, no impact from the water shut-down the days before. Feels like the City is beginning to shut down. Good for us, not so good for Cairo!
Cute shoes. Booties to protect the mosque. We were barefoot in another mosque – and wished for booties!
Looking over Cairo from a minaret.
Pigeon cages on the roofs.
Did we mention the good food? Barbara asked for a tour of the kitchen and this ignited a friendship and photos with staff and a promise to like their facebook page. Yummy “puff bread”.
Just another day in the park.
Our last shopping opportunity.
And we are done! Some flights were shifted, most of us left around 1am on Tuesday, March 17th. Our flight from Cairo to Frankfurt was packed, but the flight from Frankfurt to San Francisco was nearly empty. We had heard horror stories of the new medical check for arrivals into the US, but by the time we arrived it was a breeze. Yet again, more perfect timing. Egypt announced it would close the airports on March 19th at noon. We made it just in time.
And the door closes on travel and we begin self-quarantine for 2 to 3 weeks. The Bay Area is mandated to “shelter in place” for 3 weeks. The world has changed. Our bubble of being cared for and immersed in Egypt are over. What an experience with wonderful people. We pray for a world that allows this kind of freedom of movement – though when that will be is uncertain.