A to Z of Adventure Travel: E is for Egypt

12 02 2009

philaetemple

                     “Needs a bit of work, but has potential…”              (Philae, Egypt)

 

I always like to save the best for last. Whether it’s a box of Smarties or the biggest and heaviest Christmas present, half the fun is working your way up to your favourite. So, when my two week tour of Egypt started with the pyramids I thought it would be all downhill from there. I could not have been more wrong and not only did each site surpass the previous one, but the entire country exceeded my already very high expectations!

 

Egypt seems to offer more history than the rest of the world combined. After a few days, a temple merely dating back a thousand years feels as modern as Frank Gehry’s latest creation and the vivid colours painted on a ceiling look fresher than a Cairo bus shelter.

 

Cairo is an enormous, bustling city that sprawls around the lower Nile. Apart from the glorious if somewhat faded Egyptian Museum and its awe-inspiring King Tutankhamun room, and the equally magnificent pyramids of Giza, Cairo offers wonderful markets and enough restaurants to sate a pharaoh. There are dinner cruises on the Nile, casinos and 5-star hotels – or hostels at barely $1 a night. Not only is Cairo the starting point for any Egyptian adventure, but it is also a great destination in its own right.

 

A short flight or sleeper-train ride south lies Aswan. Flanked by the rolling sands of the Sahara and the palm-fringed great expanse of the Nile, Aswan has the feel of an elegant frontier town. The Old Cataract Hotel is the setting for Agatha Christie’s “Death on the Nile” and a great spot for afternoon tea (when it reopens from its current renovations!), while further up river sits the tranquil site of Philae. Aswan can be the base to explore Nubian villages, to see the great Aswan High Dam or to head further south towards the Sudanese border and the truly incredible Abu Simbel on the shores of Lake Nasser. Day trips are offered by bus (leaving in the very early hours for a lengthy trek across the Sahara, returning late afternoon) or by air.

 

Egypt can be navigated by land or air, but perhaps the most romantic method is by water: the Nile. There are many cruise boats operating between Aswan and Luxor. Some offer all the facilities of a 5-star hotel including swimming pools and gourmet food while others are better suited to the budget-conscious. For the truly intrepid, try living on the deck of a traditional felucca, sailing by day zig-zagging from bank-to-bank and sleeping moored to the shore at night. Feluccas offer no luxuries – or even facilities! – but provide a lifetime of memories.

 

Edfu and Luxor keep the excitement levels high with Kom Ombo and the Temple of Karnak. An early start by boat across the Nile and then by taxi, bus or even donkey for those so inclined, takes travellers to the Valley of the Kings – home to King Tut’s tomb and those of the other pharoahs. Although the treasure now sits in museums, the thrill of visiting the tombs first re-opened by Howard Carter and his team almost a century ago is every bit as exciting as seeing the glittering gold and jewels.

 

If the desert calls you to escape the beaten path, head west to the wilderness that surrounds Siwa Oasis. Siwa town is a maze of tunnel-like alleys and sun-dried brick houses, completely untouched by time and by tourist masses. Return via the Mediterranean coast and the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria which may no longer have a lighthouse, but does have European feel with North African flavour.

 

Across the Suez Canal sits the Sinai: a rugged chunk of desert that screams out to adventure-seekers. Whether trekking with the Bedouin and sleeping in oases, or climbing Mount Sinai at dusk or dawn, the Sinai is an adventure paradise. Once you’re ready to clean the sand from your ears, head to the Red Sea for snorkelling, scuba diving, swimming…or just relaxing on a carpet of cushions with a sheesha pipe and some dates.

 

Egypt can be as economical or expensive as you wish, as adventurous or luxurious. The food will tempt and please, the history will marvel and awe, the desert will challenge and the coastline will refresh and rejuvenate. Egypt is truly one of the world’s great destinations.

 

 

Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan

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A Little Blue by the Red Sea

9 10 2008

From the Adventure Blogger’s blue period.

I have never seen the Loch Ness Monster or the Abominable Snowman and only once sighted a Flying Object that I couldn’t Identify. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t exist because I’ve also never seen a baby squirrel or pigeon…or a genuine piece of meat in a tin of baked beans and pork. However, there was one enigma whose existence I disputed until I actually spied it with my own eyes.    

 

Many years ago I saw a photograph of the Appalachian Mountains. It was an evocative image likely taken in the late afternoon that featured the summits at the front in a dark navy blue while those behind glided through all the degrees of the blue spectrum to a very pale hue in the distance.  The photo pre-dated the marvels of Photoshop, but I suspected that the photographer had used a blue filter.

 

Over time, I saw many similar images of different ranges of hills and mountains. Some were photos and some were paintings, sometimes in yellows or greens, other times in reds or my original blues. Regardless of the medium or colour, the view always caught my eye and presented a picture of unspoiled wilderness, tranquillity and Mother Nature at its finest.

 

A few years ago I was in Dahab, Egypt on the Red Sea coast. It was late afternoon, the sun was setting and I had dashed out to pick up some postcards before dinner. The streets were quiet and the shadows were lengthening. To my right lay the Red Sea and beyond faintly twinkled the first lights of Saudi Arabia. I continued my walk and crossed a small footbridge beneath which a seasonal stream made its way from the mountains and into the sea.

 

Midway across, I glanced to my left through the opening between the low white buildings and towards the Sinai desert…and stopped dead in my tracks.

 

In the previous days I had come to love the Sinai. The rugged, barren interior was a stark land of jagged peaks, rolling sepia hills and harsh desert. It was the land of the Bedouin and rich with biblical and modern history, intrigue and wild solitude. But as I stood and stared at the view, it was not the yellows, beiges and browns to which I had grown accustomed…but a myriad of blues.

 

The pallet from which it had been painted was the one from which Gainsborough had painted his boy and Picasso had dabbled during his famous period. It was a mixture of navies and royals, periwinkles and cobalts, egg shells and skies. It was the Appalachians and definitely not a mirage, filtered or Photoshopped. I reached for my camera to capture the scene that had so long captured my imagination only to realise I had left it in my room. Instead, I stood and drank it in with my naked eyes, watching the shades change with each moment of sunset.

 

Although I didn’t have a photo of the vista whose existence I had long doubted, it was forever emblazoned on my memory. I would never again question any similar photo or painting…or those abducted by aliens, chased by Sasquatch or stalked by the Yeti who survived with vivid accounts but, curiously in an age of camera phones and pocket point-and-shoots, no decent photos or video.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan