Exploring The Valley of the Kings and Old Cairo, Egypt
It had been over a week and my iPhone was still at the airport in Amman, Jordan. Our tour of Egypt was almost complete. The Lost and Found office in Jordan said that I could come by their office to pick up the phone but that they could not ship it to me. I had no plans to return to Jordan anytime soon. I didn’t know what to do.
We called the Encounters Tour office in Jordan who had arranged our tour there. After explaining the situation they offered to send someone to the airport to pick up my phone. They would then ship it to me. Our new problem was that we were scheduled to leave Egypt in a couple of days. There was no way that it could be shipped in time even if they could retrieve it.
Maybe we could get an address in South Africa which was our next stop. Could it be shipped from Jordan to South Africa? Does Fed Ex even ship in these countries? Oh well, we can figure it out during our remaining time touring Egypt.
After our view of the Valley of the Kings from aboard our hot air ballon flight, we landed, went back to our hotel and checked our bags. We had a full day to tour the Valley of the Kings and Queens.
Our Egyptologist guide, Mo, gave us a choice of four Pharaonic tombs to visit. Any more than that and we would get burned out, he explained.
As a child living with an amateur archeologist, this is the area of Egypt that most captured my imagination. I spent many days daydreaming as a young girl about the Valley of the Kings. It wasn’t at all what I expected.
After seeing the great pyramids, the Valley of the Kings is just a small unassuming dessert valley with small doorways for each tomb. From the outside it is impossible to know that amazing treasures were buried here.
Each doorway, led to another world... The Afterworld. Here the colorful hieroglyphics and paintings were still vibrant. We had already seen the treasures taken from some of the tombs at the Cairo museum, so though the tombs were empty with the exception of a few stone sarcophagus, they were still amazing and incredibly decorated. It was easy to imagine each tomb filled with gold, pottery, and all other things necessary for the afterlife.
It was interesting that Mo, our guide and an Egyptologist with a post-graduate degree, refused to enter any tomb. He said that he didn't believe in superstitions, but he didn't want to push his luck.
There are many superstitious stories about entering the tombs and Mo didn't want to risk it. Of course the most famous of these stories is the Curse of King Tut, where several of the people who first entered the tomb died shortly thereafter. Mo told us that each tomb is protected by curses on those who enter.
I think that it was growing up with all of the stories about the tragedies that befell the discover’s of King Tut's tomb, (though his tomb just reopened after many years of restoration) I didn’t feel the urge to visit it, even though Tut's tomb is one of the only tomb's where the mummy is present.
My museum visit of the Tut exhibit in Seattle as a teenager would have to suffice. To be honest maybe a part of me still believed in the superstitious stories, like Mo!
It was interesting to see how Tut’s tomb wasn’t cut into the mountain like the most of the others. His tomb went down into the ground. Egyptologists believe that Tut’s tomb wasn’t prepared in advance because he died at such a young age. I still don’t understand how the tomb robbers missed it over the years.
From the ground level it looked like the tombs were right next to each other. Mo told us that there are still others to be discovered in the valley.
In the Valley of the Kings visitor’s center there is a scale model of the valley which shows how the tombs are arranged. When seen from a subterranean level it is possible to see how the Egyptians were able to build so many tombs in such a small area. It also demonstrates how the ancient Egyptians were not only amazing craftsmen but also incredible engineers.
After a tour of the Valley of the Kings, we left for the temple of Hatchepsut, the one of the only female Pharaohs. Our visit occurred around International Women’s Day. She was my kind of woman!
She appointed herself Pharaoh after ruling for her child. She refused to turnover power when he became of age. She cut her hair and donned a fake beard like the rest of the Pharaohs and ended up being one of Egypt’s greatest rulers. She had an affair with the architect, some say to insure that her tomb was bigger and better than most others and it was!
Near her temple, we also visited the huge Colossi of Memnon and the Worker's Village. The Worker’s Village was where the people who worked on the tombs for the Pharaoh’s lived. The workers were blindfolded and taken to work each day. When they returned home these skilled craftsman worked on the adjoining hillside and built their own tombs. For the Egyptians death was as important as life and they worked on their own tombs their entire lives. For me these tombs were even more magical and colorful than the Pharaohs.
Our long tour day was filled with awe and wonder. After dinner, we headed back to the train station for another overnight train ride, this time back to Cairo. Once again I was surprised to see the “luxury” old train pulling back into the station.
Mo had told us that this train would be an upgrade with less stops along the way. As soon as we boarded, and our train attendant made up our beds, I was asleep within minutes.
The journey back to Cairo was much shorter. We arrived early in the morning and while our luggage was transferred to our hotel. We knew it would be a long day and we voted to not spend time in Cairo traffic, so instead of freshing up, we went shopping!
We went to a flower essence shop for which Cairo is famous. After our hosts served us tea and some delicious falafels, we had fun trying on different essences. It was fun. We could name any brand of perfume, men's or women's and they would open a bottle and there it would be. My arms ran out of room, for trying all the different oils. At least we now smelled good! Egypt is where the majority of perfume companies get their essence oils to mix their perfumes.
After nearly two weeks of someone carrying my bags and knowing we had a rental car for three months in South Africa, I purchased several glass bottles of my favorite oils. So much for traveling light! Egypt is also known for it's gold and I purchased a scarab charm for my charm bracelet. My rational for purchasing a gold chain was I didn't have my bracelet and I was worried it would get lost during our travels (wink, wink).
All of us decided to take the optional city tour of Cairo which visited Coptic Cairo, the Citadel, and the Mohamed Ali Mosque.
Here is another travel trip, if you are ever feeling bad about yourself, or want to feel like a celebrity visit these tourist sites in Cairo. As soon as we exited our tour van and started walking down the street, all of the teenagers wanted to take selfies with us.
Mo said, Egyptians think Americans are all movie stars. I was asked who I knew that was famous, because obviously every American knows someone famous. It was funny, but it was actually exhausting being a celebrity for two hours!
We visited the stunning Alabaster Mosque and several Coptic christian sites. It was our second visit to a mosque on our journey. Not only were they both beautiful, but I noticed the contrast between the hard wooden pews and kneelers of my Catholic faith and the mosque floors that are so soft that we just melted into them. The floors seemed to be bouncy soft like the floor gymnasts use for their routines. The comfort was not to be outdone by the stunning architecture.
In the late afternoon we took a guided walk through the back streets and bazaars of central Cairo. We walked through the huge Bab al-Futuh gateway and explored the streets dedicated to metalwork, spices, pottery, fabric, jewelry, and anything else we could imagine.
We gradually entered the touristy Khan-el-Khalili bazaar. We all decided to take some free time for shopping instead of a break for some tea and a shisha pipe, which the market is famous for. After shopping we enjoyed an early dinner of Egypt's unofficial national dish, Kushari. After dinner we waited in line to get free tickets to the Al Guri Sufi show at the Wikalat al Ghuri a 16th century market.
The colorful and flamboyant show packs crowds of locals, and some tourists in twice a week with displays of dervish inspired dance, Sufi vocals and vibrant percussion. The show made for an entertaining last evening with our group and end to our tour. I’m sure that the show was incredible, but at the end of our long day and the previous night on the train, I was too exhausted to fully appreciate it!
Ol and I decided to stay a few extra days in Cairo before flying to Cape Town, South Africa. Our hotel was so nice that we decided to take the time just to relax. We had originally thought that we might take a tour to Alexandria or Memphis, but decided that would have to wait until our next visit.
On our last day in Egypt, Ol worked again on getting my iPhone. The Encounters Tour office said that they had contacted the Lost and Found office and that they would need a letter from us to release the phone to anyone else and the passcode to prove that it was our phone. Ol quickly composed a letter giving them permission to retrieve the phone. I was worried about giving the passcode because of the sensitive financial information stored on the phone. But at this point what choice did I have?
We had arrangements to stay in an Air BNB apartment in Cape Town and the tour office could forward it there. Hopefully, my phone would be the only thing following us to South Africa when we leave Egypt. I really don’t believe in those silly superstitious curses. Knock on wood!