First I flew to Hurghada another resort town not far from Sharm as the crow flies, but a looong way away if you had to drive. It’s on the Egyptain mainland, meaning you’d have to bus it up to Cairo and then all the way down to Hurghada. Thankfully I flew. The town itself is pretty dumpy. You can tell it’s also been hurt by the decline in tourism. The old part of town where the locals hang is pretty neat though. I only stayed one night and took a shared taxi to the next town down the coast, Safaga.
Safaga: I arrived and the dive hotel I wanted to stay at was booked up, so I ended up diving with another company nearby, which I guess is a French catering dive company. I wandered into an apartment complex thinking it might be a hotel and I was quite a hit there for a few minutes. Lots of photos! The hotel I was looking for was 5 minutes down the road. Diving here was pretty good! But it was a handful of French people on the boat and me, so it was kind of awkward. I guess most of the dive companies around here cater to a certain nationality, Dutch, German, French etc. And with the French, you already know they’re not gonna be speaking much English.
El Quseir: The next town down the coast. I planned to dive here as well, but I after some questioning it turned out the company I pre-booked with was just trying to throw me on a boat with 30 German snorkelers, and charge me well over 100 dollars for the pleasure. No thanks. The town was pleasant though. And I ate at a fish restaurant where I had a huge fish, shrimp soup, salad, fries, bread, and a drink for about 10 dollars. Would definitely go again!
Luxor: Time to get into the touristy stuff! I had to get to the Nile Valley from the coast. I took local minibuses to get there, which are shockingly cheap, especially when compared with your only other option: a private transfer. Luxor is known as the hassle capital of Egypt! You get approached A LOT! If you walk along the river everyone is trying to get you to go on a felucca ride. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always the offer for drugs. Then you’ve got potential tour guides, horse carriages, souvenirs, etc. And wait till you walk down the market street! But actually it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. You just shake your head and ignore the hell out of everyone and they get the idea eventually. Some are very persistent though.
I ended up doing a tour with my guesthouse of the valley of the kings, which is where the tombs of many of the great pharaohs of the New Kingdom were buried. For the important pharaohs the grave shafts reach extremely deep into the earth. It’s a shame all of them were eventually robbed. Except one! King Tut’s tomb was basically forgotten and buried beneath another tomb, which is why his was never robbed. Just imagine how much cool stuff would have been in the tombs of the great Pharoahs! We didn’t pay to see Tut’s tomb though, because it’s expensive and there’s nothing it anymore. We saw the tombs of a few other minor pharaohs, which are still pretty cool, walking down the tunnels with all the paintings and hieroglyphs on the walls. A lot of the decorations are very ornate and well intact. No photos though! Actually the guys who watch after the tombs kind of hope you try and take photos so then they can catch you and make you pay a fine/bribe.
We also had a crazy older Russian woman with pounds of make up on in our group who was some sort of tarot reader in Russia and they kicked her out of one of the tombs because she kept touching stuff after they told her to stop. She also had huge knockers that were falling out of her top and whenever Egyptian guys looked at her too long she’d shake her tits at them and say a bunch of stuff in Russian and laugh. It was hilarious and super awkward! She spoke Russian to everyone as if they could understand it, even though obviously no one did. I couldn’t forget about her!
I will admit, I did kind of screw up by doing the group tour though! Group tours are always during the middle of the day when it’s A: super hot, and B: super crowded. If you wake up early or go late in the day you get to see the same stuff with way less people when it’s not so hot, and with much better light for photography. The next morning I rented a bicycle and woke up early and rode my bike around the valley and that was much more enjoyable! Much better photos too! When you go into the tombs the tomb-keepers actually encourage you take photos (that are supposed to be not allowed!) so you give them some baksheesh, ie a tip. 25 or 50 cents is sufficient. If I did it all over again I’d stay on the West bank, which is where the valley of the kings is located, in the village, as opposed to the big city on the East bank. A much more interesting local experience I think. And it’s its not like there’s anything much going on in the actual Luxor city.
Aswan: The other touristy city further south on the Nile. A lot people do felucca boat trips from Luxor to Aswan or vice versa. You can also take the train. But I didn’t realize the only ones you can take as a tourist only go early in the morning or later in the evening, so local minibus it was. It was pretty entertaining on this minibus ride, because I agreed to pay the driver over double what the actual rate was (which I obv didn’t know, $4 instead of $2). And when the people in the bus were collecting money (the riders collect the fares amongst themselves and give it to the driver near the end of the trip) it turned into a shouting match with the driver because lots of people in the car didn’t like that I was getting overcharged for the ride. At one point I was given the extra money I had paid back, then the driver kept yelling and I ended up giving it back to him, and then he gave me like a 10% discount or something. I obviously didn’t care about the $2, and was happy to pay $4 for a 3 hour ride, but it was entertaining nonetheless, and I was glad the other riders were willing to stick up for me!
Aswan also isn’t the most exciting city! It’s got some historical monuments, most are unimpressive with exception of the temple of Philae. I kept expecting these cities with lots of western tourists to have some sort of tourist district or something with nicer restaurants and maybe even bars, but really no such thing exists. You can’t even buy beer in any of the street shops, you have to buy it at the hotels, which upcharge quite a lot. Anyway, most people go to Aswan to see Abu Simbel which is a massive tomb cut into a hillside, constructed by Ramses II, the most prolific of all the builders in Egypt. It’s original site (along with many others including Philae) was to be flooded by the damn built in 60’s, so UNESCO raised enough money to get it moved chunk by chunk to a higher location, which was an insanely massive project. But they did it so well that you can’t even tell. It’s best to see the photos rather me describing it. But it’s very impressive!
The flooding that created lake Nasser that I described before also relocated thousands and thousands of Nubian people, who would best be described as Sudanese people living in the southern tip of Egypt. So around Aswan you also have many Nubian villages, which are also interesting to see. There’s one that specifically caters to tourists, but there’s also plenty more that you can visit, just to see what the local life is like. And you definitely feel like you’re in Sudan, not Egypt. Although I visited during the middle of day when everyone is resting, so it wasn’t particularly enthralling.
Edfu: I took the train from Aswan to this town on the Nile that is known for it’s temple of Horus (one of the more famous Egyptian gods, he looks like a eagle). But it’s rare that tourists actually stay in this town, because the vast vast majority of tourists only stop at it for an hour or two during their felucca ride along the Nile. So I enjoyed being the foreigner around town! My hotel was really nice and cost $11 or something silly. There was one cute Egyptian girl who spoke some broken English at the reception, just enough for me to understand. I made lots of new friends walking around town! But of course there always has to be at least someone around trying to take advantage of the tourist. When I was smoking shisha one guy tried to convince me to sleep on his boat, or to sell my phone to him or let him be my tour guide, and I kept shutting him down. Then when I tried to pay, he tried to get the bill for me, telling me give him $6, which of course is BS. I know from smoking shisha at many local places it should cost like $2 tops. After an argument I ended up paying $3, which doesn’t matter about the money, its just the principle, especially when you know for a fact that some dickhead is deliberately trying to get some extra money out of you, and he doesn’t even work at the cafe! Too many experiences like this and it really starts to grind your gears!
The next day I woke up the see the temple of Horus, and to my surprise it was jam packed right after sunrise at 7am or so. It turned out that all the feluccas all get there at the same time! So I was quite annoyed by this, because there is nothing worse than two dozen tour groups roaming around the temple with their little flags when you thought it was going to be empty! Even if you have a little room to yourself for a little bit one of the tour groups busts in and basically forces you out of the room. But then by 8am all the tour groups had gone back to their boats and I had the whole temple to myself, which was of course what I wanted. It’s pretty damn cool to have temples so large and impressive all to yourself!
Edfu was also great to walk around in the morning, as it’s a very agricultural city, so you can see lots of guys taking their donkeys to and from the fields. I even found a big Coptic Church randomly outside of town, but then they didn’t let me in because I didn’t have my passport. Bummer!
Marsa Alam: My next point on the trip was the small town of Marsa Alam, back on the Red Sea coast. I had been told that I couldn’t take public transportation across the desert back to the Red Sea and I would have to hire a private transfer. Travel in Egypt isn’t always easy. The cost I was quoted from Aswan to Marsa Alam was 150 euros!! Haahah. And it was a complete lie. I was able to use public transport for the equivalent of $6. It wasn’t very comfortable, but there’s no way in hell I’d pay 150 euros for five hours worth of driving.
The village of Marsa Alam is really nothing much, it’s mostly under construction. When I stopped in a gas station to buy some food the guy asked me where I was working, because I guess the only foreigners that stay in town work in the oil and gas industry. I was just there one night and then headed to Port Ghalib, which is where my liveaboard boat would depart from. The hotel owner got me the local taxi price, which was nice of him, as the taxi driver assured me he’d try to get two or three times as much from a foreigner, but being it was his good friend who owned the hotel, he would respect the Egyptian price. Thanks broham. An hour later he dropped me off in the harbor, where are the liveaboards were docked. Nice place! Here I’d find my boat and head off for a week of diving in the Southern Red Sea!