Prepaid GSM

Red sea coast, Luxor, Upper Nile, Abu Simbel, Cairo
Part 2

21.12: Munich -> Hurghada
22.12: Hurghada -> Luxor
23.12: Luxor
24.12: Luxor -> Assuan (Aswan)
25.12: Assuan
26.12: Assuan
27.12: Assuan -> Abu Simbel
28.12: Abu Simbel -> Assuan -> Cairo
29.12: Cairo
30.12: Cairo
31.12: Cairo
01.01: Cairo -> Hurghada (Sigala)
02.01: Hurghada (Sigala)
03.01: Hurghada
04.01: Hurghada -> Munich

Go to Part 1

22.12: Hurghada -> Luxor
Mercure Inn Hotel, Luxor, $45/night for a double room with TV, bathroom, A/C, telephone etc. Room is ok, but the Marriott one was much better.
Weather: cold... the daytime temperature hovers around 20 degrees and there is a cold wind blowing. Too cold to wear shorts and T-shirt and I need to wear a (thin) jacket even during the day. Sunshine the whole day with a spotless blue sky.
GSM coverage: MobiNil Egypt GSM in Hurghada, then the phone switches to Egy Click GSM. Coverage available along the road Hurghada - Luxor

The wake up call wakes us up at 6:30am. At about 7:15 am we go down to the Shorouk restaurant and have a breakfast. An excellent breakfast by the way, as it's buffet style and there is huge variety of delicious things to choose from. The orange juice is freshly squeezed.

After checking out and paying we make a reservation for January 3rd (the day before our return flight to Germany). Outside the hotel the car is already waiting for us - a Toyota Corolla of Hertz. We leave at 8:15am and first drive to Safaga. The driver drives relatively fast, averaging 100 - 120 km/h, but the road is in good condition, with few curves and quite wide.

At 8:55am we stop at a parking lot in Safaga, where other cars, minibuses and buses are waiting. The convoy leaves at 9am with a police car in the front and one in the back. This is meant to give some kind of protection in case of terrorist attacks. The land between Safaga and Qena is very arid, a desert with no vegetation. We make brief stops every hour and finally reach Luxor at 1pm.

When we check in at the Mercure Inn (hotel is ok, but not too great), it turns out that the reception knows nothing about the reservation we made through Expedia. After checking in we have a brief lunch in the restaurant of the hotel. At 2:30 pm we take a taxi to the Karnak temple complex (20 Egyptian pounds). The Karnak temple is spectacular and we spend two hours there. It is very crowded today with groups of (package) tourists everywhere. By the way, every now and then people ask for tips (backshish) for performing small services, such as showing us a good spot for a photo for instance. They ask for one or two Euro - quite a lot of money for such a small service. The LP guide recommends to give no more than 50 piastres (7 Euro cents).

At 4:40 pm we take a taxi back to the hotel, where Shirley takes a rest, while I sort through the photos. We go out again at about 7 pm. We first check our emails in a nearby Internet cafe (5 L.E. for half an hour, slow connection), then walk to the Everest hotel where we book the west bank tour for tomorrow. This includes three tombs of kings, three tombs of queens, the Memnon colossi and the Hatshepsut temple. We will leave at 8:15am (wake up again early morning) and be back around 2 pm. Price inclusive of all entry tickets is 90 L.E. after some discussion - the LP guide quotes prices between 45 and 65 L.E., but the organiser insists that the price for the entry tickets has doubled (?) since last year.

Then we take a horse carriage (would have preferred a taxi, but couldn't manage to get rid of the horse carriage guy) to the Jems restaurant (recommended in the LP guide). But actually it's a bit romantic to get around town with a horse carriage, although we are freezing as the evening is more than fresh. Food in the Jems restaurant is good and cheap (65 L.E. for the two of us), even if we have to wait for a long time.

I have been thinking that we will only stay two nights in Luxor, instead of the three originally planned. Basically in two days we will be able to see all major sights (not every single tomb on the west bank - but who cares) and people in Luxor harass you - always try to sell you something. No need to stay longer here. We will instead stay longer in Assuan, perhaps three nights, as it should be less touristic than Luxor (probably less harassment) and the scenery should be very nice with the Nile river, the lake and the islands. Will probably do Abu Simbel as a day trip from Assuan - it probably makes no sense to stay overnight in Abu Simbel.

23.12: Luxor
Mercure Inn Hotel, Luxor
Weather: sunny, dry and fresh to cold temperature
GSM coverage: Egy Click GSM (and perhaps also MobiNil)

The wake up call wakes us up at 7 am. After the breakfast we are picked up at 8:30am by the tour car and shortly after the tour begins. We cross the Nile with a boat, then get into a minivan and until 2 pm we visit the Memnon Colossi, tombs of the queens and tombs of Kings. In between the guide makes a stop at an alabaster factory. At 2 pm, when we'd like to finally eat something (there is no open cafeteria or restaurant in the entire archaeological zone), the guide suggests to stop at a Papyrus factory (another sales presentation). We cut it short and get back to the hotel on our own. While crossing the Nile, the boatsman offers us a boat trip on the Nile up to Banana island for 70 L.E., which we accept (later somebody offers us a trip for 40 L.E. - perhaps we paid too much?).

In any case we have to rush a bit, as it's almost 3 pm and the sun will set at 5 pm. We have a "fast" lunch at the McDonald, then take off with the boat (a felucca sailboat) at 3:30pm. There is not enough wind, so we don't make it until Banana island, but the boat ride is very nice and relaxing. We are back at 5:45pm and go straight to the hotel. In the evening we have a dinner in the hotel's restaurant and then check the emails in an Internet cafe. We book a room for three nights in Assuan in the Happi hotel (65 L.E. per night).

Tomorrow we'll drive to Assuan with a taxi. Price will be 250 L.E. and we will leave at 7 am with the convoy. We couldn't find a cheaper rate - I checked with the hotel and with taxi drivers in two different places. They all quoted a fare of 250 L.E. and were not willing to reduce the price. They were also not willing to leave at a later time without convoy. There is an 11 am convoy, but it doesn't stop at the temples (it doesn't make any stops at all).

By the way, the people in Luxor are not too terrible, in fact they are less terrible than what my impression was two years ago. There is a lot of hassle if you walk past shops or are near the monuments, with people even chasing you with their goods, but many people in Luxor make a good impression - friendly and honest. They even have sense of humour. I think the fact that this time I'm travelling with my wife makes a difference. The key probably is engaging them in a conversation - two years ago I just would pass by simply ignoring them, but if you stop and talk with them and explain why you don't need their goods/services, they get much more friendly and stop harassing you. I guess there is a certain number of black sheep and a reasonable majority of locals (for the tourist attractions different rules apply - there hassle is unavoidable).

24.12: Luxor -> Assuan (Aswan)
Happi Hotel, Assuan. Very cheap at 65 L.E. for a double room with bath, fridge, TV, telephone and a balcony. The room is fine and clean. The road below is a bit noisy. In the lobby of the hotel they have a computer with Internet access for the hotel guests (10 L.E./hour)
Weather: sunny and dry, spotless blue sky. Cold in the morning in Luxor, less cold in Assuan
GSM coverage: Egy Click GSM and MobiNil; coverage along the road

We get up very early in the morning at 5:30am and are ready after breakfast at 6:50am. When checking out the guy at the reception of the Mercure Inn refuses to accept Egyptian pounds - weird, we are in Egypt and the Egyptians refuse to take their own money.

The taxi driver is not in front of the hotel, but after a while I manage to find him. We reach the gathering point where the convoy to Edfu and Assuan starts a couple of minutes before 7am. The convoy leaves at 7am sharp.

Security in Egypt is TIGHT. It's not just the police escorted convoys, at the entrance to every town there is a police checkpoint manned with heavily armed police and soldiers. There are bunker like structures and fortified towers where soldiers or policemen with assault rifles (or machine guns?) are stationed. Every major tourist attraction is shielded by the police - just to make an example, in front of the Karnak temple in Luxor there was an armoured police vehicle with a machine gun on the top. To enter into (international class) hotels you have to pass through a metal detector. This evening we had to pass through a metal detector to get into a restaurant here in Assuan (see below).

Anyway, the convoy drives at high speed along the Nile, and our stupid driver gets as close as half a meter to the bus in front - at 100 Km/h - before we tell this jerk that it is just too dangerous to almost touch the back of a bus at 100 Km/h.

At 8am there is a first stop (20 minutes) during which apparently the police escort is replaced. We reach the Horus temple in Edfu at 9:15am (Horus being the falcon god of the ancient Egyptians). Very impressive temple, almost completely intact, but also completely and hopelessly overcrowded with tourists, because everybody who stays in Luxor has to take the 7am convoy to get to Edfu to see the temple. We don't manage to get into the central chamber because it is so overcrowded.

At 10:23am we leave Edfu and drive towards Kom Ombo. Now the convoy is considerably smaller, because most tourists from Luxor simply go to Edfu and not further. The drive proceeds smoothly and as always at high speed across the Nile valley. The road is in very good conditions, most of the time very wide and without holes, allowing high driving speeds. We reach the temple in Kom Ombo at 11:35am. This temple is less well preserved, but still quite impressive.

Around 12 pm we leave the temple and drive to Assuan. We reach the hotel at 1 pm. Assuan is less beautiful as described in the LP guide, it is in fact a well developed, quite busy, modern town. Not as peaceful as I had imagined - perhaps I won't stay so long here as I was planning.

The hotel Happi has quite good rooms, considering that is is very cheap (65 L.E. per night - that's 9 Euro). After settling down we have lunch in the Al-Masry restaurant, recommended in the LP guide. Food is not good. We then get back to the hotel, where Shirley takes a rest, while I start sorting through the photos. Around sunset (5 pm) I go out to the Nile boulevard for some sunset shots, and I'm greeted by the touts who try to sell me a felucca trip.

Back in the hotel I enquire with a travel agent about tour options. The bus to Abu Simbel leaves at 3:30am - just too early. There are cruise boats which do the three day cruise to Abu Simbel for US $80/day per person, i.e. $480 for the two of us, which is too expensive. Then there are daily return flights to Abu Simbel - the price of the return flight + the taxi drives to and from the airport is US $90. I'll probably choose this option, but I'll check first with Egypt Air directly what price they charge for the flight. I also want to check if it is possible to fly to Abu Simbel one way, perhaps spend the night there and then fly the next day to Cairo. Other day tours would be with a felucca to the islands (and perhaps we'll do this tomorrow) and a tour to the Assuan dam and the Philae temple (US $8 per person).

In the evening we are victims of a "Euro change" scam. Poor young, innocent boy approaches us with five one Euro coins, asks to change them into Egyptian pounds, only asks for 30 pounds (5 Euro = 38 L.E. at the current rate). We give him 35 pounds, because we are so nice and with 30 Euro he would lose on the exchange rate. A couple of minutes later he is back with a friend, saying the friend told him the five Euro are worth 45 pounds and he wants the difference, bla bla bla. So we give him back the five Euro and get back the 35 pounds (at least we think so). Shortly after the poor boy shows up again, says 'oh please change again my 5 Euro ... give me only 30 pounds...'. We look into the pocket where we put the 35 Euro and surprise, surprise there are only 15.50 Euro (a 10 Euro bill, a five Euro bill and a 50 piastres bill). For a second or two I'm unsure what happened, but it basically turns out that the 50 piastres bill has the same green colour as the 20 pounds bill - the innocent boy must have replaced the 20 pounds bill with the 50 piastres before he returned us the Egyptian money (and we didn't check...). Nice little scam which netted him 19.50 pounds.

I'm a bit unsure about what to do over the next days. I'll obviously finish visiting Abu Simbel and Assuan and then fly to Cairo, the only question is from where and when exactly. Then I'd like to visit for a few days the Sinai peninsula (there is some nice desert with oases and canyons) before getting back to Hurghada. But I don't know yet what exactly to visit and how to get there. I'll think about it tomorrow.

25.12: Assuan (Aswan)
Happi Hotel, Assuan
Weather: sunny and dry, blue sky with a very thin clouds layer. It's getting warmer.
GSM coverage: Egy Click GSM and MobiNil

In the morning we get up relatively late (9 am) and after breakfast we walk to the tourist information next to the train station. On the way we stop briefly in a telecommunications office where they offer Internet access for 5 L.E. per hour. We reach the tourist office at 11:30am. The guy is unable to give us the schedule of the Egypt Air flights (we are supposed to go to the EgyptAir office for that).

We take a taxi to the EgyptAir bureau, where they tell us that all flights are fully booked until next Tuesday (Dec 30th). Since it's already noon we take another taxi to the Chef Khalil seafood restaurant, where we have some fish (food is ok, but not too impressive, 66 L.E. for two). We then walk back to the hotel and at 1:30 pm we take a taxi to the Assuan high dam (30 L.E., about 20 km south of Assuan). Kind of impressive, but from the position where tourists are allowed to go the view is not that impressive. We drive back into town and stop briefly at the Coptic Orthodox cathedral for some photo shooting.

I find myself in the dumb situation of having no small change for tips (backshish). Today I had to ask the guardian of the Coptic church who showed me around in the church to change 10 L.E. I explained him how much he should return me of those 10 pounds. A bit embarrassing, but people here are reluctant to change any note larger than 20 L.E., so that you quickly end up with no small change.

Around 3 pm we take a felucca (= sailboat) for a trip around the islands until after sunset. We negotiate a price of 50 L.E. with the tout on the Nile boulevard. We then take off and because there is absolutely no wind the captain and his assistant have to row all the way. Since I feel a bit sorry seeing an old man rowing a heavy boat for us, I alternate the rowing job with him. The tour through the islands is nice and we're back a bit after 5:30 pm. When getting back to the dock, the problems begin. We were thinking of paying the 50 L.E. and give a tip of 10 L.E., but surprisingly the captain requests a tip of 40 L.E. for himself. A lot of discussion starts, with the tout joining us and the captain getting very upset. It's not entirely clear what the problem is, but either the tout keeps the lion share of the 50 L.E. for himself and the captain and his assistant get almost nothing, depending substantially on the tip, or the tout didn't inform the captain about the price we agreed upon. Anyway, it's a shame that this thing happens - the tout should have clearly explained to the captain how much we agreed upon and/or the tout shouldn't keep so much of the payment for himself. This needless discussion spoils the good mode. We give another 10 L.E. tip each to both the captain and his assistant (they seem to be happy) and we then walk back to the hotel.

At 8pm we meet the travel agent with whom I made an appointment for 7pm, to discuss the trip to Abu Simbel (this guy had been recommended by the tourist information guy, Mr Kakeem Hussein). Surprisingly now a flight from Abu Simbel to Cairo is available, although only on Sunday. We would be leaving by plane on Saturday around 11 am, spend the night in the Nefertari hotel there and fly to Cairo on Sunday. Everything is ok until I ask for the price - US $445 person, for a total of US $890. I'm quite shocked by the high price - later when checking I find out that this travel agent is charging us US $300 more than what things cost (the Nefertari is $80 according to LP, two one way flights to Abu Simbel should be $90 and the flight Abu Simbel - Cairo is 175 Euro, i.e. $210, per person). When I ask if we can just book the flight Abu Simbel - Cairo the travel agent says no. We can only have the flight if we book the overpriced package. It then becomes clear that the reason all flights are fully booked is that travel agents book all flights in advance to force tourists to buy overpriced packages.

In the evening we have a dinner in the Aswan Moon restaurant. Food is good and the atmosphere is nice. After dinner we ask a couple of taxi drivers if they would drive us to Abu Simbel and all refuse. The only way to get there is by minibus in a convoy, plane and perhaps (?) bus. By the way, the minibus would leave at 3:30am - an absolutely crazy time and not necessary in winter when it's fresh enough to travel during the day. Looks like tomorrow we will also be stuck in Assuan - it's getting a bit frustrating. I discuss a couple of options with Shirley. We could make it to Abu Simbel by car/bus and then go to Abu Simbel airport and try to catch a flight on standby. It's plausible that seats might be available even if the plane is fully booked.

26.12: Assuan (Aswan)
Happi Hotel, Assuan
Weather: sunny and dry, blue sky partly clouded, very windy day. Today it's colder, because of the cloud cover and the wind.
GSM coverage: Egy Click GSM and MobiNil

After getting up around 9 am and having breakfast, we leave the hotel a bit after 10 am. We first walk to the travel agency on the Corniche street near the hotel (we spotted it yesterday) and ask if they can book a flight for us. The answer is no. So we walk to the Assuan bus station, which is empty (perhaps all buses already left - by the way today is Friday, the Islamic prayer day and many shops are closed).

Since we are near to the station we walk to the tourist information and tell the guy that we are having problems etc. but there is nothing he can do for us. So we walk out and surprise, we run into Ahmed, the travel agent whom we met yesterday. I explain once again that the US $890 for the package is way beyond out budget and he promises that he will try to help us and put us on a minibus to an overnight return trip to Abu Simbel and then try to put us on a flight to Cairo.
Just not to leave anything untried we take a taxi and go again to the EgyptAir office, and surprise, surprise, this time the flight Assuan-Abu Simbel-Assuan this time is available. We book two seats, leaving tomorrow and returning on Sunday. The travel agent also puts us on the waiting list for the Sunday 10 am flight from Assuan to Cairo. If we indeed managed to get that 10 am flight, it would be great. Whatever happens we'll be on standby at the airport in Assuan - worst case we'll have to get to Cairo overland or with a flight from Luxor.
Since it's almost noon we go to a nearby restaurant along the Nile (the Panorama), whose prices are half of the prices of the other Assuan restaurants. The food is decent and the bill amounts to only 29 L.E. for the lunch for the two of us. Then the idea would be to catch a taxi and visit the Nubian museum, which however closes at 1 pm and reopens at 5 pm (it's 1:15pm now). So we take a taxi and go to the ferry to Elephantine island (1 L.E. per person one way). On the island there is a Nubian village - an original one, not a resettled one, as an old man explains us. The island is kind of interesting, with the Nubian houses, date palms, other trees and cultivated fields. But it's also very dusty and undeveloped (no paved roads or paths).
Around 2:50pm we are on the opposite side of the Elephantine island, the one facing Kitchener island. We take a boat (5 L.E.) and cross over to Kitchener island, where there is a not that impressive botanical garden. What's more impressive are the crowds of local people who are here apparently for picnics or Friday afternoon walks (Friday is the Sunday of the Islamic world).
It's almost 4pm when we finally leave the island and get back to the hotel, by again fetching two boats and crossing Elephantine island. Around 4:40 pm we are in the hotel where we use the Internet for about one hour. We look for a hotel in Abu Simbel (the Nefertari costs US $100 for a double and the Seti First is $175 - more than we'd like to spend). We cannot find any information on the Abu Simbel Village Hotel, where we are going to stay. We also cannot find an - let's say - affordable, centrally located hotel in Cairo. On Expedia there is the Mövenpick Heliopolis hotel with a deal for 72 Euro/night, which we might pay, but it's inconveniently located near the airport, out of town. The other hotels are more expensive. It's also not clear when exactly we are going to be in Cairo, as the Sunday flight to Cairo is still not confirmed. So we simply don't book anything yet.
By the way, I still don't know what exactly we are going to do after Cairo - the idea would be to spend some days in the Sinai, but I don't have a detailed plan yet.
Around 5:50pm we fetch a taxi to the Nubian museum (entry is 20 L.E. per person). The museum has the security level of an international airport - we have to pass through two metal detector gates. I don't think it's good for a pregnant woman to pass so frequently through metal detector gates, but in the whole of Egypt there is this security craze. The museum itself is interesting, as it gives you a deeper understanding of Nubia, the region between Assuan and Khartoum. We spend about 45 minutes in the museum, then take a taxi to the Assuan Moon restaurant, where we had our dinner yesterday. Around 9pm we are back in the hotel.

27.12: Assuan (Aswan) -> Abu Simbel
Abu Simbel Tourist Village Hotel, Abu Simbel. 90 L.E. (110 with breakfast) for a double room with bath and A/C. The room sucks, but the alternatives are much more expensive (the Nefertari costs US $ 100, the Seti First US $ 175). The Abu Simbel Tourist Village hotel is about 1.5 Km from the temple, forcing you to do a long walk or rely on taxis (only four taxis in the whole of Abu Simbel (?)). Our room is full of mosquitoes and the hot water of the shower comes from a tiny 1.5 KWatt heater with perhaps 20 litres capacity - meaning that (hot) showers don't last long. But never mind, you can stay in this place for one night to save $85 or more for the room. The Nefertari and the Seti First are also not so special.
Weather: sunny, dry and cold. Strong cold wind in Abu Simbel. Hard to believe it can be so cold in this place so far to the south.
GSM coverage: Egy Click GSM and MobiNil

We get up at 7:30am and have breakfast. After, since it's just 9 am we walk into town, where Shirley buys some souvenirs. We call EgyptAir and the Sunday flight to Cairo is still on waiting list. But there is a flight on Sunday afternoon at 2:30 pm which is available. So we book that, although I still hope to get the 10 am flight.

At 9:45 am we take a taxi to the airport (25 L.E.). In the airport the security freaks force me to take off my shoes and have them scanned. The scanners are so sensitive that the tiniest amount of metal makes them beep. A lady has to take off her earrings to get through the scanner. The flight to Abu Simbel takes off on time on an Airbus A320 and arrives half an hour later. Most tourists are on packages, with just a few ones travelling independently.

Taxis in Abu Simbel are few and the prices are higher than in Assuan. We "hire" a taxi driver for the day - the total he gets for today and tomorrow for bringing us around is 100 L.E. (distances are short by the way - 1 Km to 1.5 Km).

We check in at the Abu Simbel Village hotel (see above) - a cheap but not so good option. After that we drive to the temples and after a sandwich at the Cafeteria we start our tour of the temples. There are two of the - the famous one with the four pharaohs seated and another smaller one, also carved in the rock. Both were saved from the rising waters of lake Nasser in an unprecedented international effort in the 1960s. The temples are quite impressive, well worth the trip.

At about 3:40pm we drive to the Nefertari hotel where we have a late lunch. One hour later we drive to the hotel. At 6pm we get back to the temples for the evening Light & Sound show of 7 pm. Well, the temples are not yet illuminated, in fact they are completely dark, it is freezing cold and there is a strong wind blowing. We retreat to the entrance and wait there until 6:50pm, then walk back to the temples.

The Light & Sound show is a great multimedia event. Sounds, colours, with the hill sides used as giant screens for projectors. A pity my Japanese is so bad - I only manage to catch a few words ("watashi wa", "anata wa", "soshite"), as the entire show today is in Japanese. By the way, you can rent blankets for 5 L.E.

After the show, at 7:45pm we drive to the Seti First hotel, but this evening they only have a buffet for US $17 and we just need a small thing. So we retreat to the Nefertari, where we have a small thing. After that we get back to the hotel. Tomorrow I'll drive at 6am again to the temples to take some sunrise photos, then Shirley and I will drive to the airport and take the 7:45am flight to Assuan. Then I'll try to get seats on the 10 am flight to Cairo on standby.

Copyright (c) 2003 Alfred Molon