A year ago my brother Tim and I were in Egypt!
As usual, my sketchbook and watercolors came along and I was able to keep track of some of my favorite parts of the trip.
Since most of us can’t go gallivanting off on our usual travels, I thought it would be a neat idea to share some of the pages of this travel journal and brighten your summer a bit. It certainly makes me excited to see these pages again!
This first day started with leaving Kansas City, flying to Paris, running around Paris before hopping back on a plane to Cairo. Actually, that was day zero.
Day one was waking up in Cairo, overlooking the Nile, and seeing where the pyramids would have been visible if it wasn’t for the haze!
Dotting the surface of the Nile, were barges, speedboats, and the graceful white sails of feluccas , Egyptian sailboats. The sounds of the city were invigorating! Constant honking filled the air. Everyone honks over there. You can’t go anywhere on the road without hearing constant honks! It’s their way of saying “Hey, watch out for me, I’m here!
That day, we went to Alexandria with a tour guide and saw mainly Roman ruins, and got to talk to the tour guide about everything under the sun, including religion and politics. Our guide was very conservative minded, And I think it’s safe to say that there was mutual appreciation of each other’s conversation!
I for one love how the Muslims were so so upfront about the topics Americans shy away from, but yet are so influential in our daily lives, that is, religion and politics! They get right down to business and don’t mind talking about what is closest to the heart!
Alexandria was a city that needed to be revisited. It was so much we didn’t see, like some of the churches where Alexander might be buried. The Mediterranean was beautiful, the seafood incredible, but my favorite part was just being in a city established by Alexander the great, I only wish my students could’ve been there to soak it up with me!
Day 2 : The Pyramids
Have you ever seen an incredible beautiful cathedral, or a majestic mountain that has you totally mesmerized and lost for words? The sight brings you contentment, and yet an overwhelming, peaceful awe.
That’s what it was like seeing and being at the pyramids. Such magnificent, quiet strength, one structure of massive stones stacked block upon block, rising out of the ground. All nine pyramids at that location have been standing, erect, waiting quietly for at least 5000 years!
After walking around part of it, Tim and I started climbing! I climbed high enough to merit getting yelled at by an Egyptian cop to climb down. I wish I could’ve made it to the top! But there was some satisfaction in going as high as I could and getting reprimanded for it!
After walking around as much as our guide allowed, we went beyond the pyramids to the edge of the Sahara and rode camels. Do you know Chewbacca from Star Wars? He sounds just like a camel!
After gazing longer at the sites of the great pyramids of Giza, we rode further down to even older pyramids, and saw the very first, Djoser’s pyramid, the Bent pyramid, the Red pyramid, and then even went inside of a very, very old one.
They decorate the ceilings with stars, which look like starfish. Again, reminded my of Cathedrals. And covering the walls are the finest chiseled carvings of hieroglyphs, which form incantations asking eternal life for the pharaoh.
The day ended with me failing at making pita with some local women, eating out in a Bedouin tent, and taking an overnight train to the southern Egypt for more adventures.
Day 3 Southern Egypt
By now it was easier to relax in the Egyptian culture. Haggling was now enjoyable and rewarding.
And seeing the temples in the heat of the day was becoming a regular thing.
The page above captures some of the common scenes of even the most crowded streets of Egyptian cities and towns.
The other pages capture scenes from Philo temple, a temple accessible only by boat.
Within this temple we saw signs of the early Christians trying to turn the temple around for the worship of the true God.
That evening I wasn’t feeling so well, so while everyone else went and had dinner at The Grand Hotel, I was able to spend some quiet time by the Nile, gaze out at the ancient burial cliffs across the way, and wax poetical.
Below you can see the poem, illustrated with the sights seen during the visitation of the muse.
Day 4: Abu Simbel and Sailing Down the Nile
Day 4 started out early. 3 AM. Our bus took even further south, through the Sahara. As the sun came up, or we could see sand, black road disappearing into the darkness, and sky that gradually change colors as the day dawned.
If you’ve ever driven in Minnesota in the winter and you know what it’s like to see the snow swirl across the road and disappear into a wintry tundra. That is exactly what it’s like in the Sahara. Sand swirls across the road, often of obscuring it from view, and you can see on the edges of the road where snow-shovel like tractors have tried to keep the road clear.
Flies materialize out of nowhere and descend upon you.
Hours of driving through sand and sky, we made it all the way down to Abu Simbel, the southernmost ancient landmark on. The Egyptian/Libyan border. It’s both an imposing “Welcome to Egypt,” ordered by Ramses II, and a ginormous temple carved into a massive cliff.
Interesting facts: Inside the cliff/temple is all covered with colorful stories told in hieroglyphs. The closer you are to the exit of the temple, the more violent the depictions are, but as you near the sanctuary, the depictions and prayers become more peaceful. Neat symbolism.
From there we went back to our hotel, and packed up for our felucca trip. We got into the sailboat, manned by our warm, hospitable, and gentle Nubian crew members.
The next two days would be the most delicious and relaxing days I’ve ever experienced. But more on that later.
Day 5: Sailing along the Nile
A strong breeze cools off those of us sitting in the sun on the upper deck of the sailboat, as the felucca moves through a carpet of clear, cool blue water. A regal edging of palm trees and lush fields contrast starkly with the golden background border of massive Saharan dunes.
When we weren’t cannon-balling into the Nile, sipping on mint tea, chatting while letting little fish nibble at your feet and trying to swim against the strong current, leisurely time lead to deep conversation and contemplation.
I couldn’t help but think of the millennia of history that had sailed up and down that very body of water, of the pharaohs that had sailed their royal barges from one capital to the other, of Moses as a infant, being carried along in his reed basket.
The best memories were theological conversations with our guide, underneath the stars, which lead to a group discussion the next day. I was so grateful to my alma Mater St. Mary’s College for the mental formation to represent my faith and Christ-centered history.
There was also watching some nomad shepherds prepare the roasting of coffee under the stars.
but that’s for another post.
The warmth of our Nubian crew and the captains son Ziand made us feel at home. When we ran out of coffee grounds and I asked for Turkish coffee, one of the guys ran to beg some from a family boat near our remote night anchorage. That’s care!
They also grilled for us and provided sheeshah for the hookah as we on our last lazy evening.
Soon after watching the sunrise for a second time over the Nile, and Tim take a last swim for his morning bath, we were on our way to Kom Ombo, a temple built to honor the crocodile gods. 🐊
Day 6 Bye-bye feluccas, Croc mummies, and Luxor.
Days 6 started with a final swim, and a bittersweet breakfast. It was a little sad saying goodbye to the crew of felucca. I’m very grateful for Mohammed and Co. and his son Ziad’s hospitality and care. Sailing down and I was one of the best parts of the trip.
Kom Ombo was all about honoring the crocodiles and other parts of the afterlife. Some of the structures are very recent, from the Ptolomaic dynasty.
You can still see colorful pint bedecking the millenia old stone. And the pillars are so big and tall.
Had a nice chat with the man in charge of the museum and the temple about education and history.
Turns out St. Mary’s Academy in #stmarysks does a great job with their ancient history, at least according to educated Egyptians!
Also saw the famous cobra lured out of his basket by a charmer, and was beseiged by a bunch of boys who could of been my students.
They were selling trinkets, and wanted to swap my watch for their little bracelets.
After “la-ing” over and over to them while trying to make it back to the bus in time – la means no in Arabic- they made me a gift of the bracelets as I got into the car. I was touched because I genuinely had nothing to give them at the time. Now when I look at my watch, which I almost surrendered, I hear in my ears, “You make me gift? You give me nice watch?”
After relaxing for a bit in Luxor, the City of Gold, exploring with a fellow tourist and and haggling at the fabric market for a future tablecloth, we went to the famous Temple of Luxor.
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