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Phespirit goes to Egypt
tour     January/February 2009

Egypt's greatest treasure is the river Nile. It measures distance and time across a vast and ancient land. Legendary cities of the living and the dead have endured around its fertile plains from Lake Nasser in the south to the delta in the north, reaching across five millennia and more than fifteen hundred kilometres. It is a useful yardstick for the would-be visitor. Phespirit knew he would have a lot of travelling to do if he wanted to see so much history. He started by flying into Cairo, where he visited the old Islamic city, the unparalleled Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, the pyramids of Giza, and earlier pyramids at Saqqara and Dahshur. Next he moved on to Aswan, taking the night train from Cairo, south along the Nile valley.

Noteworthy delays on the sleeper from Cairo to Aswan are said to be rare, but fortune allowed Phespirit to experience one. His train left Giza Station at 9:25pm, over an hour late. Departure was so smooth that Phespirit only noticed it when he glanced through the window of his private compartment. This seemed to augur well for sleep, but an all-too-familiar clickety-clack vibration set in when the engine got up to full speed. Dinner was served twenty minutes after departure, airline-style in severely battered foil cartons. Concealed delicacies included white fish, brown meat and yellow rice. Phespirit tucked into the fish and rice, fully expecting nature's harshest consequences in the morning. It tasted good at the time, though, and the harsh consequences never came to pass.

When the carriage attendant returned to clear away leftovers he pressed a button in the compartment that collapsed the seats forward to reveal a clean, neatly made bed. Phespirit was tired enough when he climbed in, yet as the night progressed he had no notion that he was getting any sleep. The constant rattling of wall panels didn't help, but he suffered it without the passage of time weighing too heavily upon him. He only started noticing stops after six in the morning. By quarter past seven the train had reached Luxor; at quarter to nine (after breakfast) it arrived at Edfu; around ten o'clock it passed Kom Ombo; all places to which Phespirit would return by cruiser. Arriving in Aswan a little before quarter to eleven, he left the station and went directly to the Crédit Agricole Egypt bank across the street to top up on funds for the rest of his tour.

Aswan is a convenient base for return trips along the desert road to Abu Simbel. Phespirit was picked up from his hotel at 3:25am and transported by minibus into the midst of a vast collection of coaches waiting to be cleared to join the 'tourist convoy'. This took about half an hour, but once on the open road the traffic quickly thinned out so that for most of the journey there wasn't another vehicle in view. Certainly there was not the nose-to-tail procession that Phespirit imagined, and no mobile security to be seen either; just a couple of checkpoints by the roadside. He arrived in Abu Simbel shortly after seven o'clock, which allowed plenty of time for visiting the glorious Sun Temple of Ramses II and the Hathor Temple of Queen Nefertari before departing with the 10:00am convoy back to Aswan.

After three days and two nights in Aswan, Phespirit checked on to the Mirage I Nile Cruiser for a leisurely passage north to Luxor calling at Kom Ombo and Edfu along the way. The vessel itself, the pace of travel, the scenery and the sunshine were everything that he could have wanted, but the blasted cold north wind that blew incessantly across the exposed upper deck was an unwelcome bonus. Sights to see around Luxor are many, varied and magnificent. Through all his time in Egypt, Phespirit was at his most content when exploring the Theban Necropolis tombs in the Valley of the Kings.

When the time came to move on again it was along the desert road to the Red Sea port of Safaga, then turning north through Hurghada to El Gouna. Heading east out of Luxor, Phespirit left the city via the El Amary checkpoint at around twenty past ten. He continued alongside a canal through cultivated land for more than an hour until the greenery eventually made way for the outskirts of the Eastern desert. After a further hour of driving through open desert, plus a half hour refreshment break, the road began meandering through brown rocky hills devoid of vegetation. These increased in magnitude to become full-blown Red Sea Mountains, which only receded when the Red Sea itself came into view at ten to two in the afternoon.

Having travelled by plane, train, minibus, cruiser and coach - not to mention the occasional felucca and ferry - Phespirit's final mode of touring transport was a boat out of Hurghada in the direction of Giftun Island for a full day's snorkelling. This refreshing change in tempo was a nice way to conclude his time in Egypt. After one last night in El Gouna, he went by minibus to Hurghada airport, by Embraer E-170 to Cairo airport, and by Boeing 777 to London Heathrow. And at London Heathrow his luggage was lost for just long enough to warrant him filling out multiple forms. Phespirit loves travelling.

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