Given how close Israel is to Egypt, I didn’t want to let an opportunity to see the Great Pyramids pass me by. So I convinced Donna to join me on a quick side trip to Egypt. And I do mean quick! We booked an excursion which picked us up at 9pm on Friday night from a hotel in Eilat (George stayed in Eilat since he opted to skip the side trip). The van drove us to the Taba border to cross from Israel to Egypt. The Taba border crossing is currently the only entry/exit point between the two countries that handles tourists. Since we made arrangements for the visit through a tour operator, we were provided with our Egyptian visa which had been arranged in advance (helped speed up the process for sure!). Once making it through security, we waited a few minutes for our van which would be taking us all the way to Cairo. During the wait, we talked with the 2 other passengers who would be joining us – a mother and daughter from Mexico who were spending 5 days in Egypt.
When the van finally pulled up, the tour liaison said goodbye and we were left with the van driver who spoke maybe 5 words in English. He put on his music and we started on our way. Since it was getting late, the plan was to sleep during the drive through the Sinai desert (we crossed under the canal as well) so we would be fresh in the morning. I found myself pretty restless since I was excited to finally be in Egypt. Probably a good thing since the road conditions were not ideal for sleeping. For a while I was convinced we were driving on dirt roads but the roads were just bad and covered with sand which had been blown onto the road. We probably went through 50 security checkpoints (each stop met with someone toting a machine gun….a few times they would check the van and ask for our passports) and made a couple of stops in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.
I got maybe 2 hours of sleep in total that night but we finally arrived in the morning in Cairo. We made our way through the city and it’s hectic traffic – our driver even pulled over on a very busy road and ran across traffic to buy everyone a falafel sandwich for breakfast. The first stop for the tour was the Egyptian Museum, one of the most impressive antiquities museums in the world. Once we arrived, the two ladies we rode with were assigned a tour guide who spoke Spanish and Donna and I were assigned a guide who spoke English. I was told that I was not able to take my camera into the museum which made me quite disappointed. My disappointment turned into frustration as I noticed many other tourists with their cameras once we got through the entrance security check. Apparently our guide had failed to mention there was an option to bring your camera in for a nominal fee. Grrr… Donna was not feeling well from the long drive so she opted to find a spot while the guide and I made our way through the many exhibits. The museum is HUGE and honestly it’s pretty overwhelming with the large crowds. But it was amazing to see so many artifacts in one place.
After the museum, we went to the Papyrus Institute which was also a cool experience. I will say they are full of very persistent salesmen but I did enjoy it and picked up a few items to take home.
After lunch, we finally made our way to the pyramids. The Giza pyramid complex is an archaeological site on the outskirts of Cairo. It includes the three Great Pyramids (Khufu/Cheops, Khafre/Chephren and Menkaure), the Great Sphinx, as well as some other sites. The Great Pyramids is by far the oldest of the ancient Wonders and the only one still in existence.
We then made our way around the complex to the area where the Sphinx is. I have to say while the Sphinx is not small by normal standards, it pales in scale to the pyramids themselves.
Once we left the pyramids, we made our way to another shop for some more hard selling for oils before getting back in the van to return to Israel (no staying in a hotel for us!). When we loaded the van, we quickly realized we would not be alone for the return as we found 2 men in the back of the van (who didn’t speak any English). But given we were headed back, we trusted everything was arranged properly and we made our way back through the desert and the bumpy roads. I think the driver was very motivated as he only stopped once for a bathroom break and was driving pretty reckless in between the security checkpoints. At one of the last checkpoints before getting back to Eilat, one of the security men got into a shouting match with the driver and the 2 men in the back of the van. Needless to say that was a bit awkward since we could not understand what the fuss was all about. The end result was the 2 men left the van and we continued on about another 30 minutes until we got back to the Taba border (thankfully!). Even though it was about 4am at that point, we had a bit of a wait to get through the border checkpoint in Israel before grabbing a taxi and heading to the hotel to wake up poor George and catching a quick nap before our next stop in Masada. Stay tuned for that adventure.
While our time in Egypt was short, it was definitely memorable. I would probably return to Egypt but would take a different travel plan to get there.