NOW is the perfect time to visit Egypt Part 2 of 3
You can read all we have done so far on our Nile Explorer tour here.
We woke really early at Hotel Helnan with a 3 a.m. start on Day 4 of our 9 Day tour in Egypt.
And with good reason, as there was an optional tour to the UNESCO world heritage site Abu Simbel.
Because this is quite a few hundred kilometers and close to the Sudanese border, the police offer an escort service to assist the tour buses. This escort service operates two times a day in each direction, and the convoy must stay together. It helps if any bus breaks down, aids in keeping track of tourists, and also as they require the many trucks to pull over to the side of the road, we found it was a clear road of traffic. I think there must have been about 40 tour buses that morning and can only imagine what it used to be like before the Revolution when tourism in Egypt was in full swing.
I loved this morning, except I did have to stop the bus a couple of times and dash to a sand mound on the side of the road for a bathroom break. But the good thing was, that on the way there my required ‘toilet stop’ was right as the sun decided to rise, so a few keen photographers were thankful as they grabbed their cameras and dashed out for a quick snap.
Ramses II built Abu Simbel and there are two temples – male and female, and no photographs are allowed inside. Likewise, these temples have been painstakingly moved to higher ground or they would have been submerged in the River Nile. You have to look closely to even see that it is all blocks now, and not carved in the rock like it used to be.
Out of all the places to visit, I would say this was an optional tour I am so glad we decided to come on.
On the way back I think we all slept soundly, even the tour guide and second driver who now was replaced at the wheel ‘crashed out’. Explorason had fun when he woke to snap photos of the rest of the tour group asleep.
We came back to the Hotel Helnan and I slipped into my nice fluffy toweling robe and slippers they had given us and packed the room. Then it was time for lunch (which was included in the tour) to be served on the Felucca boat.
We had one big Felucca which meant the tour group could all stay together, and there was also a 2nd motor driven boat.
This boat housed the two toilets, showers, the crew, a kitchen, and upper deck where we dined most nights.
But for the first lunch, we had it on board the Felucca.
After about an hour we set off for a leisurely sail in our Felucca along the famous River Nile.
Being wind-driven, it is really quiet and they don’t have a set plan as to where we will stop – it is all weather determined.
That evening before the sunset, we were all relaxing; talking; playing cards; drinking; telling stories; getting to know each other, and generally having a good time.
Then it was dinner time with great traditional Egyptian food (again included in the tour package price) as we settled for the night on the bank.
I had brought lightweight sleeping bags, and as we went to bed we were both so hot.
So silly, I never grabbed a blanket. Soon it was cold, and the sleeping bags were next to useless and thin, and I froze all night.
Explorason was eaten alive by mosquitoes, and sadly I had no repellent (as we were told there usually weren’t any mosquitoes at this time of year). He woke up a spotted mess.
We both arose early, and I looked up to see Explorason had disappeared. He had grabbed the camera and was off for a morning walk and a few photographs.
I joined him, and to our delight, we discovered a local farmer who lived under a tree and was smoking his shisha.
I love the ‘road less traveled’ and to experience what most tourists don’t get to see, and this was one of those moments.
That day all the meals were again included, and we started with a great Egyptian breakfast. I invented my own breakfast of Egyptian ‘Eesh Baladi‘ pocket bread, soft Egyptian cheese, and the famous Egyptian honey – it was really nice, and I noticed a few others did the same thing too.
We sailed off, but the wind picked up and the Felucca was tilting very heavily. Explorason was in his sleeping bag, and I had to hold onto the bag as I didn’t want him to fall off the side into the water. So the wise Felucca crew sailed to a safe sandy bank and waited for the wind to die off while others in the group went for a swim and some sunbathing to top up their English tans. I like the way they considered our safety at this time. As a Mum, this really impressed me.
We tried to sail again a few hours later, and we whipped past locals on the banks farming, loading boats, and generally living a rural African life.
This was one of those moments when I realized I felt I was in Africa, vs the middle eastern feel of some places.
Again the wind was pretty strong, so we headed to a nice spot on the river bank, and the local kids came down on a donkey and grabbed some items to try to sell us. I realized that this was when I felt relaxed and happy, and I think you can see it here in the photo below – it was a great time.
I had time for a walk along the river bank, and up behind us and to see the sunset.
I wish I had walked into a local housing community as Stefan, one of our group did. He came back with incredible photos, I confess I was quite jealous of. But we had a nice time with the donkey and with the local kids.
That evening after dinner we headed to shore. Explorason was racing around with the camera again, and I love this photo he took of the fire.
We had a bonfire made with palm leaves the locals picked for us, accompanied by traditional Nubian music and some dancing.
It was a fun time until Explorason managed to have something blow into his eye, and I had to take him back onto the boat. I couldn’t seem to wash it out, and he was crying with pain.
We were both sad as the others partied on, and I had to put him to bed – this time with our sleeping bags zipped together for warmth and with blankets prepared for the cool of the evening. We were warm all night long – yay.
Explorason and I decided not to visit these two temples. I wanted to go but was aware that Explorason was going to get ‘information overload’ if I took him to all of the temples, so along with Mary, another lady in the tour, we hit the local market stalls and helped her select a few souvenirs.
I bought two Nubian crochet cotton bright caps I am going to sew together to make a round cushion. We collect cushions and covers from around the world and try to select handcrafted ones in bright fabrics, so I have a few crazy ideas. I liked this first market area, and it had a real African feel to it. Sometimes it is hard to believe we are in Africa!
We continue north to Luxor, and our guide keeps telling us that we will be there in ‘five minutes’. About an hour later with full bladders, we laugh about his ‘five minutes’ as we arrive at Sonesta St George Hotel.
But the long drive is worth it, as this is a really stunning 5-star hotel and location. We get a gorgeous family room with a balcony that overlooks the pool and the river, and a lovely welcome platter of fruit.
It is nice to have a break here, and I hadn’t signed up for the option of the internet in the room, so we changed for a swim, Jacuzzi spa tub, and pizza by the pool. If you stay at Sonesta St George Hotel, do order the pizza – it was really, really nice, and our friend Mary joined us for a slice of it on the sun-bed.
This pool is heated and even I went in it for a swim for quite a while, and the Jacuzzi spa tub I had all to myself, so I sat, as the bubbles made me feel relaxed and Feluccas and River Cruise passed by us on the Nile River.
This hotel really is a stunning place to stay if you come to Luxor.
At sunset, it was tour time again with a visit to Luxor Temple as the evening breeze started to gently blow.
I found Luxor Temple really interesting and loved visiting it in the evening.
It was a beautiful and different way to see one of the incredible pieces of Egyptian history.
We then had dinner at a traditional Egyptian Restaurant, and as we did the electricity went out in the whole area. They thankfully had a generator, but I was glad we were safely inside and not in the darkness of the Luxor Temple.
There was so much food this night I felt my stomach was going to burst, and I know a couple of people felt the same. Egyptians are known for their lavish banquets and generous portions of healthy food, and this is never a country to find yourself starving hungry. I was also impressed that Explorason was eating the Egyptian foods, and trying new dishes, and loves falafel and some of their beef dishes too, as I watched him tuck into his dinner.
So once again it was back to the Sonesta St George Hotel, and a time for the two of us to end our evening and to sit on our balcony and feel the gentle breeze of the River Nile as it flowed down below.
What a wonderful place to be in Egypt.
How incredible this is to see history unfold before our very eyes.
(End of Part 2 of 3
‘NOW is the perfect time to visit Egypt’
Tour Company: Egypt Uncovered
Tour Name: Nile Explorer
Telephone: (UK) 0800 088 6002 (freephone); (UK) 0203 725 8921 (landline); (Worldwide) +44 203 725 8921
Date: March 2015
Length of Tour: 9 days
Child-friendly: usually over age 12 years