Welcome to my pictures from my trip to Egypt in July, 2008! Elisabeth (Lisy) Cuming, one of my girlfriend Margot's best friends from college, fell in love with her tour guide Wahied during a visit that she took with her father to Egypt two years before.
Now they were to be married in a town not far from Wahied's native village. Twelve of us were lucky enough to be able to travel to Egypt to be present for the celebration and to enjoy a world-class tour of Egypt with Wahied, a professional Egyptologist, tour guide, and curator at the Egyptian museum in Cairo. He is one of a very few people in the world who, if he felt like it, has the power to remove King Tut's mask from its bulletproof container and wear it on his head.
So far, he has never done this. Or so he says...
Anyway, the trip begins in Cairo, journeys south to El Minya, then to Luxor and Aswan, and back to Cairo.
The pictures you see here are only thumbnails. Click on any of them to see a larger version (download times may vary). NOTE! Some browsers will squeeze even the large version of the pictures into the frame of your monitor, making them smaller than they are meant to me. If you click on a picture and it doesn't seem much bigger, or if you want to see still more detail, just click on the image again, and your browser should return it to its full resolution.
The view from the window of our room in Cairo at "Le Meridien" hotel.
Panoramic view of the mango trees visible from the balcony of Lisy and Wahied's house, where our whole party was invited for a visit. This was definitely my favorite spot in the house. Afterwards, our hosts served us fresh-squeezed mango juice.
The happy couple in their kitchen.
Lisy's cousin John enjoying a beer on the porch of the apartment while looking out over the mango trees.
The façade of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where Wahied is a curator.
Outside the museum sit Lisy, her father, his girlfriend Barbara, Lisy's uncle's girlfriend Selene, and Lisy's godmother Pamela.
Lisy's brother Andrew and Margot standing by an obelisk outside the museum.
The Great Pyramid at Giza, constructed by Pharoah Khufu.
The 2nd Pyramid at Giza, constructed by Pharoah Khafre. The Sphinx is a companion to this Pyramid.
Lisy, her father, and Barbara at the Pyramids (pronounced "Byramids" by Wahied and other English-speaking Egyptians, as Arabic has no separate "p" and "b" sounds)
The Play, Version I. Why didn't Pamela (Lisy's godmother) pan down a little bit so you could actually *see* the pyramids? Ach! Anyway, here's Act I, "Your mama" (Arabic titles coming soon, by the way).
Act II, "Take that!"
Act III, "What have I done?"
Act IV, "I forgive you".
Erm, plus there are some new characters in the background, for some reason.
Act V, curtain.
The Play, Version II. This time, you can see the Pyramids, along with a clueless tourist dressed in orange. Act I, "Your mama".
Act II, "Damn your eyes!"
Act III, "Damn my eyes!"
Act IV, "Let no one's eyes be damned"
Act V, curtain.
Margot and Andrew at the 2nd Pyramid.
The Sphinx of King Khafre, with his Pyramid. The human head represents man's capacity for reason, while the lion's body represents the strength of the king.
Another view of the Sphinx. The statue was carved from a single stone.
Felfela restaurant in Giza. When I visited Cairo in 1992, this restaurant and my hostel were the only places where I could relax and get away from the madness of the city. That was a different location in the middle of the city, of course. Here we are out by the pyramids, an easy walk from our hotel, but the food was still really good. I went with Margot, Lisy's brother Andrew, and her friend Jay.
Drying clothes on the balcony at Le Meridien.
Panoramic view of the Nile from our next hotel in Minya. This is four photos stitched together. Clicking on this will give a great magnified version, although it might take a few seconds to download. Remember that your browser might re-shrink the picture to make it all fit on your monitor. If this happens (i.e., if the picture you see after clicking on the thumbnail above doesn't look much bigger that what's already here) just click on the image one more time, and your browser should show you the picture at full size.
The Minya district, located about 150 miles south of Cairo, is home to the largest concentration of Coptic Christians, and many of the men here have a tattoo of the Coptic cross on their wrist. Egyptian Christians face subtle but persistent persecution at the hands of the Muslim majority, and their numbers are smaller each year. Wahied, a Christian himself, told us that several Christians are "disappeared" each year from Minya. The Egyptian government therefore considers the area dangerous and discourages tourists from coming here. We didn't see any others during our stay, but we were accompanied by an armed escort at all times.
This is Wahied's native village of Daghouf, inhabited mostly by Christians. The day before the wedding, we attended a henna party here, and the entire village came out to see us. They wrapped the main street in bunting and strung it with lights for our arrival.
The children were especially curious about the white visitors, and by our cameras. They constantly pestered us to take pictures of them, but were very polite and charming.
Children in Daghouf.
Some of the village men.
Inside Lisy and Wahied's house in the Village stand Lisy and one of Wahied's sisters. Wahied's mother bore her first child at 14, had ten more, and then stopped. Then Wahied arrived ten years later. His sister is ululating in celebration in this picture, which is why her tongue looks like that.
An underexposed, out-of-focus shot, but I like it.
As night fell, the children kept coming.
Other village men.
A tough-looking little kid.
I don't know who this man is. I'll have to ask Wahied.
A cute kid.
The main street.
Here we see some of our fellow travelers. Mom Vicki (Lisy's cousin) is seated second from the left between her children Maya and Isaac. Her brother John in the striped shirt has Vicki's third child Sam in his lap. Pater familias Dom keeps watch from the back.
The village provided Lisy and Wahied with a giant inflatable throne as a place of honor at the henna party.
Lisy and Wahied.
Vicki, Isaac, Sam, and John. They had just arrived from London that same day and were very jet lagged. Sam was starting to poop out now, around midnight.
Me with a man who works with Wahied at the Egyptian Museum. He knows Peter Dorman, apparently!
I loved this girl's face. She reminds me of the Afghan girl from the cover of National Geographic.
Lisy and her substitute husband.
Jay snuck up to the roof for a different perspective.
The "bowling pin" baby and her family. Margot and I were really impressed by the village children, who were staying up very late, sometimes falling asleep in their parents' arms, but never crying or complaining. This baby's mom placed her on the ground for a second, and while she was down there an older relative, her grandmother perhaps, accidentally stepped on her. She put her bare foot right in the middle of the baby and *squashed* her like a water balloon. She looked down to see what she had stepped in and moved on. The baby was very surprised. Her mother picked her up and held her while she sniffled for about five seconds, and the crisis was over. These are tough children living in a tough part of the world.
Margot playing with the bowling pin baby. This is her favorite picture from the trip.
Andrew with some new friends in Daghouf.
This was supposed to be a henna party, but after four hours of straight belly dancing and singing, we still had no henna! Our hosts expected us to stay until 5:00, but by 2:00 some of us were starting to keel over. We eventually coerced our confused hosts to allow us to return to our bus and our hotel, but we couldn't leave without henna! The villagers rushed it out and pressed wads of it into and onto the hands and feet of those willing to be decorated. There's not a lot of subtlety going on here with the henna on Margot's foot.
Lisy and Margot early the next morning before the wedding.
A new government building, echoing the pyramids, next door to our hotel.
Our hotel in Minya. Set in a very well manicured military compound, with beautiful gardens and a bowling alley, this is the only luxury hotel (and possibly the only hotel?) in the district. It was pretty nice, actually, and completely empty except for us and the employees.
Margot in our hotel room.
Margot, as one of Lisy's best friends, was in the wedding party.
Lisy, Wahied, and Margot standing with the coiffeur from Daghouf and a relative of Wahied's. These three held candles during the ceremony while standing by the couple.
Lisy breaks out of professional smiling mode to show her true personality.
If you want to look chic in Egypt, the more gold the better. This is a table standing in the otherwise sparsely decorated lobby of the hotel.
The next day we went to the wedding itself in the town of Samalout, near Daghouf. Here's Margot holding a candle during the ceremony.
My beautiful girl.
The altar was a swarming mass of activity. Even as the priest spoke prayers over the couple, family and friends were free to approach and talk with them or with each other. I didn't think I had a chance of getting anywhere near them, but a relative of his (his brother-in-law?) motioned me forwards and slowly but surely opened a path for me until I was up on the altar itself, right next to Lisy and Wahied.
Lisy and Wahied were given superhero capes and crowns during the wedding ceremony.
The two superheroes.
They smiled non-stop for what must have been an hour. I must say that all of us really liked Wahied, and the two of them seemed very happy together when they were away from the pressures of the wedding and able to be more natural.
Wahied laughing with a heartfelt smile during the vows. The ceremony was conducted in Coptic and Arabic, so the priest asked Wahied to translate the vows for Lisy. Wahied jokingly insisted that he would only translate Lisy's vows (what she had to do for him) and not his own (what he had to do for her).
The couple kneeling and praying before the priest as he blesses them.
The impressive priest. Apparently this man had planned for Wahied to marry *his* daughter, and would routinely telephone Wahied in the middle of the night, waking him up to tell him that he had not properly filled out this or that form, and that he would not be able to marry Lisy.
A cow in one of the church murals.
Lisy and Wahied make their exit after the ceremony.
Another kid who really wanted his picture taken.
The entire group outside the church in Samalout.
The next day, we got to play on the bumper cars at the hotel in Minya! In the litigious United States, most bumper car arenas have an island in the middle and the drivers are forced to go around in one direction. This is to prevent extreme bumping, which I thought was the whole point! There are no such restrictions here.
Pamela and I on a rampage. Jay took this picture for me.
Isaac and Margot cross paths.
Along with the cars themselves, Hanna Barbara and Disney characters are also allowed to collide here.
The spacious, somewhat sterile lobby of the Minya hotel.
Me eating the homemade bread and honey that Wahied's family brought from Daghouf the morning after the wedding. One has to be very careful what one eats here. You obviously can only drink bottled water and you musn't eat any salad or any fruit that you don't peel first.
Of course, as careful as I was, I got sick anyway. Not from the bread and honey though, which was delicious. I already had a touch of the "Pharaoh's revenge" at this point. I wouldn't really fully recover until about a month after I got back to the States.
Now the wedding was over, and the tour of ancient sites could begin. Wahied, in addition to being a curator at the Cairo museum, is a professional Egyptologist and tour guide. Here he has taken us to the entrance to one of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, where two lofty bulls are on display, and Margot too!
Hatshepsut's temple in the Valley of the Kings. It was around 100 degrees, but the fact that it is a dry heat really does make a difference. It wasn't that bad, actually.
Margie at the top.
Hatshepsut with Horus. Hatshepsut was a woman, but she declared herself Pharoah and insisted that she be treated like a king, not a queen. Notice that she is painted in red instead of white. Men were depicted in red, women in white. Also, her features are markedly masculine. She wears a false beard and the royal cobra of the Pharaohs. Horus was an ancient Egyptian god closely associated with the Pharaohs.
Another really nice one, with the original colors still preserved.
Lisy and her father.
Panorama of Hatshepsut's temple.
Two colossal statues near the Valley of the Kings.
These were defaced by Turks in the 19th century, along with the outer casing of the Pyramids, the Sphinx, the marble floor of Karnak temple, and loads of other things that very nearly made it to the modern era.
John next to one of the huge Pharoahs.
Perspective from below.
Now we're at Karnak Temple in Luxor. This is the largest temple in the world, and is made up of many temples that expanded upon each other.
One of the famous sphinxes from the avenue of sphinxes that line the entrance to Karnak.
The avenue of sphinxes.
Clicking to see the full-size version of this picture will make visible the incredible detail in the carving.
A view from below. How did they get these enormous lintels, weighing thousands of pounds, on top of the columns? I don't know how Wahied knew, but he told us that the columns were built first, and raised into position with nothing on top. Then, when all the columns were up, the entire temple was filled with sand until it was completely buried, with only the top surfaces of the columns showing through. Then, the cross pieces were hauled into place and laid on top of the columns. When they were all ready, the sand was removed again, and presto! The enormous temple had a stone ceiling. Wahied said they used the same technique to build the pyramids.
The god of virilty.
Margot next to some of the incredible columns at Karnak.
Hatshepsut's obelisk, the largest in the world. She planned one that would have been even larger, but it cracked in the quarry.
Some more ruins at the incredibly expansive Karnak site.
Statue at the entrance to Luxor Temple. Wahied had used his connections to get us into all of these places for free, by the way. We paid our own airfare, plus some money to help Wahied pay for our transportation, accomodation, and food, but we really experienced a tour package that would have normally cost thousands of dollars for a very small amount of money.
An Islamic structure built on top of the ruins of the Luxor temple.
Margot in Luxor Temple. It paid to stay in the shade.
During the early oppression of Christianity, Christians sought refuge in Luxor Temple and decorated the walls with images of the Apostles.
The god of virility, again.
A shot similar to this one
that I took in Lebanon in 2006.
A pigeon makes his home in the old ruin. As interesting as all this stuff was, my favorite part of the trip was still the village and the wedding. The culture that built these ancient places is no more, and they have little or nothing to do with the day-to-day life of people in modern Egypt. I think that's why I took four or five shots trying to get a good picture of this bird. For him, the temple is still relevant.
A sphinx avenue at Luxor temple.
We cruised down (or technically, up) the Nile in this boat, the Beau Soleil. The water was very steady throughout and I never even felt like we were on a ship. The accomodations were excellent and the food was among the best we had on the trip. Highly recommended.
I would have sworn that when I was in Luxor in 1992, I drank about 10 seven-ups in this hotel, the Winter Palace, and they were the most delicious I ever drank. During a pause when the ship would be tied up for a few hours, I took a stroll down the Luxor corniche to find it, and went inside, but it looked completely different from what I remembered and I couldn't find anything that looked like the bar where I had had those seven-ups.
I told the hotel manager that I was looking for this place where I had drunk a bunch of seven-ups in 1992, and that I had thought it was the Winter Palace. "Yes, I remember you" the man said, hilariously, especially since I was sure that I had ever set foot in this hotel before. "You had brown hair," he said.
I never did find the hotel where I drank the seven-ups, but I did find this advertisement for a place I must visit on my next trip.
The staff of the boat could do amazing things with a watermelon and, as we shall later see, with towels.
Isaac and Selene riding in a carriage to Edfu Temple
, a quick day trip from the boat.
Panorama of the façade of Edfu temple, constructed by one of the Ptolemys during the Greco-Roman Period of Egyptian history. I was a lot better at setting up these composite shots than I was in Lebanon. This one is two pictures stiched together.
"Raiders of the Lost Ark" type shot inside the temple.
The boat at the central sacred altar in Edfu Temple.
I'm still trying to figure out how make adjustments to my new camera.
More experiments with light.
A "Nilometer", which is a hole in the ground used to measure the height of the Nile. The ancient tax assesor would base the taxes on the height of the river. A higher water mark meant that more crops could be grown, and so the taxes could be higher.
Sam emerges from the Nilometer.
Pamela and Margot riding back from Edfu.
A view of the inside of the Beau Soleil.
Margot and others wait to go ashore.
Upside-down self-portrait, while making a stupid face.
The temple of the temple of Kom Ombo
. This is a really lovely old temple and quite off the beaten path. We were lucky to get to see it.
More exquisite carving was to be found here.
Wahied guiding us through the Kom Ombo Temple.
Shot from below.
Cleopatra VII, the famous queen of Egypt, in the only known carving of her (the figure farthest left).
An rather idealized depiction of childbirth.
The Kom Ombo Nilometer.
Detail of surgical implements.
A mummified crocodile.
A wild (?) dog, seen in the distance on our way back to the ship.
We were greeted with a towel peacock in our room on our last night on board the boat.
The granite quarry in Aswan.
Hatshepsut's ruined obelisk that would have been the largest in the world.
Waiting in whatever shade we could find while waiting for our bus.
Me at the High Dam in Aswan.
Fun translations into English.
Me on the dam again, this time in the other direction.
A lotus flower-shaped building that represents the friendship between Egypt and Russia. Who knew they were so close?
View from the boat on our way to Philae Temple.
Philae Temple, dedicated to Isis. The entire temple was moved, block by block, to this location from another island (which was submerged following the construction of the Aswan High Dam).
A kitty relaxing in Philae Temple.
Rock outcrop seen from the temple.
Our boatman. Many of the people in Aswan, which is only 150 or so miles from Sudan, have much darker skin than elsewhere in Egypt.
Lisy and Wahied were given a ride on a sailboat as a wedding present. Naturally we got to come too.
A giant head of Ramses II at Luxor temple. But even he's got nothing on V. I. Lenin
in Ulan Ude.
A sailboat in the Nile.
My hand in the Nile. I wanted proof that I had touched it physically.
Our skipper on the sailboat.
Another street-tough Egyptian kitteh.
Mad scientist, seven-up enthusiast, or both? This was taken in the mirror on the door of our very pleasant train compartment that we enjoyed on our overnight trip from Aswan back to Cairo.
Back in Cairo we said goodbye to Lisy and Wahied, who had managed to take care of us and ten others for almost two weeks while getting married at the same time. Margot and I would stay two more days in Egypt, seeing some more sighte in the vicinity of Cairo. Wahied set us up with another guide, Kamal, who took us on the next day to visit the Red Pyramid
From the top of the Red Pyramid.
The Burial Chamber in the Red Pyramid. It really stank of ammonia in here.
Some soldiers with their camel.
A picture they took of me. I really shouldn't have let them do this, as I knew they wanted me to tip them. I don't think I did. Or maybe I did. I don't remember. I feel like I ought to have. Kamal warned me against falling into such tourist ploys in the future, however.
Margot in front of the Red Pyramid.
Another colossal Ramses II at Memphis. He was the original master self-publicist.
Me in front of the alabaster sphinx of Ramses II. The statue was carved from a single block of alabaster.
Margot and Kamal in front of Djoser's Step Pyramid
The Step Pyramid.
A picture of a camel that I sneakily took from a distance without tipping its owner.
In the tomb of a nobleman at Saqqara, there is a man carrying a young calf across the Nile.
The view from our hotel room at the famous, historic, but not quite as nice as it used to be Shepheard Hotel.
Light dancing on the water outside our hotel room on the Nile.
Me and Margot with our new friend Britta outside Felfela in Cairo. This was the original one where I relaxed in 1992! It's still fantastic!
My last picture of the trip. Mysteriously, a bride sits all alone in Cairo International Airport.