Travel Articles

Jordan, Egypt and The United Arab Emirates

The Travel and Sport team was invited to meet our agent – and now friend – in Egypt.  After only sending Mohammed Gad countless emails, we looked forward to meeting him.  The aim of this visit was to experience the Egypt Project.  So many schools have returned with rave reviews and now it was the operational team who would be spoiled!  Our programme also included a visit to Petra and The Dead Sea in Jordan.

Dear Mohammed

How do we start to say thank you for the great trip?  In one of your emails you mentioned that you wanted to make our trip unforgettable.  It truly was unforgettable!  Even though we only met on day three, we became friends while experiencing the wonders of Egypt.

Day One

We boarded a flight from Johannesburg to Amman via Abu Dhabi with an 8 hour wait at Abu Dhabi Airport.  On arrival at Queen Alia International Airport we were greeted by Mr Eshan even before going through customs.  Our driver Musa would be responsible for all our travel needs during the next few days.  We travelled directly to the Amman Citadel where we enjoyed the views of the city and had a short overview of the treasures of the area.

After driving through Amman traffic we arrived for lunch which included various dips with bread, chicken, beef, lamb, rice and more!  Jordanian hospitality at its best!  Another short drive through a very busy Amman brought us to the Dead Sea Spa Hotel.  The hotel is situated on the shores of the Dead Sea where one can relax in the salty water or roll around in the mud.  Even though we only had 20 minutes before the sun set, we could experience the healing waters of The Dead Sea.  A school group could stay for 2 nights at this resort.  I would suggest a late arrival, dinner and rest.  The next day a full day at the beach with a lunch and dinner.  The day after that the group can depart.  The resort has swimming pools and a lovely buffet restaurant.  We also purchased Dead Sea products at better prices than at the local souvenir shops.

Day Two

We departed early to Mount Nebo, which is the mountain where Moses supposedly saw the Holy Land, shown to him by God Himself.  After the visit we drove through the valley to Madaba which has the Saint George Church as main attraction.  This church has the oldest mosaic in the world and the town itself has many mosaic shops.  After lunch we drove 2 hours to Karak which is home to a famous crusader castle.  The narrow streets served for some excitement on the way to the entrance to the castle.  After our visit to the Ottoman style buildings we continued to the town Petra.  Here we stayed the Taybet Zaman Hotel which is originally a village.  Certain building were added and changed so that the grounds could be used as a hotel.

Day Three

After an early breakfast we drove a short way to the entrance of Petra.  Here our guide Mohammed greeted us and escorted us on a 3 ½ hour tour of the site.  The Nabatean people carved this city out of sand stone and were able to harness the ability to bring water to the desert.  The city of Stone was lost for generations and after begin rediscovered has become one of the attractions many people want to tick off their “bucket list”.  After our tour with Mohammed – who looks very much like Adam Sandler – we enjoyed yet another buffet lunch.

After an exhausting walk we departed towards the Araba Border.  Thanks to Mohammed Gad – not to be confused with Mohammed our guide in Petra – our visit to Jordan was seamless!  He made sure that we had assistance with every check point and border control.  We drove through Eilat to Taba Border and arrived in Egypt.  Our driver took us to the Red Sea Relax Resort in Dahab.  Here we met Mohammed Gad for the first time.  He spoiled us from the first day!  After a dinner next to the Red Sea and a relaxed meeting with Mohammed, we retired for the night.

Day Four

After a very early breakfast we took a walk to Aqua Divers in Dahab.  After some orientation and collecting equipment we drove to the Blue Hole diving spot.  Only Anél has a SCUBA licence so together with Mohammed and the instructor, they vanished into the water.  Helga, Jan-Willem and Mariëtte went on a snorkelling excursion.  With perfect visibility we could see every detail of the coral reef.  The area has a row of resting spots, shaded and they all have easy access to the restaurant which serves a variety of meals and drinks.

After returning all the gear in the late afternoon we drove towards Sharm El Sheikh which, to me, is very much like the Atlantic City of Egypt.  There are many hotels and resorts, all busy with tourists from Russia, Germany and other parts of Europe.  The city is specifically aimed at tourists and therefore has many services like foreign exchange open until late at night.  It also has great night life and we experienced “the hassle” at Neama.  Here you get a taste of bargaining and of course the water pipe/shisha/hubbly bubbly.   Mohammed gave us a quick lesson in how to bargain and that you should never name the price you are willing to pay!

After relaxing with a coffee, we departed to see a belly dancing show.  The show included not only the usual belly dancers, but the only male belly dancer in Egypt.  The show also boasts with the so called Sufi Dancers who are able to spin for 30 minutes and still stay on their feet.

Day Five

We made our way to the Sharm El Sheikh airport for your flight to Cairo.  After arrival we enjoyed a lunch at a charming restaurant at the Khan Al Khalili bazaar.  Afterwards we spent an hour in the maize of shops and people.  The market seemed to be very busy with more locals than tourists so here you really get the feel of the day to day life in Cairo.  A tip is to wear long pants or a skirt if you are a lady – we had a few friendly stares from mostly children as we were wearing shorts.  After a quick stop at a cotton shop we checked into the Horizon Pyramid Hotel.  It is situated in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Cairo.  From here Mohammed organised for us to see the Sound and Light show at the Giza Pyramids.  This show is quite famous and most tourists visit it.  The show does not give many facts about the history of the Great Egyptians but shines coloured lights on the pyramids illuminating various aspects of this great wonder.  After the show we made our way back to the hotel.  There are many take away restaurants close to the hotel and guests do not have to enjoy dinner in the dining room.

Day Six

After check out we travelled to the Giza Pyramids.  Mohammed advised that if groups will visit the Pyramids and the Museum on the same day, they should do the Egyptian Museum in the afternoon.  It closes later.  But if groups will see the Pyramids on a separate day, they should go in the afternoon as the views and the lighting is much more romantic and makes for stunning pictures.  Our pictures were taken in the morning and were also remarkable.  It is a good idea to wear comfortable walking shoes and definitely a good pair of sunglasses.  There are various spots to enjoy a camel ride and if you have always wanted to go inside a pyramid you can buy an extra ticket at the entrance.

After seeing the Great Pyramids Mohammed took us to see the Sphinx and the Valley Temple.  Here one sees the intelligence which the Ancient Egyptians used to build these great monuments.  Many historians believe that the Sphinx once had a different appearance and that a powerful King or Queen probably changed the appearance as the head is much smaller than the body – it indicates that the head was carved from the previous head.  Here you can have some fun with pictures and poses.  After lunch Mohammed accompanied us to the Egyptian Museum.  It houses about 120 000 items with some of these in storage.  The most recent addition is The Royal Mummy Room.  This is not included in your normal entrance fee and is an extra.  The most famous of course is the King Tutankhamun exhibit.  Most people think the tomb was found in the original condition but there were at least two robberies and may have taken place soon after the king’s death.  The tomb housed 3500 items of which included weapons and other items from daily life.  Here you will need some time as there are many other impressive statues, some huge and others miniature in size.  Mohammed guided us through some of his favourite areas in the museum and it is a good idea to have a guide.

The next phase of our join was to begin.  We boarded an overnight train to Aswan from the Giza Rail Station.  Aswan is about 870km from Cairo and the railway runs along the Nile River.  The first class cabins have linen, dinner and breakfast included.

Day Seven

After breakfast on the train we disembarked the train and travelled to the hotel via a few sites in Aswan.  The unfinished obelisk is another symbol of the majesty of the Ancient Egyptians.  Aswan is rich in granite and in one of the many granite sites an unfinished obelisk was found.  By making small grooves in the rock, the Egyptians inserted wood into these grooves and filled them with water.  The wood expanded when soaking up the water and created pressure which broke the obelisk free.  Unfortunately a crack formed in the obelisk and the project was abandoned.

The High Dam was created to control the annual flood of the river Nile.  Later, hydroelectricity also became a product of the dam and the storage of water provides assistance to agriculture in the country.  In my opinion the flooding of the river Nile is part of the natural processes in Egypt and is there for a reason.  I don’t think it should be regulated.  But as with the human race we try to control nature, and mostly we gain some benefits from it for a short time.

After checking into the Sarah Hotel, Mohammed took us on a felucca ride on the Nile.  A felucca is a sail boat very common in Egypt.  Originally used by fisherman but now it is a major tourist attraction.  We enjoyed a traditional lunch at the Nubian Restaurant which is on an island in the river.  From here we sailed to Kitchener’s Island.  This used to be the home of Lord Kitchener and he transformed the island to a paradise of exotic trees and plants.  Now it is a botanical garden and is visited by many locals and tourists alike.  From here we took yet another felucca ride to a traditional Nubian village.  Here visitors can experience life in the desert.  Villagers sell souvenirs and offer henna tattoos and pictures with crocodiles.  From here the felucca took us ashore and after a visit to the local bazaar we treated Mohammed to a pizza dinner and retired.

Day Eight

After a late breakfast at the hotel we checked into the Nile Cruise.  This is a five star luxury cruise with all meals included.  The cruise takes you from Aswan to Luxor or the other way around, whichever you prefer.  We had a quick lunch on board and sailed to yet another Nubian village.  Here we enjoyed traditional Arabian Coffee prepared by the locals.  The owner of the house invited us for dinner and we enjoyed the company of their hospitality.  The felucca took us back to the cruise ship where we had coffee and retired.

Day Nine

After an early breakfast we disembarked at the temple of Kom Ombo.  Here you can see hieroglyphs of medical instruments, a calendar and Cleopatra VII.  Also found at Kom Ombo is a nilometer.  This was used to measure the levels of the river and resembles a water pit.  After about 1 hour we arrived at Edfu where we took a horse carriage to the temple.  The temple walls tell the story of Horus and Hathor and the many festivals held in honour of them.  After lunch we enjoyed a free afternoon on board our cruise ship.  Dinner was themed and we could dress up in local attire.  After dinner we enjoyed a belly dancing show.

Day Ten

Mohammed gave us an early wakeup call so that our day at The Valley of the Kings would not be too short.  Travelling by felucca to the west bank we arrived at the site where – Egyptologists say – many tombs are still hidden below ground.  Here photography is not allowed but as with the Egyptian Museum there are post cards and books for sale.  Our entrance ticket included visiting 3 tombs of our choice.  We went inside the tomb of Rameses III, IV and VIII.  All are decorated with wonderful colours and stories from each life.  For an extra fee you can enter the tomb of Tutankhamun, which was discovered by accident and housed most of his treasures.  From here we travelled by bus to the Temple of Hatshepsut.  She was the only female pharaoh that we know of.  She ruled Egypt with passion and was murdered by her nephew because of her power.  Her marvellous temple still stands but with most of the statues of her damaged.  The new King Thutmose III destroyed his aunt’s images as far as he could.  A short ride took us to The Colossi of Memmon.  These are two stone statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III.  Though badly damaged this is still a site to see.

A visit to Luxor is not complete without a visit to Karnak Temple.  This is more of a temple complex than a single temple.  The focus of an annual festival – where a statue of Amun was carried from Karnak Temple to Luxor Temple – was to commemorate fertility.  On the columns the name of Amun-Re was said to be inlaid with gold.

After lunch on board we met again for a visit to the Luxor Temple.  Here a section was said to be built by Alexander the Great.  After an earthquake the damaged plaster of this wall revealed yet more hieroglyphs.  Sections of the temple were built by Hatshepsut, Tuthmosis III, Ramases II as well as Alexander the Great.  One of the obelisks stands in Paris at the Place de la Concorde.  A mosque also features in the main arena with the door at a seemingly odd place.  This is because the mosque was built on ruins of the temple and it only became clear later.  The mosque is still used today.

This was our last dinner in Egypt with Mohammed – hopefully we will get the chance to have dinner with him again.

Day Eleven

After an early flight to Cairo we said our goodbyes at Cairo International Airport.  From here we boarded a short flight to Abu Dhabi.  From Abu Dhabi we took a bus and after 2 hours arrived in Dubai.  We spent the next 2 days in Dubai, travelling mostly with the newly completed metro train system and city taxis.  Dubai is extremely tourist and shopping friendly, with many malls to choose from.

Thanks to Mohammed we experienced Egypt like the Ancient Egyptians; being treated as pharaohs and eating like them too!  Every child travelling with Travel and Sport will receive the same treatment!

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