Thursday, December 4, 2008

Luxor Trip Part II: The East Bank

The next morning, we got up early to head over to one of the crown jewels of Egypt, the Temples of Karnak. First, I think it appropriate to tell you about the hostel we stayed in. Marja, one of my friends on this trip, thought it might be fun to stay here when she booked our rooms. As you can see, the Bob Marley House seems to cater to a certain kind of traveler. In spite of the decor on the outside, the rooms inside were very nice, and the service was great. Still, it was quite the surprise when we first checked in.

The Bob Marley House, our hostel in Luxor

I think my LonelyPlanet guide put it pretty well when introducing the Temples of Karnak: "More than a temple, Karnak is an extraordinary complex of sanctuaries, kiosks, pylons and obelisks dedicated to the Theban gods and the greater glory of pharaohs. Everything is on a gigantic scale: the site covers over 2 sq km, large enough to contain about 10 cathedrals, while its main structure, the Temple of Amun, is the largest religious building ever built. This was where the god lived on earth, surrounded by the houses of his wife Mut, and their son Khonsu, two other huge temple complexes on this site. Built, added to, dismantled, restored, enlarged and decorated over nearly 1500 years, Karnak was the most important place of worship in Egypt during the New Kingdom."

So with that in mind, let's go in!

The walkway leading into the entrance

Walking towards the entrance to the temple complex, you pass an avenue of ram-headed sphinxes. After passing the first pylon (basically huge walls) marking the entrance of the complex proper, you head into the Great Court. The Great Court is flanked by huge columns on both sides, in addition to more pharonic statues, such as the one pictured below.

Statue of Ramses II

Passing under the watchful eye of Ramses II, you enter the Great Hypostyle Hall, which is a truly amazing hall filled with 134 columns covering over 5500 sq meters. The papyrus shaped pillars are supposed to symbolize a papyrus swamp.

Papyrus shaped pillars in the Great Hypostyle Hall

Leaving the Great Hypostyle Hall, you're eyes become fixed on the obelisks of Hatshepsut. One of the them is the tallest obelisk in Egypt, standing 30m high. After her death, her son, Tuthmosis III sought to destroy all signs of his mother's reign.

Obelisks of Hatshepsut

Passing by the obelisks, you notice tons of reliefs carved into the stones of the obelisks and the surrounding walls. Continuing onwards, you reach the Middle Kingdom Court, where the Wall of Records is located. The Wall of Records depicts reliefs recounting the amount of tribute exacted by the pharaoh in honor of Amun. Beyond the court, you reach the Great Festival Hall of Tuthmosis III, which is a unique structure because of its tent pole like stone columns (these may refer to the pharaoh's life while on campaign because he would have slept in a tent). Further on, you enter the Botanical Gardens (sorry, no more flowers) that has reliefs of the flora and fauna from Syria and Palestine. Finally, at the end of the complex, you reach the largely destroyed Sanctuary of Amun-Ra. On our way back to the front of Karnak, we passed by the Sacred Lake (if you can call waste water sacred?). Still, I thought it'd be nice to get a shot with the Temple in the background.

At Karnak, next to the Sacred Lake

Karnak's sheer size would amaze anyone, and I wasn't an exception to the rule. I couldn't imagine what it must have been like during its hey-day, when thousands of worshipers would visit to bring offerings, pray, or even to just visit. This was one of the many instances that I wish I could have gone back in time to see and experience what Karnak was.

Leaving Karnak, we took a cab over to the Luxor Temple; however, with money running short, we opted to view the Luxor Temple from the sides and walk around.

Luxor Temple

Luxor Temple was constructed by the pharaohs Amenhotep III and Ramses II (what hasn't he done?), and it lies in the center of modern day Luxor. At one point the Temple served as a Roman Fort, of which there are still ruins on the outside of the temple. Also, there is a mosque in one of the courts of the temple, and if I'm not mistaken, it was probably erected much later than the rest of the temple. Just going to throw that out there.

Having seen the two main attractions on the East Bank, we grabbed lunch then walked around a touristy suq (like Khan al-Khalili except really small) where we were pressured to buy things. I was able to resist the urge, or rather, the shop owners realized I had no money.

That evening, 2 of the girls in the group and I got on an earlier train so that we could get to class the next day. The train ride back was shorter than the first one. Unfortunately, we didn't get a sleeping car, and even though the seats were comfortable, the lights were on the entire time! Seriously, who needs the lights on at 3 am? Anyways, I got back to Cairo around 3 and within seconds of getting back to my dorm room, passed out on my bed.

Hope you enjoyed Upper Egypt! Next stop: the Sinai Peninsula.

Ma'a salaama,


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Luxor Trip Part I: Ancient Thebes

So, the internet has been spotty again, and it's taken me more than a week to load up all these pictures. I hope that they were worth the wait.

Two weekends ago, my travel buddies and I took a 12 hour train ride to the world famous upper Egyptian town Luxor. Luxor is famous for it's east and west banks (relative to the Nile), the east bank is simply Luxor and the west is what used to be ancient Thebes. Thebes came to prominence at the onset of the Middle Kingdom under Montuhotep II (2055-2004 BC) who reunited Upper and Lower Egypt, setting the capital at Thebes. Following Montuhotep's reign, Thebes became the religious capital of Egypt by serving as the center for the cult of Amun, while Memphis (aka Giza and the Cairo area) was the political capital.

With the end of the Second Intermediate Period and subsequent beginning of the New Kingdom, Thebes experienced a resurgence of prominence and became the most glorious city of ancient Egypt.

After getting a good night's rest and eating a hearty breakfast in the morning, we jumped in our van and crossed over the Nile onto the west bank, home of the Valley of the Kings (Queens and Nobles, as well), numerous temples, and the Colossi of Memnon. Our first stop was the Valley of the Kings.

When you go to the Valley of the Kings, you purchase a ticket and are quickly encouraged to buy a bus ticket for the long journey to the actual site of the tombs. Little did we know, but that long journey to the beginning of the valley was actually a 10 minute walk. As my roommate and I say, SNESA- Situation Normal, Egypt Strikes Again! So, the tickets we bought were eligible for viewing three tombs, so we had to be smart about which ones we chose. Our first stop was the tomb of Ramses VII, who ruled from 1136 to 1129 BC.

Picture of Ramses VII

First, I must note that we weren't allowed to take pictures. However, I was able to snap these (with my flash off of course) without damaging the art. Hopefully, I didn't damage your perception of me. Anyways, as you can see, the entirety of the walls and ceiling is covered with hieroglyphics and other carvings. The end of the walkway you see is the burial chamber. According to my guidebook, Coptic hermits once found refuge in this tomb, as evidenced by Coptic graffiti (which seems to find itself on most ancient Egyptian artifacts). From here, we began our walk to the tomb furthest away, the tomb of Tuthmosis III.

Valley of the Kings

Tomb of Tuthmosis III

Tuthmosis III (1479-1425 BC) was once called the Napoleon of ancient Egypt and was one of the first pharaohs to have his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. This tomb was very different from the first in that it was hidden high in the valley and required us to descend deeply into the mountainside. The glyphs in this tomb were noticeably different as well, since most of them looked like stick figures and lacked the detail of Ramses's tomb.

From Tuthmosis's tomb, we walked back towards where we began and decided the tomb of Ramses the IX to be our last stop.

Tomb of Ramses IX

From my LonelyPlanet guidebook: "Opposite Ramses II is the most visited tomb in the valley, the Tomb of Ramses IX (1126-1108 BC), with a wide entrance, a long sloping corridor, a large antechamber decorated with the animals, serpents and demons from the Book of the Dead- then a pillared hall and short hallway before the burial chamber." I was able to stealthily get a shot of this burial chamber, which luckily enough, was well lit. The glyphs in this tomb seemed to mark a return to the style of Ramses VII as opposed to the stick-figures from Tuthmosis's tomb. Having explored our three tombs, we hopped back into our van and made our way over to Deir al-Bahri, where the Temple of Hatshepsut is located.

Temple of Hatshepsut

The Temple of Hatshepsut is partly carved from the cliffs that rise behind it. Hatshepsut (1473-1458 BC) is widely regarded as one of the most successful female pharaohs, noting her long comparatively long reign. The Temple has been vandalized, defaced, and restyled over the years; it does, however, retain many of the vestiges that gave it the name "Most Holy of Holies" from ancient Egyptian times.

As I began my ascent up the steps leading to the entrance, I noticed the immensity of this temple. Once atop, you see the carvings lining the colonnade in front, and a few of them are pictured below.

Passing through the colonnaded terraces, I walked straight into the upper terrace, with the Sanctuary of Amun opposite me. In this upper terrace I noticed a lot of damage to the glyphs and reliefs lining the walls. From this terrace, we walked down back towards the middle terrace, which divides the Hathor Chapel and Chapel of Anubis. Not surprisingly, the Hathor Chapel had many depictions of Hathor, an ancient goddess that is usually depicted as a cow, while the Chapel of Anubis had reliefs of its namesake lining it's walls.

Well-preserved relief in the Chapel of Anubis (not Anubis)

After leaving the Temple of Hatshepsut, we stopped at the Ramesseum next. The Ramesseum, as its name implies, is a massive memorial temple built by one of ancient Egypt's most famous rulers, Ramses II, who actually called it "the Temple of Millions of Years of User-Maat-Ra," and it served as part of his funerary complex. Much of the temple, as you can see, has undoubtedly felt the effects of time. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic site to see.

Entering the grounds of the Ramesseum

Standing in the Second Court

The Colossus of Ramses II

This destroyed Colossus of Ramses II is absolutely huge. I can only imagine how great it must have looked like in ancient times when it stood more than 50 feet tall. This crumbled statue actually served as the inspiration for the English poet Shelly's "Ozymandias."

One of the reliefs at the Ramesseum

One of my favorite parts of the Ramesseum was the Great Hypostyle Hall, which consisted of 29 of the original 48 columns, each of which is covered with glyphs from top to bottom. You can sort of see them in the shot of the whole Ramesseum. From the Ramesseum we went to another temple, Ramses III's memorial temple of Medinat Habu. Immediately walking towards the temple, you are confronted with two large reliefs facing you on either side. One of them depicts Ramses III defeating his enemies. If you can remember my post in which I describe the Narmer palette, I mention the importance of the smiting pharaoh. As you can see here, the pharaoh is smiting his enemies albeit this time, with more details and help from the gods.

Pharaoh smiting enemies

Another relief that became popular in ancient Egypt was the pharaoh shooting an arrow from a horse-drawn chariot, which is pictured above.

One of the better preserved reliefs

After walking around the temple and realizing how little we understood, we decided to head over to our last stop of the day- the Colossi Memnom. The Colossi of Memnom are about 18m high and were once a part of Amenhotep III's large memorial temple, which would have been the largest temple in ancient Egypt (even larger than Karnak, which will be the subject of my next post). Each colossi was carved from a single block of stone weighing roughly 1000 tons. Visitors during the Graeco-Roman times attributed these statues to Memnom, the famous African king who died at the hands of Achilles during the Trojan War.

Me with the Colossi

In one day we saw half of Luxor, so as expected, we were pretty tired. That night, we found a local bar and met some other travelers and even played pool. Needless to say, we slept well and were excited for the next day of sight-seeing.

Ma'a salaama,


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bahiriya Oasis and the Black and White Deserts

Last weekend (beginning on Thursday, Nov. 14), my group of travel friends and I journeyed over to the Bahiriya Oasis (about 4 hours west of Cairo) in the Libyan Desert in order to see the famous Black and White Deserts south of Bahiriya and north of the Farafra Oases.

On Wednesday, the day before we left, both Ike and I came down with some sickness. Ike must have had food poisoning, and I think I had a stomach bug. Both of us were bed ridden for the day, and convinced we wouldn't be joining our friends on the trip we had been planned on taking. That night, we both started feeling a little better. I picked up some medicine from a local pharmacy, and went to bed assuming I would try to go on the trip, but if I didn't feel up to it, then I wouldn't go. Luckily, I was able to wake up incredibly early 5 am, pack up, and get ready to head out with the rest of the group. We took a bus from Cairo to Bahiriya. The ride wasn't too bad, especially considering it cost us about 10 bucks each.

After driving in the desert for about 4 hours or so, you begin to notice hills in the distance, and below these hills, in the valley below, you notice a sea of green. As you guessed, we had arrived at the Oasis. To give you an idea of what it looks like amidst the desert and hills around it, I snapped a photo from our "base camp." Or as we called it, Chicken Coup Number Two (remember Aqaba, Jordan?).

The Return of the Chicken Coup

After settling into our huts, the owner of the campsite took us on a tour of Bahiriya. Bahiriya, like most oases, contains a couple of natural springs, and tons of palm trees. We visited a hot spring and cold spring. The hot spring wasn't quite what I had expected. I guess I was thinking of something I had seen in National Geographic: Little pools of hot, steamy water. The hot spring at Bahiriya consisted of a pipe coming out of the ground with water flowing out of it into a cement bath. The cold spring, on the other hand, was more of a small lake. Both, however, absolutely reeked. This took away from the experience a bit, but nonetheless, the appearance of water in the middle of the Libyan Desert was a fantastic sight to behold.

From the springs, we drove over some sand dunes (or as I like to call it, an Egyptian Roller Coaster) and arrived at Pyramid Mountain, which looked beautiful in the setting sun. 

Pyramid Mountain

After climbing up part of Pyramid Mountain and getting some pictures of the valley oasis below, we headed over to the English House on top of another hill to watch the sunset.

The English House with moon in the background

The English House seems to have been some sort of fort for the Queen's soldiers in Egypt. After trying to research this little gem, I couldn't really come up with any information other than its great location affording excellent sunset views.

Sunset at Bahiriya

After getting back from a wonderful night in Bahiriya, we all hit the hay for a long day of desert touring ahead of us.

Descending down a sand dune

As you can see, we piled into an old 4x4 for our desert adventure. Our first stop was a large dune in the black desert. We actually got stuck at the top of the dune because one of the girls screamed when she realized that we would be descending the dune, thus forcing our driver to stop. We all had to get out and rock the SUV side to side in order to get sand under the tires, thereby raising it up and allowing it to get more clearance for getting over the summit of the dune. From there, we drove through the desert until we arrived at the Dune of the Horse, a huge mountain (not really a dune) near the road. The climb up the small mountain was not the safest of ascents, but it was a fun challenge, worth the view from the top.

View of the Black Desert

As you can see, the Black Desert is true to its name: the desert is riddled with small black stones. Another long drive brought us south and closer to the highlight of the trip, the White Desert.

First we stopped at the edge of the White Desert to get some naturally growing crystals and a great view of what was in store for later.

It's amazing how different the two deserts are

Despite a satisfying lunch, Ike finally succumbed to the wrath of the White Desert

As sunset neared, we entered the prime attraction of the White Desert: an expansive plain of wind-carved white sand stone forming a beautiful contrast with the colorful setting sun on the horizon. After walking around this sea of white, we set up camp.

White Desert at sunset

As the sun dropped, the temperature fell through the floor. Before we knew it, each one of us was bundled up in multiple layers, fighting for space around a small fire our guide was using for cooking our dinner, which, by the way, was amazing and left us more than satisfied. With our stomachs full, spirits high, and at the edge of sleep, we snuggled into our sleeping bags under the beautiful blanket of stars above. The sky wasn't as quite as beautiful as Wadi Rum, but it seemed a universe away from Cairo.

Sunrise in the White Desert

The Mushroom and Chicken

Waking up the next morning felt like falling into a Salvador Dali painting. The rising sun and spectacular rock formations only reminded me of one of his surreal paintings. After eating a small breakfast, we got back into our ride and made our way back to Bahiriya, and from there, to Cairo.

Hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed going to these two deserts.

Ma'a salaama,


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Never thought I'd be doing this in Cairo, Egypt.....

About one month ago, one of my roommates, Steve, mentioned to me that he was going to start playing rugby for AUC's club team, and asked me if I might want to join. Before leaving for Egypt, I had wanted to get involved with something during my stay this semester, and I had only run into problems due to the transition to the new campus. The amount of time I spend on the bus each day really limits my time, and the physical transition from one location to another has hindered the ability of clubs at AUC from meeting consistently. However, I thought that this could be a great opportunity to meet some Egyptians, while also learn how to play a sport I've never tried before. Some of my closest friends at Georgetown, Joe and Phil, play for Georgetown's rugby team, and having played hockey for about half of my life, I was itching to get back to a contact sport. With these things in mind, I decided to head out to practice, where I was warmly welcomed onto the team.

A little about rugby: Legend has it that the sport was started at the Rugby School in England in 1823 when William Webb Ellis picked up a football (soccer ball) and started running with it. The rules for the sport weren't codified until the middle portion of the 19th century. Towards the end of the same century, a schism developed between two forms of rugby: rugby union (the original), which is played with 15 players, and rugby league (the newer offshoot), which is played with 13 players. At AUC we play rugby league.

The players in rugby are divided between forwards and backs. Traditionally forwards are the larger of the two, and the backs are the quicker. I play back, usually at the position of wing or outside center.

These are some pictures I had a friend take during our match against the Cairo Rugby Club, a much more experienced team, mainly composed of ex pats from countries with a strong rugby tradition.

I'm number 6 in the yellow shorts

Right before the match began, a dust storm had come upon the field, forcing everyone to face the other way to avoid the particles from getting in our eyes. Luckily the winds died down after a couple of minutes, and we would begin the match. At the start of the match, I had a very surreal realization: Never before did I think I would be playing rugby in Cairo, Egypt, during the afternoon call to prayer nonetheless!

The opposing team was heavily favored to win, but we put up a good fight. There were many times when the opposition was on the try line (goal line in football), and we were able to push them back and prevent them from scoring by eventually forcing a turnover. Ultimately, however, we lost by two tries. I played the second and fourth quarters of the match, 40 minutes out of the 80 minute match. I made some tackles and carried the ball for a bit, only to get tackled fairly quickly. On the whole, I had a great time, and at the next match, I started and played the entire first half. That game we won! It was the first time AUC had ever won a match (the club is only 2 years old I think), and my teammates could not have been more excited.

Since then, practices have been more infrequent and I've been trying to go on trips during the weekend, so my participation is on the beginning of dying down (we have finals in less than a month). Still, I've had a great time, and met a great group of guys.

Next up: My trip to the Bahariya Oasis and the Black and White Desert.

Ma'a salaama,


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Egyptians Weigh-In on the American Election

With a historic election underway as I write this post, I thought it appropriate to present the views of the Egyptians on this critical juncture.

There have been countless times when I have entered a cab, only to get stuck in gridlock traffic. Sometimes the cab driver will try to strike up conversation with me, and to be honest, one of the most common topics brought up is the Presidential election. Without fail, the cab driver will express his diehard support for Barack Obama and absolute disdain for the current President. But, to be fair, many times these drivers don't even know who John McCain is. They just know Barack Obama, the man with "Hussein" as his middle name, and they know that he promises to very different from George W. Bush.

I mentioned these frequent occurrences to one of my teammates on the rugby team, Amin. Amin, not surprisingly, is also an ardent Obama supporter. However, he has a better grasp of reality: While he hopes Obama is elected, he doesn't think that it will immediately change everything in the Middle East for the better. In fact, he thinks that very little will be done, especially in the case of Palestine, because of Obama's professed support of Israel (remember the speech at AIPAC this year?). Nevertheless, he did reference Obama's middle name as another reason why he appeals to him.
Another one of my teammates, Mo, had tons to say about the American election, but when asked about his politics for his own country Egypt, he had very little to contribute. In Egypt, where there is no democracy (Hosni Mubarak is the lone dictator and it has been that way for decades), there is little need for political opinions. Because of this, I think many are forced to look to the next best thing: American politics. I think Mo is a perfect example of this. I can only imagine, however, what it would be like if Egyptians had the opportunity to voice their political opinions at the polls as we Americans are so fortunate to do.

Today, on my journey back from campus, the conversation on the bus revolved around two topics: issues concerning the new campus and the presidential election, both of which are probably the most common subjects of conversation amongst my friends and me as well. This time, one of the female professors expressed her disgust for Sarah Palin when she said, "I think she is an embarrassment to women everywhere." Even though I don't fully agree with this (I'm not a big fan of Palin either, mind you), most people in the discussion expressed their whole-hearted support for this. In addition, one of the AUC school newspapers, The Caravan, endorsed Obama.

As you can see, the support for Obama here is overwhelming. While many do not necessarily know his policies, they know he has an Arab middle name, is a Democrat, and is not George Bush. For Egyptians, this enough to garner their support (but not their votes). Even though the name campaign against Barack Obama may have hurt him in the states (I watched a video of a lady say she couldn't trust Obama because "he's an Arab"), but it definitely helped him over here. I cannot stress enough, however, the importance of Barack Obama's perceived distance from George Bush. George Bush, regardless of your politics, has undoubtedly hurt our standing in the Middle East among the normal citizenry. Although the US still commits billions in aid to the Middle East (about a quarter of the new AUC campus was supplied by USAID), the policies pursued by George Bush, and even Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, have soured the opinions of many Arabs of the American presidency.

Well, now you know how the Egyptians feel about the American election. I can't wait to find out what the Americans think! I've sent in my absentee ballot. Have you voted?! If not, get out and vote!

Ma'a salaama,


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pyramids of Meidum and Dahshur

A couple of weeks ago, my Egyptology class took another field trip, but instead of just going to a museum, we went to two different pyramid sites. The first site we visited was Meidum.

The Step Pyramid at Meidum

The drive down to Meidum took about 90 minutes. Located south of Giza on the west side of the Nile, Meidum hosts one major pyramid and an array of mastabas (tombs made of mudbrick). The Meidum Step Pyramid was originally intended for the last Pharaoh of the Third Dynasty, Huni. However, it was uncompleted until King Snofru, Huni's successor, rose to power and completed for himself around 2600 BC. The history of the pyramid reveals the development of the architecture of pyramids in ancient Egypt. Originally, royals were buried in mastabas- tombs with a mound of earth as a superstructure and rooms in the substructure. Eventually, this "tumulus" became more structured and began to be built with mudbrick so as to appear to be a house for the deceased or something more permanent than a mound of Earth. Mastabas became more complex when levels were built upon level, eventually resembling the step pyramid you see above. Snofru actually filled in the gaps of the Meidum pyramid, and at one point, it appeared to look like the famous pyramids at Giza. Now, however, Meidum's outer casing has fallen away (or taken to be used for other pyramids).

My class went inside the pyramid. We had to enter from above the first level and go down a very tiny corridor until we reached a flattening point. From here, we had to climb up some ladders to arrive at the actual tomb within the pyramid. It was very small, but I thought it was pretty neat to be inside one of the oldest pyramids of ancient Egypt. The tomb smelled really bad because of the guana (bat feces). After climbing back out of the pyramid, we went inside a mastaba adjacent to the pyramid called Mastaba 17. I thought the name sounded like some new indie rock band, or a star or planet that was really discovered by scientists.

Inside Mastaba 17

Similar to the Step Pyramid, we had to descend deep into the Earth. However, unlike the pyramid, we did not have to climb up again to reach the mortuary chamber. Getting around in the mastaba was more difficult as we had to crawl on our hands and knees and fit through small openings in the limestone in order to reach the tomb. The sarcophagus inside the tomb was interesting because the mallet used by grave-robbers thousands of years ago still holds the top of the sarcophagus up, revealing the inside of the tomb. It doesn't contain anything anymore, but I thought it would be funny if someone hid inside it and scared the rest of the class when they came in. Professor Ikram promptly vetoed my idea.

From Meidum, we headed north towards Dahshur, where King Snofru had two more pyramids built in his honor. According to Dr. Ikram, my Egyptology professor (you can read about her on wikipedia), Snofru was one of the most egotistical pharaohs, second to Ramses II.

Professor Ikram (right) and this other Egyptologist at Dahshur

Bent Pyramid at Dahshur

The first pyramid we visited at Dahshur was the Bent Pyramid. Apparently, when it was being built, the architect thought that the angles were too steep, and decided to make up for this mistake by making the upper portion at a lower angle. As you can see above, the pyramid still has much of its outer limestone casing. The corner that looks like a wrecking ball hit it is another example of the ancient Egyptians taking materials from one site to use at another. The site of Dahshur is actually right next to a military complex, which actually included the pyramids a decade ago. As such, the pyramids aren't as oft visited as the ones at Giza. However, the public is not yet able to go inside the Bent Pyramid. Leaving the Bent Pyramid behind, we headed over to the Red Pyramid.

The Red Pyramid

The Red Pyramid is the world's first true pyramid. Reflecting a culmination of developments in pyramid building. The inside is more complex than Meidum with multiple chambers finally leading to a much larger tomb. The picture below was taken inside the tomb. The corballed ceiling resembles what I saw in Meidum.

Inside the Red Pyramid

I had to get up pretty early, so I was pretty happy to get back on the bus and head home after a long day of pyramid exploring. I love my Egyptology class a lot. It's the only class I have with Egyptians, and it covers unique material that I would never be able to learn at Georgetown. I'm lucky to have a great professor like Dr. Ikram, who knows this stuff inside and out, has worked in the field, and written about all of it. It's nice to go to these ancient sites and know you're going to learn a lot and have a fun time doing it. Hope you enjoyed the pictures.

Ma'a salaama,


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Petra Part V: Wadi Rum

The morning after Petra, we hopped on a bus headed towards our next stop- Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum is about an hour and a half south of Wadi Musa in southwest Jordan. Wadi means valley and rum is usually considered to mean "high" in this context. Wadi Rum is the largest wadi in Jordan covering about 720 sq. kilometers, and as a result, it receives a fair amount of tourists each year. However, because of its huge size, you don't feel like you need to content with other tourists. Towering mountains of sandstone and granite dominate this desert area and have made it a popular rock climbing, hiking, and trekking area. Today, Bedouins live in the surrounding area and offer tours via camel, jeeps, or hiking.

We arrived in the small town right outside of the actual Wadi Rum park about 9 or so in the morning. We were really hungry and most of us ended up eating what was supposed to be our lunch: a cucumber, tomato, plain yogurt, a candy bar, a cookie, and some bread. The owner of the trucks that were going to take us around Wadi Rum, Zidane, gave us a run-down of the day that lay ahead. After taking only the essential things we would need for the coming day and night, we hopped in a 4 x 4 and headed out.

Slush puppy shirt came to Jordan!

You can't quite see them clearly, but the above picture shows some ancient rock drawings. Though crude and rudimentary, they depict stick figure humans and some animals.

The ride was pretty rocky, and at times, it seemed like our truck might flip. Still, the views were stunningly beautiful and some of the historic sites were very interesting. While Wadi Rum has been inhabited by different peoples since prehistoric times, it is most known for one former resident in particular: the famous British officer, author, and orientalist, T.E. Lawrence. During the Arab Revolt in the early 20th century, Lawrence took residence in Wadi Rum.

This is supposed to be the house where T.E. Lawrence lived while staying in Wadi Rum leading the locals in their fight against the Turks and Germans. We saw some other things that were also linked back to Lawrence as well; including, some fountain where he drank and a mountain called the "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" referring to Lawrence's book of the same name (people think the rock was named after the book in honor of Lawrence). I think the emphasis on Lawrence is more of a business scheme than anything. Most people in the world have never heard of Wadi Rum, but many know of T.E. Lawrence or at least, the movie Lawrence of Arabia. Anyways, Dad, I know you would have really liked those things.

The Rock Bridge

The above picture of the Rock Bridge is one of the famous sites at Wadi Rum because it forms a natural bridge. To climb up it, we had to scale the face of the rock to the right of it, which was an exercise in conquering your fear. The nearly vertical climb up was not for the faint of heart, and I would be lying if I said it was easy. Once atop, I quickly walked across the bridge and descended (which was even more difficult) to the safety of the ground below. On the way down, as I'm slowly making my way, some Bedouin tour guide is calmly and confidently walking down the rock face as if it's nothing. It was a pretty funny sight: I'm doing a crab walk next to someone walking normally.

Another one of the fun things we did is climb up some sand dunes. These dunes were really high and trying to hike up them was quite the challenge! But going down them was so much fun. You could jump once and drop 10 feet on nice soft sand, and do this 10 times on your way back down. I wish I would have put a picture of the dunes up, but hopefully I'll see some in Egypt. But the red sand contrasted with the bright, clear blue sky for an incredible view. After a long day in the back of a 4x4 and climbing around huge mountains and sand dunes, we finally reached where we would be spending the night- a mock Bedouin tent complex.

Before we had dinner, we all took naps and then went to a mountain in the distance to catch the sunset. While we were there, we would all be silent and for the first time since I can remember, I experienced absolute silence. That was really neat. It definitely gave some backing to the old saying "the silence is deafening."


After catching the sunset, we ate a traditional Bedouin dinner in one of the tents. The food was absolutely delicious, and it was fun to talk with Zidane about the Bedouins (He's Bedouin). He played some Bedouin instrument, a sort of archaic cello that was really, really small, but played with a bow. After stuffing ourselves full, we went outside and sat around a fire while one of Zidane's assistants played the Oud, the Arab version of a guitar. Because there was no light pollution in the area, the sky above was filled with stars. We decided to take our mattresses from our tent and sleep outside. That was my favorite part of the entire trip- sleeping under the stars. I will never forget such an amazingly beautiful sight as that. Never before had I seen so many brilliant stars in the sky. I wish I could have snapped a picture, but it made such an impression on me that I will always remember the starry night at Wadi Rum.

The next morning, we woke up early enough to catch the sunrise from another mountain top. After that, we ate some breakfast, then headed back to town, and from there, all the way back to Cairo.

I had a fantastic trip and would recommend anyone to go to Jordan if they can. I wish I could have stayed longer, to be honest, I was excited to get back to Cairo as well. Hope you enjoyed the descriptions of the places I went, and someday, in shah Allah, you will go there and see them for yourself.

Upcoming posts: Pyramids at Maidum and Dahshur, Egyptians on the American Presidential Election, and Rugby at AUC.

Ma'a salaama,