I have officially made it back from Egypt! I can report that I did not get sick (food sick or otherwise) and apparently that is quite the feat. After traveling by bus, train, plane, falukah, camel, taxi, van, foot, and carriage, it certainly felt nice to be back at the JC last night. It honestly felt like coming home. I love the Jerusalem Center! Thank goodness for toilets that flush and restrooms that don't cost money! Not to mention clean water.... The entire trip to Egypt was just so jammed pack with cool things that there is no way I will be able to give a full update, but I'll try to hit the highlights.
We stopped at several places on the bus ride down: Tel Beersheba, Wilderness of Zin Overlook, Ben Gurion's grave, Tel Avdat and the Kibbutz Yotvata. Looking out on the Zin Wilderness, I have to say I felt a little more sympathy for the Israelites in the wanderings....that would have stunk. Tel Avdat was totally awesome--it still felt like a city. I felt like I could just move into one of those cave houses.
That first night we stayed at Kibbutz Eilat. For anyone that doesn't know what a Kibbutz is, it is kind of like a commune. Not exactly, but that's a pretty good idea. They are traditionally based around agriculture, and the Kibbutz Yotvata (where we had a delicious dinner) is a very successful agricultural community with a dairy farm as well. Anyways, the kibbutz was fun and a good place to spend our last night in Israel before entering Egypt. Early the next morning we got back on the bus and drove most of the day to Cairo, where we checked into our hotel. Driving through Egypt we saw mostly the Sinai desert, some Beduins, camels and made our first stop at an Egyptian restroom. A real treat, I assure you. Most of the time the toilets don't flush and if you're at the end of the line....and there's usually no toilet paper, soap, the water would make you sick, and the kicker is you have to pay to have this special privilege. Well, anyways, our first night in Cairo was pretty cool. Some of us went out to Pyramid Street, where we experienced our first Egyptian taxi. Coming back to the hotel, a dance party had started up and it was super fun. I think the hotel staff were enjoying it as much as we were, if not more, because when we walked in they were all crowded around watching, taking videos and pictures.
Ok, I have to also tell you that we'd had quite a bit of orientation before going to Egypt on how even a a few drops of water could make you sick. We had to use bottled water for everything--teeth brushing, drinking, and washing our faces. Well, they did a good job making me probably more paranoid than I needed to be. That first night when we got to the hotel, I was like...oh man....I don't want to take shower. I was standing outside the shower trying to get up the nerve to get in, when the pressure in the shower head made it swing a little, knocking the head and hose out of place. Water was spraying all over the bathroom and it got me smack in the face! My roommate was probably laughing in the other room, because I totally freaked out while the water was spraying everywhere, because I didn't really realize what had happened. It was probably a good initiation though, because then I wasn't so worried about it anymore.
The next morning we hit up the Giza Pyramids, the Sphinx, a papyrus factory, Memphis, and Saqqara. (All of these places could really use an entry all on their own, but honestly...we saw soooo much!) I've got to say I was totally impressed. It is amazing to imagine their ingenuity, craftsmanship, and intelligence in building and carving....I took so many pictures of just their art, because it really was so beautiful and so much of it is still so preserved. We went to this restaurant for lunch that served us lamb and chicken kabobs. I also drank a Coke (which I actually a few times while in Egypt because it really washes down anything that could be suspect... :)
Moving on....that night we flew to Luxor, which I totally loved! It seemed like a cleaner city than Cairo to me. (There were so many sad things about Cairo...so much poverty and trash...For all of the amazing things we saw, there were some things that also made me sad.)
Luxor was just so wonderful though. The hotel we stayed at was totally awesome, and the food was amazing (best chocolate cake...mmm). Our first full day in Luxor, we went to the Valley of the Kings, where I saw the tomb of Tut Ank Amon. I actually was probably most impressed with Ramses IV's though. At least I think it was Ramses IV's...maybe II. We also saw the Funerary Temple of Ramses III--which was amazing--and the Colossus of Memnon. In the afternoon we went on a falukah ride down the Nile (which was right outside our hotel, seriously) and went on a camel ride through a village on the other bank. I loved my camel--the ride was so fun! His name was Bob Marley, which apparently was a popular name since there were a couple others. My guide was funny; he was probably 15 years old and he offered me a smoke, some sugar cane, and went on about my beautiful eyes--which totally doesn't mean anything, since they treat all foreign women that way. Pretty much all of the girls in our group got proposed to in one way or another.
That night I also had my first real experience with Egyptian merchants. I bought some pretty cool stuff...some of which I'm sure I got kind of ripped off on at first. The merchants are super aggressive and it was kind of overwhelming at first, but bartering became really fun. The next morning we went to the Karnak Temple and then to the Luxor Temple by carriage. We were definitely warned not to take the carriages on our own, since people have had some bad experiences in the past (Rich, I know you understand what they're talking about), so I was glad we were able to go as a group. That afternoon was really relaxed--we hung out at the pool and went shopping after it cooled down a little. It was crazy walking out in our little groups because people definitely notice you. The men are constantly making comments to the girls--some of it is funny and some of it is annoying...it's just the way they are. Shopping was pretty funny that night though. One of my friends made one of the merchants mad, because she had bought a blanket at a different shop. She pulled it out and showed it to someone else in our group that was looking at one in his shop. As we were walking away, he was hurling insults at her calling her ugly and mean--it was just ridiculous because one minute they are going on and on about how beautiful you are and then the next they can't stand to look at you. It was kind of ridiculous, and we just laughed about it. That night we headed off to the train station to catch a train back to Cairo. Now, at first an overnight train ride might sound fun, but I have to say, when we got to the station and started to see the kinds of trains that were pulling up, I was definitely worried. It kind of felt like camping in a train...sort of dirty. In the end, it really turned out being really fun. I can't say that I got a very good night's rest, but it was an experience to remember.
Friday morning we had a sacrament meeting back at the hotel in Cairo. Lucky me, I was asked to give a talk. It worked out pretty well and we actually had a really nice meeting even though, looking around, most people looked pretty beat. We toured the Egyptian Museum where I saw a bunch or royal mummies (crazy) and had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe.
The next day we packed up to leave for Jerusalem, and stopped at the Muhammad Ali Mosque, a synagogue in the small Jewish community, and a church in the old Cairo Christian community. The Christian Church is supposed to be where Mary, Joseph and Jesus stayed in Egypt to escape Herod. On our way out we stopped at McDonald's and everyone got Big Macs. I had never had a Big Mac before, but I must say, it was pretty good. I also treated myself to an ice cream cone that definitely hit the spot.
We stayed one more night in Egypt at a hotel near Mt. Sinai with a wake up call at 2:00 AM. We hiked all the way to the top and sang hymns and watched the sunrise. It was totally amazing and worth the hike. It was crazy, though, because as we were walking up we passed so many camels and Beduins and merchants that were actually awake trying to sell people camel rides and blankets. I definitely could have used a blanket at the top though. Despite having on nearly six layers of clothes I was totally freezing. The whole trip was amazing and this was a perfect cap on the experience. It's hard to write about all the things I thought about and saw in Egypt, but it was definitely a perspective changing experience.
Yesterday was a long day of traveling (though we did stop at Yotvata for dinner and ice cream again) and it's back to class and life here in Jerusalem. I have some pictures that I'm going to post, but when I tried it tonight, it wouldn't work. It's late and I want to go to bed, so I'll give it a try tomorrow.