CHAPTER 8 : EGYPT & JORDAN- AN INSIGHT INTO PAST CIVILIZATIONS
It was fitting that my first visit to Egypt took place on the 14th of February, 1995 St. Valentine’s Day, because, it signified a love of that country, with my first visit, – and it is one that the visitor just cannot get enough of. Egypt with all its mystery, keeps calling you back.
I have visited Egypt 4 times, the first trip in 1995 was on an Insight travel agent educational, the second with John in 1996 on route to Greece to check out for a group trip, and third with a group of 42 from HWT Cowra, and fourth with Geoff Phillips TV presenter from WIN TV Wollongong en route to Jordan.
INSIGHT EDUCATIONAL GROUP 14 FEB, 1995
In this Insight educational group above l. to r. back, Paul Kearin, Jan McSweeney, Freya Luick, Belinda Manning, Colleen Woodward, John Wallace, Dinah Samuels, Jennifer Phillips, Tanya Stedman, Ian Mollison, Rhonda Sutton, Michelle Demetra (Insight Egypt Area manager) Cathy Kowald, Norma Sinclair Front row l. to r. Sue Watts, Peter Williams, Louise Birdsey, Ahmed Dabees (Insight best ever tour manager/guide) Stephanie Bratby, Megan Dickson, Jane Hardy (SQ)Sapu Wijayasekera.
A trip to Egypt is an insight to stir up the senses and not to be missed by anyone who has the opportunity to visit this country. It is hard for Australians to comprehend, being only 240 years young, that there are still the remnants of a civilization which dates back to Pharaonic times around 3000-340 BC.
On the first trip we were well looked after by Insight International Tours Egypt Area Manager Michelle Demetra and had a fantastic guide Ahmed Dabees. These two people were the most professional and brilliant people I had met in tourism. And like in the movie “Sliding doors” where who knows what paths we may take, to meet people who may change your whole life.
We were introduced to the riotous, hustling, bustling Cairo traffic with a whimsical grin by Ahmed, saying, “it is always like this even at 3 o’clock in the morning”. So right because the honking of Cairo car, truck and bus horns goes all day, all night. They all seem to be going somewhere incessantly. The public buses are always brimming over with people, two to the square inch.
This makes sense, when you consider the population of Cairo is 18 million people, in a very widely sprawling area. The people are generally very friendly and warm, and it is wonderful to see men greet each other with a hand shake and kiss on both cheeks, hug or a slap of hands together, in an obvious show of affection. You become attuned to seeing young or old men holding hands in public, as a mark of friendship.
Checking into our delightful hotel the Cairo Marriott right on the Nile was an amazing experience. This was once the Gezirah Palace constructed for Empress Eugenie of France who attended the opening of the Suez canal with her husband Napoleon III. It is a fascinating hotel, and the walls resonate a feeling of grand times gone by.
One of the first things you notice is the tall minarets, up to 80 metres high, from which five times a day the mosque officials, known as muezzins bellow out the call to prayer from loud speakers which echo in a blood-curdling call, all over the city. The main religion here is Islam and five times a day, at sunrise, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and night, faithful Muslims pray toward Mecca, and obviously practice what they preach. This is in accordance to the Qur’an, which states that Muslims must carry out the ‘Five Pillars of Faith’, which apart from daily prayer, includes a public declaration “there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his Prophet”, the giving of zakat or alms for the propagation of Islam and helping the needy, they must make the haj or pilgrimage to Mecca, and rigidly follow fasting during Ramadan where from between 4.00am and 4.00pm not even a drop of water can pass their lips. It is heart-rending to watch someone struggle through the fast, especially in extremely hot weather.
You are never quite prepared for that first glimpse of the Pyramids. You have seen them in brochures, magazines, movies, documentaries, etc, but when you see them loom up, it is an unparalleled virginal experience. I have had many ‘virginals’ as it were. but this one is top of the list.
The Giza Pyramids are about an hour’s drive from the centre of Cairo. We stopped first at the Great Pyramid of Cheops, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. It took 100,000 men 20 years to accomplish this work of art. The original entrance is blocked off and now the tourists enter down a narrow steep stair-case into the base of the pyramid through the hole made by tomb thieves. This descent is not easy and certainly not for the claustrophobic.
Just like something from out-of-space, there are five solar boat pits associated with the Great Pyramid, three of stone and 2 of wood, only discovered in 1954. Pharaohs had three boats erected to enable the soul to sail to heaven in an everlasting trip in the sun procession. A museum housing this find is at the pyramid’s base.
Then there is the pyramid of Chephren, the second in the Giza group, which gives the impression of being higher than Cheops because the plateau on which it stands is higher. The third in the group is Mycerinus with its three little queen pyramids.
Then, not so far away, a joy to behold, is the Sphinx. How many times have we seen it in photos, but these never prepare you for the “in the flesh” encounter. A magnificent, out-of-this-world monument of time. The body of a lion, with a human head that is said to be the effigy of King Chefren. The beard and nose have been weathered away by time. Like a lot of the world’s most famous land-marks, there is always the paradoxical scaffolding to hold together the past to the future.
A scenic drive south of Cairo takes you to Sakkara the capital of Ancient Egypt (2615-1990 BC), the first capital in history, called Memphis by the Greeks. There stands the remarkable Step Pyramid the oldest known of Egypt’s 97 pyramids. Also at Memphis is the limestone sphinx of Amenophis II which stood at the Temple of Ptah, and the Collossal Statue of Rameses II lying where long ago earth-quakes have thrown it to the ground still revealing a beautiful smiling mouth and finite aesthetic muscle structure in crystallized limestone.
Back to Cairo after a great local lunch at a Felfella restaurant, and an introduction to a Bazaar selling everything from silver and gold to trinkets and carvings, and copper rubbings. Egyptians are great dealers and bargain-pushers, and it is a strong willed customer that can leave without a purchase. This one came out with a case full of totally unwarranted buys. Oh! well Christmas presents for someone.
Egyptians are night-people and at 11 p.m. things really start to “buzz” with friends meeting each other in hotel foyers and bars, exchanging greetings and gifts (especially in Ramadan). When the fast is broken, called Harafeesh, it is such a joyous occasion, sharing parcels of sweets as gifts, and must be shared with friends or family.
Standing high on a hill half way between the Giza pyramids and downtown Cairo is the Citadel of Salah-el-din, built in the 12th century. There-in stands the strikingly beautiful Byzantine style Muhammad Ali Mosque constructed in 1805 with its two high minarets within the precincts. The mosque holds the tomb of Muhammad Ali in white carved marble with gold inscriptions. The courtyard is just as inspiring with its corridors of marble and domes. In the centre is the ornate fountain for ablutions and to the western side a clock presented by French King Louis Phillipe to Muhammad Ali in 1845.
On entering the mosque, Muslims take off their shoes and carry them sole to sole in the left hand. It is considered offensive to wear shoes in the house of God. One of the best views of the city of Cairo, is from the parapet at the front of the Citadel or from the Cairo Tower on the banks of the Nile. One of Clive James “Post Cards from…” TV documentaries revealed this graphically when he did one on Cairo. Also the great view from the top of Cairo Tower.
One other place, not to miss when visiting Cairo is the Egyptian Museum where it is said that if you spent one minute by each museum piece, it would take 6 years to see everything. Housed therein is the solid gold coffin of Tutankhamen along with the inner and outer coffins, and jewellery found in the tomb discovered by Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings. The wealth and craftsmanship of all the museum pieces is staggering, from the breast plates which were so heavy they had engineered counter-balances, intricate screw-mechanisms on ear-rings, gold in abundance. The Hall of Mummies is now open to the public where on show are 10 extremely well preserved specimens from Ramses II, his father Seti I and Tuthmosis
The process of mummification is said to have taken 70 days with six main stages. First the brain was crushed and extracted through the nose, then, if that’s not gory enough, the viscera removed, except for heart and kidneys, the body then sterilised and temporarily stuffed. Then the temporary packing removed, limbs packed under the skin with clay, and the body cavities were permanently packed with linen soaked in resin, bags of cinnamon and myrrh and sawdust. The body was then anointed with fragrant oils and skin treated with molten resin, then finally wrapped up with jewellery and protective amulets placed inside with bandages. One really fine example of mummification was a falcon, neatly wrapped and well preserved.
In any case, allow plenty of time to visit the Egyptian Museum After all, the mummies have!
Cairo is a city to rouse the imagination, tantalise the tourist, and beckon one back to see and partake of more of it’s mysteries, both visible and still yet un-discovered. Not only does the city call you back, but also the friendliness of the local people, they are so generous and warm and the city so safe to move around in. But there are many more things to do in Egypt.
We have travelled to Cairo on four occasions now, first time the Insight educational, second time to check details for and third with the HWT Cowra group and fourth time with Geoff Phillips group and it is always exciting, riotous, hustling and bustling with Cairo traffic and is even like that at 3 o’clock in the morning. The honking of Cairo car truck and bus horns goes on, all day and all night. They all seem to be going somewhere incessantly. The public buses are always brimming over with people, two to the square inch. Most vehicles boast a dent or two, which bears witness to the harrowing density of traffic. There is no sense of rage of the drivers, though as found in Sydney traffic, rather that of total nonchalance.
Other pieces, well worth inspecting at the Museum are in the Papyrus section featuring the meaningful ‘Day of Judgement’. Also the haunting Egyptian portrayal of an earlier period in time, captured in a painted limestone carving of Dwarf Seneb and his family (Dynasty VI) found at Giza. And near by, compelled viewing, Prince Rahotep and his wife Nofret (nick-named Clark Gable and Elizabeth Taylor for obvious reasons). These were from Dynasty IV also limestone but with the most beguiling inlaid eyes which even today, are so realistic.
Next we took a flight down the length of the Nile to land in Luxor for the start of a Nile River Cruise. If you could have told me, that a flight over a desert could be beautiful, I would not have believed it. But the different sand and dune formations with the river snaking its way with its distinctive green belt, meeting a hazy sky will remain indelibly imprinted on my mind. You find yourself imagining the aura of buried cities beneath those sands, along with Bedouins living in tents surrounded by their herds, and you think that maybe you lived there in another time another place.
It takes an hour to fly south to Luxor on the banks of the Nile, and it is from here or Luxor that one does the four or three night cruises. I have now done both, and it does not matter if you sail upstream which is southwards or downstream, northwards which seems in reverse but never-the-less either way is just sheer magic.
There are many, many floating hotels, mostly all quite luxurious on the Nile, which offer the best way possible to see the region. Meals and entertainment on board are just fabulous, and everyone to the man, takes part in the ‘Galabea’ party on board every cruise, dressing up in traditional Egyptian style and doing exotic dances.
I have been on both the ‘Serenade’ and “Nile Romance” and Presidential Line and the service is fantastic.
Luxor is an unusual city,I really love the atmosphere in its streets, parallel to the river, flanked with shapely Ficus trees, giving an almost French Riviera feel to the place. Cruise vessels dock four of five deep at its banks, with methods of access being to clamber from one vessel to the next by means of joining planks.
At Luxor stands the imposing edifice of the Karnak Temple which is over-flowing with majesty and mystery both in the heat of the day, and by spot light at night with the vocal choreography of the memorable ‘Light and Sound Show”. If you are lucky enough to have a full moon shining through portentous clouds, over the proceedings this adds to the aura.
The eerie lighting along the great temple of Amun protected by a row of ram headed sphinx, and huge statue of Ramses II leads to the Sacred Lake where in centuries gone by the priests of Amun would purify themselves before performing ceremonies in the temple. Now the lake reflects the lights of the very monuments, that stand as a reminder of a time long gone.
A canal once connected the Amun and Montu enclosures with the Nile, where sacred boats would sail to Luxor Temple which still stands as another reminder.
The most magnificent sight of all, is that of the Valley of the Kings, the Necropolis of ancient Thebes, especially at sunset, and sunrise. Its purple jagged profile hiding the secrets of dead Kings and Queens.
Hot air balloons are popular here
Some of our group decided to stay up all night chatting away like long lost friends in the heated whirl pool on the rear top deck of the vessel, to welcome in the first dawn on the Nile cruise. This was a most memorable experience taking in the special colors of this most magic place
It was a daunting feeling to next day board a vessel to take us from our boat to the Valley of the Kings, uninvited guests you might say, and would we return? It is a highly esoteric area, and visiting the tombs dug within the valley is something to remember for all time. Especially that of Tutankhamun, discovered by Howard Carter in 1922 and although all of it’s treasures are stored in a dedicated section in the Cairo Museum, the empty tomb still exudes a sense of mystery.
The colours and carved depictions on the walls of the tombs to Ramses, Seti and Horemheb are timeless and revealing of the culture from which derived.
Also in the Valley are the Tombs of the Nobles nestled in the village of Qurna, and in the Valley of the Queens that beautiful Temple to Queen Hatshepsut where recent carnage of the Fundamentalists took tourist’s lives.This temple was also discovered by that busy ‘little digger’ Mariette, it is a spectacular monument which gives an optical illusion of being three stories high, but actually it is the ramp to a fore-court that gives this illusion.
We depart on our magic Nile cruise. The best part about sight-seeing along the Nile, apart from the unbelievable splendour of all of the structures, is that you visit in the cool of the morning and late afternoons, to escape the heat of mid-day when you cruise, lazing on the deck and watching a rural scene that existed centuries ago as you sail by, still using the crudest forms of agriculture.
We see the Colossi of Memnon, two huge statues that have stood for 3400 years originally situated at the mortuary temple of Amenhotop III which was destroyed by flood water.
First call to the outstanding temple at Edfu, a colourful market town, that of the Temple of Horus, which is a huge commanding structure with huge carvings. It is surrounded by a large dirt square, and although a grand 36 metres tall, until the mid 19th century was completely covered by sand, and only the excavations of Frenchman Auguste Mariette revealed its beauty and size. Dedicated to the falcon headed son of Osiris, who avenged his father’s murder by slaying Seth, tying up with the previous legend of the Temple of Isis. This was the site where the two Gods met in deadly combat. From Horus, all Pharaohs were believed incarnate. The temple itself was begun under Ptolemy III in 237 BC and took an amazing 200 years to build, which is virtually 4 generations of builders.
One of travel’s coincidences happened on my second visit to Egypt when walking through a mass of people to see the Edfu temple I physically bumped into Ahmed Dabees escorting another group. 6 degrees of separation, as they say.
Next day a late afternoon visit to enigmatic Kom Ombo to visit the Temple of Sobek the crocodile headed God, and Haroeris the falcon headed God is a magic experience, just as the sun is subsiding, and the flood lights coming on to add an eerie glow to the columns and forms. They stand in duplicate symmetry on a bend of the Nile, visible from both directions for miles. There are twin entrances, twin courts, twin colonnades, one side dedicated to the falcon headed God, the other to the crocodile. There are still mummified crocodiles in a small out building which can be viewed.
One wall of the temple is etched with the hieroglyphics of the earliest of surgeons, visibly showing medical tools, such as forceps and scalpel. There are said to be healing powers emanating from these walls, with the etchings of healing by physicians of the time. All of the hieroglyphics have a tale to tell.
From Kom Ombo on to Aswan where the bazaar is a colourful place to visit, especially in a horse drawn carriage, pausing to sniff the perfumery, and spices, and bargain for trinkets and silks. The Aswan High Dam is an eye-opener, so too the granite quarry from which all of that stone came. Also at the quarry is the ‘unfinished Obelisk’ which shows the dimension of early Egyptian craft, even lying incomplete, the sheer majesty and ingenuity of its construction using simple methods like soaking wooden wedges and placing them in the crevices to swell and split the hard granite.
Not far from Aswan, and accessible by boat only, is one of the most beautiful temples along the Nile, that of Isis on Philae Island. This has been UNESCO rescue mission, from beneath the waters of Lake Nassar. From the turn of this century, Philae and its temples were swamped for six months of each year owing to the construction of the Old Aswan Dam, and the water marks can still be seen along the columns to about two metres. It must be one of the most beautiful temples along the Nile, that of Isis on Philae Island. This has been UNESCO rescue mission, from beneath the waters of Lake Nassar. From the turn of this century, Philae and its temples were swamped for six months of each year owing to the construction of the Old Aswan Dam, and the water marks can still be seen along the columns to about two metres. It must have been an eerie sight to view the partly submerged temple by boat through the greenish coloured water prior to the rebuilding on a man-made island.
The oldest part of Philae dates from 300 BC, but most existing structures were built by the Ptolemies and Romans up to the 3rd Century AD. So in overall terms, is quite a modern temple. Christians have also added their mark by turning the Hypostle Hall into a chapel.
Isis, for whom the temple stood, was the sister and wife of the great Osiris. She was the Goddess of Healing, Purity, Sexuality, Motherhood, and Woman-hood, and the promise of immortality. It was on Philae that during her search for the dismembered parts of Osiris’ murdered body, she found her husband’s heart.
Ahmed Dabees our Insight tour guide see left photo took us sailing down the Nile in a Felucca, with the breeze flapping in its sail, it ls the most uplifting trip imaginable. Gliding past Elephantine Island, past typical Nubian villages, the old Nilometer steps, past Kitchener Island and all the while watched over by the majestic Mausoleum of the Aga Khan who died in 1957.
On a previous visit we climbed to the Mausoleum of the head of Ismail Muslims and visited the site where a fresh red rose is daily placed upon the Aga Khan’s tomb of white Carrara marble, by his widow, the Begum Khan. This opportunity has since been ceased by the family, as they felt too many tourists were causing detriment and sacrilege to the site.
Whilst down the Nile, you just have to take a flight to visit Abu Simbel and what it has to offer. You can read about it, hear about, describe it, but nothing can quite prepare the visitor for their first glimpse of this wonder. Situated on the banks of Lake Nassar the temple of Ramses II stands as a testament of man’s tenacity, thousands of years on. The mighty temples of the Great Temple of Ramses II dedicated to the Sun God Re-Herakhty, and smaller Temple of Hathor dedicated to Nefertari, Ramses favourite wife, were ‘saved from drowning’ by UNESCO on the building of the High Dam.
They were carved out of the mountain on the west bank of the Nile, between 1290 – 1224 BC, so are over 3,000 years old. Over centuries, these too, were buried by sand, and it was not until 1800 they were excavated revealing their full glory. Guarding the entrance is 4 colossal statues of Ramses II, each statue over 20 metres in height. The innermost chamber is the sacred Sanctuary, where four Gods sit on their thrones waiting for dawn.
Most amazingly, on the 22nd of February, and October every year, the first rays of the rising sun, penetrate the temple along the Hypostyle Hall, thus illuminating in turn the figures of Ramses, Re-Harakhty, Amun and Ptah. As an accolade to the constructors of this site, their accuracy is attested by the fact that the sun still shines on these objects on these days each year.
When you exit the site, through the dome like housing, which reminds one a little of the interior of the Sydney Opera House, it is only then that you realize the full ramifications of the rescue.
From our high floor balcony at the Nile facing Cairo Ramses Hilton Hotel when we returned to Cairo from our cruise we watched a glorious sunset, intensified by the ever present haze. Introducing us to night-time in Cairo, which really comes alive after dark.
(First poem written by Colleen in 1994)
The night air reverberates
With the mournful, wailing sounds,
Of a timeless ritualistic religion,
Along the Nile abounds
The ceaseless honking horns,
As vehicles in rushing throng,
Race endlessly to who knows where,
To places they belong.
A pall of smoke and haze
Hangs low, over downtown Cairo,
Giving it an air of mystery,
Of things yesteryear, today and tomorrow.
Egypt’s treasures all ensconced
Behind museum wall,
Of dynasties, of life and death,
Mummified, preserved for all.
The second trip John and I tripped off on Egypt Air, in Horus class, which just happens to mean in Egyptian terms, God-like, which sounds much, much nicer than mere business class. We knew it was going to be a flight with a difference when the flight attendant’s pre-flight briefing included the immortal lines “in the unlikely event of landing on water”….! The A340 modified Air Bus was surprisingly comfortable and smooth and quite roomy and just like any fine dining restaurant, it was B.Y.O. Our flight route took us from a transit in Singapore over Bombay, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, and Sharm el Sheikh on the Red Sea. Actually I prefer the Singapore Airlines flight that takes you through Dubai, which looks like some misplaced French Riviera city, in the middle of the desert and where the Duty Free Shopping is so outrageous, that instead of perfumes you choose between BMW’s and a Mercedes Benz.
We arrived in Cairo on a very hot September day, to be met by the Manager of Harvey World Travel’s new Cairo office, Mr Kadery El Zoheiry. He introduced us to his staff,
We were treated to a Nile Dinner Cruise aboard the vessel “Humphris” by Khadery and his wife Asa. It was a delight to meet them and hear about their home in Cairo, life-style, and family of two girls, one about to graduate from medical school. The buffet meal was delightful with both traditional Egyptian and western cuisine. Of course the evening would not have been complete without the floor show including a local belly-dancer. From the outer top-deck the night scene along the Nile was just magnificent, with countless floating restaurants passing back and forth, the odd felucca gliding by, and myriads of lights from river-side apartments and hotels and clubs, and flood-lit fountain.
HARVEY WORLD TRAVEL COWRA GROUP
The third trip we took a group of 42 from HWT Cowra following a similar itinerary. We went to Greece first doing the Greek island cruise then flying down to Cairo to start the Egypt itinerary first Cairo and environs similar to that above, and then the Nile cruise on the Presidential line, and led by Hesham from HWT Cairo office.
A funny thing happened with our Cowra group on the Nile cruise at the dress up Galabea party John was dressed as an Arab and was not sitting with the rest of the group and one of our group Mr Bevan Savage a lovely gentleman, went and sat near John, but had no idea it was our John. Anyway John mistakenly picked up Bevan’s video camera and started filming everyone turning up in their fancy dress outfits and noticed Bevan grinning, when he ‘twigged’ what he was grinning about!…that he had been using the wrong video. John apologized to Bevan, Bevan then realized who it was and said “thank you very much for taking all of that video footage for me!” Very funny and John had none.
I love the photo below taken as we made our way from the airport arrivals area at Abu Simbel to see the mammoth Ramses statues rescued from the Aswan Dam by UNESCO .It looks a bit like Moses leading his tribe through the Red Sea. Instead it is Hesham from HWT Cairo office and Ken Bennett, John in the middle of the field and me bringing up the rear in the distance, with Joey who hated having her photo taken!
Harvey World Travel Cowra group at Edfu wall.
GEOFF PHILLIPS GROUP EGYPT TO JORDAN 2004
This trip in 2004, I arrived into Cairo a few days after the Geoff Phillips escorted group had done the Nile cruise, to stay at the Cairo Marriott, from my King Tower room overlooking the Nile and lights of Cairo it was hard to take leave, as this city holds so much magnetic energy, but a further journey called to the mysterious Sharm el Sheikh.
‘Sharm’ as it is called in Egypt, is only a small but growing destination for travelers wanting to experience the lure of the Red Sea and all of its attractions and the fact that just one step away from land you plunge literally into the depths of another world of the most colourful coral and varieties of fish that I have ever seen and this includes more beautiful even than Australia’s Great Barrier reef. The closeness of the reef can be seen very clearly from the air where pale blue leads to deepest blue in a matter of metres from shore.
There are many 5 star and deluxe resorts there that are as splendid as any anywhere in the world, and the town itself has an old Bazaar feel about it with the smells of slaughtered animals at abattoirs in shops along the street, where chickens were beheaded at the sight of aghast tourists, and cattle heads hung despairingly from butcher shops, and of course the ever present peddler physically imploring you to come into their shop to buy their wares of silks and trinkets. One particularly endearing young fellow of Cuban extraction and proud of it, was the best talking sales person I have come across in a long, long time and I ended up with 2 table embroidered table pieces I had not intended purchasing on his continued persistence and imploring. Of course there is always the gift, this time a bracelet with a small stone.
From Sharm, the lengthy coach journey to take one to St. Catherine’s monastery is really worth the weary arid countryside. This is a magic place at the foot of “Moses Mountain” Mt Sinai. Here the Tablets of the Law were handed to Moses by God, and one had the uncanny feeling of being in a place where we know historically from the Bible that God actually appeared on earth. Just to stand on Mt. Sinai is a spiritually uplifting and moving experience, to be in a place of such significant magnitude. Most everyone has read the Biblical account of how God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.
The Burning Bush is said to be the original burning bush as it sends forth never ending shoots and flourishes near the Chapel of the Burning Bush the holiest part of St. Catherine’s monastery from which God first revealed himself to Moses who at that time aged 80 years, he had lived tend- ing flocks for 40 years. He was married to one of Jethro’s daughters Zipporfah and God ordered Moses to return to Egypt to assist the Children of God to cross the Sinai in 13th century BC, across the Red Sea to the promised land.. The bush is pruned daily by people pinching off sprigs of the bush as they have done for centuries past.
One can see Moses well, which still provides water, it was where Moses was resting by this well when the seven daughters of Jethro came to draw water. (Exodus 2:15-21) The monastery was first built on this same spot in the 6th century ordered by Emperor Justinian. It had a colorful history from the Arab Conquest, to the Crusaders, to the Ottomans, and Napoleon’s support, and then the Orthodox Church of Greece under ex-King Constantine. St. Catherine herself was born in Alexandria in 294 AD. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
I really loved the green garden where monks grow their vegetables and some olive trees and fir trees, nice to see some greenery out in the middle of the Sinai desert.
The holy remains of St. Catherine according to tradition were brought down to the Monastery from a small chapel named after her.
From St. Catherine’s we continued on to Nuweiba for the Catamaran journey across the Red Sea and into the Gulf of Aqaba where the capital Aqaba was a complete surprise, and a very beautiful one to visit. We had a slight ‘hiccup’ at Nuweiba as the customs people said we had to pay more exit tax! One of the delights of travel! We were lucky in that two days later on 7 October 2004 there were terrorists bombs said to be set off at Nuweiba, and the Taba Hilton by Palestinians killing 31 and injuring 159 others. How lucky and blessed were we.
A big thank you to Pat Hall and Lou Robinson from Armidale who travelled on Geoff Phillips tours for their kind provision of the St. Catherine’s photos as my camera had run out of battery, and funnily enough there were no gift shops in the middle of the Sinai.
Jordan is a fabulous place to visit. We travelled in a group from Sharm el Sheik in Egypt, a bit like Moses dividing the Red Sea, Geoff Phillips TV presenter and I into Aqaba, a surprisingly splendid city boasting one of the biggest flags I have ever seen, with nice beach. Jordan is boarded by 5 other countries – Egypt, Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iraq which is amazing, and hence attracts a lot of refugees.
From Aqaba we ventured north up the King’s way to travel through magic Wadi Rum which has a real spiritual feel to it. Our local guide Naim Abu-Eid who looked very much like a young Omar Sharif had said we were going to “meet the chiefs” that morning, me thinking Bedouin chiefs, but in actual fact was “jeeps” which we journeyed through Wadi Rum in and as you drive through you can almost see Lawrence of Arabia (TE Lawrence 1888-1935) riding his camel through on him mission to gain national independence for Jordan. We drove up past the magic ‘Pillars of faith”, seeing Bedouin camps and water holes along the way.
Onward toward Petra (the Rose city of the Nabataeans also called in ancient times Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses).
What a powerful surprise Petra is, as you walk part way and ride a donkey part way down the long siq hiding the access to the rest of the world of this marvellous hidden valley. That first glance of The Treasury dating back to the first century BC is one of the magic moments of travel, never to be forgotten.
One is not prepared for the huge vastness of the valley covered with carved tombs, a Roman Theatre, Corinthian Columns etc. I climbed 160 step to see the Palace Tomb and its multi coloured interior. From the raised point you could see a vista below of the Colonnade street where I was later offered a donkey ride by a proud owner named Jesus, who could refuse, to show me the mosaics in naves of a church dating back to 6th century.
The following day we journeyed north to view the amazing castle of the Crusaders of Karak with 360 degree views right across to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.
Next stop along the way the Greek Orthodox church of St. George at Madaba, with its valuable mosaic floor showing one of the oldest known maps of the Holy Land. Then onto Mt. Nebo mountain where Moses looked toward the promised land before dying. Here a Basilica of St. George run by Greek priests displays more beautiful mosaics.
We arrived at the capital of Jordan, Amman once known as Philadelphia, one of the oldest civilizations in the world, a proud city with Roman theatres.
From Amman we visited the Dead Sea where we swam in the salt ridden waters. It is 48 miles long and 10 miles wide. We passed the spot where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.
An amazing day was spent at Jerash the city of Artemis, or s it was known formerly Gerasa the place Jesus turned water into wine a the wedding as told in the Bible. The city of Damascus is 30 miles north of Amman.
Some man made structures leave man inspired
Others leave much, to be desired.
For instance Delphi’s Temple Apollo
Definitely Oracle seek and follow.
Energy pours from Sobek High Temple,
Kom Ombo, one of Egypt’s example.
Also from Machu Picchu’s heights
Revealing past Incan glorifying rites.
Pyramids stand eternal and the Sphinx,
Ramses statues, Abu Simbel, shifted methinks,
To show modern man has ingenuity too,
When change for reason demands a cue
Great Wall of China amazing edifice,
Church of the Nativity, Amazing Grace.
The Palace of Knossos there incomplete,
Zeus columns, Hadrian’s Gate compete.
The Parthenon primal on Acropolis,
Leaning tower of Pisa a talking piece,
The Eiffel Tower shapely and aesthetic,
Nearby Notre Dame to Catholics dedicate.
The Taj Mahal built in dedication,
Stonehenge, medieval man’s donation,
The Trojan Horse does in Turkey stand,
Cathedrals and Temples in every land.
Now, God’s own hand moved in other ways,
Nature’s gifts for man to praise,
Starting with Niagara, Iguazu, Victoria Falls,
Carving out the mighty Grand Canyon gorge.
Then came Rocky Mountains high,
Along the Andes, snow peaks lie,
Primal heights, of Himalaya bound,
In New Zealand Milford and Doubtful Sound.
The Cliffs of Moher, starkly lay.
Provoked to cast Devil’s Causeway
Yulara the rock, by God’s hand sculptured.
Glacier Bay a vision of ice exalted.