Archive for September, 2010

My name is Justine and I am a photo addict. It has been one day since my last fix…Every time I get in front of an action, scene, or person that I find poetic or interesting or truthful, I cannot help but pick up either of my cameras and snap a photograph. And yes, I have more than one camera…I have it bad. For me, hearing the click of the shutter is like the climactic point of an adult film.

I’m addicted.

On a serious note, I took over 250 pictures in the allotted three days that I spent in Luxor and Aswan. Hence why I have come to the conclusion that I am a photo junkie. Not a pleasant term, but there it is nonetheless.

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The funny thing is, all those photos basically look the same unless you are an Ancient Egyptian fanatic as myself or you were actually there. The trip was filled with temple after temple after temple. We were rushed through every single place we went and were yelled at for taking pictures while we were supposed to be listening to the tour guide. Touring ancient sites seems to be the only time when Egyptians actually pay attention to the time. After two days of running around, the sites were beginning to run together and I couldn’t tell the difference between the Philae Temple and Kom Ombo.

Now the trip started in Aswan where we boarded a cruise ship. The rooms were nice enough, but my favorite part was the pool on the upper deck. Savannah and I would lie on the deck every chance we got. However, our love of sun tanning while cruising down the Nile was soon ruined when the workers would randomly come upstairs just to stare at us. It got to the point where we would throw our towels over ourselves when a crew member came upstairs — they usually walked right back down when they noticed the show was cancelled.

While in Aswan, we went to a little Nubian village. Here we were led into an old school madrasa (ironic phrasing since madrasa means school). We sat in benches placed in an out cove of the building and listened to the teacher speak about the basics of their language. After our little lesson we went to the top of the school where we were met with this gorgeous view of the small village and the Nile. After more picture time, we all went down to have tea and/or hibiscus drink. This was the moment where they brought out a baby crocodile for al of us to hold and take pictures…I definitely took advantage of that!!

Our first night in Aswan, we went to the local souq (market) where we could practice our haggling skills. I ended up spending around 212 egyptian pounds which roughly translates into 37 dollars. With this I was able to buy a silver necklace with a charm, two pashmina scarves, and a pair of harem pants…not too shabby if I dare say. We slept in the ship while it was docked in Aswan. The next morning Savannah and I went out to buy water somewhere that didn’t cost 12 pounds. On the way there we were harassed everywhere we stepped. Someone even ran up to me and touched my hair. This is where I almost lost my calm and had to refrain from hitting someone. But at least we got water for only 3 pounds.

Once back on the boat, we set sail for Kom Ombo where we would tour the temple for an hour then head back to the boat. The rest of the day was spent on the cruise ship while we sailed down the Nile towards Edfu. With all the free time, the majority of the students (including myself and Savannah) were either in the pool or on the lounge chairs. Savannah went downstairs for some reason and I got up to look out into the passing scenery. While leaning against the rail, I was approached by the bartender who held a tray with a single drink on it. He started speaking Arabic which I did not understand because he was speaking way too fast and my skills aren’t that high yet. Eventually he began to speak Aranglish (a mixture of Arabic and English) and I was able to understand the “woman at the bar” and “free” and “come with me.” I assume he was saying that the couple at the bar was trying to buy me a drink and he wanted me to come and speak with them. I denied the drink several times (he was very stubborn) and went to where more people were sitting. That night we had a little dance party with little competitions. At this time, the couple previously mentioned arrived in the dance room. The woman, who was dressed in this extremely slutty dress that showed everything she had to offer, would then try to join our group without realizing that we were a group playing games and she was being a nuisance. Savannah is intrigued with them so she decides to strike up a conversation. They tell her some story about how they are on their honeymoon and met six months ago. The man was from Saudi Arabia and the woman was from Morocco. Thy had no rings on either. The assumption from our RA was that she was really a prostitute and he her patron. Apparently, she was not enough or our prostitution theory was wrong and they were really into human trafficking or something to that extent because they told Savannah their room number and that they were waiting. I am SO glad I denied that drink, who knew what could have happened. (Thank you movies for making me paranoid about everything.)

Around 6 in the morning we got up to take a tour of the Edfu Temple – the second largest temple in Egypt. After about 45 minutes of touring, we headed back to the boat and were on our way to Luxor. Up until this point I was thoroughly enjoying my trip so far; however, Luxor was a big disappointment. Now this is not the city’s fault, but the tour’s fault. We went to see the Valley of the Kings which was horrid for the following reasons: 1) you were not allowed to even bring your camera into the valley 2) the tomb of King Tut was a large extra fee and the tomb of Ramses II was closed 3) the sellers there would refuse to leave you alone while they shoved their items into your face. It was an interesting site, but I honestly don’t recommend it. After that, we went to a small factory which specialized in alabaster. We saw the process the men went through in forming the objects and went inside to buy items we fancied. I was thrown off at first because the prices were in US dollars and they seemed unusually high. But I was able to talk the guy down for two items. I went to get my items wrapped and was handed two separate bags; this did not seem strange since two separate men wrapped my items. However, when I boarded the bus the guy came up and said that someone received an extra item and it was believed to be me. I opened my bags and what do you know, there are three items there. After deciding that re-opening the wrappings and figuring out which is which was not worth the effort I was able to keep all three as a gift.

After that our bus had to make a decision: either continue to Hatshepsut Temple and miss lunch as well as the Luxor Temple or choose lunch and go to Luxor Temple later that night. At this point, it has been 9 hours since we have eaten and we are all starving. Not to mention our RAs told us not to miss Luxor Temple. So we headed back to the ship and had lunch and a little free time before we headed to Luxor Temple. Honestly, at this time the temple did not look like anything special. It looked just like every other temple I saw that weekend.

Overall the trip was great. I only had a few complaints which revolved around limited food supplies and annoying people on the street and such. As well as not really seeing anything while in Luxor which is full of so many ancient sites.

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Yesterday I went sand boarding. Now I have never participated in anything even close to such a thing. Skiing, Snow boarding, Surfing…all elude me. yet I got the smart idea of trying to slide down a giant sand dune on nothing but a small board that resembles a snowboard – the difference being that a snowboard actually has a mold to hold your feet in while a sand board only has little straps you slide you feet under. After several times of falling on my butt, I finally got the hang of it went down the hill…a little bit. I refused to go all the way down because the climb is like death. And lets face it, I am a lazy person. After a few hours of climbing up and sliding down, we have lunch and head home. I arrive to my dorm covered in every possible way with sand and a bruised bottom. Happiness is.

To say I have experienced a lot the past few days would be the under statement of the year. Khan al-Khalili, City Stars, and the Pyramids all within the last three days…Yes, as a matter of fact, I am exhausted.

Khan al-Khalili is this giant market place in Islamic Cairo where you haggle for the price of the souvenir you wish to buy. Now I thought haggling would be easy for me since I LOVE to argue….wrong!! The guys give you this guilt trip just to get you into the tiny hallways they call a store and then continue to guilt you into a higher price. Now thankfully, for me, I had my lovely friend Khalil who jumped in and started yelling with the man about prices. I stood there awkwardly, feeling as though I was stealing this man’s child until finally Khalil got the price down an extra 60 pounds– the man works magic.

Now when you first enter Khan al-Khalili there is plenty of space and the vendors just stand idly by their little stores or stands. However, the further you walk into the market, the closer the confines become and the more people there are. The floor became this muddy, liquidy, cardboardy paste type of thing. [I am definitely glad I decided to wear tennis shoes that day.] People were running around and bumping into you everywhere you turned. I swear my butt was touched more than a baseball player going up to bat. But as long as you do not have personal space issues, this is definitely an experience.
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Now City Stars puts any mall I have ever been in to shame…and I only went on one floor. On this one floor were many stores of all kinds that I did not have time to enter, but merely gawked at the items in the windows. [I do know that I have to go back and discover the price of a dress I want to stuff into my suitcase.] Also on this floor is a food court and the equivalent of a super wal-mart. Now keep in mind everything I just listed is on one floor. This mall has at least six floors within the building.

Now, as I am always likely to do, I bought way too many groceries and had the unfortunate experience of having to lug them all the way back to campus. I had to load mine, and three other people’s items into the trunk of a taxi. Well, this trunk was mainly taken by some strange tank in the back so only a few bags would fit and every other bag was squeezed into the cabin with all of us. Once we finally reached the school, we had to stop at the gate, so the guards could check all of our bags, then walk even more to where our dorms are situated. This is definitely enough to make you miss the convenience ¬†of a car and a kitchen that is close to your parking spot.
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So…the pyramids lacked the special quality that I was expecting. Granted, expecting the heavens to open and light begin shining down onto the tops of each pyramid while glitter floats in the air may be a bit much, I did expect more than I saw. I just wanted less people to be there so that I could get better pictures without someone else’s big head in the way – yet again, I know, asking too much.

When we first get there, I take my designated super touristy pictures so that I can now focus on the more artistic forms of photography. After many pictures and a history lesson, we start heading to the side of the first pyramid. This is where we are affronted by men with camels who want us to ride for money. All of us say no causing them to ask us to just take a picture with the camel. Now, we assume this means standing next to said camel while a picture is taken; however, the guy then puts me on the camel where I assume my friend and I are just going to sit on the camel while a picture is taken. Wrong again. The guy makes a clicking noise and the camel gets up and starts walking. Apparently he is going to take our picture in front of the pyramids while on a camel – this is fine until he refuses to let us down until we pay him an amount that suits him. [Which, by the way, is 120 pounds more than they originally said for a camel ride.] Thankfully, our tour guide (Moodi) saw what happened and came running over, yelling at the man. We got 100 pounds back which made me very happy. After that experience, I avoided anyone who offered anything on the sands in Giza.