Regret is the worst feeling one could ever have after having gone to such remarkable places without taking the time to write a journal about it. Well, I did start taking notes on the first few days, but after that, I finally succumbed to allowing our camera to take over the role of documenting our experience. Right now, we have over 4,000 photos of the experience, and I haven’t even organized them. So when I thought of writing about our Holy Land Tour last November of 2011, I already imagined digging through my rusty memories for significant things I could share. That’s why I’m writing it in parts. It would make it easier to remember. So, here goes.
Yes, we were there before political chaos broke out. Thank God for that. We all know that Egypt is a very old place, and that its history goes back to the 10th millenium B.C. According to wikipedia, it has one of the longest histories of any modern state. Its sands have been witness to ancient civilizations that continue to baffle a lot of archaeological and other scientists today. I wish we could have stayed longer and explored more of the ancient ruins but as it was, we were on a tour and we still had two more countries on the list. Here are some points to take note of if ever you plan on going on a tour of Egypt:
1. Don’t expect to be in an oasis when you get there. Egypt is mostly desert, so naturally, it’s all sand. That means dusty shoes and clothes, and some powder on your face everyday. Even the carpets and the curtains of hotels are full of dust. So if you have allergies and the like, (especially allergic rhinitis) I would advice bringing some antihistamine and taking prophylactic measures like steroid sprays before travel.
2. We all know that oil is cheap in the middle east. But we didn’t expect it to be THAT cheap! When we were there, gas only cost 45 US cents a gallon! Get this. Gas was at 45cents per gallon while a bottle of water (500mL) cost $2! As water was scarce in the area, the cost of bottled water was like a whole lunch in Mcdonalds. We did wish we had the same water absorption and storage capacity of camels.
3. Camels. Yes, camels are very interesting creatures. They actually exist as two species- the Dromedary, which is one-humped and common in the middle east, and the Bactrian, or the two-humped camel, more common in central asia. The tourguide warned us however, that the tourist camels “parked” in the Pyramids of Giza were expensive and their handlers would trick you into taking a picture atop a camel for $5 but then they coax the camel to suddenly get up and walk with you on top (of course you couldn’t just jump your way down) and then later ask you to pay for the camel tour. So beware. Trust me, two of our tourmates fell victims to this and had to pay $100 just to get off the camel.
4. The pyramids were majestic. Thinking about all the blood and sweat that the ancient egyptians put into these monuments would all the more make you stand in awe of them. It reminded me of that scene in Transformers 2 where that shapeshifting robot was on top of a pyramid and destroying it. Thank God for special effects. I heard though that although the robots were computer-generated, the pyramids were not. They actually went to Egypt to film it at the Pyramids of Giza.
5. We went into a perfumery with the owner showing us how they made perfumes from flower oils and such. You know when you’re in the middle of picking a scent in a perfume store and your nose somehow fails you after the 4th or 5th scent and it seems like they all the smell the same? Well, you could try smelling ground coffee in between to neutralize and allow your olfactory nerves to recover.
6. As we traveled by bus to Israel, we passed by the Sinai Peninsula and stayed at a hotel which was located at the foot of the supposed Mt. Sinai, where Moses saw God in a burning bush and where the first ten commandment tablets were forged. Sam had a once in a lifetime chance of climbing Mt. Sinai, and I was thankful that he took that chance even if it meant leaving me alone in the hotel room at 2 in the morning. The pictures he took of the sunrise on the summit of Mt. Sinai were breathtaking!
7. I am not very fond of Mediterranean Food. Even though breakfast was always buffet, I always ended up eating only cereal, bread and a hard-boiled egg. Not to mention putting a lot of bread and hard-boiled eggs in our camera bag for “baon.” At first we found it embarrassing, but after seeing a lot of European and American tourists on the buffet tables with brown paper bags and ziplocs in their hands trying to take as much food with them on their tour as possible, we naturally followed suit. We didn’t expect to see Westerners making sure they had some “baon” for the bus tour from the breakfast buffet table, but we were glad to have seen them, at least we weren’t alone.
8. We also went to the River Nile, where Egypt’s ancient civilization started to unfold. It’s fascinating how the river overflowed and flooded the land every year, bringing vegetation to life and feeding thousands people. I haven’t read much about the mechanism of the flooding but the season of plenty at the beginning of the year, followed by a drought midyear, had been consistent events in Egyptian history which led to the development of the early Egyptian civilization. Today, the flooding no longer occurs.
As the tourguide went through much of Bible history, it was fascinating that he knew so much of it. Our Bible is not only God’s book of love and instruction for us, it is also the greatest book of history ever known. As we imagined ourselves in the sandals of the Israelites who roamed the desert for 40 years after the Egyptian pharaoh let them go, we couldn’t help but wonder how they managed to actually cross the Red Sea (which we also crossed, on a bus, through a tunnel), roam around that desert for 40 years, and finally reach their destination after generations of leaders. It’s different when you read the stories from the Old Testament, it’s really something else when you actually walk on the ground they walked on and experience the heat of the sun, the thirst, the hunger, that they went through. I probably would have died in the desert if I was with them. What I saw and everything I experienced in Egypt and even the trip out of Egypt was remarkable indeed. It made me realize the greatness of our God even more. It reminded me of how God had been faithful to His people, and how He promised to be faithful in the generations to come. Wait ’til I write about our next destination- Israel.
*this is what Sam rode halfway up Mt. Sinai, they had to walk the rest of the way.
* Sunrise on Mt. Sinai