Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Egypt: Land of the Pharaohs, The al-Faiyum Oasis

Chapter Ten - The al-Faiyum Oasis and the end of the trip

Al-Faiyum. If you want to see the working water wheels in Medinet al-Faiyum, the best point of view is from the cafeteria al-Medina, but I suggest you try to not consume anything. We ordered two cokes. We got two bottles of 'mineral' tap water, our cokes and two plates with slices of frozen (!) cake. Total bill E£7.50 ! My friend didn't feel like complaining and decided to pay. He gave a tenner and got E£.50 change. In other words, this is a place to avoid ! Just walk in, take your photos, say that you'll order in a minute, but instead leave in a minute.

We stayed in the nearby (well-situated) Palace Hotel. A clean double room was E£40, including breakfast. You have private toilets/showers, but they're not in the room itself. The restaurant here has a good selection of meals. They're tasty, but not too cheap. Everybody of the staff is seemingly very friendly and helpful but it's all about money. Do not agree with the receptionist to show you around the Faiyum sights. We surely didn't. He will send the porter with you, and this man is a real parasite. He initially wants E£2 for carrying your bags to your room. Remember the story about the guy that wanted parking money in the first chapter ? That was him !

Hawara Pyramid On the way to the Hawara Pyramid, we first visited the el-Hadika Prep. School. We picked up the school manager, Mr. Alfy, along the way. He was so grateful that he invited us over for tea. We met all the teachers and many pupils. It was a great and interesting experience. We spent most of the day there.

The principal then accompanied us to the nearby Deir el-Azab, a monastery for nuns. It's almost never visited by tourists. Nevertheless, it's a beautiful place. You can get there by taking the main road from Medinet el-Faiyum in the direction of Hawara. Past el-Hadika, a sign shows the way over the small stream on the right. The main church - we were told - dates back to the Romans. From these times there are relics of female saints. A nearby chapel is dedicated to St. Abraham. The body of this saint lies here, in a new coffin now, the old one is still on display. There are also some other antiquities.

In the oasis you can also take nice photos of the people working their lands and blinded donkeys walking their rounds to pump the water to the fields. If you have a strong lens there are nice pictures to be shot of the local bird-life.

Entrance to the Hawara Pyramid is E£8. Two self-appointed guides accompanied us. They showed us some human remains in the Greco-Roman cemetery as well as some large sculpture pieces from the same period that lie about. In fact, these guys were friendly and as helpful as they could be. They were not after money, though, one of them just wanted a ride. No problem !

On the way back to the main road, this man let us pull over to show us - what he said was - the tomb of the wife of Amenemhet III, the pharaoh who is buried at the Hawara Pyramid. It's all a little dubious and not very impressive. It's also not obvious to find. Coming from the pyramid follow the road to the main road. After a couple of hundred meters you'll go through a bend to the left. This bend is just across a small bridge over a stream. Not more than 50 meters further on the right is the tomb.

Big was my surprise when I turned my head to our 'guide' in the back of the car : I was looking in the barrel of a pistol ! The man's face showed a wide smile. I asked if the gun was loaded and quickly snapped it from his hand. "No !", he said, "no, it's empty." I checked and indeed, it was. Luckily... It was an Egyptian made gun. A label said 'Made in Helwan'. I handed it back, no harm could be done. You never know what kind of lunatic you're taking with you. He might even fire it by accident. "Bullets !" This expression made me turn my head again. Our friend had grabbed a handful of them out of his pocket. He smiled proudly. I was thinking about what would happen next, when he said : "Stop !" He had arrived at his village or whatever. He thanked us very much and got out, the gun still in his hand. Some members of the local police were amidst the crowd in which he disappeared. Nothing happened.

Pyramid of MeidumThe Pyramid of Meidum. You can't go to this monument through the village of Meidum for the time being. The bridge over the canal there has been damaged and is under reconstruction (or should be). When it will be fixed, is a lucky guess. To get to the pyramid now, you have to take the next turn-off to the left from the main road (Beni Suef - Giza), near the village of Jirza.
Entrance to the pyramid is E£8. A photography permit is another E£5. If you decide to enter the pyramid (which you should), the door was not locked and you can switch on the light directly on the right in the corridor. Unfortunately (?), there will probably be someone who's going to do all of this for you. For which you will need to pay baksheesh of course.

Apart from the pyramid, there's also a mastaba 'of unknown origin', as it states. You can also enter this construction, but it's much harder to get to the burial chamber than in the pyramid. It's going to be on your hands and knees and probably also on your belly and elbows. A guide was handy. On the way, you will go over the big stone blocks that used to close off the burial chamber. This chamber only contains an empty tomb. The lid of this box still lies on the stones that the grave robbers - or whoever - used to move it. Read my comments on the guides at the start of the travelogue.

If you're coming from the south and you're going to Cairo Airport, the easiest way is to cross the bridge over the Nile at Helwan. Get to the Japanese Gardens here. You should, if only for half an hour or so. It's a great and relaxed place. Entrance is only E£0.50 and that's certainly worth it. When I showed my photographs to some people at home, many of them asked if they were from another journey. It's indeed a strange sight in Egypt.

If you're standing with your back to the garden's entrance, drive straight all the way and where this is not possible go right. You'll be on the right way to the airport. At Cairo's citadel, follow the road until you come to a diversion. Take the left-most road and continue straight on. You'll arrive at the airport. Eventually... No, seriously, it's not difficult to read the right way from a map. But, also, it's not difficult to read the map wrong or to miss a turn or something.

End note

Well, I suppose that's about it with this travelogue. It has become rather long. Too long, in fact. When I re-read it, I think I've written a lot of rubbish too. But, I hope it can be of some use to at least one of my fellow travellers.

This trip to Egypt has been a great experience, considerably enlivened by the people of this fascinating country. If you like to go a bit off the beaten tourist track, try the tour that I have just described; you'll love it !

1 comment:

Aye said...

Hi, I just came back from Faiyum and we stayed at Palace Hotel. They charged us LE160 for a room with four beds and private shower and LE70 for double room with separate shower. feeling like I've been conned.. but anyway, that's not my concern. They kept our passports for a night but during check-out they made a copy. Is it a normal protocol? huhu..