My first holiday abroad - a few months ago this didn't seem at all real and many people have said to me: "You're jumping in at the deep end, aren't you? First holiday, going to Egypt and all that" (Admittedly, it is a bit different from the usual Spanish package deal, and not long before the trip there had been a terrorist attack on a tour bus outside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo). But the day has finally arrived and began, predictably, with a delay - the people in the Middle East are known generally for their relaxed attitude to time and the flight out of Heathrow was my first demonstration of this. Two hours later than expected, we were all strapped in and ready for take-off. I made a start on my chosen holiday reading, River God by Wilbur Smith - deliberately chosen because it's set on the Nile in ancient times and mentions every place which I am to visit over the next two weeks. Except perhaps for Hurghada. But more of that later!
The flight was pretty good. Of course, I had nothing to compare it to other than a 1/2 hour pleasure flight in a 4-seater aeroplane - my only flight before this. It really is no comparison. The engines screamed, we charged down the runway and suddenly we were at a 45 degree angle looking down at London disappearing away from underneath us. It really is a strange experience first time around, to feel the immense power that's involved to get that great hulk of steel to defy physics and get off the ground. Then, once we got to the set altitude, it was plain (or should that be plane?) sailing. From up there the oceans seemed set like jelly and the view as we flew over the Alps was breathtaking. Sunlight soon ran out and for much of the journey it was complete darkness below. Once over land again, occasional dots of light appeared from small settlements below, but it's very difficult to work out just what you're looking at. Flying over the Nile at night it becomes very clear how it is the lifeblood or the civilisation - both in ancient and modern times - the only obvious signs of civilisation appeared along the stretches of the river (the longest in the world). The landing went without a hitch. Finally I was abroad!
We were met at Luxor Airport by the Explore rep. "Are you Alkistis?" I asked the chap holding up the Explore sign. Not quite - he was the Egyptian rep and Alkistis is a she, not a he. It seems that non-Egyptian reps are not allowed in the airport - something to do with keeping them in jobs, I suppose. Thankfully, Alkistis prefers to be known as Kali which is going to make life easier for the next two weeks. And it will be easier for me to write too.
I took the opportunity to ask Kali if she knows Terry Lee, one of the other tour leaders. I had brought a letter with me from a work colleague who went on a tour that he had led the previous year. She wanted me to deliver it to the hotel in Luxor where they all collect their post from but it seems I'll be able to do better than that - Terry was still in Egypt and we'd be meeting him on Sunday when he'd be having a leaving party - caught him just in time! That's not the only thing Lucinda asked me to deliver - I also had a photo she took in Cairo and she wanted me to give it to the person in the photo. Sounds like mission impossible, but I said I'd give it a go. Can you believe it, first time in the country (hell, first time abroad even) and already I had two things to hand deliver!
Anyway, back on track: we took a ten-minute bus ride to our hotel, the New Emilio, and during that ride I got my first taste of the look and feel of Egypt - in particular, the crazy driving, the excessive use of car horns and the vegetation (loads of palm trees lining the streets). After settling in to the hotel, ie dumping our luggage in our allotted rooms and grabbing a beer each (Stella beer, brewed with Nile water!), we all met up in the hotel reception and decided what to do next. I would be sharing with an Andy for the next two weeks, which gave his four friends from Reading a good laugh: "It looks like you've drawn the short straw," they told me.
Looking at our group, I decided that half of them should have opted for a Saga holiday rather than Explore, so it was no surprise that only half of us, the younger half, opted for a night out at an Egyptian pub. The King's Head. Sounds really authentic, doesn't it? There we met a guy called Hamdi who owns a jewellery shop in the bazaar in Luxor and Ahmed, our skipper-to-be when we get on the boat on Friday. After a few bevvies and a bite to eat we headed off to a belly dancing club known as the Mendeara. This really was the authentic Egyptian experience - we were the only westerners and Kali was the only woman in the place; the music was, well, very Arabic! Andy got stitched up by Hamdi and ended up dancing on stage with the belly dancer. Twice. When he tipped her I thought his visit to Egypt might end there - I don't think it's the done thing to stuff notes down into the cleavage here, but Andy lived to see another day.
At 3.30 in the morning we headed back to the Emilio for a snifter of Whiskey and a snooze.