Taking part in a tour called Magical Egypt, led by an extremely knowledgeable guide, John Anthony West, I had an unbelievable time in Egypt. All of us on the Quest Tour -- (an outfit I would highly recommend), have become fans of the Egyptians -- they were extraordinarily friendly, open, warm, welcoming. One of the main messages we want to send out far and wide after our experience is GO TO EGYPT! They need our support, especially now!
The scarab beetle, pictured here, has been special for me all my life. My mom had scarab jewelery from Egypt growing up, and I did as well. During this trip it came to take on even deeper meaning, and to stand for one of the basic, spiritual, even mystical messages in the ancient teachings: the possibility and occurrence of transformation. Persistence is required, and the outcome is not obvious from the outset, but from base and basic material, something truly magnificent, even 'magical', can emerge. More on this theme later.
Because I was still traveling, in Austria for two more weeks, and busy with my wonderful family, children and grandchildren, I copy below a note for you from good friend on the trip, which captures the flavor of our journey very well.
Blessings, cheers, Jill
And here's how it transpired:
We left for Cairo on January 27th, arriving the 28th. There had been some minor political demonstrations before we left, but they suddenly took a major turn for the worse just as we arrived, so the “Tourist Police” would not let any tourist groups out of the airport. We thought it would be for an hour or two, but eventually they said we had to spend the night in the airport. The Quest Travel representative who came to pick us up at the airport said we could sleep in the bus, which would be more comfortable than the airport, though it was a long walk from the bus to the airport bathrooms, and the bathrooms had long since run out of paper etc. We resigned ourselves to this fate, but then two young women arrived in vans, one the daughter of Mohamed Nazmy, the head of Quest Travel. They brought us food, and then asked us to get into two vans, pulling the curtains on the van windows. They smuggled us out of the airport in the vans through the domestic entrance, and the empty bus followed with our luggage. It was too dangerous to go to our hotel which was an hour away, so they took us to an excellent hotel near the airport, where we spent the night very comfortably. The next day, the bus returned and took us to Mena House Hotel in Giza. We could see the pyramids from our window, as they were right next to the hotel.
We were pretty much 'trapped' in the hotel for three days. But then, if you have to be trapped in a hotel, Mena House is a spectacular place to be. Tanks guarded the road to the Giza Pyramids , which was also the access road to Mena House. We heard lots of gun shots, especially at night. Mohamed spent a lot of time with us, and we processed our feelings. Several people felt we should leave right away, yet the airport was a parking lot of people, and even if we could get on a plane, there was a major blizzard in New York that closed the airports there. Mohamed returned to his office to find out what our options might be. Mohamed is known as “The Surgeon” by his friends because he knows how to operate. He has his own employees all over Egypt, and friends in high places, including Nazri Hawas, the new Minister of Antiquities. He determined that we could fly to Luxor and visit the temples there – his agents said the sites were open, even though the press said they were closed. And Mohamed invited us to spend a week on his boat, sailing south on the NileLuxor to Aswan, visiting temples along the way. Ordinarily, his boat costs $40,000 a week, but he let us use it without charging us extra beyond what we had already paid for our trip. Mohamed was ready to support us in any decision we might make, but the group as a whole decided to stay in Egypt and go to Luxor, and so we did. We felt safe in Mohamed’s care and felt his loving kindness, and we wished to hold open the space for “change” in Egypt -- the dissolution of the old order and the birth of the new order -– represented by our continued presence. from
We returned to the airport on February 1, leaving by bus before dawn. The people of Cairo were on the streets, guarding their homes from looters, since criminals had been let out of jail. Many sat in chairs in front of their buildings, many around camp fires. A few had guns, many had sticks. They had placed rocks on the roads, forcing all traffic to stop. When they saw us, they let us through their barricades, and waved to us, sometimes blew us kisses. We were all very moved by their greetings. The airport was wall to wall people. It was easier to move in the domestic flight area, and our Egyptian guardians ushered us through the crowds and through the gates to our plane.
When we arrived in Luxor, we stayed one night in a hotel while Mohamed prepared the boat for us. His boat, the Afandina, is a big sailing boat which he had built according to his own design – a bit like the ancient sail boats. It has no motor. When there was no wind, we were pushed by a tug boat which was always at our side. The Afandina had eight cabins, each for two people. We were exactly sixteen people. (Four people in the original group did not make it to Egypt. Had they been with us, we could not have used the boat. So it worked out exactly.) Each cabin had two twin beds, closet, TV, chest of drawers, and full bathroom. The interior of the main rooms on the boat were walled with beautiful polished wood paneling. There were dining tables both indoors and outdoors. We ate our breakfast and lunch every day outdoors, and had out dinner indoors. There was a top deck with lounge chairs.
Our first night in Luxor, we visited the temple there, called in symbolist language, the Temple of Man, which was all lit up. This was our first visit to a monument, and we had the temple almost entirely to ourselves. A long avenue of sphinxes brought the ancient Egyptians to the temple, and the temple itself reflects the dimensions of the male human body.
Our second day, we visited the amazing Temple of Karnak, a huge temple begun in the Middle Kingdom, which represents the Cosmos in its construction and symbology. Then we took a little boat to the West Bank of the Nile where we visited the Valley of Kings, the magnificent mortuary temple of Hatshepsut, the only female pharaoh, and the Ramesseum with its toppled colossal statue of Ramesses II which inspired Shelley’s poem Ozymandias. We were the only visitors at the Valley of Kings!
Finally, we boarded the Afandina to begin our trip south to Aswan. We had a delicious supper on the outer deck as we set sail. Ordinarily, the Nile is filled with tourist boats. We saw them, empty, docked in all the towns. But at this time, the Nile had almost no other tourist boats (we saw two during our week on board). There were, however, the small sailboats and rowboats of the local people. And so we could enjoy the dreamy scenery unimpeded – the palm trees, farms, camels, water buffalo, herons, egrets etc.
We stopped at Edfu to see the Ptolemaic temple there that is dedicated to Horus the Elder, with the famous statue of Horus at the entrance. The next day, we stopped at Kom Ombo to visit the Ptolemaic temple there with its dual aspect – one side dedicated to Horus the Elder (representing the principle of the return to Source embodied in Man), the other side dedicated to Set (representing the forces of darkness and chaos), the central axis a place of balance or harmony between the two.
The next day we arrived in beautiful Aswan. While we were there, we took a bus trip to the magnificent Temple Abu Simbel. John had eliminated this temple from his itinerary some years ago because it was always over-crowded. We got permission to visit the temple through Mohamed’s contact with the Minister of Defense, the Minister of the Interior (police) and the Minister of Antiquities. We were accompanied by a military guy with a machine gun. It took two hours to get there, driving through the Sahara Desert, passing over the Tropic of Cancer. We had the Temple entirely to ourselves! That evening, we enjoyed wandering in the Nubian Market in Aswan, buying souvenirs for ourselves and our families.
The following day, we visited the inspiring Temple of Philae, dedicated to Isis as Mother of Horus. The temple sits on an island in the Nile just outside Aswan. This was a splendid. Many of us experienced a huge heart opening there.
On Feb. 5, we flew back to Cairo, the airport was empty, and the roads were back to normal traffic patterns, though the demonstrations continued in Tahrir Square. We knew the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx were still closed to tourists, so we did not know what to expect. Mohamed had returned to CairoAntiquities, and that the Sphinx and Pyramids would be opened for us the next day! We would be the first tourists to visit since the demonstrations began. two days before we did to see what arrangements he could make for us. He welcomed us when we returned to Mena House and told us that he had spoken with Nazri Hawas, the Minister of Antiquities for further permission.
The next day we took our bus up to the Giza Plateau, and visited the Sphinx first. Tourists in general are not allowed to go into the sphinx enclosure, (though you can buy your way in for $5000). We were allowed to go in. We were greeted there by the Director of the Giza Plateau. John said the Sphinx and the pyramids are like sex – you have no idea what they are unless you experience them. Russ quoted an author who called the Sphinx enclosure “…the splendid place of the first time”. John’s geological research indicates that the sphinx dates at least to 10,000 BC, and possible 36,000 BC. Its energy is intense. To be with it is to sense the ancient roots of our planet’s civilization, so advanced way back then – more advanced than we are today. We then visited the Mortuary Temple of Mycerinus, the solar boat and the Giza , from the outside.
The following day, we were given permission to visit the sites of the necropolis Saqqara and the pyramids of Dashur. They were closed, but opened specially for us. John said Saqqara is usually crowded like Disneyworld. On that day, it was silent and empty. We visited the tomb of Mer-Ruke, and the tomb of Unas’ musician Nufer. John said he had not been in the tomb of Nufer for over twenty years. It is usually shown only to VIPs like Bill Clinton. It contains the most perfectly preserved pyramid texts – the Egyptian Book of the Dead. And it contains an almost perfect mummy.
When we got back to our hotel, a HUGE double rainbow broke out over Cairo. Our Egyptian tour guide told us she had never seen a sky rainbow before --(it almost never rains in Cairo --she had seen one once reflected in a waterfall).
Our final day, or so we thought, we were allowed a private two hours in the Great Pyramid. We ascended in silence to the King’s Chamber, where we chanted and meditated. We took turns lying in the huge granite “sarcophagus”, toning in it. My experience there was beyond words.
But for most of us, it wasn't our last day. Our flight to New York was canceled – postponed to Sunday February 13th. On Friday night, Mubarak resigned. Saturday was a day of celebration in Tahrir Square. We asked our driver to take us to the square in the van. As we drove there, we stopped to buy Egyptian flags. Car loads of Egyptians waved to us, reached out and held hands with us between cars, gave us thumbs up and the victory sign. When we reached the square, the joyous atmosphere was intense. Many Egyptians came to speak to us. They wanted to know why we were in Egypt, and how long we had been there, and what our experience had been. They wanted us to know that they loved us! They wanted to have their picture taken with us. They hugged us and waved their flags. (During our time in Egypt, we were interviewed and photographed by three Egyptian newspapers.)
Finally, on Sunday we did fly out of Cairo on time. The staff at Mena House were very sad to see us go. They said they really loved our group. This was an amazing journey filled with astonishment at the majestic temples and pyramids of Egypt, and filled with an experience of the loving nature of the Egyptian people. It is in times of crisis that we see the true character of people. Mohamed treated us like family. Our hearts were deeply touched by the spirit of all the Egyptians we met and talked to. And the loving kindness, camaraderie and consensus of the group of sixteen people with whom we traveled was remarkable. They were all students of either (or both) the Diamond Approach and the Enneagram, and during our sixteen days together, they walked their spiritual talk.