This is by far my longest entry to date... so sit back, relax, and enjoy the pictures!

After a few days in Cairo, leaving feels like changing out of bowling shoes into regular ones: it's that refreshing. As much as I loved the energy of the city, the incessant honking and the air pollution makes LA feel like a little town in Kansas.

And the smog... oh man, the smog!
And so, I hopped on a train from Ramses Station and headed to Alexandria, Egypt's window to the Mediterranean.

Alexander the Great was a creative man and basically named all of his cities Alexandria - this one being just one of them. After he died, most of them changed their names, but somehow this Alexandria remained.

While I was expecting something of a Mediterranean beach city like Tel Aviv, Alexandria felt more like Cairo's little brother... with more water.
If you ignore the trash though, Alexandria is quite the beautiful city. French buildings, fantastic sunsets, what more can you ask for?
I watched a young Egyptian couple have a romantic dinner on the beach - that is until they tossed their trash straight into the ocean...
The city also uses their original 19th century trolleys as their metro system. It's painfully slow, but gives the city a pretty authentic vintage feel.
What used to be one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, the Alexandria Lighthouse stands no more. But in its place is a crusader era fortress.
Most tourists skip Alexandria, so I stuck out like a sore thumb everywhere I went. 

In fact, some places I felt like a tourist attraction myself. Egyptian guys and girls would approach me asking to take a picture with me in the most random places. 

On the street? Sure, why not. In an internet cafe? Alright. In the bathroom though, that was a strange one.
As with any ancient city, you have your plethora of ruins.
The Romans really liked their amphitheaters. I swear I've seen at least 10 amphitheaters at this point. My guess is acting was a pretty stable job in Ancient Rome.
And perhaps the loneliest pillar in the world. Forever alone.
A few days later, I decided to take an overnighter (i.e. sleeper train) straight to Aswan, the southernmost city on the Egyptian Nile and slowly work my way back up to Cairo.

A rickety thirteen hours later, I woke up to a bustling town on the southern Nile. 

The Lonely Planet guidebook called Aswan a "small city much more relaxed than Cairo or Luxor."

Lonely Planet lied.
Much to my disbelief, the concept of no thank you did not exist in Aswan. Right from the start, this "relaxed town"  had the most aggressive street vendors I had ever encountered. 

A simple "la shukran" didn't cut it in Aswan;  street vendors chased me, grabbed me, and yelled at me because I wouldn't buy their stuff.

One night, I couldn't even leave my hostel to buy some water without being mobbed by at least 5 different people. I wasn't the only one with these experiences, of course.

I did, however, meet Yuya and Masato, two Japanese guys who had a great sense of humor!
We escaped the city and took a three hour ride to see Abu Simbel, an incredible temple carved by Ramses II once upon a time.
Ramses II also built another temple close by for his favorite of his 54 wives, Queen Neferteri. I'm pretty sure the other 53 were very jealous.
That same day, we took a boat to see the Philae Temple, the last Ancient Egyptian temple built before the Romans came and wreaked havoc.
It's safe to say we were pretty exhausted after 13 hours of sightseeing. One can only take in so many hieroglyphics in one day.
The next day, I took a boat across the Nile and did some climbing to explore some tombs on the west bank.

What I expected to see at the top were some more dusty tombs. Instead, I discovered an impeccable view of the Nile all to myself.
Instead of the usual train ride to the next city, I decided this time to drift my way to the next destination.

I met Matt from Canada, and we signed up for an overnight Egyptian felucca ride up the Nile to Luxor!
That awesome boat in the center... was not our boat. We had the tiny little budget felucca on the right.

Small, but comfy indeed.
We met Ajit from India and Mariya from Bulgaria and, as we drifted slowly down the Nile, we swapped travel stories over some wonderful food.
I slept like a baby that night on the felucca. Unlike the restless ocean, the Nile River is calm and gentle. That night, I realized without this little river, none of Egyptian civilization would have ever existed.

On the way to Luxor, we stopped by two temples: one devoted to the crocodile god, Sobek, and the other to the sun/bird god, Horus.
As Matt gleefully pointed out to me, "It's a bird... with a hat!"
Not just a casino in Las Vegas, the real Luxor is where the ancient Egyptian capital of Thebes was - home of the Valley of the Kings.

As for all the things I saw in Luxor, let's just say I did so much I'll let the pictures do the talking.

You might notice I'm wearing the same shirt in all these pictures. Why? Because this is all one day. This was, if I recall correctly, a 21-hour day.
That night, we enjoyed some Meister (Egyptian beer) and cheap Egyptian food on the rooftop of the hostel.
After Luxor, just when I thought I had seen everything there was to see in Egypt, a few passing backpackers urged me to go see the western desert. 

While I did see a lot of desert already from Dubai to Jordan, I decided to squeeze in one last stop: Bahariyya, a little oasis in western Egypt.

Best last-minute decision I've ever made.
The Black Desert was one thing, but the White Desert... oh, man!
On my desert safari, I shared a car with three Chinese girls, and we set off for camping in the desert!
When there's no snow to snowboard on, why not sandboard instead?
That night, we shared a campfire with some funny Aussies, who I'm sure had more than just tea to drink!
We also had a thirsty little visitor at our campsite!
The next morning, we were surprised to find our little fox sleeping just a few feet away from our tents. I guess it gets pretty lonely out there in the desert.
After my impromptu desert adventure, it was time to go back into that hazy circus known as Cairo.

While I was gone, they apparently had another protest and burned a bus!
With an extra day to burn, I decided to go see the pyramids of Giza again... yes, they are that amazing!

On my way there, I ran into Lara and Geoffrey from France who I had met in Aswan, so we ended up spending the entire day together.
Seeing the pyramids a second time was just as spectacular to me as the first. That night, we tasted some local juices and went browsing in the night markets. I would say Lara, a spice lover, bought at least 8 pounds of spices alone!

After they flew back to France, my final night in Egypt was spent hanging out with Bruno and Eva from Hong Kong, who treated me to some delicious farewell ice cream downtown.

It was a wonderful way to top off the end of my Egyptian saga.
On my way to the airport that night, I experienced an unexpected final act of kindness in Egypt. Being a little lost and not being able to locate the airport bus, I went to an Egyptian guy for directions.

Juhanna, a college student, not only spent 10 minutes looking for my bus, but when he found it, he even took the one-hour ride to the airport with me! He insisted on paying the bus fare and wanted to make sure I got there!

What a wonderful lasting impression of Egypt. Shukran, Juhanna!
As with any country I've visited, leaving has always been the hardest part. 

While my 21 days in Egypt did have its corrupt cops and crazy hasslers, my memories of this wonderful place are filled with its history, its culture, and its much-too-often kind strangers.

I'll definitely miss you, Egypt!
PS: Happy birthday, dad!
 
So before I delve into details about my visit to the pyramids, I must start with the beginning of the Egyptian chapter of my book thus far.
One thing's for sure. I'm sure as hell glad I made the decision to come anyway, despite the protests and post-revolution state!

First off, if you fly into Cairo, getting a visa on arrival at the airport is easy as cheese, but land crossing into the Sinai peninsula from Israel is as bad as it sounds. They "technically" don't issue Egyptian visas because Egypt has recently lost control of the Sinai, but as you know, most rules are flexible in this part of the world.
I ended up paying a big bribe ($85) to get my Egyptian visa at Taba, but it was well worth the alternative of being stuck in the Sinai. Getting the visa in Israel was a no-go, since then I would have proof of having visited Israel. 

I also met some new friends at the border crossing: Korken from LA and Kaori from Japan. The bargaining power of the three of us gave us a two and a half hour TAXI RIDE to Dahab for 18 bucks a person? I'll take it.
Dahab, a sleepy little beach town on the Sinai, was a wonderful way to ease into Egypt. After the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv, this place was quite nice to reflect and unwind.
Just a few hours into Dahab, we had some awesome koshary - the Egyptian vegetarian dish that even a week later, I am still hooked on!
The owner of the restaurant, Mohammed, was a bike enthusiast and asked us if we knew how to ride a motorcycle. Next thing I knew, I was behind the wheels and learning how to weave through the streets of Dahab!
Egypt is by far the cheapest country I've ever been to. After adapting to Israeli prices, I was shocked at how cheap everything was once again: hostels from as low as 4 bucks a night and meals for less than a dollar!
Korken and I made a midnight trip to climb Mt. Sinai - the place where Moses is said to have received the ten commandments. Watching the sun rise from the peak was worth every minute of that 10 mile climb!
I also went SCUBA diving for the first time since I got certified in July. Everything from the equipment to the guide cost a total of only 25 dollars! And the Red Sea felt wonderful. 
After a few calm days in the Sinai, I parted ways with my new friends and disembarked on a 9-hour bus ride to Cairo. This massive Egyptian capital of 16 million people is certainly not for the faint-of-heart.
While downtown Cairo was fairly upscale, other parts of the city were simply trashed beyond belief. The smog and air pollution during rush hour made it hard to breathe at times.

Some Egyptians told me the trash is temporary from the revolution, but I don't know. I've seen people throw their leftovers  directly on the street...
My hostel, close to Tahrir Square, was virtually empty as you can imagine! Because of the revolution last year and the recent protests, there were almost no tourists in Cairo. I could go three hours walking through downtown without seeing a single other foreigner. This was totally different (and way better) than the tourist-flooded Egypt I had long heard about.
Despite what you may hear on the news, I felt very safe walking around Tahrir Square at night. For the most part, it's just a hangout spot for the Cairo youth: there's even a KFC and a Pizza Hut there.
I talked to a few young Egyptians who protested during the revolution last year. "Egypt is nowhere near perfect yet, but we're much happier now than we were with Mubarak," one college student told me.

Of course, there are still remnants of the revolution.
Near the square, I walked to the US Embassy where barbed wire buffered the building a block away - to stop the protests.
The next day, I finally made my way to the Pyramids of Giza, something I had dreamed of seeing since I was a kid.

I splurged and hired a horse (hosan in Arabic) and guide since walking between the pyramids on thick sand is absolutely killer to the knees.
My guide, Mohammed, a college student working part-time at the pyramids, basically took me anywhere I wanted for a good two and half hours. He had a Chinese girlfriend in Libya and was thrilled when I told him I was from Taiwan.
There are basically 9 pyramids at the Giza complex: three large ones for 3 Pharaohs, 3 small ones for their wives, and 3 for their sons.

It's hard to imagine just how far away 5,000 years is! 2600 BC was a long, long, very long time ago.
Because of the revolution, I was almost completely alone most places with Mohammed! I felt like I was discovering the pyramids for the first time myself.

Where were all the busloads of tourists? Where were the long lines? Where were the aggressive vendors?
I don't think there's a better time than right now to see the pyramids! In a few years, once the new government is stable again, pictures like this will be impossible once again.
Oh hello there Sphinx!
After the tour, Mohammed invited me to see his grandfather's farm outside the city. In a spontaneous turn of events, I ended up spending that afternoon drinking tea with Bedouin farmers, all of which were thrilled to meet me!
After two weeks in Israel, I really missed that Arab hospitality!
He also introduced me to some of his friends and we picnicked and had koshary on the farm.
Of course, Mohammed's grandfather asked me to stay with them, but I had to go see the rest of Egypt.

Not only did they not have Facebook, Mohammed didn't even have an e-mail address! It was incredible to me to meet other young people completely untouched by social media.
I went from watching the sunrise that morning in Giza to watching it set on a Bedouin farm along the Nile.
Back in crazy Cairo (Kha-HERA mag-NOON in Egyptian Arabic), I did have a few run-ins with the usual tourist problems. I had a cop approach me asking for my "photography license" - something that doesn't exist - basically to ask for a bribe. Luckily for me, a kind Egyptian passer-by yelled at the cop to leave me alone in Arabic, and walked me out of there.

A few days later another cop approached me and directly asked for money, but I simply ignored him. If I didn't do anything wrong, what could he stop me for?

I also got pickpocketed for the first time on the Cairo subway. I lost about 50 Egyptian Pounds (8 dollars), which left me more impressed than anything! I'm still baffled as to how on earth the guy managed to get into my money-belt.

Despite these mishaps from corrupt officials, I realized quickly that the regular Egyptian people are just as friendly as Palestinians, Omanis, and Jordanians. 

It's sad to me that Egypt gets a bit of a bad reputation because of their tourist scammers.
On another day, I visited Saccara and Dahshur - home of the original pyramids. These pyramids are a few hundred years older than the Pyramids of Giza! 

Smaller, but built over 5,000 years ago...
The Bent Pyramid, funny enough, was not intentional. The pharaoh building it at the time didn't exactly have the best engineers and so, sometime about halfway through, they realized the angle was too steep to be stable and changed it.
The inside of some pyramids were lined with thousands of hieroglyphics, each one carved individually by workers once upon a time. I can definitely see why Egyptians are so proud of their culture.
Duck, owl, snake, slug, eye, foot...
They also illustrated some interesting stories in the tomb walls.
I guess this is where the PAUSE button was invented.
Even though so much sand, dust, and time had passed, I was surprised at how well most things were preserved. 

Note to self: If you want to build something that lasts, do it on stone!
Roman ruins feel almost recent compared to these ancient tombs. When the Romans stormed Egypt and defeated Cleopatra, these had all been around for almost 3,000 years!

Two millennia later, they're still here and thousands of years from now, they're still likely to be around.
My last few days in Cairo, I met Jay from South Korea who had traveled all the way to Egypt by motorcycle. He biked through all of Russia and Europe before ferrying from Turkey to Egypt. 

His ambitious round-the-world trip includes going all the way to South Africa, ferrying to Brazil, and biking up through the Americas, Alaska and back to Korea! I invited him to stay with me in LA once he reaches California sometime next year.
All in all, the Sinai and Cairo have been surprisingly safe and friendly places for a guy like me. Even in Egypt, I've realized just how different my experiences have been compared to what I expected.

More adventures to come as I drift further along the Nile and deeper into Egypt!
Oh and here's a mummy if anyone's interested. 

Warning: It's a little creepy.