Egypt is officially the most different country I’ve ever been to. Culturally, geographically, socially, its all very exotic and so different from Western societies.

Firstly, they home deliver KFC. Tee hee… sorry, just noticed a congregation of KFC motorcycle delivery men out the window of this internet cafe. Now that is an interesting concept…

The items of wonder I am referring to are a little more interesting than home-delivered fried chicken. The most awe-inspiring site is that of the pyramids, of course. Its been described a multitude of times, its been shown on TV and movies endlessly, but there is something quite moving about your first view of a pyramid. Particularly the Giza pyramids, as you approach them through a wildly chaotic road, with cars beeping their horns instead of using their indicators to signal lateral movement on the roads, and endless estates of red-brick half-finished apartment blocks (left deliberately unfinished for when the grand kids arrive and they need to expand their block!). Then out of the pollution-stained hazy sky, you see an incongruously tall structure with elegant straight edges. Its seems unreal at first, this juxtaposition of hectic mad city with graceful monuments to eternity. You approach the pyramids, and at first you think to yourself “Gee, I thought they’d be bigger”, until you see humans at the base of them, and realise that their size is difficult to gauge without a basis for comparison. And they are huge. Each stone is the height of a human, though from afar, they look like teensy steps. They tower into the sky, for the most part still completely intact, which is staggering considering they are almost 4000 years old. Its humbles you when you think about how long ago that was.

So the pyramids have been great. On other days we happen to casually see them as we drive, and the sight still shocks me… modern day ugliness with ancient beauty in the background. The sphinx as well, very impressive… you are aware you are doing the touristy things, but you cannot help but gasp as the grandeur and legacy of these ancient Egyptians.

Modern Egyptians, on the other hand, well, they are a mixed lot. Now, I have travelled in many places where people try very hard to sell to you, and men try to seduce you, but here its been a challenge, particularly as a single woman. The selling I can cope with… its annoying and makes you cynical and unfriendly to any new person you meet, but its not unusual. The ‘seduction’ is very annoying… I was well-prepared with what to expect, but it still upsets you a bit, when almost every man you meet gives you a full look up and down, asks if you have a husband, proposes to you, or wants to sidle up to you. Eek. I’ve taken to pretending that a oldish man on the tour is my husband, much easier to pretend!

Culturally, its fascinating. We had a cab driver who had no idea how to find our hotel, even though we asked him several times before we boarded “Do you know where this is? Are you sure?”. Of course, he had no idea, and even after he did – and I kid you not – 8 U-turns on a busy highway, he was still insisting he knew where it was. In the end, we recognised a building, and directed him back to our hotel ourselves. Hmmm… Then there is the practise of answering every question with “If you like”. So, we ask our tour guide: “Do we need to check out of our hotel before our tour today?”, “If you like”, was her non-commital answer. “Do we need a sleeping bag on the train tonight?”, “If you like”. “It is worth going into the pyramid for 100 Egyptian pounds?”, “If you like”. To be honest, I am not sure if this is an example of Egyptian culture, or the complete incompetence of our tour guide. We all are starting to suspect the latter. Last night, after forgetting to book a restaurant we had told her we wanted to go to, she suggested another place, spoke in Arabic to three taxis to take us there, then she got into a fourth. At the destination, we were left on a busy road, the taxi driver pointed vaguely in the direction of about 5 restaurants and drove off. We stood for 40 minutes out in the cold waiting for her. She never arrived. In the end we found a place ourselves, and struggled through the Arabic menu. She never turned up. Or even more amusingly, during our orientation meeting, she spent 90 minutes laboriously writing down our insurance and flight details onto a piece of paper, while we all sat awkwardly waiting for some introduction or smile. Nothing. In the end I had to start asking everyones names and getting the conversation going… then the next night, she said her office told her the flight information needed to be written in our handwriting (why??!), so could we all write it down now. So asked her if she had the original sheet so we could copy it from there, rather than finding our flight tickets again in our rooms… oh no, she didn’t have it anymore. AAAHHH…. I’m wingeing, I know, our whole tour group has been, she is truly terrible. But its only been two days, maybe it will get better.

Anyway, we are off tonight on a train south to Aswan and Luxor, then a 3 day Nile cruise, where I will be for Xmas. I may not have a chance to be online again til then, so have a wonderful Christmas and New Year! I miss you all.

Oh, and why have a titled this entry the Key of Life? Two reasons. The Key of Life is the symbol that looks like a Christian cross, but with a loop at the top rather than a fourth branch. It was used by ancient egyptians as an offering on death to the gods, as a petition for eternal life. Its also the name of the essential oil perfume I bought today at a perfume factory. Very musky and delicious!