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The country of the pyramids and vast deserts

date of entry 18/01/2005
mileage 446,658

capital Kairo

area 1.001.449 km²

population 87.182.703

GDP 235.719 Bill. US-Dollar

The remains of one of the earth’s oldest cultures extend southwards from the Mediterranean and along Egypt’s breadbasket, the Nile. But the Holtorfs found the dramatic limestone formations and vast deserts on the Libyan and Sudanese border just as impressive as the country’s cultural treasures. Tourists rarely visit these areas without four-wheel-drive vehicles.
  • The monastery of St Catherine stands at the foot of Mount Sinai, which is mentioned in the Bible. Founded between 548 and 565, it is the oldest continuously inhabited Christian monastery in the world. According to tradition, this is the spot where Moses saw God in a burning thorn bush.
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  • The Holtorfs went to Egypt in 2005. Otto parked in front of the pyramid of Cheops in the Cairo suburb of Giza. The photo was an ordeal for Gunther, who was suffering from lumbago when he climbed onto the bonnet. The pyramid of Cheops...
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  • and the nearby sphinx are Egypt’s most famous trademarks.
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  • These stone monuments, well over 4,000 years old, are surrounded by countless souvenir shops attracting tourists and the occasional goat.
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  • Most of the country’s Christian population lives in Cairo: The Copts have their own neighbourhood of traditional buildings.
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  • But Christine, Gunther and Otto spent most of their time in the desert. They followed the fertile valley of the Nile, which flows northwards through the country.
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  • Sometimes roads get covered by moving sand. Here, a new road is being built in the south to bypass the dunes.
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  • The deserts are empty and potentially dangerous: some areas are mined following repeated conflict during and after the second world war.
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  • British and German troops did battle near the little desert railway station of El Alamein. Losses on both sides were high.
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  • This monument commemorates the dead of El Alamein.
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  • The step pyramids of Saqqara are several centuries older than those in Giza, but less well known, and located in remote desert areas.
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  • But the highlight of the Holtorfs’ visit to Egypt was the White Desert.
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  • These bizarrely shaped limestone formations near the Bedouin village of Farfara show how it got its name.
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  • The bizarrely shaped rocks are part of a national park, one of the hottest and driest places on earth.
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  • These fragile structures have been exposed and shaped by sandstorms over thousands of years.
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  • Bedouins in the more remote desert areas still use camels for transport.
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  • Donkey carts are common in the villages.
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  • Traditional houses adjoining a semi-ruined fortress.
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  • Donkeys are still used in Luxor, the city formerly known as Thebes, on the road to the Valley of the Kings.
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  • The rulers of Egypt’s New Kingdom were buried here over a period of almost 500 years, some 3,500 years ago. Tutankhamen’s tomb is the only one not to have been damaged.
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  • The imposing ruined temple of Karnak is on the opposite side of the Nile.
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  • Many of the reliefs are still in excellent condition after thousands of years.
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  • Traditional wooden boats with triangular sails travel up the Nile from Luxor to the Aswan dam.
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  • Otto took the desert road past the temples of Abu Simbel towards the Sudanese border.
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  • The Temple of Ramses at Abu Simbel was moved in the 1960s when the area was flooded to create Lake Nasser. It is a UNESCO world heritage site.
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  • The Holtorfs crossed the Suez Canal Bridge into the Sinai Desert. With a maximum span of 404 metres and two 1.8-kilometre approach spans, this opened in 2001 and is one of the biggest in Africa.
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  • Big container vessels – here seen a vehicle transporter – seem to be resting in the desert
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  • Endless roads cross the high plateau of Sinai. Today it is almost impossible to cross except in a convoy, due to the danger of terrorist attack.
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  • Video: Egypt: crossing the desert in convoy