This is my second article of my Egypt experience. Part 1 was my review of Travel Talk Tours '9-day Explore Egypt' tour which you can find here.
This article is about my personal thoughts and feelings of Egypt - the good and not-so-good I experienced first-hand whilst in Egypt.
As a kid, I’ve loved watching television documentaries about ancient civilizations such as ancient Romans, Greeks, Egyptians and alike. A curiosity about old civilizations that captured my imagination even to this very day. So, the chance to travel to places like Egypt is more than just ticking off another county from my travel bucket list. It’s more like a childhood dream become reality; what I watched on television documentaries was now right before me in real life. It’s the thrill of wandering the same sands as an ancient civilization, walking in the same footprints of hundreds if not thousands of others before me – from other travellers and explorers; to the Egyptian workers of the Great Pyramids and the mighty faros. So when the chance came to travel to Egypt (on a tour) I seized it with both hands and danced in my lounge room like a crazy woman.
Before leaving, I mentioned to friends and family about my upcoming trip. I was met by mixed responses ranging from ‘are you completing nuts?’, ‘why are you going there?’ to ‘having fun, look after yourself because you know it’s dangerous, right?’. I must admit, even the local and national news appeared to share my friends and family’s opinions. But not one to take the local and national news (let alone facebook news) as gospel, I posted questions on local travel websites and facebook groups/communities that I’m a member of. The feedback and tips from other travellers were refreshing and inspiring.
Then six weeks later, I was on the plane from London to Cairo, still pinching myself that this was really happening. My ten-year-old self was staring out the plane window desperately holding back the chant ‘are we there yet? are we there yet?’. Then finally I was here, touch down in Cairo.
As part of the tour I booked, I was greeted at the arrival gate by my airport pickup who helped with purchasing my visa (a tip from other travellers - take US dollars with you to pay for your visa once you land – this was a huge help for my airport pickup as I had the actual amount for my visa - $25 USD, so we skipped the line-up hassle). With my visa and baggage sorted and collected, we were off..
The drive through the Cairo traffic was an experience on its own – call it ‘organised chaos’ – the roads maybe painted four lanes but you would easily have five to seven motor vehicles, bikes, horse/donkey and carts side by side. If there was a gap, they filled it. When the traffic stopped, everyone was hanging out their windows talking to each other. There was a kid riding in a back of a ute beside the motor vehicle I was in; he started a conversation with me throw my window, asking me where I was from and what it was like to fly on a plane. Then we were moving again. The air was filled with the sounds of horns and different types of music coming from different motor vehicles and bikes, and sand (lots and lots of sand). My driver said ‘if you play driving games on a PlayStation then you can drive in Cairo’. Oh, how true he was..
I was fascinated by what our accommodation would be like. The hotel was stunning. It was like a little satellite city with its own pools, spa and gym, tennis and basketball courts, small shops and several different restaurants and pubs you could choose from. My first full day (before my tour started) was filled with sitting in the sun, catching up on my journaling, reading a book and an amazing relaxing 90-minute massage. The staff were fantastic – friendly and always smiling.
Once the tour started (check out my review on Travel Talk Tour’s 9 day Egypt tour) there was non-stop. It was late nights (booking into our hotel and curling up in bed at 2 am), early mornings (up and getting on the bus at 5 am), and long coach rides (9 hours on some days). But that’s part of the joys of being on a guided tour and keeping on a timeframe. The tour itself was full of the ‘must-do, must-see’ whilst in Egypt. The tour covered everything I wanted to see, experience, touch, taste and do whilst in Egypt. I can’t fault the tour at all – the guide was a local experienced tour guide that oozed knowledge and was full of energy and a huge smile, and the driver was funny though didn’t speak much English. The best advice our tour guide told us (that probably saved many of us including myself from problems) was ‘in Egypt, nothing is for free, even if somebody says it is’. What he meant was, many local people hang out about ruins, temples, pyramids and other attractions and offer to take pictures for you then won’t give your camera or phone back until you pay them. The same goes for taking pictures of locals or with locals – expect to pay money.
Have you ever had a moment where you find yourself going….. ‘OMG, this is actually real!’ Well, I had several of those moments along with ‘wow, just wow’ moments too. One of those moments was walking in the sands at the Great Pyramids of Giza and coming face-to-face with some of the stones that make up the pyramids – to find that some of the stones are as tall as you and easily out weigh you. I remember standing there, in the shadow of the giant pyramid staring up to the very top (and getting a click in my neck for my effects - lol) and feeling so very small and insignificant in the presence of something so ancient and full of mystery. Other ‘wow’ moments were wandering through the ruins of Karnak Temple and Abu Simel temples. My inner-child was like a child on Christmas morning; mouth wide-open in pure wonder of the presents in front of her. I could easily spend hours if not days just wandering around checking out all the art, statutes and hearing all the different stories of the kings and queens that walked the same steps that I now was taking.
Along with the beauties and gems of Egypt, you can’t help but notice the ‘not so glamorous; side of Egypt. But keep in mind, no matter what country you travel to, it will have its less dazzling side too.
Travelling allows you the opportunity to see and experience other cultures and lifestyles. I was informed about certain attitudes towards women before I left but it wasn’t until I was on a local cruise boat on the River Nile, during a ‘games night’ that it really hit home. Two games were played which involved women ‘players only’. The first game ended up with two women blind-folded crawling on the floor trying to find a spoon which men were using to either tap on the ground or on the heads of the blind-folded women then throwing the spoon to each other – all whilst being videoed by male audience. This made me feel extremely uncomfortable. For the last game, the organiser had all women on the dance floor and declared we all belly-dance for our male audience and we won’t allow to leave the dance floor until we ‘performed’ again whilst being recorded by the male audience. Some of us were able to escape the dance floor with the assistance of our male tour companions. Whilst settling my bill at the bar, I was cornered by four o our male ‘audience’ who were extremely disrespectful towards me but needlessness to say, I showed them the error of their ways. When I and other tour members bought up our concerns to our cruise guide, our concerns were brushed off as ‘its Egypt, that how things are done here’. I found many of the ‘well-off’ men struggled with the notion of a single woman travelling on herself and not interested in marriage or children. I received five marriage proposals and apparently, I’m worth four camels – interesting to know I guess. Overall, I found the local people beautiful. Though I didn’t spend a lot of time with the locals at the places we visited (another joy of being on tour) but when we could ‘slow down’ and have an afternoon wandering the local streets near our hotels, local people would approach us, just wanting to chat with us and ask to have photos with us. I found that the local people were so genuine, welcoming and friendly.
Be prepared to be continually hustled for money; from the moment you step out of your hotel room or from your coach, you are hustled for money from the homeless to street and store venders. If you need to use a toilet, be it public or restaurant toilets, be prepared to dish out money. You always feel like you are forever handing over money; be it entrance fees, tips, food, using toilets, buying water – it can very tiring and overwhelming. FYI tip – 1 Egyptian Pound (EGP) = 0.0411 British Pound (£), so say an entrance fee is EGP 150, that’s approximately £6 – this can put things into perspective when monitoring your cash flow/budget.
There is a lot of litter everywhere you go. You’ll be in awe, taking in a moment, something stunning, something special only to find the ground will be littered with litter. You’ll want to capture a moment in a photograph but you’ll find that many of your photos will have a lot of litter in the background. If you suffer from breathing issues, sinus or like conditions then consider taking medication and masks with you. I suffer from regular sinus symptoms and within two days of being in Egypt, I struggled to breathe due to the dust and sand into in the air. And I wasn’t the only one on the tour that struggled with this. Just be prepared!
If you are an animal lover, then Egypt may break your heart. There are a lot of street animals like cats and dogs – admittedly many of the cats and dogs I saw generally looked well fed. But it was the horses and donkeys that broke my heart. Many of these animals are used as a mode of transport - be it in farming or as transport (with cart). But the thing that struck me was the physical conditions of the horses and donkeys and how they were treated – some were skin and bone. I remember watching two very young horses being ‘broken in’ by their owners – you could plainly see how terrified those horses were. It was so sad to watch. But its also part of the local culture.
For me, Egypt is a huge contradiction. It’s the new with the old and ancient; tradition mixed with the modern; poor with the worthy. It’s the land of history and beauty mixed with heart-breaking realities. It met every childhood dream expectation I ever had but also gave me experiences that I could only have in Egypt. If you get the chance then experience Egypt yourself. I promise you, you'll walk away with some life changing experiences.
Have you been to Egypt? Did you enjoy this post? Did you like the pictures? Then feel free to share and/or leave a comment. I would love to hear from you.. xxx