Before we visited Egypt, my mind was made up on a number of things. For instance, I just knew we would be able to feel the anti-American sentiments after the recent demonstrations that took place. Beyond that, having spent so much time in Jerusalem where the tension between religions is extraordinarily heightened, I was positive that we would feel some sort of animosity from a largely Muslim population.
It’s amazing how radically my mind was changed after just 11 hours in this country.
Let me not get ahead of myself – rewind those 11 hours, to the beginning of our trip. We met one of our guides, Hassan, at the port and his personality immediately catches me off guard. He was funny, happy, smart, and welcoming. He reminded me so much of an English teacher I once had in high school (Mr. East, for the Brookstone alums reading) – feisty and opinionated in a way that would challenge my way of thinking. He referred to my father as King David and would peak over the seat to make faces and wave at me on the drive. He was not at all what I was expecting and his happy-go-lucky attitude instantly lightened the mood. We felt comfortable and at ease in our private Volkswagen van.
Not only did Kenes provide Hassan as a guide, they also generously assigned an Egyptologist named Salah to travel with us. He knew the the culture and history of Egypt backwards and forwards.
After the three hour drive from Alexandria, we reached Giza, home of the last remaining wonder of the ancient world, The Great Pyramid. It’s the second of the current seven wonders that we’ve seen on this trip, which means I only have five more to go. Too bad we couldn’t have tacked on Jordan and made it three with a visit to Petra – maybe next time. I also checked off my third desert visited this year, the Sahara, and second time in Africa, although Northern Africa is worlds away from what I saw in South Africa.
Another item marked off the bucket list in Egypt? RIDING A CAMEL!!
Ask any of my friends, this is the activity that I was most looking forward to. It exceeded my expectations. As soon as the camel stood up, my heart leaped…probably a little higher than expected, I didn’t take into account how ridiculously tall a camel is. The first part of the ride was actually a bit terrifying.
“Hold on, sit back, and relax,” the camel guy told me. I did two of the three. There would be no relaxing until my feet were back on the solid sands of the Sahara.
While taking photos, my camel turned around, looked at me, and rubbed my leg with his head. I think his ear just itched, but it was a touching moment. By the end of the trip, the guides even let me ride independently without their help. I wish I could’ve taken him home with me, I think he would be a much better ride to work than my 4Runner. I would’ve named him King Tut.
I couldn’t help but laugh at the site of my grandfather on the back of a camel. Ronal usually goes along with whatever we’ve signed him up for, not quite sure what he’s getting himself into until he’s already there. Riding a camel is a prime example – I wish I had a picture of the look on his face, but even that wouldn’t do it justice.
Thanks to this private tour, we were always one step ahead of the crowds. The best part? After splitting the price five ways, we wound up paying the same amount as the group tours and didn’t have to wait for 50 other passengers to take turns riding camels. Private is definitely the way to go.
Not only that, we had a wonderful lunch overlooking the Pyramids at the Oberoi Mena House, which was included in our tour. This made me regretful that we didn’t get to participate in our original plan of overnighting at the Four Seasons Nile Plaza, which Salah told me was the nicest Four Seasons he had ever seen. We canceled our stay after the protests two weeks ago, thinking the situation in Cairo might still be going strong. However, the situation in Egypt is no situation at all – we would’ve been fine staying.
Over lunch, we discussed the demonstrations with Salah, who informed us of what actually happened: the media needed a story, so they blew the instances out of proportion, at least in Egypt’s case. The things reported, like the number of protestors and level of anger toward the States, were aggrandized in the news. What he saw in person was nowhere near the horror that was displayed across our television screens. Maybe we shouldn’t always believe what we see in the media.
We ended our day with a visit to the Egyptian Museum, which houses the collection of treasures found inside King Tut’s tomb. Photographs aren’t allowed, but that didn’t stop me (until one of the guards saw me and said something – that definitely stopped me). Still, I had to have visuals to go along with this blog. The things I do for you, readers. The things I do.
On our way back from Cairo, exhausted from a long day, Hussan turned around and told us to ask him anything about the country. Anything.
I’ve never spent much time with someone of the Islamic faith, so I asked him a few questions about his beliefs and how the religion played into the current way of life, government, the revolution, etc. It sparked one of the most interesting and informative conversations that I’ve ever had, more educational than any lecture I could’ve possibly attended.
Beyond the religious implications, Hussan described Egypt’s current political situation, comparing it to a wound. “We can’t build on an open wound, we have to take the time to stitch it back up,” he said, making a stitching motion with his hands. “It has to be healed before we can move forward, but it is getting there.”
Their current political situation is better than it was before the revolution, especially in terms of safety, a topic that Salah had addressed earlier in the day. Still, the country is definitely hurting financially and their unemployment has topped 12%. One thing that can certainly help is to restore the tourism industry to the way it was before the revolution, but Egypt is getting such a bad reputation in the media that reinstating the number of travelers is a daunting task.
We can’t even imagine how much of an impact something like the recent protests have had on them. I think it takes a certain amount of trust to travel to a place like this, to visit and to see that it is perfectly fine for others to travel here. At no point did I feel uncomfortable or unsafe. The Egyptian people were warm and welcoming and I now feel confident in sending my clients to this part of the world with a trusted company like Kenes, who has definitely taken care of me and my family.
Egypt is not a country with a bloodlust for America. It’s a normal, functioning society and an overwhelming majority of the people are more concerned about the progress of their democracy than about a twelve minute long YouTube video.
“This is how it is here,” Hussan told us, pointing toward one another. “People to people. That is what the world needs to see. This is Egypt, but look at what the media is doing, it is creating a scandal.”
It’s very, very true.
In the days prior, my father would’ve been fine spending another day at sea than visiting Egypt. He was dead set against supporting a country that, from what we had seen on the news, was so blatantly disrespecting our own. However, after seeing the welcoming environment firsthand (even the street vendors were friendlier than we had been told!) and talking with the people, his mind was changed. Not only that, as he spoke to Hussan, who was so intelligent and interesting in his viewpoints, he even made a friend. Who would’ve thought? King David and Hussan exchanging email addresses and finding each other on Facebook.
It’s an interesting world we live in, we just have to be open to experiencing it and letting it change us.
God’s been living in that ocean, sending us all the big waves
And I wish I was a sailor so I could know just how to trust
Maybe I could bring some grace back home to dry land for each of us
– Gregory Alan Isakov, “3 AM”