Despite Too Many Touts and Bait and Switches, The Author Would Still Return to Egypt’s Incredible Sites
By Norm Bour
As a full-time travel journalist with about 45 countries visited in total, 30 in the past four years, I didn’t really have a “Bucket List” of places to go, but if I did have such a thing, there is one attraction that would be on it:
The Great Pyramid of Giza.
One of the Great Wonders of the World, the Giza pyramid is grouped with two others, the Pyramid of Khafre, and the Pyramid of Menkaure, and joined by another iconic symbol, The Great Sphinx.
Since we were already in this part of the world, Albania, the trips to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, were fairly accessible and it was just a matter of figuring out the order of our visits.
We flew into Tel Aviv, Israel, for a remarkably affordable price, and since this was our first time in Israel, we spent almost a month there.
The sense of history was overwhelming as we walked through the Old City of Jerusalem and to the Israel Museum, which held another historical reference, the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Israel as a Jew
As a Jewish person I was curious before I got there if I would feel some type of “attachment” or sense of history, but, aside from the obvious, it was pretty secular.
Our trip to Jordan was easily done from the town of Jerusalem, and that was via a guided tour with Abraham Tours to Petra, one of the few tours that we have ever done.
As permanent nomads always on the move, we normally shy away from tours for several reasons. But Petra was such a unique destination, we opted for a two-day expedition, including an overnight stay at a Bedouin camp nearby.
With Israel behind us, along with the expenses of visiting there, and Petra done, it was off to stop number three, Egypt.
We read many reviews and watched a lot of videos, so we were prepared for the crowds, the noise, and the chaos, but, even forewarned, it still overwhelmed us.
Egypt is a land of unbelievable and extreme contrasts. History is overwhelming in its scope and significance in today’s world.
From the Ancient Egyptians, we have paper and ink, calendars and timekeeping, and innovations in medicine, and of the three major Western civilizations, it was a significant precursor to the Greek and Roman Empires.
Landing in Cairo in the dark offered a colorful panorama of lights everywhere below us. Our hostel manager from Pyramids Top Inn arranged a pick-up driver and the 45-minute ride from the airport to the relatively small town of Giza, was just the beginning of sensory overload.
Traffic noise was unavoidable, and the freeways carried semis, cars, cycles, and even horse-drawn carriages! The only thing that was missing was camels and mules, but that option presented itself as we entered the town of Giza, and the noise and chaos now became personal.
The inn was certainly not a five-star resort, but the view of the Giza pyramids from our room balcony, as well as the rooftop eatery, made it all worth it. Our hosts were pleasant and we talked about tour options, which we opted for.
The next day a car would meet us at 0900 and take us to the Saqqara Pyramid, the original precursor to all the others, which was part of the Dahshur complex which also included the Red Pyramid, so named because it was built with red limestone. This was where we did our first pyramid entry down into its depths.
Afterward, we stopped at the Ruins of Memphis, the first ancient Egyptian capital, followed the next day by a ride into town to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, which gave us a daylight view of the traffic issues of driving in Cairo.
Though the freeways have lane markers, they were rarely honored, and the drivers jump lanes everywhere they had room, along with driving down the median strip and shoulders.
To call it bedlam would be accurate and the condition of most of the vehicles showed that there was a lot of Demolition Derby taking place.
Even so, the National Museum was breathtaking and had one of the best collections of mummies in the world.
Seeing the actual remnants of King Ramses II was one of the most significant events in my life.
The next day was a continuation of our guided tour, which took us back to the city and the Egyptian Museum, which houses the famous King Tut masks and has over 120,000 items, the largest in the world.
In February the weather was mild, and fortunately, the crowds were too, though still busy everywhere.
We allocated three days for Giza and Cairo, which turned out to be just the right amount of time to see the most significant features. From there we flew to Luxor, which we hoped to be a bit more chilled and relaxed after the chaos of one of the largest cities in the world.
And it was.
Luxor was a nice reprieve and is more rural with fields of green everywhere, a remarkable contrast to the deserts surrounding them. This was just one of the many differences we noticed in Egypt as we moved back and forth between less busy and busy as all hell!
Once again we were blessed with an accommodating host at Oasis Guest House who likewise recommended a guided tour. We recognized that when we had just a finite amount of time, and a lot of land to cover, having a guide made sense.
Over just one day we covered the Valley of the Kings, the Karnak and Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple, and one we were not familiar with, Medinet Habu. On the second day we explored on our own and on the third day did something new for all of us in our party: a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings, which was pure bliss.
Again we were lucky in that our three days there were optimum, and then we departed via our first train ride, south to Aswan, about a two-hour trip.
Getting tickets was a daunting experience and not very positive. The Luxor station personnel spoke very little English and were unhelpful in our quest. In time we were able to get the deed done but felt that we were taken in that the ticket prices for foreigners, defined as anyone not Egyptian or Arab, were almost five times the price for natives. And that trend was pervasive throughout our trip.
On one hand, we were lucky enough to have lovely hosts at our lodgings, but the tour guides we felt would have their hands in our pockets if we gave them an inch.
Egypt’s Famous Aggressive Vendors and Hawkers
In the streets, vendors hawking anything and everything we had no interest in, did not know the meaning of the word NO, and were some of the most aggressive we have ever met. And that attitude and approach forced us to be on the defensive almost every moment we were in the streets, with people in our faces trying to sell, sell, sell.
This was not our first experience with bazaars or with the Middle Eastern way of selling, but after 11 days in Egypt, it became too much. A simple act of ordering food in a restaurant and seeing one price written, yet giving a check with another amount, became insulting in time.
The economy in Egypt is still one of the weakest in the world, and no question everyone is struggling. We felt like we had a “kick me” sign on our backs, or, in this case, “give me money.”
Egypt, would I do it again?
The answer is yes, without a doubt. Steeped in history and iconic monuments, yet one of the filthiest countries we have been to. Affordable, yes, yet you must remain diligent to be sure you are not overcharged at every step.
If ever a country would be labeled as a “split personality,” Egypt is one of them. Such a dichotomy as you will ever see, and a place everyone should visit.
The good news is, it can be done in a reasonably short period of time since many of the “main attractions” are fairly proximate and accessible. I think the 11 days we spent there were just about right, and you can create a remarkable experience in less than 15 days.
If you’ve had experience in Egypt or are interested in visiting I would love to hear back from you.
Norm Bour has been a full-time nomad since leaving the US in 2019. He and his wife have visited 28 countries since then and have no plans to stop, even though they are ages 68 and 70, and their goal is to inspire and motivate other Baby Boomers to see the world regardless of age. He has authored two books on travel and can be reached via www.TravelYounger.com.