There are some places that blow your mind and writing about them comes almost too easily. There are some places that really aren’t overly impressive, or perhaps weren’t memory friendly so you chose not to write about them, and then there are places like Egypt. A place I could only dream of visiting, a place I studied in school and only knew through the pages of a book. A place that not only blew my mind, but one that impressed me in more ways than one.
We all go to Egypt, or at least I did for the Pyramids. Okay, fine!! it’s me we’re talking about so I went for the Pyramids and the food, but that goes without saying, I always want to eat the food! I arrived at a time when Egypt isn’t being portrayed as the safest place to visit, and perhaps it isn’t, but where exactly can I visit in this day in age where I won’t read about a million and one warnings? Reading from a number of online sources there’s almost always something to look out for. I long ago stopped worrying about what I read and what I saw on the news. In the case of Egypt, I’m still thankful that I pay no attention to it. This is the awesome experience I had!
Egypt is an exceptionally welcoming country to arrive in. From the airport and yes even immigration, to the taxi, to my host from AirB&B, to the numerous locals who wanted to have a photo taken with me. Mothers and wives that just wanted to introduce themselves and ask me all about my country and what I thought of theirs, children who behaved like the paparazzi when they saw me walk through their neighborhood, to the endless friends I made in my short time there. Men did NOT harass me, I find it crucial to clarify on this because from all my online research I was sure that I was going to arrive to yet another place where men make just too many remarks or comments or gestures. But I assure you, this was in no way anything I encountered, and I wandered through local communities, went to touristy places, took tuk tuks as transportation, sat at local cafes and used the public transportation. All the encounters I had with men were friendly and respectful. The markets were low stress, at least in comparison to others I’ve been to, people greeted me and asked me to come to their shop, but a simple “no thank you” was accepted and that was it. I always remember that people still need to make a living, asking me to buy something or asking me to come to your shop is not harassment.
And to the good stuff, The Pyramids!! the last remaining wonder of the Ancient world, at least the Great Pyramid of Giza is. I visited several sites, just to also get the almost tourist free experience and because I like to go wondering off a bit too far while getting lost and having to find my way back. I visited the museums, which are a captivating mess. This country has soo many artifacts that sorting through them and ensuring all is protected is an endless job. I’m use to visiting museums in young countries with almost no history in comparison. Everything is behind glass and closely guarded while the walls are covered with warnings about no photos, no touching, no noise, no standing too close. In Egypt, I walked through mostly sites and some museums containing artifacts thousands of years old with no coverings, no warnings and no rules. Commonsense I believe is still meant to apply, but let’s be honest, there is nothing common about commonsense, I even witnessed a couple placing their toddlers on statues and artifacts for that “perfect photo”. Can you imagine my shock? There is a visible care factor from some, but with all these ancient treasures to sort through and label and research and protect and maintain, the tasks are just endless, so for this time it remains simply put: a captivating mess.
I spent my days walking through the markets and haggling just a bit. Egyptians quite like to negotiate their price. They easily increase the price by 100% from their lowest acceptable price, and then the negotiations becomes a bit of a sport. It’s never a short thing, you walk into the shop, find something you like but pretend you haven’t seen it, you ask the price of 20 other things with the one thing you want somewhere in there, they give you a price, you cut that in half – at the very least, and you end up getting it for about 40% less then the original price stated about 15 to 20 minutes later, but only after you’ve seen the owners other shop and been given the directions to his cousins shop. For something a bit different, you are almost always given a small gift after the transaction as a token of appreciation. It’s honestly a great way to spend the afternoon and it’s in no way aggressive, it’s really like a sport. Perhaps it should be included in the Olympics?
When in a country where everyone you meet has this genuine hospitality about them you become comfortable and it allows you to feel at ease and perhaps a bit more adventurous. I wandered off one afternoon, taking the bus to connect to a train which I thought would take me to a site with Pyramids, but it didn’t. So I got off at the last stop and hopped on a packed local bus, which dropped me off under some bridge, I took the stairs to the top for the simple reason that the street above seemed busier and waved down a Tuk Tuk that took me to the edge of a village. The driver told me ( I think, because I don’t speak Arabic) that he couldn’t go any further – Tuk Tuk turf wars perhaps, could there really be such a thing? So I finished my journey by foot. I walked along a river and through a village, I could see sand-dunes in the distance so I aimed in their direction. It seemed I might actually make it after all until I came up to a big cement wall. No problem I thought, it can’t go on forever, so I walked along the wall, and I walked and I walked and I walked. The village ended, the trees got thicker and the crowds were nowhere to be seen. I almost turned around, until I saw in the distance an old man with a cane staring in my direction looking mighty confused. I skipped and hopped along his way and in my best broken Arabglish asked him how to get to the Pyramids. He knew just the Pyramids I was searching for and gave me extensive directions on how to get there. I turned around and walked back (as per his instructions) but after not 10 steps he called me to come back? I’m not sure what made him change his mind or why he decided to accompany me, but this sweet old man with a limp and a cane, had made up his mind. He changed his route completely and brought me through the backyards and courtyards of the neighboring village and unpaved roads. He greeted other locals as he walked through with his new tourist friends and chatted to me a whole bunch about unknown subjects that I’m sure were really interesting but we’ll never know. The big cement wall did eventually end, just where a small sand dune appeared, and at the top stood the ticketing booth for the Pyramids. Thank you kind old man and surprise director and security guy who couldn’t believe I had managed to arrive at the site through the back door.