Walking like an Egypshian...

Trip Start Dec 22, 2011
Trip End Jul 04, 2012

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Our first foray into the heady political upheaval that is the Middle East. Egypt is a critical player in the Arab world, in the midst of its own political and cultural evolution. It's also the biggest tourist destination in the Middle East. Well, until the Arab Spring.

Tourists are still coming to Egypt but numbers are way down and it appears to be hurting the economy badly. Still, it's not like you can expect long overdue political revolutions to take time-outs for the Westerners - who share a degree of animosity from the Egyptian people as a result of Western support for Mubarak.

This brings us to the strange contradiction that is tourist Egypt. A country with so much to offer, and whose people benefit greatly from outside dollars and is yet in many respects unpalatable for Western travelers. There are the things that can't be helped, like the atrocious traffic which absorbs many hours per day stuck in gridlock. Then there are the things that are off-putting such as the widespread disrespect for Western women. I think Jo would not necessarily have felt comfortable (or safe) traveling alone. Or the aggressive and generally unfriendly demeanor of many of those on the front-line of the tourism industry (stall-owners, taxi drivers, potential tour guides etc).

Oh, and the smoking. If you are male, aged between 15-65 (the life expectancy), then it is a given you will smoke. Not the occasional social smoke with friends but 1-2 packets per day. You will smoke constantly and you will smoke everywhere. To be a man is to smoke. I wonder what they thought of the non-smoking, vegetarian 'man'. One man did earnestly enquire as to how I was still alive. As I squinted back through the smokey haze, I could well have asked him the same question.

Anyhow, enough of the bad stuff!

The highlights of Egypt are some of the world's wonders and include the Pyramids and the Sphinx as well as numerous ruins many thousands of years old. History is not only tucked away in a museum but integrated into the cityscape of Cairo and elsewhere.

Other highlights included a 3 day river cruise down the Nile from Luxor to Aswan on a 5-star boat. With little physical activity per day (disappointingly no shuffle board), and a sumptuous buffet for 3 meals per day, it's easy to see how overweight tourists can quickly become obese tourists. Luckily, nature always provides a balance - enter gastro. Enough said.

We also traveled up to El Alemein near Alexandria. This was the site of an important battle in WWII for the North Africa theatre involving Rommel - the Desert Fox. It was the turning point for the Allies in North Africa and the first and only major victory for the British in the entire war. It was also marked by an almost quaint civility and respect between the belligerent parties that was certainly not representative of the wider war. I found two "Graves" among the graves at the Allied war cemetery.

One of the highlights of the trip was supposed to be a climb up Mt Sinai (of Moses fame). Unfortunately, a few days previously some Bedouin apparently took exception to the confiscation of their contraband and promptly kidnapped a few Westerners for a few hours until they got their gear back. This was enough for our tour company to cancel the trip. As our tour leader described, security in Egypt is only at "60%" of pre-revolution days. We begrudgingly accepted this until we found out a few days later from a couple of Canadian girls that they climbed the mountain on the day we were cancelled.

Our departure from Egypt to Jordan involved effective detention for 12 hours in a filthy shed waiting for a ferry. We were not told when (or if) it was coming and we couldn't leave since we had already had our passports stamped. I've never been to a country that has quite the unique matrix of relying so heavily on tourists and yet treating them so badly!

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