Parting thoughts on Egypt

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Sunday, March 5, 2006

Typically for countries that I spend an excessive amount of time in, or find re particularly unusual, I write a short entry dedicated to parting random thoughts about it before I move on to new horizons and the fresh memories fade. Things I find great or bizarre; interesting or amusing - the good, the bad and the ugly.

Egypt qualifies on all accounts - I've spent over a month in this strange but fascinating place, with many ups and a few downs. I've seen so much from childhood dreams in such a short period of time, have been introduced to muslims and Islam in the nicest possible manner, and even had a wonderful mystery traveller to accompany me part of the way (which I enjoyed very much indeed). A true travel experience that will never be forgotten.

Russia is similar in a way, both being great lands of many contradictions. I think Egypt is even more so in this regard - a glorious ancient civilisation with so much history and so little to show for it these days. The inevitable pre-occupation with wealth and consumption whilst most of the population is poverty-stricken and everything you see around you is in terminal decay. The fact that a barren lump of rock (The Sinai) is by far the most prosperous part of the country now, whilst the entire Nile Valley with its abundant resources continues to decline. Strange but ultimately true.

So what did I find so good, bad and ugly about the place? The contradictions abound.

The Good

Despite centuries of interaction with tourists, basic dealings with us often border the comical. Quite expensive entry tickets often get you only half-way and kickbacks are expected to get you anywhere further. Trying to get change from a payment using the equivalent of a ten dollar bill is nigh on impossible - no shop or restaurant keeps a float - it's usually accounted for in a staff member's pocket. But pretty well everyone down to the humble street sweeper greets you with a smile and a 'Welcome!' - meaning it and often wanting to talk further which makes you feel right at home in the biggest city or the smallest village. Yeah they probably want to sell you something but it certainly beats the 'Hey Mister' you constantly get all across Asia...

Transport is also a good laugh. Some vehicles are pretty dodgy and everything is written in Arabic so you have to guess where things are going half the time, but it is damn cheap per kilometre travelled and it actually gets you there generally on time. I took a lot of buses and at least one train here and even on long trips we were rarely more than a hour late. Traversing the country (from Siwa to Dahab - 1,200 kms?) in less than 24 hours speaks for itself. Amazing in a traffic-challenged country that lives by the motto of 'Inshallah' (God willing) and that prides itself on running to 'Egyptian time' (i.e. whenever).

Finally, despite contrary reports on the grapevine, at the time of writing Egypt is a safe place to visit. Obviously this can change but the massive police and army presence across the country is reassuring when you're travelling about. They want tourists to come and they're willing to commit the resources to protect them.

The Bad

Like Asia, litter is a constant problem - everywhere. Again it's a matter of education, but that hasn't started so environments continue to degrade. Not much more I can say about this one. You just have to lead by example and hope someone notices. Surprisingly the waterways are relatively clean, which is a relief for divers and no doubt their supporting industry.

Unlike Asia, who has few water problems, it seems every tap in Egypt leaks constantly and wastes copious precious water. The occasional sign urges you to conserve water but everywhere I stayed the plumbing was atrocious, often held together with gaffer tape and chewing gum. It's indicative of a wider problem of generally poor construction techniques. Lessons taught by distant ancestors have been well and truly forgotten in this modern age.

The Ugly

Am sure I've mentioned the hard selling practices employed in tourist areas in a previous entry. Although not quite as bad as on Lombok in Indonesia, it's frustrating in economically depressed centres like Luxor. It tarnishes a particular experience and rejection leaves both sides feeling unhappy. You gradually close up to meeting new people and actually buy less because you don't want to start a bargaining war on something you might just fancy.

This is a shame because you need and want to leave a little of your money with a community and you don't end up doing so. I saw the same look of desperation on many visitor faces passing by.

To sum up, I'll be back sometime fortified by previous experiences here. I hope some things will change and that others will remain the same. However, like the Pyramids in this age-old land, I reckon everything will be just as I left it.

Next entry -> Across the gulf to Aqaba, Jordan

Great Brands of the World - Egypt

There aren't any.

I searched the shelves and roadside billboards for a month and all I can remember is a house paint (Sipes), an unknown offering called Hardees and a few beers (Stella, Sakara and Luxor). All branding was crap, even if a couple of the beers were ok (Sakara in particular).

Sorry Egypt - you better get busy!
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hajjabdullah on

How do you find the time?
How do you find the time to roam? I get 3 weeks tops, and the guilt of work starts to sink in. But getting away is heaven!

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