Arriving in Egypt
Ancient Egypt, I thought that's what I came to see and experience. I looked forward to seeing the great pyramids, temples and; of course, the Nile River. The world’s second largest river flowing from south to north responsible, in part, for the success of one of the greatest civilizations man has ever seen. Back when Pharaohs walked among their people like gods and had statues and temples erected in their honor and in homage to the gods they worshipped. I mean who didn't want to be an Egyptian god or Pharaoh when they were younger? There's so many to choose from. I was Sobek, the god of fertility, in my 5th grade Egyptian project! The myths and legends that fascinated me as a child, that's the Egypt I came to see.
Fast forward to modern times and it's a bit different. Unfortunately, for the young boy still inside me Egyptians no longer worship the gods of yesteryear. Cairo, the capital is an extremely busy city to the tune of about 27 million people. Anything you may have heard about the driving there is true. The only traffic law I could gather from my time in the city was don't crash. Getting behind the wheel here is like taking over the controller midway through a Mario Kart race. Crossing the street? Well, follow the locals and good luck. As my coaches used to say back when I was playing football, you better keep your head on a swivel. It is exciting though, in a, 'I better be quick and agile or I may get maimed' sort of way.
Nevertheless, I'm in Egypt and I feel completely energized knowing what I'm about to see in this historic country.
Cruising the Nile
For four days and three nights I lived on the Nile, just like the locals. Except for the fact that I never had to get in the water or actually rely on the river to survive. Ok, so I was on a cruise ship, my first one in fact and it was completely awesome. Getting there wasn't too fun, a 16 hour train ride from Cairo to Aswan, where the tour started. But after that it was one of the best experiences I've had since I've been traveling.
My train ticket from Cairo to Aswan
A 'Cruise on the Nile' was enticing to me even without the tours that came with it. During the day we could see locals on the banks of the river going about their daily tasks and without fail each time we saw a group of kids they would wave until we passed.
At night, when we were docked you could view monuments lit up in the distance off the Nile. But it was even better being on the move, when you could star gaze these Egyptian sky's and imagine what life may have been like all those thousands of years ago.
Did I mention the tours? Two or more sites a day, all meals taken care of except drinks and some dodgy WiFi if you want to pay for it. But hey, you're on the Nile. Take a lot of pictures, but don't worry about social media. Or get a SIM card that works too. All that, by the way was $350 which I thought was a pretty decent price for the experience and memories I got out of it. I booked it through Meramees Hotel in downtown Cairo, if you're interested.
Before I took the night train to Aswan I made my first stop at the Giza pyramids. That's where all the good tourists start their Egyptian experience.
The pyramids are magnificent. I went on a full on photo shoot, even took some selfies, which I normally cringe at doing in public. But I have no shame here. When will I be back? Maybe never… It doesn't matter how many pictures you've seen, the pyramids will not let you down in person. The sphinx, it is similarly fantastic. I spent three hours there and could have easily spent three more, I mean these pyramids are SO OLD it's amazing.
The craziest thing about it though was how few tourists there were visiting the remarkable ancient structures. Aside from locals renting camel rides I felt like I was the only tourist there at some points. Don't get me wrong, it was nice not to have crowds, but Egypt’s reputation is much worse than what it is actually like, and it's the tourism industry (a huge part of their economy) that is suffering because of it.
In hindsight, I’m thankful I took the Nile river cruise because I would have never seen as much of Egypt as I did.
Abu Simbel Temple
This is the legendary Abu Simbel temple. You may have seen pictures before but not known the name, that was the case for me. Ramses II constructed this temple in honor of the high god Amon Ra. The four Pharaohs seated out front are of Ramses II and are approximately 65 feet tall! Notice the tiny person on the inside of the doorway? Ramses II, like many pharaohs I'm sure, thought of himself as a god and erected more statues of himself all over Egypt than any other ruler. He is literally everywhere.
The most interesting fact about Abu Simbel was that it was moved to be saved from the rising water levels that were due to the building of the Aswan High Dam.
One of the last temples I saw was the Habu Temple. I never realized how colorful these temples were until I set foot in Habu.
It's one of the best preserved, ancient Egyptian built temples still standing. The carvings here are also much deeper than normal compared to other temples around Egypt. The colors are remarkable, as is the fact that they're still visible 3,100 years after this was built. I'm pretty sure people repaint their houses every 5-10 years now, am I right?
Other places that I wish I could show pictures of but, understandably, photos are not allowed is the Valley of the Kings and King Tutankhamen's exhibit at the Cairo Museum. The valley, which houses the tombs of the Pharaohs have colors even more vibrant than those of Habu Temple. King Tut's treasures, including his famous golden mask were jaw dropping. There was a dagger made entirely of gold in there! It even came with a gold sheath!
The entrance for the museum was only 75 Egyptian pounds, about $4.20. In fact, I didn't pay more than 100EGP or $5.60 for the entrance to any of temple I visited. There are extras, like visiting more tombs in the Valley of the Kings. You can pay for them, but they're definitely not necessary to enjoy yourself.
True or False: Egypt is dangerous
False, it's no more dangerous than any place I've been to. I never felt uncomfortable at any point while I was in Egypt (I can't say the same for some cities I've been to in the U.S.).
It's true that Egyptians care deeply about tourists because they are so important to their lives. I'd be hard pressed to find another people that are so friendly. Now don't get me wrong, sometimes that 'friendliness' ends with a hand wanting money, but even so the people were great.
For example, when I went to the train station to head out for my Nile cruise, my cab driver drove me to the station, walked me across the street then waited with me until the train arrived. He then walked me to my seat before parting ways. He could have just dropped me off and let me navigate my own way, that's what would happen in America. My parents wouldn't even do that (now they wouldn't need to in the states of course, but you get my point).
Locals showing how to shape Alabaster into various items
One of my tour guides even asked me how could he make people view Egypt as a safe and good place to visit again. I didn't know what to say. Word of mouth, I suppose? I guess that's what I'm trying to do here. As someone with a media background I can see why only certain stories are told about foreign countries, but changing the perception of a country only happens when boots are on the ground. I mean people, not soldiers, of course. Other travelers sharing a story, which is what, intrigued me to visit.
So, do you still want to see the pyramids? What's stopping you now? It's neither scary, nor dangerous and $350 gets you to all the major sites once you get there. You won't regret it.
A couple suggestions before you go… aim for the winter months. Even for a seasoned Arizonan like me, it was hot. Nobody beats the sun. Also, go with a friend. I went by myself, and by all means if you consider yourself a seasoned traveler then go for it. But if you’re not so confident navigating a foreign country alone then I’d recommend planning it with a friend or two. I suggest this mainly because the lack of tourists leads to a tougher time meeting people. However, I made friends on the cruise but maybe I'm just getting really good at it.