I’m not sure that I have a real methodology for how I select the places I visit. A location draws my interest for one reason or another and then my gut (which can certainly be helped along by an excellent exchange rate) ultimately chooses where I will go. Well, in August/September of 2010 my gut wanted to go Egypt, and it couldn’t have chosen a better time to get there. I still remember my friends’ looks of concern as we watched news coverage of the January 2011 revolution in Cairo, “Weren’t you just there?!”
While the choice to go at the time I did may have relied heavily on the intangible, the reasons Egypt was on my radar in the first place were anything but. The major attractions of the country are obvious: who doesn’t want to see the Pyramids with their own eyes or sail down the Nile River? But beyond the basics, a long standing interest in ancient Egyptian culture, ancient African culture made this place important to me. I chose to write book reports about Cleopatra twice between the ages of seven and nine and clearly remember being riveted by the Ancient Egypt unit in 6th grade History. Being partly of African American descent, and not knowing where those family roots truly lie, I decided then that I would consider Egyptian history part of my personal history.
Arriving with unreasonably high expectations, the Egypt I lived for those 2 weeks was still consistently incredible. The Pyramids at Giza, The Sphinx, The Valley of the Kings, Abu Simbel, The Temple of Hatshepsut, Kom Ombo and Edfu Temples would all be considered amazing feats, even with the help of modern technology. The endless carvings and reliefs were amazing and so well preserved it was crazy to imagine that these things were created by people who lived thousands of years ago! The ingenious ways that the Ancient Egyptians kept track of time and taxes demonstrates the true ingenuity of human beings. Everywhere you go, there is something unfathomably old, beautiful and awe-inspiring to greet you, and that is without bothering to consider all that modern Egypt has to offer its visitors.
As a New Yorker, I still found Cairo to be incredibly chaotic; a crumbling place teeming with people, all of whom had this uncanny ability to drive six cars across a three lane highway, constantly one second away from an accident, but never actually colliding! I visited some beautiful mosques and ate at local restaurants, which didn’t always turn out well. I was there during Ramadan, and quickly grew to find the frequent calls to prayer, heard no matter where you were, soothing; the bustling streets and festive atmosphere that revealed itself once the sun had gone down and the day’s fast broken, absolutely energizing. Overwhelmed by the heat and local markets in Aswan, I enjoyed the hipper vibe and sheesha shops of Luxor.
I spent two nights aboard a traditional Egyptian felucca sailboat and watched the sun rise from a ledge atop Mt. Sinai. I stayed in a literal palm thatched hut on the Red Sea and almost stepped on a Sea Cucumber and a dangerously pointy Sea Anemone while snorkeling in Nuweiba. I rode a donkey and then a camel, saw boats pass through the Suez Canal and sped past burned out shells of buses near the border with Israel. I chatted with a Christian Egyptian and learned our current driver’s job used to be transporting Egyptian Muslims back and forth to Mecca. I was called “Obama” and “New York cousin” twice by people in southern Egypt, who noticed my tanned skin was the same color as theirs. I got a taste of what it means to be a woman in such a male dominated culture and struggled to understand anything anyone was saying around me. It was incredible!
While I experienced more culture shock than I ever had before, encountered some of the most horrible toilets I have EVER had to use and felt my share of stomach, um, upsets, Egypt gave me two of the most memorable weeks of my life. Looking back at the pictures and recalling that time just reminds me of how challenged and alive I felt in that land so different from home. It is that feeling that I crave and try to replicate every time I board a plane to someplace new.
Note: I traveled to Egypt using G Adventures, without whom I would have been too overwhelmed to truly live in the moment the way I was able to.