For as long as I can remember I wanted to travel to Egypt. I’m not sure if it was a vision of the pyramids or movies about Cleopatra that created the longing or not. I just knew that given the chance, I would go. In 2015, I turned 60, and I had no interest in a big party or an expensive gift. Instead travel, as usual, was at the top of my list. Now, after just returning from nearly three weeks in this chaotic, ancient and mesmerizing country, I still don’t know for certain why I needed to go. But what’s clear is that the biggest thing to fear about traveling to Egypt is the challenge it gives to our comfort zone, our limited scope of history, and our egocentric view as citizens of planet Earth.
Like most people in the U.S., the media influences my thinking and planning. Fortunately, I have been a longtime follower of a couple of online travel forums that offer perspectives from average people who recently visited and enjoyed Egypt. Hearing from real people rather than only what the media wants us to know helped make the final decision. Is there an element of uncertainty in Egypt right now? Yes! Is there an element of uncertainty in just about every country on the planet, including the U.S., right now? Yes! The challenge is picking through all the noise and finding the reality of life on the ground.
Of course, Thom and I traveled the weekend after 9/11 when most people were too frightened to go near an airport. We also frequently journey to Mexico, which continues to be a place with conflicting messages about safety. While we regularly practice awareness and conscientiousness whenever visiting an unfamiliar location (including those in the U.S.), we usually feel as comfortable in foreign cities as we do at home. Of course, if your ideal vacation is Las Vegas or a cruise ship, Egypt will not be appealing. But those of us who crave adventure, awe and stretching our personal boundaries, Egypt will exceed your expectations. At least, it did mine.
We weren’t complete adventurers. We
found and hired a tour company who arranged nearly everything within country. And because our lifestyle allows us certain luxuries, we didn’t travel economically either. (See why we “rightsized” our lives!) Instead, with research, I located a highly recommended guide who represented himself as able to introduce us to “real Egypt” instead of “luxurious Egypt.”
Is there a difference?
Yes. Some travelers want only the most pampered and privileged perspective of travel while seeing the sites. We wanted some of both. While most of our accommodations were quite comfortable, there was a level beyond. In addition, we purposely selected opportunities to experience how people live and experience life in Egypt.
1) Waking up and seeing the Great Pyramids of Giza from our hotel window the morning after our arrival.
2) The opportunity for Thom and I to ride camels through the desert around the pyramids with only a handful of people in the distance.
3) Climbing deep inside a pyramid and feeling the weight, the history and the resonance of the place.
4) Connecting with our tour company owner and guide Samir, and spending hours discussing politics, religion and life in general while driving from site-to-site, or over tea and several meals.
5) Boarding a Dahabiya on the Nile River as the sole passengers of this type of ancient sailing vessel. Coasting down this iconic river aboard the Dahabiya remains an incredible experience never to be forgotten.
6) Enjoying an amazing Christmas Eve on board the ship where the crew spent several hours decorating the ship with lights and Santa’s, and then having our “chef” cook us a special roasted turkey dinner—yes turkey! After that, we sang, danced, played games and laughed until the tears rolled down our cheeks.
7) Becoming friends with a young Egyptologist and guide named Mohamed who not only taught us an amazing amount of history about ancient Egypt, but also shared our interest in world religion, psychology and philosophy. Deep conversation!
8) Wandering through several small villages and seeing people and life as though it has likely been for thousands of years made a deep impression. Everyone was friendly and welcoming. Egyptian men and women have dark and expressive eyes that communicate so much and share their compassion. Instead of saying hello or good morning to each other, the common greeting is “Salaam, Alaikum.” – Peace be unto you.
9) Just like in the U.S. or other countries where we have traveled, the vast majority of people in Egypt practice their faith in their own quiet and non-obtrusive way. Because it was the holiday season during our visit, there were Christmas trees, Santa’s and lights everywhere we went—but there was no hostility whatsoever for our desire to celebrate a Christian holiday. I deeply appreciate the customary call to prayer that Muslim’s practice five times a day. Imagine if everyone in the world stopped for five times a day for about five minutes and either prayed according to their faith or just paused and meditated on peace, how transformative that would be for our world?
10) Learning how the history of the world
is tied to the history of Egypt and yet how the interpretation of that history continues to unfold and evolve as time goes by. When you consider that the Egyptian history goes back at least 10,000 years (yes they have records and proof!) it makes us laugh to contrast that with U.S. history at just slightly over 200 years. With humor, our guides continually reminded us that just about everything,
“first happened in Egypt!”
Many people approach travel like a checklist. Egypt: check! Pyramids: check! Nile cruise: check! I’m happy to say that our experience of Egypt expanded my knowledge of history, culture and myself in more ways than I can say. Like I’ve written about before, travel teaches us about what is most important and that has nothing to do with buying more stuff, working like a slave at jobs we dislike or putting off our dreams to a distant time in the future. As Ray Bradbury said, “Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” Don’t wait–do it now.
I could go on sharing example after example of our wonderful experiences in Egypt. Sure there are lots of details that made up every day and our overall impression of the trip. But I hope that my photos and these few words show you that traveling and feeling safe exists usually in our minds—no matter where we live or what we are doing. Remembering that idea is the SMART way to travel, and nearly always leads to a fearless adventure.