Jordan and I arrived safely Saturday afternoon. We were unable to sleep on any of the flights, so by the time we landed in Egypt we had been without sleep for about 24 hours, with perhaps some catnaps on the transatlantic flight.
Although we had planned to take a taxi out of the airport, we saw a man with our tour’s sign, picking up other people, and we elected to join the group. Haggling over taxi fares and making sure we didn’t get lost was just too difficult on that little sleep.
Our tour has 16 people on it plus the guide, who is Egyptian. About half of the group is made up of Americans, most of which live abroad (such as teaching in Abu Dhabi or Dubai). The rest is made up of a Brit, a Kiwi, and several people who speak English fluently enough to go on an English tour. Jordan and I tend to be fairly independent, so we weren’t completely sure how we would feel stuck with a tour group. However, it has been fantastic so far. We don’t have to worry about any logistics, and we have met some really neat people.
Because this is the Budget Egypt trip (called a “YOLO trip” on the website) we have the opportunity to opt out of several tours, which can save us money.
We drove through Cairo, and I was amazed by all the apartments and buildings everywhere. Around 20 million people live in Cairo. It is the largest city in the Middle East, I believe, and perhaps the second largest in Africa. Our guide showed us a cemetery that dates back to the 10th century. After a natural disaster, many people had to move into their cemetery plot until their home in the city was rebuilt. Each tomb has a courtyard area, and they build a small house there. Still today people live among the “City of the Living and Dead,” and it even has mosques built throughout. Three million people live there now, and it is still growing.
A fellow tour member told us that tourism used to be about 40% of Egypt’s GDP, but the industry has dropped to about 15% of its normal size in the past few years since the revolution in 2011. In fact, several people on the tour chose to visit Egypt now, while things are still cheap, rather than waiting until the rest of the world thinks things are safe again. As we toured the bazaar, it was sad to see so many shops permanently closed due to lack of tourism, and although I’m so glad they got Mubarak out of “office,” it is such a shame that even a hopeful revolution hurts regular people’s livelihoods. It made both of us thankful we picked Egypt, to do what little we could to keep someone’s job secure. So far, we have felt completely safe (although definitely out of our element in an Arabic world) and know that Egyptian police will do whatever they can to make sure tourists spread good reports about their travels.
Although Jordan and I were exhausted and went to bed by 10 p.m., we woke at midnight and again at 3 a.m., though the tour didn’t start until 8, we were ready to go see the pyramids. Jet lag is quite the thing!
The pyramids are not that far outside of Giza (a suburb of Cairo). Many people complain of how close they are to the city, but I didn’t think it was that bad. Perhaps I had been warned enough that my expectations were low. Jordan was thrilled to see the one ancient wonder of the world left standing. There are nine pyramids—three large (father, son, grandson) and six small (for wives and mothers). We were able to walk around them and enjoy the grandness of them. It really is amazing!
Then, (because it was a novelty) we rode on a camel around the complex and a little into the Sahara desert. I got to gallop on one! I almost fell off and I bruise my thumb holding onto the horn so tight, but it was worth it.
On our way to Old Cairo we passed a mosque built by the famous Saladin, whom Jordan admires.
During a brief walking tour of Old Cairo (entering 10th century city gates and walking around 15th century Ottoman buildings) we were able to enter a mosque. The minarets date back to the 10th century, I believe, though the building is a couple hundred years younger. It was absolutely beautiful, and while I have never been an architecture buff I was floored by the beautiful designs and geometric patterns throughout the mosque.
As I write this, we are on an overnight train to Aswan, where we will see other ancient temples and meet Nubians, the other main ethnicity in Egypt.