The treasures of Egypt travel; I can’t wait to share our experience with you:
I sit at our hotel pool, legs crossed on a lounge chair. To my left is a group in their 20’s. They are playing in the pool, having fun. The lifeguard warns them to be careful, I believe they are speaking Japanese to one another, but also speak excellent English in return to the lifeguard. I admire their multi-language skills… something I’m working on. The mixture of guys and gals are having a great time together. To my right is a quiet family of 3. They are with their toddler, encouraging her to hop into the pool towards them. They speak English with an accent that I can’t make out.
Further to my right is a large set of 2 families. They just had McDonalds’ ordered to the pool. The kids are now each sitting on their own chairs happily celebrating their meals. The moms’ both have gorgeous black complexions and beautiful swim wraps on. The men are happily talking among themselves. They are in a state of togetherness and joy that I wish for everyone on vacation. I find myself obsessed with their English accents.
Bruce and Aspen are in the water, Bruce is freezing… Aspen is practicing his swim strokes and whining a bit for Bruce to play a water game with him. I find myself reaching for my journal to forever remember this perfect moment. All of us from around the world, together here in Cairo soaking up the sun and much needed relaxation after a long, tough couple years worldwide.
Our ride here on our first night was a wild one. We knew to expect a chaotic experience once we got to the airport, after failing to figure out our Uber ride, we eventually gave in to one of the many eager taxi drivers. $40 to get us 50 minutes across town. Double the cost of our Uber… but here and ready to take us. My first impression during the drive is that the lines on the road are merely suggestions. No one pays any attention, honking is it’s own language if you’re about to fly by someone or want to make sure they don’t move over into your “lane”. It’s the first evening of Ramadan, after a long day of fasting there is an excitement in the air after dark that night that even I can sense.
Vans have the backs doors open, selling things on the side of the freeway, people are running across 5 lanes of freeway traffic. Mixed with the cars, mini-buses, and vans are donkeys and carriages and 3-wheeled motorbikes going half-speed with large cages on the back for hauling. I found it fascinating.
As we got to our hotel, drug dogs sniffed the car, we put our bags through metal-detector belts and then walked through the frames ourselves. I looked at Bruce, I could tell he was way too tired for any of this. I was tired but also really trying to not let any of it freak me out or make me judge the whole of Egypt by this one ride. I’m so glad I didn’t.
We stepped into our hotel and it was a calm paradise and escape from the world outside. During our 9 days we stayed there, everything was so great. Clean and safe; and the breakfast buffet included decadent pastries, an omelette bar, salads, meats, juices, breads, and cheese. Everyone was so kind and helpful.
Our first tour was to the Coptic region of the city. An area full of ancient churches, mosques, and temples. We saw the church build on top of a roman fortress (The hanging Church), we saw the church (The Church of Abu Sirga) where Mother Mary and her young, son, Jesus hid out for a time in the cellar below the church, escaping the wrath of King Herod. I take all the history with a grain of salt, I try to really bask in the spirit of the message, the visualization of the building styles, the general feel. Then I surrender a bit to whether or not every single fact they share on these tours is 100% true. It really doesn’t matter at some point, if I focus on the stories, the lessons and the connection of those moment and stories to the bigger picture of history.
Pyramids and sites
A few days later we saw the Saqqara (Sakkara) pyramid and went inside the pyramid and inside some of the tombs around the property. It was stunning to see the hieroglyphics, images, and carvings up close.
Next we visited Memphis, Egypt. A city that at one time was the capital. Here we visited a small museum. Afterwards we headed further south a bit to the Pyramids of Dahshur. You can go inside both of these, although they require a steep climb, and my there are bats inside.
We took guided tours to all pyramids and museums. I am typically a DIY traveler but in Egypt I am really glad we did this option. Our tour guides picked us up from our hotel and dropped us off at the end of the tours. Honestly there is a bit of a game that is played on tours. Our first tour along with the churches we were convinced to also see the markets, the perfume factory, the papyrus shop to see how they make it (and be pressured to buy it), next was the cotton shop full of beautiful Egyptian cotton. Truthfully, each place was neat and we did learn, however I felt a bit more convicted to not buy much since we are each only traveling with a backpack. I found a couple small charms to purchase and then we said no to everything else. By the 3rd tour, we just told them we didn’t want to do any more shops and our 8 hour tour was finished in 3 hours… we were fine with this. I don’t hold it against the tour companies, I’m sure they get a kickback, it is educational to learn about the variety of industries each country has, but overall don’t feel pressured to buy anything if it’s not your jam.
The real people
I found the drives between sites some of the most fun. My goal during traveling is to not judge. Instead to observe with neutrality and openness, to be a guest in another culture. To observe their way of doing things within a set of circumstances to which all who live here are navigating. The ride to the cave church was one of those times, we drove through an area where people live who do the city’s recycling and trash dividing. As it was explained to me they live with the trash, he made it sound like they get paid decent as well to do so.. or at least their was the potential for good money unit. Regardless if that’s true or not, I’ve never seen anything like it in person. Some focused on wiring, others bundling up plastic strappings, others sorting… It seemed much like entire families working together, also many kids with backpacks heading off to school.
Our last tour was of the Great pyramids of Giza. The pyramids themselves are as grand as I’d hoped.
When we booked our tour for this day, it included these pyramids and the Egyptian museum. What was also included was a camel ride near the pyramids, truthfully I didn’t give this much thought. Once we got to the area to do the rides we could see the camels all around. They were in groups gathered around big heaps of fresh green grass heaps. I told myself that they seemed well treated and on we went. The camel ride was a really great time, mostly for the personal reason that Aspen fell of a horse a few years ago and has been terrified to ride on one since. So that fact that he faced his fear and road on this even taller animal was a great achievement for him.
It wasn’t until that night back in the hotel when I was looking though photos that I notice some sores on one of the camels. Then I started looking closer and most has sores or worn spots around the areas the saddles and blankets were. Some of the sores were on their necks or near their bridle areas. I had this sick feeling in my stomach, oh no. I started searching to learn more. I learned about the horrible abuses so many camels and horses are subjected to. Both at auctions when they are sold and then later. I debated posting this part of our story… I feel like should have known better. Years ago we stopped going to circus, or other events where animals are expected to perform and their are histories of possible abuse… I should have known better for this case. Part of me wants to hide all these photos and not talk about it, but instead I decided that I would fess up and share our experience. Hopefully it can help others make choices that don’t involve any potential for animal cruelty.
Our last stops were the Sphinx and the Egyptian Museum. There is a new museum opening up soon here in Cairo that I wish we could have visited, it sounds amazing.
Overall we loved Egypt. The people were friendly and it was a feast for the senses. The complete step outside of what we were used to in America was something we’ll never forget. The building styles, the variety of things we saw people transporting on all sizes of roads, the history, the food … what a gift.
It felt like a life lesson;
Dig deep, honor your past, but know treasures are within, waiting to be unearthed.