I mentioned in a previous post that I was feeling slightly nervous about having to travel to Egypt alone for work. C & I had gone on a cruise down the Nile back in 2010 and loved the scenery and the history, but not the constant harassment. And obviously now things have changed with the current political context and all the unrest going on in various parts of the world...let's just say I wasn't feeling super reassured about driving out into the desert with some men I had just met. But I also very strongly feel that continuing to travel and learn about other cultures is what will bring us all together in the end, so off I went.
I had three full days of work planned, and had left a fourth day free "just in case". Things usually don't go as planned in developing nations. Meetings get pushed back or rescheduled, the car breaks down, etc, so you always have to leave a bit of wiggle room in your itinerary.
|Sunset on the Nile|
This time however, things went smoothly and I found myself with a free day before flying home. I had looked at the possibility of getting a private guide before leaving, but they all wanted horrendous amounts of money, so I figured if I did end up having time for touristy stuff, either my client or the hotel could recommend someone cheaper (and hopefully trustworthy).
I had booked a room at a small hotel just across from the Pyramids for my last night, figuring if nothing else, I could at least see them from afar before I left. I lucked out and got a room with this view:
|Don't look down. ;)|
Luckily however, when our future customer realized I'd be staying an extra, he offered to help organize someone to show me around. In the end, he ended up having his wife take a day off of work to give me a private tour, along with his sister, their driver and a body guard so we'd be tranquil while looking around.
I know, right??
So they picked me up at my hotel and we drove down the block to the entrance. The first thing that surprised me was how empty the whole site was. Granted, it was the middle of the week, but there were literally more vendors than tourists. The only other tourists I saw the whole time there was a small group of Chinese.
And because there were no tourists, everything was being sold at rock-bottom prices. I didn't really have a strong desire to ride another camel, but it was over 100°F and the guy was offering 5€ for one hour, so why not?
As it turned out, the two women accompanying me had never been inside the Pyramids, so when they asked if I wanted to go in - Um Yes! - they sent the driver off to buy tickets and in we went.
It was pretty incredible, and totally fulfilled one of my childhood dreams. We crawled through crazy tunnels:
And climbed up hella long flights of stairs:
It was magical and amazing and every other adjective I can think of right now. It was an experience that was so much more than I ever could have imagined or hoped for thanks to my gracious hosts.
Then it was off to the Egyptian Museum - which is currently across town, but an absolutely gigantic new museum is being built right nearby the Pyramids. That thing is going to be amazing once it's open!
The current one is fairly run-down, but it also contains some pretty amazing artifacts, many of which you can get right up close and personal to. The mummy room was also neat and definitely worth the extra entry fee.
I really enjoyed my time in Egypt, and I am looking forward to going back in a few months. The people I met were all so kind and generous, and they are really wanting the tourists to come back. I heard so many sad stories of people barely making ends meet now due to no foreigners coming. For instance, the guy who picked me up at the airport used to own a whole cruise boat with hundreds of employees and guides, three homes, etc, and spoke English, French and Flemish fluently. But he lost it all after the Arab Spring and now had no choice but to earn what he could as a taxi driver.
I definitely felt safe there - compared to most of the other countries I travel to, most people barely blinked an eye at me, even though I'm sure I stuck out like a sore thumb given the lack of tourists. If you're wondering, most women wore a head scarf, but I felt no pressure to wear one, even in the countryside*.
Prices were low - my hotel right across from the Pyramids cost $50 a
night including breakfast, and both food and other tourist attractions also offered rock
bottom prices (especially if you negotiate). The water was clean and the restaurant hygiene was top-quality, at least in the restaurants we ate at.
All in all, I think now is a good time to visit Eypt, though if it's your first time, I would still probably recommend going with an organized tour, or at least hiring a guide. Things are not very well sign-marked and you'll probably enjoy your time more if you've got someone to show you the ropes. It's also not always super
clear online, but you can
buy a visa on arrival at the major
airports - it costs $25 and they prefer if you pay in USD (cash). I also
heard that a few of the tourist ports have waived the visa fee if you
are just staying within their resort areas - Sharm El Sheik, etc.
*In case anyone was curious, as far as clothes went, most women were wearing long-sleeve tops and full-length pants or skirts. I didn't think I could handle full-on winter clothes since I'm not used to the heat, so I packed long skirts, cropped pants and three-quarter length cotton tops and felt just fine. I think as long as you're not wearing tank-tops or booty shorts (outside of the beach resort areas anyways), it would be fine. And also, pack comfortable walking shoes that you don't mind getting dirty - pretty much everything is gravel or sand, and beige colored shoes would fare much better than black or white ones.
Labels: Egypt, Travel