The reason I feel lukewarm about my trip to Egypt.
This post has languished in my drafts folder for months, and even now I am hesitant about publishing it. But I’ll come clean while I still have the courage: I didn’t love Egypt.
This is hard for me to write because I don’t want to offend anybody with my views, and in the back of my mind I wonder if I perhaps didn’t give Egypt a fair shake. Furthermore, given the state of upheaval in the country, writing something that is potentially critical or damning feels almost criminal, unsympathetic –like a sharp punch to the gut of a long-time ulcer sufferer or a scathing comment made to a sensitive child.
Still, in the months since my trip, I’ve received a number of questions about my experiences in Egypt as a tourist. People have written me with queries about the country’s socio-political climate, and have expressed concerns about their personal safety and security. In truth, I haven’t been entirely sure how to respond. Do I scare potential visitors off with the story of how I was harassed and then mugged in the streets of Aswan? Or do I skip that narrative and simply play up the beauty of a felucca ride on the Nile? Likewise, do I mention the uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability that followed me like a bloodhound the whole trip, express my surprise at the level of corruption I witnessed? Or do I stop short at enthusiastically describing my chance encounter with a lovely local man amongst the delicious treasures found in Cairo’s markets?
I think you can begin to understand my dilemma.
Silly as it may seem, I don’t actually want to discourage people from travelling anywhere. Especially since convincing people from some countries to go somewhere out of their comfort zone — heck, to travel at all — can be an uphill battle.
Despite this, the truth — my truth — is that I found travelling in Egypt (at least without a tour/on a self-crafted itinerary) to be difficult. Post-revolution, the struggle is real; people wear their desperation like a coat. Large handmade signs promising “No hassle” or “No buy, no problem” are contradicted by ruthlessly determined vendors who follow you until you patronize their businesses, which have all taken a critical hit as a result of a drastic drop in tourism. When Liebling and I were in Luxor, taxi drivers competed for customers, sometimes stopping their taxis and chasing after potential fares on foot; one driver spotted us from across the street and made a dangerous u-turn across four lanes of traffic to offer us his services. He told us afterward that we were his first fare in three days.
In a word, Egypt was intense. When we promised our taxi driver in Luxor we would hire him following day to take us to the Valley of the Kings, he was so worried we wouldn’t show up he somehow figured out our room number at our hotel and called us directly on the phone in our room to confirm our meet up time. (Imagine our shock: we were staying in a large hotel of 250 + rooms and Liebling had only divulged his first name.) And then, the next morning, as we were enjoying breakfast, our driver suddenly appeared in the breakfast hall and beckoned to us. It was 7:45 am and we were scheduled to meet him at 8:15 outside of the hotel. Who let him inside? How/why did he think tracking us was okay? This was one of several incidents during my stay that made me question my safety (my mugging obviously being another one). While I understand the reason for this sort of behaviour, this security breach and blatant invasion of privacy is infuriating and unsettling.
So this is where I’m at a loss for what to tell you. As mentally and emotionally exhausting as it was for me to travel in Egypt, I can’t actually bring myself to tell anyone that they shouldn’t go. The sights are quite literally old as time; the food is incredible. The buildings, textiles, and people are more stunning that you could ever imagine.
And then… I simply don’t have the words or talent to describe what it feels like to stand in the ruins of Ancient Egypt, walk amongst the tombs of the kings and queens of dynasties that existed many centuries before Christ, and run your finger along neat, neverending rows of hieroglyphs painstakingly etched by someone over 5000 years ago. Egypt is wounded and raw, but it is beautiful. It’s really best for you to go see and experience it for yourself. Just exercise caution and remember that sometimes the most memorable, transformative journeys are the ones that require the most hard work.
Have you been to Egypt? What was your experience? If you haven’t been, given the current situation, would you go?