Who hasn’t dreamed of traveling back in time to visit the ancient civilization of Egypt? As a little girl, I imagined the lives of Cleopatra, Nefertiti, King Tut, Ramses (all of them); how did they rule? What would’ve happened if Cleopatra stayed alive and saved Egypt from Roman rule? Complex thoughts from a nine-year old, eh? I was sooooo excited when I finally had enough money saved up to book a trip and finally make my dreams come true. Country #17.
I was so sad to leave the UAE, but my friend and I purposely left Egypt for last. At the time, I had a serious obsession with the Middle East (Egypt is close enough)… so what could possibly go wrong? When I arrived at the airport, it was complete chaos; unlike any airport I had seen before. It was hot, people were unruly, airport personnel were borderline psychotic and I just wanted out! I purchased my visa and made the “line” for customs. It wasn’t really a line; it was more of a WWE wrestling match and I was frantic just trying to survive. People were pushing and shoving, one “line” became three, everyone was skipping, guards were shouting with police-like sticks in the air… the works. I can’t even make this up!
I finally got my stamp but I still felt uneasy.
Quick rewind: Before I arrived in Cairo, I had a layover in the Kingdom of Bahrain and they did not have the most pleasant airport personnel. They took away my backpack, and there was just so much commotion behind the whole situation, I knew it was going to get lost. I had no checked bag. I hysterically cried throughout the whole flight because I just knew something felt off.
After my stamp, I RAN towards the conveyor belt hoping that my premonition was just an overreaction. It was not. My backpack was lost with all my possessions; I just had the clothes that I was wearing and the money in my pocket. I held back my tears as much as I could speaking to a lost-and-found airport staff member until I couldn’t. There was a language barrier, culture shock and complete despair.
I finally hopped into a taxi and I have to say Cairo has worse traffic I have ever seen in my life; a one-mile drive probably took one hour. Unlike the US, drivers really didn’t abide by traffic rules so I mentally prepared myself for a possible crash. After two hours, my friend and I finally arrived safely at the hotel. Our hotel was in front of the Nile River!
As we were walking in, there was a metal detector at the entrance; this definitely made me even more apprehensive. Egypt had been experiencing many bombings and the government was unstable. Even though I prepared myself as much as I could prior to my arrival (reading up on customs and culture; safety tips, etc.), at this moment in time, I felt like I should’ve waited until Egypt was more stabilized.
My friend and I were determined to have a good time. The hotel concierge suggested that we get a driver for the night to take us to a local restaurant and bazaar to shop for clothes. Luckily, inside the hotel, there was a tour company/driver service booth. We immediately got a driver and the relief we felt was palpable.
We arrived to a little quaint restaurant about 10 minutes from the hotel and we had the most amazing food.
After our meal, we told the driver my situation and asked to be taken somewhere, anywhere, where they sell clothes. I just needed a change of clothes for three days. We got into the car and I fell asleep. My friend was awake, so it was all good. I woke up a few minutes later; maybe twenty minutes had passed and we still hadn’t stopped at a location. I stared at my friend and she stared back. Something felt off… AGAIN.
We stopped at a Papyrus museum. Yes, you read correctly, a PAPYRUS MUSEUM. We were puzzled. We tried to speak with our driver, but he was acting shady and quickly disappeared from our sight. For those that don’t know me, just know that anywhere I go, whether a mall or restaurant, I STRATEGICALLY sit or position myself in such a way where I can see what is going on in the room. I quickly walked towards a corner, looking for possible exits and mentally photographing everyone in the room. The lady in the museum was very friendly but quickly became pushy. She wanted us to see how papyrus was made and was determined to sell us lotus flower perfume. Of course, I didn’t want to smell it because I thought this was some kind of trap.
I see the driver from the corner of my eye near a doorway sipping tea. I was enraged! After he saw my face, he hid again. I just did not understand why he was hiding, why would he take us to this place without our consent, and why he was letting us get bullied. The lady was persistently domineering and borderline coerced us to get into our driver’s car, with her in it, to drive us to another unknown location to see how the lotus flower perfume is made. My friend and I were begging to be taken to the hotel but our pleads fell on deaf ears. We drove about 10 minutes or so to a shady area. We had maneuvered through so many street that I could not tell where we were.
We got out of the car, against our own volition, and quickly surveyed the area. To the left of me, there was a horse and two rabid dogs eating a carcass. There were a couple of people nearby, but they looked equally questionable. To my right was a store. We were greeted by a very friendly gentleman and he welcomed us in.
The gentleman seemed so excited that 1. someone was visiting his store and; 2. that he was about to sell his hand-made perfumes. Within one minute into his sales pitch, my friend abruptly stops his chatter to tell him we were taken to his store against our will and that we wanted to go home. The lady interjected and told us to just listen to him. My friend started to cry uncontrollably. I was in my corner, staring at all the exits. I had so many thoughts on my mind: How can I defend myself against three people? How do I console my friend? Where are we? How do we get to the hotel? What would happen if we started running and these rabid dogs start chasing us? Where are the car keys?
Now, assessing my situation, I consciously changed my demeanor from scared little girl to a soldier ready for battle. I can’t remember what I said but I know it was not pleasant. I’m pretty sure I screamed at them and made threats. I know for a fact I went off on our driver; he seemed scared of little ol’ me after a while. It was fight or flight, and I was ready to fight.
As soon as the lady saw our levels of distress and fury, they, all of a sudden, became very apologetic. A complete 180! This was the twilight zone. We got into the car and drove back to the Papyrus museum… the longest 10 minutes of my life! The lady got out of the car and she came back with souvenirs for us, free of charge. I told her we didn’t want it. She apologized repeatedly and told us to keep the souvenirs. After a minute of back and forth about these souvenirs, we just took them. I did not keep my souvenirs; I wanted no remembrance of this lady or this situation.
We finally arrived back to the hotel and we literally jumped out of the car. We quickly passed through the hotel concierge and they knew something went awry. I briefly spoke to the manager of the night’s events, screamed at the driver and his manager, and then quickly walked away. At this point, I started to cry uncontrollably. I could not believe what had happened and how helpless I felt. It was the worse feeling I had ever felt in my life.
We woke up early the next morning to make a second attempt to find clothes. Because we did not trust any hotel recommendations anymore, we ordered an Uber to take us to a nearby mall. This “mall” was not a mall at all; it was a dilapidated building and there were no clothes in sight. We walked into this building, hoping that there was clothing inside there somewhere, and we saw four men playing cards. They shooed us away. Guess this was not a mall…
I gave up. I just wanted to wear the same clothes and see the pyramids. We went back to the hotel to wait for our guide.
We had purchased a getyourguide all day tour to the pyramids and this is the best thing that we could have done. For the first time during this trip, I felt safe. The guide was very knowledgeable of Egyptian history and spent the whole day with us as we toured Giza.
When I saw the pyramids, I almost passed out. I thought I had died and gone to heaven! It was the most magical, breathtaking, surreal moment of my life (besides seeing the Eiffel tower)! The camel rides were guided by local men and we rode all throughout the desert. I could not believe my eyes. These pyramids are what you read in history books. The local men were happily taking pictures of us and with us. What a drastic difference from the prior day’s events!
The Sphinx was equally amazing and, of course, I took lots of pictures. At night, we attended a Sound and Light show at the Pyramids where they take you through Egyptian history. I love history and learning new things, so this something I definitely recommend. I was probably in Giza, admiring the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx, for about 15 hours. I did not want to leave!
After the showing, our tour guides took us to a clothing store to buy clothes and invited us to a restaurant. We had a cornucopia of traditional Egyptian appetizers then our main meal. Everything was delicious.
But of course…
We booked another tour with getyourguide to visit Alexandria, a city founded by Alexander the Great. Our tour guides picked us up from our hotel and we made the 2.5 hour drive to Alexandria.
As soon as I arrived, I quickly realized that this city, too, is impoverished. Buildings were decrepit, people were surrounded by nearby trash… it was as if time had stopped and the city halted its development. We visited the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa (considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages) and, through the paintings, I was able to see the deep Greek and Roman ties to Egypt. Going to the catacombs was on my bucketlist so I was extremely happy I got to experience this.
During this trip to Alexandria, I finally got a hold of someone at the airport and they found my backpack after three days. What a relief! The airport representative, though, was very stern about me getting my backpack by 4pm; if I didn’t show up at the airport by that time, I would forfeit my luggage! But of course! I was distressed and the guide, who spoke Arabic, intervened and tried to reason with the rep but couldn’t. As a result, we had to expedite our excursion. We saw many of Alexandria’s must-see locations including the Qaitbay Citadel, the Library of Alexandria, a Roman theater, and hung out near the Mediterranean sea.
Unfortunately, we could not do our sitdown lunch so we decided to buy street food.
On this trip, I was wearing a long dress and a rather thick sweater in the 85 degree May weather. I was hot. Since we were en route to get the food, I decided to take off my sweater, exposing my shoulders. My tour guides were not offended. I was always very conscious of not offending people during this trip since I was in an Islamic culture. My tour guide gets off the car and goes to a street-food vendor. We didn’t see her for several minutes and we were pressed for time. My friend and I decided to go look for her and finally found her; she was waiting for our meal. I then realized I left the car without my sweater. This section of the city was extremely conservative and women were all covered; they wore hijabs or niqabs, long sleeves shirts and multiple layers of clothing, despite the heat. The women and men ALL stared at me. I was the center of attention and I had nowhere to hide.
“How could I have forgotten my sweater!?”– I thought. The women proceeded to point at me and it was obvious that they were talking about me. They gave me a look of shame and horror; I thought I was going to get lynched. The men just stared in disbelief. I felt like Cersei Lannister in that split second. I RAN to the car and immediately put on my sweater and hid. I wanted to be invisible and I was personally embarrassed I made a mistake so grandiose.
We were finally on our way back to Cairo and we were eating these beef and chicken sandwiches; they looked very much like Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches. When I am on trips, I usually examine food, but I was starving and it looked ok, so I ate a piece of each. After another airport ordeal, yes there was another one, but I will spare you the details, we finally get to the hotel. I had the opportunity to check my backpack to see if anything was missing and, luckily, everything was there (the airport personnel did not let me check my bag). A few hours later, my friend and I both had stomach aches and excruciating cramps. After some research, we come to the conclusion that we have FOOD POISONING!
The next day was a travel day and we had to get back to the States with this FOOD POISONING issue. We had to pretend everything was a-ok to get on that flight. I was not going to stay another day. On my flight, all I remember is being in fetal position in my seat, sweating profusely, and bypassing food altogether. Next thing I know, 15 hours later, I was home! I was soooo happy to be back in Miami– words cannot express. The food poisoning lasted about two weeks.
Overall, I am now able to talk– and write– about my experiences in Egypt and chuckle. What a trip! I would definitely like to visit again since there were some things that I did not see and/or do. My perception of Egypt oscillated throughout my whole trip; on the emotional spectrum, I was all over the place; I, however, would not change anything about my trip.
Egypt, ’til we meet again…
Trip Date: May 2017 Country#: 17