If You’re Going to Egypt…

by Brian on February 1, 2007

in A Parent in Israel,Only in Israel

Well, we made it back from Egypt and we had a fantastic, fascinating, amazingly awesome experience. We felt perfectly safe the entire time and never felt any antagonism, though that might have been in part that no one actually knew we were either Jewish or Israeli. See this post on how we traveled “Jewcognito,” entering on our U.S. passports and telling everyone we were from “California.” We even removed the labels from our Israeli Mei Eden bottles of mineral water before arrival.

Being an American in Egypt was surprising in its own right. We were taken for Spanish by most of the street salesmen who greeted us with a hearty “hola!”

Our time in Egypt was highly compact. Because we were traveling over a school vacation period, we had just under a week to pack in treasures spanning 30 dynasties of ancient Egypt. We spent three days in Cairo visiting the pyramids, the Sphinx and museums, and three more in Luxor and Aswan in Upper Egypt along the banks of the Nile.

To maximize our limited time, we traveled by night train, using our sleeping hours to traverse the 721 km from Cairo. When we needed to get from Luxor to Aswan, we traveled by van in a police-escorted convoy.

Climbing inside the Great Pyramid of Cheops was a real highlight, as was the hot air balloon ride at sunrise over the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut along the banks of the Nile. We saw monuments to Pharaohs over 4,000 years old and hiked into musty tombs in the Valley of the Kings with their breathtaking color paintings and hieroglyphs still largely intact.

We marveled over the mummy of Ramses II, reportedly the king who eventually “let our people go.” We even attended an Egyptian wedding held in the lobby of our hotel complete with bagpipes and belly dancers.

Security across Egypt was strict…if inconsistent. Entrance to every site, museum and hotel is past a phalanx of security personnel and via a metal detector, although half the time you just walk straight through the check, setting off the alarm and no one checks your bag. That is unless you’re an Arab: to our surprise, Egypt racially profiles its own people…but not the tourists. On the other hand, upon entering our hotel our tour van was subjected to bomb sniffing police dogs and an under-car check using mirrors.

There are tourist police everywhere in Egypt, some even patrolling the perimeter of various sites on camel. There are probably more armed personnel walking the streets in Egypt than anywhere other than Israel. I’m not sure if that provides more or less comfort.

Given the short time we had, we engaged a local Egyptian travel agency to book us a comprehensive set of guided tours with private vans and complete transportation transfers. It was a bit pricey, but ultimately worth it. We avoided a lot of the hassle of bargaining for taxis and camels and entrance fees, though we could never get away from the touts literally shoving cheap scarves in our faces and entreating us to “just have a look, no charge.”

Traveling to Egypt is not easy – it takes some work to ensure that things move smoothly – but the payoff is well worth it. Just don’t let anyone dissuade you by saying it’s too dangerous. We went and came back, safe and sound. Let our experience be your best guide.

Read about how we traveled “Jewcognito” in the next post.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous February 4, 2007 at 1:46 am

I was excited to see your blog entries for the trip to Egypt. Next time Donald and I also want to do the Hot Air Balloon…I'll skip climbing into the tomb ! Perhaps others will follow your lead and see Egypt and enjoy it as well.
Barbara and Donald Hoffman

2 Anonymous February 4, 2007 at 7:08 am

In 1982, I went to Egypt with an Israeli tour set up from Jerusalem. At that time, Israelis were in favor. Things can change quickly in the Middle East, but I definitely recommend the journey. Unfortunately, in these times, it's never best to be known to be Jewish, and of course Israeli. We can only hope for change.
The flickr link does not work

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