I’m sitting on the sun deck of a Nile cruiser, watching the sky turn dark blue after sunset, the lights on the shore slowly turning on and drifting by. It’s peaceful. Light breeze carries the scent of a river and the sounds of waves breaking in front of the ship. The quiet humming of the ship’s engines is overlayed by U2 in my headphones. The sun deck is empty, everybody is downstairs getting ready for dinner. For the first time since 2002, when I went to Sri Lanka, everything felt right. Everything was larger than life. The feeling long forgotten and much sought for. I brought it back. Egypt did.
The Rising City of Hurghada
First stop – the city of dozens of rising huge hotel resorts. Huge and rich, the faraoh kind, five star, 250 USD a night. The Hurghada part of the Red Sea coast is a construction site stretching kilometres. It’s a city on the brink of desert, touching the cleanest sea in the world. No river runs into the Red Sea, which is fortunate if you consider Egypt’s overwhelming water problem. While Hurghada is rising fast on the coast, the rest of Egypt is in critical shortage of drinking water, the Nile is poluted enough to be destroying crops along the river, people are thirsty, crops are scarce and running out, prices are rising, water is becoming a high-priced commodity hardly affordable by the Egyptians with extremely low wages.
And in the middle of this arid land, the beduin live a normal life. One well, a few houses, and earning a bit from tourists who come to see them and ride their camels.
Travelling to Luxor is a special feat. Hundreds of buses gather into a convoy and cross the desert together, accompanied by heavily armed police, military, and tourism police. In the last decade of the previous century, terrorists preyed on tourists here, and when more than thirty tourists were killed at the Hatchepsut temple in the Valley of Kings, security tightened to an extent that there are armed policemen, soldiers or citizen guards working for the police on every corner. Nothing is left to chance. The convoy features an ambulance and extra buses if a bus happens to break down. Ours did. Moved to the spare one and were on our way in ten minutes, at least three police cars surrounded us – about 15 cops. We had police escort with sirens until we cought up with the convoy again.
Valley of The Kings
When someone mentions summer, I think of very high temperatures and boy did I get those in Luxor. Fortunately we arrived to the Valley of the Kings at around one o’clock p.m., instead of an hour or two earlier, when temperatures sore up to sixty degrees celsius. So we “only” had about 45 :D. But I loved it! I hate rain and Slovenian weather so much this was perfect for me. I’m the kind of person that needs to push the limits throughout the day to sleep like a baby at night. Combined with the crowd and the tombs with no air, the sweating …
By then, it was clear. The trip was becoming one of my favorites ever. But the best was yet to come. Cruising the Nile, watching the life along the river, the minarets, the cities, boats… And the temples of Edfu, Kom Ombo, until reaching Aswan. The nice people and the late-night hustle and bustle of the streets, the bazaar… A coach ride and the Nubian village… In fact, all in all, we changed ten different transports. An airplane to Hurghada, bus around Egypt, jeeps into the desert, camels, a Nile cruiser, a feluka, a motor boat, a coach, a taxi, and a train from Aswan to Cairo.
The Modern Cairo
KFC, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s are just a few western fast food vendors you get in Cairo, which is normal. Another thing special for Cairo is the fact that women are not as covered as they are elsewhere. In fact, they even hold hands with their boyfriends (forbidden elsewhere), couples are everywhere… It’s an academic city with several universities. Life here is a lot more liberal than in the rest of Egypt, but it’s also dirty. Garbage is everywhere, especially in the Nile. But that doesn’t deter people from fishing off bridges. The water problem here is not as evident, but the same solutions are applied as well. There are water tanks and cups on the streets, where poeple can have a drink.
Cairo is a little cooler, but crowded. Poeple, on the other hand, are still kind. Things happen slowly. And nobody wants tips for anything they tell you or even let you take pictures. Elsewhere, you coud hear: “One photo, one Euro.” Kids in Aswan greeted us with “Hello, money!”. That’s because these people earn a whole salary from tips. Everything has a price. I show you hieroglyfics on a pillar, you just take a peak, and you pay. 😀
Egypt has become my favorite travel and one of my biggest features. It’s full of stories need to be told, two of them in Cairo alone. And the ones I was already covering on this trip… I’ll be back. Most certainly. Soon.