March 2002: I am truly fascinated by ancient Egyptian history. Few places stir an imagination more than Egypt with its mighty Sahara Desert, pyramids, mummies, un-discovered tombs, and legendary curses. there is just too much romanticism and mystery in one country for me to ever be satisfied with one visit.  This is the story of my first visit to Egypt to Cairo, the Nile River and its ancient historical sites and Red Sea near Hurghada.

 

 

Map of Visited Locations

Map of locations in Egypt I visited after 20 years of travel to Egypt

Ist Trip to Egypt

My first trip to Egypt was in 2022 only a few months after the war in Iraq started and resentment towards the United States in the Arab world was at an all-time high. It was my first time to Africa and the Arab word so needless to say I was worried, and it didn’t help that everyone I knew at home warned me that I would die if I went through with the trip. Little did I realize at the time that this would be a re-occurring theme in my travels and I didn’t let it stop me then and I wouldn’t in the future.

I would end up staying two weeks in Egypt and contrary to popular belief back at home that I would be immediately hung by the angry locals, I was welcomed with nothing but smiles and hospitality and Egypt would become one of the friendliest countries I had visited up until point in my travels.

I started and ended the trip in Cairo for a few days visiting the Great Pyramids, the Egyptian Museum, which is no ordinary museum. The museum itself built in 1902 is a museum to museums. The museum has hundreds of thousands of artifacts, mummies and tombs and feels has an old dusty unkempt feel that makes it feel old and magical in a Harry Potter kind of way like it could come alive at any moment.

For accommodation, I stayed in the Nile Hilton at first because the price was low for a 5 Star hotel due to the lack of tourists. Then I decided to save money by staying in a cheap hotel on the top of a large run-down skyscraper that appeared to be on the verge of collapse. The price was low, and the manager asked for the full payment upon arrival. I made the mistake of paying without inspecting the room. My room not only didn’t have a lock, and the door wouldn’t stay shut, it was dingy, dirty and the mattress reeked like gasoline and had mysterious stains. The manager had no extra rooms and claimed the room was fine and I just decided to walk out and forfeit my 10USD for the room and I returned to the Nile Hilton where I paid 150USD.

 

 

 

 

 

Me Taking a tourist photo at Giza Pyramids

Because of the Iraq war tourism and 9-11 tourism was at an all-time low in Egypt. Prices were in my favor, and I had most places to myself including the pyramids of Giza. I entered the largest pyramid of Khufu as soon as it opened and raced ahead to the center where a sarcophagus was located. I will never forget being alone in the center of the Khufu pyramid for 30 minutes before other tourists entered the room.

Me standing in one of the ancient structures adjoining the pyramids

From Cairo I flew to Aswan, the southern part of the Egyptian Nile and home to the Nubian people, dark skinned people who once ruled Egypt and formed an empire that spread all the way into Sudan.  I hired a sailboat called a Fallucca and sailed up the Nile, visited some ruins, made new friends everywhere I went, and I was one of the only guests at the old British colonial era hotel believed to be haunted where Agatha Christie wrote her famous murder mystery, “Death on the Nile.”

 

 

 

 

Nubian men smoking Shisha tobaco pipes

Nubian shopowners

Answan Nile River Falucas

From Aswan I booked a multi-day overnight Nile cruise that went upriver to Luxor. I had my own room with a window facing the Nile River, dinners were formal attire only and the boat had its own Egyptian belly dancer, who traveled with a bodyguard for her own protection. We would stop at various historical places along the Nile and when we are traveling upriver, I spent most of my time playing ping pong at the deck of the boat and I would end up losing a lot of ping pong balls to the Nile River.

 

 

 

View of Nile River from my room on the Nile cruise

The boat trip finished in Luxor, where we were free to explore on our own and I spent a few days visiting all of the treasures that Luxor and the surrounding area had to offer. Luxor was once the capitol of ancient Egypt and there are many incredible historical sites such as Karnak temple, Valley of the Kings and the tombs of Pharaoh Ramses and King Tut. Then there is Queen Hatshepsut Temple.

 

 

Snake charmer I met on the street with 20 or so cobras.For a small tip, I let him put them all around my neck and it wasnt until afterwards that I checked to see if they had fangsand I discovered the fangs were removed. I did later learn that fangs grow back on snakes and that sometimes snake charmers in places like this are not always dilligent about checking if all fangs havent returned.  

Me with conras around my neck

60 Feet Tall Collousus Statues of Memnon that have stood since 1350BC

Queen Hatshepsut Temple where only a few years before almost a hundred tourists were gunned down by a terrorist from on top of the cliff behind the temple. 

Queen Hatshepsut Temple where only a few years before almost a hundred tourists were gunned down by a terrorist from on top of the cliff behind the temple. 

Karnak Temple

King Ramses at Karnak temple

Min God of Fertility Carving. many of the carvings in karnak were defaced by pious Muslim and Christian armies that invaded Egypt. This carving of Min was very well detailed. The legend is based on a real man who was handicapped and unable to fight in the pharoes wars so he was left with the village women and children while men went to war. When men returned from battle they discovered that their wives had been impregnated by the handicapped man, who was very well endowed. Min became worshipped as a God of fertility in time and one legged erect depcitions of him can be found across Egypt. 

Me with friends I met in Luxur

Back streets of Luxur in the residential areas where tourists never go and where I felt out of place

From Luxor I traveled via train and bus to Hurghada, a Red Sea beach resort city. My bus had t be escorted by police on one part of the highway because of concerns about terrorist attacks. Once in Hurghada I stayed at a guesthouse and booked the Advanced diving certification course which lasted 4 days. I had an amazing time diving in the Red Sea experiencing its flourishing vibrant coral reefs, doing wreck dives, night dives and deep dives.

But the most amazing part of my stay in Hurghada was that getting my advanced dive certification forced me to stay in one place for a week and truly get to know the town and people and make friends. This led to some pretty crazy experiences. I became good friends with the Egyptian workers at my guest house and as one of the only foreigners in the guesthouse they took it upon themselves to adopt me for the week and show me around Hurghada. The manager was extremely loyal and protective and wanted me to have the best time in his country and for no one to overcharge me. One time when I ventured off to get a haircut on my own, the Egyptian barber charged me a few dollars too much and despite my haggling with the barber he was defiant and insisted I am able to pay since I am American and can afford to. I stopped arguing and paid the man because I figured it was just a few dollars more I will survive and i returned to the guesthouse. When the manager found out he was irate and demanded retribution and promptly marched back to the barbershop with me demanding my money back. The barber again was defiant, and I had to hold my friend back because he was on the verge of throwing fists. We left the barbershop, and my friend was irate, and he demanded we visit the police, which we did. In Egypt tourism is gold at during this time tourism was heavily impacted by 9-11 and the Iraq war and the govt. was especially sensitive about protecting it so when the police discovered that I was charged a few dollars too much, they didn’t hesitate to grab their AK47’s and jump into mobilization. They organized two military jeeps both full of soldiers with rifles and mounted anti-aircraft guns. I sat in one jeep with my friend and the police commander. it was a surreal experience as we charged over to the barber shop. I knew Egypt was a police state where citizens had no rights, and I was very concerned that I had created a situation beyond my control where I might witness this barber beaten or worse in front of me.

As soon as we arrived at the barber shop with the police, they immediately entered with guns drawn demanding the barber show himself, but he was gone. he must have saw us coming and had fled. But it didn’t take long for the police to find him and soon they returned with him handcuffed. The man who was previously defiant was now submissive and profusely apologetic in the presence of my new friends. Now the whole community was gathered around us, and the scene had become a huge public spectacle.  The police commander asked me what I wanted them to do with him and I realized I had the authority to have this man locked up and this would likely mean tortured in the police custody. I didn’t want harm for the man, and I didn’t even want a full refund, so I simply asked for a refund of what Iwas charged above a fair price. The police commander looked shocked and disappointed, asking me, “you sure.’ I nodded yes and the barber promptly paid me 2 dollars in Egyptian money and then he asked his staff to bring tea for everyone and the police, my friend and I and the barber all sat down to drink tea together, smiling and laughing as if the whole tense experience never happened before parting ways.

 

Beduin Camp

While I was in Egypt, there were still nomadic Bedouins, but they were being encouraged by the government to settle into villages with economic incentives. I was intrigued by them and wanted to visit one of their camps. I went on a day trip to a Beduin camp in the middle of the desert hours from Harghada accessible only by 4WD and spent the day observing their way of life. This was one of my first experiences with nomadic cultures in my travels. From Harghada, I traveled by bus to Cairo on a very long journey via the Suez Canal before flying home via Zurich, Switzerland where I stayed for one night trying to avoid bankruptcy in this very expensive country.

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