Yes, I have been having a wonderful time here in the cradle of civilization, but all is not milk and honey.
There are several real struggles to vacationing in Egypt, well beyond the blazing heat, fleas and constant threat of the “Nile Piles.”
The biggest and most obvious obstacle to enjoying yourself is the constant harassment from nearly every Egyptian you come across. They relentlessly try to sell you trinkets at 10 times the going rate, scam you into giving them money or flat out beg, expecting “baksheesh” for opening a door or pointing out a room in a temple. I’ve never experienced this kind of constant beration in any other place, but then again, this is the poorest, most unstable country I’ve ever visited and a large portion of their economy is based on tourism. Walking down a busy street, you can expect dozens of people approaching you in a minute, with variations on the typical stable of scams. And, in my case, being of Middle Eastern descent doesn’t help, since it seems to make Egyptian men feel like they can just keeping following me, asking if I speak Arabic and trying to give me a ride on their horse carriage. It makes it impossible to really interact with Egyptians, because you correctly feel like each person who takes interest in you is only looking for you to open your wallet.
I am definitely not a fan of the organized tour. While they have certainly been helpful in arranging tickets and getting transportation, they also seem more eager to take their clients to high-priced papyrus and perfume shops for a “demonstration” that they do to take them to ancient temples. This morning, we spent an hour and a half in a papyrus shop while the people on my tour group bargained with the salespeople and then spent less than half an hour at the Luxor Temple.
If you are interested in coming to Egypt someday, please don’t let any of this dissuade you. It is still all more than worth it and when really experiencing the world, you want to see the good with the bad anyway. And despite all of this, every day has been a wonderful adventure.
I had a great time this morning at the Karnak Temple. The place is more than a square mile and is filled with obelisks, heiroglyphics and imposing statues. As usual, I was wandering off by myself in the most obscure corners I could find and a man beckoned to me, asking if I wanted to see the lioness goddess Sekhmet. I followed him to the back of the temple, where he led me into a series of interior rooms, each one protecting the next. In the final room was a statue of Ptah, Sekhmet’s husband. Inside that room was another heavy, padlocked door. The guard opened the door and there was Sekhmet, glowing onyx and serene. I stood with her for a moment and then he showed me the perfumed makeup that had been left into a huge stone container for her. Now that was worth the baksheesk.
Tomorrow we are headed back to Cairo, where we will see the Pyramids at Giza and a few other sites. I am bubbling with anticipation and wonder.