Allow me to be clear: The title of this photo essay in no way suggest that I think this year’s political developments in Egypt have been insignificant.
Indeed, it references how shocked most of my friends and family were at the fact that I was planning to visit Egypt at a time of such seeming volatility — and how minute an impact said upheaval had on my trip there. Translation: If you want to hit Egypt on your next trip but are afraid, don’t be.
Obviously, traveling always carries some risk with it, a potential that increases when your destination is politically unstable. I can assure you, however, that the chances of you having the time of your life in Egypt are exponentially higher than encountering chaos, death or dismemberment.
After the all-day affair of crossing the Israeli-Egyptian border at Taba, I boarded a dusty East Delta Bus Company coach bound for Sharm el Shiekh, perhaps the best known of the dozens of towns and cities located along the coast of the Red Sea on the Sinai peninsula.
Unfortunately the corporate chaos that is Naama Bay, where most of the tourist lodging in Sharm el Shiekh is located, was less than relaxing after an entire morning, noon and night spent in transfer. My advice? Get off the bus in Dahab, a sleepier spot — which, like Sharm el Shiekh, is world-famous for its scuba diving — and skip this nonsense.
Unless, of course, this interests you. See, one thing you aren't going to find near Dahab or any of the quiter spots in Sinai is the Ras Mohammed National Park, a literally deserted expanse of landscapes that are appropriately biblical in scale. Ras Mohammed is 20 km from Naama Bay and this, coupled with how deserted it is, means you'll need to hire a taxi for the whole day if you don't want to get stranded.
If you can, order it through your hotel. Although the initial price may be higher than what the hacks on the main drag quote you, you'll be better off in the long run: My "driver" — who was borrowing his friend's car to cart my around — ended up physically extorting more than double the initial 300 L.E. he quoted me for five hours in the park and the journey to and from it.
And by "physically extort," I mean taking a large rock from the ground and aiming at me as he came dangerously close to speeding the car off a cliff. Yikes!
For more reasons than one, I was happy to head to Cairo after a couple days in Sinai. One notable advantage the capital had over Sinai was a significantly lower number of tourists, as in almost none. In any case I'd heard nothing but shit talked about Cairo before visiting, so I had literally no expectations for the city and employed my usual travel strategy: Heading to an out-of-the-way part of the city and getting lost.
In the case of Cairo this was the aptly-named "Old Cairo," a part of the city where donkeys seem higher in number than automobiles and where, in spite of the apparent poverty, peoples' only reaction to the strange blue-eyed person walking cautiously through their neighborhood with a $2,000 camera was the most enthusiastic welcome they could muster.
After a couple days in Cairo, it was becoming clear to me that whatever revolution had occurred here was long over — even Tahrir Square itself was void of anything but what seemed to be routine pedestrian traffic, although a fellow traveler told me he had seen a small demonstration the day before I arrived.
With all the news media reports, I firmly expected to arrive in an Egypt — and, specifically, a Cairo — that had been thrust squarely back into the third world, with chaos and disorder in place of whatever civilization had previously been there. I was very surprised by how intact most things seemed to be.
One example was the fantastic Cairo metro, the only such system in Africa, which ran smoothly and on schedule as if nothing had ever happened — except for "Mubarak" station being renamed "Martyrs of the Revolution of the 25th" station, of course.
The tourist drought continued upon my arrival at the Giza Pyramids, which were all but deserted, relatively speaking. I would estimate that on the day of my visit, a Friday afternoon, no more than 200 tourists were inside the pyramid complex at any given time.
This definitely enhanced the experience for me, but I couldn't help but wonder about the effect low numbers, born disproportionately of international media sensationalism, were having on the local economy. I came upon many a merchant who were willing to "sell" items for almost nothing because they were so desperate.
At the advisement of the woman who staffed the front desk of the Wake Up! Hostel in Cairo, I decided to squeeze the Mediterranean city of Alexandria into a day trip. The city was nothing special, she warned, having become something of a dust bowl since the government forced out the Greeks in the 1950s and 1960s.
With no itinerary upon my midday arrival at the city's rail station, I decided to spend the afternoon and evening strolling up and down upon the city's coastal "corniche," where I quickly gained popularity as the "only white dude in town."
In Alexandria, the revolution seemed to be as distant a memory as it was in Cairo, although some indicators — such as this badass graffiti — did exist as a reminder. I also got propositioned for sex by a taxi driver, which was as flattering as it was terrifying.
Once I'd finished in Alexandria, I headed back to Cairo to catch a good night's sleep before overnight-train-ing down to Aswan, the southern terminus of Egypt's proverbial tourist trail. I was shocked at how incredibly different "Upper Egypt"(as southern Egypt was known during the time of the pharaohs) was from "Lower Egypt."
The people are much darker and, for lack of better terminology, more African-looking — they're technically Nubians, descendants of a sub-race of north Africans that had their own country at several points through Egyptian history. These fishermen were getting ready to set off onto Nasser Lake, the largest manmade body of water in the world, formed after the construction of the Aswan High Dam in 1970.
My last adventure in Egypt was the one I'd anticipated most before crossing into the country two weeks before — spending a night out on the Nile aboard a "felucca" sail boat — and it did not, in any way, disappoint.
Being out on the water allowed me to feel more disconnected and at ease than I've been at any point in my adult life. It also reconnected me with Andrew, Antonella and Katy, three of the fellow travelers with whom I'd connected earlier in my journey, as much an indication of serendipity as of how few tourists there are in Egypt at the moment.
As you can see with the American flag waving behind the captain, Egyptians harbor anything but animosity toward Americans and fellow Westerners, although that might've changed for this guy after the crappy tip we left him. Whoops! In any case, don't let fear prevent you from coming to Egypt — I beg you.