Written by Denny Custer.
Everyone has been to places were they say , “Wow, doesn’t that just suck the breath right out of you?” May we share a couple of those “breath suckers” from our recent Egyptian adventure?
Karen and I had an idea to tack Egypt onto the end of a European trip. Like many others, we were concerned about safety, the cultural differences, and how the Egyptian people would treat us. Tom and Joy Thrun did their Egyptian adventure in September of 1999 and their enthusiastic endorsement (and scrumptious pictures) revved up our excitement.
After arriving at the Cairo Airport and later the Sheraton Gezirah Hotel, we were shown to our room on the 20th floor. We opened the door and stepped out onto our balcony and “whoosh”, our breath just got sucked out. As far as we could see to the left and right and directly below was the Nile. Incredible. The hustle and bustle of traffic, the total view that confronted us, and the sounds- mercy, folks, it was just superb.
Incidentally, over the next 13 days of the trip, the Nile was constantly around us, or we were cruising on it. We now understand how much Egypt has, does, and will depend on its lifeblood, the Nile. The desert surrounds Cairo, indeed it surrounds most everything in Egypt. All that there is of real value in the country to the south is within two precious strips of green on either side of the Nile. There is a distinct part line between lush green and brown sand. Beyond the green, it is just sand for hundreds and hundreds of miles.
All of the tombs and temples and other sights we saw were spectacular, each in their own way. However, one was a very special “breath sucker”, the Ramses II temple. As our group rounded a turn and caught our first view of this temple, you could audibly hear the breath leaving 13 bodies. Incredible beyond description, you just have to see it with your own eyes.
Our Egyptologist took us off to one side, clearing the walkway for other tourists, to tell us about this fascinating place. While we listened to him, we could also hear the same first reaction from other tourists catching their first glimpse. Especially precious were two separate groups of Japanese girls. Their first sight, in both cases, was accompanied by a high-pitched squeal of admiration. Whatever culture, however expressed, there was a definite “whoooosh” reaction from everyone.
One other “breath sucker” was extremely special, this at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. If you go to the Royal Mummy Room and file around 15 or so mummy cases, you will eventually find yourself looking right at (up close and personal) “THE MAN”, Ramesses II himself. At some 3,300 years of age, his repose belies the fact that he had over 200 wives, fathered 156 children, and died at age 96. What? Oh yes, I do believe one could detect a slight smile on his face.
If you share our original anxieties regarding a trip to Egypt, let us reassure you. Safety was never a concern. The presence of so many soldiers and civil tourist police armed with automatic weapons was either intimidating or reassuring, depending on your point of view. Even our Nile River boat had a 24-hour armed guard. We took the point of view of feeling very safe.
From modern Cairo to the poorer villages in upper Egypt, the cultural contrasts were extremely interesting, and observing them was one of the true highlights of the trip. Even in downtown Cairo, donkey carts mix with the autos, trucks, and buses. You see contemporary lifestyles as well as people living much as their ancestors did 5,000 years ago (albeit with satellite dishes on their mud brick homes).
The Egyptian people were wonderful- far beyond expectations. The people we encountered genuinely liked Americans and they had a rich sense of humor. The one caution is that one needs to be prepared for the incessant pestering of souvenir sellers. They are pervasive and annoying. Our Egyptologist suggested buying an Egyptian newspaper, and if it appeared you were reading it, you wouldn’t be bothered. The easier solution was to just understand that it is their way to make a living, and be tolerant, if not supportive.
If such a trip has been lodged in the back of your mind for some time, don’t miss it. It truly is the adventure of a lifetime. You might, however, wish to take an oxygen tank to replace the air that will be sucked out of you. Whooosh!