After nearly 7 months in Africa, I spent just 8 days in Egypt, which is crazy because I love this place.
Having done the tourist circuit on a previous 2-week backpacking trip, I didn’t feel like I missed out too much, but I still wish I could have spent more time in this absolutely wonderful place. However, I was moving on much quicker than expected since I was able to find a spot on New Zealand’s famed Milford Track, a wonderful and easy 3-night backpacking trek, which was on the ol’ bucket list.
When you fly by the seat of your pants, things don’t always line up perfectly.
It was a quick, enjoyable, action-packed week, which began, appropriately, on the Nile, on my overnight ferry from Wadi Halfa, Sudan. Then it was onto Luxor and Cairo.
It was in the capital that I had a helluva an adventure with a Patriots fan trying to find a place to watch SB51. We eventually succeeded. It was epic! Since the game ended just before dawn, we followed it up with a visit to Giza, where we tried to sneak/bribe our way into the pyramids to watch sunrise. We failed.
Also in Cairo, dinner with a long-lost friend from Vegas, the most expensive drink I had in Africa ($7.50 USD g&t at the Jazz Club, which was not playing jazz and wasn’t very enjoyable), a disappointing loss for the Egyptian national soccer team, and a visit to the hospital.
After crossing from Cape Town to Cairo, the bookend nations still remain my favorite destinations. Here are six reasons I love Egypt and why you will, too, despite, everything you hear in the news.
Even better the second time because I knew my way around, this is why people have come to Egypt for millenia. This time I stuck to some familiar sites that wouldn’t get me questioned and detained by police. That happened last time, when I ventured into Abydos (where the incredibly well-preserved temple of Seti I is; one of the best in all Egypt) on my own in a 3rd class train. But sharing some koshari with my personal police protector whilst waiting for the next train is still one of my all-time favorite travel stories/meals. Good times!
The ferry ported in Aswan, but I didn’t have time to backtrack south to Abu Simbel, an ancient temple and marvel of modern engineering. The May 1969 issue of National Geographic has a fantastic write-up on the immense & complex task of dismantling the temple and reconstructing it further uphill to save it from the impending flooding of the Nile. Really incredible stuff, so check it out. And don’t miss it if ever in Egypt.
In Luxor, which is just teeming with interesting things to see, I rented a bike for a couple days and pedaled to the Temple of Hatshepsut, The Valley of the Kings, and Karnak, where getting a guide was a fantastic decision.
I slept right across the street from the city’s namesake temple so I just walked there. Also due to the location of the hotel, I was up and at ’em early. Still, it was a far cry from the ungodly 4 am wake up calls in Malawi.
Rising early paid off, as I joined the Colossi for sunrise and beat nearly everyone to the Temple of Hatshepsut. After the busload of local tourists left, I had the place to myself for nearly 30 minutes. A rare treat, even with visitor numbers in Egypt way down.
At the Valley of the Kings, extra tickets got me into the tombs of Rameses VI (50 LE) and Tutankhamun (100 LE). The former was rich in color and detail, big, and very interesting. By contrast, Tut’s was quite little and had minimal adornments, but it did have his mummy in there. I didn’t get to go in last time, so it was cool. I am still wondering just how awesome the tomb of Ramses I must be since it cost 50 USD to enter it.
Hustling to Karnak on my bike, I got a painful souvenir that I still carry with me and put my hiking adventures in NZ in jeopardy. As I was riding hard, standing, the left pedal snapped completely off. This resulted in a stunning epic fail that sent me to the ground in a split second. My knee bore the initial impact before I flew over the handlebars and landed on my right shoulder.
Luckily I was not yet on the street when this happened. Since I wasn’t wearing a helmet, I was fortunate that my knee and shoulder, which still aren’t right by a long shot, took the brunt of the spill. It could’ve been way worse.
The pain wasn’t too bad at first, but after a few days I knew that I needed a professional opinion. This brings me to another thing I loved.
For the first time on this trip, I was in a hospital, something I certainly wanted to avoid. But given the pain, my limited mobility, and the fact that I had three hikes in New Zealand less than a week away, I had no option. After googling the best available private hospitals, I hopped in an Uber to Cleopatra Hospital. Yup, totally Egypt.
I was prepared for the double whammy of bad news and a substantial out-of-pocket payment for getting them. But I actually walked out smiling and better off than I thought.
It was only a messed up meniscus and couldn’t get too much worse. And it was only $68 USD for my MRI and $20 for my doctor’s visit!! To top it off, my prescriptions were mostly under a dollar for generics, because…
The Exchange Rate
It is so damn good right now (book your trip and take me with you)!
When the powers-that-be let the Egyptian Pound float against the dollar in January, the travel gods smiled upon me once again. The LE took a big hit and went from 9 to the dollar to double that, making an affordable nation twice as cheap. After my time in NZ, I sure as hell wish I were back there! 20 cents to send a postcard home, a basic private room was 4 USD, a movie at a nice theater 3, an hour-long Uber less than 5, and all of my visits to archaeological sites and the wonderful Egyptian museum in Cairo, combined, were less than 35 USD (ya hear that, Ethiopia?!).
And the food,
Without a doubt, Egypt is the undisputed
king pharaoh of street food in Africa! Well, at least the few countries I’ve been to; there are 54 of them in this continent.
I went all-in. Especially thinking about how different things would be in New Zealand, I ate out err day. On the streets, sure, but I did not cook a single time. The daily breakfast fuul, big bowls of fruit and fresh fruit juices, delicious koshari, lots of chai and ahwa, pastries from El Abd, the list goes on.
And it even included a DQ Blizzard (ok, two…on back-to-back days) because it was a wonderful find (reminded me of my family visits to the local DQ on Maryland and Sahara in Vegas), it is delicious, and at $1.28 for a medium Blizzard, you just have to, no?
I enjoyed my train journeys from Aswan to Luxor, and then to Cairo by day (the sleeper is way overpriced). Uber was absolutely clutch and saved me from getting ripped off. My ill-fated bike was handy until it sent me flying. It was really the only negative, “you get what you pay for” example from Egypt. There is even a nice subway system (which I used last time)!
Last, but not least, Egypt’s hospitable, friendly people are one of the reasons I love it. I wish I had pics, but I don’t. However, they were awesome.
The helpful immigration officers who got us our passports after they disappeared on arrival to the port of Aswan. The young cafe owners who graciously stayed open and let us watch Super Bowl until it ended around 5 am. The attendant on my Luxor to Cairo train. A standout Uber driver, making the best out of a bad situation to put food on the table. Mohamed: my spectacular guide at Karnak who answered all my questions and really made my visit special. And my AirBnB host, Mohammed, was fantastic. He insisted on taking me to the airport and even made me a great cup of coffee before sunrise. You can find him and his kick-ass flat here. I could go on. Just wonderful, wonderful people.
I am certain Egypt is on your travel bucket list, but do yourself a favor and move it up!