I find arriving in a new country near dark disconcerting. Yet once again I was doing it, landing at Cairo’s airport as the sun was setting. Though I willed the plane to arrive early and the sun to put off setting, by the time I needed a taxi to lodging of some kind, it was already dark. So I was at the mercy of the taxi drivers. And then once at the hostel, I was at the mercy of the hard sell. They place had a nice rooftop restaurant and I wanted to enjoy my evening alone, quietly eating and catching up on a book or my journal. But that just could not happen. The man sidled up to me and began his pitch. I was still tired from the illness but also from just arriving.
Sweet Talk Tour Guy swore to me up and down that “they,” the tour company, did a great job in matching travelers with other like-minded travelers for the best experience. I half-heartedly protested. I liked being alone traveling most of the time, so matching me up with another traveler was already going against my desires. Yet the guy would not take no for an answer and I soon found myself, against my better judgment, signed up for a tour.
The first day I had a solo tour to the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx. To complement my tour I had the option of either a horseback or camelback ride through the pyramid landscape. As my innards were still recovering from illness I opted for what I considered the more comfortable saddle – the horse. I cannot say whether that was the correct choice or not, only that it still felt rather dreadful. I was happy to get down and have a walk around. Yet I made the mistake of entering one of the pyramids. It was small, cramped, and quite warm. Too, too warm. Stifling. I am not really a claustrophobe, but I did not enjoy the long, low, narrow passageway down. There were just too many people in there. And by that I mean I was not all by myself.
Back in the open air I opted not to visit the Great Pyramid. I knew at the time I might regret not visiting the largest of them, but I honestly could not stomach another voyage to the center of a pyramid. By the time I reached the Sphinx I felt I no longer cared and that is a pretty terrible way to approach one of the most iconic sites in the world. My pictures though present as someone who is quite pleased with herself, standing there with the Sphinx.
Next was on to the step pyramid of Djoser and then that evening a train to Aswan with my tour group.
An 11 hour overnight journey from Cairo to Aswan; all I wrote is I did not sleep so great.
The following day we had a tour in Aswan. It is amazing what we packed into a day. We visited the High Dam of Aswan, the Temple of Philae, and the Temple of Isis, the latter two which are located in the middle of the Nile and accessible only by boat. We had the evening to relax in the hotel on our own. I immediately set out to explore Aswan on my own, because mostly I craved time away from my tour group. I found a wonderful spice market and in a small shop located, this is almost unbelievable, Twinkies. Just two packs of them, probably smuggled in decades before. But I bought them and I ate them, relishing in each bite a forbidden taste from home. I had not had Twinkies in ages but they tasted like the most divine thing I had eaten in a long while. Perhaps that sounds like such a crazed overreaction, because it is, but despite being in this amazing location seeing relics of the antiquities, what sticks in my mind most about Aswan are 1. My disappointment in learning that there are no crocodiles in the Nile (though there are some in Lake Nasser, above Aswan Dam), 2. My fascination with the American staying in the hotel that lived and worked half of the year in Antarctica, and 3. The improbable two packages of Twinkies I found in the Aswan spice market.
I had to build up my sustenance as the next day we boarded a traditional Nile vessel, a felucca, for a two day ride down the Nile. Just me and my tour group, a captain, and a captain’s assistance. Approximately fourteen of us on a small boat for two days on the Nile.
It should have been romantic. It started out so, I wrote in my journal: And here on this boat on the Nile with the sun shining, the wind softly blowing, the conversation in Arabic between our boat captain and that of another boat, Bob Marley playing on a transistor radio, and the occasional calls of the wading birds, and I can think of possibilities and not of obstacles.
By the second day I already felt differently: So far the felucca ride is okay. During the day it is very relaxing and lazy drifting along the Nile. The sun is very warm. But there are a few problems; the first is there is no toilet. It means having to hold it until a suitable pit stop can be made, whence we stumble off the plank from the boat and up the river bank to squat in some reeds. The other problem is it seems everyone else on the boat seems to be a recreational pot smoker.
So much for matching me up with like-minded travelers! Whatever your views on marijuana use, in some countries it is most certainly illegal and result in stiff fines or much, much worse. In Egypt it is illegal. We were “pulled over” by the Nile police. I am not kidding. A Nile police boat put its lights on, forced us to stop, then boarded us and questioned us all. They focused on the Egyptian husband of one of the foreign tourists and the boat’s captain and first mate, and very little on the foreign tourists, but it was a tense ten minutes nonetheless.
I could not wait to get off that felucca after that.
Besides the pyramids, Luxor is the Egypt you see in the tourist brochures, the place little girls who like to read about early Egyptologists and mummies dream of visiting.
The visit to the West bank of Luxor – to the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens and Karnak were incredible. But it was the Temple of Hatshepsut that really stood out. Not just because of its incredible location, but because just three years before a horrible terrorist attack had occurred there. At the time of the attack I was living in Japan. As ten Japanese were killed in the attack, it was heavily covered on the Japanese news.
The temple is a thing of amazing beauty. It is serene and imposing and fitting for one of the most successful and ruthless of rulers – the queen who crowned herself pharaoh. Walking down the long, exposed walkway from the entrance to the temple, with armed guards visible, I felt vulnerable and hyperaware. Of all the places I visited in Egypt I remember this site the most and it is there I want to revisit again the most.
The biggest annoyance with Egypt (besides my tour group) was the unwanted male attention. I met a Nubian man while wandering who invited me to his home on the West Bank for dinner. I was reluctant to go at first, but finally caved in. It was interesting to see his home, or rather his sister’s home, where he was living, but there was the usual underlying advances. He told me I should work in Egypt because it is a romantic country. He said he is going to open his own tour company and I could work there and I would be welcome to stay in his flat free whenever I was in Luxor. While I have felt the come-ons to be slightly more subtle in Egypt than in Tunisia, though probably because I have been more secluded by the tour, it is still tiresome…Several Egyptian men asked me questions about my sex life. I very much doubt they ask Egyptian women if they have had “relations” recently only an hour after meeting. I am surprised again and again how quickly the conversation comes around to either marriage or sexual proposals.
There was another overnight train returning to Cairo. It was horrible. The harsh fluorescent lighting that never went off. The toilet that became more and more disgusting as the trip went on. The too many bodies squeezed into a small car. With one more day in Cairo before flying out in the evening, I had planned to visit the Egyptian museum, but as I was too tired from the train and I only paid to sleep through the day in the guesthouse.
The next stop was India.
I stayed only one week. I was so tired from my travel and India is so taxing, so tiring. I was not in the right frame of mind to face it. Because of this I made the mistake of contacting an Indian man I had met in Bangkok months before just before starting my around the world trip. Well, it was a mistake and it wasn’t. Because I spent the majority of my time with him I had a very different experience in India than I would have had as a single woman traveler – and that is probably what I needed at the time. I have spent the majority of my time here with P. Because I am with him I am treated differently than when I am on my own. I have noticed that when I am with P persistent vendors give up quicker and rickshaw drivers and others are less likely to steer me to their shops or to places of their “friends” or places where they receive commission. The couple of times I have been out on my own these things invariably occur. My protestations are ignored. P has heard my stories of hassles from other countries but he tells me India is not so bad, but I would venture to say it is, only when he is not around.
The night before I went to the airport, after only a week in India, P asked me to marry him. I spent some time mulling it over – I wrote quite a lot about it in my journal. But the next day, on the way to the airport, I told him no.