A World Wonder under the Beating Heat of the Desert Sun
Our agents travel to some pretty awesome destinations. When they return, our excitement to hear about their adventures is almost as great as their excitement is to share them. In ON LOCATION, they talk about the little nuances that make each place special. From Peru to South Africa, Switzerland, and Croatia, experience a fantastic second-hand journey and maybe take away some travel inspiration while you’re at it
A mound of pita bread balancing on top of a man’s head, herds of goats grazing by the roadside, horse-drawn carts piled with freshly cut alfalfa, tuk tuks speeding through narrow streets, wandering dogs and playful kittens, and beautifully well-worn buildings. The echoing of the prayer call mingling with the sound of children’s laughter as they play in the street. Men drinking tea and smoking shisha while watching the world pass by in front of them. This is the Cairo that we fell in love with. The gritty, polluted, dusty city baked under the Saharan sun and blessed with a history so ancient and so astounding that it’s still celebrated thousands of years later. We were fortunate to explore the city and surrounding areas for three days. Wishing we had more time, we left vowing to return again someday. Inshallah!
Our first taste of Egypt was the Sakkara pyramids, which were built in 2640 BC and are the oldest pyramids in the world. Channeling our inner Indiana Jones, we crouched through small, narrow entrances to discover impeccable hieroglyphs preserved in two different tombs. The Sakkara pyramids are not as well-known as the great pyramid, but the quality of the inside is incomparable.
That same day we visited Giza. The pyramids were much more impressive than we imagined. Being up close to them, we saw how large each stone really was (they went to our shoulders!). At that point the vastness of it all began to resonate. 600,000 individuals helped construct the pyramids. Each stone carved, heaved, and laid in place proved their devotion. Looking at the massive structure, it was astonishing to take in that each pyramid was for one, single person. Each dedicated worker’s focus was simply toward that purpose alone: getting their pharaoh to a place of paradise after death.
After we saw the pyramids up-close, we hopped on a camel as a cliché Cairo rite of passage and were provided a unique perspective from afar.
One tomb that avoided being looted by tomb raiders was that of Tutankhamun, the famous ruler who took the throne at nine years of age. At the Egyptian Museum we saw the artifacts that were discovered in 1922, including the famous gold death mask which weighs around 24 pounds. The sheer number of artifacts and their intricacy raised doubt that a more elaborate civilization ever existed. Not to mention that with King Tut’s untimely death at age 19, and with the timeline of the mummification process, the people only had 70 days to create his tomb, multiple sarcophagi, and jewelry for his burial. The pyramids were impressive enough but to see what was actually in them expanded our appreciation.
Egyptians also gained notoriety because of their papyrus paper. We visited a papermaking shop and learned about the extensive process involved. Future buyers be warned—fake papyrus paper can irritate your skin, and that’s why it’s sold wrapped in plastic!
Aside from the papyrus shop, we also popped into an authentic rug emporium. Despite our lack of haggling skills, we managed to leave the shop with two elaborate, hand-tied rugs for a fair price (when has two for one ever been a bad arrangement?), little to no buyers’ remorse, and best of all, money left over in our banks for future treat-yo’self opportunities.
We left Cairo for a day to go to Alexandria. It had a completely different vibe; the salty breeze and lovely turquoise water were such a treat after the dry desert air. We spent our time there soaking in the Mediterranean culture and exploring sites. We visited Roman catacombs, Pompey’s Pillar, the Citadel of Qaitbay, and had lunch overlooking the Mediterranean. A highlight of the area was visiting the Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi mosque. We arrived just in time for the call to prayer. After covering our heads and removing our shoes, we entered the holy place to take a moment of quiet reflection and observe the unique architecture. People were very welcoming, and it was a peaceful place.
A visit to Cairo isn’t complete without a ride on the Nile, so we spent a night on a dinner cruise. Without a doubt the highlight was the entertainment. The first performer was a belly dancer. Although she made it look very easy, not everyone can naturally whip out those moves. Despite this fact, we gave it our all when she pulled us up on stage. The second act was a dervish dancer. Unlike Turkish dervish dancers, this gentleman had a lit-up dress and did tricks while consistently twirling in place. It was shocking and magical. All the entertainment AND unlimited hummus?! It goes without saying that it’s highly recommended.
In recent history, Egypt has been highlighted in the news due to its tumultuous political situation. The number of tourists decreased dramatically since the 2011 revolution and is just now starting to increase little by little. The Egypt that we saw, full of life and hope and positivity, is the Egypt that deserves to be recognized. The mound of pita on the man’s head? That recipe has been around since 2500 BC. The glorious buildings in Old Cairo? The area was founded in 969 CE. The men drinking tea? That tradition has been around for hundreds of years. Egypt is a living tribute to the grandeur of their well-preserved and iconic civilization, a place where the past and present, both equally alive, thrive harmoniously in a beautiful chaos.