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LAND OF GODS AND PHARAOHS
Rounding up my experience, my top advice for Egypt is……
1 Don’t be a tourist. Be wise, but also be friendly to locals. Your whole view on life will change the more you get out of your comfort zone with the vast range of human beings that call this planet home
2 Travel in small groups with local guides. You’ll appreciate culture more and have a better time. You’ll also get off the beaten track more and discover things that people in tour buses and on cruise ships don’t.
3 Be nice, but firm. When it comes to getting rid of pushy people and marriage proposers. Usually you are never far from an armed police man.
4 Learn some Arabic. Basic words like ‘shukran’ for thank you and ‘As-salaam alaykum’ for greeting people. It will go one hell of a long way.
5 People not pyramids. The pyramids look in the flesh exactly like they do in photos, and while it’s an impressive tick off your bucket list, it’s the experiences with people that you will come away remembering and cherishing.
6 Haggling is fun. If you don’t find it fun, learn to love it. The firm but nice rule applies here too, never back down and always remember you can smile and walk away. It’s only sometimes that you’ll need a thick skin.
7 Hire a driver. Cairo is super fun when you hire a taxi for the day. Quite often the hotel will negotiate a price for you. And in my experience, no matter how lost you think you are, your taxi driver will somehow manage to find you every single time, with a genuine goal that he will get you home safe and make sure you enjoy every bit of your day
8 Sail the Nile the way it’s been done for thousands of years, on a sail boat. Don’t get on one of the hundreds of cruise ships when you do this journey. Sailing for three days up the Nile was the most earthy and relaxing experience of my life. I got to sail a boat on the Nile! How nuts is that?
Egypt as a whole was the highlight for me. I love this country. So story-rich and history-proud. The Bedouins of the Western and Sinai deserts are some of my favourite peoples for culture, food, humour and friendship.
Getting absolutely 100% completely ripped off the first time I haggled for something. All my friends that I have ever travelled with since can thank me for this, because I learned a hard lesson and am now the master haggler. I paid for a dress somewhere in the region of 7x it’s regular market value, spending a large portion of my shopping budget on it. It worked out quite well though because the shop keeper felt so bad for his win that he invited my mum and I to tea with his family, I met all his children, and he gave me about ten extra items if I remember correctly, which ended up serving as presents for friends and family. If you know me personally, you’ll realise how much of a confession this is for how proud I am of my haggling skills. I have absolutely made up for that x7 in my travels since!
FOR THE GOTHS, FREAKS AND WEIRDOS
Coptic Cairo is amazing. There is a great Christian cemetery there that is ruinous and overrun. It doubles as a rubbish dump but is super beautiful (Disclaimer; I don’t know how safe it is). You’ll also love the shopping in Coptic Cairo. The Royal mummy room at the Egyptian museum is 100% a must, and the photography around most ancient sites and grungy alleyways in Cairo is pretty epic. The white desert is beautiful, romantic, lonely and desolate. Luxor is my favourite city for openness to alternative culture. And lastly, St Katherine’s monastery in Sinai is a must visit if the Ossuary of the monks is open at the time of your visit.
Oh, wait, of course you’ll also love Egypt for the mythology, the curious archaeological sites and the ritual embedded history. And the fact that there are tombs and monuments to death rituals (or the celebration of life, depending on how you look at it) absolutely EVERYWHERE!
MY TOP SITES TO VISIT
1 The Egyptian museum. You’ll get Museum fatigue but it’s worth it.
2 Coptic Cairo. It’s quaint and cool and fascinating that Christ was raised near here.
3 The Western Desert. In particular the Farafra Oasis and the White Sand desert, and doing a camel trek to sleeping under the stars.
4 The mortuary temple of Hatshepsut near Luxor. Cause the woman Pharaoh was an absolute bad ass. And her biggest surviving relic is a mortuary temple – also too cool.
5 Valley of the Kings. Because we all wanted to be an archaeologist, or an Indiana Jones type when we were growing up. Also, it’s pretty cool to take a donkey as your method of transport to get there.
6 Luxor. More forward thinking in many ways and less “big city” than Cairo. The riverside is a great place to walk, to eat, dance and shop, and the iconic tourist destinations like Karnak and the Valley of the Kings don’t seem quite as overrun as Cairo does.
7 Abu Simbel. Cause, wow!
8 Sinai. Do the mountain hike. Hopefully you’ll get a better sunrise than I did. Do the monastery, because it’s so quaint and archaic. The burning bush that God spoke to Moses out of is said to still thrive here. The bone chapel is well worth the visit if you are a bit of a tombstone tourist.
9 Finish your adventure in a resort or beachside town. I’m not a beach holiday person, not by a long shot, but after twenty something days on the road, spending those final few days relaxing was a winner.
10 The Khan el Khalili & Alexandria. These are two places I didn’t get to see that I wish I could have. They still sit on my list of things to be ticked off.
ON A FINAL NOTE
For me, so many stories came out of this land, as I’ve already mentioned, it was the birthplace of my fascination with death rituals, and a land that nurtured my need for storytelling. Egypt will awaken your imagination.
The biggest revelation for for me was that I went for pyramids and history but I came away inspired by people and culture. Afterall, it was the people of this land who created the mythology and monuments that we all know and have come to love.