Walk like an Egyptian

DD and I are safely back from our Egyptian idyll. I am currently doing the third of what seems like twelve thousand loads of laundry, composing a grocery list in my head, rediscovering the various trinkets we bought for ourselves and as gifts for others, half-heartedly putting things away, wondering where the hell I hid my Canadian money and all the crap I removed from my wallet before we left …

… and of course, catching up on emails and blogs. You know, the fun stuff.

I have to admit that this was not the “best trip evar”. I was actually rather pleased to get home after two weeks on the road, living out of a suitcase, whereas normally it is a bittersweet feeling to come home.

Why? Well, first of all, our effing luggage did not arrive in Cairo with us. Yes. Again. (You may recall the luggage saga on our Greek vacation last year.) We are a cursed people, that’s my only explanation. And this time, it took FOUR days for us to retrieve it ourselves back at the airport because the bloody airline somehow couldn’t get it together to send it out to the hotel when it arrived in Cairo the day after we did. Oh, there were many phone calls to the lost luggage department of this airline, both from me (after I mastered Egyptian phones), the hotel reception people, and two different people from our travel agency. Everyone was disgusted with the treatment we got. As one of the fellows said, it is normal to have to deal with lost luggage, but it is NOT normal to have to go out the airport yourself to get it back. That was a first for him.

Secondly, poor DD got sick on our second day. (Maybe it was wearing the same clothes that she travelled in?) She was throwing up and generally feeling lousy, and we hadn’t even had time to ingest any of the water yet. That nausea later morphed into an overall feeling of just being ill, and that lasted most of the trip, off and on. Then one morning she woke up with a headcold, and is still coughing now. Next came her pulled thigh muscles from the crouching position necessary to enter a pyramid – the poor girl could barely walk for two days! Not to mention we both had the runs for a day or so (that one is apparently a regular occurrence with tourists to Egypt, and fortunately, we were prepared with meds for that).

But she was a trooper and didn’t miss much at all, as crappy as she was feeling at times. And she kept apologizing for ruining my trip, despite my assurances that she wasn’t ruining it at all, that of course I’d stay with her if she didn’t feel up to some visit somewhere. (My maternal instinct kicks in quite strongly when my offspring is ill, even though she’s 23.)

The third thing was the whole tour experience. As you know, I don’t DO tours, but in Egypt being part of a tour group is pretty much required, as it’s just too tough to travel on your own. But by the end both DD and I resented being herded here and there, being told to stand/ sit/ walk/ stay/ go/ try/ climb/ ride/ be careful/ look/ admire/ listen. Our tour group was small, just four people including us, plus our tour guide. The other two people were men, and we felt that our guide was catering way more to them than to us. Sometimes it was like tagging along with a bunch of frat boys! Thank goodness that we had a fair bit of time alone to bitch to each other and to renew our energy before the next outing somewhere.

The whole Middle East culture shock thing was huge for me, as well. I had a taste of it last year in Istanbul, and it’s interesting and different for the first few days, but two weeks can seem like a very long time to be a complete fish out of the water. It’s just so mentally tiring to have to constantly be aware of the societal norms around you – and there is little common ground with your own culture, so your points of reference are pretty much zero. Yes, I have a somewhat adventurous spirit, but I have to say that I was often very glad to be walking around with my group and that my group included men. It’s hard to get used to all the other women around wearing hajib or burqa in such hot temperatures. It was difficult, if not impossible to do much shopping because of the shopkeepers’ constant hassling, and also because we didn’t know many “average” prices, so we were at an enormous disadvantage if we wanted to bargain, unless our tour guide was there to give us a ballpark figure for whatever item we were interested in buying. The whole tipping thing was baffling as well, but fortunately our tour guide collected a whack of American money from each of us right at the start of the tour, and he doled it out in appropriate amounts to the appropriate people at the appropriate times. That was a relief, I must say!

Still, I’m glad we went, and I honestly wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.

And the best part was probably that our luggage actually arrived home with us! (It’s the little things, you know?)

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12 responses to “Walk like an Egyptian

  1. Sounds like a very honest review of Egypt, from a Western woman’s perspective. It’s good to get the whole picture-good and bad-about other countries.

    I would like to go to Egypt but probably only for a day or so. Go in, check out the pyramids, soak up a bit of culture and then leave.

  2. Sounds like the trip could have gone more smoothly. I feel bad for you that there was lost luggage and illness; that just totally sucks. There is nothing worse than being sick on vacation; been there, done that, don’t want a repeat.

    I can’t get over the luggage thing! That’s just insanely ridiculous that they couldn’t get it to you once it was actually at the airport. WTH? Will you tattle on the airline and tell us which one it was?

    Looking forward to seeing the pictures though! Would you suggest a trip to Egypt or not so much?

    • VioletSky – The phone numbers in Egypt have about eleventy billion digits, but you don’t need to use them all when you’re calling within the country, so first of all I had to figure that out. The phones are pretty much regular phones (although some of our hotel rooms had pretty old, heavy ones – like the first push button phones back in the late 70s-early 80s. Then the tones are all different: there’s a steady, high-pitched LOUD whine as a dial tone, the busy signal is a constant series of very rapid, higher-pitched beeps that sounded like a demented small car horn to me, and the tone when it’s ringing on the other end sounded very much like our busy signal. That last one REALLY confused me – I kept hanging up, thinking that I wasn’t getting through!
      As for toilets, yes, there’s a photo of one of those that I’ll post for you!

      Kimberly – This would be the fourth time in my life that my luggage has been lost, and the first time it wasn’t sent out to me the very next day. Yeah, I’ll tattle (sort of – don’t want to get any hits from people googling them!): it was the national airline of Egypt. I guess the moral of the story is that the stories about their awful service are true (although the flights themselves were fine).
      Yes, I would still encourage people to go to Egypt, but with caution, because although the ancient sights are incredible and truly worth seeing, the modern-day living part is tough on people (women) from the Western world. That being said, some people thrive on that kind of intense otherness, so they would likely love that experience, too.

  3. When I on my way home an hour ago (7PM) the car said it was still 38 celcius and the weather channel had posted a 45 celcius humidex.

    and I didn’t even get to see the pyramids, though I think I may have dreamt of sailing down a muddy Nile in a heat wave delirium….

    Good to have you back. And what were the Egyptian phones like? For some reason I am fascinated that there are so many variations on the basic telephone (oh, and toilets!).

  4. Ack! Welcome back. This is pretty much what I would have expected from a trip to Egypt. The offspring really wants to go, so I might go along with it for her sake, but it’s not high on my do-to list. Still I’m glad the overall experience was worthwhile for you both. It’s definitely a unique vacation.

    • Belette – I guess I need some familiarity to feel relatively comfortable – or maybe only three days, like your visit to Morocco. And funny you should mention Starbucks: as soon as we hit Heathrow on our way home, we zeroed in on Starbucks like homing pigeons! Thanks for visiting! 🙂

      XUP – Thanks, it’s good to be back. Yes, unique is the right word for a vacation to Egypt. And I do think you should give in to XUP Jr and go someday, if only to appreciate all that we have here in Canada. Besides, it’s a pretty cool experience to go into a pyramid!

  5. I haven’t been to Egypt. But I can tell you that I LOVED being in Morocco because it was so very other. It was like being no place I had ever been before. No shared alphabet. No fastfood restaurants to remind me of home. Soooo very other. I really liked it. It was strangely reorienting to feel myself in a place so unlike my ordinary life—but I was only there 3 days. A couple days longer and I might have felt like a fish desperate for a Vente Starbucks.

    Hope you share some pictures of your adventure. Also hope that you are feeling well and that the laundry is all done.

  6. Despite the sights to be seen, it may not be the best country to go and visit yet. I think it needs to be pulled into the 21st century a little bit more first for me to be comfortable there as a woman tourist. I don’t feel any desire to go there, because I have an ex-sister in law who lives there and used to tell me horror stories.

    • Nora – I fully agree with you. The Egyptian way of life is certainly extremely different and almost incomprehensible to those of us from the 1st world, and as you say, most particularly women tourists. When I travel, I often fantasize about living in that part of the world. I didn’t this time. But I still have to emphasize that I’m glad I went and saw all the amazing sights that I saw! To see 3000-year-old history is truly magnificent!

  7. That sucks. I’m sorry it wasn’t a stellar trip.

    OK, ’nuff about you (Ian said it all). Pics??? Please? Pretty please?

    ‘cuz we all know it’s all about me.

    • mrwriteon – The heat was something else! It was only (ha! Only!) 34 or 35 degrees in Cairo, but in Aswan and Luxor it was mid-40s and humid as hell. Quite uncomfortable. The only way to deal with it is to sightsee early in the morning and hang out (okay – sleep) in your air conditioned room in the afternoon, emerging no earlier than about 7:30 for dinner. Egypt has this amazing vibrancy all night long.

      Jazz – Yes, yes, yes, photos are coming. I’ve just downloaded them to my laptop, so I hope to have some up for you within the next few days. (Of course, that depends on the jetlag – it’s a 10 hour time difference, and if last year is anything to judge by, it may take me a week or nine to get my body clock readjusted.)

  8. So glad you’re home safe and relatively sound. Interesting travelogue and like you I hate tours and being ‘controlled’. Sucks about the luggage, and sucks to be sick like DD. That’s really unfortunate. How did you find the heat this time of year? I imagine it’s pretty daunting. A friend lived in Cairo (teaching) for two years and never really got used to the heat. Anyway, dear Pink, so glad you’re back. Hope you’re posting some pics.