Which real traveler wouldn’t rank Egypt high on their bucket list? It is THE country that provokes imagination, awe, and admiration. Like the others, I have also been intrigued by this land of Pharaohs, pyramids and papyrus, the cradle of human civilization.
Cairo is only a three hours flight from Addis Ababa, which makes it a convenient getaway for a long weekend for Giza and Alexandria. The country is fulfilling my childhood fantasy, while full of surprises. I have to say I got mixed feelings about Egypt. To be able to witness the great pyramids in Giza, Saqqara and Dalshur, to have Cairo Museum all by myself, and to walk down the beach next to the Library of Alexandria, are without doubt a dream comes true. Yet, that is about it for the nicest things I can say about Egypt. I reckon that most Egyptians are lovely people, and maybe I am just being unlucky, but the people I encountered in the tourism industry, including taxi drivers, hotel staffs, hawkers, teenagers, left a sour taste for this lovely country.
I don’t want to dwell too long on the negative aspects, so here are some of the highlights about my trip: my visit was in January 2018, and for some unknown reason, very few foreign tourists were in Egypt. The only ones I encounter were Arabs, Russians, and Chinese. This is definitely a pleasant surprise, because pretty much everywhere I go, I can have the place almost to myself. Time and time again, I found it surreal to spend alone time with the Sphinx, the Great Pyramid of Khufu, Tutankhamun, and glaze at them face to face when there is no one else around. It was a truly unforgettable and unbelievable experience, considering how famous these monuments are.
No one goes to Egypt without seeing these greatest wonder human beings have ever built: the pyramids. Most visit the triplet in Giza, on the west bank of the Nile. They are something to behold, at least once in a lifetime. Because of the extremely low tourist season, the Giza compound was almost deserted when I visited. It felt like there were more hawkers than tourists (No, I don’t want a picture riding a camel in front of the pyramids!), which is kind of annoying, but also a blessing when you can finally outmaneuver the hawkers and find your peace of mind among the ancient stones and sand.
I also visited the twin necropolises of Saqqara and Dalshur, where one can find the Stepped Pyramids and the Bent Pyramid, which even predates the great pyramids in Giza. It was there that you really got to enjoy these ancient giants all by yourself, with nobody but the Sahara Desert in sight, and can fully appreciate the solitude, grandeur of the landscape, the miracles of these engineering feats, the passing of history, and the insignificance of my present self. Climbing a 5,000 years old pyramid alone in a chilling Sahara gust is something I will remember forever.
The Egyptian Museum is without any doubt one of the finest museums I have ever visited. Its collection can simply put the Louvre, the Met and the British Museum to shame. Besides dazzling artifacts, statues, and sarcophagus from ancient Egypt, its most impressive treasures are located in the Royal Mummy Room and the King Tutankhamun Collection Room. The former is the temporary resting place for some of the greatest pharaohs, including Amenhotep I, Thutmose I, Ramses II, and their queens. To be able to look into the eyes of Ramses II, and appreciate the intricate weavings of his lady’s well preserved hairs, still gives me goosebumps.
Cairo has much more to offer than the pyramids and mummies. I had some magical times strolling down the banks of the Nile, window shopping in the antique market, getting lost in the Souq of Cairo (Khan el-Khalili), and smoking hookah and making inappropriate jokes with the cool Cairenes.
Alexandria is a comfortable three hour train ride from Cairo. Here, you are escaped from the dust pan between two deserts, and are rewarded by palm trees and promenades by the Mediterranean. The city itself doesn’t feel ancient, and the current Library of Alexandria was only built in 2002.
One last particular thing I noticed about the Egyptians are, they seemed to be really angry with Ethiopia. Every time I mentioned to someone that I was living in Ethiopia, I got death stares and scolding about how Ethiopia is trying to build the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, steal all the water from the Blue Nile (which discharges about 80% of all the water of Nile, the White Nile does the rest 20%) and choke Egypt into drought. Well, three years have passed, it is 2021 now, the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam has almost filled its reservoir, and Egypt still get its water somehow.
When writing my previous post on Egypt, I came to realize the significance of the Great River Nile, and how lucky I am for living in or near its watershed for the last few years. The Nile is the longest river in the world, and carries paramount importance both in history and presence for much…