“Isn’t it dangerous?”
“Why would you go to Egypt now?”
“What about ISIS?”
These are the kinds of comments we received when we originally booked our trip to Egypt late in the summer of 2016. We heard them for months. It was easily a 4-to-1 (if not higher) ratio of people whose immediate reaction was concern for us versus excitement for us when we told them of our plans. When we first saw the deal for the vacation to Egypt, I think we both initially had this reaction ourselves, a 100% emotional response based on nothing but years of only hearing the bad news that comes out of the Middle East.
Courtney and I share many tenets in our philosophy of life, and a couple of them are applicable here. The first is that we refuse to go through our life being afraid, either of the unknown or the unfamiliar. In point of fact, we are quite the opposite, seeking out that which we don’t understand in an effort to learn more about our world. We also refuse to be afraid of “what might happen.” The hard reality of life is that your safety is ultimately an illusion, a result of societal norms that we all agree upon, whether you are in the United States or France or Egypt. All it takes is for one person to break this implicit arrangement, and your life is over. This is not to say that we behave irresponsibly (we researched the security situation of the trip before we left), but we are also not opposed to taking a certain amount of measured risk to gain valuable life experiences.
The second is that we believe that most people are good; they are trying to get through life day by day, in their own way, just like the rest of us. Most people do not hold any ill will toward others just because they come from a different place or have different beliefs. We all just want to live our lives the best that we can. And so after getting over the initial irrational reaction and talking it over, we jumped at the chance and booked the deal.
We were going to Egypt!
We did our packing on the morning of our departure. Our flight out of Dulles left on the evening of the 17th of February and would put us in Cairo on the evening of the 18th. In addition to the 20 hours or so of total travel time (including layover in Istanbul), we would be losing seven hours in time zones in our journey east. Our friend Chad dropped us off at the airport, where we met up with our friends Rodney and Shannon, whom we had convinced to join us on our adventure. We checked in for our flight and had a blissfully uneventful trip on Turkish airlines (a fine airline, by the way) to Istanbul and then transferred planes for our flight to Cairo, which was equally smooth.
Upon landing in Cairo and exiting our plane, we were soon greeted by our tour leader from Encounters Travel, Mohammed Khalifa. Since approximately 126% of the male population in Egypt is named Mohammed, he instructed us to just call him Khalifa to avoid confusion. Khalifa is a jovial sort, of standard Egyptian complexion and always smiling. He was dressed in a dark suit with tie and carrying a clipboard, marking off those of us joining his group from our flight, of which there were eight more besides our immediate party.
We collected our luggage from the baggage claim, and Khalifa assisted those in our group in getting visas that didn’t already have them. Our group of four, being exceptional planners, had acquired visas from the Egyptian embassy back in the States several weeks prior to our trip. Once we made it through customs, Khalifa loaded us all onto a van, and we began our journey to our hotel.
It took me mere moments to fall in love with the city of Cairo. It’s like something straight out of Blade Runner, minus the flying cars but with more pyramids. It’s a city of neon lights on ancient buildings. More modern architecture is interspersed randomly amongst the long established constructions. Each minaret on the many mosques is decorated in the same blazing white and green tubes of light, anachronisms in a city that is itself in many ways an anachronism. We made our way from the recent erections of New Cairo toward the old side of the city where the pyramids and our hotel are situated.
The lines demarcating the lanes on the Loop (as Cairo’s beltway is called) are mere decoration. We drove five cars wide on a four lane highway for the majority of our half hour trip to the hotel. Cars weaved freely between the larger vehicles, and pedestrians worked their way between them all as they crossed the highway on foot, a practice that is technically illegal but is a logistical necessity in one of the most densely populated cities (39th) on the planet.
This system would be an absolute disaster in the United States and cause countless deaths; we are far too selfish of a people. And yet, in Egypt it works. No incidents occured on our drive to the hotel, nor did we see the signs of any previous issues. (In fact, we would see no traffic accidents in our entire time in the country.) What appears at first to be complete chaos functions like a well-oiled machine allowing people to get to where they need to go instead of creating permanent gridlock.
We arrived at Le Méridien Pyramids Hotel & Spa, our hotel for our one night in Cairo. The porters unloaded our luggage, and Khalifa got everyone checked in. Our bags were whisked to our rooms, and he wished us a pleasant night’s sleep. It would be an early morning, though we would have many earlier ones in the coming week. Tomorrow we would visit our first ancient tombs, those enormous monoliths jutting into the sky mere meters from our room.
We were asleep in minutes.
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