On Saturday, I met my tour group in downtown Cairo. I am not crazy about organized tours partly because when 15 usually white English speakers get out of a van, it’s hard to blend in.
But after researching the experiences of other women traveling solo in Egypt, I thought my visit would be richer and and less stressful with a knowledgeable guide and some other travelers. I signed up for an 8-day G Adventures tour with a group of savvy travelers between the ages of 16 (Julian who tells stories about middle school politics at dinner and is curious about everything) and 70-something (Elizabeth who never walks a straight line to the bus because there are so many interesting people along the way). And our tour guide, Mohammed — good-humored, savvy, caring Egyptologist, father of two, husband of Fatima the lawyer.
After a day of getting to know you at the pyramids and the Egyptian Museum, we boarded an overnight train to travel south along the Nile to Aswan. The accommodations were very basic and the breakfast involved a lot of white things wrapped in cellophane but everyone reported sleeping well.
After arriving, we spent the day walking through the souks and then traveled across the river to have dinner in a
a Nubian village with a local family. Nubians are a distinct ethnic group of the upper Nile (upper is south when you talk about the Nile). We had an amazing meal of spicy lentil soup, Egyptian salad of cucumbers and tomatoes, moussaka, rice, homemade bread and roasted chicken.
Nubian houses are sometimes painted with playful symbols that are evocative of Egyptian hieroglyphs, which I love.
The next day we traveled to Abu Simbel, which are the temples of Ramses II and Nefritari that were moved about half a mile across the river in the 1960s so the Aswan dam would not flood them. This basically involved dismantling thousands of priceless, multi-tonned stones contained in two mountains over the course of 8 years. Tourists are not allowed to take photos inside the temples. When I tried to take a photo inside the temple, my camera broke. The Curse of the Pharoahs.
G Adventures tours focus on doing rather than just seeing and a journey through Egypt would not be complete without a ride on a falucca. A falucca is a sail boat once used for transporting goods for trade up and down the river. Today they are used for transporting tourists up and down the river, in our case from Aswan toward Luxor.
The first half of the day was perfect sailing but the afternoon wind was too strong so we got a tow from the Mother Ship, which was a sort of small dinner boat with an old diesel engine. It was fun sleeping on the deck of the boat. Mostly. No body snored but it was really cold!
Egypt has so far been an amazing journey full of hospitality, caring and learning. Putting the whole thing in some kind of context, here is the authoritative American commentary on one of Egypt’s most important discoveries of the 20th century. www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1Hr9VPnMNc