Booking a journey to an iconic location, like Egypt, can be an interesting process to say the least. Prior to traveling, we heard "Be Careful" or "Are you sure it's SAFE to go there?" from nearly everyone. But what we found in this ancient culture was more beautiful than a few words can describe. We feel privileged to have seen it and cannot wait to go back! We were surprised by so many things. Pharaohs, hieroglyphics and ancient stories of the might of the Middle East will never be after our travels to Egypt.
Here are the 20 Most Surprising Things we learned on our 10 day trip across the country:
1) The People are Kind
From the moment we landed in Cairo, the people of Egypt were helpful and excited we were visiting.
2) Safety Concerns are WAY Overblown by Americans
Not once did we not feel safe in Egypt. That being said, we realize that there are people who do stupid things. As seasoned travelers, we try not to. Throughout our tour we were transported by private bus and always had an armed member of the Egyptian Tourism Police on hand.
3) Blonde Westerners are Celebrities
Rebecca was definitely a celebrity for a week. 99% of the Egyptian women cover their hair. Rebecca did this at many sights, but not all, so her blonde hair and 6 foot stature made her hard to miss. Most Egyptians only see western culture on TV, so selfie requests with us were abundant.
4) The Desert is Empty
Egypt's 100 million residents live on about 5% of the land within their borders. That means there is 95% of the land that is uninhabited and is sand and desert. It just keeps going and going and going. The desert sunrises are beautiful and mirages really do exist!
5) Moses and Alexander the Great Walked Here
We visited Luxor (the ancient city of Thebes) which was the capital of Egypt for both Moses and Alexander the Great. The two main temples in Luxor, Luxor and Karnack are 3 km apart. Standing on the Avenue of the Sphinx, that connects the two temples, we knew were standing where Moses dared to confront Pharaoh and where Alexander ruled.
6) The Pyramids Are REALLY BIG
There are 3 main pyramids still standing in Giza and they really are immense! The Great Pyramid of Khufu is the largest and most photogenic. All built without machines and still standing, the last remaining Wonder of the Ancient World's 7 Wonders.
7) Cairo = Teaming Mass of People
Home to over 25 million people, that is roughly 25% of the country's population. The city has a heartbeat all its own.
8) Egyptians Don't Follow Traffic Laws (or patterns-ever!)
In Cairo, only 40% of people own vehicles and the percentage is even smaller outside of the city. Of those people that do have a car, very few follow any type of traffic laws. Lines are drawn on the road, but no one uses them. Traffic lights, crosswalk signs or speed limits really don't exist. Drivers honk and flash their headlights constantly when passing. What's a turn signal? But we only saw 1 accident the entire time!
9) Egyptian People Dream of Peace, not Conquest and Conversion
As a Muslim country, American's assume Egyptians fall to their knees 5 times a day, seek conquest and conversion. Our experience was just the opposite. Similar to the U.S., not everyone goes to church or prays! Shocking, we know. We found more Egyptians praying for peace and prosperity than of conquest or domination (including in their houses of worship).
10) Antiquities are Available for Touching, 98% of the Time
Every museum you ever tour in America will display artifacts behind bullet proof glass, with a no-touching sign, driving my husband crazy with the desire to do just that. Egypt was his paradise. Hands, and glass free. The only exception was in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where many of the most important discoveries of Egypt are housed.
11) The Army is Self Funded
The army of Egypt owns grocery stores, gas stations, road construction companies, hospitals, factories and many other business we would perceive to be "traditionally private enterprise". Through its ownership, it generates revenue and is self-sustaining.
12) The Temples are Massive
Touring Karnack Temple in Luxor was a shocker! The 2nd largest religious site in the world behind Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia, this temple is home to 134 massive columns in 16 rows. It takes a minimum of 9 adults, fully extended, holding hands to fully encircle ONE of the columns.
13) Ramses II Could be the Answer
If you've ever wondered if Moses was real and who the "Pharaoh" of the Bible is, Ramses II just might be your guy and his mummy has something to tell us: A look of terror on his face, hands and arms pushing something off of him. This man was terrified of death. If you ask our opinion, he drowned in the Red Sea as it coursed over him during his pursuit of the Israelite's and it this fear still shows today.
14) The Nile is a Gift
Development along the Nile River is immense, but the area outside the floodplain is desolate. The river really is the "life blood of Egypt".
15) Agriculture, History and Industry all Stuffed Together
Never had we seen the close mix of oxen yoked together plowing on a subsistence farm (the way they have for thousands of years), massive historical sites like the Valley of the Kings (among others) and industry within a city few blocks.
16) Imperialism Exists Everywhere
American children learn about the destruction of Native American culture, their land stolen for westward expansion. But imperialism exists everywhere. In Egypt, the 1950s and 1960s brought the development of the High Dam (near Aswan), and Lake Nassar was created, destroying hundreds of Nubian temples, holy sites and cities. The Nubians had their land taken. They have tried integrating into Egyptian culture, but are still seen as a separate people group. They have the saddest eyes you have ever seen, longing for their land, which they can never reclaim.
17) Egyptians Have Great Food
More than once during the trip we were food comatose. The pita in Egypt is mixed in the morning and rises in the sun, giving it the name "sun bread". Meat is a staple, but we definitely got "falafel drunk" a few times by gorging on some of the best vegetarian street food we've ever had.
18) New Historical Discoveries Are Made Everyday
This happens all the time! A possible new passage in Khufu's great pyramid, new rooms behind those already excavated in Tut's tomb, the Tower of Memnon:
A farmer was plowing his field outside the Valley of the King's 4 years ago. He found a stone while turning the soil, and then another and then more. They fit together. Specialists were called and the field was purchased by the government, discovering a new temple dating back to over 1000 BC, lost for centuries under the soil. The work will continue for years and the statues are the gate.
19) Egyptian Upgrades are Abundant
Tourism in Egypt is down 90% right now. So anyone touring receives 5 star treatment for significantly less. And no lines to see anything. Now is the time to go!
20) Exceeded Expectations in Every Way
30 minutes in, we knew that we had just stumbled upon a time of a lifetime! Thanks to Encounter's Travel and Living Social! Your tour rocked our world! But don't take our word for it, see for yourself. We hope this has inspired your "Wander Lust". Never quit exploring, it is the spice of life.
If you would like more details about our specific trip and Egyptian tour company, Encounters Travel, please contact us and we can provide more details on who to request for guides, where to stay and other helpful details!
Tiberius Images is a Grand Rapids photographer that photographs people, places and events. Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, they serve clients throughout the world and are available for travel.