Touring the ancient world.
For longer than even the pyramids may stand, Egypt will be a landmark of human history. We've all seen the photos, films (I'm looking at you, Brendan Fraser), and documentaries, of impossible structures, hieroglyphs, and mummies, though to see them in person is another thing entirely. With the complexities of getting around Egypt, due to safety and exhausting transit logistics, we decided to book a tour through Intrepid Travel, who specialise in local guides and provided an authentic experience.
The tour started in Cairo, and our first stop was to visit the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Pyramid of Khafre, the Pyramid of Menkaure, and the Great Sphinx of Giza. Thanks to our tour guide, Mohammed, a local with a masters degree in Egyptology, we learnt all about these man-made wonders, all about things we wouldn't have learnt on our own. Originally lined with polished limestone which one could see as a beacon of light from miles out in the desert, the pyramids are but the skeletons of their former and glorious selves; with wars, thievery, pollution, and time, they've been knocked down a few pegs, aesthetically, though no less do they remain testaments to human ingenuity. Rubbing noses with monuments so grand and ancient was a truly humbling experience, and a box on my travel bucket list I'm thrilled to tick off!
I'd say the best part about organising a tour for Egypt is not having to worry about how you're getting from A to B; with the bumper-car traffic and horrific road conditions, it's a nightmare I'm grateful to have avoided. After walking about the bases of the pyramids for a day, Mohammad took us the next day to see some ancient scriptures in the Valley of the Kings, where entombed were some of the most influential pharaohs of ancient Egypt (after mummification, of course.) With our enthusiastic guide, there was never a dull minute. He was always so eager to teach, and we to learn, and our explorations through narrow, mountain-carved tunnels lined with hieroglyphics was an experience I won't soon forget. I still don't think I can fully comprehend just how long these things have been around.
We managed to squeeze in a quick tour of Karnak, the largest religious site in the world, comprised of over 250 acres of temples, decaying pylons and obelisks, and many other remnants of ancient history, and the only thing more impressive here was the tenacity of the locals asking for money after pointing out photo locations. In situations like these, Mohammad's ability to translate, and politely ask the locals to leave us be, was invaluable. Trust me, we tried it without him; it doesn't work at all!
After deserts and cities, it was refreshing in more ways than one to sail down the Nile, even if we were then harassed by gem merchants, who leapt onto our boat as our captain kicked it from the docks. While gemstones carved like Egyptian gods are beautiful, we weren't looking to buy, and having Mohammad with us made this easier to communicate. Overall, we went on several voyages down the Nile, most for mere minutes during the day, though one as an overnight trip on a felucca, where we slept under the stars and pondered a waterway that has sustained human life in Egypt for thousands of years.
I can't say that Egypt is a relaxing holiday, but it sure is a great place for adventure, exploration, and, of course, history. You can see a lot of the world by yourself, but when it comes to Egypt, there's no doubt in my mind that an organised tour is best. On many of my more successful trips, I've had locals show me the way and share with me their sometimes first-hand accounts of local history, and with Mohammed and Intrepid travel, that's exactly what we got.
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Written by Chad Gerber, Edited by Nick Petrou