Egypt – when expecting the worst you get a pleasant surprise

My ambivalence about starting this trip in Egypt was rooted in the complexities of what Egypt really is. Of course a history buff as me has always dreamt about this ancient, mysterious civilisation that thrived several millennia ago, so long ago we hardly can grasp it. Of course I always seen the imposing pyramids pictured against the clear blue Giza sky, read about the magnanimous library of Alexandria and cluelessly tried to interpret the enticing hieroglyphs. Quite often I choose the Egyptians under Ramses II when I play Civ5, since it’s one of the most alluring and glamorous civilisations throughout history. Now all these images and stories of the past stand in stark contrast to what I have understood Egypt to be as of today – especially from other travellers and tourists. Many avid travellers I’ve talked to, as well as some Type A tourists, carry a somewhat more negative image of their time spent in a callous Egypt, making me less enthusiastic about travelling there. I’ve been warned about not just the usual tourist scams, mandatory bargaining, hassling and touting, but also of all this in an excessive and violent way. After searching for every way possible of how to cross the impressive continent of Mother Africa, I came to realise I had to start in Egypt. Passing it, I assumed the worst would be done and only easy times to come – Sudan included.

So, all braced and armed to my teeth with attitude I landed at Cairo airport ready to have a hard time. Stressing through the passport checks, picking up my bag, I went straight to buy a sim card so as to grab an uber instead of being harassed by taxi drivers with inflated tourist prices. I heard this is the way to go about in Cairo unless you look Egyptian, and I dare say I really do not. Sim card was bought in no time for a cheapie, hassle free and easy, and I ventured into the main hall ready to be attacked like the good old times in Tajikistan. Walking through I heard one or two people softly giving me a suggestive ”taxi?”. Shaking my head did the trick and I assume that somehow I didn’t look like I had the big money to spend and that was why they let me pass so easily. Also ordering the uber was a no frills experience. It arrived in five minutes, and drove me all the way across the city without any tricks up anyone’s sleeve. Where was this Egypt I had been warned of?

The days in Cairo continued in the same way. Of course there were some bargaining at the bazaar, ambitious sellers of different levels, trying to sell camel or horse rides at the pyramids. Most of the time a simple no resulted in a mandatory ”maybe later?”, which was easy enough to shake of. Especially in difference to the hoards of children asking for selfies attacking us around every corner. Maybe my long stay in China has made me resilient to the awkwardness and self consciousness those occasions usually brings about in me and now I gladly said yes to them all and made funny faces with the kids. Most of all I surprised myself.

Continuing the trip through Egypt’s diver’s haven Dahab, up the holy Mt Sinai, visiting the tomb of x number of Ramses’, marvelling at the magnitude of labour put into the elaborate Karnak temples and of course gawking on tons of Tahine, Baba Ganoush and Shakshouka in different shapes made me tick off most of the to do list. Finishing off in the beautiful, unpretentious city of Aswan I stood dumbfounded as we were about to leave the country. Why had this been such and easy and smooth experience when all I had heard was that it was one of the most merciless tourist traps possible? Sure, there were boatmen along the river Nile offering boat rides every five metres, there were salesmen offering spices, alabaster and papyrus on a minute interval in the bazaars, and there were a million ”Where you from?” ”Nice tattoos” and ”Welcome to Egypt” on a daily basis. But when you actually had a conversation with people, or asked anyone a direct question, they were all extraordinarily helpful and nice. We got fair prices on everything we decided to do, and was never put in any uncomfortable situation in the way we had previously expected, though being a couple of girls. Even during my time alone I mostly had positive reactions and thumbs up in a polite and encouraging way from older men, and curious looks and laughs from the women and kids. I don’t know what other tourists or travellers have done to deserve the rough treatment – or if the reports I had heard had been highly exaggerated, coming perhaps from sources less familiar with the touting than I was. Egypt is what you can expect from the Arabic Africa, but also much like the countries I previously have visited on this continent, with all the pros and cons which that includes. It is also a surprisingly easy and comfortable country to travel, no matter if you’re a newbie, a soloer or a female traveller (or all of it). From the tombs of history’s most indulgent leaders and the ancient temples of lost civilisations, to the smog- and dust- and incessant horn beeping-filled streets of Cairo, to the luxurious resorts on the Red Sea, the lush green oasis of Aswan, the serene views of Mt Sinai and the cool starry nights of the desert, Egypt has a lot to offer any type of person, albeit being Africa, a European need a tad bit of patience. Expecting the worst certainly was an easy way to get over whelmed by the many smiles and polite approaches I received from the people of Egypt.

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