“Egypt is a great place for contrasts: splendid things gleam in the dust”
~ Gustav Flaubert
By Nancy Van Veen
Of all the amazing places on the pale blue dot I’ve visited thus far, none has left a more indelible impression than Egypt. My trippy tale there took place over a decade ago and there’s no other destination I long to return to more. Even though I was a relatively inexperienced traveller at the time, Egypt was high on my bucket list. I have been fascinated since childhood with this mysterious North African gem, so steeped in ancient history.
It’s a curious thing — you can look at a million pictures of the Great Pyramids and the enigmatic Sphinx, but none can compare to experiencing them in person. I recall that moment quite vividly. I approached the pyramids from a distance, riding awkwardly upon the hump of a camel. (Not one of nature’s most agreeable creatures.) With my daughter in tow, I dismounted and stood transfixed, a lump swelling in my throat, my eyes tearing. “Mom, are you crying?” teased Amy. They’re such overwhelming structures that it’s not hard to understand why so many loony alien conspiracy theories surround them!
Beholding these mighty tombs, which date back to 2551-2472 BC, one is naturally compelled to see what lies inside. It’s a tortuous rite that earns bragging rights. You enter a claustrophobic tunnel that’s stifling and airless. It eventually leads up to a small chamber where an elderly Egyptian man gestures to an empty sarcophagus. You exit scarlet-faced and gasping for the dry Giza air. And yet, how my inner archaeologist child still dreams of exploring every nook and cranny in all three pyramids.
These iconic world wonders are just the tip of the sandy iceberg. There are so many grand adventures to be had in the Land of the Pharaohs — from exploring the mind boggling Valley of the Kings, to visiting the Halls of Luxor and the Temples of Karnak, to voyaging on the very lifeblood of Africa, the Nile River.
A spectacular collection of artifacts is on display at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo. And with only a fraction of temples and antiquities recovered, who knows what treasures still lie waiting, as they have done for centuries, even millennia, quietly, beneath the ever shifting sand dunes?
Yet, modern Egypt is a paradox. It stands in juxtaposition to its majestic ancient civilization. Progressive Egyptian men and women struggle to advance meaningful societal change and find their place in today’s complex world. Despite the Arab Spring and downfall of Mubarak, a regressive patriarchal, theocratic government rules the roost.
We encountered many bright, engaging young people during our stay. They were warm and welcoming, and above-all curious about this Canadian mother and daughter visiting their country. Unfortunately, we had several challenging and disturbing experiences, some with extremely misogynistic and rude males — my daughter got so fed up she actually socked one of them right in the eye! We witnessed women in full burkas cowering in public. The poverty was haunting — there’s a spooky, walled inner city cemetery in Cairo referred to as “The City of the Dead” with a large community of the city’s homeless dwelling within. Egypt’s tourist sector (their economic mainstay) has at times been subject to violent attacks, such as bus and market bombings. During our tour we had a handsome armed bodyguard (we dubbed him ‘The Rock’) with us constantly. It can be unnerving. It’s not an easy country to travel, especially as a woman. Yet Egypt whispers to me still, echoing from across the sands, over the oceans, beckoning me — “Come back, come back…”