It’s July 2013 and all over the news are stories of trouble and uprising in Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood are attempting to overturn Muhammad Morsi as President. It was grim viewing. Yours truly was due to fly out for Cairo just weeks later, hence my piqued interest. Would I make it? Read on to find out…
Touching down into Cairo International on a midweek afternoon in early August I was vigilant and nervous especially considering local taxi drivers were touting for business in the corridors leading to passport control! I needn’t worry for too long though as the taxi ride to my hotel in Giza was great for many reasons! The almost 50km journey was taken in what can only be described as a desert banger of a car – air conditioning was windows down all the way doing 120km/h on the Cairo Ring Road in 40 degree heat! Welcome to Egypt!
I was glad to finally arrive to my hotel, the Cataract Pyramids Resort in Giza in one piece and once the formalities of check in were complete I was free to enjoy the facilities which included free buffet breakfast, rooftop views of the Giza Pyramids and the largest free form swimming pool in all of Cairo! It would be my base for a few days until my Travel Talk 9 day Egyptian Delights tour began.
The tour kicked off in earnest the following night with a briefing in the hotel lobby which included meeting my fellow tour mates as well as our guide for this adventure, Amgad. Due to the troubles in Egypt the tour only got the go ahead the previous week and it showed, 10 people out of the 50 who booked turned up in Cairo. Travel Talk were quite reasonable in offering a free tour change or even a full refund but I thought sod it, I’d been wanting to see Egypt for too long!
Day 1 of the tour proper had us kicking off with a team dinner aboard the Nile on a rather massive boat. Complete with Egyptian dancers and entertainment it did feel a tad touristy but fun nonetheless. The food was on the buffet side of things although tasty. The evening ended in gridlock on the Cairo Ring Road!
Day 2 began at the Cataract Resort and after breakfast Amgad escorted us onto our Toyota Coaster bus for a tour to the nearby Giza Pyramids. The sheer size of the pyramids was amazing and I was in awe of them, thinking how so many men could build them with just their hands. It was possible to climb a few rows of the pyramids but the blocks used were massive so I didn’t climb up too far! After a good look around the Pyramids and the Sphinx it was back onto our bus for the evening drive down to Hurghada.
What was a 4 hour drive was quite enjoyable as we hugged the Red Sea at sunset for the most part of the journey down to Hurghada for an overnight stop.
The next day we set off for Aswan via a couple of very important detours but not before a chance to swim in the Red Sea! First detour – the Valley of the Kings. The sheer size of the Valley was immense and more so due to the fact that we had the place to ourselves. It was great to discover the magnificent “City of the Dead” where tombs had been carved into the desert rocks, decorated richly and filled with treasures for the Pharaoh afterlife. Rising out of the desert plain in a series of terraces, the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut was our next stop and while a lot smaller in size it proved very striking upon seeing for the first time!
A couple of interesting facts about Aswan include that it’s the smallest of the three major tourist cities based on the Nile, it’s also famous for the amazing Philea Temple and High Dam, an engineering miracle when it was built in the 1960s.
From Aswan we were meant to be embarking on a 3 day Felucca Sailing trip on the Nile but due to rising tensions around the country it was deemed too dangerous for us thanks to the Night curfew. This came as a blow but it was the right call from a safety perspective which now meant our home for the next 3 nights would be the amazing Helnan Aswan Hotel, situated right alongside the Nile.
This meant the tour group had a fairly relaxed few days in Aswan and while it was disappointing not to be on the Felucca it was a good example of making the best of a bad situation. The hotel staff went out of their way to make us comfortable and there were enough activities to keep us entertained.
Those activities included games of volleyball in the riverside pool and sampling the sheesha which I must say was very enjoyable. The Helnan Hotel also had its own tenpin bowling facility which, while odd, was a welcome distraction from the tensions going on around us. Throw in a daytime felucca jaunt around Aswan and a trip to visit the Nubian people over on the West Bank of town and that was that for our extended stop in Aswan.
Because of the change of plans in Aswan there was no way we could drive back to Cairo with the night curfews – it was simply too dangerous. So Travel Talk arranged a flight for us to head back on instead which was very good of them.
After a smooth 90 minute flight where I spotted the Giza Pyramids from the window we were shuttled back to the Cataract Pyramid Resort for the final night of the tour. All in all I really enjoyed Egypt, walking amongst all its history and beauty which I’d wanted to do since I was a child. Despite the dangers the people we encountered were simply amazing, especially our tour guide Amgad who kept us safe the whole time.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my time in Egypt. It’s taken a while to bring it all together onto the blog but it’s been worth the toil!