Egypt | 2016

My desire to travel to Egypt was amplified by a conversation I had with a couple, in a hot air balloon, in Morocco.  Combined, they had more than 45 passport stamps, and through all of my trips and hearing hundreds of travel stories they had the best travel stories.  When I asked about their favorite countries, they couldn’t say enough about Thailand and Egypt.  Both countries came with stories that would scare most people, including bombings in Cairo and confinement to their hotel for days and food poison on multiple occasions in Thailand,  causing the husband to be hospitalized because he was violently ill.  Aside from those minor details LOL, they said, “you must add them to your list, but hold off on Egypt for now and make sure you go when the country is more stable”.  That conversation took place December 2015.

I tried to push Egypt to the back of my mind, but every time I started planning a trip it  resurfaced; but, I ignored it and went to Costa Rica, Italy, Australia and New Zealand instead.

A week after returning from New Zealand I started shopping around for travel deals for Christmas for my annual birthday trip.  I stumbled on a post in one of my travel groups where one of the members said he was taking over the group’s Instagram page while in Egypt the next day.  There were over 200 comments on the post and while reading the comments I noted others, women in particular, expressing some of my concerns regarding safety, the stability of the country, group travel vs. solo travel in Egypt, etc.  On a whim, but with no real plans to book, I searched for the website of one of the tour operators mentioned by a few members that had already used them for Egypt.  After reading the trip details and several reviews on TripAdvisor, by midday, I sent an email inquiring about availability and two days later I was booked.

Memphis Tours

13 hours and three planes later and I was finally in Egypt. Cairo’s customs process was unlike any other airport that I had experienced.  Typically customs is segregated from the rest of the airport and you rarely see non-airport personnel, other than those entering the country right along with you.  But almost as soon as you step foot into the airport you could see the sea of people standing along the hallway holding up signs with names on it.  I didn’t see my name anywhere.  My heart started racing because my cell phone wasn’t working and I had prearranged all of the details for this trip via email, paid in full via credit card and hoped for the best.  But equally important, even if they fell through and I had to do this trip on my own, I didn’t think I  could enter the country without them because I had paid Memphis to get my Visa.  It wasn’t long before I figured out that I could have bought it myself on arrival at the airport, but loved the fact that they handled this small detail for me.

Just as my heartbeat was going into overdrive I saw my name, as my guide Tarek came running toward me.  Within ten minutes he had obtained my Visa, escorted me to the front of the custom’s and security line (where he handed my documents to officers at the head of both) and retrieved my luggage from the carousel in the baggage claim area.

Four Seasons

As a solo traveler, there are some details that I won’t leave up to anyone else and my accommodations is one of them. The Hotel and Cruise line options were a huge selling point for me when I decided to allow Memphis to plan this trip for me.  I knew I couldn’t really go wrong with a view of the pyramids from Four Seasons.  However, as I approached the hotel’s entrance and saw the metal detectors, bag scanner and security guards… for two whole seconds I thought, what have I gotten myself into.  But once I got past the initial shock of being “checked” before “checking in” everything I expected of Four Seasons was realized.

In Cairo, we were picked up from the hotel by our first Egyptologist, one who took us to Giza, the Pyramids, the Sphinx, the Egyptian museum, to lunch and to various other landmarks.  All of our tours in Cairo were private tours, so it was just us, our guide and the driver.  Days later we heard that this was a requirement by the United States Embassy.  Throughout the day they were checking in/out with the embassy as they picked us up and dropped us off to give an accurate account of our well-being and whereabouts.  We couldn’t figure out why some of the guides, from the same company, picked up anywhere from 4 to 8 passengers (from various countries) and they always rode in the same vehicle and toured with larger groups, yet they would pick us up in an 11 passenger van but there would only be two of us.  It was almost comical later when we left Aswan with two guys that we met on our Nile cruise that was returning to the same hotel and going to the airport to return to the U.S. the next day, at the same time, yet they wouldn’t allow us to ride together.  I’m a solo traveler at heart, so I was unbothered by this requirement, LOL.

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I’ll make no attempts in this blog of writing any of the history that was shared by the well-educated and experienced Egyptologists that we walked Cairo, Aswan and Luxor with for eight days.  You have to experience it for yourself.  One thing I’ve discovered on all of my trips is what we’ve been taught about every country that I’ve visited barely scratches the surface of history, and 8 days in Egypt doesn’t qualify me to reteach nor correct your understanding of it.

Luxor and Aswan

Day Three – Tarek and the driver picked us up early in the morning and took us to the airport where Tarek obtained our tickets and escorted us to our gate to board our flight  heading to Luxor.  By now, Tarek was like a little brother and had spent enough time with me to know that although I had trusted Memphis Tours to plan this trip for me, I was all over the details, so there’s no doubt in my mind that he called ahead to warn the other guides about me LOL.  I Kidd, I Kidd, but he did say make sure you text me (as you did when they messed up your reservations at The Mena House) if there are any problems with your guides in Luxor and Aswan. Fortunately, we didn’t talk to Tarek again until we returned to Cairo because all went well.

We were once again met at the airport by a Memphis guide and a driver who transferred us into the hands of my absolute favorite person on this trip…Mohammed.  Mohammed escorted us to our suite on the cruise ship and for the next six days his passion for people, history and his country surpassed his credentials as an Egyptologist.  It was more than just a job to Mohammad, it was his life.  He was the kindest, caring, sweet and most patient person I had met in a long time and although we were traveling in a much larger group on his tours, he made you feel like it was just you and him.  He was particularly mindful of my friend and I as we were the only African-American women on the tour, so he made sure that we were either with him or very close to him at all times.

Before we headed out for our first tour we met in the dining room for a lunch meet and greet, where we met the group of three that we were paired up with for dining daily and the rest of the group (approx. eight) that toured the sites and cities with us.  The food was good, the staff was awesome and the suites were peaceful.

There is so much to retain and so much history in Egypt that I will definitely return and will more than likely use Memphis Tours for my return trip.  Unlike most “canned” trips you could make this trip whatever you wanted it to be.  In addition to the preplanned itinerary you could either relax on the top deck and/or get in the pool on the ship during our free time or you could go on other excursions off the ship.  We chose to tour more of the city and opted for a carriage ride through Luxor’s markets and stopped for tea with the locals at a gaming café, where men smoked hookah and played backgammon and days later we went to the Nubian village in Aswan, where the children stole my heart.

On our last night on the Nile Cruise, we had a Galabia party where we dressed in traditional Egyptian garments and ate traditional Egyptian food.  This was a nice ending to an amazing trip.

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We flew back to Cairo the next day and although we could have ventured out to see more of Cairo, we chose to stay in to have High Tea one last time at Four Seasons, Cairo and  the next morning we had our last cup of Egyptian hibiscus tea with breakfast before departing for the airport to head back to the U.S.

I took several other “group trips” after Egypt, i.e., Cuba, Cape Town and last but not least Greece and would still rank Egypt as the best group trip I’ve ever taken. As a solo traveler who’s very particular about certain aspects of my trips and therefore spends a great deal of time planning every detail, I willingly handed  my credit card over to Memphis and allowed them to plan this trip for me.  However, in advance of the trip I still did all of the due diligence that I would do as a solo traveler so that I arrived with a clear understanding of what was being offered and could set my expectations accordingly and they delivered on everything they promised.

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