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Visit Egypt now?

Created date

December 20th, 2011

It s the best of times and the worst of times to visit Egypt. On a recent trip there I never felt anything but safe, and our group was welcomed to a degree beyond what these hospitable people normally provide. The draw that takes you there, that unfathomable pull to the remains of the oldest ordered civilization mankind has produced, remains in place. The pyramids are there, the Sphinx is there, and so much more with the current added benefit that long lines are not part of the picture and prices are at bargain rates. Seventy percent of Nile tour boats are currently not booked, a serious dent in one of the country s leading industries. Some of the smaller museums and attractions are currently closed.

Getting around

In Egypt, tourism has been a vital part of the economic picture for generations and visitors are not only welcomed but protected. An armed guard is assigned to each tour group and in sensitive areas near the Aswan Dam our bus had a police escort. Certainly, the way to go in Egypt is by organized tour, not just for safety but because that s the way the system works. Tour leaders must have a degree in Egyptology as well as training in all aspects of shepherding people from place to place; ours was deeply knowledgeable as well as efficient and delightful as a leader and companion. Tour groups stay in luxury hotels, probably bargains at any time but certainly so in the current economy. Meals in the hotels are buffet style, generous if predictable. The best cooking in Egypt, I understand, is in the home. All those generations of women confined to the house had to have something to do and so often produced excellent meals. Egyptians, I am told, prefer to eat at home rather than in restaurants. Like many other things in Egypt, this may change. Women are part of the work force now, increasingly well educated, emerging from the kitchen, but how the revolution will affect all this remains unclear. The Sphinx is smaller than expected, but the pyramids are massive even under Egypt s immense blue sky. My most enduring memory, though, is being inside one of the predecessors to pyramids, a mastaba or bench tomb, so called because of its shape, in which the richly carved walls present scenes that tell us much about contemporary daily life back then. A father and son, noblemen of the 5th Dynasty (which is to say more than 4,000 years ago), were interred in this multi-room tomb. The decorations show us how people went fishing and also fish that can be identified by species, how they danced, people working on the land, people preparing food, crocodiles copulating. Hieroglyphic dialogue, also carved in, translates into things like Hurry up, Don t make so much noise, or Pay up, it s cheap. If your grade school dreams, like so many of us, included traveling to Egypt, now might be the time to do it. You will never be more welcome, and you will never spend less time in line to enter the next tomb.