We arrived on a small ship from Cyprus into Port Said. I was studying abroad in Cyprus for the semester and went with a group of students to see firsthand the Egypt were we learning about in class. This was my first time to a third world country and sensory overload kicked in. Donkeys transported goods, buildings were half built and locals were everywhere selling trinkets. One man put an Egypt tourist bag around my shoulder and asked for money. They certainly weren't shy about their selling!
As we traveled by bus through Cairo, armed tourist police escorted us with machine guns. It was surprising at first and initially made me question my safety, but it was quite safe to be there. This was just the protocol, a requirement for big tour operators to provide escorts for Israeli or American tourists.
Up first was a trip to the mummies. Our group ventured to Cairo's National Archeological Museum where tombs of thousands of year old mummies lie. We stood before eleven unwrapped remains and the incredible and intricate tomb of King Tut. What shocked me most was the amazing state of preservation of the mummies and the adornments of gold that covered King Tut's tomb. I was beginning to see the historical significance of what was up next, the Pyramids.
I've always imagined the Pyramids to be off in the middle of the desert, almost in a faraway land only accessible by camel. In reality, they sit right on Cairo's city edge. It's amazing that the only remaining Wonder of the Ancient World sits right next to the civilization of today. Up close their height and magnitude is remarkable, even more so knowing they were built without today's architectural advances. We tried climbing up the steps for a "walking like an Egyptian" photo but were quickly reminded that climbing isn't allowed on these ancient structures.
A local offered to give me a camel back ride and photo in front of the Pyramids for a few bucks - when in Egypt, right? It was a great experience, but there was a catch. In order to get off the camel and get my stuff back, I needed to pay him basically all the cash I had on me. Good thing it was only $40! My 'new friend' had a smile on his face but it felt like extortion. Lesson learned - when getting a camel ride or photo taken, make sure the cost is set first.
During the last 24 hours in Egypt, we toured down the world's longest river - the Nile. Egyptian music played as dancers spun fabric above their heads. Stone buildings stood at the water's edge and traces of livelihood moved in the distance. It was calming and surreal to be drifting on the river in a deserted, foreign land.
Before heading back to the ship for departure, we stopped at a local artist's studio. There, we learned the techniques of writing ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and had our turn at putting ink to papyrus. It wasn't as easy as it looked, so I quickly appreciated the art that it is.
Heading back to the boat, we caught the last of the sun going down and said our goodbyes to an incredible time in Egypt. We also said farewell to our wonderful guides and the armed convoy that came with it.