Ever since I was a little boy learning about ancient pharaohs in my Social Studies class, I’ve become fascinated with somehow visiting Egypt one day. In fact, as far as my ill-informed 13-year old self knew at that point in time, the world was created by the Pharaohs and the first human they created was a chick named “Lucy.”
This fervor to reach the center of my so-called universe was further fueled after reading The Alchemist for possibly the 2nd time in my life when it actually mattered. I believe I read or rather Spark-noted it for the first time in high school for summer reading, but it was when I actually read it during a complex time in my adulthood that it truly made sense to me. In the book, the boy desperately seeks to reach the Egyptian Pyramids in search of his treasure or Personal Legend only to find out at the end that it was the journey that mattered.
So Egypt had always been on my mind but of course, the media had portrayed Egypt to be this so-called dangerous place to visit due to the uprising and violence in the recent decade. However, it was this same exact and incorrect representation of Africa that the media has wrongfully placed upon western minds that had troubled me before coming to Africa. Be careful of Ebola and Malaria! Be safe! But the funny thing is...I was thinking how stupid these comments and thoughts were while jammed in a minibus down the Zambian countryside while being offered bananas by the gregarious locals sitting beside me.
So as my days came to an end in Zanzibar, I booked a one-way ticket to Cairo.
I arrived in Cairo to throngs of hijabs and spoken Arabic surrounding my every corner, it was still a bit of a shocker to finally be in this so called danger zone. It was also Ramadan and my fat American stomach was upset at how every single shop was closed and the only lunch I was able to find on Day 1 was some biscuits.
A few hours later in Cairo, I already yearned to leave. It was over a 100 degrees and with the entire country fasting, I had nothing to do in Cairo (I was also waiting for some Canadian friends to arrive to visit the Pyramids). And so I took an overnight bus across Southern Sinai into Dahab, one of the beach resorts on the Red Sea. And a magnificent next 10 days it would be. Snorkeling. Diving. Buffet breakfasts. Reaching the top of Mount Sinai. All for the cheapest prices you can find…just because there were no tourists around.
One afternoon after a session of snorkeling, I waddled and plopped my dripping body onto a sofa bed at Yalla Bar. I must’ve stood out as any Asian would in Egypt, as a worker came up to me to strike a conversation.
“Where you from? Japan? China?”
Today I felt like being Japanese so I yawned and replied, “Japan.”
“Japan! We like Japan here. Welcome, welcome!”
We proceeded to talk about his life and tourism in Dahab, which had been decimated by “America’s War” in the Middle East.
“You know why no tourists here? The American Government! They say bad things about countries behind their backs and spread lies.”
And so from that point on, I was definitely not American in Egypt. Besides, it was simply too much work and money for me to deny that I was Japanese or Chinese.
Dahab was a relaxing, fun-filled, and much needed vacation as I was still recovering from Kilimanjaro. But it was time to leave back to Cairo to tour the long-awaited Pyramids. I was more than thrilled to discover my Personal Legend…
Fast-forward a few days later and a few hundred dollars poorer, and I am on the hump of a camel marveling at the Pyramids of Giza on my right hand side. As we approached our first stopping point to take jumping pictures, I carefully dismounted myself, as my squished balls slowly began re-inflating themselves. A few squats here, a few stretches there, and I was finally able to stare down the Pyramids with a deep breath of the sweltering Egyptian air and secretly proclaim…I am here!
Holy shit...it is completely empty. Those were my initial and recurring thoughts, as I stared wearily into the Egyptian desert. We were then informed that in its heyday, the Pyramids received over 10,000 people in a single day. I counted no more than 40 unique tourists that morning. But hey, I wasn’t complaining because we literally had the Pyramids to ourselves. And that was the recurring theme wherever I went in Egypt…the vacant temples and monuments of Luxor and Aswan albeit filled with those oh-so-annoying touts vying for your business. No damnit, I do not want to see a secret room in the temple nor do I want your expensive papyrus paper.
While much oohing and aahing can be said about ancient Egypt, there are still many problems plaguing the country. Unemployment. Politics. Your terrorist threats and attacks here and there. While the entire country of Egypt lives on as a whole, these are some things one should still take into account when visiting (which you should!). I never expected to be so close to one of those terrorist attacks you always hear about in the news, but I woke up one morning to my building shaking and windows rattling only to find it later it was a fatal car bombing at the Italian Embasy, which was only 10 minutes away from where I was staying.
And as my time in Egypt came to an end, I couldn’t help but question myself whether this trip up North was really what I wanted it to be. The magic of being alone with the Pyramids. The ridiculously cheap vacation in Dahab. In contrast...the endless police checkpoints all over Egypt. The infinite number of touts and tour guides vying for your business. The not-so-far-away car bomb. But is it wrong for me to admit that I thought those police checkpoints were actually really interesting? And that I was bit more amped to check out the sight of the bombing than seeing the Pyramids? I did not retrieve any treasure or discover my Personal Legend, but it was quite an experience. An experience that educated me on a personal level about how life goes down in Egypt.