A couple more posts to come on Australia’s fabulous Northern territory, plus posts about Hawaii, Sweden, Turkey and Jordan, and of course more about our travels in Egypt, but
What I’m juiced about right now:
is sharing how incredibly awesome Egypt is! And that now is the perfect time to go.
As we get closer to the town we notice more and more cruise boats moored side by side at the docks, in huddles five or six deep. Our own boat pulls up and is expertly piloted in, parallel to and touching another. Leaving the boat from the lobby on the main deck, we step onto the next boat and cross the lobby, and then onto the next boat and cross the lobby, and then onto the next boat and so on. The boats are lined up seven deep! We are the eighth. Finally after crossing the lobby of Moondance we step on shore at the Egyptian town of Luxor. Luxor will be the final night of our three-night luxury Nile cruise.
In this particular line-up of eight boats only the outside two are operating. The other six are dark and empty. Still, silent, ghost boats waiting for passengers and life, as are almost all of the other boats we’ve seen as we’ve travelled along the Nile from Aswan. There are three hundred and fifty cruise boats on the Nile, and currently only about twenty are working. All those lost jobs. All that lost income. All that money no longer being injected into the economy.
Everywhere we go it is the same story. From the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids at Giza, to the Egyptian Museum, to Philae Temple, to Abu Simbel, to Nile felucca cruising, to riding in a horse and carriage to the Horus Temple at Edfu, to Hatshepsut’s Temple, to the Valley of the Kings, to the Luxor Temple, to the Great Temple at Karnak, everywhere it is the same. There are a great number of hotels, of horses and carriages, of cruise boats, of feluccas, of souvenir vendors, of guides, of tours, of extraordinary sites to see, and there are very very few tourists. All those lost jobs. All that lost income. All that money no longer being injected into the economy.
If ever there was a time to visit Egypt it is now! Egypt’s loss is our gain. There were no line-ups at any site we visited: there were either small crowds or none at all. Our group sat in the astonishing tomb of Ramses V and IV in silence and alone, able to take in the beauty and mystery of this ancient place without the chatter and pressure of crowds pushing around us. We were able to see it, and the other sites we visited, largely unobstructed by crowds of other tourists. Can you imagine? It’s a tourist’s dream. I wish for Egypt that the crowds would return, but if ever there was a time to visit Egypt it is now!
In the past, twelve percent of the workforce was employed in the tourism industry. From July to September 2013 tourism revenue fell by almost sixty-five percent. Apart from those employed directly in tourism there are all those employed in businesses related to it that are also affected – the farmers that supply the hotels and restaurants, the hotels, restaurants, and cafes, the taxi drivers, the airport shuttle companies, and the list goes on. The hotels we stayed in were operating with reduced staff. Tourism has plummeted by thirty-seven percent from what it was five years ago. It’s heartbreaking to see. Hundreds of feluccas lie idle on the banks of the Nile. Souvenir vendors were always pushy, but now there’s a sad desperation in the air.
Our guide talks of the revolution in 2011, when Egypt was unstable, and Hosni Mubarak was ousted. In 2013 Western governments issued warnings against travel to most areas after the overthrow of Mohamed Morsy. People stopped coming. It felt dangerous and unsafe. For about five years now Egypt has been regarded as a risky destination. Curiously there is no travel warning about Egypt on the U.S. government website, but both the Canadian and British governments have warnings against travel in Egypt outside of the main tourist areas. The Australian government website says simply “Reconsider your need to travel”. And just to underline the situation, shortly before we arrived four Egyptian guides and a group of Mexican tourists were killed by Egyptian security forces who mistook them for Islamist militants. They were far out in the desert and allegedly had travelled a short distance into a restricted area. But here’s the thing – if you stay in the main tourist areas – Cairo, the resort towns of Sharm El-Sheik and Hurghada, travel along the Nile from Aswan to Luxor, fly to and from Abu Simbel, and even if you travel north to Alexandria, it is safe and well policed. It is especially safe if you travel in a group tour as we did. Tourist police are everywhere! Egypt needs its tourists and is determined to take care of them, to provide a safety net around them. And these main areas that I’ve mentioned are where you’ll find the sites most worth visiting.
In our group were four Americans, six Australians and us two Canadians. Whenever a member of the tourist police asked our guide the nationalities of our group she would say Australians and Canadians, or something vague like “from a mix of different countries”. She would never mention Americans. If the police knew she was travelling with Americans they would want to escort us, and be paid for it. The reason? The two biggest news networks worldwide are CNN and Fox. If a Mexican, or an Australian, or Romanian were to be killed in Egypt these news networks would report it, and after a day or so it would be forgotten. If Americans were killed it would be a big deal, and news coverage would go on for days, weeks even, because the networks are American. Egypt can’t afford that kind of publicity, so if any of the tourist police find out there are Americans in the group they want to be extra cautious, and extra protective. The Americans in our group quickly learned not to reveal their nationality, not because they are not welcome, but because of the complete opposite: they are rock stars and must be protected at all costs!
Egypt is relatively stable now. National elections were held while we were there, and there was . . . . . . . . nothing. No demonstrations, no riots, no crazy shootings, no unrest. Nothing. It was the lowest voter turnout in years: a quiet parliamentary election in a move towards full democracy. It’s true that it is not wise to go too far off the beaten path, but for the main amazing, fabulous, peak-experience sites and activities it is perfectly wonderfully okay, with few tourists and no line-ups.
Cruise down the Nile, sail in a traditional felucca for an hour or for days, see the pyramids and the Sphinx, the glorious Temple of Abu Simbel and the astonishing Great Temple at Karnak. Watch the sunset over the Nile from the terrace of the Old Cataract Hotel where Agatha Christie sat to write Death on the Nile, visit a Nubian village, and lose your self in the ancient colourful tombs in the Valley of the Kings. The country is full of treasures. If ever there was a time to visit Egypt it is now!
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2016.