Sep 26

Thoughts on Egypt

by in Postcard Valet, Thoughts On..., Travel

I’ve got good news and bad news about Egypt.  Which do you want first?  How ‘bout the bad.

Oksana and I have visited somewhere between 25 and 30 countries so far and it’s safe to say that Egypt is our least favorite so far.  Why the hate?  Because of the hassle.

Our guidebook warned us, a tourist in Tanzania warned us, friends on Twitter warned us, even the guy behind the counter at our hostel in Cairo warned us, but I still couldn’t believe it would be as bad as they said.  It was.  Actually, it was worse.

Listen to me.  If you go to Egypt, you will be hassled, hounded, yelled at, and argued with.  You will be followed, lied to, cheated, and taken advantage of.  The people in Egypt will not leave you alone.  They will do everything in their power to separate you from your money.

There is no escape from it.  At the pyramids of Giza, camel riders will follow you around, pestering you with questions constructed from the seven words of English they’ve memorized:  “You want ride? Camel ride? Hello? Camel ride. Twenty dollars.  Hello? You want camel ride?”

At the temples, Bedouins will step in front of you to get your attention, point out a hieroglyph on the wall, lie about what it represents (“Look! Cleopatra!”), and then hold out their hand for money.

In the Valley of the Kings, “helpful” people standing at the entrance to the tombs will hand you a half-dead flashlight as you enter and then demand money for it when you try to leave, even though you never used it because the whole tomb was lit with florescent lights.

If you’re not a dark-skinned Arab wearing a robe or a turban, you’re a mark.  Egyptians will swarm around you like a cloud of mosquitoes, buzzing in your ears, eventually angering the most patient tourist.

We tried everything we could think of to avoid them; nothing worked.  Sometimes we lost our temper. I’m ashamed to admit that we even swore at a few.  They swore right back.  They know all the worst words, in every language, because they’ve heard them all before from travelers just like us.

We were told again and again that the best thing we could do was ignore them.  Don’t make eye contact, show them your back.  We tried.  It was as simple as ignoring that cloud of mosquitoes and just as effective.

On Twitter, I distilled my feelings about the country down to 138 characters:

It’s a testament to the grandeur of Egypt’s treasures that tourists continue to tolerate the unending bullshit that comes along with them.

I can’t say it any better than that.

It’s said that Egypt is the number one tourist destination in the world and I have no reason to doubt it.  Nowhere else can you see such impressive monuments from such an old civilization.  We saw mummies and pyramids that were 4,500 years old.  In the museum, I spotted a 7,500-year-old arrowhead tucked away in an unassuming corner.  I looked into the eyes of the golden death mask of Tutankhamen and realized that if he were alive today, I would be able to recognize him from the sculptor’s work.

And that’s the good news.  If ancient human history and feats of engineering interests you even a little, Egypt will captivate your imagination and eclipse all the bullshit that comes with seeing it.

Here are some things I learned about the country:

Geography

Egypt is almost all desert with one very impressive river, the Nile, running straight through it.  We were lucky enough to fly in from the south, so we could see for ourselves, out the airplane’s window, just how vital the river is to the life of the country.  Nothing but a narrow strip of green mars the endless red sands of the Sahara.

Egyptians refer to the north and south of their country as Lower and Upper Egypt respectively.  As you may have guessed, the names don’t refer to the directions of the compass, but rather to the land’s elevation.  Upper Egypt, down by the Sudanese border, lies barely 80 meters higher than Lower Egypt in the north.  This meager elevation difference is important.  It allows the Nile to flow from Africa’s interior, all the way down to the Mediterranean.

Like me, you may have picked up some facts about the Nile’s importance to Egypt back in elementary school.  The annual flooding and receding of the river created the perfect conditions along the banks for the very earliest examples of agriculture on a civilization scale.  In fact, the rise and fall of ancient Egyptian dynasties can be charted by the patterns of the river.  When there were droughts and the yearly floods didn’t come, the fields weren’t replenished with nutrient-rich sediment.  The crops – and with them the entire Egyptian civilization – suffered because of it.

Today, almost all of Egypt’s 81 million people live along the narrow strip of green that is the Nile’s banks.  The water level is artificially controlled now by two dams near Aswan and the croplands are irrigated rather than flooded.  While I’m sure the farmers appreciate the dependability of the new technology, some are noticing that after twenty years the soil isn’t so nutrient rich anymore.

What I couldn’t get over – what I still can’t get over – is how amazing the geography is for the preservation of Egypt’s history!  On the Nile, it’s incredibly hot and humid (at least in August when we visited.)  Temperatures hovered between 110 and 120 degrees and the air was so thick with moisture, our sweat wouldn’t evaporate away from our bodies.  I doubt intricate hieroglyphics carved in stone would last a thousand years in that sort of climate, let alone samples of writing on Papyrus.

But a bare mile or two to either side of the Nile is pure desert.  It’s still just as hot, but now it’s as dry as you can imagine.  You can tell when you walk around, the heat just doesn’t bother you as much when you’re hiking around the pyramids.  It’s these conditions – the damp of the Nile and the aridity of the Sahara – that allowed Egypt to create a great civilization and then preserve it.

Alaska

There’s an in-joke in Egypt and everyone seems to know it.  Whenever they see a tourist who looks like he’s struggling with the heat, they put on their best smile and say, “Welcome to Alaska!”

Coming from Alaska, you can understand our confusion at first.  Welcome to what now?

After we figured out what was going on, I would pull out my driver’s license and show it to the people who said that to us.  “Oh, yeah?  Well, I’m from Alaska!”  Most were suitably impressed, though I realized after awhile that showing them the license was pointless – they couldn’t read a word on it.

Personal Space

I think personal space might be smaller in Egypt.

Our hostel had someone waiting for us when we arrived at the airport.  He was a pleasant older man, the epitome of a Middle Eastern Arab dressed in a white robe and turban, sporting a scraggly salt-and-pepper beard half way down to his naval.  He spoke a fair amount of English and was happy to answer our questions as he wove his old Soviet Lada through Cario traffic.

At one point, I asked him if Cairo was safe for tourists, especially considering the recent “peaceful” revolution they’d gone through earlier in the year.  He punched me in the arm, not gently.  “Yes! Of course! Cairo is very safe for tourists!”  I think he was being friendly.

Another time, we paid for a tour of the pyramids of Giza.  Our “guide,” Hosni, from the Luna Hotel, was telling us about what to expect from the park when we got there.  (He turned out to be nothing more than a glorified taxi driver; he didn’t even accompany us into the park. The sum total of the information he conveyed to us that day was the following: There are three big pyramids, and six smaller ones. The park itself is 12km around.)  At one point, I asked him if it was true that Napoleon was responsible for the sphinx’s missing nose.

He reached over – while driving, mind you – and grabbed me by the arm.  “This is a great question!  Yes!  It is true!  Napoleon use the nose for shooting!”  He was very excited and he was squeezing my upper arm quite hard.  I don’t bruise easily, but if he’d done that to Oksana, she would have had yellow and black finger marks on her arm the next morning.

(For what it’s worth, I’m not convinced the missing nose can be pinned on Napoleon.  There’s some evidence it was missing before he arrived.  It’s a good story, though, so I can understand why it has persisted.)

Numbers

Oof.  Don’t get me started on numbers.  Egypt is an Arabic country and their written language does not use the Roman alphabet.  (More on the writing in a bit.)  We may not have been able to speak or read the language in the other countries we’ve visited, but at least the numbers were familiar.  Not so in Egypt.  I’m just thankful that they at least printed some “normal” numbers on the back of their currency!

Our airport driver used a very clever trick, I thought, when I asked him how old his car was.  He said, “1 and 4 years old.”  One plus four? I thought at first.  No, that can’t be right.  1 and 4… He means “14!”

To be honest, I think it more likely the car was 41 years old.  “Old man, old car!” he said with pride.

Later, one of the receptionists at our hostel used the same trick, communicating a 2-digit number by placing the word and in between.  I don’t know why I didn’t think of this myself.  When we’re traveling so rapidly through so many countries, it’s impossible to learn (for me, at least) how to say every number from one to three million, seven hundred, fourteen thousand, two hundred and fifty-two.  With this trick, I can get through day-to-day travel transactions by memorizing only the first 10 digits!

Driving

Speaking of cars, Egyptians drive on the right side of the road. After all the southern African countries we traveled through, this was a huge relief.  I have to admit, however, that I was confused all over again about which way to look when crossing the street and which side of the car to approach as a passenger.

Gas Prices

The average Egyptian may not be wealthy, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t driving a car.  When gas prices are less than $1 per gallon, there are a lot of cars on the road.  I think the lowest I saw was $.65/gal.

McDonald’s

Egypt has had the cheapest McDonald’s, so far, of all the countries we’ve visited.  You can get two extra value meals, one of the super-sized, for under $8 USD.  Plus their large drinks are the same size as the large drinks in the U.S.  (Sure enough, the Big Mac Index backs me up: Only Thailand, Hong Kong, China and India are cheaper!)

That said, there are a whole lot of reasons not to eat at McDonald’s.  Not because McDonald’s is bad; it’s just the same as everywhere else.  There are just too many other good Egyptian restaurants to try!

Satellite TV

I couldn’t help but notice how prevalent satellite dishes were in Egypt.  Look out any window and you can literally count dozens of them clinging to the sides of apartment buildings, on the roofs of houses, some are even resting on the ground, propped up against walls.

We don’t normally turn on the TVs in our hotel room, but for some reason I found myself running the dial one morning in Dahab.  I skipped through literally hundreds of channels, looking for things in English (BBC is usually the best bet.)  The count went from 1 to 999 and I have no reason to doubt that there wasn’t a signal on each and every channel.

TV can be a frivolous thing, but I couldn’t help but be impressed by the myriad of opinions people in Egypt can be exposed to.  There were channels from countries all over the world.  Russia, China, Germany, India, Korea, and Japan.  England, France, Spain, and a dozen other European sources were on there, not to mention every Middle Eastern country I can name.

Couldn’t find Fox News, though.

Language

The city of Cairo is filled with towering and majestic mosques; there’s no mistaking that you’re in a Muslim country.  At first I took that to mean it would be a lot like Tanzania.  It’s not even remotely similar.  That’s because while the religion is the same, the culture is not.  Whereas Islam is overlaid on Swahili in Tanzania, it superimposes itself on an Arabic culture in Egypt.

Of course we couldn’t understand a thing.  Spoken, the Arabic language wasn’t like anything the rest of Africa prepared us for and written Arabic was nothing more than a series of loops, swirls, and dots to my uneducated eye.  If pressed, I couldn’t even tell you where one letter ended and the next began.  As I wrote above, even the numbers were incomprehensible.

If you’re fascinated, like I am, with how languages are constructed, you owe it to yourself to read Maciej Cegłowski’s brief but fascinating blog entry about learning Arabic, Why Arabic is Terrific. Trying to learn the rules for the numbers alone would break my brain!

It wasn’t hard to get around, however.  Many people spoke passable English, especially those working in tourism.  The few times we came to stores that didn’t have prices printed in two languages, all we had to do was point to something and shrug.  They would either produce a calculator and punch in the price for us to see, or grab a pencil and jot it down.  Anything to make a sale.

Before arriving in Egypt, I’d never given much thought to what the culture might be like, but it dawned on me after a couple weeks that I certainly wasn’t thinking “Arabic.”  In my mind, the word “Egyptian” connotes imagery of Ramses and Cleopatra, a people more like the Romans than Persians.  Of course, that may have been the case up until the Muslim conquest of Egypt a little over a thousand years ago.  Today, “Egyptian” has a different, though no less legitimate, society associated with it.

It probably took me longer than it should have to come to that conclusion.  I’ll tell you how I arrived at it.

Some of the temples in Egypt have been defaced.  The Temple of Philae, for instance, wasn’t destroyed by the Christians that came to Egypt, but they made a point to go in and chisel over the faces of every god carved into the walls.  In some places, they chiseled in their own Coptic crosses and Latin phrases, too.  The Temple of Luxor, one of the biggest and most impressive Egyptian sites we visited, had, at one time, a Christian church built within it, complete with paintings of saints and bishops.  Today, the Christian church is gone, but there’s a Muslim mosque, open to the public, perched within the same ruins.

When I first saw the desecration of the Temple of Philae, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of sadness over the loss of the artwork and history behind those ancient hieroglyphs.  Yes, I understand why.  The Christians didn’t want their newly conquered people worshiping false idols.  Still, the destruction of such beautiful and lasting work is a travesty.

I was lamenting the same thing at Luxor while listening as our guide told us how Alexander the Great had built a temple to himself within the Egyptian ruins, his carvers chiseling his own history into another culture’s temple.  Our guide didn’t seem at all bothered by the loss of the original artwork.  To him, all of it was history.  The original Egyptian structure, the later Christian desecrations, and even the current mosque – each was a part of the temple’s history and each told a part of the story today.

I don’t think the average Egyptian thinks much about how the history of the country shapes him or her as an individual, but I’ll bet everything that’s gone before plays a part, just like in the temples.

However…

Antiquities

As depressing as it sounds, I don’t think the Arabs of Egypt identify much with their pre-Muslim heritage.  The state of the country’s antiquities is quite depressing.

The receptionist at our hostel in Cairo, and older guy in his 60s, told us just before we left for Giza that he’s only been to see the pyramids once in his life.  I was amazed; they’re only 30 minutes from the city center!  Unfortunately, his ambivalence seemed commonplace.  I suppose when you live your life next to 4,500-year-old monuments to ancient kings, you sort of take them for granted.  I couldn’t help but stick it to him a little when we returned, though.

“How were the pyramids?” he asked.

“Great!” I said. “Totally worth seeing at least twice in one lifetime!”

On our first day in Cairo, we went to the Egypt Museum near Tahrir Square.  We spent the whole day wandering around the two-story building and marveled at the works on display. We also marveled how, with just a couple of exceptions, the preservation of these priceless artifacts wasn’t given a second thought.

There’s no climate control in the museum, it’s only as cool as the thick stone walls can make it.  Sometimes when you look up, you can see windows that are missing panes of glass.  Inside the museum, humid Nile air is surrounding artifacts that survived thousands of years only because they were in an extremely dry environment.

We saw sunlight shining down on papyrus writing, undoubtedly bleaching it as we watched.  We saw countless kids running their oily hands over intricately-carved sarcophagi because there was no barrier between them and the stone.  We saw literally thousands of objects dropped into glass cases with nothing more than a number printed on a card to identify them.  In one case, that number was hand-written on a torn piece of loose-leaf, ruled notebook paper.

Hardly anything was labeled.  Even fewer exhibits gave details such as dates, where it was unearthed, or what its historical importance was.  It was like nobody gave a shit.

Someone on Facebook told me a story – I don’t know if it’s true or not – that some of the sarcophagi have water stains on them because they’d be unceremoniously tossed into the Nile when no one knew what to do with them.  It was only after the Egyptian government realized that tourists would pay good money to see them that they were dredged up again and put on display.

After visiting the museum, I was caught up in a problem-solving mood, determined to mentally fix it all by myself.  It wouldn’t take much, I mused.  Assemble a team of graduate students, give them a small stipend for room and board in Cairo, and then set them loose to work on their own theses.  If you had the support of the museum and a good team leader, I’ll bet it wouldn’t take more than a year to turn the Egyptian Museum into something world-class.

You’d need:

  • An historian, to figure out what you’ve got,
  • A curator, to prepare and properly display it,
  • A translator, to write captions in both languages,
  • A graphic designer, to design standardized displays, 3D barcodes, posters and the like,
  • A web designer, to create a parallel online experience, and
  • an App developer, to give smart phone users another tool to explore the museum

Put all the information on an extensive website, then print out labels with 3D bar codes on them.  People could use their smart phones to scan the codes, which would then connect them to the website for all the information available.  Also, once the website was created, you could take the same data and make maps and guidebooks for the luddites. There’s so much money flowing into that museum; you could easily take $1 from every ticket and more than fund the whole project.

I’m more than half serious about the idea.  If someone gave me the opportunity to form the team, I’d probably take them up on it.

We did manage to see one place in Egypt that did everything right.  We loved exploring the tiny Imhotep Museum at the Saqqara pyramid.  The building itself was dark and air conditioned and almost every display had its own humidity gauge behind the glass.  Every item had a description professionally printed next to it and we actually learned a lot about this era of Egypt’s history because the information was right there in front of us.

I heard that perhaps one of the reasons Cairo’s Egyptian Museum is in such a state of disrepair is because they’re planning to build a brand new museum with all the things that the old one is lacking.  I sure hope that’s the case.  Otherwise, I doubt Egypt’s artifacts will last another hundred years, despite the thousands they’ve already survived.

Baksheesh

Baksheesh is like a tip or a bribe, but one given in return for the least amount of work possible.  I hate the baksheesh culture.  I think it’s the root of all the deceit and money-grubbing that made Egypt so difficult to like.

Look, I don’t have any problem tipping at a restaurant or giving the cab driver a little extra so he doesn’t have to make change, but I can’t stand when people fabricate a service and then demand a handout!

What bus are you looking for? Oh, it’s over there.  Give me baksheesh.

Hey, I pointed out the completely obviously entrance to the park exactly two seconds before you noticed it yourself.  How about some baksheesh?

My camel was in your photo of the pyramid (never mind that I walked him into the frame while you were composing your shot.)  I demand baksheesh!

Even the police and politicians get in on the action.  I can’t tell you how many times our minivan full our tourists pulled up to a checkpoint so the driver could surreptitiously slip the policeman a little “tea money.”  Once, our whole van grilled the English-speaking conductor.  Why do you pay?  What would happen if you didn’t?  Is this a form of corruption?  Do you think it’s okay?

His only answer came with a shrug: This is Egypt.

Attention Getting

How do Americans get someone’s attention across the street?  I suppose we shout, “Hey!” or, if we have the talent, whistle really loud.  In parts of Latin America, people will hiss really loud.  In Egypt, they make kissy noises.

Imagine puckering up your lips and making the loudest air kiss sound you can.  That’s all you need to do to get someone’s attention.

Body Odor

None to speak of.  Oksana and I noticed it at the exact same time, walking down a street in Cairo.  We walked by a woman who smelled like summer flowers and realized we had both been bracing for the scent of 115-degree armpits.  I can’t tell you how nice it was to be back in a country where people valued personal hygiene.

Shaved Heads

With my bald head, I did not stand out in most of Africa.  (Except for the whole white skin thing, that is.)  In Egypt, it didn’t take me long to realize that a shaved head was not normal.

Polite people would comment on it.  On the street, rude people would literally stop and point, elbowing their neighbors and laughing out loud.  Some mimed shaving their heads to make sure I understood that the joke was on me.

I guess it surprised me, but it didn’t really bother me.

My favorite reaction came on a Saturday afternoon, as we walked down an empty street in Cairo.  We can across a couple older men sitting in a doorway.  As we passed them, one looked up and beamed, “Hello, Mr. Kojak!”

Border Security

Egypt isn’t technically part of the Middle East, except perhaps for the Sinai Peninsula, but there were reminders here and there that their international affairs were sometimes similar.

Not only did we watch the news intently a day or two after we left Cairo when new riots erupted in Tahrir Square, but there was also an incident on the northern edge of Sinai while we were in Dahab.  Apparently a group of raiders came across the border and fired on a small-town police station.  We were far from the violence and not too worried, but it was a sobering reminder that Egypt still isn’t the safest of countries.

We did find ourselves in one situation that may have been a little dangerous.  While we were in Aswan, we opted to go on a tour of Abu Simbel.  The temple itself is all the way down by Sudan and in the past there have been raids from across the border on tourists traveling to it.

In order to make the 4-hour journey safer, our bus picked us up from our hotel at 3:30am and then parked on the outskirts of Aswan until all the other tour companies’ buses joined us.  After the police checked under each bus for explosives (presumably because we were about to cross the hydroelectric dam that supplies almost all of Egypt’s power), we departed as one large convoy across the desert.

I don’t think we had a police escort.  If we did, I didn’t see it.  If felt to me like a wildebeest migration across the Serengeti.  We were trusting in our numbers to see us safely across, the protection of the herd.  When a wildebeest is attacked by a crocodile while fording a river, do the others come to its rescue?  Or do they travel together just to lessen the odds that they’re the ones who are eaten?

Boogers

I have to say: I noticed a lot of Egyptians picking their noses in public.  I don’t know if it’s socially acceptable or not, but it happened so often that I couldn’t help but take note.  No judgments here!  I’ve been known to enjoy a, shall we say, “unearthing of ancient artifacts,” from time to time.

I would guess it has to do with all the dust in the air.  Egypt is a sandy place.

Dust

Wherever you are in Egypt, the desert is never more than a few miles away.  Even though it’s humid around the Nile, there’s still plenty of dust and sand in the air.  Of course, there’s very little rain to wet it all down, so it makes sense that we saw so many shopkeepers and homeowners periodically splashing water onto the streets.

Everyone seemed to have a different type of container and everyone had a different method of throwing the water around.  Some simply poured it out on the street and swished it around with a broom.  Others had complicated methods of spinning the bucket while tossing the water in the air, saturating a larger area of ground with each throw.  It seemed an art.

Overall, I don’t know how much good it did.  Within minutes all the water had all evaporated again under the hot desert sun.

Sanitation

I’m sure there are countries out there that are as clean as the United States, but we haven’t come across many of them.  Parts of Egypt were especially depressing.  Downtown Cairo was okay, especially considering how many people live and work there, but the suburbs near the pyramids were disgusting.

Trash was freely piled in the streets, some of it burning, most of the rest tumbling down into the stagnant waters of the canals.  Sadly, some people were both bathing and fishing in the same waters.  Our cab driver knew enough to comment on how bad an idea that was, so I suspect they were not doing it out of ignorance, but rather out of necessity.

There aren’t many things that make me want to visit a country less than piles of garbage everywhere you look.

Cairo Nights

Oksana and I always find it weird when we arrive in a new place on the weekend or after dark.  Cities are quiet and it can be shocking when we emerge from our hostel rooms the next day and see everything in full light.  Where once there had been only empty sidewalks and locked metal gates, by day they would miraculously be transformed into bustling storefronts and crowds of bargain-seeking shoppers.

Our first outing in Cairo was during the late afternoon and I was surprised to discover that the streets weren’t very crowded for a city of around 20 million.  I learned why when we went back out after dark.

Cairo comes alive after sunset!  The sidewalks are packed and the storefronts are lit up with a thousand white light bulbs.  Vendors drag out their tables, kiosks open their shutters, and beggars claim their corners.  When the sun goes down, and the heat of the day with it, people flood the streets.

I quite enjoyed walking around after dark; it never felt unsafe (though I never walked around with my DSLR slung over my shoulder.)  Everything was interesting, but my favorite were the T-shirt vendors.

Picture this:  A couple teenagers set up two sawhorses next to the curb and then leverage a large sheet of plywood over the top of them.  They cover their makeshift table with a carload of T-shirts, piling them six-deep across the entire surface.  One of the boys climbs up onto the table, picks up a bagged T-shirt, and starts yelling at passersby on the sidewalk at the very top of his lungs.  I mean really yelling, too.  Bent over double, chin thrust out, veins bulging on his neck, screaming at people until he’s not just red in the face, but purple, too.

He has to.  There are five other guys on the block doing the same thing!

Of course, I have no idea what they were saying, but I like to assume it went a little something like this:

“Crazy Abdul is slashing prices again!  That’s right; Crazy Abdul is crazy because he’s practically giving these Superman T-shirts away.  If you keep walking by without looking at Crazy Abdul’s T-shirts, you’re crazy too!!”

Begging

Oksana and I noticed our fair share of beggars in Egypt, but.  In most every respect, they were indistinguishable from beggars we had seen in other countries, but in Egypt it seemed as though all of them at least had something to offer you.  It may have only been a packet of tissues or a pack of gum, but at least they were trying to sell something.  I respect that.

Cats

It seems cliché to say that there were a lot of cats in Egypt, what with all the cat imagery I have tied up with Cleopatra in my head, but it’s true.  Cats are everywhere and most of them were quite friendly.  I don’t care much for street dogs, but I’ll go out of my way to scratch a stray cat behind the ears if he’ll let me (and if he doesn’t look too sick.)  I was surprised at how many cats let me do just that.  They must not often be mistreated.

And there are probably very few mice in Egypt.

Best Time to Visit

I’ve been very surprised how lucky we’ve been, seasonally speaking, on our round-the-world trip.  There are always good times and bad times to visit each country and for whatever reason, we’ve been hitting country after country on “the shoulder seasons.”

Weather wise, the high seasons are usually the best time to visit.  That could be the dry season in Peru, or winter in a hot country like Egypt.  The low season is great because you’re almost guaranteed to find cheaper accommodations and specials on excursions, but the weather can be miserable and some places, like ski resorts, completely close down in the off season.  The shoulder season is the happy middle.

Except for the weather, I think we hit Egypt at the perfect time.  Summer is usually a down time for tourism, but the industry was especially struggling this year after the recent revolution.  Parks were practically empty and we often were able to take wide-angle photos without a single tourist in them.  Not only that, but we were able to haggle for better bargains because the competition for our dollars was so fierce.  Our Nile cruise ship, for instance, was one of the only ships on the river the two days we were aboard and it was only one quarter full.

Of course, it was August, so the heat was almost beyond belief.  While we were in Aswan and Luxor, the temperature hovered between 110 and 118 degrees Fahrenheit, day and night.  Once, we stepped onto a bus before the AC had been turned on and the internal temperature reading was 140 degrees!  During one marathon day, we managed to visit The Valley of the Kings, The Valley of the Queens, The Temple of Hapshetsut, The Temple of Luxor, and the Temple of Karnak, sweating bucket the entire time.  Oksana and I drank six liters of water that day – one and a half gallons … each!

Yes, it was hot.  But it was worth it not to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with ten thousand other tourists.

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Postcard Valet is a travel blog and video podcast by Arlo and Oksana Midgett. They just returned to Juneau, Alaska, after almost three full years of travel and living abroad. Many of their stories, photos, and videos have yet to be shared...

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