It was November 2001, just two months after the 9/11 WTC drama. The western world was in shock, the people afraid. At the time, stock went down, Arab-phobia became a word and nobody dared to fly. It was also the best time to travel. Moreover, it was the time of year we went to Egypt. We flew in November 6 and went back on the 13th . How lucky can you be? I will tell you. Fortunately, it was a Tuesday.
In the past, there had been attacks by terrorists on tourists. Therefore, in Egypt, it is now normal for the coaches to drive in a convoy that easily consists of 50 busses or more. Heavily armed police officers shield and protect those convoys. However, due to the recent drop in tourism, not many coaches were going on tour. Our convoy therefore hardly deserved its title.
It was made up of a couple of mini vans and two coaches. We shared our mini van with the driver, the guide and a couple from another hotel. The trip to Luxor would take several hours and with only six people in the van, we immediately started talking. It didn't take long to get to in depth familiar stories one (funnily enough) only shares with strangers. Of course, we asked our guide for his point of view on the recent global 'developments'. He gave a politically correct answer: "I'm not in to politics". Sure, it was very bad for tourism, it was a deed of fanatics and it was a petty that he and his extensive family should pay the price. He couldn't understand why the tourists stayed away and, open minded as we are, neither could we. I am not sorry to say, we reaped the benefit of the situation however. We have seen the sights as one did back in the good old days.
On our tour, and at all the monuments and tombs, there were very few other people. By people, I mean tourists!
As you can see, we were the only tourists
We stayed in Hurghada at hotel Bellavista. The hotel is a four star accommodation, 2 km from the centre of town. Because the hotel was built in 1999, it was still fairly new. It was a half-board stay. Normally we rent a house or an apartment so we can cook, but since we were only going to stay for a week, we didn't mind. The main goal of our visit was to see and experience the ancient culture, the monuments, the ruins and the tombs. When on vacation, quite often we rent a car and just go explore the region ourselves. In Egypt however, we decided to go on a guided tour.
Most of the times, guides are very knowledgeable. The Egyptian culture dates back several thousand years and spans a couple thousand. Therefore, we needed someone who knew what he was talking about. Let me tell you, we got one. We went to the Valley of the Kings, Colossi of Memnon, Hatshepsut temple, a boat trip crossing the Nile and Luxor. Plus some 'mandatory' artisan shops, where we didn't buy anything.
Our room is on the left.
My most memorable experience in Egypt happened on our way back to Hurghada, sometime after midnight, in the middle of the desert. There all the little pieces of the information puzzle fell in to place. Suddenly, I saw the whole picture. During the day we were 'fed' stories about the ancient Egyptians.
How strongly they believed in an afterlife, being part of the universe. How they built all these amazing structures and temples. In the tombs we saw thousands of abstracted stars painted on the ceilings. It was all very nice to know but, for a down-to-earth Dutchman, hard to comprehend. However, that night in the desert, where there is no light pollution, I saw millions of stars in the clear black sky. There, I understood why the ancient Egyptians lived as they did and why the painted their ceilings the way they did. There, more then ever before, I truly felt part of the cosmos. For that feeling alone, I advise everyone to visit Egypt and to plan a night in the desert for some serious stargazing.
Karnak temple by night
Other travelers here on TravBuddy, have described the tour far better then I can. You should read their stories. I just present you some of the photos I took. Hope you enjoy and, as always: happy travels!