Egypt: Still on Traveler’s Lists?

camel ride vendorDestination: Egypt

Movies: Many

Don’t Pay the Camel Driver until You Get to the Pyramid

Guest Post by Traveler’s Bro

“About Egypt I shall have a great deal more to relate because of  a number of remarkable things which the country contains…” Herodotus, The Histories

American travelers seeking to break through to the “real” Egypt may find themselves struggling to dispel Hollywoodized images of that ancient and mysterious land.  Movie images are sometimes hard to relegate to the cutting room floor of your memory when you travel from the back lot to the real place.

Land of Pharoahs movie

Land of Pharoahs, Jack Hawkins

When in 1974 my wife and I first entered the real Land of the Pharaohs (1955, Jack Hawkins, Joan Collins), we carried in our mind’s eye scenes from that and many other popular twentieth century films.

It was a good year for American travelers in Egypt. The Egyptians seemed happy to have Americans back in the country and not only because we were more generous with baksheesh (tips) than the Soviets visitors of the Nasser era had been. The natives told us the Russians had no sense of humor and weren’t friendly.

The Egyptian sense of humor was evident immediately to us on our taxi ride from the airport to our Cairo hotel.  As he merged onto the two-lane highway to town, our cabbie snapped off his headlights.  Whenever out of the mysterious black of the Egyptian night another taxi approached with its light doused, a game of chicken ensued to see who would turn on his lights first.

“It saves battery,” he explained. “Do not be nervous.”
Claudette Colbert 

When I saw the ornate and sometimes working fixtures of our one and a half star hotel’s  bathtub,  I remembered wistfully Claudette Colbert sloshing around provacatively in her golden bathtub (almost)  full of  asses’s  milk (Cleopatra 1933). The movie glamour began to fade somewhat in the light of the reality.

We soon encountered a Death on the Nile (1978, Peter Ustinov) as we were walking across the bridge to the “Hilton side” of town. The agonized groans of a camel that had been struck by a bus and was lying amidst a mosaic of blood and glass could be heard above the shouting of a dozen street lawyers who swarmed to advise the two drivers. No one seemed particularly interested in ending the suffering of Exhibit A, at least not till the case was settled.

Hey! It´s me! - Sinai Camel Adventure!

At Giza the driver of our tour car reluctantly stopped at the Cheops so that I could get out and hire a camel for an exotic ride to Chephren, the next available pyramid.  From high atop the dromedary in the clean, bright desert air, I began to feel like Lawrence of Arabia (Peter O’Toole 1962) and to wish I had a scimitar to swing defiantly above my borrowed turban.  About this time my spine and stomach reminded me that there is nothing easy or romantic about riding a Ship of the Desert.

As my wife wisely whizzed by in the car, my camel,  no doubt on a secret signal from its owner, suddenly stopped, belched heroically,  as only a camel can, and made signs of wanting to kneel down and chew the cud for a while.  “You pay now,” the grinning guide insisted.  But I had been warned of this possibility by the tour guide, so I argued and bluffed, knowing that I had no clue as to how to make this beast get up and fulfill its contract.  “Alice [the camel] is tired,” the owner pled slyly. 

I wondered what Peter O’Toole would do in such a fix? Indeed, what would that other famous “Egyptian,” Anthony Quinn or even Omar Sharif [an actual Egyptian!] do?  We held out for a while and finally, the owner shrugged at my mysterious refusal to bow to extortion and switched grumbling Alice back into action.

At the foot of the pyramid we were met by a wizened guide who led us through a shaft portal and whom we followed naively into the pitch blackness of Chephren’s great tomb.  A string of feeble bare bulbs lighted our way to the crypt. As we descended, the bulbs began to wink threateningly.  Perhaps this was another example of Egyptian humor. “What if the lights go out?” my wife asked the guide, who smoked stale cigarettes all the way down. “Not to worry. I have torch [a flashlight].” We weren’t sure whether to believe him.

When we finally reached the bare and musty burial chamber of the Pharaoh Chephren, I thought I could detect an ominous rumbling among the shafts and chambers.  Or was I just recalling that famous scene when the tongueless slaves and evil princess (Joan Collins in Land of the Pharaohs) are buried alive deep in her husband’s pyramid?  Any traveler with a sense of adventure should review this terrifying scene prior to crawling into any ancient tomb.

As we post this, the latest “Pharaoh” of Egypt has departed Cairo, and the country is shaking itself  alive as the people decide what direction to go into.  To those  ghosts that hover around the pyramids and tombs, this is a momentary blip in the life of an ancient land that will continue to draw travelers as it has since Herodotus’ visit in the fifth century B.C.

Huge thanks to Traveler’s Bro for this wry piece as dry as the camel’s natural habitat. He emerges from retirement to lecture on film and teach an occasional class in Fresno California. He is, as you can see, the writer in the family.

Thanks to Flickr.com for the pictures. Those photographers who share via Creative Commons are a blessing. Find out more about each of them by clicking on the picture to go to his or her collection on Flickr.

A discussion of visiting Egypt is timely as people power continues to be felt in the Middle East and Northern Africa.  Perhaps these popular movements (the Twitter revolutions) will make these countries–Jordan, Libya, Bahrain, Tunisia, Egypt and others–even better places to visit in the near future.  How do recent events effect your travel dreams??

Vera Marie Badertscher

Travel and lifestyle writer, wife, mother and grandmother. Publisher of A Traveler’s Library and Ancestors in Aprons>. Also co-authored a biography of Navajo artist Quincy Tahoma.

Vera Marie Badertscher – who has written posts on A Traveler's Library.


6 thoughts on “Egypt: Still on Traveler’s Lists?

  1. I think almost all Northern Africa is out of travel lists at the moment. Don’t see the point of risking to go there.

  2. The events in Egypt directly effected my recent travel plans as I was due to arrive the day after violence broke out. Despite the change, I hope to be back in short time and hopefully the Egyptians will have a brighter future I’ll see the beginnings of.

  3. LOL! I didn’t have as much fun as you did in Egypt. I’m glad I didn’t see Land of the Pharaohs with Joan Collins, before venturing into the pyramids. ;-) I hope the masses will be able to visit Egypt, again, very soon.

    Paz

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