One place that has always been on my bucket list is Egypt. When I was a kid, one of my favorite games was “the Egypt game,” modeled after Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s classic children’s book. Who isn’t enchanted by pharaohs and mummies? Even though I loved the culture and had poured over encyclopedias and books trying to learn more, Egypt was never a place I thought I would actually go. It always seemed so far away to six-year old me.
So when Daniel and I booked our plane tickets to Cairo, I was still a little bit in shock after a day or two that I was actually there. I also wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting in regards to modern Egypt and Cairo—I had pictured the ancient society more than the sprawling metropolis that we were seeing.
We booked a driver to take us to the pyramids, unaware that we would either have to choose to take a horse or a camel and a local guide in order to get there. While the driver cost only $30 for the entire day, the horses were an added expense of $70 that we weren’t aware we would be paying. While I was a little angry with this at first, I soon realized that they simply didn’t let you into the complex without a hired guide.
Also, I didn’t realize how large the complex was. Walking wouldn’t have been an option in the August heat. It was fun for me to get back on a horse once I was over the initial frustration of paying for one since I hadn’t ridden one for years (and I was quite the equestrian back in the day), and it was a challenge to ride up and over the dunes. As we peered around one of the larger ones, the pyramids appeared.
There’s nothing like seeing a monument or structure so engrained in the culture you’ve grown up with in person. The first time I saw the Eiffel Tower, I remember being near tears. As a girl from a small town, it seemed impossible that I would ever get the chance to see a structure that had captured my imagination. I felt the same way seeing the pyramids towering above me.
We rode closer and closer. I’ve seen pictures of how crowded with tourists the area below the pyramids can be from other travel bloggers, but because we went in August, we had the space all to ourselves. We dismounted the horses and were allowed to touch the large blocks that made up the base of the Great Pyramid. We were even encouraged to climb up the first tier, where I placed a hand and took a moment to recognize where I was.
Very few people have the opportunity to travel and see sights that have fascinated them since they were children. For me, this was a special moment to connect with that little girl who made the crowns of the pharaohs from Upper and Lower Egypt and dressed in bangles while calling herself Hatshepsut. It was unlike any other experience that I have ever had before—none of my travels have touched the heart of who I was as a young girl in the same way.
After we remounted our trusty steeds, we headed to another sight that is equally as famous—the Sphinx. Wandering through the temple at the foot of the giant, mythical creature, I took a quick snap. I was soon discovering that every single moment I had to be on my guard in Egypt. We were bombarded by those trying to sell their wares, and the hot sun was making it tough for me to continually be nice. We said goodbye to our horses and rejoined our driver.
Our last stop was the Step Pyramid—the first pyramid built in this region. It was so strange to think that it had been built so many thousands and thousands of years ago. As we admired how it had been built by workers with only basic tools, we were again bothered by a number of men asking if we wanted to see the “secret tomb.” They would hold out a key (usually a modern house key—I’m not sure that would open a secret tomb), encouraging us to follow them.
At this point, we just laughed. As introverts, we had just about enough of these self-enterprising Egyptians. We had the driver take us home and tipped him for transporting us around the entire day.
This experience reminded me how far travel can be from idyllic. I’ve never had such a moment of reflection while on my journeys while seeing the pyramids, but I’ve also never been so annoyed and angry at hidden costs, the frustrations with the system that required us to have a guide, and out-of-place I felt in a foreign country.
Have you ever had mixed emotions on your travels? Where?