Day 1 – Arrival Day
This was really Day 3 for us since we arrived in Egypt two nights earlier. Staying in downtown Cairo afforded us an opportunity to better adjust to the country before the tour. Even though the first day of most tours is typically an arrival day and therefore very low-key, we wanted a chance to experience Cairo before the tour began. After a leisurely morning at our hostel, we headed to the resort the tour booked us in, The Oasis, in Giza around two in the afternoon. The Oasis had a pool and fitness center, so Mike went for a swim and Tara practically ran to the workout room eager to get in a good sweat. Later that evening, we met with Mohamed from On The Go who provided us with our welcome packet, which included a detailed itinerary and information about Egypt and its people and culture. That night, there was a chance to see a light show at the pyramids, but we opted out since we’re on a budget and, frankly, it was not of interest to us.
Day 2 – Pyramids!
In the wee hours of the morning, we hit The Oasis’ complimentary breakfast buffet and loaded up on coffee. Our schedule showed we were only a few short hours from seeing the pyramids up close! After breakfast we gathered with the group in a meeting room for our tour guide’s introductory welcome session. His name is Hesham and after he spoke for a few minutes, we turned to one another and smiled; the tour would be solid if he was leading it, we both thought. He spoke clearly, energetically, frankly, intelligently and had an awesome accent that seemed to be a mix of a Portuguese person speaking English and an Aussie-Brit-American-Scot.
After he finished preparing us for the next eight days, we piled onto a bus headed for a full-day adventure to the pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx and the pyramids at Sakkara. The way Hesham – or “H” for short – delivered information was more like an Egyptology professor than a tour guide. The first stop at the Great Pyramid mirrored how the rest of the tour would go: H provided the historical background of the sight we were about to see, we would have time to ask questions, then we were cut loose to wander on our own.
After seeing the pyramids in person and learning about their construction and mathematical precision, we now find it disappointing when people say or write that they were not impressed by them in person – that xyz site was better. Tourist sites are all unique and have their own appeal, but these enormous tombs were built thousands of years ago with more than two million stone blocks weighing tons each without the aid of modern machines to assist in moving them. This does not even get into the precision of which these architectural monstrosities were built, but this was just another reinforcement of why a guide is sometimes necessary when it comes to appreciating tourist sites. Whipping out a guidebook and reading a paragraph on the importance of a sight does not compare to asking a trained guide specific questions. We learned so much, and the information H gave us and the questions he answered enriched our experience exponentially.
After visiting the Step Pyramid at Sakkara (the first-ever pyramid built), we headed to an authentic papyrus workshop for a demonstration in papermaking. En route, we asked H whether we should be “Canadians” while in Egypt. “No,” he said. “You should absolutely tell anyone who asks that you’re American. Nothing bad will happen to you.” And thus began our discussion about the current situation in Egypt. H confirmed our suspicions that ill will is not widespread, and that some of those involved in the riots were paid for their participation without even knowing what they were protesting. Henceforth, we did not hide the fact that we are American, and no one was less than kind to us.
Time for our overnight train to Aswan. Everyone else in our group upgraded from the first-class seater train to the sleeper train (with private couchettes). An On The Go representative went with them, and H accompanied us. Again, we decided not to upgrade because we are on a budget, but also because we never are able to sleep on trains, so we preferred to try our luck mixed among the locals. It was actually a great experience: H got a conductor to lock up our bags and the chairs were more comfy than a first-class airplane seat and reclined quite far. We agreed that it was the best sleep we have ever gotten on a train.