Egypt: Past and Present

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May 20th 2012
Published: May 22nd 2012
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I've had a fascination with the history of the Pharoahs for a very long time, so I was very excited that we would have a chance to see the Pyramids on this cruise. We knew the trip from Port Said to Cairo and Giza was a long one (3 hours each way) but we felt it was worth it. Why come this far and wimp out because of too much bus time!! It ended up being an eye-opening day in ways we had not anticipated.

Just as background, Egypt is currently at a major crossroads. Ever since the revolt against Mubarak, which began on January 28, 2011, this country has been trying to pull itself up by the bootstraps. Their economy is in terrible shape: 50% of the country are considered poor; another 20% barely above the poverty limit; 10% considered wealthy and only 20% considered to be middle class. Their first democratic elections will take place next week, and there are several different paths that the country could take. There are 13 candidates for President representing different platforms: social reforms, fiscal reforms, socialism, religious conservatism, etc. The world will be watching closely to see if Egypt can become a true democracy.

As we boarded our bus, we were please to find out that our guide is a published Egyptologist and international lecturer. During our ride to Giza, he gave us a wonderful overview of the history, geography and economic impact of the Suez Canal which end in Port Said. As we rode along the canal, we saw lush fields and mango orchards, all relatively new. Port Said itself is only about 150 years old - just a baby in Egyptian terms. It started out as a outpost for the workers building the canal but it has become a major port for northern Egypt and the headquarters for the Canal.

As we approached Cairo, he explained the current economic environment and helped prepare us for the scenes of poverty we would soon encounter. Nothing could really have prepared us, however, for the breadth of the problem. Cairo is a large, busy city challenged not only by the high poverty rate but also by a garbage strike which is likely to continue until a new government is in place. Without going in to more detail, let me just say that we are more grateful than ever for the blessings of living in the US.

As we approached Giza, our guide explained the history of the three pyramids and the Sphinx. He also explained that we would encounter lots of merchants, camels and beggars when we got off the bus. Bowen and I didn't really have too much of a problem, but there were scary stories shared when we returned to the ship. The Pyramids themselves were amazing! How those huge monuments were built by manual laborers with millions of stones weighing at least 2-3 tons each still boggles my mind! And to know that they have lasted over 5000 years at that! Simply incredible.

After a lovely lunch at the LeMeredian Hotel, we went to the Cairo Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. There are literally thousands of antiquities there, but clearly the main attraction is the exhibit from the tomb of King Tut. Although I had seen many pieces when King Tut traveled throughout the US, there are many pieces which never leave Egypt - most notably the solid gold head covering which was placed directly over the mummy. Pictures simply can't do justice to the beauty and complex design of this piece. There are also many large pieces which I had never seen. Our guide did a wonderful job providing history of discovery and recovery of these priceless treasures.

On our way out, we saw the square where the revoluation began 16 months ago and the burned out Mubarak headquarters: more reminders of the difficult political situation in which this country finds itself.

Egypt will always fascinate me, but I've checked in off my travel bucket list and will not likely return. I do pray that the people of Egypt will elect a leader who can help it move into a brighter future.


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