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Published: December 2nd 2013
One thing I definitely wasn’t expecting when I went to Egypt last December with a broken leg was a marriage proposal from a man who asked my dad whether he would depart with his only daughter (me) in return for five camels. An interesting start to a holiday. Then again, I hadn’t read any of the guidebooks and went to Egypt, relying on my mother who had not failed to research the country in great depth. One thing guidebooks warn you about is the conmen who stand outside the airport – unfortunately this useful bit of knowledge was something my mother did not have. We had naively handed our luggage over to a local who promised to take it to our car but instead, demanded money after he had pushed it a few steps. An outrage and we departed with 15 Egyptian pounds.
We had decided to stay in Luxor, a wise choice considering the riots that were occurring in Cairo. The unstable political situation in Egypt was a touchy topic as we later discovered but tourism still seemed to flourish in this part of Egypt. In fact, tourism actually contributes to 80% of Luxor’s income. We had booked into
Iberotel Luxor, a 4 star hotel that overlooked the Nile, and the views that we got from our hotel room were absolutely breath taking. We could see square mud buildings with large rectangular windows on the other side of the Nile that lazily stretched as far as the eye could see, like a silver thread weaving its way through the desert. The vegetation and the turquoise domes of mosques that were visible between buildings added some colour to an otherwise beige-cream coloured view and the sound of a prayer call from a nearby mosque weaved in and out of the city. All of this set to the backdrop of the undulating plains of the desert and the pale rose sky with wisps of cotton cloud. I could also hear the horns of passing cars (this never stopped, I would be woken up at 3am in the morning by Egyptian horns celebrating a wedding party) and the bustle of people on the streets. It was so unlike England where everything was so predictable. There, I could expect the rain, I could expect to sleep without being woken and I knew pretty much what I was doing every single day. I loved
the spontaneity and the unfamiliarity of Egypt where everyday something different would happen. The balcony allowed us to devour the spectacular scenery and every morning when I woke up, I would look outside reminding myself where I was.
We visited several small markets (more to get a sense of the culture and the environment than to buy items) during our holiday and each one seemed livelier, more colourful and more interesting than the previous one. A concept that was rather new to me, was haggling and in Egypt this happens a lot. I like to browse items by myself and take my own time but that was a little difficult when every Mohammed and Ahmed kept appearing to try and sell me busts of Queen Hatshepsut’s head or flimsy postcards with pictures of pyramids and the sphinxes. Local shop owners spotted me instantly, recognising me as the prefect target probably because I was a girl and more likely to be fooled into buying their merchandise (ha!) and also because of my leg - I couldn’t run away if I wanted to. However I loved the atmosphere and everyone seemed to know each other, making jokes and shouting at each
other in Arabic. My dad prides himself on being able to strike a bargain but he had definitely met his match in Egypt. Half an hour debating on an alabaster Tutankhamen mask had got us nowhere and the man seemed reluctant to lower the prize any further. One of their tactics to encourage us to buy their products was to make the tourists feel welcome and that meant random men going up to my father and saying “hello my friend, you look like Egyptian man. I give you the best price, a normal Egyptian price for this shirt.” Horse carriage drivers drove alongside us and shouted “India? Very beautiful country you know. Like you are very beautiful people!” Flattering, however we are Sri Lankan.
I also got the opportunity to ride a camel – an idea suggested by my younger brother; exciting but I was quite terrified because of a) my leg injury and b) the girl who was leading my camel was 9 years old. We decided not to pay the expensive tourist camel riding charge and instead went with a man who owned a bright blue boat outside the hotel and offered us a sensible price. Just a warning, if you do try to be clever and avoid all those costly excursions then you are more likely to go on a much cheaper journey (I think it may also be more stimulating and exciting) with an underage Egyptian.
Another thing you must definitely do in Luxor is ride a felucca (a deep laden boat with tall white sails) – the river views are stunning however it is something completely different to actually experience the Nile on a traditional Egyptian boat. We had accidentally and fortunately chosen to ride the felucca at sunset so we had spectacular views of the sun settling down behind silhouettes of palm trees and buildings. Words cannot sufficiently describe the beauty of what we saw then. We watched hungrily as the light day sky turned to night, capturing the magnificence with a cheap Nikon camera. The sky turned from a transparent pink colour into a vivid orange glow then slowly transformed into a rich violet, dotted with twinkling stars. A wave of peace descended on us all, and the distant cries from the city behind us were practically inaudible. A drink they offered us on the boat, after we had witnessed the sunset was hibiscus tea – this can be served both hot and cold but we chose to drink it warm. The tea was made from a dark pink flower and tasted slightly sour and bitter but it didn’t taste bad, in fact it was rather refreshing. Because we went to Egypt during the winter, it wasn’t that hot and most of the people we saw wore coats or jackets. It was warm enough (like Britain in the summer) and I could dress in trousers without sweating.
Dress code was something I did not take lightly in Egypt. Even though Egypt is pretty inclusive when it comes to dressing and religion/ culture, our family was aware that it was a Muslim country and that we should still be respectful. So that eliminated shorts, vests and anything that showed too much of my body, not that I minded. Having a bright blue cast with about 30 signatures on, didn’t exactly make me want to show off my legs anyway.
I returned home after our one week holiday in Egypt feeling relaxed and wishful. We had missed out on Christmas in the UK, so returning home and seeing the bright neon Christmas lights and the massive Boxing Day sale signs on Department stores was a little startling and it took a while to adjust back to our normal lives. I still want to return to Egypt, possibly to Cairo where we were not able to travel to but the country is genuinely fantastic, provided you know what you are doing and you’ve read the guidebooks.
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