Not to forget Red Sea…
Egypt, a country as ancient as India. This country was on my radar of travel for a long. Once I started traveling abroad, it came in my vicinity to travel quite fast. When I mentioned about exploring Egypt, several people raised their eyebrows due to its recently inflated terrorism background.
All those doubts were pushed aside by one logic. Everyone is infested, even India, too. Have people forgotten about the 26/11 attack? If the city of Mumbai which is far away from troubled J & K, can come to terrorism’s clutches and still people are living and not running away.
Even the great USA is troubled with not only direct terrorism like the WTC plane attack. Some lunatics opening fire on the crowd, so according to me no place in the world is safe.
Egypt – Where no one dreams to visit except a few…
One task is done, selecting a destination. the next was to explore and fix the itinerary. I love planning my own itinerary, which again ‘0’ based and then tweak the plan according to the situation. Here there were doubts about tweaking as in Egypt you can’t travel on your own in public transport.
Moved further arrange permits to travel and getting local support to travel. In Egypt, you have to have a fix plan. Just like my other backpacking tours, decided to fix a plan which has little scope for changes. The restrictions were related to permitting. I found it this helps in Egypt once went through actual travel. This tour taught me new lessons in solo backpacking. In Egypt, every tourist is an important guest for the country’s security forces. His/her security is their utmost priority. I witnessed that at each and every step.
Wrote to a few travel agents according to my desired plan. Some known operators shared exorbitant amounts thinking I am a rich Indian who will splurge on my travel.
If you plan to travel to Egypt, you should do deep research about offerings by tour operators and plan your own according to your interest or you can check with me as I have visited almost all places except the other side of the Red sea which is Dahab and Mount Sinai. .
After few mails exchange shortlisted ‘Aswan and Luxor tours’ (A & L Tours) as per my wish list of places of interest. I had to cover East and West, but not to mention my main interest. Diving in the Red Sea.
Since I started traveling internationally to dive around Asia, many divers with international experience, highly recommended diving in the Red Sea.
Sab kharcha pani me
It literally meant, I was gong to spend more in diving which was my main prima motive, diving, and secondary was sightseeing. The main reason was after my Advance Open Water certification, my hunger for more certification grew manifold. I had planned to go for some specialty courses.
For diving at various international sites, these courses certification opens doors to the sites. These sites are out of bound for my current certification.
Plan the outline, and tweak it while traveling
Wish list A & L Tours owner understood my high and long wish list very well. He chalked out such a tight itinerary about which I couldn’t complain. He also considered and fulfilled my fascination with traveling at least once in public transport like bus or train. This he made it possible despite restrictions on a foreigner’s traveling in such a mode of transport.
With a fixed plan which was very unusual in my case. I always end up making a broader plan and while traveling, take the liberty changing it. In past, plans were widened or shortened or tweaked.
The broader plan was to dive for 7 days in the Red Sea from Hurghada. An interval of 4 days in between was kept to visit the Eastern part of Egypt – Aswan, and Luxor. Finishing the last leg by witnessing new wonders of the present world. These wonders are the Pyramids and Alexandria which lies in the Western part of Egypt.
I was also in touch with the dive center of Hurgadha for diving. Also finishing a few specialty courses since. This was inevitable as diving had become my latest obsession. The earlier passion which was mountaineering was taken a backseat.
First breath in Egypt – Cairo
Landed in Cairo with a long layover in Dubai. In my little experience with a few countries, I visited, the airport of that county represents the financial. The airport displays people’s psychology of the country they belong to. It’s the first and last impression. Egypt wasn’t an exception to it.
Airport wasn’t in great shape The staff was completely contrasted in nature. Super friendly and enthusiastic towards tourists. It clearly showed, even though Egypt is not doing that well financially, but locals were going out of the way to help the guests. It proved right in my entire length of stay.
Cairo to Hurghada – First taste of hospitability and not hostility:
A & L’s local representative, Hamby took control of my travel. A cheerful man with vast knowledge about Egypt took me to the bylanes of Cairo.
First few minutes were spent in anxiety chewing nails. In the unknown country, if I gets looted, none will know. I might be hanging out like Halal mutton in one of the butchery shops. Reached the main junction and saw many tourists, buses, and hotels.
Felt a sigh of relief. He, later on, told me that he wanted to give me a taste of real Egypt and not a glamourous world of Pyramids and Pharaohs.
I got a bus ticket in hand and handed overprice for it which turn out to be a loss to me. The story of which will be covered in the later part.
The bus was nice and comfortable for travel of almost supposed to be 7/8 hours of the journey till Hurghada. Cairo represents the modern side with development. The recession showed in a different way. The bus hit the highway after negotiating city traffic. It was the same as other cities in the world. In Egypt, I found the travel was always on smooth highways which was a pleasant surprise.
Even if highways were two lanes, none was in a hurry to overtake a vehicle ahead, so unlike Indian highways where everyone is in a great hurry to rush to their destination to meet family and ends up banging or bruising vehicles. Hardly I remember a bruised vehicle in my entire stay.
I was happy with such a stress-free journey, little I knew what lies ahead.
After an hour’s journey, the real story started getting unfold. which pushed me to the edge of the seat. Famous Bollywood movie – ‘Golmal’s Nth sequel started. Cops entered at the first checkpoint. on Egyptian highways, there are checkpoints at every 75/100 km. Here security forces check every vehicle for suspicious passengers queues up to get checked. A stiff face security official entered with a gun-totting deputy. He called ‘Kamal’ and some 15 ‘Kamals’ stood up.
Though it was a hilarious act and reminded me of a joke on Poonaites – Call out loudly ‘Joshi’ at any Pune street. Many people with the surname ‘Joshi’ will answer.
It was difficult to keep my face straight because of this joke. Officer started checking their ID cards. I too forwarded my passport. With a glance, he waved me off as if I don’t exist on the bus. Again our bus continued on our way till the second Checkpoint came.
The same scenario repeated, but this time results were different. A young chap of 23-24 sitting next to me was asked to get down. Luggage in boot space was checked. I was worried as I had my luggage in the boot space. If something was planted in my luggage, I would have been a ‘Mummy’ in Egyptian cells after 100s of years. None would have known my whereabouts. A chill ran in my spine. I was in a panicky state as none was allowed to get down except ‘Kamal’ who was sitting next to me.
After a thorough check, nothing was found in Kamal ka Maal i.e. luggage.
At next 3/4 checkpoints, the same episode repeated like a morning re-telecast of a serial’s episode. This time with a change. Some extra spices, the climax opened. Cops also checked his seat also by dislodging. The suspense had reached its peak. I mustered some courage and got down to talk to the officer and got a real answer.
Anti-climax of drama
This Kamal chap had done some kamal in Cairo and was confound to stay in Cairo’s boundaries. He was running away from that confinement. This drama delayed our bus for almost 3 hours. My contact point, A & L’s owner was constantly in touch with me every hour about my whereabouts, getting more and more worried.
Finally, reached Hurgadha at midnight and he wished me Good night and went to sleep.
Actually, he had no reason to stay awake to check my traveling status. I had booked a tour with him after 4 days to Aswan and Luxor. This attitude shows how caring Egyptians are. They are one notch up than the rest of the world which I witnessed time and again in the next 14 days.
My Egyptian adventures beyond land under red water which wasn’t red in color. The Red Sea.
For further in-depth journey and exploration of Red sea and meeting of Pharaohs, Mummies and shipwrecks , stay tuned to my Egyptian diaries.
To go through my other escapades, visit: http://www.nomadsnomadism.com