Let me preface this by saying this adventure almost didn’t happen. Adam was to return from deployment a few days before the scheduled departure date. We planned a pre-trip trip to Chicago to see family for a couple of days before departing for Egypt. Uncle Sam thought differently. One thing is for sure: it’s never boring with us!
Day 1: Oklahoma City and Chicago
Adam was officially released from his deployment at noon on Day 1. That was not how it was planned! But as the saying goes, you can’t fight city hall. I picked him up at Will Rogers International Airport at noon, rushed us home (about a 30-minute drive on good days) so he could shower and double check what I’d packed for him, and get back to the airport for our first flight.
We knew we were in a time crunch and went to the gate agent to board. We didn’t realize that our zone had yet to be called for boarding and we approached the gate agent only to be told that the plane had not started boarding our zone. The agent opened the hook on the velvet rope and motioned to us to leave. Nobody was behind us and we could have just turned around and walked back. But the agent was pretty adamant that we had to pass through the open velvet rope.
The agent labored extensively repeating more times than we could count all the other zones until finally, she called the final zone though to us it felt as though she was calling the “peasant last zone” which was Adam, me, and one other person.
Once we were settled in our seats, we could finally breathe. Just a few hours earlier Adam had been tethered to the US Army and now we were headed to Egypt. Adam was showered with gratitude for his service by a few of our new friends. The flight attendants even held the passengers and directed us to exit first so we wouldn’t miss our connecting flight. Our flight had been delayed a bit leaving OKC and we were in danger of missing our connecting flight to Jordan. We moved as quickly as humanly possible through the airport moving from our arriving terminal to our departing gate three terminals over. When we arrived at our gate, not a soul was around. How on earth does an airline close the gate an hour early?! We were first told to wait for the next flight to Jordan which wasn't until the next morning. A security agent joined in the conversation and realized we should be on the flight. Since the aircraft hadn’t closed its door, he was able to negotiate them stalling a minute, allowing us to board. After our 211-day deployment separation, the last thing we wanted was to be stuck in an airport just one flight away from very needed (and well earned) R&R. That fellow literally saved our trip!
Day 2: Amman and Cairo
The flight to Jordan was uneventful spare some noisy children. The connecting flight to Egypt was cramped but did the job. Once we were wheels down, all was right in the world! Our chauffeur held up a sign with Adam’s name on it and got us through all the security with our bags in hand in record time and made us feel quite special. We didn’t know that the rock star treatment had only just begun.
Let me first explain our tour guide. Rami, of Rami’s Insight Tours, is an owner/operator who hosts his guests at a guesthouse on his own property. Rami was recommended on a travel blog Adam found while researching Egypt and the two connected via Facebook. Rami prided himself on immersing his clients in Egyptian culture. We had no idea what was in store for us!
First Surprise: A wedding party?! We joined in the festivities of the Egyptian equivalent of Western-style bachelor and bachelorette parties. We traveled to a farm near Cairo where there had gathered about a hundred men (and boys!) of all ages. The men were family members or friends of the groom. Traditional music blared while the men sat around on mats and low chairs visiting, drinking, smoking hookah, taking photos and dancing.
The groom’s father walked me to the other side of the property to meet the bride’s family. And that’s where the bachelorette party was held. The bride had already retired for the evening to rest for the big day tomorrow. I congratulated her family before being swept up in all sorts of raucous revelry.
I felt like Britney Spears. Everyone followed us literally everywhere and were intrigued by us. They all wanted their picture taken with us and wanted us to dance. Their effort to make us feel welcome and speak with us was so cool. Young boys (estimated ages 5-8) followed me everywhere I walked shouting, "I love you!" and "Dance" while giggles filled the air. Talk was pretty limited though since we don’t speak Arabic and most of them don’t speak English. Before we left, Adam was offered what he thought was hookah (Hookah is an instrument out of which people smoke flavored tobacco. The smoke passes through a water basin before inhalation. Hookah can be found just about everywhere in the city.). Thankfully he asked beforehand and learned what he was offered was actually hash. Sidebar: Ask questions first. After the party we tried some Egyptian pizza (it was okay) and a very delicious, super fresh fruit smoothie. It was now nearly 3 a.m. and we were beyond pooped.
It had been a very long day leaving OKC and flying through Chicago and Amman to Cairo. The jubilance of the pre-wedding party was infectious and drained me of every ounce of energy that remained. Yet when we returned to Rami’s guest house, I found the nighttime view of the pyramids surreal. I sat on the balcony for quite a while mesmerized by what I saw. And while I sat in silence and contemplated the site before me, an azan (Muslim call for prayer) was broadcasted. Adam peeked out at me and almost had to drag me back inside to get a few hours of sleep before we started our day.
Day 3: Cairo
Adam was right! The morning arrived too quickly! Rami whisked us off to a café for coffee. I remember my granddad kidding my mom about making coffee so strong it would grow hair on her chest. Well, this coffee would have done just that. I clearly preferred less manly and more girly coffee but drank as much as I could muster. We picked out goodies from an expansive selection of hardened, crusty breads and cookies. I’m a bit of a breakfast snob and usually go for more protein and fewer carbs but when in Rome, I mean Cairo, you do as Egyptians do! I knew our upcoming day would need energy so I selected items I hoped would provide a slow burn.
Next up was camel riding. Those creatures are tall! Getting on and off was a challenge especially for a shorty like me. And where did those camels take us? Why, to the pyramids of Giza! No joke! It wasn’t as far as it may sound. Just as we’d learned in Rome, modern cities and neighborhoods have long since sprung up around the ancient sites. The juxtaposition of ancient and modern still beguiles me.
Sidebar: I felt bad for the camels just as I did for the elephants back in Thailand, and learned that once the camels no longer generated revenue by providing rides to tourists, they were butchered and eaten.
The closer we got to the pyramids, the more awestruck we became. We dismounted and toured the pyramids’ interior which were tiny labyrinth tunnels that required ducking down while walking up the makeshift stairs in order to pass through. The interiors were hot and humid. We talked about how difficult it must have been to be one of the construction workers or an attendant to a king who helped relocate treasures to a chamber.
Many Egyptians believe evidence of alien encounters is visible in the hieroglyphs. We encountered one location where earthlings are permitted to reach through a narrow opening to grasp a rock reportedly left behind by aliens and experience supernatural current. Adam was brave enough to do this.
Fun fact: While we didn't exactly sleep with mummies we each took turns laying inside a hole where a sarcophagus had been exhumed.
I’m not sure if it was the heat or the humidity or claustrophobia, but I began to get dizzy. More than likely it was a little of all those things compounding my inadequate breakfast an hour or two earlier. Our walk to the Sphinx was briefly halted while I ate some of my trusted peanut butter crackers and used a wet wipe to cool my head and neck. My behavior elicited a few stares from passersby but I was soon back on my feet en route to the Sphinx.
Wowzers. Imagine how those who discovered it buried beneath the sand must have felt. The Great Sphinx, made from a single piece of limestone, was rediscovered about 200 years ago and believed to be about 4,500 years old. I enjoyed seeing its hieroglyphics, its anatomy (human head with lion’s body) and the current preservation work.
High sun was upon us and we needed a break. Rami walked us to a nearby oil shop. Rami is as much a local legend as the sites we visited. Together, Rami and the oil specialists described to us some of the oils created for Kings Ramses and Tutankhamun. They also introduced us to a number of other essential oils that back home we only know of by bottle label. We were treated to fresh peppermint tea and given sandalwood and peppermint oils to be dabbed on our temples and throat. Do you recall the comment I made about rock star treatment earlier? This is part of it! Rami knew my affinity for crackers and summoned an oil worker to fetch me some crackers and water so that I would be energized for our next adventure.
We were soon on our way to an art gallery where all the pieces were crafted on papyrus. Fun fact: Papyrus is a material produced from the papyrus plant pulp and served as the paper for the ancient Egyptians. The gallery owner demonstrated how papyrus is produced and then walked us through his gallery. We bought a few pieces of papyrus-based art to add to our collection that had been created by a local artist.
Lunch time wasn’t spent in any diners or tea rooms. Rami’s family graciously invited us into their home where we enjoyed an Egyptian home-cooked meal. Fun fact: Halal is the term for a meal that is prepared in accordance with Muslim law; neither pork nor alcohol is allowed. The majority of his family was present and they welcomed us like family. We all sat on the carpet surrounded by a feast of food. Those who spoke English conversed with us and we played with the little ones. After the busy morning and hearty lunch, we retired to our guest house for a nap in the air-conditioned sleeping quarters.
When we awoke, it was already time for dinner. We expected a simple meal since our lunch was expansive but Rami said he had a surprise for us. First, he suggested we have our laundry done. We walked to his mom’s building which was just down the road. His mother lowered a basket from the fifth floor, he placed our dirties in the basket, and up it went.
We enjoyed a fruit smoothie while awaiting Rami for our walk to our dinner location; he’d told us we were having Egyptian pasta. We traveled by taxi to the Nile River where Rami and his nephew awaited us. They escorted us on a boat ride during which we ate the delectable pasta every bit as good as Italian and danced to Egyptian music. Adam and I reenacted the Titanic’s Jack and Rose scene on the bow. Perhaps this was another one of those “stars aligned” moment just like we had on the River Seine in Paris. But here in Cairo. The sounds, the smells, the cool river air, and the company of our new friends. It was a perfect evening.
Day 4: Cairo and Budapest
Religious sites were on the agenda. Our tour stops included Coptic churches, a Jewish Synagogue, and two Mosques. All were in close proximity to one another which we felt was really neat. We weren’t expecting to visit any religious centers other than mosques so it was a real treat. One of the Coptic churches, Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church, was built over the cavern where the Holy Family hid when they fled to Egypt. We were blown away! In both mosques I had to wear a hooded robe to cover my hair and my arms. Fun fact: The only robe options for visiting women were bright green. As if I didn’t already stand out in a crowd, I now had to wear a bright green robe! No shoes are allowed in mosques so we were all barefooted. We happened to be in a mosque during the time for prayer and observed the segregation of the crowd so that men and women could pray separately.
We enjoyed more traditional Egyptian food for lunch. Rami was insistent that we indulge heavily as lunch is the biggest meal of the day. We just couldn’t do it. The final visit for the day was the Egyptian Museum. Stop. The. Presses. Mummies. Tombs. Burial wigs. Pottery. Chariots. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Much like the British Museum in London and the Louvre in Paris it was impossible to see everything. What we saw, however, was incredible.
Exhausted, Rami suggested we spend our last afternoon in Cairo with a fresh sugarcane drink and relaxation. We watched the evening light show on the pyramids from the guesthouse rooftop, enjoyed our last dinner with our new friends, were escorted by Rami to the airport, and caught a flight to Budapest, Hungary.