Finally, Egypt

by : Stuart Cheese

In my capacity as the UK Director of Operations for One World Tours Limited, I am often asked about the destinations I have been to and why I decided to become a tour operator. 10 years ago I embarked on my second trip around the world and I suppose you could say that this is where it truly all began. Here is my first experience of Egypt.

I thought that visiting the Seven Wonders of the world in eight days would be a fun and challenging thing to do. Having decided with my sponsors the airlines and a chain of leading world-wide hotels it was decided that the Seven Wonders of the World were the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Golden Gate Bridge, The Empire State Building, Sydney Opera House and the Pyramids of Egypt. This would notch up a staggering 42,000 miles in 8 just days.

I had already visited 108 countries on my first tour "around the world in 80 days".
Having visited all of those countries my schedule did not work out and I missed the country that I was most looking forward to, Egypt and now here I was on my second adventure and the final leg of the trip not knowing if I was going to see this wondrous country at all.
I was on a standby ticket and when the gate number finally came up I rushed up to it I discovered that the flight had been oversold by 50 tickets. One of the staff promised that we would get me a seat, but my chances looked pretty grim!
I sat silently watching what seemed like the entire population of Heathrow airport boarding the plane. I was lost in my own private thoughts and worries. It did not seem to matter that I had visited 6 of the 7 destinations, I would have failed and all that had gone before would have been meaningless.

There was only a handful of people left to board the plane and about ten more minutes to go until the plane was due to leave. I had been waiting for over four hours was not even sure if there was anything to wait for! I wondered if I should ring someone to come and collect me to take me home. Finally a voice shattered my thoughts by announcing, "I've got you a seat"

I wouldn't get a proper look at Egypt until the following day. Once booked into my hotel it proved very difficult for me to sleep that evening as it was like being a kid on Christmas Eve. From the balcony of the hotel I could see the modern city of Cairo in all of its glory as beautiful as any city by nightfall. I felt saddened to see the advertisement for coke lighting up the evening sky of a country steeped in so much magical history. It seemed too commercial and somehow disrespectful. I suppose the reason that Cairo was of so much interest to me was that from as far back as I can remember I had always been fascinated by Egypt and its treasures, also the idea of being in the same place as the ancient Egyptians held a certain excitement for me.
As I lay motionless on the bed with my eyes transfixed on the vision before me, my head raced forward to the day yet to come and I slipped off to sleep with images of what I hoped to see come the morning.

After a pleasant breakfast a taxi was ordered to take me to the Pyramids. I soon found out that the driver for the day seemed to have already prearranged my route for me. Of course being a real novice I was really taken for a ride in more ways than one that day! I was immediately swept off to a papyrus shop and given a full demonstration as to how the ancient Egyptians made their paper. I was shown hundreds of beautiful paintings, which adorned all the available wall space. The owner was very persuasive, trying to sell me some of the paintings, not that I needed too much persuading! I would have willingly spent a fortune had I the means to do so!

The next port of call was a perfume shop and as in the previous shop, I was treated as an important guest, offered a seat and drink in order to butter me up for the owners sales pitch! He certainly had the gift of the gab and I imagine he had charmed the cash out of many unsuspecting tourists in his time. He gave me a sample of many of his alcohol-free perfumes and assured me that each one was made from 100% oil of whatever it was extracted from. He had some very beautiful smelling scents in his shop and in the end convinced me to take some back to England with me.

I found the whole atmosphere of the shop very magical. Everywhere you looked there were beautiful glass bottles that looked like they might be concealing a genie inside them! I had spent way too much over budget but was of the opinion that it wasn't every day you got to spend a day in Egypt. I bought three bottles of the oil that came in their own special presentation case.

I had the distinct feeling that the driver had something going with these shopkeepers, a commission of some sort. (having been to Egypt many times now I am not so naÃ?ve. I didn't mind too much but had to be firm and get him to take me straight to the pyramids before all the money had gone. I assume that because I was staying in such a grand hotel that he must have thought that I was loaded!

The driver took me through Cairo and turned into a little side street where camels and horse and carts awaited to take those that wished to the pyramids. I opted for a hose and cart, I couldn't possibly imagine how the camels very narrow legs could support my weight even though they had four! I caught sight of the pyramids up ahead after being bumped about in the cart for twenty minutes.

My escort stopped to allow me to photograph the sphinx. He said, "you give camera, I take your picture!" I instantly thought that he was going to run off with the camera and leave me stranded in the middle of the desert! I soon realised that I had allowed myself to listen to too many horror stories and told myself that it was time to relax a little.
One thing that I did find very amusing was the amount of men that popped up from behind the sand dunes, in the middle of nowhere, selling postcards! My escort was very good to me and I assume that he told them that I had no money as they sloped off after a few words of Arabic had been exchanged.
The pyramids were absolutely breathtaking. I could not believe that I was only a few feet away from them. I had imagined of this moment so many times in the past. It was everything that I ever dreamed of and more. I was blissfully ecstatic and told my little friend on many occasions how thrilled I was to be in his country. He just smiled and thanked me. I was completely absorbed in the moment. As I gazed at the pyramids I observed a traditionally dressed Arab sitting astride his camel. I remember thinking "what a nice, artistic picture he would make and began to snap away at him. Through the lens I noticed him getting bigger and bigger and realised that he was heading towards us at speed. Once he was close enough he said, "you take my picture like this?" and sat in a proud pose with his arms crossed. "You give me money and you take picture, yes?" I felt a little embarrassed as I had already taken a few pictures of him. I felt as if I had stolen something from him! Once again my escort came to my rescue and the man on the camel sped off into the distance. My escort shrugged his shoulders and smiled as we continued on our way.

When I got back to the starting point my driver was waiting. It was apparent that he knew the owner of a little shop nearby. He offered me a cup of tea, which was greatly received. I sat down on a wooden bench in the centre of a small square and took the chance to observe the daily routines of the local folk. Little children played barefoot and happily giggled as they had fun together. Some of the women wore the traditional black veils while others wore none at all. Young lads raced past on their camels, the Egyptian equivalent of our very own Gary boys I assume!

I was sitting all alone in the middle of Egypt yet I was not in the slightest bit unsettled by it. I was totally absorbed in my surroundings. The people were extremely friendly wherever I went.
The driver wanted to give me a guided tour of Cairo but I wanted to go to the museum to see Tutankhamen's mask. The driver said that he would like to take me to his home to meet his family if I had time later on. I accepted gratefully but was not really sure what my plans were to be for the rest of the day.

Once at the museum I left the driver, who told me that he would return to pick me up a couple of hours later. I purchased a ticket and entered the museum. I was totally blown away by the exhibits that up until then I had only seen in reference books. It is difficult to explain the muddle of emotions that I found myself consumed by. I was overcome with, happiness, awe, I don't really know.

I entered a dimly lit room that contained some of the most precious of Tutankhamen possessions. I was aware that the mask was close by but did not want to look at it until I had seen everything else first. I wanted to be able to slowly savour the experience. I felt myself experiencing the strangest sensations. I had never read, in-depth any of my many books on Ancient Egypt, I just studied the pictures for hours on end. Flash bulbs on cameras were strictly forbidden in the museum, yet corrupt were making plenty of profit from gullible tourists eager to capture the mask on film. I must admit that I was one of those and handed a couple of quid to a curator who proceeded to show me the best place to take a picture from. Immediately after I had taken 2 or 3 photos I was cornered by a couple of guards that promised to turn a blind eye if they were given two quid each too! I saw at least two other unsuspecting tourists get caught in this ingenious little scam too and I couldn't have been in the room for more than twenty minutes.
The golden mask was more breathtaking than I could ever have imagined. My lifetime's ambition was now complete and everything else in life was going to be pretty flat after that!

As promised, the driver was waiting for me outside the museum. He asked me where I would like to be taken next. I decided to go back to the hotel in order to catch up on some sleep.
I had decided that I wanted to visit the light and sound show at the pyramids that evening and needed some cash. I was told that I would have to go to another hotel to try and get some cash and had only twenty minutes to spare before the bus that was taking me to the show turned up.
En route we had to stop at different hotels to pick up all the other passengers. I noticed that the Egyptians had a very novel way of getting themselves out of tight parking spaces! If a car was in the way the driver opened the unlocked door and took off the handbrake and moved the offending car well out of the way!

I arrived at the pyramids for the second time that day and took my seat with hoards of others wanting to see them by night. I noticed that there were blankets for hire and soon found out why as the show went on.
The sphinx was cleverly used as the story -teller, assisted by thunderous music that boomed out across the desert. The pyramids were subtly and beautifully lit as was necessary when the story required. A green laser light drew diagrams and cartouches on the wall of the biggest pyramid. It was very cleverly done and I found it a very moving experience.
Although by night the desert was extremely cold and a blanket would certainly have taken off the chill, the atmosphere was hypnotic! I was aware of the cold after the magnificent show but had been too wrapped up in the moment to have experienced it.

The sound and light show had been a perfect end to a perfect day.