I always wish the hotels were like they are in movies and TV shows, where if you’re in Paris,
right outside your window is the Eiffel Tower. In Egypt, the pyramids [would be] right there.
My hotel room overlooked the garbage dumpster in the back alley. ~ Gilbert Godfried

The first time I visited Egypt I was in my mid-twenties and on spring vacation from my teaching position in Beirut, Lebanon. Friends and I joined a tour with a price that looked too good to be true. And, as it turned out, it was too good to be true. Nothing in modern Egypt worked for us. Just for starters, we arrived in Cairo only to find that our hotel reservations didn’t exist. After an all-nighter on the streets, we finally got word that a hotel had been found for us. But we had to get there on our own. Given limited funds, we walked. 

Next, we were supposed to take an all night sleeper train from Cairo to Aswan but that reservation didn’t exist either. We piled onto the crowded day train that stopped at every village and took hours longer. Then, alas, no hotel booking in Aswan either. I remember two things about the two nights where we stayed in an abandoned building the organizer found for us: sleeping on the floor and watching out for scorpions. Nonetheless, we more than managed. It turned out to be a wonderful adventure.

Sometimes, in my experience, places that are renowned just don’t quite live up to their reputation. Though modern Egypt did not impress me, I found ancient Egypt to be amazing. Everywhere we visited, I was captured by the Mystery.

As merely one example, I went inside the Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza. On entering, we climbed down a narrow passage and then we climbed up a longer narrow passage. Eventually we arrived at the King’s Chamber. Memory says we numbered between twenty and thirty people plus our guide. What amazed me was that in this stone chamber at the center of this enormous stone monument, there was enough air for all of us to be able to breathe comfortably. I knew there were air shafts, but to accommodate that many people? How did the designers and builders account for the circulation of air? That foresight in particular and the engineering in general left me in awe. Yes, truly amazing.


Photo by Barbara
Giza, Egypt, 1972
Scan of a 35mm slide