Welcome to Egypt

We'd been told by other travelers that Egypt was like India--dirty, third-world, incomprehensible--only worse. Argumentative Arabs, and an intricate system of "baksheesh" or payoffs made normal life nearly impossible. In addition, there is the constant threat of violence from Moslem extremists who want to destroy the tourism industry, and nearly succeeded when they gunned down a busload of tourists last year. The armed guards dotting every street were a sure sign that things had not cooled down much.

But what we found was quite different.

Modern Cairo stretches across the barren western flanks of the Sahara Desert, but the three great pyramids of Giza rise from the bedrock along the Nile to remind us all of our roots.

When the plane landed, we were not surrounded by touts and non-working telephones. We arranged for a taxi to our hotel (having gotten an idea about how much it SHOULD cost from our Greek travel agent), and got a cab driver who gave us a sight-seeing tour all the way along the considerable distance to our hotel. In addition, he gave us language lessons and laughed when we couldn't pronounce or remember a thing. When we arrived, he refused a tip, saying simply "Welcome to my country" (a phrase – or some variant – we were to hear constantly during our stay).

All along the route we marveled at how clean things appeared (at night, we admit, but still. . .). There was an occasional donkey cart, but for the most part there were only motor vehicles on the roads. Lighted statues, fountains and monuments --ancient and modern – lined the road, and lights from boats defined the Nile. Not at all what we expected, and we ooohed and ahhhed at everything.

Our rooms were clean and western style (although the beds slumped into fluffy hammocks as soon as we settled ourselves in), and the bellboys seemed to be genuinely interested in our opinion of the intricately folded blankets and towels they'd prepared. We could see the pyramids at Giza from the roof, and hear the roar of the city below. "Welcome to Cairo."

After tucking the girls in (Cassidy with a fever) we adjourned to the hotel bar where opulent Egyptian men were smoking shoulder-high hookahs. I felt awkward in this nearly men-only den, where the very few women present had their heads covered with large scarves. The shining brass, colorful hoses, gurgling water and sweet aroma of the hookahs soon enticed George into trying one. He selected apple wood to burn the tarry tobacco that was placed on the cup on top. I sipped my beer and looked at my surroundings in gratitude and amazement. "Welcome to Egypt."

Egypt is a magnificent land and people that encompasses fifty centuries of known, written history.

The Nile is one of the Great Rivers of the Earth, a source of our earliest history, a source of endless exploration and adventure. It is a sea into itself.
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