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In our pre-departure research for homeschool we learned that Cairo is the largest city in Africa. This surprised me, although I don’t know why. Covering over 100 square miles and many more thousands of years of history, Cairo is home to nearly 15 million people. It is a city with legendary status which is well deserved. Egypt boasts the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that still exists and nearly everyone over the age of seven knows what they are – The Great Pyramids of Giza, just a few kilometers from the Cairo city center.
Most of our friends and family thought we were nuts for including Egypt on our itinerary. Well educated well-traveled friends called us “intrepid” and cautioned, “Be careful.” Perhaps it’s not a reputation that is undeserved, however our media usually speaks louder than the truth. Look at American politics. The spin is enough to bewilder even the most savvy, intelligent and well-intentioned of souls.
Yet our experience in Egypt was nothing short of magical. We always felt safe and great care was taken to ensure that we did so. Egyptians are kind-hearted, hospitable people. The culture is so different from my own that immersing myself in it felt like being a part of a fairy-tale like movie. The food was delicious and plentiful. The sights, sounds and smells all work in you to invoke a sense of awe and wonder. It was nothing short of amazing and one day I would love to return to see more of this cradle of civilization land.
I remember being beyond excited to include Egypt on our route when I was planning our trip. Even my husband (very much the local yocal) decided that he wanted to cross the Pyramids off his bucket list and would meet us in Egypt. I knew that tourism was down right now in Egypt and had read that if you were willing to go you’d virtually have the place to yourself.
I began researching tour operators knowing that I wanted to hire a guide to show us around. I had settled on Egypt Tailor Made and was emailing owner Walid to firm up our custom itinerary. Noting how excited I was about eating Egyptian food he wrote, “It won’t be possible during the day my friend. All of the Egyptian restaurants will be closed and everyone will be fasting during Ramadan. But don’t worry we will find something at the touristic places during the tour.”
What? How did I miss that? I have to admit that at this point I was worried, less about not eating than eating in a touristic restaurant. I am not going all the way to north Africa to eat at McDonald’s! Walid did a great job of arresting all my fears. Still I wondered what would it be like traveling in a Muslim country during their holy month?
Both of these factorsturned out to work in our favor. There were no large crowds to battle, no long lines, no waiting for services. Life is predictable during Ramadan in that people wake before dawn for prayer and to take a small meal known as sehr. Things slow down a lot during the day because of the fast, where most Egyptians (the country is reportedly 90% Muslim) are abstaining from all food and drink, including water. At about 5pm everyone heads home for the evening meal, iftar, which makes traffic patterns easy to predict. We had very definable parameters for getting around. Also the weather was very comfortable. We were batting 1,000.
The next couple posts will be about what we did, tips for getting around and visiting during Ramadan.
[HOT TIP: Upon arrival US citizens need to pay $25 cash in US dollars for the visa before getting in line for immigration. Where we deplaned, there was an unmarked standalone kiosk, just go to the window, to the left of lines for immigration. If you miss it, as we did, it’s not a big deal you will be sent to the window and then have to get back in line.]