Egypt: Still Open for Business
"History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme," Mark Twain once wrote.When Ted Simon travelled through North Africa in 1973, he was riding towards an Egypt in the grip of crisis. "I arrived at the border the next day, but all my fears proved groundless. I was received with tea and ushered through the lengthy formalities with sympathy. But Egypt was still at war, and the last 400 miles to Alexandria were full of drama." 40 years on, Jupiter's Traveller Jo Rust is travelling through Egypt during another troubled time in the country's history. Amid protests and heightened security, she discovers undiminished hospitality and how life carries on for ordinary Egyptians.
A tourist in Egypt is not as common a sight nowadays as it used to be.
It was touch-and-go for a second there before I finally decided to proceed through Egypt on my current adventure around Africa. I had just made it through Libya as a woman on her own. How bad could Egypt possibly be, right? Besides, I’d come too far to not see the pyramids!
I had read on different forums and heard from fellow adventurers that the border at Salloum, between Libya and Egypt, is considered one of the worst in Africa at the moment. To date, the Rosso border between Senegal and Mauritania had remained at the top of my list of ‘most challenging border crossings’, so I was looking forward to being able to draw a comparison.
I'd prepared myself for a long day at the border, expecting to spend maybe four or five hours to get through. In reality, almost nine hours went by before I rolled onto Egyptian soil, but I considered myself very lucky.
All the officials, police, military and customs were very helpful and accommodating, showering me with coffee, tea and biscuits. What’s more, Omar Mansour, a very good friend and fellow adventurer from Alexandria, had ridden all the way to the border to meet me. Having someone to help translate my answers to all the questions certainly helped with proceedings and made me feel more at ease as well.
After all the customs proceedings and paperwork had been taken care of, new plates fitted to the bike, all my luggage x-rayed, and my GPS, laptop, cameras and phone investigated, I was given a police escort and finally allowed to enter Egypt.
There are multiple military checkpoints on route to Cairo and at each one I have to unpack all my luggage and answer routine questions. When I entered the country, a curfew was still being enforced from 19:00 in the evening until 06:00 in the morning. On the day I rode to Cairo there were rumours that the curfew might be enforced from 15:00.
I’ve seen people standing at intersections in protest and watched as a stone-throwing match broke out on a bridge in an area near the pyramids. I have walked around Cairo at night (with friends) and ridden around on my bike. At times I was not allowed to move without police escort, but now that things have calmed down a bit I am able to move around fairly freely.
The tourism industry is certainly suffering. When I visited the pyramids the local vendors told me that they are really struggling at the moment as business is very slow.
Apart from a very visible military presence and dedicated live local channels broadcasting from locations all around Cairo, people seem to be adjusting pretty well and going about their daily business in a fairly normal manner. People speak openly about issues past and current and I find myself listening to debates and discussions on television and among locals and friends all the time.
I haven’t felt threatened or in danger in any way since entering Egypt and have only been met with a great deal of kindness and support everywhere I go. I really do hope that things will return to ‘normal’ again soon for the people of this wonderful country.