Being in Egypt is absolutely surreal. I wrote this early in the trip while we were on board a local overnight train traveling from Cairo to Aswan. My first day was full of a lot of Big Moments and stories to tell, but these are some of the most important things I learned in my first 24 hours in Egypt.
1. Egypt is safe.
There was not a moment in the first day that I felt even slightly unsafe. Our tour group takes extra measures to ensure our safety, but even without that, I did not feel as though I was in a dangerous place. I have felt more uncomfortable in cities in the United States.
2. It is possible to be too nice.
While tourism has declined tremendously, the number of salespeople at tourist sites like the pyramids has not. This means that people pester you to buy souvenirs or services (like camel rides or posed photos!). While it’s tempting to engage with them, the majority of people are very kind, it’s easy to fall into a trap. Acknowledgement (even a polite “no thank you”) is a sign that you are interested in their product. Sometimes, you just need to keep your eyes straight ahead and walk away.
3. It’s easy to forget where you are.
Numerous times, I found myself looking through photos or rearranging my bag on the bus…while we drove past views of the pyramids. It’s insane how quickly I got used to seeing a world wonder, but I’m not the only one. People taking poolside selfies at Le Meridien hotel weren’t even including the pyramids in their photo, although they could have easily been by taking a few steps to the side.
4. Egypt is incredibly inexpensive.
A bottle of water can be bought for 5LE (about a quarter), souvenirs come in around one US dollar, and a lunch for two (falafel and beef schwarma) cost 30 LE (about $2.75). The US dollar has incredibly high value and is widely accepted. Some even prefer it!
5. The Egyptian people will do anything to make sure you have a good experience.
After being continuously told that we would be charged “no money, no money” for a photo opportunity, the situation slowly developed into a lot more- and even included a short camel ride adventure. The local then expected us to pay him 100LE (at the time we thought this was a lot of money, we didn’t have the conversation rate down.) We protested and bargained, but as money started getting swapped around, we felt tricked and wanted out. In the end, we gave a portion of the money but said we weren’t happy. The vendor proceeded to follow us…trying to give the cash back because he didn’t want us to be unhappy.