In February 2010, my wife and I spent 2 weeks in Egypt, a vacation I can qualify as fabulous. From the beginning to the end of our stay, we had excellent experiences and I can advise everyone to do likewise. However, must add that how we put this vacation together as very important.
For some time now, we have been aware of various tours organized by some universities as well as tour companies who offered trips to Egypt. However, my wife in doing some research ran across a tour company in Egypt itself called "Beauty of Egypt". Intrigued by the idea of working with local people, she started to organize our trip via the Internet. Some comparison shopping with Canadian tour companies led us to conclude that by working locally with an Egyptian company, we could put together our trip for about half the cost.
Egypt is probably the country the most different from our native country of Canada. We have spent time in the United States, England and France, but we can say that each of these countries, due to a standard of living fairly high, is similar to Canada. On the other hand, Egypt is a Third World country. According to the International Monetary Fund, specifically their statistics for 2009, Canada has a per capita income of $38,920 US while Egypt has a per capita income of $6,147 US. I find this comparison startling and I find it difficult to imagine how to interpret the difference between these incomes in terms of daily life. An Egyptian earns less than one sixth of the income of a Canadian. Unbelievable.
Consequently, what we saw in Egypt was very different from what we see in Canada. In general, we saw a certain level of poverty which is rarer in Canada. Yes, there is poverty in Canada, but in Egypt, it is not an exception, it is the rule.
If I take into account this stand of living and arranging our tour using a local company, I can state that the cost of the entire trip was quite economical. Here's a list of everything we had:
- private guide
- private car and driver
- 5 star hotels including breakfasts
- 3 domestic flights
- a cruise on the Nile for 2 days including all meals
- the entrance fees for all temples, the Citadel of Saladin, the Mohammed Ali Mosque and the museum of Cairo
- Cairo: the city, the Pyramids of Giza, Memphis
- Aswan: the city, the dam, Philae
- Abu Simbel
- Luxor: the temple of Luxor, Kanark, the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens
- Sharm El Sheikh
One aspect of our trip that we studied before our departure was baksheesh, the system of tipping or bribes in use in the Middle East. My wife found several articles written by people who had spend some time in Egypt which we both read carefully. Consequently, throughout our vacation, we did what was necessary at various exchange bureaus to ensure we had small change to give as baksheesh. For us in North America, the idea of always giving a couple of coins seems a little strange however, one must come back to the standard of living in Egypt. Without tips, maybe without bribes, it is difficult to imagine how somebody can live there. Besides, instead of seeing people beg, this little supplemental money offers a little dignity to people, a sign of respect. As for me, knowing the standard of living on Egypt, I never complained about baksheesh.
I always had to keep in mind the exchange rate: 1 Egyptian pound is worth 20 Canadian cents or one Canadian dollar is worth 5 Egyptian pounds. I was getting periodically a roll of Egyptian one pound coins which I would pass out as tips for everything and sometimes for almost nothing. If I went to the washroom, there would be an attendant who was handing out a bit of toilet paper. I would give him or her a pound. If I was visiting a temple or a museum and I asked for some information, one expected that I would give a pound or two as a tip. However, an Egyptian pound is only worth 20 Canadian cents. 20 cents? This is nothing! Heck! I told my wife that I lose more money in our washing machine when I forget to empty my pants pockets!
I am not going to recount all of the trip; however I would like to describe our first impression which emphasizes how Egypt is so different from Canada.
When we arrived in Cairo, a representative of the tour company met us at the airport to take us to our hotel. This car trip of 10 kilometres or so gave us a chance to see certain parts of the city. We went by kilometre after kilometre of areas filled with apartment buildings which were not finished and seemed sort of dilapidated. Usually the top floor showed exposed concrete and supporting steel bars as if the builder had stopped construction right before finishing the top floor. Our driver explained that in Cairo, there was apparently a municipal bylaw where you only had to pay taxes if the building was finished. Obviously, builders were taking advantage of this loophole to avoid paying taxes. However, this introduction to Egypt gave us a true impression of the Third World. We were quite taken aback.
I must repeat that one has to go. Egypt is where modern civilization started. Compare the history of North America with the history of Egypt. In Canada, we talk of history in terms of hundreds of years; in Egypt, you talk about history in terms of thousands of years. Plus, what the Egyptians succeeded in doing and what they left us as a legacy is incredible! The Great Pyramid of Giza, built in 2,500 B.C. was the tallest construction until the construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1889, a record which lasted more than four thousand years!
Oh, one more point. We went in February. This is the coolest time of the entire year to go. Keep in mind that Egypt is so much closer to the equator than Canada and temperatures there can be quite extraordinary. Consequently, do not even think about going there in July or August! It can apparently hit 50 degrees Celsius! February was quite pleasant over all; warm but not... ah, hellish. :-)