Published on 7/1/2010
In my last blog post on the Couchsurfing vision, I touched on the story of a trip I took to Egypt back in the spring of 1998. I’d like to tell you more of that story now, as I think it’s a great example of how one experience might just change the course of your life.
Tourism is an important part of the Egyptian economy but after a deadly attack on tourists in late 1997, it was at a serious low. Tour packages from the US were going for a fifth the normal price. I found a group that was traveling to Egypt to show support for the country in this tough economic period. I’d never been to Africa before and I wasn’t going to find a more affordable trip. With instructions from my friends and family to be careful, I boarded a plane from JFK airport, New York to Cairo.
One thousand dollars bought airfare and a two-week stay in luxury resorts in both Giza and Luxor. It also included time aboard a Nile cruise boat and daily excursions to famous sites. As grateful as I was for the opportunity and for the people in my group, I wanted something different. As fate would have it my roommate was a young man from Texas who, like me, was eager to have a more inspiring experience.
Together we would sneak away from our tour group and do our own thing, only rejoining them in time to make it back to the hotel. He was of Iranian descent and looked as though he could be Egyptian. This made it much easier for us to go to the places we wanted. He just had to keep quiet and not let slip his thick Texan drawl.
Normally, the tourist sites would be completely crowded, but while we were there it was a ghost town. This meant we really got to connect with the people who worked there. They had little to do so were happy to talk to us. They even offered us tea while we sat and chatted about what our different lives were like, and how difficult life had become for them since the drop in the economy.
Our first evening we shared a beer with a taxi driver. In part because of the courage it gave us, we were able to persuade him to help us see the pyramids. I mean really see them. They’re so iconic and full of legend, and I wanted to truly experience them. After a while he gave us the name of a boy whose father was a high ranking guard, and was known to show people around from time to time. We didn’t find the boy very easily, but the taxi driver was happy to drive us around for hours, playing tour guide, until one of the people we asked said they had seen him. Once we found him he agreed to be our guide and told us to meet him at 4 A.M. the next morning. With quite a few hours to kill before our early morning adventure, we spent our time roaming the town on the edge of the desert, under a full moon, and driving around with the taxi driver. He invited us to attend a wedding celebration and eagerly acted as translator as we spent the night talking and smoking hookahs with the old men of the wedding party. When we told them we were going to try and see a pyramid, one of them even gave us some chakra oil to put on special energy points on our body while we were there.
Early the next morning we met our guide in a neighborhood near the pyramids. We had no idea if we could trust him to keep his word, or whether as young tourists, we were an easy target for a scam. My intuition told me that it was worth taking the chance, and that I could trust him even though he was a stranger.
The moon was bright that night. We crawled over a pile of garbage, and a part of the wall our guide knew to be broken, to reach the plateau where the pyramids stood. He led us through the grounds around the eastern side of the pyramid. I could see the hole in the ground where they had excavated the boats that had been discovered with ultrasound a couple of years previously. I remembered the photos I had seen in National Geographic, and I couldn’t believe that I was actually there.
Our guide introduced us to some of the guards and we sat and talked with them for a while. Eventually, after checking out some more of the grounds we had to leave to get back for a 6 A.M. sunrise meditation with our tour group. The group was taken to a large, flat rock about twenty minutes bus ride away, where there was a view of the sun rising behind the pyramids in the distance. I felt really thankful that I had taken a chance and gone out exploring the night before. Because we had trusted the people we met, our night time adventure included a closer look at the pyramids and and lots of fun moments with local people.
As exciting as this time had been, it didn’t end there. Later, my group left Giza and moved onto Luxor. Check back for my next post where I’ll be sharing the story of my time with the people of Luxor, and how they helped make my trip so special.