I need to stop planning… or maybe just stop the “optimistic planning”. I just returned from eight days of traveling around Egypt with my dad. I had planned to write a post-a-day for my blog in which I would describe the experience. But after day one, the realisation set in that I wanted to be 100% there, living the experience. Writing would have to come later.
The Egyptian adventure was beautiful. Absolutely extraordinary. And not just Egypt and her culture. The adventure we embarked on had a large emotional impact too. My dad and I met one another anew, not as father-daughter, but as friends, as people.
Four years ago, after graduating high school, my dad and I were meant to go on a father-daughter trip. My three siblings each had theirs, and, as I was the youngest, it was finally my turn. Except we didn’t go. Life got in the way and somehow our timing never seemed to align. But now, with university done and a flexible job that allows for free time, we decided it was the right time.
There was a different time “pressure” too. Not many people are aware, due to the vibrant and positive man that my dad is, but he is terminal. What started as colon-cancer in 2017, has become liver-cancer, with a “due date”. Knowing that his grand adventure is almost finished, we decided to squeeze in our own before time is up.
Why Egypt? Sunshine and warmth. These were two important factors for our holiday. So when one of my dad’s close friends mentioned his recent travels to Egypt, it quickly seemed like the right option. It had culture, sunshine, and relax possibilities.
After a 4.5 hour flight from Amsterdam to Cairo, we got our passports stamped and headed to meet our guide, Essam. As we exited the arrivals hall and came outside, there was a large crowd of tour guides waiting behind a low barrier. My dad, who had purposely worn his yellow shoes in order to be recognised, yelled “Eeeeessssaaaaam!!”. And so, with a big smile on his face, Essam found us; not just by my dad’s yellow shoes, but by his loud, happy voice. Essam couldn’t help but laugh and our adventure together immediately started off on the right foot.
Many first impressions about a city are done during the drive from the airport to the hotel. But I realised, in hindsight, that the impression I got in those first 45 minutes did not do justice to the grand city of Cairo. I doubt it ever really does. I initially saw the city as crowded (which it is), busy, and chaotic. I felt a bit at unease with all the strangeness, or rather, “new-ness”. Later on I realised that “alive” or “active” is a better way to describe the city of Cairo.
Waking up at 7AM the next morning in a strange country, my dad and I got ready for the day. We navigated ourselves through a breakfast very different from our usual, which included falafel, ful medames, and aish baladi. About an hour later, Essam picked us up and we headed for the Pyramids of Giza and their Sphinx.
The pyramids are spectacular. I lack the words to describe the feeling of standing in front of something so grand, so ancient, and so magnificent. It’s no wonder they belong to the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Not just because they have stood their ground for circa 4,500 years, but the fact that such a grand structure was build without the technology we have today and remained in tact all those years (even if their outer coat, made of limestone, has been stolen).
Next we saw the protector of the three pyramids: the Sphinx. Following these too major historical artefacts we stopped for some chow at a very touristy but very tasty restaurant, situated next to the entrance to Saqqara. Here is the oldest Egyptian Pyramid located, which we visited after eating a mix of typical Egyptian meats and vegetables.
After all of the day’s impressions, we concluded by eating dinner on the Nile, on one of those moving boat-restaurants called Andrea. The experience, while touristy, included delicious food as well as artistic dance performances. After the entertainment, while floating down the river, the three of us headed to the top of the boat for some fresh air. As the conversation was flowing, Essam asked us the reason for our trip to Egypt. My dad shared that, besides an overdue trip, we felt some pressure from time due to my dad’s health. Essam seemed in shock as a tear rolled down his face. All of a sudden the tourist-tourguide relationship seemed to shift into that of a friendship.
The next morning, after dreaming of having my own Pyramid, we toured the city and spend time at the Museum of Cairo. There were so many beautiful and mysterious objects. I strongly recommend having a guide in the Museum (in all of Cairo too). At a certain point the hieroglyphics and artefacts start to look the same; having someone to explain what is what made the experience much more enjoyable, as well as educational.
The museum was followed by a coffee break, during which Essam shared that my dad’s story really struck a chord inside him. He shared the story of his relationship with his father, who had, somewhat recently, passed away. Hearing about his experience with having a parent pass away made me feel more emotional too. It’s not that I’m not actively aware that the day will come sooner rather than later that my dad won’t be around, but living in the moment, traveling to Egypt together, makes that fact seem so far away.
As we got in the car, we were all lost on thought about our own families and the bond between them and us. I held my dad’s hand and told him I love him.
The car ride took us to the Saladin Citadel, located between Old and New Cairo. The view, which mainly overlooks Old Cairo, was spectacular, but what amazed me most was to see how big Cairo is. I couldn’t see the city-limits.
The remainder of our afternoon was spend hanging out on a boat-café, on the Nile, enjoying the view and conversation. By 7:30PM Essam had brought us to the train station, where we hopped on the night-train to Luxor. Before we got on Essam hugged us tightly, looking forward to seeing each other again in five-days time.
As the train rolled out of the station, we tucked ourselves in and went to sleep. Waking up about 10 hours later in Luxor.
Arriving in Luxor at 4:45AM, we got picked up by Achmed, Essam’s friend and fellow tour guide. We immediately started our day with the touristy sights, heading for the Valley of the Kings. We were the first visitors of the day.
This place was magical. The landscape reminded me of Death Valley in the U.S., with sand-like rocks and landscape surrounding us. The sun started to light up the valley as we visited three of the (circa) 60 tombs. You are able to enter the tombs and see the stories/art depicted on the walls. But was was most impressive to me was how well preserved some of the color inside the tombs is, even after thousands of years.
After being mesmerised by the structures underground, we were to be amazed by the nearby above-ground structures. We headed to see the Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple and the Temple of Hatshepsut. The large temple is being restored so it will look like it used to, before time, nature, and Thutmose III took their toll on the place.
Once all of the touristy spots had been covered, we headed to the hotel and started our relaxation part of the vacation. The next couple of hours were spent sitting in the sun drinking Egyptian coffee. Doing absolutely nothing. It felt so great.
The only active thing I had done all afternoon was befriend a ten-year-old Egyptian girl named Jana. We chatted for a bit, but in English, as my small Arabic vocabulary did not compare to her larger English vocabulary.
Before dinner, my dad and I played a game of pool in the lobby. My new friend Jana, together with her brother and cousin, came to watch us play. After my dad won most of the games, we taught the three of them how to play. After pool we went to dinner and headed to bed, exhausted from both “tourist-ing” and doing absolutely nothing.
The next morning, as the alarm went off at 4:45AM, we layered up and headed for the lobby where we got picked up. From the car we got onto a gondola-like boat, which had coffee, tea, and Twinkies (yes, the American ones), and waited to cross the Nile river. We were headed towards a hot air balloon ride. After crossing the Nile by boat, we hopped into the minibus that took us to the hot air balloon field. Here small trucks had big baskets in their trunks, waiting for approval to set up.
Unfortunately there was too much wind to be able to do the hot air balloon ride. Due to an accident a few years ago, the regional airport has to give the OK for the balloons to fly. While we were quite bummed, we didn’t let it spoil our good mood. The morning had been beautiful, the sunrise was stunning, and we got to sit in a cute gondola-like boat and float across the Nile.
Once we returned to the hotel and had breakfast, we were picked up once again and this time headed to the Karnak temple. If there is anything worth seeing in Egypt, it is this. The whole temple, which is now an open-air museum, was built for the Gods. Each pharaoh added to the temple as a tribute, making the area absolutely majestic. The height of all the structures is incredibly impressive too, especially considering the lack of modernised-technology that existed back then.
From Karnak temple we hopped into the minivan and drove four hours through the dessert landscape towards Hurghada. This was our third and final destination in Egypt. The ride itself was very enjoyable. Most of Egypt’s land is dessert, but they have crafted long and winding roads through it nonetheless. I spend all my time looking out the window, observing what Egypt looks like outside of city and tourists limits.
The road took us straight to the Red Sea, where we stayed in the Oberoi resort. This stop was meant to be one for ultimate relaxation… and it absolutely was!! We spend all of our time lying pool-side, sleeping, or strolling down the beach. I also took too many baths, enjoying bubbles and getting in my robe and slippers after. All we did was relax, read, and converse with both each other as well as with other guests.
Our conversations went back and forth from details of my life to details of my dad’s life. We talked about life, about death, about what comes after that. We chatted about the things we saw and the things we still want to see. we talked for hours on end and we enjoyed each other’s company in the silence.
Besides great conversation, the food was also absolutely magnificent. There were different menu’s available depending on the day: an international menu, an Indian menu, and an Arabic menu. One night, for desert, my dad ordered the “Chocolate Pudding” which was just an alternate name for Lava Cake, and it was so incredibly good, he ordered a second one. I helped him finish both.
Our last night in Hurghada was very special. During lunch we had started a conversation with fellow Dutchmen: a father, Edward, with his fifty-something year-old children, Steven and Pien. What started out as a simple conversation quickly became personal and emotional, sharing intimate details about our own lives. But post-lunch activities halted the conversation until dinner. By desert time, we had joined tables and talked until we were the only ones left in the restaurant. Topics weren’t just the simple get-to-know-you stuff. We talked about the work projects my family and I are working on, we talked about families, children, about life, traveling, and death. It was conversations about life and how, no matter what age we are, humans seem to be on a continuous search for who they are. This got me thinking… maybe we’re not so much figuring out who we are as creating who we are.
Apparently the conversation had lingered in all of our thoughts after we said goodnight, as the next morning the conversation continued by the pool side. One of the aspects I had most enjoyed about our conversations was that the age difference didn’t matter. I wasn’t seen as too young, and no one else was seen as too old. It was five adults listening and conversing. Before we said our goodnights, we exchanged contact information to keep in touch and have more conversations about life together.
Last 24 Hours in Egypt
As Essam came to pick us up in Hurghada, we hopped into his dark blue car and headed for Cairo. The journey would be a six-hour drive along the coast of the Red Sea and through the desert. The drive was long but in between my naps there were beautiful glimpses of the Red Sea as well as sand, a lot of sand.
Instead of bringing us to our hotel for the night, Essam had invited us to eat dinner at his home and spend the night. We happily accepted and were very content with our decision. Essam’s wife had made incredibly tasty dinner that consisted of bell-peppers, white eggplant, and purple eggplant stuffed with rice and vegetables, accompanied by fried meet that reminded me of schnitzel. Their two sons seemed curious and happy too, to have strange visitors and a reason to stay up late.
After a good-night sleep, the alarm sounded at 5:45AM. We got up to enjoy some coffee, eat some bread like pastry, and head to the airport.
By the time we got back from the airport to Hilversum, our final destination, we were tired, but the good kind of tired, the way you feel after a long day in the sun with good people around you. We decided to grab a drink before going home, my dad his usual dry-white wine with ice, and for me a hot chocolate.
The rest of the night, and even now, a week after our return, we still enjoy the sweet aftertaste that our beautiful trip left us. We experienced Egypt in some of its different flavours, seeing different areas and meeting different people. We met each other anew, not just as father and daughter, but as friends. What this new bond will bring only time will tell, but I’m excited for the father-daughter adventures ahead, even if they’re not Egyptian!