First of all I’d like to say thank you to all the new visitors to this blog who are being directed through my website www.thesummerholidayofalifetime.com which is a website geared towards backpacking with kids. But I’d also like to welcome back those who follow us every year; some of whom have followed us from day one. And so as the 2013 trip begins I extend a warm welcome and a heartfelt thanks to you all.
…This time I have done things differently, not only are we accompanied by Jack but also I wanted to try and offer Charlie a new level of maturity and almost self sufficiency. Not because it is easier for me (though it is) but because last year he slipped so seamlessly into the role of travelling and almost naturally took on a self imposed autonomous role.
It meant a little juggling around and so I replaced my 35 litre bag with a large 70 litre mammoth backpack and bought Charlie a 25 litre pack that fitted the requirements of hand luggage on most airlines. And on this trip, where we have some 15 flights that makes a difference as I now have just the one hold baggage to pay for. Across all the flights I have saved about £100 in baggage fees giving Charlie a cabin baggage sized pack.
Anyway, the point is that in Charlie’s bag, is just Charlie’s stuff. The only time I expect to deal with his things is laundry, and he loves it. He has stepped up to the plate completely and taken on his independence with a level of maturity far older than his eleven years.
So we are now into the first week ok the the trip and so far things have gone suspiciously and seamlessly well. Our train left Wakefield on time, arrived in London on time, we scooted through the underground without any hassle whatsoever and took the train to Gatwick with absolute ease. We checked into our hotel around 5pm and by 5.30pm I was in a beer garden watching the kids play and putting away an ice cold Stella Artois.
The following day started with an all you can eat full breakfast (where Charlie actually ate all he could) and then we slipped through the airport like we were covered in WD40 courtesy of the family lane at Gatwick Airport.
We arrived at our gate about 30 mins prior to the flight, boarded and left on time. It was the last flight until September and yet just a third full. We landed in Luxor early, avoided the visa scam (paying just $15) and not £15, walked out of the hotel and met Sayeed (A friend) who banged us in a minibus and took us straight to the place we are staying. Within no time we were on the hotel roof, 46 degree temperatures and looking out over the West Bank suspicious at just how seamless things had gone. Laid on the mattresses I listened to the call to prayer echoing around the city, Egypt had sprung to life from a quiet day in Ramadan to a bustling Arab city illuminated with ancient culture. Then the tranquility of an idyllic Egyptian evening was interrupted by bursts of gunfire.
Egypt is still having issues that have plagued it on and off since the revolution in 2011. Though Luxor has remained largely unfettered by the troubles I was still unsure about coming here. The issue is that I have onward travel booked and I just could not make things work without incurring massive costs. It helped that we are staying with friends and so prior to travel I had first hand local updates about how things were developing. But now it seems things are taking a different turn.
Luxor is like most Egyptian cities that straddle the Nile, on the Eastern side you have the main part of the city, with a west bank populated mainly by villagers. The main entry point to the east bank in Luxor is a place called Al Gezira and is where the local ferry offloads everyone from the east bank including tourists looking to mooch around the best of Luxor’s Egyptian history.
It turns out there is a fuel shortage on the west bank and so everyone had no choice but to queue at the petrol station and wait in line for fuel. After a while the queue was some 5km long. In a country already racked with tensions you can imagine how, when after queuing for 8 hours drivers were told the was no fuel left, it kind of pissed them off. Go back a few years and the worst you would have expected was a sweaty sandal making its way across the forecourt toward someone’s face at speed. But times are that hard ain’t no one throwing their sandal. And so now the locals have taken to venting their anger with guns. But not just anger at having queued all day in near fifty degree temperature only to be blown out. But anger at the whole situation, anger at having no fuel, no tourists, no money, no food, no elected government and a country that to many is on the verge of civil war. Many might argue that the only reason things have chilled out is that because it is Ramadan, but as a tourist walking around I sense tensions. That said, and in fairness to the Egyptian people we have been welcomed with open arms with people greeting us as we walk around with ‘welcome to Egypt’ we have sensed much more gratitude and graciousness than hostility. In a city that has absolute nothing going for it other than its tourism industry which has now been all but abandoned, people are not just feeling the pinch, but facing absolute ruin and complete desperation. The tourism industries solution? Raise the price of entry from an already extortionate amount to plain daylight robbery.
To many this probably makes sense, less tourists = less income = less likely to break even therefore raise prices = increased income = more likely to break even. And if it was that simple I might understand. But in a country where money is king, where every day starts and ends with an attempt to make as much felucia as possible I can’t help thinking that the tourism department are simply rats jumping a sinking ship and clawing what they can, whilst they still can.
In 1997 over 60 tourists were beheaded at the Temple of Hatshepsut in an act of terror by a group which was essentially an off shoot of the recently over thrown Islamic Brotherhood. At the time of the attacks the locals in Luxor came together in an act of solidarity against what had happened. Furious that this would happen in their city they sent their hearts out to the international community that this was not welcome in Egypt, this was not their Egypt, this was terrorism. But they suffered, tourists stayed away for a long time and Luxor suffered badly. But slowly things improved and whilst the tourists forgot about what happened in 1997 the locals didn’t. And so when the Islamic Brotherhood took power in Egypt promises of a united Egypt were taken with a pinch of salt. Then earlier this year in an almost unthinkable move, President Morsi (Egypt’s recently overthrown president) decided to make the head of the Luxor Tourism board the man at the centre of the terrorism attacks in 1997. He rocked up to the Iberotel ready to take office but was barricaded in the hotel by the Luxor people furious at his appointment. The anger was such that he never actually took office and made a quick (and some might say lucky) get away out the back door.
The sad reality is that Egypt has never been far from the headlines and some might assume that this is indicative of the Egyptian people, but what you have is 85 million people craving a future, one not defined by anyone but themselves and their own aspirations. Where every dream can become an achievement, where there is hope, belief and most importantly – peace.
And it seems to me that until someone can guarantee these basic rights that we take for granted in the UK, the problems in Egypt are far from over and perhaps, as many believe this is the beginning of the end for Egypt and that what lay ahead is not a bright future, but a tormented misery and another chapter in the Arab Spring.