We love a challenge, I guess it’s why we live the way we do, and although we don’t count countries or boast about how many we’ve travelled, we are well on our way to visiting 50. I expect certain countries to be more difficult, those with no access to safe drinking water are definitely more taxing, but Egypt was on an entirely different level of arduous. Egypt was CHALLENGING and I’ll try to explain why.
Egypt was CHALLENGING. The most onerous we’ve been to yet!
We just spent 10 days back-packing and travelling Egypt. We arrived into the Port of Nuweiba from Jordan and travelled to Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel and Marsa Allam by a combination of mini-bus, taxi and train. We spent approximately 30 hours travelling and covered a fair few kilometres; 2,464km – 1,531 miles <- which doesn’t include all the sight-seeing we did as well.
Let me tell you that nothing, over the entire 10 days, EVER went according to plan. It was just 10 days of sheer frustration; a feeling of constantly being drained of emotional energy through bad encounters and having to be ultra careful. It was very tiring and the further south we travelled the worse it became.
I’ve previously received hate comments….
What I’m going to write won’t please everyone but that’s not what this blog is about. I rarely write contentious or negative posts and having previously received hate comments for our posts on the Tangkahan Elephant Sanctuary as well as What to Know before You Buy in Bulgaria (possibly the only two negative posts I’ve written?), we’re well aware this post might cause a few contentions!
I did deliberate about writing this but then I had at least twenty-five different people agree with me, including a number of friends who said Egypt was their worst holiday ever and they’d never, ever go back. Some of those comments ranged from experiences that happened 2 to 20 years ago which makes us believe that the problems we’ll list below are not new and that nothing has improved in the country over a prolonged period of time.
All of our reasons are subjective, we acknowledge this and we’re happy to discuss any of our points with you, if you’d like.
30 reasons why we found Egypt was CHALLENGING
- The harassment we were subjected to was horrendous. From the moment we stepped out of the port and then our rooms it was near constant. Either tour operators, taxi drivers, camel riders, donkey owners, trinket sellers or people begging would hang off our arms being an incessant nuisance. No definitely meant it was up for negotiation so in the end we found it was better just to ignore anybody who speaks to you. Even then it was no guarantee they wouldn’t pester every member of the family.
- The level of exploitation of tourists is the worst I’ve ever seen and there’s no remorse either when they’re challenged or found out. One man tried to charge us £15GBP/350EG£ for 4 cans of drink <- that’s just one example, I could give you 30 because it was a daily occurrence, everywhere we went. Whether it was being overcharged for bread by a street seller or 40% gratuity added to a meal invoice, you have to be 100% always on your guard.
- I’ve never seen so much trash in all my life. If you’ve ever been to south-east Asia and thought it was bad, this is worse. There are mounds of it everywhere; dredged out of the Nile and the canals that run adjacent to it; overflowing onto the train tracks as we made our way to Aswan, stacked in rising, continuous piles next to the road; it blew through the air at the Pyramids and got stuck in my hair; it was just never-ending!
- We booked a transfer from Nuweiba to Giza but he took us through St Catherines adding 6 hours onto our journey. When we challenged him, it became apparent that he couldn’t read a map and that explained why he was 50 minutes late in collecting us because he couldn’t find the location from my pin drop. Rather than get tours we decided to use Uber in and around Cairo and Giza but none of our drivers could map read and instead insisted on stopping by the side of the road asking for directions even though we said we were map reading and knew where we were going.
- The animal abuse and neglect is astonishingly high and abhorrent to watch. It was in EVERY place we went to. There would be dead water-bufallo littered by the side of the train tracks, we watched a cow being butchered on the road, there were emaciated horses, beaten donkeys, donkeys often run off the road by aggressive drivers, stray dogs kicked, ponies pulling carriages far too big and heavy for their structure, horses with no access to shade or drinking water and most were covered in abrasions and scars. I felt you could not escape from seeing or hearing a level of what must have torture for those poor animals. We had many a conversation with the men who refused to acknowledge a problem, one man even told me his horse was emaciated because it was the tourists fault for overworking it.
- The legal system in Egypt and the way the authorities conduct themselves I find worrying. I was concerned before we went having just watched two Brits die from food poisoning which the Egyptian authorities tried to cover up saying the man was just old and sick and the women had died from a broken heart. Then there was Laura Plummer who was convicted of importing pain killers (despite the medication not being listed as banned on the Gov website) and the Australian man who was jailed for a year with no trial. Journalists jailed with no trial for reporting events… It just led me to have no confidence in the authorities who seem to blame the victim or their legal system.
- I was warned about the driving prior to arrival and having already driven in Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan I was aware of what it would be like. All drivers use their mobiles, none stick to the lanes, most drive with no lights and the quality of the roads is quite possibly the worst I’ve ever come across. Drivers incessantly beep their horns and the noise is unnecessarily overbearing. Not only that but you’ll find roundabouts which join slip roads for dual carriageways, random speed bumps, missing roads, a total lack of patience and a lot of male ego. Our drivers had no respect for working animals on the roads and tried to barge them out-of-the-way and would needlessly drive at people standing on the side of the road having a conversation – especially if they were women. It was all very unpleasant and unsafe.
- It’s been a while since I was in a country where smoking whilst eating was allowed. I find it so disgusting and inconsiderate but they smoke everywhere: on trains, in restaurants & cafes, whilst serving tables, whilst driving. YUK!
- A large proportion of people had a real lack of manners and little to no respect for each other. This was especially true for women and girls (by men) but generally the atmosphere was toxic and hostile. We had quite a few problems with men trying to touch our daughter and making inappropriate comments to her. It wasn’t conducive to a good holiday and I’ve discovered many Egyptians themselves think they can’t be trusted.
- This will make us seem very British but there is an inability to queue and wait their turn patiently. They all push in, in a huge free for all and it doesn’t seem to matter where, in person, on the road, at petrol stations, in restaurants and shops.
- There was a constant threat of pickpockets & theft unlike anywhere I’d ever been. I only once wore my backpack on my back, even though it looks ridiculous on my front, it was far safer and prevented hands from trying to get into the pockets! Which did happen!
- The payment systems in place seem ludicrous. Take for example the Pyramids or the Tombs in Luxor, you needed to pay for your ticket at one window, if you wanted to go into the tombs the payment would often be at a different building or a different window and the first window wouldn’t explain this and if you want to take photographs it’s an extra 300EG£ which requires another ticket. We’d get into attractions only to be told our ticket wouldn’t cover it and we’d need to go back and purchase the correct ticket. When asking for bills the invoice would not be provided as a total cost but a series of number scribblings, possibly in a column, and we’d be left trying to total it before they added something else to it. Was it deliberately confusing? I felt so.
- This was the first time I’d visited a country where I felt that we had to be constantly on our guard. Even when we slept we had systems in place to prevent people entering the rooms. Generally we found people to be untrustworthy and unscrupulous with a devious nature. I felt maybe we might be paranoid but others suggested the same and even some Egyptian people told us to be wary all the time. I guess for me, there was a real lack of genuine hospitality and genuineness.
- The purchasing of train tickets, much like every other ticket was a chore. On the internet we could only buy two first class seats and then later two, third class seats. It’s impossible to buy four tickets. Whilst on the train we tried to upgrade the third class seats to first class seats but this was impossible and instead we had to buy entirely new tickets.
- Egypt is definitely not used to independent travellers and it’s a challenge to arrive anywhere in a timely fashion or really do what you want to without being on a tour. Everywhere we stayed they tried to push tours on us and couldn’t understand when we said we’d be travelling alone. They just couldn’t grasp that it was possible to visit places without being on a tour. In the end we had to relent and booked two tours and they were just as terrible only we paid more money for them.
- Quality and choice of food for vegans was seriously lacking. There was definitely more choice in Cairo than anywhere else but the lack of variety was a bore. Aside from very greasy falafals and hummus there was little to eat and the choice got worse the further south we went.
- Levels of cleanliness are low. Nothing appears to be cleaned or to be cleaned properly and there’s an abundance of dirt everywhere.
- Some people like the call to prayer, some people find it calming but we found it oppressive. Some of the villages and towns we travelled to had no internet and only very poor phone reception, many kids did not attend school and thus the indoctrination of mosques was overbearing. There was no ability to question religion or not partake and my understanding is that it’s illegal to denounce Islam there.
- Making eye contact appears to mean that you’re sexually attracted to someone and even though Rich and I went everywhere together this did not prevent problems. In the end I found it easier to look at the ground as this saved any confusion.
- People would stare at us everywhere we went and I could never figure out why. I covered up the entire time and only had my hair and face on show so it definitely wasn’t because I was “dressed like a prostitute”!
- Public displays of affection are widely discouraged. We made the mistake once of holding hands and got a few looks and comments.
- I repeatedly got WiFi download speeds of less than 1 mbs. The VPNs did not work so often I could not get access to anything that promoted liberalism. The phone reception was terrible and we were crippled with not being able to get local SIM cards. We were actually on holiday in Egypt rather than just our normal travelling which meant we didn’t have to work all the time because that would have been impossible!! Freedom of thought must be difficult there.
- Sadly they just haven’t got on top of their terrorism problem and there are still bombs going off. It does mean you have to be vigilant.
- Maybe because of the terrorism, there is a restriction of freedom of movement. You must get permission to leave the town/city if you want to go anywhere. There are frequent checkpoints and barriers to prevent your freedom and you must always present a signed permission slip to the police to prove you’re allowed to drive. I have no idea how to get these permission slips but if you’re driving you’ll need to allow a few hours extra time because if the police decide to say no, you’re not going anywhere.
- There appears to be no culture of questioning anything. If what we asked questions very frequently the answer would not be known or a government answer would be produced. For example there was a high wall being built on the road down to Abu Simbel, when we asked why we were told “It is for security”. Bearing in mind it was the middle of nowhere, I asked what it was security for and was told “We don’t know”.
- It’s sad to say but they’re also not used to intelligent children who ask questions. At the mummification museum, a security guard was watching our son and asked what he was doing as he was reading a blurb sign. Our son turned round to ask us a question, probably something weirdly profound about mummification, and the security guard was gob-smacked he could not only read but could ask an intelligent question about life and death. He’s 10!
- “Baksheesh, baksheesh” “Why? For what?” “That’s the way here” “But you haven’t done anything! Why should I give you baksheesh?”. Oh my goodness, it might be the way in Egypt but I refused. I am not giving away my hard-earned money for somebody who just stands there with his hand out expecting tips for nothing.
- Why do people spit? It’s the most disgusting thing to do and you have to spend your time walking avoiding piles of gob and hoping nobody spits on you. It’s so horrible.
- Butchering animals in the street was a new experience for me. As a vegan it’s something we’re acutely aware of but to see an entire cow being decapitated on the road was an experience I’d prefer not to see. We also saw a number of water buffalo carcasses rotting, in a mound of rubbish, by the side of the railway on the way from Luxor to Aswan.
- Nothing was made easy. Everything was a challenge. There was no day when we achieved what we wanted to or didn’t feel abused. We left thoroughly exhausted and miserable.
So, are we done with Egypt?
Animal abuse was horrendous
I mentioned very briefly above that the animal abuse was difficult. It wasn’t just difficult it was sickening. One of worst experiences was seeing baby camels transported on a series of about thirty open-backed lorries from The Sudan. Each lorry had roughly forty to fifty baby camels shoved in the back with no shade, no food or water and it often took them over a week to arrive at their destinations in Egypt.
I did ask questions and some of them were destined for the meat industry but most were for tourism purposes. Few Egyptians actually use camels now for manual labour. It’s cheaper and easier to use donkeys.
I’d love it if you could spare two minutes to sign this petition and please don’t ride the animals.
What are your thoughts on Egypt was CHALLENGING?
Have you travelled to Egypt already? Let me know if Egypt was CHALLENGING for you? Alternatively, if you loved Egypt, let me know where you went and why you loved it so much.
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