Alison Harding, our Product Manager for Egypt is discovering what it is really like to travel in Egypt right now and providing live updates of what she is experiencing - find out what she has discovered. Or take a look for yourself and save $150 if you confirm an Egypt trip for travel anytime this year by 10March 2011
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Monday 28th February: "On my way to Luxor - flight is only 2/3 full. There are a few groups of tourists on the flight and a couple of back packers."
Tuesday 1st March 2011: "Arriving late last night into Luxor I went to a cafe and felt a little on edge as I didn't know what to expect. But waking up and exploring the town and the sites this morning, the atmosphere was safe and welcoming. No hassle from street sellers. The agent has been telling me about a huge facebook group called 'Egypt Lovers' where everyone in Egypt involved in the tourism industry is trying to re-assure the rest of the world to come back to Egypt.
It seems to be business as usual - the students will be going back to school and university next week, and the stock exchange will be opening at the weekend hopefully.
Went to the Valley of the Kings today. On a busy day there can be up to 8,000 people there. Today there were only 20! I went to King Tutankhamun's tomb, and I was the only one there - It was just me and the mummy!
Having been here many times before, I would say nothing has changed - but the tourists have vanished!
I am off to Aswan tomorrow, and Cairo on Thursday. I will let you know how I get on"
Wednesday 2nd March: Today I journeyed down alongside the Nile to Aswan. Normal everyday life was going on. I could see the irrigation channels working their magic on the agricultural land, and people tending their crops.
Aswan has to be the most beautiful part of the Nile. All low rise buildings - no tower blocks, traditional ways of life. It is very relaxing.
I have just been shown around a new hotel by our local agent. It is in a Nubian Village on the West Bank of the Nile. It is in a beautiful location with stunning views. I have just been treated to the most perfect sunset overlooking the Nile with Call to Prayer drifting up from the Mosque next door. The hotel itself is really unusual - with traditional handcrafted furnishings - cushions on the floor for the dining area etc.
Everywhere we go, people greet each other like long lost friends. Everyone is talking politics, congratulating each other, talking about how proud and excited they are. There is a real party atmosphere!
Life is returning back to normal, the coffee shops are busy, the shisha pipes are out - and people are buying ALL the newspapers -they want to know EVERYTHING that is going on!
I have only seen three other tourists in Aswan today. I was a bit worried that I was going to get hassled more than usual - but surprisingly I am not getting hassled at all!
Tomorrow I am going to Cairo and on Friday I am going to try and get to Tahrir Square - where it all happened! It seems to have become a bit of a pilgrimage site for Egyptians and a tourist spot for foreigners. It will be great to be able to say 'I was there'!
At the moment I am walking through the Nubian village, and there are groups of young girls smiling and waving at me and calling out 'Hello'. They are so sweet!
Speak again soon.
Thursday 3rd March: Last night I wondered round the market in Aswan. It was very pretty and had a really nice atmosphere. It was very fragrant and colourful as you would expect a spice market to be - but absolutely no tourists!
This morning I took the short flight to Cairo. It has just as much traffic as I remember there being before - chaotic as usual! One thing that is missing though are all those posters of Mubarak - they have all disappeared. And there are people selling '25th January Revolution' souvenirs everywhere!
The Prime Minister stepped down today and I get this impression that this is important for the country's recovery.
I may not be able to make my trip to Tahrir square tomorrow as there may be another gathering there - but I will let you know how I get on.
Friday 4th March: Last night whilst walking back to my hotel in downtown Cairo, I came across a tank! The hotel backs onto the stock exchange and there had previously been trouble there, but everything is fine now – it was just a bit of a shock!
Every morning the newspapers seem to be reporting a new scandal – a bit like when our MPs expenses scandal was going on. Key figures in the country are being reported as being corrupt, and the Egyptians aren’t standing for it anymore.
Early this morning I made my way down to Tahrir square and had the most amazing experience! I got patted down and had my bag searched by friendly female officials. They make sure no-one takes any weapons in there and it is in fact a very peaceful demonstration. There are lots of people camping out there as part of their demonstration and there are people selling tea and snacks. I bought some Egyptian flags and got the tour leader I was with to take photos of me waving them - which the Egyptians were delighted to see. I am so glad I went. I really feel like I was part of something.
There are warm and friendly people everywhere I go in Cairo – I feel so welcome here.
After Tahrir Square, I went to the area where the Egyptian Museum is, and even though the National Democratic Party Headquarters next to it is completely burnt out, the Egyptian Museum seems fine!
I then headed out to Giza to the Pyramids – I had 7 Explore tour leaders with me – and people thought I was some sort of VIP or celebrity! Up to 10,000 people a day visit the Pyramids, but today there were only 15 tourists. This nice thing was, there were lots of Egyptians taking the opportunity to enjoy their heritage and their day off by visiting The Pyramids themselves.
I found out two very lovely things today. The first is that the demonstrators are cleaning up after themselves and re-painting everything. They plan to move out of Tahrir Square after today – but it will always be somewhere they can voice their opinions – Tahrir does mean ‘Liberation’ after all!
Secondly, I found out that the Coptic Christians guard the Muslims from potential attack while they pray in the demonstration area, and vice-versa! They are presenting such a united front – they ALL want stability and a country with no corruption.
Going forward, the Egyptians know it is going to take a long time to set up their democratic processes and elect a new government, but the most important thing for them is they have found their voice and a freedom of speech they never had before which they can use going forward.
The message coming loud and clear now is ‘send us the tourists’! All Egyptians are very keen to have tourists come back soon, not just for their economy, but because they enjoy their work.
My final impression of Egypt is that the Egyptians are very optimistic, proud of their achievements and welcoming and they are ready for the tourists to come back.
My plane leaves soon and I am very sad to be leaving, but feel very lucky to have had this experience.
Ma-salaama from Egypt.