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Trip Report Samir Abbass and Real Egypt Tours

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I planned a trip to Egpyt with my family this year and was determined to do so completely independent of travel agents. One of the most difficult choices was to find a guide for Cairo. Samir Abbass was our final choice and I'm so glad we went with him. I hope that by posting this review about him and Real Egypt I might save you some time if you are trawling the internet trying to find a guide who will not only enlighten you about Egpyt's past and present, but also be someone who it's a genuine privilege to meet.

We were lucky in our tour of Egypt to have a number of excellent guides. Samir Abbas is not excellent, he is outstanding. Without doubt he's the best guide I have ever had the great fortune to meet, anywhere in the world. Why is this so?

Initially, it was very difficult to choose a tour guide for Cairo using Trip Advisor as so many tour guides came highly rated. I e-mailed 9 in the end, explaining what we wished to see and everyone replied very quickly, apart from Samir, who was taking people on a tour of Sudan at the time. I waited for his reply because a previous reviewer had talked about Samir, not just as a great tour guide, but as a man who it was a genuine pleasure to meet and this was an important consideration for us if we were going to spend a deal of time in someone's company.

When his reply came it was by far the most detailed of any we received. He sent us a comprehensive itinerary of the two days we needed him, showing great sensitivity to our plans. His website invites you to specify the places you wish to visit and the experiences you wish to have, but an e-mail allows you to be even more specific. Our particular wish was to meet Egyptian people and understand the culture and society of Egypt as well as the country's past.

We arranged to have a simple airport transfer to Hotel Langchamps in Zamalek (I'd thoroughly recommend this hotel - the area Zamalek is something of an oasis in the urban sprawl of Cairo). Two days before Samir arranged for us to have help through Cairo airport, which he normally charges extra for, but he made free for us. When arrived Waheed, his airport meet and greeter had completed our entrance Visa forms for us already and whisked us through immigration in a matter of moments. Usri, his driver navigated the bonkers Ramadan traffic brilliantly and Samir phoned us in the mini-bus to check that all had done well. I sensed then that our time in Cairo would be very special indeed and so it proved.

Words cannot do proper justice to the experience of the next two days. They were among some of the best days of our lives and by the end of it we had made a great friend, who we continue to keep in touch with and very much hope to meet again.

Our first day involved visits to the three great Pyramid sites of Saqqara, Dashur and Giza. I would thorougly advise seeing the Pyramids in this chronological order as you gain a real sense of how the design of Pyramids evolved. Saqqara and Dashur are rarely visited by the tour buses so they have a much more relaxed feel than Giza. Samir engaged our interests from the outset with his story telling approach to ancient history. He also held our 14 year old son's interest with questions to earn him scarab beetle prizes. Samir holds a Masters degree in Egyptology so he was able to find stories in the hieroglyphics and taught us some basics in reading them, which also endeared him to our code loving mathematician son. He was also a former professional basketball player, which is why he's one of the few people I've had to look up to. It didn't take us long at all to get along with him, so affable and good humoured a person he is. A running gag about the number of things that Egyptians had invented, windows, flat packed furniture, cricket, bull fighting, the olympics...grew and grew.

At Giza, astounding though the Pyramids and Sphinx were as spectacles, what lives longest in the memory is the tiny tomb he showed us, belonging to a priest. Only my wife could stand upright in it. All around us, hoards of tour parties besieged by touts tramped in baking heat, while for a number of blissful minutes, allowed us space for quiet contemplation of the past, reading the hieroglyphics that documented this man's life and his preparation for the next. This was typical of our tour with Samir. He will take you to places you would never find on your own and give you a unique perspective on the country, past and present, as a result. Samir has been deeply involved in the Egpytian revolution and in so many encounters with Egpytian people you feel his passionate committment to improving his beloved country's future. At the Sphinx, Samir introduced us to Esmeh, a young girl who has to pay for her afternoon school lessons so she can pass her exams and he lent her her his very expensive camera to take some pictures of us, which both he and we paid her for. This is something he does to help children who want to help themselves through work rather than begging.

Our second day was, if anything, even more remarkable. Beginning at the Citadel, Samir told us the fascinating rise to power of Muhammad 'Ali and how the boxer Cassius Clay took his name, without realising the sinister side to the ruler's reign. After lunch at Felfela, we toured Medieval Cairo and spent a serene hour in a local mosque, where children played and locals read or sat in quiet contemplation in the heat of the day. We had dressed appropriately for the day and my wife wored a headscarf out of respect for the culture, which caused one young boy, Ahmed to enquire if my wife was fasting. It was a very sobering for my grammar school son, Sam, to hear from Ahmed, the same age, how he could not go to school because he had failed his exams and wasn't able to afford the afternoon lessons.

Using some bizarre haggling phrases I had learned from the internet, one of which means 'Never - unless in the apricot season (which hardly ever occurs) and 'Do you think I was born behind a Water Buffalo' (i.e. born yesterday) we caused a lot of merriment when bargaining for a bag for my wife. Our encounters with local people in the Old Quarter of Cairo were so memorable and we will cherish them always. People were so friendly and welcoming and there was not a single tourist in site. The day culminated with a fish feast to break the people's fast as night fell, with the local community sat at countless tables in the street. Samir, I should say had been conducting this entire tour while fasting so it was a honour to sit with him while he broke his fast and sample the most delicious fish bought directly from the fishmongers opposite.

From Cairo we journey onto Luxor and Samir continued to offer assistance, recommending 'Electrolite (Dioralite) powders to combat dehydration in the heat; organising another truly memorable evening helping to prepare and eating a meal with a West bank farming family; a restaurant like no other!

Samir's accounts of the revolution and the sacrifices he has made put your own life into sharp relief. It was humbling to hear how readily ordinary Egyptians put their lives at stake to secure freedom from tyranny. If anyone deserves success in the dawn of this new era, it is this man. His great wish is to own his own farm.

He has a degree in agriculutre so it's far from a pipe dream and his services as guide are used by foreign diplomats and US Senators. Use him while you can. It's a privilege and a real pleasure to know him and if you can find a better guide then I'm a gamusa. (translation: Water Buffalo!)

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