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Trip Report 33 Days in Egypt/Jordan

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My wife and I are just shaking off the remnants of jet lag and while the memories are still fresh I want to get this posted.

We arranged our trip as "independent travel" rather than with a tour group. We worked out our itinerary for both countries through our wonderful tour guide Ahmed Hamed Yousif, [email protected]

We determined what we wanted to do and see, how much time we wanted to spend touring and what we could afford. We provided Ahmed with these details and he put together a more detailed itinerary and then we went back and forth until we had sorted out the minutia of our tour. Ahmed then booked all the accommodation, site tours, local guides (Ahmed was our guide in Cairo/Giza but sub-contracted with local guides, who were all excellent, for other locations), nile cruise, transfer arrangements to Jordan and took care of any clitches that arose. He kept in regular contact with us as we toured (we paid him to purchase a cell phone/SIM card in advance for use while traveling) to ensure that all was going well and we were satisfied in every way.

Doing all of this arranging for such a long trip, thru 2 countries, visiting a large number of sites, arranging a number of additional "options" (sound and light shows, balloon ride, accommodation upgrades, etc) and booking at least a dozen different hotels was not done fact we probably spent close to a year planning everything with Ahmed, though it certainly could be done in a shorter time frame (we also had 3-day stopover in Germany on the outbound leg in order to have a break in the long flights and to see some of the Rhineland Castles). Despite a downturn in tourism Ahmed remains very busy (as he puts so much effort into his work) and so do give enough time to sort out your plans with him.

Our tour started in Cairo/Giza/Sakkara with Ahmed, moved to Alexandria for a day (local guide), then we flew to Aswan, drove to Abu Simbel, took a 3-day criuse to Luxor, toured the local sites, visited Dendara and took an early morning balloon ride on the westbank (excellent!)...we had a local guide the whole time (Mohammed, a great guy!) for this Upper Egypt leg which worked out very well for us. We flew back to Cairo from Luxor and continued our trip driving thru the Sinai to St. Catherines, climbed Mt. Sinai to watch the sunrise (we had another great local guide, Ahmed, for this part of the trip), drove on to Dahab for a relaxing break in a 5* hotel (La Meridian...excellent!). 3 days later we drove on to Taba, where we were going to cross into Jordan but the Egyptian gov't had stopped all one-way travel from this port so we had to drive to Elat, cross into Israel, taxi thru Elat to the Jordanian border crossing and then walk thu into Jordan where we were met by our driver for the remainder of our trip (Bashar...also a great guy!). This was a bit more of a hassel but worked out fine and as usual Ahmed (from Cairo) made sure everything went smoothly. Just note that if you don't want an Israel stamp in your passport as you are briefly passing thru to Jordan (in case you plan to visit an Arab country like Syria in which case you may not be allowed in), the Israel border police want you to tell them why you want the stamp on a separate piece of paper...they are a bit grumpy about this request but if you tell them the reason they will give you the stamp on a separate slip. The politics of travel!!!

In Jordan we stopped one night in Aqaba, then on to Wadi Rum where we stayed in a Bedouin camp for one night and had a jeep tour thru the desert...spectacular and a must in this most scenic area. Then on to Petra, which was fabulous but sadly eroding away and eventually much will be lost. Then to Karak castle (crusader fort), Mt. Nebo, the Madaba mosaics and a 5* resort break at the Dead Sea (mud on the skin, float like a cork in the water and all that touristy stuff). From the Dead Sea we ended our trip visiting Jerash and touring Amman.

It is expected in some sites that although you have a guide with you, you also use the services of a Bedouin guide if the site is located in Bedouin territory...for our trip this applied for the climb up Mt. Sinai and the jeep ride in Wadi Rum. This supports the local Bedouin people and we found them to be kind, respectful and knowledgeable guides. Well worth the extra tip! In the other antiquity sites Ahmed had arranged tours with the guide we traveled with or in Jordan, as Bashar was not a licensed guide, a local guide took us thru the site (Petra and Jerash).

The biggest risk as a traveler in Egypt (aside from the insane drivers!) is not a terrorist attack but getting sick. We were lucky and careful. Neither of us suffered from serious stomach problems. We did purchase the local remedy, Antinal (which my wife used on a couple of occasions when she felt slightly out of sorts early into our trip, and it worked very is not an antibiotic nor does it work like Amodium but seems more like an anti-bacterial agent...we brought an antibiotic with us but never used it). We did not eat salads and when we purchased fruit we washed it in warm, soapy water before cutting into or peeling it (except bananas). Ahmed in Cairo and the other guides we had along the way were all very helpful in recommending safe places to eat and helping with menu selection. Despite Egypt/Jordan not being well known as "foody" locations, with the help of the locals we enjoyed many fine arabic meals and "fast foods", such as falafel, kofka, tahina and homus...the yogurt was always good. We only drank bottled water which you can buy cheaply in "six packs" and take with you (if traveling by car)...even into hotels which have signs saying no outside food/drink allowed.

The other major concern for the traveler in this part of the world is the quality of the accommodation. Ahmed was very diligent in helping us determine what would best fit with our travel plans/budget. Working with Ahmed and using sites like Tripadvisor to review ratings I feel that all of our hotels met our needs and the few 5* ones allowed us to recoup after days of travel. When we were touring and basically just using the hotel to sleep, they were less luxurious yet comfortable. Standards do vary (showers do not always flow with regular pressure and temp) and you will find differences from western expectations but we found that if there was a problem it could be satisfactorily worked out with the hotel staff. Cairo particularly, is a "culture shock" experience if you have not traveled in developing countries. The hotel we stayed in worked out very well for us (Zayed) as Ahmed said it would but some might find the location a bit disconcerting at first. Cairo is not clean or pretty (again by western standards) and the Zayed is located in a "working class" area. Once we had time to explore, with Ahmed's help in showing us around on our first day, we found the area safe with nice little restaurants, coffee shops and an internet cafe close at hand. The local people were courteous and did not bother westerners wanting you to buy stuff or expecting "baksheesh". Keep an open mind as you travel in order to benefit from the experience and avoid being overly critical of lifestyles and standards which are quite different in some many ways Egyptians/Jordanians cope much better with much less than we ever could in western society and keep their dignity in the process.

That said, be aware that independent travel in both countries means that you will be immersed in the culture of tipping for all services rendered, from the person who carries you bags into the hotel to your driver, tour rep and tour guide and others you encounter as you travel. The livelihood of people who earn very little thru regular employment does depend to a great degree on what they make thru tips in exchange for service. When you travel in a tour group tips are generally handled as a group which avoids individual contact in providing tips. When you travel as we did you must determine with each individual what to add as a tip. Again Ahmed was very helpful in providing guidelines for tipping and always emphasized that it is relative to the service provided. One has to accept this as part of your travel experience, though I must admit that at times (despite my open mind!) it does become a bit wearisome and time consuming in having to think ahead, count out what you will need (finding small currency notes is a challenge) and have it ready to go so as not to cause those awkward moments while you fish around for the right amount and end up handing over a EP20 for a EP5 service!! Most tipees are not waiting for you to tip them and are very humble in their expectations of receiving a tip...particularly the Bedouins who appear downright embarrassed at receiving a well deserved tip.

I can honestly say that for all of the time we traveled we felt completely safe in both our person and our belongings and found the local people kind and more than willing to help where they could...try to learn a few simple terms in Arabic as this is a great "ice-breaker". We did not have any of our valuables stolen and on a couple of occassions, when we left an item behind, folks could not do enough to ensure it was returned!

For us, as with most travelers, Egypt and Jordan offer amazing antiquities and historical interest which is the main draw. For Europeans the 5* resorts are an all-inclusive escape from dreary winters, as Arizona, Florida and Mexico are for North American snowbirds. Despite the cultural differences there is great benefit to seeing in these countries more than just the sites and getting to "experience", as much as any trip allows, the culture and the our lively discussions with the local people covering economics, politics, education, career plans and opportunities, religion and family life we found so much common ground between us...that other reason for travel!

In closing this report I wish to acknowledge that when I began to plan our trip and as plans evolved, I found Tripadvisor and particularly those who reported their travel experiences on the forum sites, very helpful. I contacted several folks directly for further details with very positive results and this was much appreciated and helpful. I also communicated with Cairowendy and very much appreciate the advice offered...Shukran Wendy! And a final Shukran to Mr. Ahmed Yousif for his kindness and hard work! I would be more than willing to respond if anyone wishes further info about our trip.

Safe and Happy travels,

Ma'a salameh (good-bye).

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