Crossroads senior web editor Judy Koutsky arrived in Cairo Jan.
29 to begin a two-week adventure in Egypt, sponsored by Wild Women
Adventures. Armed with a laptop and digital camera, she is
sending on-site reports and photographs back to Crossroads' New
Jersey headquarters on a daily basis (or whenever she can get an
Internet connection). Agents who have questions or advice for Judy
during her trip can send email to [email protected]
CAIRO, Egypt -- Camel riding has a completely different feel
from that of horseback riding. I learned that one hour into my
I arrived here at 2 a.m. after more than 24 hours in transit from
New York. (I had a 12-hour layover in London.) From the plane, I
could see the green lights of the mosques, the twinkling glow from
the roaring metropolis and then blackness, which, I realized later,
After a few hours' sleep, I found myself straddling an
eight-foot-tall camel named Charlie outside the Pyramids of Giza.
(A 15-minute ride costs eight Egyptian pounds, about three
dollars.) The camel drivers -- who were more than happy to take countless
pictures as long as we provided baksheesh, which literally
means "presents," but refers mainly to tips -- were friendly, and
they entertained our endless questions. (Yes, camels trot; yes,
they really do spit vile fluids, and, no, they don't like to be
petted on their heads.)
We walked around the pyramids, trying to comprehend their
enormity. There's been so much written about the pyramids; I think
it's sufficient to say that their sheer size inspires awe, as do
the engineering skills of the ancient Egyptians.
We headed to the Sphinx after a look inside Queen Henutsen's
pyramid. (Thanks to Crossroads reader Ellie Turner, from Happy
Trails, for suggesting a look inside; our guide took us there only
after I proposed the idea.) The total cost to enter the area of the
pyramids and Sphinx is 20 Egyptian pounds (about seven
What was truly amazing -- the wonders before us notwithstanding
-- was the lack of crowds. As agents who sell Egypt know, it's high
season here because the weather is so accommodating (in the 70s
during the day and 40s at night). Usually, we were told, there are
lines in every direction to view these monuments up close. Yet we
walked freely around the whole area, never having to slow down.
I overheard very little English (read: very few Americans). Our
guide told us tourism has yet to recover from the highly publicized
terrorist attacks on tourists that took place in 1997. In September
of that year, nine German tourists were killed in an attack a tour
bus outside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Two months later, gunmen
at the Temple of Hatshepsut ambushed tourists, killing more than
60. I was a bit anxious about this journey due to the travel
announcement from the State Dept. on Jan. 5th, but after this
morning, I was glad I came.
The No. 1 industry in Egypt is tourism, and officials have
worked hard to heighten safety for its foreign visitors. There were
numerous police officers stationed around the pyramids and Sphinx,
and I felt quite safe.
Because the schools in Cairo were on break,
Egyptian families and travelers from neighboring countries were
among our touring companions. From a client's standpoint, this
would be a treat: no lines, no heat and a chance to fraternize with
local families enjoying their holiday.
After spending the morning touring the pyramids and Sphinx, we
headed to a local restaurant for lunch. The Caviar restaurant
specializes in seafood served in spicy sauces. It's a great place
to send clients, because there are many locals who eat here, and
the food is quite good at reasonable prices. (A lunch complete with
appetizers, main course and a beer is about $15).
The afternoon was spent at the Khan El Khalili bazaar. It's
interesting how Cairo is a mixture of two very different worlds.
It's a thriving metropolis complete with traffic jams and throngs
of pedestrians, but one will also find donkey-drawn carts carrying
produce alongside the speeding cars. And, of course, there is the
occasional camel rider navigating the back streets of Cairo.
The Khan El Khalili bazaar is one of the largest outdoor markets
in the Middle East, if not the world. There are hundreds of little
shops selling everything from touristy tchotchkes to beautifully
hand-painted silk scarves. Clients easily could spend an afternoon
here strolling the labyrinth of narrow streets, watching artisans
building, dyeing, carving and sewing. Shop after shop, bursting
with woodwork, glassware, leather goods, perfumes, fabrics and
Pharaonic trinkets can be found here.
One issue that might concern agents is selling Egypt packages to
women travelers. I had heard that it's not wise for women to travel
alone in this country. Although it is best for women to be a part of an
organized tour, I was comfortable wandering away from the tour in
certain locations. For instance, I walked around the bazaar with
another woman (both of us nonintimidating figures under
five-feet-three-inches), and we were fine. The men are a bit pushy
trying to sell their goods, but that can be expected at any large
open-air market. We found a polite "no thanks" and a smile was
enough to defuse a persistent barker.
The dress code here for women, however, should be taken into
consideration. Eighty-five percent of Egyptians are Muslim, and
women dress very conservatively, in long, loose-fitting skirts and
blouses as well as a veil for the hair. (Some also covered their
faces, but I found them to be in the minority.) While I felt
comfortable in loose-fitting pants and long skirts, one woman on
our trip wore a knee-length skirt and was pestered throughout the
In any event, my first day in Egypt was quite eventful. As I
look out onto the Nile -- the Semiramis Inter-Continental, where I
am staying tonight, offers some beautiful views -- I can't help but
be grateful that I did not listen to those who tried to deter me
from visiting such a "dangerous" place. If the rest of the trip is
anything like the first day, I am for even more amazing and
Semiramis Inter-Continental Hotel: 840 Rooms.
Phone: (011) 20-2 355-7171 Fax: (011) 20-2 356-3020. Commission:
10%. Rates: $170 to $190, single; $195 to $220, double. E-mail: [email protected]. Web: www.interconti.com.
The Semiramis Inter-Continental is the second-largest property
after the Cairo Marriott. Its conference center purports to be the
largest in the Middle East. Rooms have phones with data ports. The
property overlooks the Nile and is within walking distance of the
Museum of Egyptology. There are 12 restaurants, conference
facilities for 2,000, a business center and a swimming pool. The
hotel underwent renovations in 1998. This is a great place for
business travelers. I had a few glitches with my laptop, and the
front desk sent up an electrician within five minutes to solve the
problem. The service here is friendly and fast.
Caviar Restaurant: 13 Cairo Alexandria Desert
Road, Cairo Phone: (011) 20-2 384-0355.
The Khan El Khalili: Five El Badestan Lane,
Khan El Khalili, Cairo.
This place is famous for its coffee, desserts and elegant setting.
It's run by the owners of the Mena House (one of the nicer, if not
nicest, hotels in Cairo) and is decorated in traditional Middle
Eastern style. After an afternoon of shopping at the bazaar, this
is a great place to unwind.
Shiraz Trading Co.: 17 om-El-Ghoulam St. Khan
El Khalili, Cairo.
This was my favorite shop at the bazaar. It specializes in handmade
carpets and wall tapestries.
Wild Women Adventures: 152 Bloomfield Road,
Sebastopol, CA 95472. Phone (800) 992-1322. Fax: (707)