On the path of pharaohs

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - NORAH COOPER IN­GLE­WOOD, WEST­ERN AUS­TRALIA

“FiI mish-mish!” I cry, us­ing a nice way of say­ing in Egyp­tian, you’ve got to be kid­ding. “Fifty, not 100 Egyp­tian pounds!” And so I suc­cess­fully re­duce the cost of the de­sired ob­ject to the equiv­a­lent of a cup of cof­fee in Perth.

Win­ning the game of hag­gling is mixed with the guilt of know­ing I could eas­ily have paid any amount asked and I would still be rich rel­a­tive to the sell­ers.

A trip to Egypt is con­fronting be­cause of the jux­ta­po­si­tion of our wealth as west­ern tourists and the com­parative poverty of many lo­cals, a scene played out in other de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

We want to see tombs, tem­ples and pyra­mids and are whisked around re­mote parts of Egypt with armed po­lice es­corts of­ten larger than our small tour group of nine, plus ar­chae­ol­o­gist and tour guide Michael, Egyp­tian guide Aziz and driver Yasser. Flash­ing through towns with sirens blar­ing, we are treated like roy­alty.

Fab­u­lous images of the trip come to me — Ger­tie re­splen­dent in bright jal­abiya and head swathed in scarves, ma­jes­ti­cally trot­ting on a don­key to­ward the huge mud- brick walls at El Kab; the glo­ri­ous and un­ex­pected Greek­style mo­tifs in the tomb of Pe­tosiris at Tuna el-Gebel; the mag­nif­i­cent tomb of Seti I in the Val­ley of the Kings; laz­ing on the cov­ered deck of our Da­habiya (nine cab­ins, two sails and no en­gine), sail­ing slowly up the Nile; in­trepid Chris, David and Emma un­ex­pect­edly gal­lop­ing off on camels into the desert as the rest of us trudge through the sand on the way to the ru­ins of the Monastery of St Simeon in Aswan; and the daz­zling colours of the newly re­stored Tem­ple at Esna.

At al­most all sites we are the only west­ern tourists and are quite miffed if oth­ers turn up. Af­ter all, we are se­ri­ous stu­dents of Egyp­tol­ogy, not mere trav­ellers as they are!

Ev­ery­where we are wel­comed by the lo­cals with end­less re­quests for self­ies with us, and lots of laugh­ing and smiles. Niqab-wear­ing ladies ask hus­bands to pho­to­graph them with tour-group women; a quick flick of their gar­ment re­veals smil­ing beau­ties.

As we wan­der around an­cient re­mains, the lo­cal school­child­ren sud­denly start singing and shout­ing to us. “Are they mak­ing fun of us?” I ask Aziz. “No,” he replies. “Ev­ery child in Egypt learns the song, Egypt is a coun­try of tourists, Wel­come to Egypt.” Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au. Columnists will re­ceive a beau­ti­fully boxed set of a dozen 2ml vials of woody, flo­ral and spicy scents from in­ter­na­tional fra­grance house Amouage; $110. More: lib­ertinepar­fumerie.com.au.

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