For the last eleven years in Egypt, independent travel to places like Abydos or Denderah was forbidden by the government. Numerous cities could only be visited by tourists who traveled together in armed convoys. Happily this decade-long restriction has been lifted. This might seem like ironic news in light of the recent horrific events in Mumbai, but it is a very good sign – for both Egypt and travelers anywhere.
I first traveled to Egypt just a few months after the terrible massacre at the temple of Hatshepsut in 1997. As a matter of fact, I was with the first sizable group to travel into the country, six months after that attack. Appropriately enough, it was a spiritual group. Needless to say, security was at an all-time high then. I felt like we were this giant hedgehog rolling through the country, all bristling and armored on the outside (we were constantly surrounded by cops and soldiers) but soft and pink and vulnerable underneath. I felt that we were being brave and doing something important. It was that trip that started me down the path I am on today, and that made me realize that something as simple as being a tourist could, somehow, be important.
I remember our visit to Abydos, one of the cities that will be the most positively effected by the lifting of these restrictions. We were the first tourists to visit the town in six months and the entire population poured into the streets to greet our buses. The insides of shops were covered in a flour coating of dust and sand from the months of disuse. Shopkeepers almost wept as their life’s blood started flowing again. It was powerful. And buying useless junk has never felt so good. I bought stuff for people I hadn’t spoken to in years, just to have an excuse.
In all of my many return visits since, the convoys, and all they entail, have been a defining feature of the Egyptian experience. So it will be odd to return at the end of December to an Egypt I’ve never experienced before.
This is a tremendous object lesson for all of us – travelers, government, citizens. It proves that normalcy can, and will, return in the face of terror, so long as we demand it and continue to travel no matter how much they try and stop us.
Beth Whitman, over at Wanderlust and Lipstick, just wrote a great article about why you should still travel to India. I couldn’t agree more. Many of the places that Spirit Quest travels to have been subjected to terror – Egypt and Bali for instance – and I know some people won’t consider going for those reasons, but the truth is that our homes and highways are much more dangerous places.
So I am happy to hear the great news about Egypt. And I am happy to be reminded that something as simple as being a tourist can be an act of bravery that can help to change, and heal, the world.