One of the main perks of going to Egypt in January is that its off season, so very few tourists around. The week of the anniversary of the revolution is particularly cheap for obvious reasons. After only one year, people were nervous to see what would happen during the days surrounding January 25th, particularly in Cairo. This meant that I could get a very last minute trip to Sharm el Sheikh knowing it would be deserted.
My hotel was nearly empty as were the streets and beaches, so the snorkeling was out of this world. With very few people swimming the abundance of fish was even more extreme. For my first real experience of one of the world’s largest reefs, this got me instantly hooked. In one boat trip I saw more varieties of marine life than I have done in all other sites around the world combined. Learning how to free dive down also gave me the opportunity to see octopus. I even managed to spot huge rays, which gave me a huge new incentive to learn to dive.
Given that it was winter, the evenings came early so I had to take an obligatory trip to a bedouin camp to ride camels and star gaze. Being out in the mountains gave way to minimal light pollution, making the Milky Way stand out like a saw thumb. I decided to brave it up to Cairo knowing that the tourist sites would be as empty as they would ever be and jumped on a coach full of Russians. I had explicitly arranged to get my passport stamped en route before crossing the Sinai border into Africa. When the time came to approach border control, I was removed from my seat and put in a toilet under the stairs with my passport. Armed guards proceeded to check every single passenger. There was only one empty seat on board, mine. I could not lock the door because the toilet in use light would have alerted the guards. As a white western female alone in the desert without any Arabic to hand, I was dying of fear. My heart was beating our of my chest and it was the longest 5 minutes of my life.
The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities was mind blowing. I could have spent days in there alone, but the atmosphere was tense. Seeing the shell shocked buildings surrounding Tahrir Square on the way in was a blunt reminder that everything was still raw. The pyramids were spectacular at sunset. With so few people around, I knew how fortunate I was to see the site so empty. I’ve been fascinated with Egypt ever since my aunt gave me a papyrus bookmark painted with hieroglyphics as a child. It is still my bookmark to this day and it felt surreal seeing sites first hand were such fascinating civilizations thrived. It is unthinkable to imagine how advanced ancient cultures were in every aspect of life, yet many millennia on people are slaughtering one another in the streets. Cairo is a deeply fascinating city and I would love to return to explore further with the correct passport approval in hand.