Most don’t put the Mideast at the top of their travel to-do lists. Other than Gilbert, our enthusiastic Taliban-poser friend pictured here, many have a negative association with the area. He just came from Iraqi Kurdistan and had nothing but good things to say. I was sold, but Kim would not have it.
I guess we aren’t ready for Iraq after all, but we are sad to have missed Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. We’ll just have to get them on the next world trip.
I had a much different draft of this post, but I decided to scrap my 3,000-word essay on Egyptian and Jordanian culture. Seriously, who was going to read that? Instead, let’s keep it simple.
Cairo is awful. It’s incredibly polluted, overcrowded, segregated (tourists from locals), and frustrating. Not to mention the men look at women “like they want to ravage them”, as someone in our hostel put it. What begins as a friendly conversation with a local ends with being asked to come to his shop to see his papyrus or take his bogus tour. Very annoying. Before you write us off as wusses, know that we usually enjoy gritty cities. Naples, Mexico City, and Izmir aren’t exactly tourists’ paradises, and we had a great time in each of them.
In Cairo, I had no problem walking the streets alone. However, it was a different story when Kim and I were together. Everyone stopped and stared…and not in a friendly or curious way. We never felt unsafe, but Kim would certainly have been harassed if I had left her alone. Except for a group of teenagers, we didn’t have many friendly interactions with the natives. We didn’t hate Cairo, but it easily tops our least favorite cities list.
This begs the question, are the pyramids really worth all this?
Some say Giza is overrated, but I disagree. If you can avoid the corrupt tourist police, t-shirt hawkers, and camel pushers, it is a pretty amazing site. The two other pyramid sites near Memphis are much less crowded and touristy and are well worth a visit. There is very little transportation for independent travelers, so we had to hire a taxi for seven hours to see all the sites.
I’m sure India and Southeast Asia will make Cairo seem like a breeze, but those regions have a great deal of culture to balance the chaos. Besides the pyramids, the only other redeeming quality was the cost. Egypt is damn cheap. We spent a grand total of $180 over four days which included $60 for lodging and $15 for food. That’s right, we only spent $15 for four days of food. When falafel sandwiches are under $1 per person, you don’t need a big budget. And that 7-hour cab ride? Only $35. For me, the prices almost made up for all of Cairo’s negative qualities.
But, not quite. Cairo sucked.
We had an ambitious two-week itinerary planned, but we scraped it due to the high cost, low reliability of the Egypt-Jordan ferry and our tight schedule. We only had a few weeks scheduled for the Mideast and less of Egypt meant more of Jordan.
“Welcome to Jordan!”
Jordanians are very friendly people, and we heard this greeting about ten times each day. The people seemed excited to show off their English skills and often wanted to chat without wanting anything from us. Just like at home, this is election season for Jordanians. We fell asleep most nights to campaign messages blaring, honking horns, and the sweet sound of AK-47s firing in the air. Don’t be alarmed though. Jordan is a very safe country, and besides a bed bug incident in Amman, our visit was trouble free.
Egypt still wins in one department– cost. Jordan is damn expensive. Public transportation is almost nonexistent, and we had to rely on private taxis more than we preferred. Our three hour ride from Petra to Madaba set us back nearly $125. We were kicking ourselves later on when we found a minibus to Amman where we could have transferred to Madaba. The sights are also very pricey. Petra cost $50 per person while Jerash was much more reasonable $11 per ticket. We arrived two days before prices increased to an insane $77/person, so we were thankful for that at least. The individuals themselves, however, aren’t out to scam you as they were in Cairo.
I estimate we hiked about 20 kilometers including 2,000 stairs over our two-day visit. Petra and Jerash are among our favorite sights on this trip, but you should expect some degree of hassle just like at Giza. Donkey taxi drivers, jewelry sellers, and postcard kids are the main offenders. Unlike at Giza, the tourist police quickly boot out misbehaving entrepreneurs. Kim had a hard time with the poverty, animal cruelty, and very poor health of the street kids in both countries. At Giza, we witnessed an Egyptian whipping a horse and its teenage rider equally mercilessly.
Even with Petra’s ridiculous entrance fee, I feel we got our money’s worth. I reserved my budget-fueled rage for the Dead Sea. Apparently, there is only one public beach, and they charge accordingly. On our ride to Madaba, our driver deposited us at the Amman Beach, and we had to decide between missing out on the second saltiest body of water on Earth or paying $50 for two hours of swimming floating. We ended up forking over the 35 dinar fee, and we bobbed for about an hour. I was pissed for the rest of the day, but you really do float effortlessly. Kim could easily sit on my chest and be almost completely out of the water while I sank just a few inches.
In summary, we can’t recommend Cairo on its own merits, but I think the pyramids are worth the trouble. Jordan, however, is great destination, but you better have a big budget. Petra is one of those places you have to see.
Be sure to check out all our photos from Egypt and Jordan on Flickr and watch our hectic Middle East Montage for the highlights:
Tonight, we fly to New Delhi to start our subcontinent adventure. Friday is the first day of Diwali, so we should have a very energetic introduction to India. First priority = Mango lassi.
Posted from: Madaba, Jordan