Egyptian Superstitions: Part 7 of series

So it is MONDAY, meaning we resume the already-popular The World’s Superstitions series! Today we travel to the sands of the Sahara, all the way through the Middle East and grab a list of Egyptian superstitions! The coolest thing about today’s feature is that I have included both ancient Egyptian and modern Egyptian superstitions to see how they compare. Cool huh?! So let’s do this! If you have any suggestions for future Monday cultural tidbits posts please let me know with a comment below! Any feedback is appreciated!

* Failed in a relationship or your studies? According to Egyptian superstitions, someone cast a spell on you (aka black magic)!

* In Ancient Egypt, newborns were not bathed for 2 weeks in order to ward off the evil eye

* Newlyweds: Want a pinch of good luck for your marriage (literally)? Then make sure the bride is pinched by all women on her wedding day!

Ancient Egyptian superstitions

Why all the blue turquoise on this pectoral of Ramses II? Keep reading!

* Ancient Egyptians believed that suddenly awakening someone was truly dangerous and had to be avoided. Why? There was a high risk that the person’s soul could leave the body in the process — yikes!

* Guess what? It was Egyptians who originated the belief that cats have nine lives! Not only part of Egyptian superstitions anymore, but rather worldwide superstitions nowadays!

* As in every other country we have previously featured, black cats are bad omens. However, as a unique Egyptian superstition, owls are also bad news!

* While it is universally believed that walking under a ladder is bad luck, ancient Egyptians actually placed ladders inside the tombs of deceased kings in order to help them “climb heavenward”! What a contrast, eh?

* According to both ancient and modern Egyptian superstitions, the figure of a blue bead, blue eye and a human palm wards off from evil. Sounds familiar? Of course, just like the Palestinian hamza! In fact, this belief is widespread throughout the Arab world (aka north Africa and the Middle East)

* Ancient Egyptian women believed that throwing some salt over their shoulder (or even gasp while broiling garlic!) prior to cooking a meal would make it taste delicious. I gotta try that one out…

* To an Egyptian, leaving scissors open or a pair of shoes upside down bring bad luck, so make sure you never do this in their presence!

* According to ancient Egyptian superstitions, blue turquoise protects you against the evil eye and bad luck. Thus, wear it all the time! (funny: This has actually been my favorite color since I was very young! Lucky me!)

* A general interesting fact? Most (if not all) modern Egyptian superstitions are “contained by faith in Allah”

And that shall be all for Egyptian superstitions, ancient and modern! Next Monday I shall have a new [surprise] country and its nice list of superstitions! If there is a particular country you would like me to research, tell me in your response so I take it into consideration! (Hint: I will write about every country I am provided ;))

Previously featured countries:
Puerto Rico
India
France
Australia
Palestine
Mexico

Got more Egyptian superstitions? Share them in a comment below!

My Travel bucket list: Manatees swimming, Abu Simbel temple, Rome!

Whether you call it a bucket list, or travel bucket list, or things to do before I die; or if you simply call them dreams or goals: Everybody has one of those “lists,” either written on paper, on a computer, in their mind, or in their heart. My bucket list has always involved traveling, and so I have called it the travel bucket list (part 1!). It contains my written dreams and goals yet to accomplish. However, in the past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to cross some “items” out! And so here, for the first time ever, I make it openly public! Btw, all crossed-off items on this entry are clickable! So if you wish to hear more details and tales about each experience on this travel bucket list, click on any bullet point (opens in new window, btw)! Here they are, in no particular order:

* Visit Egypt and see all the Pharaonic temples, particularly Abu Simbel

travel bucket list, Abu Simbel temple

Egypt – check!

DONE! Some tough decisions, sacrifices and several drafts later, I won a $20,000-dollar scholarship to go live in Egypt for a year and study Arabic full time (2008-2009). It’s been, so far, one of the most challenging, yet most amazing experiences of my life. I learned so much not only about the world around me and Islam (at a particularly tough time), but also found myself there. Granted, the only thing planned about this was my dream of visiting Egypt ever since I first saw a picture of Nefertiti [CLS essay stuff here]. I prefer the modified package, though! *wink* =D

* Swim with Manatees

travel bucket list, swim with manatees

Swim with manatees – check!

You heard all about it the other day! This item was crossed off thanks to one of my best friends, Josh. We headed to Crystal River (Florida, USA), rented a boat, grabbed a map and went were they were! Gentle, adorable mammals who don’t mind being close to humans =)

* Swim with dolphins…and whale sharks and manta rays and seals and…

My list of swimming with marine creatures is so long that it could easily serve as my entire travel bucket list itself. While I could easily cross off dolphins by going to any aquarium it seems like these days, I do not want to condone keeping these creatures in captivity. Namely, I want to swim with them in the wild–wouldn’t that be more amazing anyway!? With the dolphins I plan to play with when I go back to Israel, as around Eilat there is a place where dolphins come and go as they wish and the love interacting with humans, called Dolphin Reef Eilat. As for whale sharks, I think I want to go far far away–like Palau or Indonesia =D for manta rays, I hear Manta Ray city in Grand Cayman is quite popular, but I may head to a different place where I could do it at a lower cost *wink* seals? Probably a good one to cross off while diving in Galápagos Islands. As for other creatures, I can’t think of all of them right now, but if you got some write them down in a comment because some might escape me!

travel bucket list, Old Jerusalem

The Holy lands: Check!

* Visit the Holy Land, Israel & Palestine

I know, disputed territories and decide what’s the actual “proper” name — I give the name to both and that’s it, people that want to fight can keep fighting if they want–I won’t! Anyhow, this item has been on my list ever since I first heard about Jesus and performed my very first prayers. Raised as a Catholic, but now a non-denominational Christian after some soul-searching, this is a special place for sure. In fact, no matter what religion you are or are not part of–Jerusalem and the Holy Land have a different vibe to it that makes it truly unique. Even if for history’s sake, these lands must be in several travel bucket lists I’m sure–and with a reason. I am so happy I was lucky enough to visit twice in 2009, and one of those times was during a special Muslim holiday, Eid el Adha. You may click here for details about my first trip or on the bullet point above to read about my experiences during both of my trips there on my Travel The Middle East website.

travel bucket list, Backstreet Boys cruise

Backstreet Boys? Check! Im in the white-and-blue dress!(click for full size)

* Meet the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, and the Spice Girls

So you might be thinking, how is this possibly travel-related? Well, the way I met them! I went on a Backstreet Boys cruise. You heard right: A Backstreet Boys cruise. Not only did I meet all of them several times, but I also got called on stage during the beach party to limbo dance with them and had some, umm, intimate moments with one of the members, HOWIE! Yes, you can laugh and point at me and call me teenybopper all you want, because *makes Arnold Schwarzenegger accent* I don’t caaaare! lol. Unfortunately though, I haven’t met Ms Spears nor the Spice Girls; though I did go to a concert and see the Pop Princess pretty up close. Soooo, Spice reunion pending!

travel bucket list Colosseum, Rome

Rome – check!

* Visit Rome & as many parts of the ancient Roman empire as possible, sp Tunisia

I can’t begin to explain my obsessions with Rome. Just like the Egypt and its pharaohs, the Roman empire made its way into my heart at an early age as well. While the empire was huge, I at least have already made it to its center: Rome. Couldn’t have been any more exciting when I finally made it there! I traveled solo, as I usually do, and Couchsurfed for about 4 days. All in all, an unforgettable experience indeed =) still though, many other locales to go!

And that shall be it for my travel bucket list, part UNO! I think I’ll make it habitual and every Wednesday post will be about my travel bucket list. What do you think? =)

What’s on your travel bucket list? What have you crossed off already?

How to dress in Egypt or any conservative country

Hello ladies and gentlemen! Through a photo essay, I will show you how to dress in Egypt (or any conservative country) and (almost) pass as a local.

Overview

Let me be clear: How to dress in Egypt doesn’t really matter–if you don’t care about the attention. Egypt is no Saudi Arabia, so it is not like police will stop you if you happen to be wearing a skirt and a tank top.

However, you will get a lot of attention from the men.

Then tourists complain about how “vicious” the cat calls are etc etc.

See, dressing a certain way doesn’t mean the tourist deserves that treatment, but being sensitive to the culture is simple respect from you, the tourist. Plus, if this respect for the culture translates into a smoother, more pleasant stay, why not do it?

Thus this guide on How to dress in Egypt by yours truly.

I lived there.

Because of my looks, I could even pass as an Egyptian in 99.9% of situations. While my looks and Arabic studies certainly helped, I have to say that my dress boosted my “success rate” significantly. And so, I’m trying to help you out! Hope you find this photo essay helpful and feel free to contact me if you have any additional questions or concerns!

Men? Simply follow this one rule of thumb:  Wearing a t-shirt (or long-sleeve) that isn’t too tight and pants will always be a safe bet. Just cover your shoulders and knees. Follow this simple “guideline” and you won’t have any problems whatsoever (or any risk of offending anyone at all).

Now the ladies

how to dress in Egypt

How to dress in Egypt?

Photo 1 verdict: WRONG! My friend on the left was dressing European. While in the beach towns of Sharm El Sheikh and perhaps Dahab this outfit would be ok, you would attract much more attention elsewhere in Egypt. So, if your stay is outside these beach towns, do not dress like lady on the left. What about lady on the right?

While the white long-sleeve under the green tank top is not only conservative, but an actual fashion statement in Egypt, the shorts ruin this outfit.

You should always thrive to cover at least your knees.

You could wear skirts, but wear leggings underneath in order to cover your knees. Same with shorts.

To be even safer? Cotton pants. An example:

how to dress in Egypt

Perfect!

In this picture, I am wearing the long-sleeve top underneath a sleeveless top and jeans, covering all bases.

Additionally, I’m even wearing my hair in a low ponytail with a hat.

This is even better, as hair down (sp us gals with long locks) also attract much attention from men, who think it is very sexy (and not showed enough in public by Egyptian women).

While this picture was taken during my trip to Israel, I used to dress like this all the time while living in Egypt.

how to dress in Egypt

How to dress in Egypt: Hair up in a bun, covered mostly by a hat. Just like local girls do!

how to dress in Egypt

Wearing a tank top? You could also cover up with a scarf

On the photo above, while I am wearing a tank top, I still cover my shoulders with a scarf. This is particularly useful if you are staying in a very Western resort and want to have a tank top, but then cover up for a quick walk in town. It is also great for the hot Egyptian summers.

On a different note, while my pants are very bright, I actually bought them in an Egyptian store. Bright colors might bring a bit of attention, but if you are covered up and your clothes aren’t tight, they shouldn’t be a problem.

how to dress in Egypt

How to dress in Egypt: Use a piece of cloth that doubles as head covering and scarf

To beat the heat, sometimes I would wear a scarf over my head if the top I was wearing covered my shoulders. Black probably was not a good idea (hehe) as it attracts heat, but it is better than uncovered head.

Also, if the shirt I happened to want to wear didn’t have sleeves, I would choose a longer piece of cloth so it could double as head covering/scarf.

Specially women with dark hair like mine: cover your heads if you are out in the heat on a long day of touring in the desert! I didn’t follow this advice my first day out at the Pyramids of Giza in August and I almost had to be taken to the hospital due to heat stroke (obviously, drinking water every couple of minutes is also essential in days like these).

how to dress in Egypt

How to dress in Egypt: Me wearing an Egyptian galabeya during Eid

how to dress in Egypt

Ami, Laura and me wearing full-length galabeyas in Morocco

Ready to look even more like an Egyptian? Then buy a galabeya.

Doesn’t have to be full-length, although you could try that too!

In one of the pictures from above, I am wearing a galabeya top and jeans that while not full length, still cover my knees. I had two galabeyas: One orange, one pink (both pictured). The long-length Moroccan one was borrowed 😉

Usually, I would wear them in special occasions (or when going to the hamam in Morocco), such as during an Eid or when invited to an Egyptian (or even Moroccan: Used them in Morocco too!) family’s home.

how to dress in Egypt

Me at Hussein Square, Khan el Khalili during Ramadan

During Eid, Muslims tend to wear bright colors in celebration, so what more fitting than wearing a bright-colored galabeya if you travel the Middle East during times such as Ramadan?

Want more examples and look ideas? Here are a few! And remember: All these looks are appropriate for travel to any Muslim or conservative country:

how to dress in Egypt

Still want to wear that summer dress? Just wear a pair of leggings! Picture: Agadir, Morocco)

how to dress in Egypt

Simple and “western” – but still appropriate (me in Marrakech, Morocco)

how to dress in Egypt

Hat, scarf, long-sleeve *and* skirt – the best look! (me in Fez, Morocco)

how to dress in Egypt

Wore it at the Vatican, wore it in Egypt & Morocco too!

how to dress in Egypt

Might be a little too tight, but OK in a classroom setting (me in Palestine)

Hope you find my tips on how to dress in Egypt (or any conservative country) helpful!

Got additional tips on how to dress in Egypt or conservative countries?

The Hijab in Islam: What’s your take? (interviews)

Hijab in Islam: What are the different interpretations? Keep reading!

Hijab in Islam, different views

Hijab in Islam: Differing views (Orrling, Wiki Commons)

From my travel journal, written while I lived in Morocco in the Fall 2009

Background info: Sukeina’s family is high-class, originally from Fes, but stayed in a residence in Ifrane close to campus during Ramadan, just so they could be together in such special time. This “data” might be important as to customs and traditions do vary across the country

The second week of September, I was invited by my Moroccan roommate, Sukeina, to have futuur and dinner with her family. At first, I was hesitant to accept the invitation.  I’m a Christian who is not fasting this month (I did fast the week after, though). It is not the fact that I’m from a different religion that deterred me from going at first–it was the fact that these people had been fasting diligently, while I had been eating like a pig all day. Meaning, I felt bad eating like a pig again when this was their very first meal of the day. Get it? However, my roommate was so persistent, I felt just as bad declining the offer. Paradox has been a common word in my vocabulary while living in the Arab world.

We drove for about 10 mins. until we reached the residence. It was not time for futuur yet, so Sukeina, our other roommate Siham, and I walked around the grounds. I was curious to know their views about the hijab in Islam (head covering or veil), specially after the strong views I heard back in Egypt. For instance, the husband of one of my Arabic teachers is a tiny bit liberal: He told me that hijab is not Islam, but rather a “political move” by Saudi Arabia to “control the region. Before, Egyptians didn’t wear hijab or anything!” He also added: “They do not have real land to control, like Egyptians do. For this reason, they use their women as property, as that’s all they have” *gulps* Note: He really did NOT like Gulf Arabs and did NOT consider himself an Arab, but a Pharaonic Egyptian, or even part Nubian, instead.

Conversely, my wealthy friend Hussein (high class, like my teacher) was appalled by those views and said that of course, the hijab in Islam is essential.

Concurrently, my Moroccan roommates’ reaction was not any different. In fact, they asked me to repeat my Arabic teacher’s take on the hijab in Islam being “a political move,” as they couldn’t believe it. After gasping several times and highly doubting whether this man is truly Muslim or not, they told me hijab is Islam. The reason why they don’t wear it is because they are “not ready” and feel they “must be better persons” before they do. They basically see the hijab in Islam as the jewel in the crown: Once a woman feels “good enough,” then she must show it by covering up with a veil. Otherwise, a woman is not “worthy of admiration” by wearing a hijab in Islam, as they are not “good examples” or “role models” yet. Or so I understood from their explanation…

Have you traveled to the Middle East?
Did you encounter different views about the hijab in Islam?

How I offended a hijabi in Egypt

Hijabi in Cairo Egypt

Hijabi in Islamic Cairo by Nick Leonard (Jungle Boy, Flickr)

So today is all about cultural misunderstandings! Ahhhh, who doesn’t love those blushing, awkward, unforgettable moments by which we learn about a place the hard way? Indeed.

It was in Egypt, when I thought I was in fact “culturally safe.” You know, several months later, after you think you have learned all the tricks and chuckle or shake your head when newbies aka tourists commit “the [cultural] atrocities.” Yeah, that! It was toward the end of my second semester studying in Egypt, around the 8-month mark. I was taking the school bus to the American University in Cairo’s new campus in Katameya as usual. This morning however, I forgot to do a little plucking to the eyebrows as I was running late. So, when the bus arrived, I sat on the most discreet, dark corner of the mini bus. I then kind of hid behind the front seat, and started the beauty ritual.

I was almost done at this point, around 5 minutes later, when I just felt a pair of eyes piercing me. You know what I’m talking about: When you just feel a glare, when someone is downright staring at you.As I finished brushing my eyebrows a bit with my fingers, my eyes met an evidently-angry hijabi. This, my friends, is a woman that is veiled. Well, she looked like she could be my grandmother, but meaner and a bit younger, which made her even scarier. Literally, I feared for my life. I was so embarrassed, as if I would have been stopped dead in the middle of the red carpet by a famous ET commentator saying “omg honey, no offense, but that’s like a hideous dress!” yeah, right there in front of the spotlight, when you thought you were the last Coca Cola of the desert, when you think you are “It”

After the hijabi thought she had punished me enough with her eternal, one-to-two-minute stare, she said to me, in a very firm, offended tone: “You should not be doing that here. That’s private and intimate and it’s offending.” Then, after punishing me with another good 30-second mean glare, she slowly, painstakingly turned over to the front again.

And so I learned my lesson: Plucking your eyebrows or doing anything you normally do in your house is considered offensive and too intimate to do outside of it to a hijabi (or at least that Egyptian lady). Basically, it is almost like the American equivalent of changing your shirt in public: No woman, it is not ok to show your bra and change your top in public, even though it does look like a bikini top. Still, it isn’t the beach (although I recognize some guys might defer). Remember buddies: We never know it all!

What’s been your most embarrassing cultural mishap?

Egypt and the Middle East: My POV

The Middle East: My POV

Philae Temple - Aswan, Egypt

Egypt and the Middle East: My POV. I remember the initial fascination I felt seeing a picture of Nefertiti in a history book when I was in fourth grade. Across the years, that interest morphed into a fascination with Egyptian culture. In 2008, I finally got to visit Egypt, and my interest was thrown into modernity. Seeing no Nefertitis outside of the Egyptian museum, my interest in Egypt matured in the same way as Egyptian history did: From antiquity, it grew into something more complex and contemporary, with a deeper understanding of the political, economic, cultural and social issues that affect the country.

Of course, it was not all Nefertiti! In addition to living in Egypt, I wandered extensively throughout the Arab world and studied abroad in Morocco as well. Follow me on my new venture & read more about my experiences living and traveling throughout the Middle East. TravelTheMiddleEast.com is my new niche site, where I will post anecdotes, insights, tips & guides about all things Middle Eastern (or Arab for that matter). Hope you enjoy it!

What’s your Middle East POV? Do you plan to visit the region?

Pyramids of Giza: A sandstorm of disappointments

Disclaimer: I am, in no means, through this post discrediting the Pyramids of Giza, a masterpiece of the ancient world, as its architecture & history are beyond amazing. This article is simply portraying my opinion & POV of my (3) visits, taking into consideration the high expectations that I had before hand. You should still go, even if for the bucket list’s sake, but please be aware of what you will likely encounter…

I went once. Nothing. Went twice, worse. Went one last time…and had more fun taking silly shots by the Sphinx. Unfortunately, each visit tot the Pyramids of Giza was more of a sandstorm of disappointments than the tear-jerking Kodak moment I dreamed about since I was 8. Perhaps that’s why I went 3 times. Those extra visits were my desperate pleads; hopes to change my mind.

What the heck? Indeed, this thought crossed my mind several times prior, during, and after each visit. What happened? You may ask. Well, keep reading & get ready for some spoilers.

[You may click on any picture to enlarge]

The First Visit

At the time, I was Couchsurfing at the Mena House Oberoi (talk about class! Haha), having my own bed overlooking the pyramids–probably the most (&/or only) magical moment with the site. I remember I couldn’t wait to visit. So after settling in, off were my host & I to the infamous Pyramids…

Mena House Oberoi - pyramid view room

As I approached the entrance gate of the Pyramids of Giza site, I was confused.  The city is right there. No magical, eerie feeling of the pyramids in the middle of the desert. As I kept walking toward the Pyramid of Cheops and looked at the city skyline…wait, I couldn’t because I was immediately hassled to buy postcards by a dozen kids, to ride a camel and/or horse for about 10 minutes for way too much money (by Egyptian standards). I couldn’t even have my alone time to reflect on how disappointed I was with the fact that the pyramids are in the middle of the city. Sure, when you look at the other pyramids you can see the vast desert in the background, but while on the site you simply feel as if the pyramids of Giza were obstructing the city life instead of the other way around. It was weird…

Then I looked up – the vast Great Pyramid covering the scorching sun above me. “Cool” I thought to myself. And that was it. I kept looking around, walking, studying my surroundings…I was baffled. I even felt wrong for being so…disappointed (that still hurts to say).

the expensive photo op

After having no choice but to take pictures, my host and I began snapping away. Then, things went from bad to worse: I “accidentally snapped” a man that happened to be riding his camel right in front of my camera. The man stopped and demanded money. “You took my picture,” he said. I was like, umm, sir, you rode your camel in front of my camera, I didn’t mean to disturb you. He insisted, “you took my picture. 50 pounds” (or something along those lines). I couldn’t believe it. My host, trying to avoid any kind of confrontation, at least tried to haggle with the guy and ended up paying something around 30 pounds. Unbelievable. Why were these Egyptians acting that way? I had met others in Cairo before I ventured out to the Pyramids of Giza and they were the kindest, most generous people. Why were these Egyptians at the site trying so hard to change my perception of their people? Fortunately, I’m not that judgmental. Still, the experience was sad, annoying, and even a little infuriating. I disliked the fact that that’s the image of Egyptians that most tourists take away with them. I was as angry as any other Egyptian would have been.

The Second Visit

I was kind lured into this one. I was hanging out with potential roommates & they were going to visit the pyramids of Giza for the first time–guided tour and all. I decided to go again, this time with more people and a knowledgeable Egyptian guide by our side, hoping that my perception would change *buzzer* wrong again. If anything, the second visit exacerbated my POV (is that even correct grammar?). Indeed, I sighed in lament…

Tour was “great” overall, by a tourist’s standard. Driving around the pyramids in an A/C van surely made the experience more comfortable than the first time, when I felt I would drop dead at any second (desert heat is way more miserable than you can imagine). However, the guide will take you to several shops so you can buy something (aka: Commission!). Worse yet, I felt pushed to do so. Honestly, I would have rather skipped all those shops, spend more time on the sites and leave more tip instead. But nope. And it gets worse!!

don't be fooled

The camel or horse ride. Please please pleeease: DO NOT DO IT!! I repeat: DON’T DO IT AT THE PYRAMIDS OF GIZA AT LEAST!! Not only is it overpriced, but they ask for baksheesh (tip) on top of that and threaten to leave you in the middle of the desert (ok, quite a hike from the site) if you don’t shell out! Besides, the actual ride is so short for the 100 pounds which btw, by Egyptian standards, is financial rape. Seriously, at this point I wanted to cry and scream “where are the kind, honest, REAL Egyptians!? I know they are out here somewhere!”

Back to the guide: She was very knowlegable, yes. She inf act answered many, many of our questions which was wonderful. But I just wouldn’t do it again. Personally? Go to Couchsurfing, grab find an independent Egyptologist (spelling?), pay a decent rate (go to Tripadvisor.com for guidance), and skip all that camel ride and shops BS. Trust me, your experience will be way more enjoyable.

Oh! And I almost forget to tell you! Make sure you ask beforehand the way to “the panorama” — from where you can see all 6 pyramids. THAT is a perk. In fact, I must admit, maybe I felt a few butterflies when I took in that particular view.

The Third Visit

Yes, one more time. I went independently again, this time with a friend of mine from Arabic class and some friends of hers that were visiting from Spain. This was by the end of my year there, so my Arabic was at the intermediate level at this point. Boy,was that a difference! I have been told many times I even look Egyptian or Lebanese–which I totally took advantage off. When people came to hassle, I kindly looked at them and was like “please, these are my friends. I live here. We are not interested in buying anything. I’ll take care of them. Thank you very much” with the sweetest-yet-firm, most convincing face possible. It worked–to the T. As of, no one bothered us. Whoa! There we go! You no tourist? You my friend with Egyptian then? Okie we won’t bother you no problem o_O nevertheless, the magic of the pyramids of Giza had worn out by then so my crew & I decided to harass the Sphinx instead

Must Go? What to do (aka travel tips)

Many of you must go & understandably so. Here are some quick tips:

1. I would personally recommend getting a really good guide of the Pyramids of Giza so you can go around on your own. Go to Amazon & read reviews to make sure you get a quality one. You could also simply read about the pyramids’ history beforehand, then take a map of the site so you are able to get around the site once there.

2. Hire a private guide if you really want a knowledgeable (yet trustworthy) local with you. Shop around, make sure you are not taken into shops you don’t want to visit, etc. Best way to find out rates & recommended guides is to checkout the Cairo forums of Tripadvisor.com I planned most of my other trips even as far as Aswan & Luxor there and independent travel is def. the way to go.

3. Do yourself a favor and learn a few key phrases in Arabic. Grab a phrasebook, visit a forum of Arabic speakers. Doesn’t have to be elaborate, but mastering a few words such as “no thank you, I’m ok on my own” will go a long way, especially if you speak in a firm, confident manner.

4. Blend in. Yes, that means no Hawaiian shirts & khaki shorts 9and women: Cover your shoulders and knees!). Neutral colors are favored, long trousers, no-brand shirts, etc. Google pictures of Egyptian people. Try to dress like them. I know, if you are blonde you might think “what’s the difference?” but the fact you are respecting the culture and trying to blend in will not go unnoticed (in a good way)

5. If visiting independently, there is a bus from Ramses Square (I believe–double check on that) that you can take to the Pyramids of Giza which drops you off right by the Mena House Oberoi Hotel, which is just a few meters off the main gate of the site. Ask “Ila Haram Giza? Feen?” (means “To Giza pyramids? Where?”) and people will point you in the right direction. Ride only costs 1.50 pounds (as of 2008–don’t think it has gone up by much). Trust me, 1.50 vs a 20-30 pound cab ride is a big difference in Egypt, sp if you are a budget traveler like me. You will love having the extra money in order to take extra side trips to other less-traveled sites of Egypt such as the White Desert, Siwa on the west and Ras Shytan, Dahab and other little gems in the Sinai (just to name a few!)

Ras Abu Gallum trail

6. Want to ride a camel? Visit the Sinai peninsula and book a tour to Ras Abu Gallum reserve from Dahab instead. About 1.5 hours EACH way on a camel should sure write that off your bucket list. Plus, you get a Bedouin lunch & few hours snorkeling as added bonuses. Sounds like a better deal than at the pyramids, huh? Because it is!

Stay tuned for more entries on how to see all the amazing historical (and natural) sights around Egypt like a local.

Did you visit the Pyramids of Giza? Post comment of your experience!

Long-term travel & college: My digital scrapbook

Hey guys! Last night (and errm, today) I spent several hours working on a digital scrapbook, as a Shutterfly promo I got through Tripadvisor to get $30 off a photobook was about to expire. So! Since I’m very proud of the product (and can’t spend any more energy in front of a computer typing), here it is! It basically summarizes (some of) the most memorable moments of my 5.5-year college stretch. You may ask, how did I manage to travel extensively while pursuing so many degrees? The short answer: Study abroad, low-cost airlines & Couchsurfing! I plan to write an entry about the specific steps I took in order to be successful both in school & in life later on.

Part 2 (including trips to Israel, Spain & Iceland) coming soon!

Click here to enlarge the digital scrapbook