A FEW years ago I was lucky enough to go on a holiday to Egypt. Although I have travelled a fair bit I remain unconfident in places like airports and foreign places in general. Even the process of choosing and booking and getting tickets and stuff I dislike. I feel like I am about to get diddled and tend to avoid the process as much as possible.
Fortunately, I have a very good friend who positively relishes the whole process. He knows what he wants, knows how to negotiate and took great delight in organising the whole thing. In fact, Egypt is a country I would never have visited if it had not been for my friend sorting the whole thing out.
I remember the flight across the endless sands of the Sahara as we flew across North Africa and thinking the whole place was as barren as I feared, but then abruptly the Nile valley appeared below us and the life-giving nature of that great river was brought home to me. The desert ended abruptly as the cultivated land alongside the river came into view. There was no transitional or marginal land. It was rich fertile agricultural land nourished by the waters of the Nile or it was desert and the two were simply metres apart.
Once we had landed at Luxor, the airport was a fairly modern affair, with the expected and usual uniformed security presence we take as the norm, and after we had queued and paid for our visas we entered the oven-like temperatures of the car park to get into our coach for transfer to our hotel...and what a place! Entering the Old Winter Palace was like taking a step back in time to the great days of empire when it seemed that we, the British, reigned supreme over much of the globe.
But this was a not a place for the ordinary tourist, in those days, but for generals and ambassadors. I think Lord Kitchener and General Wolseley stopped there on their way to the Sudan to fight the battle of Omdurman. Stirring stuff. To the rear magnificent landscaped gardens with palm trees, pools and fountains covered several acres. With only one night there I would have been more than happy staying in the hotel...but my friend had other ideas!
In his guide book he had found a little restaurant that offered the authentic Egyptian experience...down some dark alley at the rough end of town. I wasn’t keen but went with the flow. The place was like Rick’s bar in “Casablanca” with shady characters lurking in darkened corners. The temperature was burning hot and one glance at the kitchen converted me in an instant to being a vegetarian. I had visions of spending the whole week sat in a small room with a growling digestion. I wasn’t happy!
As it happened, the meal was fairly reasonable and my friend haggled successfully over the bill (they’ll not want us back) and then suggested we walk back to the hotel. I wasn’t happy. Down badly lit streets being scrutinised by the locals I felt very uncomfortable and longed for the sanctuary of our hotel. Wifey felt uncomfortable too with the locals being a little more familiar than we are used to. It was with great relief we returned to the tourist area of town and the floodlit grounds of the hotel.
Next day we transferred to our cruise ship and after passing a couple of beached burned out hulks we arrived with some trepidation on my part at our ship, guarded by three men with rifles slung over their shoulders. Thankfully it was one of the best ships on the river and if my digestion would stand up to the chef’s offerings we would be in for a good week. And so it proved to be. The Nile makes for a superb cruise but everywhere you went on ashore you were surrounded by men with guns, in some ways a comfort but in other ways a disturbing sight.
Along the tourism beat and the waterfront, there were armed men perhaps every 75 yards. I was hassled by every vendor while my friend, in his element, strode confidently along haggling for goods with panache. When he came near, traders backed off whilst I was mobbed with cards, trinkets and all sorts of bits and bobs. I wasn’t happy!
The tombs and temples of the ancient Egyptians are massive and Karnak and Abu Simbel frankly exceeded all my expectations, but the hassle of strolling around and above all the apparent need for armed men on every street corner didn’t make me feel at all comfortable. A superb holiday (thanks to that ship) but I will never go back.
How different then to be walking across the foot of the big end of Pendle looking across the green fields towards the Dales, Weets Hill and Blacko Tower. Not the most fertile country but green and covered in big fat sheep.
This is the landscape I have been brought up in and where I feel most at ease. Damp and cold it may be, but you can walk pretty much anywhere you like, enjoy views second to none, never get hassled and you feel safe!