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Danger, Dirt and Disappointment. Difficulties of Travelling in Egypt

22/09/2020 by James Long

Last week I posted this on the Facebook page. It was scary, too close for comfort and a very lucky escape. I thought we’d all handled it pretty well as we carried on enjoying our few days of luxury and comfort of the Red Sea coast.

This just happened.
we were not far from the Marriott, walking up the street with an employee who was helping us find a restaurant. The tanker was coming down a steep side street. We heard shouting, a guy was running alongside the tanker. Our escort shouted, “RUN!” We ran.
Luckily the kids were trailing behind us a bit, I was ahead, the tanker swerved, hit a car, rolled and crashed into parked cars. It was exactly where I was standing. Liquid sprayed all over Me, James and the employee, the kids just got a big splash. It was in my eyes, in my mouth. I ran. I lost a shoe, turned an ankle and kept running. It was a massive relief to find the liquid was dirty water not petrol.
I feared another deliberate truck attack, but it was certainly an accident.
The kids did exactly what they should, ran and didn’t look back.
We’re back in the hotel now, showered, disinfected and getting our clothes washed. My day pack is soaked, my camera, papers, everything.
Hopefully none of us swallowed any.
We’re all a bit shook up but OK.
There was nobody in the parked cars and I think both drivers are OK. Cops were there immediately.
Wow. Not our day to die. 
#Hurghada #Egypt #Crash

truck crash egypt hurghada
We’d be dead right now if we hadn’t moved fast.

It was a random accident but I think the above experience made me think deeply and maybe shook me up more than I thought. Over our next week, as we faced the usual trials and tribulations of our travelling lifestyle, after the oasis-like luxury of the Hurghada Marriott, instead of rolling with the punches I started to struggle and see things differently.

That’s not like me. I laughed off our felucca problems and bantered with the constant touts, but problem after problem over those few days wore me down as I found the inequalities of the world more and more unsettling.

Our bus journey from Hurghada to Cairo was long but I set off with the right attitude and enjoyed the hours of desert and Red Sea views taking delight in spotting hundreds of dolphins playing along the coast and managing to ignore the driver’s race track speeds along the dusty roads. The bus was new, the air-con worked and the kids slept most of the way. We arrived back in Cairo feeling good.

Egyptian bus
A luxury VIP Egyptian bus, they’re superb, and to tourists, cheap.

My final day in Hurghada had been a tiresome hunt for accommodation in Cairo and then in Alexandria while Chef and the boys splashed about in the Red Sea. There was little available and none of it was ideal, but after a full morning of searching I eventually booked a couple of hotels.

The downtown Cairo hotel was fairly horrible, but we treated ourselves to dinner at the Intercontinental on the Corniche and went to bed well fed and happy. We were getting blazé about travelling in Egypt so the next morning we just turned up at Cairo’s main Ramesses station to catch the luxury 11.15 train to Alexandria that we’d spotted online. We’d booked all previous train tickets in advance, we’d recommend you do the same.

red sea egypt
Life in a bubble. The Red Sea, it’s not red.

After a chaotic taxi ride through the very worst and noisiest of Cairo’s traffic we tumbled past the metal detectors into the faded glory of the station and tried to buy our 1st class tickets. 1st class is cheap, everything is cheap here if you have tourist dollar and it’s worth paying for. Unfortunately the 11.15 we’d found online  didn’t exist.

This wasn’t the first time we’d come up against non-existent trains in Egypt so, although frustrating, it wasn’t a massive surprise. We settled on the 12.15 but this one wasn’t the luxury version, it was one of the Spanish trains and we knew that meant filth.

We had a coffee and a couple of plates of fries to while away the extra hour. I watched, vaguely horrified, as the chef moved from handling raw meat to placing handfuls of fries on our plates. Hygiene not a strong point, but our young waiter was really sweet and the coffee was decent, we smiled and tipped.

Cairo Main Station Rameses
Cairo’s main train station is rather spectacular, but don’t trust the timetables or the chef.

Imagine a post-apocalyptic TV series set in a future where society and infrastructure have collapsed and trains have sat unused and neglected for decades. If you imagine what a modern, 1st class train carriage would look like under those circumstances, you’d probably be underestimating the levels of filth.

They seem to have a total block with cleaning in Egypt and the levels of dirt are far worse than India or Cambodia, our two grubbiest countries to date. Other than having to peel ourselves off the seats in Alexandria, the ride was fairly comfortable and the changing scenery interesting.

Our next disappointment was an Alexandrian hotel that, despite being the cleanest we’ve seen and having the best wi-fi, saw us approaching Booking dot com for a refund. They agreed when we told them of late night noise, screaming toddlers and cigarette smoke leaking in from the corridor. Add to that the horrific Alexandria traffic and general lack of charm and we’d had enough.

Throw in Chef feeling unwell ( an accidental hangover, not his fault), followed by being ripped off over coffee at Alexandria bus station by a grinning, rotten toothed scum bag, and our run of crap luck continued.

Egyptian Man Pyramids
Abdulla was our minder in the village in the shadow of the pyramids. It was good to see him again. Chef is 6 foot, Egyptian men are often really tall, they say their height is passed down from Ramesses the Great, he had over 200 children.

So we fled back to Cairo to the shadow of the pyramids and our favourite guest house, enjoying this crazy little village full of cowboys and con men. They know us now, we are welcomed by genuinely smiling faces and that’s always lovely, even if, after coffee, they take us to their cousin’s gift shop.

Our journey from bus station to Sphinx took 4 times as long as it should, our taxi kept overheating forcing us to stop every few minutes for our driver to release the steam and top up the water. We were probably the only customers he’d had all day so we stuck with him and paid him a little more than the agreed price.

2nd pyramid Khafre or Chephren Cairo
On our last morning in Egypt we took a walk around all 3 pyramids, insisting on feet rather than skinny horses or camels. Above is the 2nd pyramid, of Khafre or Chephren, the Pharaoh who gave his face to the Sphinx. The haze to the right is Cairo, the pollution was particularly bad that day.

We left Egypt on a 2am flight via Germany the night before last and were thankfully granted a very late check out so we could enjoy comfort, wi-fi  and the nightly sound and light show from our rooftop rather than sitting out in the dust, grime and heat.

Another ancient car and older taxi driver took us to the airport. The older ones are the more sensible drivers, they’ve survived. Ibrahim drove us for 3 days but his eyes weren’t good enough for night driving, so Mohammed had been summoned for our airport run. Over an hour in the worst traffic you can imagine, the most dangerous roads and with eye stinging pollution. Mohammed assured me we’d be safe, he was a steady driver, everything would be fine, but I was terrified on that highway. I’ve lost my nerve.

Driving with Ibrahim Cairo driver taxi
Ibrahim, another older, steadier, driver. Approaching the red pyramid,south of Cairo.

On the highway I noticed  young mum, perched sidesaddle on the back of a scooter holding her precious baby. Trucks ( like the one with no brakes above) screamed past her on either side, boy racers in modern luxury cars weaved through the chaos like madmen, she and her child breathed the toxic air that is their daily reality. It’s not fair.

We met so many lovely Egyptian people, like Mohammed, Abdulla, Ibrahim, Gouda and the random boy on the train who asked me to hold his baby son. Their lives are so freaking hard. They have to live there, we can leave, they struggle to make a dollar out of cynical, often rude tourists, when there are ANY tourists.  They put their lives on the line to get on a bus or even cross the street, their eyes are sore from pollution every day and they can’t escape from it. Their children grow up surrounded by filth.

It’s just not fair and I hate it. I’ve had enough of the crap in this world, of corrupt governments, of inhumanity, of rich selfish fools lining their pockets and shopping for recreation while the poor suffer.

Pokemon go at the pyramids
Pokemon Go at the pyramids. We’re so lucky to be tourists, not locals trying to make a living under these conditions. I never saw a local with a smart phone, my 10 year old has his own bought purely to catch imaginary creatures all over the world.

It’s been an amazing trip with a wealth of learning for all of us, but don’t let anyone tell you travel in Egypt is easy. We had incredible experiences visiting all of the big ancient Egyptian sites you know about, plus a few more. Posts on Ancient Memphis, the Saqqara Stepped Pyramid, Luxor, Karnak, Aswan and Abu Simbel are still to come.  The pyramids and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo are already published.

Egypt is truly one of the most spectacular countries on Earth. We loved Egypt despite the hiccups and we’re grateful to have had this opportunity but it’s left me with too much to think about. I’m still processing, wondering if there is anything I can do to help.

I’ll do my best, possibly the only thing I can do is to tell you to go and spend your tourist dollar in supporting the Egyptian people. We felt perfectly safe with regard to terrorism and “trouble”, security is good. Cairo airport had the best, most thorough security I’ve seen anywhere in the world. The roads are another story, but you, as a tourist, can take safer forms of transport.

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Learn About Egypt Before You Travel

We highly recommend the Lonely Planet guide books for learning about the history and culture of a country before you leave home. You can use it to figure out where in Egypt you want to go and learn the basics of the language, a few pleases and thank yous are always welcome. It’s also a good idea to learn numbers 1-10 in Arabic, we’ve found this very useful.

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