Monday, December 28, 2015
The Guy with The Glock
There were many who questioned our willingness to proceed with an Egyptian adventure this year. Planning the trip seemed foolhardy given the state of the country, but as events in Paris and San Bernardino unfolded, the world itself no longer seemed safe and Egypt became just one of many hot spots that sensible travelers should avoid. While we appreciated folks backing off, only cancellation of our tour would have kept us from the country that we had tried to visit on three other occasions. I do want to set the record straight. I am neither foolhardy nor brave, as a mater of fact I'm downright cautious. When I walk into a room, I make a mental note of exit locations and I don't leave home without a flashlight. There are places I will not walk, day or night, and my larder is always stocked with requisite emergency rations. The thing is, I won't let others dictate what I can or cannot see. I might live longer in my rocking chair, but I need the challenge and adventure unseen places provide and any type of travel, reduced to its elements, is a calculated risk that I am willing to take.
The company that planned our tour and the Egyptian Tourist and Antiquity Police - yes there is such an organization - made sure no incidents would mar our visit to the country. We were part of a group of 24 who shared a determination to see Egypt when tours for American groups were again available. Like Bob and I, these folks kept abreast of happenings in Egypt, and while the makeup of the group changed slightly in the days before departure, surprising few selected themselves out of the tour. Not only was ours the first large American group to tour Egypt since the revolution 3 years ago, tourism in general was way down. This is high season and ours was the only tour bus at Luxor and Valley of the Kings. While that was wonderful for us, numbers like that are devastating to an economy that is highly dependent on tourist dollars.
Suffice it to say, our satisfaction and safety was paramount in our hosts minds. Our guide was an Egyptologist and the steps taken to assure our safety throughout the country were amazing. At the airport, we met the first of the guards who would ride shotgun on our bus. Dressed in plain clothes, but packing a visible side arm, he took his place behind the driver and was always last on and first off the bus. More amazing was the police escort that accompanied us through the cities we visited on the tour. The police cars were replaced with armored vehicles or flatbed trucks as we convoyed through long stretches of dessert toward the end of the tour. While it may have been overkill, when we debarked for museum tours or a meal, bomb dogs circled the bus before we got back on, and our hotel and bus were changed three times while we were in Cairo. It took us a day to adjust to the safety precautions, but most of us were on a first name basis with the guards before the trip ended. And doesn't everyone wait for bomb dogs to finish their inspection before boarding a vehicle? I am happy to report that the guys with the glocks kept terrorists at bay and pretty much managed to scatter the one dolla' hawkers that swarmed whenever we got off the bus, and the escort sirens got us from one place to another in record Cairo time.
Egypt is an amazing country. If you visit you will be well-housed and fed and you will be safe to explore a country rich in layered and tangible history. If you decide to travel to Egypt, or any other country for that matter, there are steps you can take steps to assure your safety. The US Department of State provides travel advice and timely information about breaking news situations for citizens around the world. It offers a travel registration tool called STEP that allows you to enter the details of your trip so they will be able to contact you if there is trouble at any of the places you plan to visit. If the situation in a country becomes dangerous, by registering your trip in STEP, the State Department can contact you in the event of a disaster, emergency or other crisis, and give you instructions, including those for evacuation, if necessary. Remember, I'm cautious not brave, so I recommend that international travelers take advantage of the travel safety services offered by the Department of State. It beats the rocking chair.