Guided or Blindsided?
A few years ago I booked a guided trip through Egypt. I’d never been to the Middle East and was in need of an easy and relaxing travel experience. Thus the guide.The air-conditioned transportation and hassle-free visas were nice, but I kind of missed the chaos and mishaps of foreign travel. Here are some other advantages and disadvantages to a non-DIY Egyptian experience:
Guide Goddess: Half the trip was guided by a twenty-something female. This was the better half. She pinned up my headscarf (“Now you look like Muslim woman!”), gave me conspiratorial glances whenever my male traveling companion did something stupid, and would casually say things like “I have never seen rain before.” In a free moment as we waited for a train she took us to her family’s shop and bought us fresh sugar cane juice. I hated the stuff, but faked it so well that she proudly bought me a second glass. Sugar cane aside, she was a true delight. I found myself watching her more closely than I watched the Karnak light show. The guarded way she spoke, the gossip in her voice when she chatted on her cell, and the going-out wear she donned on Thursday evening made me think about how similar we females are, whatever our culture.
Blindsided: The other half of the trip was guided by a fast-talking man. He was nice enough and certainly provided a wealth of information, but he dragged us from Egyptian tourist trap to Egyptian tourist trap. We were subjected to perfume “museums” and papyrus “demonstrations,” where tourists are all but obligated to buy said perfume and papyrus, with an obvious kickback for our guide. We grudgingly accepted this as part of our travel package, but when he convinced us to go on a hokey two hour boat tour (note to travelers: Avoid the Pharaonic Village as you would a locus infestation), we’d had about enough.
If you decide on a guided tour of Egypt, agree on an itinerary beforehand and be very cautious about accepting unsolicited advice from your escort. A guide can enhance your experience, but you might have to buy some Official Egyptian Pharaonic Perfume before you can see the pyramids.