This week’s travel dream: Egypt after the revolution

The question of where Egypt is heading is integral to its appeal.

Earlier this year, I was “the only tourist in Cairo,” said Carl Hoffman in National Geographic Traveler. Or at least it seemed that way. President Hosni Mubarak had just stepped down, and celebrating crowds were still filling Tahrir Square when I landed in the city that I’d fallen in love with almost three decades earlier. Cairo was “ecstatic, almost drunk with a new empowerment,” and I suspect that much of that optimism remains even as Egyptians have turned back to their daily lives and tourism has crept back to nearly what it was before the revolution. “Everyone talks, because that is how Egyptians are,” and I’m sure they’ll still bend your ear about their future if you choose to follow in my steps.

I can’t say Egypt hasn’t changed since 1984. Much as I’m always captivated by Cairo’s frenetic energy, “it had been southern Egypt and the Nile that had burned deepest” back then. Today, the ancient village of Luxor is “a city built on mass tourism,” and the docked cruise ships and trinket shops detract from its former quiet charms. I see more of what I’m looking for in Aswan, though, a place I remember for its donkey carts and fishermen and women washing laundry in the river’s shallows. One day, a group of men I befriend take me south on their motorboat to an area where the Nile is “a world of small islands and channels fringed with reeds,” the water clear as glass. “The boatmen speak in whispers: It’s that kind of place.”

Egypt’s next chapter is yet to be written, so the question of where it’s heading is integral to its appeal. Even a visit to the Pyramids of Giza could tell you that. The “sprawl that surrounds them” has closed in since the mid-’80s, but these ancient monuments still “hit with a punch.” They’re “so fantastical and immense that they seem a Disney invention, an unreal perfection” rising steps away from a street of apartment buildings. Yet “they say so much about the human yearning to create and build.”

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