September 29 – Oct 8, 2012
Amid the ongoing civil war in Syria that is getting more brutal by the day and is threatening to destabilize the entire region, now doesn’t seem like a particularly well-timed period to visit the Middle East.
There is no glossing over that the Middle East is a turbulent and complicated place. The region has long been in a serious flux, with the past two years bringing particularly dramatic changes. The Arab Spring caught the world by surprise – decades-long dictatorships crumbled in Tunisia and Egypt in a matter of weeks. The domino effect was immediate. Large scale protests, previously unheard-of in this corner of the world, broke out in Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Syria, Yemen and many other Arabic countries. The Libyan and Yemeni regimes were subsequently toppled while Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has discarded any form of restraint by launching an all-out offensive on his own civilians. The casualty figure of the Syrian civil war has now surpassed 40,000.
But to use current events as an indicator for the situation on the ground in the Middle East means the region will be off-limit in the foreseeable future. Egypt, Tunisia and Libya have unproven governments without much experience with democracy after being ruled by their respective dictators for decades. Iran’s determination in obtaining a nuclear bomb might lead the theocratic state into a direct conflict with Israel and its ever-present sense of existential crisis. And of course there is still Syria, another of UN’s growing list of failures.
Probably like most people who are about to travel to the Middle East independently, I am constantly peppered by questions on the region’s security and my general judgment before my departure. Every single time I try to defend my stance by stating that I don’t believe Egypt and Jordan qualify as dangerous destinations. Middle East, as I find myself repeating often, is an enormous region that accounts for 90% of the size of the contiguous United States. The headline-generating areas like Syria, Gaza and Iraq are confined and any spillover into neighbouring countries will not be easily spotted.
And if not now, then when? I initially had Egypt and Jordan marked down for April 2013, but the unpredictability in the region has actually strengthened my desire to travel there as soon as possible. An eleven-day break is all we can muster, so I have to be creative with our itinerary. I have allocated four days for Jordan as Petra is my foremost priority and the rest will be spent in Egypt between Cairo and Luxor. Not ideal, but better than not going at all.
Now that I have bought my tickets online, I can only shrug at the incessant reports of worrying news, like the protest at the US embassy in Cairo over an amateur film and the discovery of a Sars-like virus in Qatar. Why is the latter related to me? As luck would have it, I am flying to Cairo with Qatar Airways. Ironically, these developments keep my excitement burning further more. My wife, normally the worrying type, has also never been more pumped up before a trip.
In the end, none of the current event matters much to us. I am seeking only the standard itinerary of pyramids, temples and deserts, and hopefully some first-hand encounters with the locals. If there was any concern then it would be playing it too safe, thus limiting my exposure with the local surroundings and came away with a package tour-like impression of the region. Even more than seeing the iconic sites, I wanted to set foot on this piece of land, breathe its air, meet its people and see how Egypt and Jordan with my own eyes, not matter how shallow and trivial my exposure was bound to be.
Sept 29 – Arrive Cairo; Egyptian Museum. Wekalet El-Ghouri
Sept 30 – Dahshur, Saqqara and Giza
Oct 1 – Coptic Cairo and Islamic Cairo, Khan el-Khalili; Fly to Luxor
Oct 2 – Karnak and Luxor Temple
Oct 3 – Valley of the Kings, Deir el-Bahari and Medinet Habu
Oct 4 – Abydos and Dendera
Oct 5 – Fly to Amman; King’s Highway
Oct 6 – Petra
Oct 7 – Wadi Rum
Oct 8 – Madaba and Mt Nebo; Fly home