Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in review... Travel: "trouble seems to follow"

Kakijalan travelled far this year: 4 new countries, 3 return visits. Alhamdulillah I've been very fortunate.

January… The interrupted trip of a lifetime to Egypt.
Planning began 5 months earlier. The plan was KUL – Luxor – Abu Simbel – Aswan – Cairo – KUL... Complete with side trips to Abydos, Dendara, Edfu, Esna and a hot air balloon ride. But fate intervened...
Arrived in Luxor (albeit later than scheduled due to a missed connection in Doha… God must have been trying to tell me something) to the news that the anti-Government protests in Cairo has escalated into a full blown revolution. But things were calm in Luxor. The only signs of unrest was that almost every Egyptian were glued to their radio or TV waiting for the latest news from Cairo. But as a non-Arab speaking tourist who has a tight schedule, I was blissfully ignorant (which is a blessing!). The other tourists also seemed unfazed. So I went along my merry way to visit Karnak temple, Luxor temple, Valley of the Kings, Tombs of the Nobles, Hatshepsut temple, Ramesseum, Colossi of Memnon etc. They were amazing!
But a few days later, the mood changed. Ahmed (the owner of the tour guide company that I used) and Mohammed (my driver) had a worried look in their eyes. My early morning hot air balloon never materialise as the air force had shut down the airspace. Internet was down. Unknown to me (since my room didn’t have a TV), there was chaos on Tahrir Square, people had died, Mubarak was toppled, the police had abandoned their post. My driver told me that the police had even freed thugs from prisons which led to curfews and enforcement of martial law. With no police, the public had to fend for themselves.
The villages around Luxor organised a rukun tetangga to protect their families. I saw men with senapang, parang, sabit, cangkul, belantan by the road side guarding the entrance to the villages. Our car would get stopped every now and then. Obviously Mohammed, who is a local, knew the men from the villages, so except for the frequent stops, we didn’t face any problems. Mohammed himself had a shift to jaga kampong the night before.
Somehow, despite the display of weaponry, I never felt threatened. Mohammed and Ahmed continuously assured me that they will do all they can to keep me safe, even if it meant that I will have to stay with their family. The staff at the hotel where I was staying also repeatedly asked how I was, whether I am ok. They too reassured me not to worry because as a sister in Islam, they will be there to protect me. Alhamdulillah! Despite all the of the problems that the rest of the world was witnessing on BBC, CNN, AlJazeera etc, I had a totally different experience. I saw the strong sense of community and care amongst penduduk Luxor, genuine concern for a lone female traveller in a foreign land, the friendliness of the Egyptians and the beauty of a simple life.
Fortunately (for me anyway), all the “excitement” were in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities near the delta. The media as works, portrayed as if there was huru hara throughout the country. So, families and friends were rightfully concerned. With phone lines and internet down, they couldn’t contact me. When they finally did, I could sense their fear. SMS masuk menderu2... ppl were posting on FB “Uji... are you ok?” followed by “what were you thinking going to Egypt?” ;) Since I couldn’t proceed with my travel plans, Ina helped me book the earliest flight home (thanks Ina!) which was 2 days later. So, I still managed to squeeze in a road trip to Dendara and Abydos... shared the van with a retired Canadian teacher. Dia lagi kelakar... “I wish I was in Cairo where all the excitement are”, from the look in his eyes, I knew he wasn’t kidding. On the way home, had a 12 hrs layover, so sempat singgah to meet up with Adderi & her family, plus a quick tour of Doha (thanks Adderi!).
But I’m not done with Egypt... ;)

to be continued...

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