Tears welled up in my eyes as we hugged and said our final goodbyes. I stood alone on a small hill of rocks and sand with both arms in the air waving as their minibus drove out of sight. I was alone again. And it was bittersweet. I felt a tug of sadness to say farewell to my new wonderful friends, but also that old hint of excitement to be all alone in the world again ready to fend for myself and explore places unknown.
For the last two weeks I have toured around the country of Egypt. The pyramids of Giza, the temples of Luxor and the tombs at Abu Simbel were mind blowing. I’ve slept on a plush overnight train, under the stars in a sleeping bag on a basic Egyptian felucca (sailboat), and in a wonderful small thatch hut on the beach.
One of my favorite stops was the small village of Daraw, not far from the banks of the mighty Nile. Our felucca drifted ashore on a small strip of sand and we hopped in a truck taxi (where we all sit in the back on two benches facing each other) and bounced down the dusty road into town. On the way, we passed fields of sugar cane, boys walking donkeys loaded down with crops, and little children who laughed and waved with glee as we passed. Daraw is a small town, most known for its weekly camel market where as many as 200 camels are sold and traded. Large caravans of camels are brought here through the dusty desert from Sudan. It was just a little slice of life and a small taste of real Egypt.
I have seen so much that I know it will take some time to sink in. But, as I have mentioned in the past, what made my trip here so memorable was the people I met along the way. I decided to do an Intrepid Travel tour through Egypt because, after traveling alone for so long, I like to take a break from time to time and let someone else do the planning and thinking for me. Plus, in a sometimes chaotic, sometimes strange place like the Middle East, I thought it was okay to let myself off the hook and splurge on a tour.
As I have experienced so many times over the last couple years, it seemed that my group was special. And, again, traveling so close and intensely with strangers for several days, it is amazing how close you can become and how you open up to new people more than perhaps in real life in such a short time.
One woman, from Sydney, was smart, well traveled and easy going. Some time into the trip she revealed she’d been estranged from her own daughter for several years because her daughter was under a sort of spell from a cult she had joined. It was incredibly sad to listen to her story and see how powerless she was to help her own child.
Another passenger was a funny, nearly always laughing guy who lived in London. In time, we found out he had been adopted as an abandoned fifteen-month-old baby in Vietnam just after the war. He was found on the street and taken to an orphanage in Saigon. He narrowly made one of the last rescue planes out of the country – a 747 stripped of its seats in an effort to fit as many passengers in as possible – and was flown to Sydney, Australia.
“Apparently I was a determined little rascal and I wouldn’t let go of one of the female care worker’s legs from the orphanage. I wasn’t supposed to be getting on the flight, but even at that age I knew something was up and I wasn’t going to let go because my life depended upon it.”
He has no idea what happened to his family and was lucky to be adopted by a wonderful Australian couple. Growing up wasn’t exactly easy for him… and in many ways his life is a small miracle.
There was also an amazing mother/daughter duo from Toronto who I clicked with almost immediately. They were both smart and worldly and I loved them for that North American direct and sometimes sarcastic wit.
I really admired another great girl from Australia. She was hilarious, confident, open-minded and ready to take on the world. Perhaps she reminded me of myself. I am sure I will see her and some of the others again. We laughed, we shared our abridged life stories, we rode for hours and hours in tiny cramped buses and out-dated trains together through the magical and stunning landscape of Egypt. We celebrated the passing of another year together and we, in one way or another, will never forget each other.
After their bus rode out of sight, I padded barefoot out to the deserted sandy beach of our lovely and simple beach resort on the east coast of the Sinai Peninsula. For the last two nights, we’d slept in cute wood thatch-roofed huts on a mattress on the floor covered in a blue mosquito net. We relaxed by the blue waters of the Gulf of Aqaba and dreamed of what was across the sea in Saudi Arabia – it seemed so close, yet worlds away. It was a truly magical end to our time together in this ancient land of Egypt.
Now I felt that pang of excitement again to get back on the ‘road’ of travel. An hour later I was in my ‘taxi’ truck heading for Nuweiba Port where I would hop a ferry to Jordan. I sat around the unattractive and scruffy port area in a smoky outdoor café where the Al Jazeera network blasted out of the big Toshiba television on a wooden shelf.
The news showed image after image of protests of Israel’s invasion of Gaza all across the Middle East – yelling and chanting people, the burning of Israeli and American flags, bias promos edited showing Israel’s Prime Minister saying ‘every life was precious’ intercut with images of the death and destruction all over Gaza. Not the best timing for my adventure here as a Jewish American. All alone, I was a bit nervous, a bit excited, and ready for the next challenge.