Odysseys Unlimited Review
After a lifetime of hardscrabble independent travel, of finding our own way in distant places and wasting long hours wandering and lost, we decided to treat ourselves to a guided group tour of Egypt. We would take it easy this time and be led from pyramid to sphinx, tomb to temple, without the least bit of stress or strain. We assumed group travelers were like spoiled children, seeing the world in comfort — how wrong we were.
Our first hint came when we discovered we were the only tour members arriving in Cairo a day early to recover from the long flight. Everyone else in our group of 20 landed the evening before activities began — one couple as late as midnight — and yet there they were, early the next morning, fresh and ready to take on the mummies of the Egyptian Museum and the mosques of the high Citadel of Saladin.
Our guide, Tarek Morsy, was driven by a relentless love for his country, ever eager to show us as much as possible in as great a detail as possible, and his brood of travelers was more than up for an ironclad itinerary. Rising and arriving early at sights was part of the regime. Our troupe boarded the bus at dawn to be first to reach the Giza Plateau for a photo opportunity at the Great Pyramid of Cheops and an up-close look at the Great Sphinx, followed by a camel ride through wind-driven sands.
Our first day of sightseeing was just getting started, though. The afternoon found us winding through the maze of streets in Old Cairo to visit Ben Ezra Synagogue — Egypt’s oldest — and St. Sergius Church, where legend says the Holy Family found shelter in a cave. We were already far ahead on the list of must-see sights we would have covered on our own, and the next morning we faced a 4 a.m. wake-up call for our flight to Aswan. Little enough time for repacking and sleeping, but our travel arrangements were taken care of and we saw plenty in short order, with an expert guide making sense of the exotic attractions as they whirled by.
Landing in Aswan, we headed immediately to the Temple of Philae on an island in Lake Nasser, one of the world’s largest manmade lakes, created by the construction of the Aswan High Dam (1960–1971). This temple and all others we visited over the next four days, including the monumental Abu Simbel complex, were moved to higher ground as water levels rose. To view the transported tombs and temples, we boarded one of a small handful of Lake Nasser riverboats, the M/S Prince Abbas. We selected this Odysseys Unlimited tour because it included two separate Nile cruises — this one on Lake Nasser, the quiet upper reaches of the river, and then a three-night voyage down the more popular and populated Nile from Aswan to Luxor.
When we weren’t taking in the sights, Tarek regaled us with detailed lectures on pharaonic history, hieroglyphics and mythology, as well as stories of his own life in present-day Egypt. It was an education in a complex culture we wouldn’t have acquired traveling on our own. After our first cruise, we crossed the desert sands to begin a second the same day aboard the M/S Royal Lily. For three days we sailed the Nile in luxury from Aswan to Luxor, absorbing a myriad of wonders, fending off zealous vendors at each stop, with Tarek deftly clearing the way and making sure we got the best shopping prices possible.
Docked at Luxor, we immersed ourselves in a place surpassing even Cairo in the number and importance of ancient sights, including the vast grounds of Karnak Temple and the Valley of the Kings, where we saw Tut himself at rest in his celebrated tomb. In Luxor we indulged in the sort of activities independent travelers relish: a ride along the lush banks of the Nile in a felucca (the traditional small sailing boat of Egypt); a farm lunch at a local home with all products, from potatoes and eggplant to chicken and beef, grown or raised on the family’s four-acre plot; and a harrowing horse-and-carriage ride through Luxor by night. Then it was a morning flight back to Cairo for two more intense days of sightseeing, from the city’s markets to the giant Sphinx at Memphis to the Step Pyramid at Sakkara — once the largest stone structure ever built.
After this 12-day marathon with 19 temples, innumerable monuments and mazes of markets, we were satiated with the sights of Egypt. Would we return to Egypt on our own next time, spending less, meeting locals and experiencing an exotic culture in more depth, but no doubt seeing less of the splendors? Perhaps. But Odysseys Unlimited showed us traveling in small groups offers a multitude of sights and pleasures we wouldn’t have the resources to experience on our own.
Egypt & The Eternal Nile Tour
tel 888 370 6765