Every trip has its unexpectedly wonderful experience, a moment or a place that turns out to be much more than we had imagined. On this journey from Egypt’s port of Safaga, I had anticipated the treasures we would be experiencing in Luxor. But it was what we saw on the three-and-a-half-hour drive getting there that caught me by surprise in a most extraordinary way.
We were traveling in a caravan of tour buses through the brown rocky Eastern Desert, surrounded by the Red Sea Mountains. Our delightful guide Mervat – “Call me ‘Merv’ like Merv Griffin!” she said with a laugh – was holding court at the front of the bus, regaling us with tales of Egyptian history, politics and personal life. Like a dutiful teacher, she explained everything in great detail – even how to properly use the bus bathroom. There would be no rest stops until we reached Luxor.
The desert landscape stretched on for the first two hours. Our driver pulled over at regular security checkpoints, stopping briefly before heading on. And then suddenly, like the Wizard of Oz transforming from black-and-white to color, the scenery changed. Verdant farmlands and small towns began appearing outside my window. Men were working in fields, riding carts pulled by donkeys, waiting for Tuk-Tuk rides. Women were walking together on dusty roads, some with faces completely covered, holding hands with their small children. The scenes looked like pictures from old issues of National Geographic magazine.
But it was the school children who really touched my heart. They waved at us with the unencumbered joy that children seem to carry with them, no matter where they are, however humble their lives. The women were much more reserved, more reticent to make eye contact. But when one little girl waiting with her mother waved at me – and I waved back – her mother smiled and waved, too. I see you; you see me; we are all in this world together.
I grabbed my camera and didn’t put it down until we arrived in Luxor. The higher vantage point and spacious window of the bus proved to be a surprisingly good spot for picture-taking. Our driver’s security checkpoints were also an advantage, often located at crossroads that offered a peek down rural lanes that otherwise would have breezed past.
I don’t have specific information about these photos. They speak for themselves, I think, and offer a small bit of insight into life in rural Egypt. I will be forever grateful to have had this fascinating glimpse into a world beyond Egypt’s main attractions, an unexpected gift on the road from Safaga to Luxor.