Travel Journal - Egypt & the Eternal Nile

Article and photos by Hon Hoang ʼ14


his was my first time on the continent of Africa, let alone Egypt. Words could not thoroughly describe how excited I was at the prospect of seeing monuments and world wonders I’d only seen in the media. To step foot onto a land and walk the same paths that so many others have done for millennia; to see cascading waves of sand brush past the horizon as the sun sets ꟷ these were moments that I’ve only imagined and it became a reality. For two weeks, I had the privilege of being part of a tour through Egypt with UCLA Alumni Travel. Going from Cairo to the southern border of Egypt and then back up to Luxor by cruising on riverboats on Lake Nasser and the River Nile, it was an experience that was magical and honest. I saw the country outside its major city limits. I observed villages along the Nile. I visited monuments thousands of years old. And I learned about the people who called Egypt home.

There was a sense of surrealism that enveloped me as I left the confines of the airport. Things felt the same, but were somehow different. As the distance between me and the airport grew, I entered through the city limits to a new reality. It dawned on me that I was a long ways from home. I started noticing the little details: how the air and even the sunshine felt different. This was how I felt when I observed my first sunrise and sunset in Egypt. I wondered if it was the same sun I’ve always known. I wondered if the deep red amber light was a product of the sand and dust while I gazed upon the pyramids of Giza looming in the horizon as the sun said hello and goodbye to the day.

The awe and wonder didn’t strike me all at once as I stood in front of the monuments I’ve only seen in history books and in varying media ever since I was a child. It slowly settled over me like the fine grains of sand on top of surfaces in Egypt. I wondered how much of what I was experiencing was a dream. Then the sights, sounds and sensations reminded me that, for now, this was my reality and that meant I was standing before the Pyramids of Giza, The Temple of Abu Simbel and The Sphinx. As the tour continued on, so did the list of great wonders.

Like any good story, a setting always needs characters to make any tale worth telling. Traveling is nothing without the people who make the destination, with the exception of a few locations. It would be difficult for me to experience a place without learning and immersing myself in the culture my temporary home hoped to provide. Hospitality, especially as it related to tourism, can easily be dismissed as capitalistic opportunity, but this can be said about any tourist destination. Once I began exploring on my own, outside of locations with high tourist traffic, I found that locals had a genuine curiosity and earnestness to interact with travelers. There was reciprocating curiosity as I passed by observing vendors and shopkeepers, exchanging civilities and warm smiles. 

One of the most memorable moments for me did not involve visiting one of the Egypt's ancient structures, but having lunch with a farmer and his family, as our tour group met them at their home. We were granted an opportunity to see how some people in Egypt lived and how they made their living with what the River Nile provided.

I would be remiss not to mention our various modes of transportation as they were experiences unto themselves. It may not seem appealing at first having to take a bus through the deserts of Egypt, but it was during these times that I saw the finer moments that can't be found in guide books or captured on celluloid or printed in the history books. Like seeing the many grains of sand that make up the desert, or observing the grand expanse of what nature has to offer, and realizing how Egyptians have been able to adapt and thrive in such harsh environments. These were the moments that made my trip.

Beyond our bus rides through the cities and deserts, I also found myself on riverboats that transported us from Lake Nasser to the River Nile up to Luxor. These boat rides were exemplary floating hotels that took us from one ancient temple to another. These temples may have been the highlights of the day for some, but for me, it was the moments in between that made it a memorable experience. The early mornings watching the sun rise over the manmade Lake Nasser as we rode motorboats to the shores towards our temple du jour. Observing the crashing waves against the side of the riverboat, still in awe that Egyptians spent 10 years making such a lake. Cruising on the River Nile as the calls to prayer echoed throughout the horizon. As the setting sun reminded the religious to be closer to God, I was reminded where I was in the world. 

Through these words and images, I could only capture so much, but what couldn’t be encapsulated were the sounds and sensations that made up the experience. Depending on the time of year, the time of day and who happens to be present in the moment, popular destinations can be distinctively your own. This trip may have been a shared experience, but it was somehow still distinctively my own. How you travel and what you experience will always be based on how you approach traveling: what you decide to let in and what you decide to leave behind. There’s so much more to be said about this unforgettable trip, so for everything else that was left unsaid, perhaps you’ll have to experience Egypt for yourself. 

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