Egypt's not so scary; This may be the best time in history to pose in front of the pyramids.

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Egypt may have no head of state and it's unclear whether the democratic uprising of Jan. 25 will result in big changes. And there may be political unrest in neighbouring nations, but as a tourist, you'd never know it as you traipse from one amazing Egyptian site to another.

During my recent visit the streets of Cairo felt perfectly safe. While I didn't do things I wasn't supposed to, such as dress immodestly (uncovered shoulders or knees) or make eye contact with men on the street unless they spoke to me first, I always felt safe by myself or with my children. Always, children and adults called out "Welcome!" with a smile.

I was in Cairo in late March during the first voting since the January demonstrations, which resulted in a 77-per-cent "yes" vote for further constitutional changes in September. For many, it was the first truly free vote they had made in their lives and they were excited about it.

The only ways a tourist is aware of political change are reduced crowds at tourist sites and the curbside kiosks selling "25th January" paraphernalia and Egyptian flags. Cairenes are gobbling them up, displaying them and proudly telling anyone who will listen about why they hope things will be better without Mubarak. The Egyptian media is extremely optimistic and anyone I talked to remains hopeful for democratic and lasting change.

Depending on whom you talk to, and where exactly you are, tourism at the moment is down 60 to 70 per cent. Egypt wants Westerners to know it's "business as usual" for visitors. Obviously it's a sentiment full of self-interest since tourism is No. 2 in the Egyptian economy, but there are innumerable benefits to visiting Egypt now.

Egypt is a country where the concept of tourism was invented 4,000 years ago and where tourism is a prestigious course of university study for those who work in the industry.

Think about it. It's a 15-or-sohour trip to Egypt from Can-ada, never mind the price tag. So how many times do you think you might go to Egypt in your life? Once? Twice?

Visiting Egypt now is like going to Disney World at its slowest time of year. Consider the Egyptian Museum. Picture the 200,000 people that on a usual day parade through the Cairo building that's about half the size of the Museum of Nature. Many of the museum's 3,000-year-old papyri, pottery, stone carvings and jewelry are inside glass cabinets built in 1902 along with the rest of the museum, locked with pieces of twisted wire. The cabinets are not lit and most of the items are not at eye level, so they're not exactly easy to see.

If you have to elbow your way past thousands of tourists, well, it's just not very Canadian, is it? But now, instead of 200,000, just 50,000 to 80,000 come to see the museum most days.

There has never been a better time to see Egypt's treasures.

There is no need to line up for hours in 30-degree heat to enter the magnificent, carved tombs in the Valley of the Kings at Luxor. Now, you can just walk in, take your time, and not have to shuffle along in a queue.

If you go on a Nile cruise, you're attended to superbly since instead of being one of 100, you're one of 25. And because there are so few of you, they might even upgrade your accommodations wherever you go. Not bad, really .

If, like me, you'd be travelling with your school-aged children and wondering if that is a responsible thing, know that Egyptians love kids. My children have never been so much the centre of attention, petted over and played with.

Egyptians take the safety of tourists seriously -more so than in Europe. I felt OK being in a shop with my son sitting at the door with a neighbouring shop owner who talked with him, gave him his chair to sit on and offered him a cold drink.

If you show up at a tourist destination with a guide (highly recommended since the English-language explanation of what you're seeing adds immeasurably to the experience and getting a guide can be easily arranged at your hotel), the "tourist police" will take note of what your nationality is, where you're staying, and, apparently, follow up with your hotel later to make sure you got back safely. Which seems a bit superfluous, really, since I never felt threatened, worried or unsafe anywhere in Egypt.

On the lighter side, the toughest thing a tourist has to deal with in Egypt these days is the hawker selling his tourist wares. Seriously. Every temple and tourist destination has a corridor of tourist kiosks, each headed by an assertive gentleman who wants you to spend your souvenir budget in his store.

"Hey Lady, where you from?" "Canada."

"Canada?" he responds to your polite reply. "Canada Dry!"

Then he laughs heartily because Egyptians love a good joke. And then the hard sell begins.

The best defence has already passed since you've already spoken. What you should have done, our guide explained, was "walk like a camel" and look straight ahead, no eye contact and absolutely no response to any questions whatsoever. But you answered because you thought "poor guy . I'm one of 25 per cent of the usual tourists who come through this place."

So because you'd given the guy a little hope, he starts following you as you keep walking and pesters you with things like "What you looking for?"

"Nothing," you reply.

"I have nothing!" he says.

So if you are wondering if you should go or not, go. It's an amazing time to be there and see the sights and talk with Egyptians about what they think about their future. And there are some great deals out there.

Carmen Farrell is a freelance writer living in the rainforests of North Vancouver. She visited Egypt during March Break with her husband and two children.

Ottawa Citizen

Organizations: Disney World, Museum of Nature, Kings

Geographic location: Egypt, Cairo, Canada Nile Europe North Vancouver Ottawa

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Recent comments

  • Lloyd Spicer
    June 13, 2011 - 15:29

    Saw Egypt 6 years ago. Truely a fabulous country. We were at the Cairo museum, Giza (Sphinx and pyamids). Flew to Aswan, saw the dam, Philae and cruise down to Luxor. Would love to see it again. Thanks for tourist update.