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Yanks in Upper Egypt: Thin on the Ground

April 4th, 2019 · No Comments · Egypt, tourism, Travel

Around the world, it seems to be assumed that hardly a jet can touch down — anywhere, at any time of year — and not have some Americans on board. With more of them already ensconced in a nearby hotel or tourist club.

Americans like to get out and around.

But not necessarily in this part of Egypt.

Eleven days in the country, and we have yet to bump into any other Americans. Zero. None.

People in Egypt’s tourist industry have remarked on how few Yanks are in the areas we have visited — Hurghada, a beach city on the Red Sea, and on the Upper Nile, a long stretch from Luxor south to Aswan.

The guy leading the six-hour bus ride from the Red Sea coach to Luxor said, when he found out we are Yanks, “I haven’t seen an American in weeks.”

Our Egyptian guide on the Nile assumed we were British. Reasonable enough, considering the boat we were on was about 60 percent German, 39 per cent Brit and those two oddities representing the U.S. of A.  He had called us over and wanted to know “When is this Brexit going to end?” We had to tell him, “Good question, but we are Americans.”

The guy behind the counter at the big, old hotel where we spent four nights, reacted to our arrival as if he had never before seen a Yank. And, granted, we have not yet heard an American accent in four-plus days here.

It is not entirely clear if Americans are staying away from this part of Egypt for safety reasons, or if they have lost interest … but the latter part of it can’t be right because Egypt has more fascinating historical sites (going back 5,000 years or so) than any country on the planet.

We figure part of the answer is that where we have stayed, and the ship we took … fall in the British/German/Russian/French tourism sphere of influence. The U.S. has limited contacts with Egypt; it was considered Britain’s patch for a century or so, and sometimes France’s, too, what with the two of those countries teaming up to build the Suez Canal.

More recently, the late, non-lamented Soviet Union was a key ally for Egypt, and a few thousand Russians live in Hurghada.

Add the Germans, who go hunting for warm spots this time of year (as do natives of the other three countries mentioned) and tend to settle on sites as close by as possible, and Hurghada is in the running for top of the heap “convenient-to-Europe” travel.

(State-side Americans looking for sun, this time of year, tend to stay in the Western Hemisphere, particularly in the safer bits of Mexico or the Dominican. Shorter plane rides.)

Hurghada seems also to have gotten more visitors since a Russian jet was blown up shortly after takeoff from Sharm Al Sheikh, a rival Egyptian tourist hot spot on the Sinai Peninsula, in October of 2015. All 224 on board were killed, and violence tends to hurt business, wherever that violence happened. Russians in particular shun Sharm.

The Sinai continues to be dangerous, according to the U.S. State Department which advises that Americans stay out of Sinai, aside from Sharm. In general, the whole of Egypt is rated as a place for “increased caution due to terrorism”. Adding: “Terrorist groups continue plotting attacks in Egypt.”

Egypt is at Level 2, with Level 4 being the worst. So, “Yanks probably will be OK, but don’t hold us to it”, the State Department seems to be saying.

That can put a damper on U.S. travel here, too.

One of the seasons we are here is that, while living in the south of France, the best way to get to the sun and sights of Upper Egypt, including Karnak and Luxor and Aswan Dam, is through Paris or London, and landing in Hurghada. Avoiding Cairo completely. Which means no Giza visits.

For the most part we fit in with the crowd, apparently. Russians assume we are German. Germans seem to think we are French or maybe Russian.

Even my “LB” baseball cap is not as clearly a “Yank” marker as it once was. On the river cruise, a guy from Saudi Arabia, a British woman and a German kid each wore ball caps with NY on the front of them.

So, we take a little bit of perverse pleasure in being unique, and also find it to be a bit nerve-racking.

Yesterday, we walked by a dive shop, on the grounds of the hotel, and a young man came rushing out to make a sale. He asked where we were from, and suggested five countries –Russia, France, France, Germany before he gave up and we, perhaps errantly said, “We are American.”

It did give pause to the dive-shop guy. He did not speak for a beat or three. He finally said, “I will be waiting for you.” To come back? Or to hassle? Maybe we should have left out what sort of passport we carry.

We head back to Europe tomorrow, God-willing, and we might even consider coming back here again some day to one of the least Yank-inflected tourist zones in the world.



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