Oman and Egypt. Expectation meets reality

The areas of the near east…Oman and Egypt provided a strong lesson in expectation versus reality.

It certainly continued the fascinating adventure of the parts of the world most different from my home in Canada. The parched desert. Oman wasn’t much to report on: just a small stretch of city by the sea with the desert behind. And surprisingly, the desert is far from flat. Just on the edge of the city of Salala, Oman, a tall mountain rises out of the sand.

In Safaga, Egypt – though I didn’t go ashore so as to give Leslie the day off so she could see the Valley of the Kings (in exchange for me getting the day off to see the Pyramids) – I saw a small town with basically one road. Sand sand everywhere, and some buildings, and just one road that went from the town, and just ended off in the desert emptiness. Desolate and bleak – but yet the cities themselves are built up and habitable and not that bad at all.

Getting off at Alexandria and driving towards Cairo to visit the Pyramids, it was actually stunning to witness how habitable the cities of Egypt are. It’s definitely not all sand. In fact, the whole drive to Cairo was almost completely agricultural area – irrigated green crops, fresh tomatoes going by in truckloads, and marshland around Alexandria. You don’t really think of it, but Egypt has a mighty river running through it – the Nile. And because of that, there’s major irrigation and damming and deltas…and as a result, Egypt’s main industries are oil, tourism and AGRICULTURE! Not sand-filled hour-glasses, haha.

The drive to Cairo was interesting, because our busses had to travel in a convoy escorted by tourism police. Every bus had an armed undercover police officer. Nasty things have happened in Egypt with tour busses targeted in the past. They take it very seriously to provide exceptional security to tourists now because they don’t want to lose their major source of income and foreign goodwill.

We arrived at the famed Pyramids – something I’ve looked so incredibly forward to seeing…and I had one of the strongest lessons in expectation versus reality.

I suppose for anyone who’s never seen them and only dreams of the pyramids, for me to say that they didn’t meet my expectations must sound incredibly pompous. I mean, common, the pyramids.

It would certainly be inaccurate and overstatement to say that they disappointed. Far far far from. They were fascinating – and absolutely mystifying to actually crawl INTO (though I couldn’t make myself descend very far…I believe I’m somewhat claustrophobic so I turned around rather soon because I was concerned that I might get worried if I pushed myself too far). Stunning to consider how ancient they are and the vast history behind them – and also to contemplate how in the world they were built.

Interesting fact: did you know that they were actually virtually smooth. The limestone outer casing has mostly worn away with the ages – but they weren’t just blocks…they were actually smooth pyramids. And each block is larger than two of me lying head to foot. That’s pretty darn impressive.

So what didn’t meet my expectation, you ask?

Honestly, it’s the fact that it’s fundamentally a tourist destination.

You go in and you have these dreams of the pyramids in the vast desert, sand swirling around and the sun beating down as camels slowly trudge by.

Well, the immediate area surrounding them is desert.

With a parking lot for busses, and a roadway going between them. The camels are there under the guidance of hundreds of locals urging you to hop on for a ride (for a hefty price, of course). And Giza, the suburb of Cairo, is literally right beside the pyramids. Our tour group, for example, had lunch at a resort hotel just a few hundred meters beside the pyramids. It’s not like there’s tall hotels and skyscrapers right beside the pyramids. They still take command and dominate the area. They’re just not the remote monoliths in the vast desert that I dreamed of.

And, further to expectation versus reality, this was also a strong lesson in what happens when you actually set foot in the shadow of a wonder of the world – or really anything you’ve always wanted to see.

Somethings meet your expectations. A few things exceed your expectations (like witnessing the CN tower, I always think…wow, that’s REALLY REALLY tall!) And many things don’t meet your expectations (like Auckland’s Sky Tower…I was like, meh).

A guest eloquently described what happens and why you have that experience of “hey, they’re the pyramids, why wasn’t I as impressed as I should have been?”

It’s the fact that you’re experiencing something different than looking at a site in a photograph or a movie. Because for the first time, you’ve added yourself into the mix. It’s not JUST you looking at the site, you’re there, so you add in the sensory reality of YOU in relation to the site. You’re not just taking in the site in isolation is what I mean. Rather, you’re experiencing, and with that there are a great many more thought processes going through your head. Is it bigger or smaller than you expected. There are crowds that become a part of the experience, there’s the relation of the site to its surroundings.

When you’re actually there, you take the site out of isolation in put it in context.

And, I mention this not so much to say that the pyramids were disappointing – they weren’t. In and of themselves, they were fascinating. And, in a way, the fact that they taught me the lesson about context and expectation versus reality – that says something about them as well!

And it also gives me thought about a note to convey to you.

Through showing you my photos and describing as richly as I can the experience of doing this journey – I can only offer you so much. No matter what, I’m just giving you a filtered perspective and one glimpse. But, unfortunately, I can’t give you context.

And that is one of the greatest joys of traveling and journeying and experiencing an adventure.

I’ll stop writing now and direct you to the photos: of the city of Cairo and it’s absolutely remarkable mix of traditional ways of life and modern culture moving forward with growth and progress. People herding sheep down main streets of Cairo! That’s an experience for behold – and the context is what makes it unique: the aspect of old in amongst the new.

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