Solo to accessible Egypt


I took an independent trip to Egypt, Oct. 26-Nov. 3, 2007, especially to see el-Amarna, where Nefertiti and Akhenaten had their City of the Sun.

I had searched the Internet and located several possible travel agents in Egypt, sending them all queries. All who replied offered canned group trips, except one.

Adam at MyWay Travel, Egypt (14 Abdel Ghafar St., Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt; phone +2 012 7739149, fax +2 02 2400510 or visit www.egyptmyway.com) was very helpful, quoting prices and possible tours. He assured me I would have escorts to help me not only with my luggage but in getting on and off the train.

I cannot climb stairs or steep hills, so he made sure to book me in accessible hotels. I was even carried in a chair up and down the Nile embankment so I could take a felucca ride.

For a total of $1,290, land only, I had two nights at the Mena House Oberoi, where I was in the main building with no view; a round-trip train ride in first class to Al Minya; three nights at the Mercure Nefertiti Hotel, with a river view, and three nights at the Cairo Nile Hilton, also with a river view.

The price also included escorted tours — with a driver, a guide and an armed guard — at the Giza pyramids and the Sphinx; at el-Amarna (for Nefertiti’s Palace and City of the Sun); at the Bani Hasan necropolis, and at Khan el Khalili Bazaar in Cairo, plus a dinner cruise, not to mention all the transfers and the novel ways of getting me up and down stairs and across railroad tracks.

The only problem was that both the el-Amarna tour and the Bani Hasan tour out of Al Minya included literally hundreds of stairs with no railings to get up to the cliff-cut tombs. I skipped the climb in el-Amarna, and the tour guides replaced the Hasan tour with a horse-drawn carriage ride around town and a motorized felucca ride on the Nile.

The people at all of the hotels were very nice and helpful. Mena House (Pyramids’ Road, Giza, Cairo) is showing its age but is still elegant; the Queen of Norway was there. They have a motel-looking section down a steep hill from the main building. This is where the pool, massage and so-called gift shop are. For the gift shop they just used a couple of guest rooms, and there weren’t gifts to buy, just some Giza books and toothpaste.

The Mercure Nefertiti (Corniche al-Nil, Al Minya) is a business hotel, but it was the only one with no stairs. The people were friendly and cheerful but rather puzzled about what to do with a lone American lady. They had business seminars of Muslim men all day long in the room facing the pool, so I did not feel at ease in my bathing suit. On the Nile embankment across the street there was a very nice resort hotel, but with three flights of stairs between the water and the street it was totally inaccessible to me.

Al Minya is not a tourist town; it caters to university and business people. I had a terrible time even finding postcards to buy. And no hard liquor was available anywhere. My hotel said they could find me a beer, if I wanted to wait till the next day, and that the hotel across the street served beer and maybe wine at the water’s-edge lounge.

The Nile Hilton (1113 Corniche El Nil, Cairo) was even bigger than it was the last time I was in Cairo; they’ve expanded their shopping arcade to a full mall. Several of the restaurants are not accessible to wheelchairs, and one requires you to run the gauntlet of a whole patio of cigar smokers to get to it. The menu looked promising but wasn’t worth the asphyxiation, as the smoke came indoors.

The trains in Egypt are not up to European standards, by any means. First class looked more like second class in Spain or Italy.

And seat reservations were not always respected. When I boarded for the return trip, my seat was occupied. I told the porter and showed him my ticket for the window seat. He looked at the sleeping Egyptian man with his belly sticking out and his feet over in the other seat’s space and just shrugged and walked away. The sleeper had closed the curtains, so I saw no scenery, plus the train was over two hours late arriving in Cairo.

KIT STEWART

Sequim, WA