With visions of the Sphinx, pyramids, feluccas and temples dancing in our heads, we finalized our itinerary for Egypt…… just as we heard the news of protests being planned in Egypt for January 25th (how apropos…..on their national holiday celebrating the police force). With Egypt’s history of quelling protests quickly, our televised news sources anticipated that any rallies would be small and short-lived, so we rested easy.
But Tuesday’s anti-government protests caught Egypt….and the world….by surprise. Thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in a self-proclaimed “day of rage.” The rallies started calmly in Cairo and other major cities but within hours, they became violent as demonstrators and police clashed. The police, using tear gas and water cannons, were unable to stop the flood of protesters…..who defended themselves with Facebook, Twitter and stones. This was a bit concerning but we still continued with our plans….eagerly anticipating our trip to the land of the Pharaohs.
Despite a government ban, the protests continued on Wednesday…..and we started wondering if we should change our plans……drat, why didn’t we buy that “Cancel for Any Reason” insurance?
On Thursday, Mohamed El Baradei, long-time supporter of Egyptian rights, returned to Egypt from his self-imposed exile and joined the protesters. The demonstrators vowed to continue their protest against poverty, corruption and President Mubarak. Reporters agreed that Friday would be a critical day…..during afternoon prayers, the Muslim clerics would have the power to either calm or incite the populace. Selfishly, we hoped against hope that the clerics would promote calm and encourage alternative means to change. I searched the Internet for clues and found a thread on TripAdvisor written by a correspondent in Cairo who advised that, other than avoiding the downtown area, there was no immediate need to change any travel plans. With this encouragement, we were once again hopeful that we’d soon be climbing pyramids and sailing on the Nile.
But the Egyptian people returned to the streets. The government had stopped most means of communication but they couldn’t stop the “mosque messaging” system. Elite counterterrorism forces were deployed in Cairo as rioters burned cars, tanks and buildings. President Mubarak finally spoke to his country; his assurances that he understood their concerns and had requested his cabinet to step down were met with jeers of “he just doesn’t get it.” It was reported Mubarak’s son had left the country with his family……taking over 100 suitcases with them (hmmmm, clothes or cash?). One report showed an Egyptian protestor holding up a tear gas canister showing that it came from the United States. Uh-oh….that can’t be good. By now, we were pretty sure our dreams of Egypt would remain just that.
We woke on Saturday with the unstated understanding that we wouldn’t be going to Egypt. We watched the continuing reports…..more protests, more deaths…..a country now in crisis. Feeling somewhat selfish against this background of chaos and suffering, we reviewed our plans….trying to decide how best to mitigate our losses. After reading the very fine print and making a few phone calls, it seemed our best course of action was to hope that our tour company will cancel our tour and that our airline will cancel our flight…..if not, this will be a very expensive lesson in the value “cancel for any reason” trip insurance.
With that decided, we moved on to the next question……what are we going to do with this newly freed time? Hmmmm……Stay here? No, we don’t have enough firewood. Bordeaux, Brittany, the French Alps? No, too cold and rainy. The French Caribbean? No, too expensive in winter. Disneyworld? No, been there, done that. Italy? No, not enough time to plan an itinerary. Then I spied our salvation…..the Rick Steves’ Guide to Portugal!! A two-week itinerary right at our fingertips. We quickly booked flights and a rental car…… then settled back with thoughts of beaches, castles, cork trees and port wines dancing in our heads.
Até a próxima vez…..until next time