My Mom asked me if I would take her on an adventure vacation during my stay in Europe. She would travel from her home in Los Angeles, California and join me in my temporary home in London, England. When she first suggested it, I gave her the choice of anywhere she’d like to go. I was surprised when she came back that her number one bucket-list destination was Egypt. I had been there many times with my husband; for business and for pleasure. I guess my stories and love for the country had always stuck with her. I think she had visions of Raiders of the Lost Ark to be honest..lol
Now I am not going to tell you how old my mom is. A clue for you is that I turned 50 this year and I have a brother who is 7 years older than I am. She would kill me if I told you she was anything more than 29. Let’s just say that in her mind she is still 29, but her body isn’t so sure. I knew Egypt was going to present challenges, but it was her choice for vacation, so taking a deep breath and channeling my inner zen, I said yes and booked it.
First of all, as much as I love Egypt, it is a third-world country. When traveling there, one should take precautions and get shots to prevent illness, especially for those with compromised immune systems. My mother was responsible and did everything her doctor recommended including getting a prescription strength bottle of Immodium for stomach issues.
When traveling to any foreign country with questionable water hygiene, drink only bottled water; don’t have ice in your drinks and remember to brush your teeth with bottled water. Don’t eat fresh fruit that you can’t peel or salads or vegetables that have not been cooked. That’s just a stomach problem just waiting to happen. My mom made the mistake of soaking her dentures in tap water without thinking and then had to re-soak them in mouthwash to kill any germs. She still managed to get a little tummy bug but nothing too bad.
One of the things that I did to make traveling easier was to order her wheelchair service from Austrian Airlines for the very long walks through the airports. Trying to drag luggage and do the long walks through Heathrow, Vienna, and Cairo Airports would challenge even the fittest person. For a person who walks a little slower and tires easily with knee and ankle issues, this was essential. Even during our connecting flight at Vienna on the way back, it was a Godsend as the departure gate was at the opposite end of the airport.
*Note: Our flight from Heathrow left at 6:00am., therefore, our check-in was 4:00am. There is only one problem with this for those people with disabilities. There is no one at the wheelchair counter until 5:15am. I was left trying to grapple my mother and all of our hand luggage; get us through security and push her by myself through the HUGE Heathrow Airport. It was horrible. What a nightmare trying to do all of that and pull out my laptop out of my case and take off my shoes. You get the picture. All before coffee. I wasn’t a happy camper. I barely made the gate as I had waited for the staff to come and take my mother. (There was no sign or notice saying when the staff would arrive and of course no one knew.) However, once we got to our connection it all went smoothly.
*Note 2: Tipping the wheelchair attendant changes from country to country. In the UK it seems like a no no. In Austria it also seemed unwelcome. In Egypt it was a MUST. I think it’s a good rule of thumb to offer.
I selected a hotel in the center of Cairo (Marriott Zamalek) that had easy access to most attractions rather than selecting a hotel that was farther out which would cause more travel time. This was invaluable as we could enjoy more of the sites. Another thing that was invaluable when traveling with my mother was that the hotel had all of the modern conveniences like elevators and air conditioning; it was used to dealing with American guests and had cafes and convenience food shops where she could get a snack if she needed to in the middle of the night.
I hired a private tour company to take us to all of the sites to make our lives a little easier. Day Tour Cairo Egypt provided us with a driver and a highly trained tour guide that picked us up each morning and took us out for the entire day. I thought it was a great bargain at $55 per person per day, which included lunch and entry into every attraction. What this gave us is flexibility to do as much as my mother was physically able to do. The driver was able to drop us off at the closest possible point and pick us up when we were done at the best point. They were also willing to shorten our trips and were extremely flexible about adding or omitting things for which we did or didn’t have the energy.
Remember when traveling with older people or anyone who has health issues in Egypt that the streets are uneven and the curbs can be extremely high, causing trip hazards. There are lots and lots of stairs to climb. Elevators are only in fancy buildings and those are few and far between. I’d suggest comfortable low shoes. This trip even had me wearing my tennis shoes the entire time. Skip anything cute or fashionable and just go for practical and comfortable.
The pyramids are something you don’t want to miss, but the rocks are very uneven to walk on, so being careful is essential. It is very strenuous and tiring to do all of the walking that is required. Thankfully, we were able to drive in the car around the area to minimize some of it. Unfortunately, elderly people and disabled people will not be able to climb into the main pyramid at Giza. One must be very fit to do that and honestly, it is a little claustrophobic too. I am not sure it is worth the effort. There are plenty of other surrounding buildings to see that are amazing and filled with history.
Something to note is that there are both camels rides and donkey-pulled carts available at the pyramids. The camels aren’t particularly appropriate for the elderly or the disabled, but the donkey pulled carts would be ok. I would caution you, however, to look at the condition of the donkeys. I saw many that were malnourished and who had issues with their legs and who weren’t treated well. It made it impossible for me to choose this as an option for my mom. There are also many vendors offering to sell you their goods. Do not look them in the eye or smile. Just say no thank you and move on or they will bug you to death.
The traffic in Egypt is crazy. I won’t lie to you, cars come from every direction. You need to be careful when crossing the street with an older person as they are slow. Yikes, seriously! Even a younger person should be cautious. Your head needs to be on a swivel and look all directions constantly; do not stop looking back and forth at all times.
I also made sure that we had plenty of hydration with us at all times. Even though we went in the winter months, it was still warm as we toured and the water was really needed to keep up our stamina. You will not find sports drinks or alkaline water in Egypt, so remember to drink often or bring some of the small condensed hydration additive stuff with you to add to plain water.
Due to all of the hydration, we also carried with us toilet tissues as the toilets didn’t always provide it. Remember that clean toilets are not as common as they are in the USA so keep that little fact in mind. Hand Sanitizer and sanitizer wipes for the toilet seats were in constant use by us during our bathroom trips as the attendants often hand you a very used bar of soap to wash with. It’s also good to carry small coins with you to give to the bathroom attendants. Some bathrooms require payment to be used. *note: some bathrooms are just a hole in the ground with a place to put your feet*
In Egypt, tourist safety is a very big deal so you will find checkpoints, metal detectors, and bag screening everywhere. This can cause a problem for people with pacemaker or defibrillator medical device implants. In many cases, my mother had to point to her chest and hope that the guards understood that she couldn’t go through the machines. It seemed like no big hassle, other than the constant need to explain. The security agents either turned off the machines or motioned her around them.
One of the essential things for our trip were headscarves. Whilst they aren’t required in public in Egypt and it is a fairly liberal Muslim country; it is necessary to be respectful when visiting any of the mosques. You don’t want to miss those, they really are amazing and are so worth seeing. (And hey, if The Queen of England can wear one with a smile, then so can we!)
Visiting a pharmacy in Egypt was interesting. They do sell high doses of pain relievers so make sure you ask for what you need. Many of the things they sell over the counter are only available by prescription in the US. Don’t try to abuse the system though. If you get caught trying its big-time jail for you. Remember, the dosages are different in the US as are the names of the drugs so be sure what you are purchasing and that there are no drug interactions with anything you are currently taking. It is best if you come prepared with your own medicines.
My mother lost her prescription eyeglasses while we were touring but we managed to get new ones purchased and made within two days. The entire experience was far cheaper and more efficient than the US if you use the Egyptian system. We found ourselves seeing the optometrist at 9 p.m. without an appointment to get the vision exam. He gave her the prescription on the spot and we took it directly to the eyeglass maker. $40 later we had really nice bifocals glasses. I have to admit to you however that this was with the aid of friends who are local Egyptians who knew right where to go. We also went to a mall store and it was pretty much exactly the same procedure and price as you’d expect in the USA. We were lucky to be able to use the Egyptian system which saved us loads of money and hassle.
At Cairo airport on the way back we had multiple issues. The first was that we had to cross through security before we could get to where the wheelchairs were. The second issue was that they split my mom and me up as she couldn’t go through the metal detector machine at security. I was really so scared when she was told to walk by herself to the other end of the airport as she was already exhausted and she had no idea where to go by herself. That was not a good moment for me. Once through the first security though, we were able to get her wheelchair and move along our way.
Our final big issue was during the last checkpoint before getting onto the plane when the security demanded my mother’s disability license from her. We were in a real panic. We had no clue what they were talking about, and nothing I had read on the tourist information suggested she needed such a thing. Where could we get one? Were they looking for a bribe from us? Thankfully, a lovely passenger stepped up and suggested that what they meant was her medical device card which was issued with her pacemaker. That was indeed what they needed. Sometimes communication was an issue.
All in all our trip was great; we were able to see every single thing on our list and then some. We managed to get through all of the challenges relatively unscathed and really enjoyed ourselves. We are already thinking about where our next adventure may be. I think with this experience we may choose something a little easier next time like an Alaskan cruise or possibly a bus tour. Who knows where the wind will take us. Got any suggestions?