Life Changing Trips
Photos in order: Roger Ressmeyer/Corbis (1); LoAnn Halden (4)
Story by LoAnn Halden, Associate Editor, The Out Traveler
The Out Traveler staffers are addicted to great journeys and we take good destination tips seriously. So when editor-at-large Matthew Link starting talking about "10 Trips That Will Change Your Life" for our Fall 2008 issue, it gave me pause -- and then I started packing for Egypt.
Yes, I did take his advice and ride a camel around the 4,500-year-old pyramids of Giza, one of those "pinch me, I must be dreaming" moments when you truly comprehend that the images from your childhood history lessons exist beyond the pages of textbooks. But then an unexpected thing happened: I planned my trip to see the pyramids, and found that after 16 days of traveling throughout Egypt and Jordan, they had paled in comparison. These are countries of such great visual riches (and, in Egypt, extreme poverty), it's impossible to pin the life-altering experience on just one day, one excursion, one monument.
At the Temple of Karnak in Luxor, our group stood with mouths hanging open amid the 134 stone columns of the Great Hypostyle Hall, where sections of hieroglyphics still pop with paint despite exposure to the elements for nearly 4,000 years. Three hours into the desert from Aswan, on the edge of Lake Nasser, the Great Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel stands as a testament to man's ability to move mountains -- literally. It was not only an astonishing building feat in its first go-round (carved between 1274 and 1244 B.C.) -- but when word got out that it would end up underwater after the Aswan High Dam construction, UNESCO got an archeological team involved, cut it into 2,000 pieces, and reassembled it safely on higher ground. Stand under the more than 65-foot high sculptures flanking the front entrance and ponder that one! Saving the planet might be possible after all.
The "pinch-me" moments just went on and on, from watching an eagle ray cruise over the coral in the crystal-clear Red Sea to standing among 400 singing pilgrims atop Mount Sinai at sunrise to listening to Bedouin musicians perform by candlelight in front of the Treasury building at Petra -- quite possibly the most remarkable site/sight of the entire trip.
I will acknowledge that the what-kind-of-alien-are-you stares from men were incessant, the summer heat was oppressive, and most of our group dealt with stomach issues, but the challenges were tiny compared to the history and culture unfolding each day across the desert landscape. Our guides commented on how much U.S. tourism to the Middle East has declined since 9/11, and that is a shame. Put Egypt and Jordan on the must-see list. It will definitely change your perceptions -- and it might just change your life.