Egypt: Traveling in the Wrong Direction

Life, like the Nile River, flowed against this traveler’s expectations. On a trip to Egypt, she finally realized why she likes it that way.

By Katherine Lanpher
The author rides in a hot air balloon over Luxor. (Photo: Jessica Antola)
Photograph: Photo by: Jessica Antola

When in Aswan

No visit is complete without a drink on the terrace of the Old Cataract hotel, an Edwardian jewel that overlooks the Nile and probably hasn’t changed much since Agatha Christie wintered there. A standard room, at $283 a night, also nets you an over-the-top, elegant breakfast.

Travel Guides

If you’re traveling in the wrong direction, you need the right kind of guidebook. Here are three of my favorites, a memoir and two novels. They won’t tell you how to find a hotel, but they will tell you how to find Egypt.

Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff, by Rosemary Mahoney, is a brilliant account of Mahoney’s quest to do exactly as her title says. She rows solo down the Nile in a small boat in a country where women and tourists are supposed to be passengers, not skippers.

The Yacoubian Building, by Alaa Al Aswany, was a sensation — both for sexual and political frankness — when it first came out in Egypt in 2002. You won’t get to peek into the windows of many private homes when you’re in Egypt, but this novel affectionately reveals the intertwined lives of the inhabitants of a once-elegant apartment building in downtown Cairo.

The Map of Love, by Ahdaf Soueif, is a juicy historical novel, set during the nationalist struggle in Egypt in the early 20th century. It traces a cross-cultural love affair that will reverberate for generations.

Originally published in MORE magazine, December 2007/January 2008.

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