Story: My introduction to the splendours of Egypt begin with a canter on horseback to the pyramids of Abu Sir along a landscape that looks more like the surface of the moon than the earth. As the lyrics of America’s Horse With No Name appropriately carousel around my head – “The heat was hot and the ground was dry / But the air was full of sound” – it hits me that I’m riding in the trail of the legendary female Victorian explorer Gertrude Bell, who would have enjoyed exactly the same view of this timeless and cinematic landscape. Today you can still sidle up close to these extraordinary temples without another soul in sight. As I gaze across the horizon to the famous pyramids of Giza and the lesser-known antique burial grounds of Saqqara and Dahshur, it makes me feel intensely aware of my own minuscule position within these immeasurable sands of time and space.
Egypt rarely escapes the stereotype of an exotic, dangerous place full of pyramids crammed with cursed treasure and waiting to be discovered by adventurous archaeologists. While it’s true that to this day new artefacts are constantly being uncovered – a major tomb near the Valley of the Kings was unearthed at the end of 2017 – the country’s reputation as a hotbed of political unrest, following years of internal strife after the Arab Springs of 2010–2012, finally seems to be giving way to a more hopeful period of peace and prosperity. Although caution is still recommended in some areas, particularly if travelling alone, by the end of last year Egypt’s tourism figures had almost doubled. With this renewed interest you get the sense that these peaceful moments minus the crowds will not be around for much longer.