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A couple of years ago, I wrote a list of things I wanted to do before I die — and just to be clear, this was way before that retarded Bucket List movie. Anyway, last week, my list got one entry shorter — I went to Egypt and, in an ironic twist, almost died doing it.
My friend Ashley and I were in the Valley of the Kings (previous resting place of Tutankhamun and a bunch of Ramses), checking out the tombs, marveling at hieroglyphs and generally sweating our asses off (turns out, early May is the meteorological equivalent of our mid-August — in Death Valley). From the Valley of the Kings, our plan was to hike over the mountain to Hatshepsut Temple, a mortuary dedicated to the sun god Amon-Ra and site of the infamous 1997 massacre of 60 tourists by an Islamic terrorist group. Though it was clearly delineated on our map, we could not find the trail that would lead us to the other side. Instead, there were various criss-crossing paths peopled with groups of Egyptian boys waiting for hapless tourists to try their luck at navigating them.
The moment Ashley and I made a move towards leaving the confines of the valley, we were joined by Youssef, a mustachioed Egyptian, who offered to point us in the right direction. And being the trusting suckers that we are, we followed.
At first everything was fine. The trail was steep, but manageable, and the views were spectacular. Ashley and I hiked upwards, buoyed by a feeling of superiority to all of the tourists down below being herded back onto their air-conditioned buses. We, on the other hand, were hiking a frickin’ mountain in the Egyptian desert. We were travelers extraordinaire.
Our sense of superiority quickly evaporated, however, when it was time to go down the other side. In America, people wouldn’t have attempted this descent without hanging onto a rope. In Egypt, I was doing it while hanging on to nothing but my purse. The mountain was covered in shale that would trickle over the edge of the lethal, million-foot-high cliff with every clumsy step of my flip-flop-clad feet. I was convinced, though, that after this first tricky part, we’d hit the easy trail and the rest of the way would be cake. We had Youssef, after all, and he practically lived on this scorched piece of rock. But after the “tricky part” led to the ledge of certain death, I was no longer certain of Youssef’s good intentions.
That 1997 massacre all of the sudden didn’t seem so long ago.
The more I thought about it, the worse it got. I had started on a path that was impossible to retrace. No one would hear me if I screamed. I was a western devil in an Islamic country. And then it hit me — even if I didn’t fall off this mountain of my own accord, Youssef was going to push me. For any number of reasons.
If Ashley fell accidentally, he would push me to avoid any possible law enforcement hassles. If he pushed Ashley on purpose, he would of course push me to cover up. And, then again, maybe he’d push both of us, just for spite. Or laughs.
In any case, holy fucking shit. I was going to die.
My legs were shaking uncontrollably as I inched my way along three-inch-wide ledges. At one point the trail ended altogether, and we had to leap across the wide-open abyss to another rock outcropping where it started up again. Youssef would reach out occasionally to try and help, but since I knew he was trying to murder me, I wasn’t very inclined to let him. In fact, underneath my overwhelming fear, I was really pissed. Who the hell did this asshole think he was, leading two girls down the trail of doom? I was half-tempted to one-up him and push him before he could get me, but instead I just smiled, assured him that I was all right, and said mental goodbyes to my family and friends. So much for the rest of the list. I guess that marathon will never be run.
Of course, since I’m sitting here writing this now, I did, in fact, make it to the other side. Ashley and I gave Youssef money for not killing us, and, in parting, he gave us each a kiss on the cheek, a book of postcards that had seen better days and his well-wishes for a pleasant stay.
We walked away, cursing our stupidity, yet feeling elated that we had just defied death. Top that Morgan Freeman.
Our route: Ashley and I started our trip in Cairo, second largest city in the world, where we checked out the Islamic section and were hissed at by women in burqas and propositioned by men in designer jeans. From there, we flew south to Aswan and commenced a four-day cruise up the Nile, stopping at various spectacular temples and entombments along the way. From Luxor, our ending point, we flew back to Cairo, giving ourselves just enough time to be violently ill (word of warning: don’t drink the sangria) before heading home. Even so, I still managed to make it to the Pyramids, but had to forgo my lifelong dream of riding a camel. Instead, I rode a gnarly old horse and was accidentally whipped on the leg by my guide. All in all, it was a great trip.