Should anyone even think about traveling to Egypt? Isn’t it the Middle East? Isn’t it dangerous? Those were usually the first questions I got when I decided to travel to Egypt.
I was talking to one woman about going to Egypt with us. She is experienced in international travel. Her daughter lives in Germany. But when she read what the State Department said about traveling to Egypt, she was a bit concerned. The State Department gave Egypt a level 3 warning: reconsider travel. Why? Because of Covid (at the time) and terrorism. Then, I looked at Germany. I realized that it was on the same level due to terrorism and Covid. I was rather shocked by that because almost everybody would consider Germany a safe place to visit. You can find all sorts of dire warnings about most countries.
Our guide met us at the airport, and we made our way to old Cairo. We entered into the traffic of Cairo, and we had never seen anything like it. Forget about lanes, distance between cars, and crosswalks. 30 million people live in and around Cairo, and it felt like they were all pushing and shoving to get into the road we were on.
In my town, we can get a little bit of traffic because of the tourists. This occurs primarily on one road in the middle of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. In Cairo, traffic is like that one road everywhere, only worse. Here, people stay in their lanes and follow relative order. There, forget about lanes. Forget about crosswalks. Forget about following two cars behind. Even on the highway with no one around, they stay a couple of feet behind an accompanying car.
There was a woman who was part of some of our tours who had traveled all over the world. She had even been to India which is notorious for its bad traffic. She said she had never seen worse traffic than what she saw in Cairo.
Traffic in Other Countries
The good thing about experiencing such terrible traffic on my first international trip was that everywhere else seemed not so bad. Bogota is a city famous for its bad traffic. After a day there, I had learned a new word, trancón. It is a word rolos (people born in Bogota) use to describe the traffic. After being in Egypt, Bogota seemed relatively orderly. It was really not bad at all. I could feel comfortable driving there.
In Guadalajara, I felt like I could easily drive there. And Cartagena. And Spain. But probably not Santo Domingo.
In Santo Domingo, I learned another word that is similar to trancón. It is tapón. It is the word for a plug or a cork, where things move down to a smaller place and you can’t get through. These tapones can last for hours.
They not only drive like locos, but the streets are crowded with cars. This is not always because of the traffic. It was more that several cars are trying to drive on roads that seem to be made for horse carriages rather than cars, especially large ones.
One great thing about Santo Domingo is that, though the traffic is overwhelming, there is a way around it, or rather over it. You can take a cable car or teleférico over the city traffic. It also gives you an amazing view of the city. It’s like viewing the city in a helicopter. You see the homes of the rich and poor, the rivers, the downtown in the distance, and the mazes they call streets.
The thing that makes roads in the Dominican Republic especially dangerous is all the motorcycles. They daringly move in and out of even the tiniest seam in the traffic. It’s often better not to watch. We stayed at the home of a cousin of one of our friends. This cousin actually lives most of the time in NYC. When he is in the DR, he attempts to drive in Santo Domingo. He told me that he had actually got in a wreck with a motorcyclist in Santo Domingo. It was not his fault, but it was traumatic. The motorcyclist died because of the wreck.
Those were the types of dangers we faced in Santo Domingo. Nevertheless, our driver, whom their friends called “Maria Racing,” got us through the maze of roads that were the opposite of a grid and navigated us safely through this labyrinth without even a scratch. She’s used to it. She uses her 12 passenger van to transport students. I asked her how many students she transports. She said, “45.” That’s why she wanted a 15 passenger van. She thought it would be better to take 60 students.
One thing travel has taught me is that people have different tolerances for different things. This is not wrong. In fact, being aware of it can open up new possibilities. For example, I have a 12 passenger van. People often ask me, how many people can I fit in it? I say, “9 Americans or 20 Dominicans.” This may sound offensive, but it’s actually a true statement. I have found that Dominicans and others are simply more tolerant of squeezing together into smaller spaces. Americans are not. They like their space. It’s not bad. It’s just different. I have asked myself, how many preferences like that do I have that I haven’t even thought of?
Driving in other countries can make you appreciate what you have. One way I like getting around is through Uber. It’s a great way to have conversations with locals. One gentleman from Bogota told me about his trip to Peru. I told him about appreciating the clean water in Bogotá and that going to Egypt and Mexico had made me appreciate the clean water in America (more on that in another post). I asked him if he had experienced anything like that. He said, yes. The traffic in Lima (the capital of Peru) was terrible. He said that after returning to Bogotá, he realized it wasn’t really that bad in Bogota, even though he had thought so before.
And that’s what happened to me. Watching the traffic around D.C. from the plane as I re-entered America after my first trip to Egypt, I could not believe how orderly the cars were. I have been in awe of it ever since. I have been to New York City, downtown Gatlinburg, Atlanta, and Charlotte, and I still have seen no traffic that would be anywhere near as disorderly and chaotic as what I saw in Egypt. I’m not trying to be hard on Egypt, which is a country I love and would love to visit again. I’m more in awe of how easy it is to drive around in the United States. It’s a real blessing, and I want to be thankful for it.
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This year, I was blessed to spend two weeks each in Egypt and Mexico. It was the first time in 25 years that I had travelled outside the United States or Canada. My major takeaway from my trips to Mexico and Egypt was a new appreciation for the blessings we enjoy in the United States. The U.S. has its weaknesses, to be sure, but we have a lot of strengths, and our prosperity allows us the resources to work on our weaknesses. What are those strengths?
Before I talk about America’s strengths, let me talk about the strengths of Mexico and Egypt. First, let me talk about Mexico. I knew that Mexico is more prosperous than many Americans think. I went to Cancún and Guadalajara. Guadalajara is right in the heart of Mexico. It is surprisingly prosperous. Its plazas or shopping centers can rival or outdo those of the United States.
One day, an Uber dropped me off near a lower-end plaza. I was waiting for a friend to finish with a meeting. So, I looked for a good place to wait. I was there by the road, and I looked across the street. There was a Starbucks, just one of many that I saw in México. I was actually standing in front of an Autozone. Down the street, there was a Denny’s, because a Grand Slam is a Grand Slam in any language. Walmart and Sam’s Club were everywhere. Mexico is more like the United States and more prosperous than one might suppose.
What is striking about México is the insecurity. Every house seems to have high walls. There is often barbed wire on the top of the walls. Nevertheless, I talked to numerous locals, and they assured me that it was safe to walk in the street during the day in Guadalajara. I had no problems as I did so, though, admittedly, I only did this a couple of times.
In terms of economic conditions, Mexico and Egypt are somewhat similar. The dollar goes a lot further in those countries than it does back home. Egypt did not seem as prosperous as Mexico, though. The conditions seemed more challenging (see this interesting comparison here).
What struck me most about Egypt was the friendliness of people. Everyone was ready to connect with you and be your friend. People would greet you with kindness. For example, I would ask them if they were having a good day. All over, they would say things like, “I am having a good day because I get to see you.” Now, the cynic in me was tempted to think that this was because of American money. However, three things showed me that this was not the case. First, I observed that they always treated each other with the same warmth. Second, when we stayed at a hotel during the celebration of the Feast of Eids, we met numerous upper middle class or upper class people. They were just as friendly as the poorer people had been. They took us under their wing and wanted to be our friends. Third, in Mexico, Melinda and I met two Egyptian women who lived in the United States and were vacationing in Mexico. They were the same way, they wanted to connect with us and were happy to be friends with us. I’ve never been to a place where it was easier to make friends. Continue reading “Reflections on the United States After Visits to Egypt and Mexico”