The first time I read about a tourist lottery was in November of 2010 and in response to overburdened capitals of Europe seeking solutions to the footfall 20-30 million annual visitors brings the likes of Barcelona, London or Paris.
Chilling out on the Nile with our felucca captain
As you might expect, the lottery means random selection of winners, those who applied for a ticket or reserved a space on a tour well in advance might be lucky if there weren't so many others applying to visit on the same day. It might mean applying to visit the Eiffel Tower, for example, and planning your trip to Paris and later finding that you did not win that lottery - meaning you'd be welcome to visit Paris but not able to ascend France's most iconic landmark.
This shook me then and it shakes me now, a call to enjoy some of those bucket list itineraries before they're closed to the public or that you couldn't reasonably count on getting to enjoy those most anticipated attractions.
So, I wasted no time and booked a two-week tour of Egypt followed by a little down time in Sharm for my next work break the following April.
I knew certain tombs and regions of the Valley of Kings or Valley of Queens were already closed to the public and had been so for a number of years. I figured this could spread to the pyramids themselves and perhaps when I later got around to visiting Egypt, I'd no longer be able to see the Great Pyramids of Giza up close in person! If I didn't go now, when?
Columns of the Karnak Temple Complex near Luxor, it just felt more relaxed here
Now, for you history buffs out there - I booked in November of 2010 for travel April through May of 2011. What later became known as Arab Spring!
I got my travel insurance when I booked by trip, so there wasn't really a problem with the itinerary and the policy provider said it was stable enough to still be covered during my trip. So, I set about to enjoy myself and to experience new, once in a lifetime experiences.
Wow did I ever get it. I can't say it was always the easiest time getting around during such political strife, but certainly memorable.
I met few fellow tourists and was overwhelmed by desperate touts in a lot of places as there weren't any visitors to buy their souvenirs or services. With my three tour companions, we were the only souls to visit the Valley of the Queens on the day we visited. Unreal.
Luxor just felt like a relaxed place where people just lived and carried about their business
This political pressure also resulted in fewer opportunities to really engage with local people, but at a welcome trade that I was able to more meaningfully do so when the opportunity did arise.
A shopkeeper in Cairo took us to a speak-easy with karaoke, our felucca captain moored his boat for the day after our ride to join us for dinner, and we had a footrace with the promoters along Sharm el-Sheikh's pub district.
I enjoyed diving the Red Sea and seeing the pyramids was quite cool. But the ease with which we navigated so many historical sites around Luxor and the casual atmosphere in the restaurants and on the street despite the chaos further north made it a fast favorite for me in Egypt.
It was walls of buildings, people, and traffic in Cairo. Resorts for miles on the coast. Whereas Luxor was peppered with historic sites and blue sky everywhere I turned. The people on the street were just carrying on with their day, nice and relaxed.