Extraordinary Experience (Review)

“Are you crazy?” “Do you know what’s happening there?” “Are you going alone?” “Is it safe?” These were a few of the comments I received when I decided to embark on a solo riding holiday to Egypt. I’ve been fortunate to ride in many places around the world, but sure, I had some reservations. I dutifully did my research, and probably came across many of the same articles you’ve read. I checked the government travel advisories. I googled “women travellers in Egypt”. I scrolled through Ride Egypt’s site and studied the happy faces of past riders and their gorgeous horses, and read some of the reviews. And I signed up for the Valley of the Kings New Year ride in Luxor. Yep, I’m going to Egypt.

I flew into Cairo where I spent a few days exploring the city. I was more than fine. I never felt threatened. I never felt unsafe. I happily ate my enormous bowl of kushari without being harassed. If anything, Egyptians probably thought I got separated from my tour group, and took pity on me ( I heard a lot of “konnichiwas” and “nee hows” as I strolled through Khan el-Khalili).

From Cairo, it was an easy flight to Luxor, and the moment I stepped into the warm, golden air, everything felt different. I had a sneaking suspicion that I was in for an experience. I wasn’t wrong.

The indomitable Emma Jane Levin and her brilliant team of tuk tuk drivers, riding guides, stable boys, villa staff, and tour guide ensured everything was well taken care of, but it never felt regimented, nor did I feel cloistered. Be prepared to adapt to the unique Egyptian rhythm – this trip offered a bounty of unexpected surprises and delights.

One night, Emma announced we would attend a dancing horse fair on the banks of the Nile, where locals showed off their prized steeds. Another day, in the middle of a ride, our guide asked us to dismount and follow him down to the river. Ah, we are being sold off, we thought. But no, waiting for us were two small rowboats that took us on a leisurely excursion down the Nile. An impromptu day trip to Aswan was filled with even more moments of subterfuge and hilarity. This was Egypt unscripted.

Luxor was made up of a collection of intoxicating, shimmery moments, punctuated by the beautiful, haunting sound of the Adan, the call to prayer. It was the combination of her gleaming, much-loved horses, who were always eager to head out, the backdrop of truly breathtaking monuments, and the immersion into everyday life in Egypt that made this riding holiday unforgettable.

Under the watchful eyes of our dashing guides, we wove our way through dusty back alleys, stopping traffic on the main street, and waved to dozens of beaming children yelling “hello” as we passed by. We rode up to Medinet Habu temple at dusk, with nary a soul around, where I may have had a moment, looking at a perfectly preserved column of hieroglyphics in a place dating back thousands and thousands of years.

We cantered through sugar cane fields and banana plantations, up a steep mountain to gaze upon the Valley of the Kings, and across a desert to visit a little Coptic Church.

Another piece that elevated this trip was the group of riders I met, who hailed from Italy, the UK, and an ex-pat American. We clicked instantly and shared many laughs (and bottles of wine) long into the night. Bonus: I also picked up my absolute favourite expression from the madcap Brit.

I’m not one for overblown sentiments, but this trip was magical in every way. Thank you Emma for this extraordinary experience.