Trip Coach: December 18, 2007
Maliha Masood, who wrote the travelogue Zaatar Days, Henna Nights and runs the zaatardays.com community, answered your questions on the Middle East, including advice for female travelers.
Maliha Masood: Hi! This is Maliha Masood, author of Zaatar Days, Henna Nights. I traveled mostly by myself for one year starting in Cairo, then heading to Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and finally Turkey. It was an unforgettable journey. So here I am ready to talk to you about Mideast travel and answer your questions and concerns. Let's get started in a jiffy...
West Palm Beach, Fla.: We are scheduled to visit Egypt and Jordan Feb. 3-22. There will be 2 short cruises—Nile and Aswan—visiting major sights. Is it safe to travel there at this time? We are Jewish and heard about the attack on Christians in Egypt.
Maliha Masood: For the most part, I'd say it's fairly safe, though there are no absolute guarantees about safety no matter where you travel. The attack you are referring to happened a while ago. And right now, the Egyptian economy is desperate for tourist dollars. Upper Egypt is very welcoming and tourists are the norm rather than the exception. If you exercise the normal precautions, you ought to be just fine. Happy Travels!
Cincinnati, Ohio: I will be going to Egypt in March, 2009, and would like to see Petra as an extension of that trip. Any advice on tour companies that make Petra a really great experience?
Maliha Masood: Once you're in Petra, Jordan, you'll run into many tour companies. It's a small town and you won't find much problem in getting help, asked or otherwise. My advice is to stick with a local guide and pay per day. The ticket entrance is steep and there are so many people walking about Petra that you won't really be alone. Again, guides will solicit you freely and often aggressively. Go with your instincts and have fun! Petra is stunning.
New York City, N.Y.: I'm planning a 2-4 week trip to Egypt in March 2008. A NYC tour company has a good package deal that includes most meals, excluding dinner. My husband doesn't eat meat, so I'm concerned about chicken and poultry which he craves. What can you tell me about the poultry and fish in Egypt and what can you recommend for a vegetarian? Also, do you recommend bottled water?
Maliha Masood: It should be fine to eat fish or chicken in Egypt. For fellow vegetarians, I recommend "kushari" a rice and bean dish or the local "fuul" a fava bean dip. Most always you should be able to get hummus, baba ghanouj and when in doubt, eat bread! Yes, I highly suggest you drink bottled water.
Miami, Fla.: We are of Arabic descent and have heard that it is very unsafe and sad to travel into the middle east right now. A friend went there and said that it was very difficult even staying with her family due to the stresses there. What is your honest opinion? Pat
Maliha Masood: It's a tough one to answer with any definite opinions. Being a Muslim and Pakistani, I traveled in the Mideast with the idea that I would be readily accepted. For the most part, this was true. Safety issues are more about the people you run into, not always the political situation. It always comes down to individual situations and one person's problems don't mean problems for every single person. I believe it will be more of a challenge to travel anywhere in the world in the post 911 era and the Mideast is certainly not an exception. But I also strongly believe the spirit of the people is still open hearted and welcoming for the most part. You should go with faith and an open mind. Good luck!
Malibu, Calif.: We are leaving for Egypt and Jordan this Saturday (12-22)! What are the best things to buy in both countries? We will be in Cairo, Aswan to Luxor cruise, Petra, Dead Sea...are there any activities or restaurants in these areas that we should not miss out on?? We like to try small local restaurants and to see how people live, etc...
Thanks for your advice in advance!
Maliha Masood: Wow! That's great you're going this weekend. I know you'll have a great time. I liked to buy local handicrafts, jewelery and wooden boxes. If you go to the Khan al Khalili bazaar in Cairo, be sure to bargain hard! Jordan has nice market emporiums often with fixed prices but bargaining is expected. As for activities, I find it best to just hang around where the locals are, small cafes and local restaurants. You won't be lacking for boredom! Wish you a wonderful trip.
Atlanta, Ga.: Hello! My father is from Iran and I would love to go and visit. I do not speak Farsi and I do not think he would go with me. He keeps telling me to wait for the situation there to get better, but that doesn't seem likely. Is it really very dangerous to go? I would like to go to Tehran and Tabriz—what do you think? I am wary of the politics but I don't want to be an alarmist. I would travel with my boyfriend and leave from Atlanta.