College student visits an ancient land in turmoil
Published 6:32 pm, Wednesday, February 16, 2011
In one of her favorite tourist snapshots, Becca Martin of New Milford is apparently puckering up to one of Egypt's most famous shrines, the Sphinx.
In still another, the 2007 New Milford High School graduate is riding a camel in the Egyptian desert near the pyramids.
Not for a moment in the first two weeks in January, during which the Quinnipiac University senior studied in Egypt, was there a hint a week later the capital city of Cairo would erupt in violence.
Protesters ultimately toppled the 30-year regime of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarek, in the process setting off a widespread rebellion that has yet to quiet down.
As Ms. Marin and her fellow students bid a hasty retreat two weeks ago, the airport was a scene of utter chaos as Americans and other foreigners clamored for seats on limited flights away from the mounting danger.
"I feel very fortunate to have gone when I did,'' said Ms. Martin, a physical therapy major. "Who knows when Americans will be allowed back there?''
Danbury travel agency owner Aldis Alexander was guiding a 24-person, eight-day tour in Egypt just before the protests erupted in Cairo and Alexandria.
His tour group was fortunate to be booked on what turned out to be the last Delta flight leaving Cairo for New York City, he said.
At the start of Mr. Alexander's group adventure, he said the tour was idyllic, with Egypt one of the world's greatest travel destinations.
"The whole nation is a living museum," he recounted. "It's just so exotic. It's like watching a Cecil B. DeMille film."
"There were some temples we visited that still have original paint from 3,000 years ago," Mr. Alexander added. "It's just an incredible destination.''
So, to witness Cairo in upheaval is "just so sad,'' he said.
Mr. Alexander fears the destruction of ancient artifacts, noting already looters and vandals have desecrated shrines and cut the heads off centuries-old mummies in the tombs.
"And tourism is a huge chunk of their industry,'' he noted.
While Becca Martin's group of some two dozen students and teachers was in Egypt, they visited King Tut's tomb, viewed centuries-old artifacts, boated down the Nile River and attended a soccer match between rival teams from Egypt and Kenya.
They were treated with grand hospitality, she said.
Ms. Martin's mother, Carrie, said she is thrilled her daughter got to see the country while it was still safe. "We would be losing our minds if she was over there right now."
Now back at college in Hamden, Becca Martin said she finds it almost surreal to watch news footage of bombs and tear gas in places she visited.
She hopes the Internet will soon be restored in Egypt so she can confirm the safety of friends she made there.
She also hopes any political change resulting from the protests benefits the Egyptian people, and that visitors will once again be welcome in a country whose beauty and history is beyond compare.
"I still can't believe I was just there,'' Ms. Martin said.