Many, many years ago – a lifetime ago… when my husband rode off into the sunset 🙂 I decided to create a singles club with the emphasis off “dating”.  The driving force behind this endeavor was my desire to savor the joys of going out without the typical trappings of dating as conventionally understood.

You see, I possess an inherent inability to feign interest in someone or something if I am not genuinely interested.  Consequently, social situations often posed a challenge.  My solution?  Formulating a plan to organize outings, weekend getaways, and even full-blown vacations for individuals who shared my aversion to the one-on-one dating pressure cooker.

To my astonishment, the venture turned out to be an overwhelming success.  I could hardly believe there were so many people like me, just like me, eager to embrace this alternative approach to socializing.

We embarked on several weekend getaways, both within Ireland and abroad.  When the moment arrived for our very first week-long adventure abroad, I headed to my neighborhood travel agency.   We didn’t want a sun holiday on a beach and nightclubbing, we wanted something more interesting.  Back in those days, the most economical yet adventurous package on the menu happened to be Egypt.

I should say here that the minute the plane door opened at Luxor Airport and I felt the first wave of warm air on my face, the thought hit me, “I’m home!”  That was the year 2000, and little did I know back then what was to unfold over the coming years and what an unusual, exciting in ways, but oh so bumpy in many other ways, my life journey would turn out to be.  And all resulting from such a seemingly small decision—take a trip to Egypt!

Over the years, I have discovered I am not the only one to have experienced this.  Several guests have written to me, some years after meeting me at Mara House, and told me how their trip to Egypt became a turning point for change in their lives.  Some knew before coming to Egypt that they needed a change but lacked direction. They realized, on returning home, that they had found some clarity as to what they truly wanted and had a new-found energy to take the necessary steps in those directions.

Upon our afternoon arrival in Luxor, we swiftly made our way to our awaiting cruise boat, a true gem in itself. The boat’s staff exuded warmth and hospitality, and the culinary delights they presented were nothing short of AMAZING.  We loved the food and, being Irish (lol) happily helped ourselves to seconds at every meal over the next 4 days.  There were 25 of us on that first trip and the chefs loved us because we were continually smiling at them and complimenting their food.  We couldn’t help it – it was true and within 24 hours of landing in Egypt we had also discovered the Egyptian gift of spreading a little happiness with appreciation and a smile.

The following day marked the commencement of our grand adventures as we embarked on our first tour to the West Bank.  Our itinerary led us through the awe-inspiring Valley of the Kings, the majestic Hatshepsut Temple, and the monumental Colossi of Memnon.

Hatshepsut Temple on the West Bank of Luxor

Our expedition through the Valley of the Kings led us to the entrances of three beautiful tombs.  Although the option to explore Tutankhamun’s tomb presented itself, I was financially unprepared for the cost of the “extras” available, and regrettably, had to pass on that opportunity.

Thutmose III

While the specific identities of the other two tombs have slipped my memory, one tomb remains strikingly clear—the tomb of Thutmose III.   I was fine on entering the tomb but once inside, an inexplicable and indescribable emotion washed over me.  I still can’t find words to describe it, but it left me with an unusual sense of being “spaced out” and “not quite with it.  To be clear, I had no expectations of any “other worldly” experiences before coming on that trip, nor did I know much at all about Egypt other than where it was on the map.  So this experience was literally “out of the blue”.

Dan R at Colossi of Memnon with Mara’s guide Muhammad

Interestingly, I must confess that I also experienced a rather peculiar and uncharacteristic sensation when we stood before the Colossi of Memnon.  However, I can describe that feeling – it was tearful, I just suddenly felt like bursting into tears – no reason for it and still to this day I don’t understand what happened.  For some reason, the place stirred great, unreasonable sadness within me.

I came back to myself as I sat in the “factory” which also turned out to be a huge shop, which the guide had suggested we stop at to use the toilets after we left the site of the Colossi.  In those days the toilet facilities at the Valley of the Kings was a smelly, wet portacabin – not inviting.  While one by one we used their toilet, they gave us tea – something that surprised my traveling companions as well as myself. 

But, the thing is that it also made us feel (subconsciously I think) obligated and one by one by companions began to wander around the shop.  Everyone wanted to use the toilet so we had plenty time as there was only one toilet.  I took a look at some stuff myself and asked the price of a rather big alabaster statue of Horus and a small statue of an Ibis bird which the salesman explained was Thoth the god of wisdom.  WAY out of my price range for a purchase for myself back then.  I actually had little extra money as I had come to Egypt totally ignorant of optional extras, shopping etc.

We were treated to an engaging demonstration outdoors, showcasing the intricate process behind crafting the alabaster lamps. The atmosphere was filled with lively music and abundant humor. All in all, we found ourselves captivated for well over two hours.

As we boarded the bus and began our journey back to the welcoming embrace of our cruise boat, I couldn’t help but reflect on the captivating and eventful day we had just experienced.  Already I knew I didn’t want to return to Ireland.  Although I had lived in other parts of the world also prior to my trip to Egypt, I never felt like I belonged anywhere – I always felt a bit like an outsider.  Now that feeling was temporarily just not there.

Our Gallabey Party night on the Nile cruise boat

My cabin on the boat was a gem, positioned at water level, with the Nile’s waters lying just about 2 feet below window level.  While some might have found this proximity to the river disconcerting, I, on the contrary, found it utterly wonderful.  There was something truly magical about being lulled to sleep there during the night.

On that first trip I learned a few things about Egyptians as well as about ourselves as tourists.
  • First – we were suckers for compliments.  Actually we were like thirsty people in a desert.  We had come from Ireland where nobody really every passed personal compliments – total strangers I mean.  And remember we were a singles group so perhaps we were a little more thirsty than others for some emotional massaging.
  • Egyptians are brilliant at instantly “reading” tourists and finding our weak spots.  They are very intuitive.
  • We were like putty in the hands of everyone we met because they were just SO FRIENDLY!
  • Egypt left us all feeling better about ourselves but it also left most of our pockets empty.
  • It is very hard to say “no” to someone who is smiling and being nice to you.