From Oct. 3-17, Susan Barnes, Jim Beaver, Jane Curtis, Milli Haug and Barbara Lee VanHorssen took a cultural immersion trip throughout Egypt that gave them a chance to learn about the culture firsthand and view ancient sites.
Barnes, a Rockford resident, said it was the “best trip” she’s ever taken.
“I feel like this trip was so unique for so many reasons,” she said. “I’m just honored to have been a part of it.”
The group spent the first few nights of their trip in Cairo, where their rooms overlooked the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Great Sphinx of Giza.
They took a camel ride and also visited a museum and a mosque, where they wore culturally sensitive attire.
They also visited the Luxor Temple, took a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings, and spent five days on a boat on the Nile River.
While on the boat, they tried food such as water buffalo, pigeon, and fresh fish directly off fishing boats. The pigeon was a gift from a 90-year-old woman they met and spent time with in her home, VanHorssen said.
Throughout their travels, they stopped in villages to meet and spend time with residents in an attempt to understand their culture, religion and lives.
They traveled to Aswan, Egypt, and visited a Nubian village where they spent two nights getting to know the people. They also visited a botanical garden, went on a bird watching expedition, and swam in the Nile River.
After flying back to Cairo, they had a 12-hour drive across the desert to the Siwa Oasis. Although Curtis said she initially had her qualms about the long drive, she said it was worth it.
During that portion of the trip, the group swam in salt pools, visited a natural spring, went on a dune ride and tried their hand at sand surfing.
They also watched the sun set over the Sahara desert.
“It was spectacular,” Curtis said.
The group also visited an area from the ancient sea where they found fossils and sand dollars.
“Things I never imagined we would see in the dessert,” VanHorssen said.
Beginning at 4:30 a.m. and throughout the day, there was a call to prayer done over loud speakers. It could also be heard along the Nile River, Barnes said.
“It was a chant that permeated everything,” she said. “It was amazing to listen to.”
In meeting and spending time with residents, VanHorssen said they also learned the difference between Bedouins and Nubians, and between modern and ancient Egyptians.
They also learned about Egyptian mythology and how they formed community. VanHorssen said she was struck by human ingenuity.
Overall, VanHorssen said people were hospitable, and showed a lot of pride in their work such as hand-woven rugs, alabaster, scarves and essential oils.
Each morning, the group gathered and reflected on the previous day’s activities and experiences. VanHorssen said they had guided conversations to reflect upon what they were feeling and experiencing physical, emotionally and spiritually.
“I think that’s what’s so neat about Barbara’s trips,” Curtis said. “They’re not just tourist trips. You really get to know the people and it’s almost like a spiritual type journey.”
Residents can learn about cultural immersion trips during the Travelogue event at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9 at the Momentum Center for Social Engagement, 714 Columbus Ave.
During the event, attendees will experience foods and see pictures from China, Egypt, Honduras, Kenya and Tibet, where previous cultural immersion trips have been taken.
Tickets for dinner are $35, and Night of 100 Wines tickets are $10 per pull.
The event is limited to 50 guests.
Reservations can be made at the Momentum Center, by calling 616-414-9111, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.