Last winter John and Peggy Woodcock—she an artist, he a retired professor of writing and literature—booked a tour to Egypt. “I had wanted to go there ever since I was a little girl,” says Peggy. Enter the Egyptian revolution. Their tour was canceled, though they still had their airline reservations.

Should they go on their own? The couple watched hours of TV news before deciding to chance it. Peggy arranged their whole trip online, but they still had serious doubts about the wisdom of going at such a tumultuous and quite possibly dangerous moment. “The only time I was sure we were going was when we boarded the plane,” says Peggy.

They arrived in Cairo on Thursday March 31 and went straight to Tahrir Square, the main site of antigovernment protests. To their astonishment, they were instantly popular. “It was as though we were ambassadors of the United States. People were just crazy to talk to us,” says John. “They wanted to explain what they were doing.”

The couple was befriended by students who urged them to come back the next day. Friday April 1 is now known as Save the Revolution Day, when tens of thousands of Egyptians came to protest unmet demands. Peggy and John found themselves right in the middle of this historic moment. “It was so wonderful because people said ‘Tell our story when you get back home, tell our story,’” Peggy recalls. “They had a huge sense of a giant weight being lifted off them.”

The Woodcocks spent two weeks in Cairo and a week in Luxor, the site of the pyramids. Few other visitors were there. “Cairo was empty of tourists and there was virtually nobody at the pyramids,” says John. One night in Luxor, they were the only guests in the entire hotel.

Everywhere they went they asked hotel managers, cab drivers, anyone in the tourism industry if they were suffering economically, and most answered, “‘Yes, but we are free,’” John says. “They said that now, for the very first time in any of their lives, they can speak in public about politics. That was part of the sense of freedom for many of the people we talked to.”
John sums it up. “It was an amazing and unusual trip to Egypt. The pyramids were like a side dish. The main course was the revolution.”