After spending 3days in Miami living the non-foreign, non-challenging American life, I was ready to get to a foreign country again and check off my 7th Continent. It was time to begin the second half of my 3-month trip, the organized group trip part, the Africa part. However, Lufthansa had other ideas. A problem with the plane caused Lufthansa to delay the flight 24hours making many people including me quite nervous and upset.
Finally arriving in Cairo 24hours after planned and without my cousin (who had arrived on time), I had to figure out how to get into the city from the airport by myself. I decided I was better off trying my luck with a fellow passenger than with the numerous touts to get into town. So I approached an American-looking guy (baseball cap gave it away) since he didn’t seem to have a pre-arranged pick-up and asked if he wanted to share a taxi into town. Well, in fact, he did have someone picking him up; his friends were coming in a private car. This Cuban-American guy had lived in Cairo for about a year-and-a-half working for the American University of Cairo bookstore and so, not surprisingly had friends willing to pick him up at the airport. What was perhaps surprising is that his Egyptians friends were most obliging in taking me into town and searching around to find my hotel. What was interesting about this guy and quite apt given my non-interest in living in the US, is both of us moved out of the States directly after college having gotten fed up with people, life, and politics in the US.
Shortly after arriving at the hotel and getting settled in, I met the Australian tour leader for our Intrepid Pyramids to Petra trip (ESW) and then went to dinner with the whole group. The group consists of 1 New Zealander girl, 3 Argentine girls, 3 Aussie girls, and an Aussie mother and son. Soon there after, the long travel time set in and I called it a night.
The next day we were up early and after breakfast included with the hotel we jumped on the subway to take us out to Giza and the Pyramids. We saw the Three Great Pyramids and I commemorated my arrival on my 7th Continent! The Great Pyramids were just the introduction to the awesome monumentalism and masterful building of the ancient Egyptians. Andrew and I opted to go into the Solar Boat Museum. The Boat was supposed to carry ancient pharaohs into the afterlife. I didn’t think the Boat museum was worth the entrance. The entrance into the Second Pyramid was worth it though. We followed the low, cramped, steep path deep into the pyramid where it opened into the spacious burial chamber. Nearby the Great Pyramids is the Sphinx with its lion’s body and man’s head and is great fun to photograph.
As if all of this weren’t enough in one day, we headed back into Cairo to visit the Museum of Antiquities. With our guide we moved very quickly through the highlights of the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms of Ancient Egypt. Forget about all of that, what I really wanted to see is the Tutankhamen rooms. Gold, ivory, precious and semi-precious stones, intricately carved wood, jewelry galore, its absolutely stunning. There was a temporary exhibition of King Tut’s tomb in LA a few years ago that just gave me a hint of the splendor but to see it all together in the Museum in Cairo complete with the gold face mask and the sarcophagi is beyond words. Its unimaginable how much work and extremely valuable raw materials went into making decorative pieces to be buried underground with an unimportant dead child-King.
That night we took an overnight train to Aswan but would return to Cairo 5days later. Our 1 day back in Cairo, a few of us went to the Citadel, a fortified hilltop in Cairo which contains 2 mosques, old Sultanate palaces, a few museums, and offers great views of the city. I really enjoyed this for the opportunity to go into mosques in an Islamic country. Mosques, while not nearly as splendid and visibly appealing as Catholic or Orthodox churches, usually have very nice detailing work along the columns, ceilings, and minarets, and are very spacious inside for the devout to kneel in prayer.
After the Citadel, Andrew and I went over to the Coptic Christian quarter, which was a huge relief from the noise and the constant in-your-face nature of the rest of Cairo. We wondered in and out of a few churches and I kept telling Andrew, if only we can find a Synagogue to go into we will have covered the 3 Abrahamic religions in one day. We just enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of this medieval part of town for a little while before heading back to the busy part of Cairo for some lunch.
After lunch, knowing that this was my last chance to shop in Egypt, I dragged Andrew along to the market, Khan al-Khalili. The market was a lively, busy place and much like you’d except for an Arabic bazaar, and would have been great fun if I wasn’t so tired and worn out by this time from the freezing cold overnight seater train. So I found what I was looking for, had another quick look around, and decided I’d had enough of Cairo.
In Cairo, and to a somewhat lesser extent across the rest of Egypt, everyone talks to you, whether they’re trying to sell you something or not, though most of the time they are. And they all ask the same question, ‘where are you from?’ After awhile the all of the friendliness of the chatty Egyptians just becomes exhausting, particularly the frequency and the repetition of the same question. It was amazing to me that soooo many people knew how to say ‘where are you from’ but then less than half half understood the response. This and bargaining for everything (like in China) are two overriding aspects of the tourists’ experience in Egypt.