Chaos, pyramids, markets and McDonalds
ah...Cairo. As always LP says it better that I ever could. "Let's address the drawbacks first. The crowds on a Cairo footpath make Manhattan look like a ghost town. You will be hounded by papyrus sellers at every turn. Your life will flash before your eyes each time you venture across a street. And your snot will run black from the smog."
Call me a jaded (and overheated traveler) but this city is lucky it has pyramids. I'm just saying.
Sitting in my local internet cafe - my home in Cairo - the owner a little bit loves me. That's probably because I hide out in his AC for most afternoons but I'll take what I can get. I love the huge no smoking sign on the wall as I develop lung cancer and asthma at the same time. Maybe only English speaking smokers aren't allowed to smoke?
Day 1 in Cairo was clearly spent at the pyramids. I'm not sure how I managed to take something like 200 photos, but then again I managed like 50 of a sunset on the Nile so it shouldn't surprise me too much. Not much in the way of group tours available - even went to the local youth hostel. Since the Pyramids are a bit out of a town and I wanted to visit several sites besides the famous Giza pyramids I hired a driver/guide for the day. It was from the most affordable agency in the downtown area and I was more than a little nervous about what might show up the next morning. But this was one case where I was pleasantly surprised in Egypt.
The driver was a little sketchy (marriage proposals, constant attempts to get me to visit papyrus, perfume and carpet shops) but took no for an answer (on everything except the marriage part but the guide was excellent. We had an interesting conversation about his two wives (apparently legal) and he was full of info. Most tours begin at 9 but they agreed to pick me up at 7. This was great because we got to the Giza pyramids before they opened at 8. I was officially the first person in and got to get pics before the THRONGS of tourists hit. I really can't imagine what busy season looks like...oh and mr. tourguide was also adept at taking photos. Yay!
Saw the pyramids and the Sphinx. I'm just saying they're kind of big up close. You are able to climb inside but they aren't exactly spacious so I decided to opt out. Of course the post card sellers, camel drivers and what feels like every Egyptian on the planet are out in full force. "Where you from? Hello Madam. Want to buy..." My Luxor respite was over. I know it's their livelihood and Egypt is all about tourism industry, but quite honestly it really is vexing that you can't have even a moment to appreciate some of the most beautiful things in the world without having to say la shukran a million times.
Next stop was the Bent Pyramid and some tombs at Saquarra and then the Red Pyramid in Dashur. The Red Pyramid was wonderfully unattended and there were only a few cars in the parking lot. Not on the usual tourist route. I climbed 125 stairs to climb into the pyramid and lasted about 20 feet before turning back. You have to literally fold yourself in half and when people were coming in behind me and I realized that I'd have to go all the way in without being able to turn back I felt a little trapped and turned around. It's hard to describe how narrow, humid and suffocating the passageways are. So much for overcoming claustrophobia on this trip...
Day two was spent walking around Cairo and doing a little city touring. I tried to find a day tour but there really wasn't any group trip available and it just didn't make sense to do the whole hire a private guide thing. I took the subway to Old Cairo. It cost about 20 cents and is the safest way to travel in this city! Too bad they have like one line that serves 1/90th of the city. But it got me where I needed to go. Old Cairo is a little area that looks a bit like the Old City in Jerusalem. Same sort of walls and walking through alleys. There are a bunch of churches there, but the draw for me was Ibn Ezra's synagogue where the Cairo Geniza was found. No pics allowed, but it was pretty cool to see.
Next stop - "Islamic Cairo" - so named for its many mosques. It was Friday and there was massive prayer time going on. More importantly, everyone and their mother was at the Al Khan Khalili markets. Possibly the most insane markets in all of the Middle East. On the one hand I think I was harassed less than I expected because there were so many locals out shopping, on the other hand there were several near stampedes and a traffic blockage when all of the sudden mats were laid out in the middle of a narrow passageway and a bunch of men prayed for a few minutes. Definitely up there with "most random things seen in a marketplace." It was at least 1,000 degrees. At least. I don't think I walked through one tenth when I just was totally overwhelmed by the heat, the people and the dirt flying in my face. I'm about to go home and I have purchased not one souvenir on this trip. I really need to at least get a tacky alabaster pyramid before I leave...new goal for tomorrow.
I was rather proud of myself for my street crossing abilities and how easily I was navigating downtown ...until I realized it was Friday - the Muslim Sabbath and basically a non work day. Hence an empty downtown. No need for pride young lady.
Quick break for a beverage and awesome AC at McDonalds. ah...fast food chains everywhere downtown are the ultimate life saver. Best. AC. EVER.
Finally - the Egyptian museum. Get to see all of the treasures found in King Tut's tomb. And other cool stuff like that.
Cairo - check.