Kate and I flew from Amman to Cairo. We only had three nights/four days to spend, which really isn't enough to fit in much of anything other than the main tourist attractions. We splurged on our hotel--the one thing Kate wanted was a hotel with a private bathroom (not always included...) and especially a bathroom with a tub. It was a lovely 5-star hotel right on the Nile (only $120 a night!). Egypt is very affordable.
On our first night we met up with one of Kate's Peace Corps friends who happened to be finishing up his vacation to Egypt. We wandered the streets searching for a restaurant. It was hard work! Cairo is a city of 17 million people--the streets were packed with cars and the sidewalks full of people. There are 4.5 million cars in Cairo, most of them fairly old. There is a haze of pollution that hangs in the air. We had heard the good reputation of street food in Egypt, but we walked and walked and never found any. Finally we found a restaurant--an Italian one no less! Dinner went well, and then we journeyed back to the hotel. Ahhh....air conditioning!!!
We were glad that Matt was with us. Two unescorted Western women traveling alone get quite a bit of unwanted attention (from Egyptian men). It's obvious we are foreigners even though we were wearing modest clothing (still covered from neck to wrist to ankle). It was not quite as hot as Jordan--perhaps the low 100s, but with high humidity.
There is a funny phenomenon we discovered. While walking down the streets it felt like there were random raindrops. In Jordan it is rare to have air conditioning. It seems that Cairo has an air conditioner for each room in every building! If you look closely at this picture (click to enlarge) you can see all the window units...each one dripping condensed water down to the sidewalk.
Much of the architecture is similar to these kinds of buildings. Clearly, the owners of each apartment built out their balcony in their own style to maximize their space. After seeing so many white buildings in Jordan, these buildings seemed so imposing.
One of the nice things about Cairo is that there are lush trees and plants. Jordan has sturdy plants that can survive the arid conditions, but Cairo has the Nile and can support more plant life.
We planned to hit the Pyramids early in the morning. Our guide book said that the ticket offices opened at 7a.m. We were determined to get there before then so we could get tickets to go inside the Great Pyramid which sell out very quickly.
Our adventurous journey started off with a long cab ride in rush hour traffic. A road made for three lanes of traffic frequently squeezes in five; interweaving threads of drivers alternate between furious speeds and complete gridlock. Cairo is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and it shows on the roads.
The cab was a well worn older model of car, similar to the one below, but with many many dents--it looked as if the steel had been hand hammered. I cannot tell you how many times the sideview mirrors clipped the sideview mirrors of adjacent cars!
At one moment of gridlock, our cab was caught off-guard by two men who either:
A) Wanted to get in the cab.
B) Wanted to get the driver.
C) Wanted to steal his money.
D) Wanted to get to us.
The windows were open, as there was no air conditioning. The doors were not locked. The men approached, one at each of the front doors, yelling and reaching in. The cabbie was yelling. I was yelling. One of the men started punching the driver through the open window. Just then, the traffic opened up and away we flew, leaving the men to be swallowed by the oncoming traffic.
The driver muttered about for a bit as we went on our way towards Giza.
There are two gates of entry for the Pyramids. The main gate (which is where we thought we were going) sells general tickets, plus the higher price tickets to take the interior tour of the great pyramid. However, our driver brought us to the back gate, which only sells regular entry tickets. He dumped us out, and sped off. We were left to be harassed by the vendors who wanted to sell us trinkets or rides on their donkeys in the pyramid complex. Kate has excellent ignoring skills, not making eye contact with anyone and keeping a blank look on her face at all times.
We quickly figured out that our guidebook was incorrect. The ticket gates open at 8:00 a.m. And we were at the wrong gate. We decided that we'd just go with it, and waited the hour. Tourists gradually appeared, some of them obnoxious Americans (really rude ones), some offensive scantily clad Europeans (spaghetti strap tank tops and short shorts--a good way to let everyone know that you don't respect or understand the native culture and are vulnerable a tourist).
We were first in line, and so, the first people into the complex! It was lovely. No crowds. Not too hot yet.