September 19, 2010


Ahh, Cairo.  You befuddle me.  So interesting, and yet, so difficult.

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.

(click to enlarge to see the misty Pyramids on the horizon from our balcony!)

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.

Look! No people at all!

Can you find Me?
This is the Great Pyramid of Khofu (Cheops).  It covers 13 acres of land!

Here is the Camel Police.  No kidding!

It looked like so much fun that we tried it too!

Of course we had to take cheesy shots!  At least Kate's camel wasn't bellowing in this picture!

We did decide to head over to the Main Gate to see if, by any miracle, there were still tickets for the Great Pyramid (Khufu).  There weren't, but there were still tickets to the "second pyramid", which is the Khafre pyramid (seen above, with some of the marble overlay still attached to the pyramid).    There also was a huge caravan of overloaded tourist buses!

We were excited to go into the second pyramid (as it is called in the complex).    We weren't allowed to take pictures inside, which is fine, because there wasn't anything to see inside.  There was a wooden boardwalk ramp up to the entrance, probably about 20 feet up from the base of the pyramid.  The entrance was about 4 ft square.  It was a long descending passageway--essentially a ramp--we had to hunch over and hold on to the railings as we descended.   It was stuffy and musty, with minimal ventilation, and a bit claustrophobic (Kate thinks that's an understatement). There were low level lights throughout. There were perhaps 10 other tourists in the pyramid.

After about 30 feet of descending, the floor leveled out and we were in an empty narrow room, glad to stand erect.    The room was about 20 feet long.  At the other end there was another ramp/passageway, identical to the one we just descended.  This time we were headed up.   It opened up to a rather dark and cavernous room.  It was empty aside from a large stone sarcophagus-type box.  It all seemed devoid of anything interesting, and was rather disappointing.   

We reversed our direction, this time going against the current of tourists in the opposite direction.   Down one ramp and then up the other one to exit.  I think we had high expectations, but of course, by the time archeologists "discovered" the pyramids, all had been looted, so the series of hot and humid tunnels and rooms were empty to them too.  

We found the pyramids to be much more interesting on the outside than the inside, but it was nice to see this for ourselves!

We splurged on a private car back to the hotel.  It had air conditioning!  And a patient driver--the traffic was worse than before, and it took over an hour to get us to our hotel.  Of course, we had negotiated the fare before we got in the car, but he definitely earned his large tip!

Our heavenly hotel beds were calling for naps, so we indulged them!   Later we went for a walk, but had our meals at the hotel.

The next day we went to the Egyptian Museum. Again, no pictures allowed inside.

It was fascinating--huge--and overwhelming.  They are in the process of building a new museum since the current museum only can display a fraction of the treasures that are held there.   The mummy room (an extra $20) was amazing. There were 20 mummies on display--including Ramses.  It was amazing to see the detail that was preserved through mummification.  Ramses still had his eyelashes!

(Photo of a photo)

King Tut's exhibit was wonderful as well--beautiful and amazing in craftsmanship.  I tell ya, that was one rich teenaged king!     Below is one of the "organ" coffins.  The organs were removed from the body and preserved/mummified separately in their own coffins.

(photo of a postcard)

In another exhibit in the museum we were surprised to find mummies of various animals--cats, dogs, falcons, and even baboons! All of these were still wrapped in their linen cloths.  Many of them were mummified because they were a favorite pet, but some were mummified as rituals and offerings.  

Hours at the museum wore us out, so we again headed to the respite of our hotel.

Later that day we took a private "cruise" on the Nile!

In the world of Arab architecture, green glass is very popular-green is the color of Islam. All the mosques we saw had some sort of green glass.  This very upscale home is decked out in green too!

The Nile is very polluted.  We saw trash floating everywhere, and yet we saw boys playing and swimming in the water. They definitely were having fun, jumping in off of high walls, splashing each other.   In Jordan, nobody knows how to swim (there is so little water), so it was fun to see kids being kids.

In the evening we had a delicious room-service meal.  We planned to watch a movie on the one English channel at the hotel (Sex in the City--an odd choice for a conservative country-subtitled in Arabic.   It was the only thing on).    Before dinner, we had the foresight to buy a snack to eat during the movie.

You might recognize the packaging as Lay's Potato Chips.   After our exciting Chicken flavored chips in Jordan, we figured that cheese flavor couldn't be all that bad.  See that inviting picture of swiss cheese?   

False advertising.   When we opened the bag, an unusual smell arose.   Hesitantly, Kate tried one.  Ewww!   So I tried one.   They were bleu cheese flavored chips!  Horrible!! 

The next day Kate flew back to Jordan in the afternoon, but my flight didn't leave until midnight.   It was a long day(s) of travel, filled with despondent boredom and harassment.    I could tell you many interesting adventures, including a lost family from Ethiopia, a street urchin who lives in the airport, and an easily offended bathroom attendant.  However, I've already made this post too long and too late, and I applaud you for making it through the entire thing!  

It was a wonderful trip-I loved seeing Kate where she lives, who her friends and compatriots are, and understanding more of the Mideast.  It was difficult to say goodbye to Kate, and to Jordan.  I feel close to the country that hosts Kate, even if it is a challenging place to live.  But I find that I miss her more now than I did before.


kim said...

great post pal! it must have been quite an adventure! aaaand the end made me cry. just a little. :)

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy your posts Beth! This one made me a little sad for you. I understand how you feel a little. And what your wrote at the very end of your post....yup, I can totally relate. You write it so much better then I ever could.

Anne and Whitney: Up, Down and All Around said...

AWESOME pictures! also - blue cheese flavored chips??? i like blue cheese, but YUCK! so happy you were able to have such a wonderful trip!!!

Charissa said...

This was one seriously interesting blog post. All I can say is WOW.

Natalie said...

Fantastic pictures and trip report!

Kristi said...

Thank you so much for sharing, Beth!! What a fascinating trip :). I am sorry you miss Kate so much, I cannot imagine! I cannot remember, sorry, but when does she come back home? What an amazing young lady!

Brandie said...

Wow, what a scary cab ride! How amazing to have the chance to see all of those artifacts and the pyramids. Sounds very claustrophobic to me. I can't wait to show this post to my girls. We start our unit study on Egypt this week.

Melissa said...

THANK YOU for your wonderful post! I LOVE to travel, but hubby is not impressed with it at all, and I know my days of traveling abroad are over. I now have to live vicariously through others so I loved all the details and pictures!

Anonymous said...

Hi Beth, Thanks so much for taking the time to put this post of your trip together. They will totally love to see the photos and hear what its like to be there. Why is it that places seem closer and more real when someone you know has been there? Very cool blog! Thanks, Alison