Cairo (20 – 24 July 2008)
We knew that Egypt would be a bit like India: a wild chaos that makes sense in its own way, touts trying to scam you in any way possible and the men harassing western woman with sexual remarks, stares and sometimes even touching and groping. But we were not concerned because now we knew how to deal with these matters. In fact, we grew to love India and we were looking forward to travelling through Egypt. The only thing that we were not totally prepared for was the heat. The heat factor took us by surprise – coming from South American winter into the desert summer was a huge shock to our systems. And this combined with serious jetlag, took us through a couple of days of severe tiredness during the day and sleeplessness at night.
But this did not render us incapable of getting to the Egyptian sights as soon as possible. We were like little children waiting to open their Christmas presents and could not wait to lay our sun scorched eyes upon the Pyramids. But before we could get to the exciting part, we had to get into the Egyptian way: a new language and alphabet, a new way of living, a new religion and with that a new culture. It was quite evident that the Muslim people take their religion very seriously and it is part of everything they do: dress, food, meal times, transport, business – everything. So the first day in Cairo, we forced our jet-lagged bodies out of bed and dragged ourselves into one of the small alleys for lunch and a wander about.
We were hit with a bad case of info overload: the streets were packed with people and traffic. The Egyptians are very clearly not the best drivers in the world, but this did not seem to bother the pedestrians who, without even looking, weaved their way through the traffic. If you had to wait for a gap to cross the street, you’ll never move an inch. Egypt is one of those countries that penetrates all of your senses: a mixture of smells from sheesha pipes and spices to delicious BBQ smoke and (definitely not so delicious) alleys smelling of urine; noise of traffic and prayers being blared out over speakers for the many daily prayers; people trying to lure you into their shops, selling whatever you can think of; women wearing the traditional dresses, covering them from head to toe with only a small sleet for the eyes to peer out at you (covered from head to toe in 38 degrees Celsius!!) and men sitting in the shade, smoking sheesha (waterpipe with apple tobacco).
That evening, after a small traditional dinner of falafel, salad, fuul, bread and soft cheese, we sat on a sidewalk with an Egyptian tea and sheesha and just watched the people go by. We love new experiences like these and we new that we would have a good time in Egypt.
We decided that it would be a good idea to visit the Egyptian Museum in Cairo before visiting any of the historic sights. We needed a solid foundation on the history of the Ancient Egyptian life as well as on more resent events. Little did we know that the museum was enormous and it had no aircon. We had to weave our way through big tour groups to get to the relics and artefacts mentioned in our guidebook. Some of the highlights included the Tutankhamen galleries, especially the solid gold mask; the collection of mummies; jewellery and ornaments dating back up to 3000 BC; impressive statues with in-laid eyes that make them look very real and the Narmer Palette indicating the birth of ancient Egyptian civilisation. It took us four hours to see the highlights of the museum and then we gave up when we started getting confused between all the terminology, dynasties and pharaohs.
We had an early rise the next morning to avoid the heat and the crowds at the Pyramids. The day was off to a good start when we tracked down an honest and friendly taxi driver (a rare sight in Cairo). We could see his big smile in the rear view mirror while he gave out free info about the surrounding area. He charged us less than we were supposed to pay and dropped us at the more quiet entrance to the Pyramids.
What do I write about the only standing ancient Seven Wonder of the World? It was all so surreal – thinking back to the day at the Pyramids, it kind of feels like a wonderful dream. The Pyramids were built more or less 4000 years ago. The workers were not slaves as previously believed, but a highly organised workforce of Egyptian farmers who, during the annual flood season, were redeployed by the highly structured democracy to work on the Pharaoh’s tomb. According to Wikipedia.com: “The Great Pyramid (146m originally, now 139m due to erosion) was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years, unsurpassed until the 160 meter tall spire of Lincoln Cathedral was completed c. 1300. The accuracy of the pyramid’s workmanship is such that the four sides of the base have a mean error of only 58 mm in length, and 1 minute in angle from a perfect square. The base is horizontal and flat to within 15 mm. The sides of the square are closely aligned to the four cardinal compass points to within 3 minutes of arc and is based not on magnetic north, but true north.” The mystery still stands – how did they do it?
Our first glimpse of the structures were from over the famous Sphinx’s shoulder – it looked like I imagined it would look, but there was something hanging in the atmosphere, something mystical, that made the experience better than expected. After crawling into the very hot and humid middle-sized pyramid, we walked around the biggest of the Pyramids of Giza. There were many camel-men nagging us to take a photo of them or to go for a ride on their beasts, but we kindly refused. We had to pay some baksheesh (tips) to a policeman who offered to take a photo of Eon and I together – always a difficulty to get a pic of us together
To top the day off, we bargained hard for a short horse ride to a viewpoint from where we could see a panorama of all the pyramids. I can still hear Eon’s laughs – turns out I am absolutely not one of those ‘naturals’ on a horse. So after loosing my hair scrunchy, nearly went flying into open air and re-aligning my intestines, we got the shot of the day. The things I do for Eon to get that perfect shot… Before heading home, we wanted to go back to the spot where we started, at the Sphinx, to take one last picture. Now all the millions of tourist busses had arrived and we had to fight our way through the crowds, where there was just about no one earlier that morning.
We decided to cover the rest of Cairo’s sights and souqs (markets) when we return from travelling through the rest of Egypt. But for now we were moving south to Aswan – the hottest place in all of Egypt.
Click on the image below to view the gallery for Cairo: