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Cairo Egypt


Saturday, December 29, 2007

The hovel.

We had to get up at 4:00 am this morning to catch our cab to the airport from Canterbury. We were a bit sleepy and it was very dark all the way to the airport but the trip was uneventful. It was rather good that we had gotten to the airport so early as it made checking in much less of a hassle.

The flight from England to Cairo was about four hours on BMI (the British el cheapo airline). I have developed this very annoying cough, which is driving me nuts and everyone near me too. But other than driving people crazy with my constant coughing the flight was uneventful.

From Julia: We decided that It's worth avoiding 7am flights for later ones that allow the luxury of staying in bed until after dawn wherever possible.

Mohamed (standing left) briefing us in the lobby of the hovel.

We landed at Cairo airport at 5:00pm local time and experienced for the first time the unusual Egyptian security ritual with metal detectors. We had to pass through a metal detector on the way out of the airport just as you would expect to see while going into an airport in the west. But this is not the really strange behavior. The really odd thing was that the security staff watched "uninterestedly" as we passed through the detector setting off all of the alarms!

We looked wide-eyed from our taxi as we drove from the airport to the hotel. Cairo was not too unlike Buenos Aires, which I visited recently, in its rough, dirty, and chaotic appearance; accept all the signs were in Arabic. At times the road would split into two lanes which everyone would immediately use as a three lane road passing within inches of each other as casually as you might walk around a park. We arrived at our hotel (the President Hotel); or as we would come to call it the hovel. I have stayed at some bad hotels in my time but this one was the worst so far. The main problem I had with it was the moldy smell in the bathroom which we soon discovered was due to the water spilling out of the shower all over the floor uncontrollably every time you took a shower. One of the two elevators did not have doors so as you rode it you could see the elevator shaft passing by; It's the little things that count. Julia and I had several tasks to complete before we retried to our hovel for the evening.

Seeing the Pyramids was all we could think of.

We had to make contact with the tour group which we did by meeting our tour guide whose name was, you guessed it, Mohammed. He turned out to be a wonderfully nice chap, a young bloke and very eager to please. After speaking with him we checked all of our paper work we needed to present him the next day, one of which was our trip insurance. We discovered that Egypt was not listed on our insurance and so we decided to email the insurance company to see if we could get them to verify that we were covered in Egypt. This turned out to be a major task as we had to leave the hovel and find an Internet café which was down the street and then down a very dark lane. But we made safely and more amazingly only several minutes after sending our email to the insurance company replied with the confirmation we requested. We were able to have the Internet chap print it out; what an achievement!

Next we walked to the main road to locate a cell phone shop and buy a local SIM chip for my cell phone. This too we achieved with the minimal of fuss.

This is why we had come all this way.

The last task before returning to our hovel was to get dinner. Eating in Egypt, I was advised by at least ten people in England who had been, is a tricky and often debilitating thing so we were looking carefully at all of our options before committing. We found a restaurant that served us pizza, water, and a non-alcoholic beer. It was very, very, ordinary and very, very, cheap.But, it did not make us sick so we considered ourselves lucky and returned to our hovel feeling we had achieved our first success of the trip.

We keep reassuring ourselves that despite the horror of the hovel and our absolute exhaustion we will be seeing Pyramids tomorrow. It's great to feel we are on the first independent steps of our adventures and managing after 24 hours to fend for ourselves!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Here is a shot of Julia and me standing on the high Giza Plain looking down on all the Pyramids.

The next day we woke up eagerly at 7:00am and worked through the meager, and always potentially dangerous, breakfast offerings of the hovel. We met up with our tour and boarded the bus for the Giza Plain and the Pyramids! This was something I have wanted to do for as long as I can remember and it was worth all the horrors to have been able to stand before them. Of course, before we could "stand before them" we all had to get out off the tour bus "without our bags" and pass through another Egyptian metal detector. I guess the officials were not concerned about us leaving our bombs, knifes, and guns in our bags on the bus that we immediately re-boarded to drive to the site!

The place was very crowded with tourists and hustlers. The hustlers would try to have their picture taken with you, sell you stuff you did not want, get you to go for a ride on their camels, donkeys, horse drawn carriages, and whatever else they could make money at. This got a bit annoying as some of them were quite pushy.

Here is a shot of the typical scene at the base of each Pyramid.

From Julia: The Pyramids were as wonderful as I had imagined tem to be. It was amazing to hear about how they looked 4,500 years ago when they were still covered in white limestone with hieroglyphics and paintings on them. Amazingly, you can still almost make out some color on the Sphinx's headdress. We learnt that the river Nile flowed past the Sphinx, which is how they managed to transport the granite they used in the building of it.

After the Pyramids and Sphinx we had a quick pit-stop at a papyrus shop, ate falafel sandwiches on the bus, and headed off to the Egypt Museum.

The Sphinx.

A new museum is being built next to Giza Pyramids that is supposed to take 5 years to construct and then another 5 years to bring the 125,000 objects from the old museum to fill it. In the meantime the original museum is in downtown Cairo. It is from the turn of the century and It's incredibly atmospheric. It seems that nothing's been dusted or cleaned since 1920 and all the items have their original typewriter labeling. The place is completely stuffed full of artifacts. We saw the Tutankhamen mask and lots of the loot from his tomb as well as amazing statues, papyrus paintings, jewelry, chariots etc.

From Julia: After such a wonderful day we went for a traditional Egyptian meal with the group; my mum will be proud to know we "bonded". We stopped at a supermarket on the way home for goodies to keep us going through our 9 hour train journey tomorrow to Luxor.

Monday, December 31, 2007

The very old with the new in the background.

We had to rise at 6:00am this morning to ensure we would not be late for our train from Cairo to Luxor. Last night Mohammed gave us a briefing about what to expect while traveling on the train. He advised us not to buy any of the food on the train other than tea and coffee and to bring our own toilet paper.

OK, I should have realized with that comment what was in store for us but as a typical bright eyed and bushy tailed tourist it did not register at the time. Someone asked Mohammed what the toilet facilities would be like on the train and he said, "They will start off good but by the end of the 9 hour trip they will be very bad". Now after using the toilet first thing in the morning I realize Mohammed uses a different reference scale than I when he used the words, "they start out good". Embarrassment precludes me from describing in any detail what the toilets were like on the train let me just say they were despicable. The other interesting miscommunication was Mohammed assuring us that we were traveling on the first class section of the train. I have been on a few train rides over the years and I can assure you an Egyptian first class train is no kind of first class I have ever seen.

Here is a shot of Julia looking all Muslimy.

From Julia: One small detail David didn"t mention is that according to Mohammed 97% of Egyptian men smoke so that they can "be real men". This means we are breathing in vile second hand smoke all the time. There is lots of tobacco control needed here and it makes me realize how little tobacco companies need to care about their markets in the US when they have addicted 50% of the population in places like Egypt. Lawrie, I know you are no longer a customer.

We asked Mohammed about culture in Egypt such as the status of women, and how gay people are treated here. He said that women are free to do whatever they want, but to be gay is unacceptable. "It is against the law of Allah, and the law states that all gays should be executed the same as child molesters and drug dealers." We explained we were from the gay capital of America and we believe everyone deserves equal rights. He was not moved by our sentiment.

Before we started our trip Mohammed suggested to us all that we "keep an open mind about people, places, cultures and be prepared to change your views." Mohammed told us he wants to travel. Julia and I gave him back his advice.

Cairo Video 01
Cairo Video 02
Giza Video 01
Giza Video 02
Sphinx Video
Train Video


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