Thursday, January 15, 2009

One time I went to Cairo

View from my hotel in Cairo:

My local Koshary shop, next to a gorgeous building

First off. How did I end up in Cairo. Well, it wasn’t planned from the beginning, but it was certainly planned before I left. Well, it was planned that I go there. I rarely make plans between airports. Basically, sometime around November, I bought a ticket from Bangkok to Moscow. The cheapest carrier was Egyptair, changing in Cairo. So I called up Egyptair and asked if I could push off the second leg of my flight, as I had a few days before school started (and actually, I think that had I come to Russia when originally planned, I would have been breaking some sort of rule about registering within 3 days of arrival because the school was on holiday, but I digress, or did I digress, i.e “but I digressed”). The airline said no. For some reason, just before I left, I called back and asked if I could push it off, and this time they said yes. Weird.

So, I flew from Bangkok to Cairo and immediately went to the museum, which I have discussed previously. You may scroll down for that diatribe. After going to the museum, I went to the Citadel, which is a fortress of some sort built to protect the old town. I have zero history for you. I purposefully was a terribly uneducated tourist. I have this romantic idea that some time in the future, I will go to Cairo with some handsome intelligent man, and we will do the town properly. Or at least I’ll go by myself with a good history book. I’ve found a well written history book can take the place of a man…well mostly… Digression?

Citadel, yes. The taxi driver that took me out there kept babbling in Arabic and petting my leg. I did not care for that, but he was old and fragile and I could have broken him. Thankfully it did not come to that. Within the citadel are a Mosque and some terribly trite museums. The mosque is quite gorgeous. “Quite gorgeous”. That was a terrible choice of words. I’m leaving it. I’ve never been in a mosque in the US. But I tell you, all the ones I’ve seen, with the exception of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, are breathtaking inside. There is one down the street from my flat here in St. Pete that I’m excited to check out.

I took a taxi back from the citadel and en route, the driver convinced me to use his services to see the pyramids the next day. I had done very little research as to how to go about viewing these things. I knew I was nearing the end of my funds so I took him up on his offer. In the end, I paid slightly less than I would have had I gone with my hostel. But I’m sure I dealt with more hassle. I did have the benefit of doing what I wanted when I wanted.
So the next morning, I go for some koshary, quickly grab some coffee and chat with one of the attractive front desk guys. They seem to only hire attractive eligible men at this hostel. The driver is meant to be there at 8. The desk guy says he will come upstairs. 8:10 the elevator opens and my driver comes in none too pleased with me. Apparently he did not think he was supposed to come upstairs, and now we’re late. Angry Arabs and Americans don’t historically make for a good mix, but I went along anyway.

On the way we stopped in the Coptic area of Cairo. What all is contained there, I’m not sure. But I saw a Greek Orthodox church, The Hanging Church, and a cemetery. I was lucky enough to walk in during a service at the Hanging Church. Not sure what the balloons are about, maybe someone can enlighten me, because internet usage comes at a premium.

And then on to Giza. I’m going to transcribe some notes from my journal here:
Oh my back hurts. I didn’t go inside the big pyramid, aka Cheops. For one thing, it costs 20 bucks. For another, its not worth contorting yourself if no one you know witnesses it. I’d actually probably be in the hospital by now if I had. So my driver took me to Giza. Where I promptly shelled out 20 bucks for a horse and buggy around the site. Bribes flowed after that. Even though I bought a ticket, and went through “control”, the buggy had to pay the cops to get in. And everywhere we stopped to make a picture, more grease. What is the point of bribery once it becomes regular business? Is it even bribery? The carriage I thought would be a more stable ride than riding a horse itself. I was most definitely wrong. I think the constant jostling started my back off. After touring around a bit, the buggy driver dropped me off in front of the Sphinx. In retrospect, I did not need a ride. I could have walked, but I like being driven around. For 20 bucks though, it certainly could have lasted longer. I wandered around the Sphinx…which incidentally was smaller than I imagined, and then headed back to the taxi.

Then on to Saqqara. Which could be spelled Sakkara, and often is. But pseudo-intelligentsia will tell you its Saqqara. Maybe I’ll spell it Suckaruh. Except that insinuates it sucked, which it did not, I only want to insinuate that taking words with a different alphabet and turning them English is not an exact science.

There is a small museum there named after Imhotep. I enjoyed it much more than the actual Egyptian museum. One-you can take pictures. Two-they have nice cards, nice acrylic plaques actually; explaining everything. My guess is this museum is funded by the French.

Then on to a tomb and inside what was left of a small pyramid. Incidentally, just last week they found new mummies at this site. Anyway, as soon as I stepped into the small pyramid, I knew I’d made the right decision about the Big Pyramid. 45 degree angle, in about a 4x4ft shaft, for about 30ft. I think in the Pyramid of Cheops, this scenario replicates about 10 times. Again, not worth it without witnesses.

Below: Pyramid shaft of Death

Everywhere said no pictures…and everywhere, no one was watching…
Then I head another part of Suckaruh where 5 guys in dresses claimed to be “chiefs” and wanted to guide me. While these places are fairly under developed for tourists, i.e. few signs or even safe walking paths, if you keep your eyes on the sap who actually pays one of these “chiefs”, you can figure out where the good stuff is. Who knows? Maybe I missed some amazing stuff, but if I don’t know about it, it doesn’t exist. Plus it leaves more to explore when I come back with my super hot, intelligent…history book.

Below photo taken by "Chief" in a dress.

You can see below an example of how these sites are taken care of. There's some barbed wire, but I'm pretty sure people are living in some of these places. Hieroglyphics, barbed wire, and garbage. I guess when you grow up with this stuff, its not so interesting.

We were meant to go to another pyramid site after this, but I was tired, and didn’t want to get bored with such amazing things. Believe me, its easy to do. Anyone who travels can tell you about being “Churched” out, “Mosqued” out, “Kasbah’d” out. I didn’t want to leave Egypt bored.
On the way back, my driver, surprisingly named Mohammed…stopped at a restaurant he said was good. This translates as, “Its not cheap, and I get a kickback”. Usually I avoid such places, but I’d spent about 2 dollars in the two days I’d been there, so I thought I’d treat myself. I didn’t even ask how much it cost until after the meal, which is probably for the best, as I avoided getting indigestion before the meal. This restaurant clearly only serves tourists. Either busloads or taxi fares. But usually you get decent quality at those kinds of places. This place was an exception, in that the food was outstanding. I’d really have to rate it in my top 3 meals of all time. I’ll go ahead and tell you, it cost 20 bucks. Well, it did before I bargained a bit, but that only knocked a couple dollars off. You could choose between SheishKabab, Chicken, Fish, or Mixed Greens. Sheish Kabab sounded about the most likely to have some sort of Egyptian flavor. What I got was a spread of the most amazing Arabic food. The sheish kabab was actually the least enjoyable. There was a plate of fresh pita, a plate of eggplant, a plate of Feta mixed with cucumber and tomatoes, a plate of tahini mixed with eggplant and other spices, the most amazing herbed rice and some merguez. I knew as I was eating it, this was not going to be a cheap lunch, but I didn’t care. While this was obviously a higher class version of the food Egyptians make in their home on a daily basis, it was definitely a taste of the orient, and I savoured every second.

After coughing up the cash, we headed back into town, and as usual, the driver stopped somewhere to try to get me to buy something from his friends. He didn’t really try too hard. I think he realized I had spent way more money than planned on lunch and I was at the end of my checkbook.

This is an example of housing in Cairo. Giant brick blocks. Like lego houses. Windows look like an afterthought:

Slightly better housing:

One of many weekly burnings of an Israeli flag. Its funny to think that some guy is making a lot of money making Israeli flags just so they can be burned:

When I got back to the hotel, the owner invited all the guests to the roof for tea, and we ended up in political discussions much like the night before. I excused myself and spent 2 hours packing. I don’t how I do it. When I had to catch the elephants in Luang Prabang, Laos I definitely packed in about 7 minutes. In general I’m a mess, but I’m an organizing freak. If I have the time, I will spend 2 hours packing.

In the morning, the hotel arranged for a taxi to take me to the airport. But like so many things, taxis have to pay to come into the airport, so they bribe the cops to scoot in on the side, which means carrying your luggage across a parking lot to save a few bucks. I’m reminded of the Tom Green episode “Undercutters”. He follows pizza delivery guys on their delivery and when the customer answers the door he says he’s from Undercutters Pizza and pulls out a toolbox full of pizza ingredients, promising to make what they ordered for half the price right there. I should retitle this blog Digression.

1 comment:

Aurora said...

I've got one of those super-hot, intelligent history... books. He's also good in the sack. Can't wait to travel with him.

I only say this, of course, to make myself feel better about not having gone to Cairo yet.