Day 65 - Cairo Again Again

Trip Start Aug 07, 2007
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47
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Trip End Nov 07, 2007


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Flag of Egypt  ,
Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Hair: Roman
Beard: Greek
Distance Driven: 8,980km
Frame of Mind: Itchy

Day 65 - Carry on Up The Nile
It's about 500km from Hurghada to Cairo.  The first 200 was horrible and v treacherous:  the wind was so strong even the government had noticed and put up some enormous wind farms.  It reduced my cruising speed by a good deal and my fuel consumption too to 20km per litre.  However at less than a quarter of a dollar per litre for the 'quality' stuff I sat in fifth at 9000 revs and sodded global warming.

The next 100km were great: twisty coast hugging roads with the crystal clear blue water to the right and imposing wind-blocking mountains to my left.  I was so close to the sea that at points the it was actually lapping at the tarmac.  As I got closer to Suez the coast seemed no less beautiful but the luxury resorts had the slightly unusual backdrop of supertankers and cargo ships queueing up for their turn at the canal.

The last stretch was across the desert, back to the nile and Cairo on an empty six lane toll highway.  I relaxed and cruised and only once had to wake up to dodge a police car coming the wrong way up the motorway, straight towards me.  Not even on the hard shoulder.  He couldn't be bothered I guess.  Fair enough.  I'm sure he would have swerved had I not.

Upon hitting Cairo it got more interesting.  There is a standard conversation amongst African travellers, particularly those with vehicles: "Which capital has the worst traffic and the worst drivers?".  Cairo comes pretty high in most people's reckoning.  I don't disagree.  Whereas Kampala or Nairobi has much worse congestion Cairo is nasty because the traffic does move.  Always very fast.  Never in a lane.  They are unsympathetic to nervous foreign motorcyclists who are struggling (and failing) to read the Arabic road signs (with their meaningless arrows) and have no real idea where they are going.  Still, it's an 'experience'. 

I spent quite a long time on the ring road.  Not that I was enjoying it just there didn't seem to be any exits.  I was getting dizzy and no closer to where I wanted to be so I got brave and dived into the little streets of the old town to try and get across the city.  The Islamic quarter is a very atmospheric, shady, cool, breathable, pretty and aroma-filled area.  I'm glad I stumbled across it and had to drive all the way through its narrow mosque and stall lined streets.  I thought Cairo was a polluted bland city but this part had real spirit.  Two and a half hours after getting into greater Cairo I arrived at the flat at which I was staying.  That's slow even compared to the London Underground.

I have been here for one full week now.  I have eaten much crap (Papa Johns pizza, TGI Fridays, Hardees, McDonalds, Chillis etc), read much crap (serial killer chiller-thriller, terrorist techno-thriller, coldwar political-thriller (why does everyone come on holiday and read thrillers?  They are pretty much the only thing you can pick up at hotel book-swaps.  I now want to be a spook when I get home.) and watched much crap (even lowering myself to Back to The Future...in Italian).  I have done remarkably little.

Days 66 - The National Museum
I did make it to the National Museum.  It's a huge place with a mind-boggling number of artefacts.  All dumped seemingly randomly without explanation or reason.  It is a big warehouse that they charge 12USD to get into.  The only thing missing is the pallette trucks.  Actually, no, I think I did see one of those.

However the Tutankhamen exhibition with his cursed gold mask was pretty amazing.  He knew how to waste money.  Lots of bling. 

I was quite surprised at what I felt about the hall of mummies.  I had read in the LP that this had only just opened due to the Muslim distaste of displaying the dead.  Indeed the sign on the door urges "SILENCE".  I scoffed when I read both of these, after all these mummies are thousands of years old, but when I went in and look at the dozen remarkably preserved human bodies in this room I changed my mind completely. 

At the Luxor Museum they had mummies and it was fascinating, eerie but...cool.  Here it was just sad.  Maybe it was the number of bodies, or the fact that here there was none of the reverence that existed in the Luxor Museum (just a bustling queue of ogling tourists), but it definitely seemed wrong.  How much time needs to pass to turn a human corpse from a respected thing to an object of simple curiosity.  Four thousand years isn't enough.

A recently dead person is treated with utmost respect (indeed they are still a 'person').  Even after several generations the exhumation of bodies, say to relocate a graveyard, remains a last resort and illicits strong emotions, not just from the relatives.  I don't even think that many people would walk across a graveyard of a church that was hundreds of years old.  But let a couple of millenia pass and it is ok?  Perhaps it is because they differ from us - even from 99% of modern Egyptians?  But no one would argue that that is an acceptable reason - just look at them and you can see there is no difference in species here.  It is for scientific/historical research, we treat them with utmost reverence.  Yes, a better reason but these are not neanderthals that fell into a glacial crevasse or Homo erectus skeletons dug up from an old peat bog.  These are people whose loved ones laid them to rest in tombs after their deaths with the explicit hope that they were never disturbed.  It is nothing new for archaeologists to be accused of desecration but I was surprised to see myself agreeing with this view.

Wow...surpriserant over.

Day 67 - The MIGHTY Pyramids
Later on I went to the pyramids to see the sun set and the (melo)dramatic 'Sound & Light Show'.  Missed both as we were pressganged into riding a horse several kilometres from the pyramids until it was dark.  Then the show was in French. 
Day 68 - Get A Job Clark
Nowt.


Day 69 - Pride and Prejudice
I watched the rugby.  That was quite nice.  I do hate the English though.  Most of them.

It was the RWC semis.  France vs England.  There were a couple of surrender monkeys in Harry's Pub at the Marriott hotel and I got a bit of persiflage going with them.  Nice chaps.  Sadly there were also a large number of my compatriots there.  If I had to guess I would say Chelsea supporters but one thing is for certain the pub won't be showing rugby again in a hurry.  After the game was over and the security guards had removed the idiots I slunk off embarrassed, thinking perhaps I'd pretend to be American for a while.

Day 70 - Revenge of The Pyramids
I returned to the pyramids to see them up close.  Except they were shut.  It was 3:30 on a Monday.  So I waited around for the sound and light show which was hilariously camp but quite entertaining.  The best bit was when a Scots pipe band randomly came on dressed as Egyptians.  I suppose they may have been Egyptians...they all looked like dad and didn't play Scotland The Brave.  

I still need to actually see the pyramids.  So that'll be another visit

Day 71 - Hot Haut Cairo Culture
Went to the Museum of Modern Egyptian Art this morning (weel, it actually turned out to be afternoon when I got finished with Jamie Oliver's Winter Garden but let's not be pedantic) which killed a couple of hours.  There was lots of stuff there, some good, some not.  Most of it looked 'heavily influenced' by other artists. 

In the evening I went to the ballet.  Something called Tango Reve by a random and Ravel's Bolero.  I had to wear a jacket and tie so that needed to be borrowed but I wore trainers so the effect was somewhat spolied.  I can still remember how to tie the ol' windsor after three years.  The ballet was OK but I reckon I could make it into the Cairo Opera Orchestra.  A fair few squeaks were going on.  I probably couldn't make it into the dance company but then again I have been watching quite a lots of So You Think You Can Dance

Day 72 - Live Pyramids of Die Pyramids with Avengence
Went to see the pyramids up close and without animal entourage before heading off to pick up my Libyan visa.  Was all very nice.  Incredible structures.  Those pharoahs were really a bit mad.  It costs another 100 pounds to go inside the Cheops pyramid (the real biggie) but is well worth...it unless you are claustrophobic in which case you will be in hell.

You go along a large rough hewn tunnel for 20 or so metres (rough because it wasn't the Egyptians digging this one, it was the tomb robbers - sorry egyptoligists) then for about 25m up a 45 degree incline in a regular tunnel no more than a metre square.  Very scary.  I had a few 'moments' here.  It is too narrow to turn round in and you have to scuttle up it hunched over.  You emerge into a surprisingly large (40m x 5m x 10m high) vaulted ceilinged chamber that contains a staircase leading up to another small tunnel and the burial chamber incomplete of treasures but still retaining Cheop's stone sarcophagus.  

At this point you are bang smack in the middle of the largest stone structure ever created, in a small room surrounded by millions of tonnes of rock  with goodness knows how many undiscovered booby traps, flesh eating scarab beetles and irate immortal regenerated ravanous disinterred demons.  If the tunnel collapsed there would be no way they would reach you before you expired (or you got eaten by the scarabs or IIRRDDs).  I think I trust the ancient Egyptian architects more than the modern ones but they weren't exactly structural engineers.  The walls started to close in (methaphorically, not Indianan Jonesically) so I forwent the desire to hide inside the sarcophagus and scare the shit out of the two American lads that I could hear making their way up to the chamber behind me and made tracks back to open air.

Oh yeah, little thing...in the centre of Cairo I saw a scene that I though was the preserve of cartoonists and pre-talkies slapstick: a man dismantling some scaffolding whilst still standing on it.  I had to chuckle.  Sadly didn't stand and watch the outcome. or video it for 250 squids.

Oh, and that chap Imotek from The Mummy (the new one, not the old one...although he might be in the old one too I suppose....) did exist.  But he was an engineering geek (invented the pyramids apparently) rather than an all powerful ruthless killer.  I'm not sure if the rest of it happened though. 
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Comments

amy_n-b
amy_n-b on

Mummies and such
A few comments on a very funny post....

a) I love how all the crap food is American. Why, why do we McDonaldize the world with our grease and homogeny? So that everyone can lose their palettes and be fat like us, maybe?

b) I think it is amusing that you would contemplate faux American-ness when everyone knows, it is always, always, always best to play Canadian or joue Canadien. Perhaps Rita can post a patch for your pack.

c)Mummies... gawking is so much better than the charming Victorian traditions of 1) mummy soirees wherein wealthy English had friends 'round to eat, drink, and unwrap or 2) using mummies to fuel trains.

Miss you so so much!

charlesaclark
charlesaclark on

Comments on your comments
a) But it tastes so good!

b) But I can pass easier as a yank. I have my UW T-shirt and my Packers hat. And you've heard my accent right ;)

c) I miss the weird stuff you know babe!

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