First day in Ciaro
Trip Start Jan 14, 2010
13Trip End Feb 01, 2010
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The journey to Cairo was a good one. I stopped over in London for a day to see friends and take in a photography exhibit. All were very good, except for the fact that London was very cold. I didn't really pack much in the way of winter clothes, so I was always cold with the freezing fog seeping into my bones.
The second part of the journey from London to Cairo was quiet and uneventful. I spent time in the airport lounge soaking up free food and booze. The flight was not very busy and I was sitting upstairs where there were only 3 other people. I spent a great deal of time chatting with the flight attendant comparing our travels and horror stories, all the time drinking single malt scotch
The flight arrived in Cairo at midnight. As soon as I stepped off the plane I met the guy hired by the tour company to usher me through customs and get me to the hotel. The customs guy did not say one word to me. He just stamped my passport and gave it back to me. No interrogation… nothing. It was somewhat disappointing! When I go to the US, they just stop short of giving me the rubber glove treatment.
The drive into the city surprised me. There were massive freeways with lots of street lighting, and electronic billboards. Quite the contrast of my first impression of Nairobi last year. It seems Cairo is a very modern city. What I did notice was that it was very "foggy". The driver told me that this is dust from the sand storms in the desert earlier today. He said the dust would settle in a couple of hours.
After a good nights sleep, I was eager to explore Cairo. I went down to the lobby of the hotel and hired a driver and car for $40 for the day
Our first destination was the pyramids at Giza. These are the big ones that you often see associated with documentaries etc. There are three big ones and 6 smaller ones. The largest one is the Great Pyramid of Cheops that is massive and still very impressive given the facts that the place was overrun with tourists. Even the smaller of the two “big” pyramid were very impressive. I really wanted to go inside, but the were closed as there are doing restoration work on the inside.
Even through I didn’t get to go inside, I instead rented a camel for an hour and tried my best at being Lawrence of Arabia. The camel (that I will call Joshua) was a bit finicky and didn’t really like me very much. While he was a smooth ride, I saw other camels that were more affectionate towards their riders. Seems I got the one bitch camel in the heard. It was still fun though!
After the camel ride, there was the biggest disappointment of my trip so far. The Sphinx
From Giza we went to the town of Memphis which was the first capital of Egypt. There was the small museum that had the statue of King Ramses. The one thing I found out early today is that local Egyptians will often jump into your pictures and then request money for being in the picture. At first I was annoyed at this and told them to get out of the way. Apparently I was being rude. My driver explained to me that this is normal and that I should give him a few coins as he is very poor and has nothing. Ok. Lesson learned.
From there went to a second set of pyramids which were less popular with the tourists but still very impressive. There was Zoser’s step pyramid and another of other ones that were not very famous. However, I was able to go inside one of these! After climbing ten stories of steps to get to the mid point entrance, I then had to walk bent over all the way back down inside the pyramid. Then crawling through tunnels I finally got to the tomb and there was nothing but rocks. There were no inscriptions on the wall either
I learned a number of things today. The first was the “tipping” etiquette mentioned above. The second one was that Egyptians in general are very nice polite people who can sweet talk money out of my wallet. I wandered into a “Papyrus Museum” to see what was inside. I was given a short demonstration of how papyrus was made by a very nice girl who spoke so fast I could barely keep up with the conversation. Then before I knew it, I was paying way too much for a number of papyrus art works with various Egyptian scenes on them. Being an accountant, you would think math would come easy to me. However, I misplaced a decimal point in my head and it wasn’t until after paying that I realized that I grossly overpaid for these. At least once on every trip I usually get fleeced. Todays fleecing was especially embarrassing, but on the bright side, I do have new “artwork” for the apartment!
Moving along… So after this point we headed to the tombs near the pyramids. These tombs have the Egyptian hieroglyphics on the wall and were quite spectacular. I was however annoyed that there was a sign at the front saying no photographs
Cairo is a city of 22 million people most of whom are either very rich or very poor. Its easy to see the wealth of the city, but I wanted to see the other side. Our next destination was the City of the Dead. This is a large grave yard in the city where people squat and live. To be exact, there is about 2 million people living in the grave yard who are not dead. This was quite interesting. Each “grave” is actually a small crypt that has enough space for people to take shelter in. Whole families will be sleeping on top of coffins. To make matters a bit more strange, the relatives of the dead people will often stop by and give food to the squatter family living atop their dead relatives. My driver was proud to inform me that this was the only place in the world where this happens.
Here is an interesting tidbit for all of you accountants out there
The last stop for the day was the Christian church built into a mountain side. But on the way there, we had to go past the garbage people. There is one very rich guy in Cairo who owns the garbage of the city. He collects it and dumps it in a neighborhood near the centre of old Cairo. Once it is dumped, there is an army of very poor people who separate the garbage into recyclables, waste and other stuff. The recyclables are sent off for recycling, garbage is sent to a land fill. But the really interesting (and sad) thing is that the people who are separating the garbage are not paid for their work. They do the work for the promise of finding edible food or something that was thrown away that might have value.
After that smelly and heart wrenching experience, we arrived at the church in the mountain
So at this point I was done. Tired, hungry and my hair and skin felt mangy from all of the dust. Cairo is such a dusty place. Sand gets everywhere. I had the driver bring me back to the hotel. So the day as a whole was quite a success. I don’t think I have experienced culture shock to the degree that I experienced today. I couldn’t imagine trying navigating this city on my own. Arabic script is completely foreign to me and as well most people don’t speak any English. (and my Arabic simply isn’t there yet). Tomorrow I am going to relax as I am joining the tour on the next day and the next 15 days will be action packed. Thanks for reading and I hope my little video experiment works.