|Cairo and the Great Pyramids of Giza|
|May 4-6 -- Cairo
Arrive in Cairo at 3 am, 33 hours after leaving Rapid City. Had a 3 hour layover in Minneapolis, then all night flight to Amsterdam. The baggage screeners there make a big issue of our request to handcheck all our film. We refuse to let them x-ray it. After a prolonged stand-off they relent, but we miss our chance for a quick trip into the city. Fly to Athens and have an eleven hour layover before catching the 1 am flight to Cairo.
After a few hours of fitful jet-lag plagued attempts to sleep we get up, shower, and head out into the city. Nobody stares at us, obviously they are very used to foreigners. Those who do take notice of us give us big grins and tell us "Welcome to Egypt!"
On the way to the National Museum a few salesman make various attempts to get us into their shops, one even informs us the museum is closed for lunch, and that we are welcome to rest and have tea in his shop, but we have already heard about that trick. At the museum we are amazed by the swarms of tourists, I don't know if we have ever seen so many tour groups in one spot. All Europeans, of course, with a few Aussies and Canadians. Sadly Americans seem non-existent. We see the Tut exhibit, mummies and much more. In the men's bathroom an attendant turns on the water at the sink for me to wash my hands, then quicly hands me a paper towel, all for a 50 piastra tip, about 5 cents. When he finds I am from the US he sadly tells me he does not like Condolezza Rice and he felt Colin Powell was a much better choice for Secretary of State.
|May 7 -- Welcome to Egypt!
Cairo is noisy and smelly, but also vibrant and exciting with tons of things to see on every block. The air is an acrid haze, with some of the worst pollution in the word. Cairo and parts of the Nile Valley has the highest population density per square kilometer of any place on earth.
Walking to the Islamic Quarter. Along the way Tass buys a head scarf to wear in the mosques, and has the woman shop keeper show her various ways to wrap it around her head. There are police everywhere, can't imagine being robbed here. And no beggars anywhere. At least 2 or 3 people on each block stop to ask us where we are from and then give us a smile and "Welcome to Egypt."
At the Al-Azhar mosque a short, old, impish caretaker named Hassan takes us under his wing and give us the royal tour, complete with suggestions of precisely where we must stand, or even lay down, to get the best angle for photos of each part of the mosque. Half way through the tour another fellow tries to take over and be our guide. After a bit of yelling we defuse the situation by joking with the newcomer that we like Hassan because he is much cheaper, which the new fellow finds very comical, and he lets us go. Next Hassan takes us up the twisting, dark stairs of a tall minnaret for great views of the city smog. He encourages Tass to take off her scarf for a photo with him when no one can see us. We have lots of laughs and he is very kind and gentle. When we are finished we pay him the expected baksheesh for his time and he scurries of with a smile and a wave.
|May 8 -- Crazy Drivers, Crazier Pedestrians
Not sure who is crazier, Egyptian drivers or Egyptian pedestrians. The streets are jam packed with taxis, and the drivers all vie for limited space, with mere inches of clearance on each side, bumper to bumper, horns honking, the driver's arms gestulating wildly out the windows. Into this swarming fray, crossing four lanes of traffic (although there are actually no specifric lanes) one lane at a time, standing in the center of the street with taxis whizzing past on all sides. The pedestrians never bolt across, but calmly work their way accross the street. This is not just young, foolish men, but women with kids, and the old, wak and inform. The taxi drivers always give as little room as possible, bumpers whiz by inches from knee caps,, so close I am amazed they don't run over peoples toes. We are terrified to cross by ourselves so we align ourselves down traffic from other pedestrians, using them as shields as we cross. We have never seen traffic like this anywhere!
After visiting mosques in other parts of the city we head back to Khan Al-Khalili bazzar in the Islamic Quarter. Tass has a new nickname, Madam, and the shop keepers are all quite taken with her. "Would Madam like to sit in the shade? Would Madam like tea? Oh, Madam is very funny!" Tass bargains for a beautiful cat statue carved of black bassalt. The starting pricer is 600 Egyptian pounds, over $100 U.S. After 30 minutes of expert haggling, Madam buys it for 80 pounds, less than $14 U.S.
Meanwhile I have reverted to my old traveling nickname, Bruce Lee. Twenty years ago in Asia no one could ever pronounce Bruce. But when I said "like Bruce Lee" I would always get a big grin and animated karate chop gestures. We have used that since Mexico, Central America, and South America. Amazingly it brings the same laughter 20 years later now here in Egypt.
I ask six older, distinguished-looking businessmen in well-tailored suits who are sitting at a sidewalk cafe smoking tabacco in huge hookah water pipes if I can take their photo and I explain our business. They say yes, then admonish me to tell the true story of Egypt, and not just more propaganda.
|May 9 -- Pyramid Cycling
Madam and Bruce Lee load their bikes on a taxi and get a lift to the outskirts of Cairo to see the 3 Giza pyramids. Sadly, dlimbing the pyramids is no longer allowed, but we bike around them on slickrock and sand and then go inside. The passage way is low and narrow, the crypts unadorned and empty, everything removed long ago by grave robbers. These are the world oldest tourist attractions, people have been coming here for thousands of years, and they are still impressive today, The only remiaining of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
The real excitment begins as we start biking into the city. As we have found cycling in crazy traffic around the world, once you get into the flow it is not too bad, and actually kind of fun. Drivers and passengers wave wildly, and give us the thumbs up as we pass. Pedistrians beside the road cheer and yell out greetings. We feel comfortable enough to keep riding further and further into the city. Our confidence grows when a few taxis actually yield to us in roundabouts. We only have to stop twice for diredions and after two hours we arrive downtown where we are able to find our way back to our hotel.
We love it here. Tmorrow we head into the desert.