Egypt (Cairo) (1.22.10 – 1.26.10)

After the utter hell that was getting into Egypt successfully, the bus started moving from its stationary position around 6AM, at which point, I was finally able to get some sleep as we headed for Cairo. Around 9:30AM, the bus arrived and finished its route at the station. I grabbed my backpack and consulted the guidebook. I was about to start walking based on an assumption about which bus depot I had arrived at, based on information provided by the guidebook. Luckily for me, someone asked if I needed help, and I asked for directions to the nearest Metro station. To my great surprise, he pointed to where we were on the map, and it was far from where I expected to find myself. Oriented, I set off on foot for the Metro. As it turned out, the fellow who had given me directions was also wrong, and our location had been about a kilometer off from where he thought we were. After walking for about two and half kilometers, I finally found the station, and took it to Nasser station, which was very close to my hostel. After walking around for a while, and getting some help from a man who wanted me to go and stay at his hotel instead, I finally found where I would be staying for the next few nights. I had missed my first night there due to the bus debacle, and had two more planned; I figured I could just add on extra nights as necessary. Once settled into the hostel, I texted Sara to say that I had arrived safely and was ready to hang out whenever she was. We made plans for a few hours later, and I set off on foot to explore the streets around my hostel. The streets were filled with vendors; at first it was food stalls, but as I walked further, everyone sold car accessories. It was really odd. As I walked, everyone seemed to turn and go “Ahh, habibi, habibi! Welcome, welcome. Very beautiful.” I thanked them and walked on; ‘habibi’ means ‘my love,’ by the way. Anyway, one man followed me… for about 10 minutes, which was very seriously creeping me out. I kept thinking that he had finally gone, and then he’d walk a little faster , into my view, grin and say “Yes, yes, very beautiful.” I stopped, and said “YOU NEED TO STOP FOLLOWING ME. RIGHT NOW. LEAVE ME ALONE.” To which he just shrugged, grinned and said “No speak English.” I went into a gas station shop to get a coke, and when I came out, he was gone. Unfortunately, this incident was highly indicative of what the rest of my time in Egypt would be like; it was littered with encounters and comments from unpleasant, skeezy men. Aside from the men, Egypt is lovely.
I went back to the hostel to rest for a bit, and before long Sara texted to say she’d be picking me up shortly. I met her by the local bank, and upon catching sight of one another and squealed a bit, ran towards each other and hugged.
I cannot say how exciting this meet up was. For those of you who don’t know… Sara and I met on the internet… sounds like the beginning to an internet-dating story, non? Sara was one of ABC Adventure’s  first fans to link to us on her blog. Seeing that in the WordPress Stats info, I went to her blog to thank her, and we got chatting after that, marking the beginning of a beautiful friendship. It’s amazing to think about the fact that if Brian and I never made ABC Adventures, then I wouldn’t have gone to Egypt when I did. The effects of our seemingly small actions have such resounding effects; it’s truly incredible.
Back to the story. We got in the car, where her boyfriend Mohammed was waiting for us, and drove to get something to eat. We had lunch and then headed for a bookstore, where Mohammed’s band Salalem were playing. Their show was wonderful, and despite being unable to understand their lyrics, I was seriously impressed with their performance. Sara’s best friend, Menna, came as well, so I got to meet her; she’s lovely. After the show, we went to the Nile bank in attempt to take a night felucca, but that didn’t work out as hoped. Salalem were due to play another set at a local club called After Eight, which I was invited to attend, but decided to skip because I was flagging after a busy day and running on insufficient sleep. Sara was kind enough to drop me off, and we made plans to hang out the next day. It was a magnificent first day in Cairo.
On Saturday I awoke… to find that I was unable to fully open one of my eyes. I had planned on going to the Cairo museum, but worried that I was suffering an allergic reaction, instead took a bunch of medication and passed out, sleeping until 3PM. When I woke up again and decided to get dressed and ready for the day, the swelling had reduced almost entirely, although it was still tender and noticeable to me. Once ready for the day, I texted Sara, and took the Metro to Heliopolis. She picked me up at the station, and we went to a local pastry shop to pick up… pastries, what else!? We had shakasaya, balaheshem, and kaneffa; they were delectable. We then headed to a coffee shop called Harris Café that is one of Sara’s regular haunts. Sara had found out about a free Sufi dancing show going on that night at a venue just outside of Khan El Khalili, so after coffee, we went to go and watch the performance. It was really incredible, and if anything, I was impressed that the men were dizzy to the point of becoming sick after spinning for so long in one direction. After the show, we headed back to Heliopolis because Sara needed to get home. I took the Metro back to my hostel and called it a night; we had planned to go to THE PYRAMIDS on Sunday, and were going to get an early start.
Monday morning. 6AM wakeup. See, I’m capable of waking up early if need be… though I dislike it. Anyhow, ready to go, I headed downstairs to wait for Sara. She got caught in traffic, and then got a bit lost, so I took a taxi to find her, and then we headed for Giza. Driving through Giza, all of a sudden, you just see them. The pyramids. Standing tall in the middle of a busy city; it’s totally surreal to see something so ancient and proud, with a city built around it. We drove closer and closer, until they were looming in front of us, parked, and went to go and buy tickets. The ticket office only releases a certain number of tickets each morning to enter the two largest pyramids, and when we arrived, tickets to the Great Pyramid (Pyramid of Khufu) were already sold out; the second lot of tickets goes on sale at 1PM. I bought a general entrance ticket for the pyramid complex, and a ticket to enter inside the Pyramid of Khafre. Tickets for Egyptians cost significantly less at all tourist attractions in Egypt, which I think is wonderful, because it meant that Sara very little to show me around. You’re allowed to drive around the pyramid complex, so after gawking and marveling at the grandeur of the Great Pyramid, we drove onto the Pyramid of Khafre. We took silly photos, and then I ventured inside. Sara had decided to give it a miss, so she waited while I joined the trail of people slowly descending into the passageway. The smell was immediately overwhelming: a mix between sweat and dust, hanging heavy in the air, and even heavier in my nostrils. We slowly shuffled down, and it quickly became necessary to crouch. The ceiling was three and half, four feet at a push, and I was nearly doubled over as I moved on. After a few minutes’ descent, the passageway plateaued out, and the ceiling ascends, making it possible to stand straight. After it levels out, it then climbs up, the ascent mirroring the descent, and a few minutes later, we entered the tomb. The room was a moderate size; honestly, I walked in expecting the tomb to be bigger. All the treasures are in museums, obviously, so the room was bare, save for a stone coffin that lies on the West wall of the room. The wall reads “ Scoperta de G. Belzani. 2 Mar. 1818.” in large black letters. Sadly, I can’t share any pictures of what this was all like, as it’s forbidden to take photos inside the pyramids. After I had resurfaced, Sara and I headed to visit the sun ship museum, which houses a fully constructed sun ship that was buried adjacent to the Great Pyramid. The boat is magnificent, and an impressive 143 ft long, buried to serve at the vessel that would carry Khufu across the sky and deliver him to the sun god, Ra. After the museum, we drove for the third pyramid, the Pyramid of Menkaure. To our surprise, there was nowhere to park next to this pyramid, and so we drove on to the view point, where there is a view of all three pyramids. After filling up more space on our memory cards, we headed for the Sphinx Plateau, which lies to the East of the Pyramids. The Sphinx is the largest monolithic statue in the world, meaning that it is built entirely from one massive piece of stone; it was truly incredible. After seeing the Great Sphinx, we headed to get some snacks, and ended up shopping in a papyrus factory, where I bought a few pieces. Once done in the papyrus shop, it was just after 1PM, so we went back to the ticket office, and purchased tickets to enter the tomb of the Pyramid of Khufu. The passage into the Great Pyramid was far longer than that into Khafre’s Pyramid, and the journey was a steep ascent almost the entire way. The tomb itself was bigger than that of the other Pyramid, perhaps double the size of the other room, and also only contained an empty sarcophagus. The journey into and out of the pyramid is far more memorable than the tomb room itself.
Once we had exited the Great Pyramid, we left the Pyramids complex, and headed to Heliopolis, where I had  been invited to have lunch with Sara’s family. For lunch, we ordered sushi, as Sara and I had been craving it, but this was only after Sara’s dad had me eat lots of delicious and filling Egyptian food. It was an absolute honor and a delight to meet her family, and share time with them. They were hugely welcoming, and her Dad insisted that I must come back to share more meals with them. That evening, Sara and I went to a coffee shop called Cilantro to meet up with a group of her friends. It was a  beautiful and perfect day and I felt wholly happy. At the end of the night, one of Sara’s friends was kind enough to drive me back to my hostel.
Monday was a holiday, and as this was the case, Sara’s parents didn’t have work, and were kind enough to invite me over to share breakfast with them. After breakfast, we headed for Coptic Cairo, joined by some of Sara’s friends. We went to The Greek Church of St. George, and afterwards walked around for a while. We entered the Hanging Church, and I got to enter a mosque, which I thought was quite beautiful, although it was very plain compared to most in Cairo. After Coptic Cairo, we headed to the bank of the Nile, and went for a night ride on a felucca. The views of night Cairo were spectacular and the ride itself was really pleasant– an absolute must for anyone visiting Cairo; I’m sure that the sunset views must be truly memorable. After the felucca ride, we went to Harris Café and had some coffee there. When leaving, I got to witness the Egyptian enthusiasm that follows a win in a football match; these citizens have serious pride when it comes to their football team. It was hypnotizing and amusing to watch; the car horns singing a pattern, markedly different from the incessant car horns expressing frustration and exasperation with fellow drivers. To bear witness to this was a nice end to the night, and after getting to see it, I headed home on the Metro.
Tuesday I headed to find the post office, a task that should have been far easier than it actually was. I needed to send my little sister her birthday present, which I can now reveal was a silver cartouche, which featured her name written in hieroglyphics. After the difficulties of trying to get the letter sent, I headed for the Egyptian museum, planning to see the mummy exhibit, because by this point in the day, I felt I didn’t have sufficient time to explore the whole museum. I was informed at the ticket desk that in order to see the mummy exhibit, I would need to buy an entry for the whole museum as well, and it seemed a waste of money to do so, as I didn’t have time to see much more than the mummies, so I decided to skip the museum for the day, and planned for head back the next day. I headed to Sara’s house, and enjoyed dinner with her family. After dinner, Sara’s sister Salma, Sara and I headed for Khan El Khalili. We walked through the market streets for a while, exploring stalls, though buying nothing before settling down at El Fishawy Café, which claims to have been open for the past 200 years. They are known for having some of the very best sheesha you can find in Egypt, which is precisely what we went for. After yet another spectacular night, Sara dropped me off at the Metro, and I returned to my hostel with a happy heart.

Mohammed’s band Salalem playing. Check them out; they’re fantastic!

The pastry delights

Sufi dancing!

A drumming piece in the Sufi dancing performance; the dancers came in after the drummers had performed by themselves for a while.

The Pyramid of Khafre.

The Pyramid of Khafre.

The Pyramid of Khufu, also known as the Great Pyramid, as it’s the biggest of the three.

The Pyramid of Khafre.

The Pyramid of Khafre, again, with a Bedouin man on a camel in the foreground.

The Pyramid of Khufu.

The magnificent solar boat in the museum outside the Great Pyramid.

The Queen’s Pyramids that lie to the East of the Great Pyramid. This excellent map of the Pyramid Complex shows where they stand.

The vendors outside the pyramids are really really pushy… so sometimes, even though you’ve very forcefully declined their offers, you’ll find yourself on a camel… they insist only for a photo, and before you know it, you’re being lead around. If this happens, decide how much you’re going to give them, because they WILL demand something, hand it to them, and walk away. If they insist that you need to give them more, REFUSE. This guy tried demanding more money and I said “I didn’t ask for this. In fact, I repeatedly told you no. Either you can take this money, or you can not take this money, but I’m not going to give you more.” Be firm with them, or you will get screwed out of your money at every opportunity they have to take it from you.

The Pyramid of Khufu.

Sara!!!

This didn’t come out quiiiiite right… but it’s close.

The view of all three pyramids;  I wish I’d been able to get far enough away to get the sufficient perspective in order for the three pyramids to appear to line up.

Crush, crush

Yet another photo opportunity which cost baksheesh that I hadn’t been intending on

Sara and I! (It was windy, if you can’t tell from the disaster that is my hair)

The Pyramid of Menkaure, and the Queen’s Pyramids that stand to its South.

Another shot of the Pyramid of Khafre.

The Great Sphinx of Giza, with the Pyramid of Khufu in the background.

Kiss, kiss! I think it’s almost a necessity that I take at least one ridiculous picture at famous monuments.

The Sphinx, with the Pyramid of Khafre in the background.

St. George’s in Coptic Cairo.

Treasures of the church, in St. George’s.

The view from my night boat to Cairo (har-har).

If you look to the left of the picture, you’ll see a silhouette of another felucca.

At El- Fishawy Cafe in Khan El Khalili.

The end of part 1! It took me long enough, right!? The rest of Egypt soon to follow in parts 2 and 3. 🙂

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