July 12 – July 16
When I realized that my trip to Tanzania would be routing through Cairo, I couldn’t help but take advantage and include an extended stayover during my return. The pyramids have always been a cause for wonder and certainly another one of those places on the list of must sees. Of course, the political unrest was a cause for concern, but it seemed that things had calmed down a bit in the country since the January 25th uprising and seemed to be in a state of rest since President Mubarek had stepped down.
With that in mind, and the added advantage that the sites would be far less crowded, I decided it was a great opporunity I couldn’t pass up. Since I was upscaling it a fair bit in Tanzania, relatively speaking, I thought it was a good idea to save some money and take cheaper accomodations in Cairo. I booked my stay at a place called “The Canadian Hostel”. I was looking for an authentic experience, and figured this hostel would give that to me! Well…not really, they offered a free pick up and shuttle ride from the airport, and as I was getting in late, figured that was a good option. It also cost only $13 per night, with breakfast included!
Now…since I had been on the mountain the last 8 days, and since its hard to get tv service up there (althought the porters would be listening to soccer games on the radio and cheers all over the campsite could be heard at times) I hadn’t been watching any news so wasn’t really up to date on what was happening in the world. I had missed the fact that demonstrators had set up shop once again in Tahrir Square on July 8th, frustrated with the progress of things since the ousting of Mubarek, and frustrated with the lack of convictions against a corrupt police force that opened fire during peaceful demonstrations back in February. And, due to my ignorance of the lay of the land in Cairo, little did I realize that my accomodations in Cairo were only 100ft from Tahrir Square in donwtown Cairo!!
So as I get to my hostel, which was about 12:30 am, I realized I was right in the middle of all the activity in Tahrir Square. Ahmed, the guy from the hostel that picked me up indicated that there were not that many tourists in Cairo right now, and that the square is definitely not the best place for foreigners to hang out. Even if it was, the square is self policied by demontrators, and only Egyptian nationals are allowed in the square. No worries from me, as I didn’t have any intentions in joining in on the fun!
After some quick Egyptian food, which was awesome by the way, I hit the bed and got ready to see the Pyramids in the morning. I actually ended up booking Ahmed, and a tour guide from the hostel, Mohammed, to take me around the next day and show me the sites. Far easier then cabbin it or taking buses, and with the sentiment towards foreigners in the city, I figured that was a good option.
We first when to Memphis, a suberb of Cairo and once the the Ancient capital of Egypt. The Pharoes had their residences here, but now its basically an open air Museum now with a number of statues and skulptures, including a Colossel of Ramses II.
But once again, one of the major things I noticed, was the amount of garbage on the streets. Garbage on the streets everywhere, and a small river dividing two roads on the way to Memphis had its river banks basically made out of garbage. I couldn’t find out if thats where they dump their garbage, or just store it their, but it was clear that garbage collection is not a major priority in Cairo. And of course, you can’t drink the water there.
After Memphes, we went to Saqqara, which was basically a Necropolis (or graveyard) for the Pharoes from Memphis. Saqqara is famous for containing the first ever Phyramid. King Djoser apparently wanted to do something different to aid his soul in the afterlife so he built a step Pyramid that put him closer to the heavens. Or at least thats what my guide told me!
It was pretty cool all the same, but what was certainly noteworthy was the lack of tourists at these sites.
After Saqqare we decided to get something to eat, so Mohammed suggested a place that he thought I would like. It turned out that it had a huge egyptian style buffet, and a great view of the Pyramids of Giza, which was the primary purpose for stopping in Cairo.
After lunch, the destination was the pyramids. I must say it was pretty cool, and finally being able to see them in person was amazing. I did put up the extra cash to go into the Great Pyramid, which cost 100 Egyptian pounds, about $20. You didn’t get to see a whole lot, as much of the Pyramid is not accessible, but was pretty cool to walk up one of the shafts to one of the burial chambers. Apparently a couple of days before, a researcher had discovered new hieroglypics in the pyramids, so people are still learning things from them.
Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot to do at the pyramids. I figured there would be a bit more set up, to learn about the history and stuff, but nope, all you pretty much do is go and see them! Mohammed was helpful, as he knew a fair bit about the pyramids since he is studying to be an Egyptologist, but somehow I expected a bit more. Also, you get bombarded by guys wanting to sell you Camel rides. They basically fight over your attention, and you end up having to be pretty rude to get clear of them. Again, luckily I was with the guide, as he was able to deflect a lot of the oncomers, so I can’t imagine how bad it is on your own. But I guess business for them is pretty down as well, considered the lack of tourists, and I was like fresh meat!
I did end up doing a Camel ride. It wasn’t high on my list of things to do, but I guess its one of those things you should experience. It Was alright, and got some good pictures with the Pyramids, but certainly not worth the prices they charge you.
After that it was back to the hostel and take things easy.
My second day in Cairo, I took in the Egyptian Musuem. The main attraction of the Musuem is the Tutankhamun Exhibition, which turned out to be incredible. This is certainly a must see while in Cairo. Tutankhamen ascended to the thrown when he was 8 years old…and ruled until he died at 18 years old. Known as the boy king, he must have been worshipped incredibly, as evidenced by the amount of treasures discovered in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. All these treasures now, including the infamous face mask (which is incredible) are all on display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
My third day in Cairo, I really didn’t do much. Just wanted to explore the city a bit and get a feel for the culture. However, i tried to used the subway at one point, but got stopped by a protestor demanding to see my passport. I tried to walk past him, but it was clear he didn’t want me to. Rather than cause a scene, and since i knew that the police force is basically non-existent in Cairo these days, I decided it was better to just turn around, and find another way to get around.
That was the interesting thing, you never really felt safe while on these demontrations where going on. I was pretty confident nothing would happen, but I was certainly conscious of my actions, and attempted to avoid conflict when possible. I did see a number of fights take place in the square, and past by a few shops were people were buying guns! Apparently some neighbourhoods are policing themselves since the police is not really doing anything. The country is under military rule at the moment.
Was tough, as since I was one of few foreigners that I had seen, especially in the downtown area, was getting approached a lot by small businesses owners, basically assaulting me to sell me paprys and perfumes!! Became exausting by the third day, and started to just speak German a lot and say “no speak english” and that seemed to help a bit!!
Be interesting to see what will happen with the protestors the next few weeks, but I’m certainly glad I wasn’t spending too much more time in Cairo!
Colossal of Rameses II
Pyramid of Djoser (Known as the Step Pyramid)
Me and Cheops – The Great Pyramid
The pyramids of Giza
Riding a Camel
This is actually a tornado! Wasn’t very big and no one seemed to be worried, but this was a small tornado that I watched for about 20s…and managed to catch the end of it on video.
The Sphinx and the Pyramids
An early morning look onto Tahrir Square as I walk outside the Hostel