It Was The Best of Times, It Was The Worst Of Times

My trip was jolted in a different direction from the moment I arrived in Cairo. This megalopolis is chaos, history, excitement and craziness all rolled into one. Everywhere before on this trip was sleepy compared to Cairo.

scene outside my hotel in Cairo

The Bad
 
At night during Ramadan, the city literally roars to life with mobs of people gathering in the streets to eat, shop and socialize. Walking through the streets is a combat sport as you duck and dart through throngs of pedestrians and traffic snarled streets. The horns of the scooters racing through the streets are particularly abrasive.
I made the mistake of taking the metro at night several hours after Iftar, and it was swollen with people on the go. Worse than the crowds on the train (people are so pushy that they will push on to the train before you can get off) was the entryways to the metro, which were even more crowded with hawkers set up selling their wares. As I exited the metro station, it was so hot that I could literally see steam rising, and I had to lower my shoulder footballs style to reach the exit. I should point out thought that taking the metro at other times of day isn’t that bad. In fact I took to the train station at dusk and it was empty with everyone breaking their Ramadan fast.

there are special cars on the Cairo metro designated for women

I have traveled to some pretty hot places during my trip but the humidity in Cairo makes this the worst so far. Add in the crowds and my sweat index is off the charts (thankfully ally my clothes are quick dry). The added perk of rolling blackouts each day through the city (you never know when they will hit) means you are always a moment away from the power going out and the AC dying on you.
And then there are the touts and scam artists trying to take advantage of you at every turn. “My friend” they always begin and then start on their spiel to have you buy this or take you there or help you with that. Coming from Tunisia, where people gave you your space, and couldn’t really communicate with me given the language barrier, Egypt has been a bit jarring. It’s worse obviously at tourist sites like the pyramids, where you get harassed constantly, but even in the streets of Cairo everyone wants a piece of you. It gets tiring fending it off and its taxing not knowing who to trust when everyone is pushing something on you. People tell you you can’t walk here or go there because its too difficult but they say that just so you will use whatever they are peddling instead. I don’t want to criticize Egyptians but they see tourists as dollar signs.
Or as potential recruits to Islam. I was grabbing a quick dinner a few nights ago when the restaurant manager approached me. After our introductions he launched into a passionate thesis on the benefits of Islam, my own religious beliefs and the beauty of the Koranic teachings. He gave me a few YouTube sites to visit and an invitation the following night to his home for Iftar. He took a real shine to me and assured me I would be a good Muslim if that is the path I wanted to follow.
Then there was the mosque incident. My Couchsurfing friend Yahya was able to get me into a mosque in Old Cairo. As we went to leave the mosque, there was a commotion by the entrance. Some women were trying to enter to say a specific prayer. The men there were arguing that now was not the time for that prayer and refused to let them in. There was shouting and pushing. I thought the women were going to start clubbing their way in Finally, someone said something and they were let in to go pray in a separate section of the mosque. Gotta love the equality.
The Good
 
But at least many people speak in English. Throw in the numerous Americans that I have met in my hostels here and communication has opened up considerably. I befriended a group of three Americans who are traveling this summer through Europe and the Middle East, and we were able to go to a Couchsurfing dinner in Al Azhar Park, a beautiful park overlooking the city. We shared a delicious potluck with Couchsurfers all over the world as we looked down on Cairo below us.
The city can be quite charming as well. Filled with beautiful Muslim and Christian sites (the mosques are spectacular), and sitting along the Nile River, there is a never ending supply of beautiful places to go. On two different days I jogged over and along the Nile, which is even more spectacular at night. You can see the whole city on the many bridges that cross the river. In fact, it is a very popular place for young couples and families to linger.

overlooking the Nile

Mohamed Ali Mosque

But the highlight without question was visiting the Pyramids. To make it easy on myself, I booked a driver for the day to take me to three of the main pyramid sites: Saqqara, Dahshur, and of course Giza. This was more efficient than taking public transportation to Giza and haggling with taxis to go to the other sites and more relaxing.

Dahshur

Dahshur

While Saqqara and Dahshur were not as exciting as Giza, because there was only pyramid apiece at each, they were also far less crowded. The Saqqarato Dahshur to Giza route allowed me to see pyramids from oldest to newest in order of construction, which gives a great sense for how they evolved in design over the years. I was the only visitor at Dahshur and you are able to freely climb down 65m inside the pyramid there (the other sites charge you). There isn’t much to see inside of a pyramid but at least I can say I have been inside.

great view of three pyramids at Giza

Giza is the pyramids’ main event. It’s where everyone goes and it’s where you will get accosted more than anywhere else. Spurning the camel and horse rides, I chose to walk around the complex of three pyramids and the Sphinx. It was a great choice, even in the heat, as it was easy to navigate and I happened to meet Shinskei, a Japanese traveler who had literally come to Giza strait from the airport. We talked about Japanese baseball and it was great having a buddy to take pictures of me at each pyramid.

Sphinx

touching the top

I’m now a month into my trip. While I will use another post to reflect on my thoughts and experiences so far, I’m very glad that I’m having this experience. I have learned a lot about myself through this process and can’t wait to keep going. Everyone back home and on the road has been so supportive, to which I say thank you so much.

Link to Egypt pictures

The Adventure Continues…Up Next: Aswan and Luxor

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4 Responses to It Was The Best of Times, It Was The Worst Of Times

  1. josh says:

    Such a wealth and diversity of experiences and only a month into your adventures. I marvel at your tenacity and courage!

    JS

  2. Kimberly says:

    I’d love to go to Egypt! With the recent political unrest there, did you have any issues or trouble? From your post, it looks safe but I have my concerns.

    • msus1 says:

      No real issues. The only thing I would advise is to keep political discussions here to a minimum but in fact I only learned about the issues here from reading about it in the US media. Their economy depends significantly on tourism so they go out of their way to keep foreigners safe.

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