Pyramids of Giza
Thought I’d try to catch up on a few things since Cairo has been chaotic so far. My journey began with a flight from Detroit to Frankfurt, Germany, where I was able to finally watch Jurassic World (great movie), as well as an independent film titled Dope, which also opened up this year, and which I highly recommend. Upon arriving to the Frankfort airport, I was able to sprawl across a few airport seats and catch a couple hours of shut eye before my flight to Cairo.
Four hours later, I officially arrived. Egypt requires all American to purchase a Visa for $25 US, while more than most countries (i.e. Europe is free), still not a bad deal. I was able to get a free ride to my hostel (one of the reasons I chose that one was the free airport pickups, truly clutch in a country where most signs are unreadable).
First impressions of Cairo: Chaotic. I’ve complained about Chicago traffic in the past, having to make regular commutes out to Lake Forest for my job. Cairo was bumper to bumper pretty much after we left the airport until we got downtown. This was a mid-afternoon on a Saturday, mind you, so I hate to think of what rush hour traffic would appear like. The hostel I’m staying is fairly neat and clean for the price, and is in a good location, about 10 minutes walk from the Nile.
First on my list was to go out and find an English map. We take navigation for granted these days with our GPS-enabled smart phones, but to make things more difficult, a majority of the street names are only printed in Arabic. While in search of a map, I was approached by what would be the first of many shopkeepers/Cairenes. He promised me to help me find a map on contingent that I take a quick look through his perfume/spice shop. He gave me a mint tea, which is the traditional drink in Cairo. Of course this would be breaking the Cardinal rule of “Don’t accept drinks from strangers”, but after seeing my hesitation, he took a few sips himself which assured me he was offering me hospitality. After unsuccessfully making a few sales pitches, he held true to his promise of helping me obtain a map. We then had a couple Egyptian beers (called Stella) at a bar. Due to the Muslim culture of avoiding alcohol, bars have to be somewhat discreet in their advertising, and many are on the second floors of shops. I then chatted a bit with Omar, and while aware of his motives to still try to sell, he was good company for a couple hours chatting about day-to-day life in Cairo. We agreed to meet up again the next night after he got off work, and I returned to the hostel to get some much needed shut-eye before my trip to the pyramids the next day.
The pyramids were amazing! The pictures truly do not do them justice. I’m still truly in awe how advanced the Egyptian civilization was 5,000 years ago, and look to be able to stand for at least that much more in the future. The pyramids can be seen from afar while in the city of Giza, which is right next to Cairo, a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city. When I travel I usually try to avoid the so-called “tourist traps”, but I definitely wanted to ride a camel. Unlike the touts there that offered a picture on the camel and a short ride, I was able to negotiate to ride the camel around the pyramids, which turned out to be well worth it, although the camel, named “Taxi”, was very ornery.
After the camel ride, I chose to wander around the grounds to soak it all in. During that time, I was accosted by no less than 10 touts offering me another camel ride/stone/figurine/shawl/water/etc. Perhaps it was because of my light skin and the fact that I wasn’t with a tour group, but most of the interactions went like this:
Egyptian: *runs up to me and grabs my hand and starts shaking it* “Hello, where are you from?”
Me: Chicago, in America.
Egyptian: Ah, yes very nice place. My aunt/uncle/brother/cousin/insert random relative lives there. Welcome to Alaska!
Me: *awkward chuckle*
Egyptian: Please accept this small token as a gift from me. *stuffs something in my hand.*
Me: “This is nice, but I’m a student, I don’t have money to spend on extra things like that.” (My attempt at trying to get them to leave me alone).
Egyptian: “Ah, no problem! This is a gift, I don’t want any money, I insist.”
Me: “Ok”. I then begin to walk away.
Egyptian: “Where are you going?! You need to give me money or give me a gift back from your country!”
I then toss the item back at them and walk in the opposite direction.
I did my best to try to avoid them in advance, but their aggressive ways constantly found them in my face. They have a bit of a souring effect on the pyramids themselves, which is a little sad, but I did not allow them to put a damper to my day.
To close out the day, myself and my hostel mate, Matt (New Zealand), met up with Omar and went to go walk around the Nile at night. Omar couldn’t stay with us long, but told us the Egyptian (non-tourist) price for a felluca (boat) ride on the Nile. My personal mantra has always been: When in doubt, just follow or do what the locals do. As doing that gives you the opportunity to better understand their way of life/culture. With that knowledge in hand, we were able to avoid the touristy touts and found ourselves the only foreign passengers on a felluca for only 5 EGP! (a little less than $1). The boat was decked out in flashing lights and loud music played as we sailed along the Nile, with many of the younger passengers choosing to get up and dance. Matt and I snapped a few pictures during the boat ride, as it was a sight to see, only for at the end of the cruise, for Matt to be yelled at by another passenger for “disrupting the family atmosphere”. While it ended up being alright with other passengers getting up to calm the man down, I will chalk it up to another cultural misunderstanding.
That’s it for now, sorry if I rambled a bit. Next post I will talk about my overall impressions/observations of Cairo thus far.