Monday, November 3, 2008

Cairo: 25 million and Growing

The 5 of us squeezed in to a taxi and headed to our hotel. On the way to our hotel, the taxi driver asked me to speak to his friend on the phone. Thinking this was just like a novelty thing since I speak English, I said O.K. The man on the other line spent a good 10 minutes trying to convince me to stay at his hotel. I actually became frightened that our taxi driver was going to take us to another hotel. Thank goodness he did not. We come to find out later that this is common practice, as the taxi drivers get a kick back from more low class hotels for how many tourists they bring in.

It was dinner time by the time we arrived at our hotel in Cairo. So, after grabbing food we just wandered the streets around our hotel. We ran in to a wedding celebration that had spilled out in to the street. Women of all ages were singing and dancing around the bride, who was surprisingly wearing a white wedding dress. This is a new trend with more modern Muslim women.

With Leslie’s parents now joining us, we headed to the Pyramids the following morning. Our tour guide, Heba, was a woman. She had spent 4 years at the university to get her “tour guide” degree. In Egypt, it is a very well respected position, especially for a woman. The Great Pyramid was our first stop. Built for King Khufu, it is the only one of the original wonder of the world that still stands today. It is about 5,000 years old. There are two other pyramids (slightly smaller in size) that sit on either side of the great pyramid. One is for King Khafre and the other for King Menkaure. They represent 3 generations.

We chose to go inside Khafre’s pyramid. You would think for something so massive that the entryway they take you through would also be massive. Not the case. We crouched down into about a 4ft high entry and head down at about 45 degrees. You make it down this brutal staircase to stand up for 30 seconds and then head up another one. I got to claustrophobic because there was no air down there that I turned around at that point. If you went further you would be able to see Khafre’s sarcophagus. Interesting note about those that built the pyramids—they were not slaves but instead average citizens. Also, pyramids are shaped the way they are because their main god was the god of the sun and the sun’s rays come down in the shapes of triangles.

Next, we saw the Sphinx. His purpose was to be the guardian of the Giza plateau. He is huge! We spent a good deal of time taking so pretty funny pictures with him so be sure to check those out. After that was went to Saqqara, which was the royal neocroplis for the old kingdom of Memphis (capital of Egypt during the time of the pyramids). Saqqara contains the step pyramid of King Djoser. It was built in the 3rd century and precedes the pyramids at Giza, making it the first pyramid made out of stone instead of mudbrick.

Our last stop of the day was Memphis as it has been classified today. It was founded in 3100 BC by King Menes. While most of the city was pillaged by foreigners we did get to see the colossal statue of King Ramses II and the Giant sphinx at Memphis (2nd most famous sphinx). For lunch Heba took us to a traditional Egyptian place. They are big in to mezes, which are small plates of different foods for everyone to share. We had eggplant, potatoes, grilled vegetables, lamb, and chicken. Plus, we got to try all these different kinds of dipping sauces to go on our homemade pitas. They brought us fresh fruit at the end of the meal and I got to try guava for the first time. Very good. Kind of reminds me of honeydew. Oh and another typical Egyptian thing is hibiscus juice. Good stuff.

After a full day in Cairo I was able to make some interesting cultural notes. Women dressed just as conservatively here as they did in Alexandria. There are no traffic laws. I have only seen one stop light. Also, having Leslie’s Dad with us made a difference in how we were treated on the street. We at dinner and then walked along the Nile, just experiencing the city some more.

The next day we headed to the museum of Egypt. We got to see King Tut’s display, which was just more gold after gold. It is one of the few, if not the only, tombs never robbed. Tut was mummified and then placed in 3 different tomb encasings, one fitting nicely into the previous one. He had jewelry to die for and a chariot covered in gold. King Tut did OK for himself. We also got to see the mummy display. Real mummies of Kings and a few (not many) queens that have been discovered were on display. Most of their bodies are still wrapped but you got to see their faces, hands, and feet. Sidenote: there was one mummy whose information read “overweight female with bad teeth.” How would you like for that to be your legend? We also got to see some of the animals that were mummified. Most common were dogs and baboons. Though, there was a pair of mummified alligators (gross!) on display.

Our next stop of the day was the Cairo tower. During the 1960s the U.S. government gave Egypt money to buy arms. Instead, the president at the time decided to take the money and use it to build the Cairo tower. Overlooking the whole city, we went up right before sunset. It was cool to see the modern buildings and then be able to see the pyramids off in the distance. It also showed you how smoggy and dirty Cairo really is… our pictures were sub par.

Best dinner of trip was our dinner on the Nile. We picked a restaurant along the water that evening. Ended up being a really good seafood restaurant, where you choose your fish from their display. I got blackened grouper and this cinnamon-y tasting rice. Also, had mango juice, which you could tell was fresh because it was thick and smoothie-like.

On our last day in Cairo, we visited the Citadel and the Bazaar. Within the walls of the Citadel lies on of the most famous mosques, the mosque of Muhammad Ali (once a prominent leader in Egypt). We were asked to remove our shoes (common practice) and we, as women, were asked to wear these big cape like deals that covered us from shoulders to the floor. The mosque was breathtaking. The chandeliers, the ceiling, the domes, the paintings…all so ornate. It was built to model after the Blue Mosque, which we saw later in Istanbul.

There was a military museum on site that I ended up wandering through. While I could not tell you much about the museum itself because it was not very interesting and definitely too long, I do think it is worth noting a quote I read while inside there. It said, “Faith in God, Victory or Martyrdom.” Just made me think.

Our last stop of the day, was the Grand Bazaar. Everything from water pipes (hukas), to silk scarves, to pyramid key chains, to traditional tunics; you name it you could find it at the Grand Bazaar. I (obviously) purchased some things and had a good time playing the bargaining game. I offered a guy ½ a price for his scarf and he told me I was crazy. I walked away and he agreed to my price. I was like now if only I could walk in to banana republic and do the same. Hmm…

Random Observations that caught my attention:
1.there was a card in each of our hotels that told you which way was facing Mecca, so you could pray in your room
2.there was a mosque in the Cairo airport
3.the language schools are considered the best in terms of education
4.we were proposed to numerous times, even collectively (Muslim men are allowed to have up to 4 wives) many police (carrying semi-automatics), yet do very little
6.girl who was studying to be a tour guide approached me while I was at the museum as a means to practice her English
7.culture clash: man in traditional Saudi grab checking in to the hotel while the woman next to him, also checking in to the hotel, was wearing spandex cheetah pants.

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