We arrived in Cairo airport at 2:30 pm on Wednesday. A guy met us and took us through immigration and customs, called our driver and off we went into terrible Cairo traffic. Smooth, no problems at all.
Mustafa, our driver, took us to the apartment in Giza where we met our host Ashi. The apartment is a 4th floor walkup, 2 bedrooms, bath, living room, kitchen and a great view of the pyramids. The view is now partially obstructed by the people across the way who added a new illegal story to their house. There is lots of this going on. One morning at 4:00am, we were awoken by the sound of a gasoline cement mixer from the house next door who was pouring the floor for his new illegal story in the wee hours before the authorities came on duty.
Thursday, our guide and Ashi’s brother, Tariq, with driver Mustafa, took us to visit pyramids. We started in Saqqara with the step pyramid, the first ever constructed. Ashi and Tariq’s father Moses, now in his late 80s, is a well known Egyptologist and now Tariq has taken over the guiding business. Their family has been here in Giza for centuries. They have old photos of their houses right in front of the Sphinx. The whole neighborhood is their relatives.
Yesterday, Friday, Tariq and Mustafa took us to the Egyptian museum, where we saw King Tut’s treasures, famous mummies including Ramses II, Hatshepsut and Tutmoses. We also saw waaaay more other stuff. Everyone says you need two days to see everything in the museum. We think four hours is too much, especially with a very knowledgeable guide drilling detailed Egyptology into our reluctant brains.
After the museum, we had a bad lunch and went to the Citadel, a hilltop fortress with two old mosques. I don’t know why military crap is always the main sightseeing stuff.
Next, off to Old Cairo where we visited a couple of churches and a synagogue to hear legends about the holy family hiding out from King Herod, St. George the dragon killer being tortured, and some convoluted story about the guy who founded the Ben Ezra synagogue that we couldn’t follow, and so, can’t remember. I don’t know why religious crap is always the main sightseeing stuff.
Back to Giza in the afternoon for tea with Ashi in a neighborhood tea shop where we sat and solved the world’s problems. Then he flagged down a three wheeled tuk-tuk which took us on a fun ride through these little alleys in a futile search for beer (Egypt is secular, and likely the place where beer was first brewed, but is 90% Muslim). The one liquor store in the neighborhood was closed so we returned empty handed. We got some pastries and sweets and headed back to collapse in the apartment.
Given the choice between Istanbul and Cairo as a stopping point on our way to the safari, we selected Cairo because it would probably be more secure. Boy, is it! Soldiers and police with automatic weapons at checkpoints at the entrance to all the tourist sites. Make-believe metal detectors did beep, but the guards, unlike TSA, recognizing that we are not a threat, just waved us in. Tariq told them we’re Canadian, because if we said US, they would send a guard with us, it would be a hassle, and we’d have to tip him. When we were inside the Great Pyramid, we were waiting for a fat guy to get through a narrow passage. Two young Arab-looking guys asked me “where are you from?” Keeping with the program, I replied “Canada”. “Oh, we are, too! Do you live in Vancouver?” Toronto went through my mind, but then, figuring they are so remote, I said, “no, the Eastern Townships”. As expected, they had never heard of that part of Quebec. Our cover remained intact.
Today, we slept late, only interrupted by the call to prayer at 4:30 am and again at 6:00. We’re just hanging around the apartment, relaxing in anticipation of our 2:30 am flight to Ethiopia then on to Tanzania. We’re sitting in the shade on the balcony, looking at the pyramids.
Hope we can get decent connections on the next stage of the trip!