12 April 2010

Stones That Touch the Sky - Cairo, Egypt [Day One]

Over the next few days I'll be giving you a run down on my week long epic adventure in Egypt. For those that havn't been - go, NOW! This was one of the best trips I have ever done.

I'm not usually one for organised tours, but I decided that it would be less stress to join a group to see Egypt. And I am so glad I did - I saw everything I hoped to, met some really cool people, and had an awesome time. There are a few around - I chose the GoBus - they were relatively cheap and they went to all the sites I wanted to see. I definitely recommend these guys, they look after you so well and really know their stuff.

I arrived into Cairo at about 12:30am, met up with the GoBus man and a few others that had arrived on the same flight, then headed to our hotel. First impressions - this place is crazy! No road rules that I could see, no lines on the road, they use horns rather than indicators. Its hot, busy, noisy - chaos.

I finally jumped into bed at about 2am and got a few hours sleep, before being woken at 7am for our first day exploring. We had breakfast, met our guide and went through the 'admin' stuff. Soon after we set off to the Egyptian Museum. My first daylight impression of Egypt - this place is crazy! (notice a trend?). Again, the roads - packed full with cars, a million horns, and no rules. People just wander out into the street when they want to cross. I'm surprised we didn't see an accident, but weirdly, it all just kind of works. The buildings are all big concrete blocks crammed together, seperated by tiny alley-ways. Things seem dirty and run-down, but just around the corner there is a Porche dealership. Most of the buildings have people living in the lower floors, while the upper are still being completed. And they ALL have about five satellites on the roof - now that is progress! Living in near poverty, but still getting 200 channels.

After about 15 mins we arrived at the museum. Like many of the sights - no camera's allowed. Which sucked - but I can understand why they ban them. Some of the artifacts are thousands of years old, and hundreds of camera flash's going off can't be good. So they ban camera's in certain areas, but there are too many snap-happy tourists that ignore the rules and take photos anyway. So a full ban is the only way.

The museum was really interesting - we saw things pulled from the tombs of the kings, mummified animals (including a huge crocodile), Tutankhamun's solid gold mask, statues and carvings dating back thousands of years... Plus lots more that I can't remember right now.

Our next destination was the Pyramids of Giza. As we got close you can see them towering over the city. I imagined them to be out in the middle of the desert, but they are actually right on the edge of the city. As we approached the bus stopped, our guide got off and picked up a couple of plastic bags from a guy sitting on the side of the road -a bit random. Later we found out that this was our lunch. It was Koushari (Lentils, Macaroni, Rice, and Chickpeas), which was surprisingly good.

There are three pyramids at Giza- the Great Pyramid of Giza (the Pyramid of Cheops), the somewhat smaller Pyramid of Khafre (or Chephren) a few hundred meters away, the relatively modest-sized Pyramid of Menkaure. The Great Pyramid is absolutely massive! It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact. It was also the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years (thanks wikipedia). It really blows your mind how people thousands of years ago built such a huge structure. Take a look at the first two photos below - the first a close up of me, and the second you can see me as a white dot standing on the pyramid. We went inside one (can't remember which) and saw the tomb of the king - where some guy was lying, giving people a huge fright. Somehow I don't think he was meant to be there.

We wandered around the three pyramids - taking lots of photos and getting endlessly hassled to buy souvenirs. I found most people really friendly, but some were very pushy. You constantly have people coming up to you, trying to sell you something, trying to get you to come for a ride on their camel, trying to take photos of you infront of the pyramids for money. You learn really fast to just say no and keep walking, and even that doesn't work a lot of the time. I think most are fairly legit, but apparently some of the people with camels and donkeys take you for a ride out into the desert, then demand lots of money to bring you back. Our trusty guide Mido to the rescue - he organised for us all to go for a ride with some 'safe' camel ride people, all inclusive price, no tips. It was very cool, although getting up and down was a bit of an experience. We wandered around infront of the pyramids for about 30 minutes. The guy leading my camel grabbed my camera and took about five awesome photos. He then asked if I wanted to go fast - 'Hell yeah!'. Off we went - soon leaving the group behind. When we were a good distance away he started pushing me for a tip and telling me not to tell my tour guide. A bit dodgy...

Last on the list - the Sphinx. Everyone has seen hundreds of pictures of it, but for me, it didn't seem real until I visited it myself. It is not as big as I imagined, but much more impressive. I'm not going to try and explain, its just one of those things you need to see for yourself. A funny observation - directly across from the Sphinx was a KFC and Pizza Hut - so you can appreciate the wonders of the world while enjoying some fried chicken.

After leaving the pyramids we visited a papyrus museum. Papyrus is a paper made from the papyrus plant, used by the ancient Egyptians. We were shown how it is made and given the opportunity to buy a piece with hand painted designs. I bought this - not because of its meaning or significance, just because I thought it looked pretty cool.

From there we headed back to the hotel for some dinner, then to the train station to catch our overnight train to Aswan. Mido (our guide) kept telling us the train was really bad, so we were expecting the worst. But it was actually quite decent. It was old and a bit run down, but really spacious and comfortable. I'm not even going to mention the bathroom facilities though... What hygiene standards? I managed to get some sleep - but being an older train, things were pretty noisy. It didn't help that the driver kept slamming on the brakes. I think the brakes only had two options - off and on, and when they were on, they were ON!

That wraps up day one. Egypt is not as 'third world' as I imagined. And I was blown away by how friendly the people are. It can be difficult to tell whether they are just being friendly, or they are after your money. Most of the time it is both, but you never feel unsafe. They aren't criminals. Your not going to get thrown into the back of a van and held for ransom.

My other thought for the day - the pyramids are truly amazing. I think this is going to be a recurring theme - but you just have to wonder how they did it.

Next Post - 'Dance Like an Egyptian'


  1. fantastic Neal... I've not seen close-ups before, so very intriguing. And what a stunning blue sky!

    The chaoticness (is there such a word?) sounds a bit like Italy!

  2. I was in Egypt about 20 years ago and it still sounds like it is as crazy as ever. Cairo is pure maddness, but there was something about the place that I kinda liked.


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