Day 25: Cairo, Egypt (3 Oct 09) The land of the Nile
So, we finally did fall asleep last night and awoke to the phone ringing to tell us that there is a meeting at 9:30 in the lobby. Now, being the Law and Order fan that I am, that just didn’t sound right to me and I knew that Lenny and Jack would want to investigate, so I did just that. My husband of course rolled his eyes at me, but I pressed on. I thought it might be a scam to get us out of our room, so I went down to the lobby to check it out. It turns out that in the past tourists have been met with some trouble when out on their own, so GAP Adventures now employs guides to do just that and take people around who arrive a day or so early for their tours. I met Mina downstairs who told me just that and of course was wearing a GAP Adventures t-shirt so I had to believe him.
We got dressed and went to the lobby after eating some breakfast (I am so going to be craving veggies when we’re done with Egypt, that’s for sure) and he told us about today. For about 30 dollars US he would take us on a tour of Old Cairo and include lunch, so being that we knew very little about the area around our hotel and the safety of travel in Cairo, it sounded like a good idea. We set out from the hotel to see parts of Old Cairo. We took the metro (which had quite clean stations, air conditioning and tourism security everywhere) two stops and got into the city. We walked through what was the first ever gate of Cairo and down its very first street. This area still today is very poor and uneducated and according to Mina although the government tries to refurbish it and get the people to go to school and work, it just doesn’t seem to happen. We wandered through fly infested streets that were filthy. Children running around not in school, garbage on the streets and craftsman selling or creating as we walked by. Food stations that are covered in bugs with cats outside eating off of the streets and shisha pipes as far as the eye can see. We walked past people carrying ladders, bread and bags on their heads and dodged many cars as there are no stop signs or street lights or lanes on the roads…you thought NYC driving was bad? NO road rules, no traffic signals, no crossing stations; nothing…you’re basically taking your life into your own hands when you even try to cross the street in Cairo…26 million people in this city and 6 million cars!
We had to take off our shoes and I had to cover my shoulders as we entered one of the mosques. Mina told us that if the minarets look like a pencil then the mosque is between 300 and 500 years old and if the minaret has an onion shape then it’s between 700 and 1000 years old. As we were in the Old City, which itself felt like it was 1000 years old, we climbed to the top of the mosque after looking at all of the intricate tile work and had a glance over this interesting city. We again passed many local handicrafts of metal and marble workers and shisha pipe stores as well as many people just smoking the shisha out in the open streets. We then went to St. Mary’s Church at a monastery and were told that Coptic Christian or Egyptian Christian churches had special designs and Mina shared some religious stories about Jesus, saints and relics. After going past the University for Islamic Education, we went to lunch at a traditional Egyptian restaurant that somewhat resembled a coffee shop/deli and had lunch. It was vegetarian and called Kushari; it’s a bowl of fried onions, lentils, chick peas and macaroni noodles and you’re supposed to mix in tomato sauce on the top of it. Mathew liked it, I thought it was alright but we were hotter than hungry and glad for the bottles of water that Mina had given us at the monastery.
He gave us Egyptian names for the day; I was Cleopatra and Mathew was Tutankhamen and as we answered most of the ‘how old is this mosque’ questions right, he told us that we could have been Egyptian archeologists. Mina also told us a little about his life. He’s 27 years old and is engaged to be married next May. He and his fiancee are both Coptic Christians and in Egypt, whether Christian or Muslim apparently, the roles are very interesting. It is the man’s job to do the following: buy/rent/get an apartment (before you’re married), plan the wedding and the entire honeymoon. Talk about different traditions, right? We headed to the highest point in Cairo in a beautiful park and looked down on the entire city. We had a rest and then hopped a taxi back to the hotel, passing Cairo University where President Obama spoke from only a short while ago. We got back to the hotel, thanked Mina for a great morning and walked around the corner to the supermarket. We got two small and two large bottles of water, one diet pepsi, one Gatorade and a bag of chips all for 7 dollars US.
This morning as we started the walking part of our tour, we crossed the Nile, the lifeblood of Egypt as Mina said as he explained the specifics of the Nile. At the same time, I heard myself saying the exact same things to my class. How cool to wake up and cross the Nile River on just a typical Saturday in October, right? Anyway, Mina dropped us off at 2pm and we have a welcome meeting at 6pm so we’ll rest up and see what comes next! I wound up working on the blog for a bit and relaxed and Mathew went walkabout down by the river and we went downstairs around 5:50 so as to not be late; I hate being late to meetings, especially when it’s the first one and you’re making impressions, you know. There we met Mayer, our tour leader who moved the meeting upstairs to the coffee shop which still really reaked of smoke even with the windows open. Now this was certainly a different group to the Conikis that we’re used to doing of people all our own age. There was an older couple from Oklahoma and another about the same age from Toronto, Lydia from London, Louise and James from Melbourne, Cathy from Montreal and a few others. We listened to Mayer who explained that he was 27 and a graduate of Cairo University with a degree in tourism and Egyptology. He explained that Egypt is famous for papyrus, essence (the base of the world’s perfumes), jewelry and cotton and that the most valuable souvenir if you’re going to get one is a cartouche; a metal plate with your name written in hieroglyphics.
We listened for over two hours and then headed to the local Egyptian pizza shop for dinner. I wasn’t feeling well and wasn’t hungry and Mathew had a mixed meat pie (an Egyptian Oriental pie different from pizza that has little/no sauce and has a topping of dough amidst the other stuff) which he enjoyed. We walked back to the hotel, checked our email in the lobby and went to bed with our trusty sleep sheets and sleeping bag (as you can see we never managed that upgrade) ready for our first official day of our GAP Adventures Best of Egypt trip! Tomorrow…the Pyramids!