Arriving in Cairo after two long days in the car, we were excited to check into our hotel and grab a drink. A long time ago a fellow blogger told us there was a Chili’s in Cairo and frankly we’ve been dreaming of nothing but a big serving of chips and salsa and an almost-the-size-of-your-head margarita ever since then. It was a schlep into Cairo but the whole time we kept saying, margarita’s tonight! Sitting down to order we looked at the drink menu: slushies, not margarita’s. We were devastated. No margarita’s at Chili’s? Consoling ourselves in fajitas and copious amounts of salsa, the four of us celebrated our arrive to Cairo with some “Jani Water: Red Lion” rum, which as you can imagine was rather unpleasant.
We’ve seen tons of pyramids and temples, but truly the pyramids of Giza are spectacular. As with nearly everything in Egypt, the sheer size of the pyramids is what is most amazing. Although we got to the pyramids early, they were packed with tours so we took the requisite pictures and went straight to the back. Fortunately most tourists stay between the first two pyramids so we had the third all to ourselves. We didn’t pay the extra fee to go climbing in the pyramids, having been advised against it by several travelers, so I can’t tell you what its like to be inside a pyramid, but from the outside I would imagine its rather claustrophobic! Near to the pyramids is the famous sphinx, which sits almost guarding the towering sites. Since it was early though, we passed on the trip to the Pizza Hut across the street where the views of the Sphinx are the best available.
We spent hours at the rather ill designed and laid out Egyptian museum scoping out the treasures of Tutankhamen and more sarcophagus’ than you can shake a stick at. The museum feels more like a cultural warehouse, the hundreds of thousands of artifacts are jammed on shelves mostly without description or explanation. A fascinating exhibit on stolen treasures and destroyed archaeological sites, some destroyed as late as 2004, made us appreciate the problem of conservation and protection. Just an hour in the museum made us realize how Egyptology can be its own discipline.
Cairo itself is chaotic and vibrant and surprisingly hopping late at night. Crossing the street is a bit like playing frogger- you move quickly from lane to lane waiting for a brief break in traffic before jumpingto the next one! Until well after midnight families roam the streets enjoying coffee, ice cream and plenty of window shopping. Lit up like Las Vegas, the main streets are incredibly loud, but we loved being in the city again. Wandering the Khan al Kalili market and getting past the tourist area, we loved the constant commerce around us. Vendors selling spices, jewelry, clothing, shoes, fabrics, no one yelling at us as tourists, rather just shouting at the crowd of customers. Thousands of shops and stalls sold everything from accessories to spices and toys. Being a Muslim country, you can imagine our surprise at the numerous risqué lingerie shops that also lined the streets of central Cairo. Makes you wonder what’s under that chador!
We loved Cairo and would be happy to return to its chaos and color someday. Ultimately Cairo was a sad experience for us as we had to say goodbye to Ali and Campbell who continued on to Alexandria for a ferry to Italy while we continued East to the Sinai. Traveling with them continuously since Nairobi, it was hard to say goodbye to them and be on our own again. We’ll miss Campbell’s comments, Ali’s TIA logic and the trials and tribulations of taking Kaspuurr through the desert or up a mountain. Hopefully it won’t be the last time we travel together!
IF YOU GO: Cairo is a chaotic, amazing, vibrant city, in fact the largest in Africa. Do see the Egyptian Museum and the Pyramids of Giza, but also explore the markets and neighborhoods, which are very rewarding. We went to the pyramids first thing in the morning and took an inexpensive taxi straight there. The Khan al Kalili market is enormous, we went in the evening and snagged some great deals from the vendors. Remember to keep a sense of humor when negotiating and don’t feel obligated to buy even if you are invited for tea. Remember that the price if always negotiable especially with a smile and some basic arabic. Negotiating is part of the game. Street food in Cairo is plentiful and delicious though be weary of tourists prices and refuse to pay them.