At Khan-el-Khalili market in the Islamic Quarter of Cairo.
Well, after a long travel day, I have spent my first full day in Egypt. The
flights over were uneventful, but unfortunately, Air France provides about as
mych leg room as the back seat of my MINI -- it was actually, laughable, so
that is what I did a lot. The little tv screen was so close to my face when
the man in front of me reclined, that I could not angle it to see it. I was
at Charles de Gaulle for 7 hours, I managed to sleep for about an hour there
on a wire bench, but then someone left their backpack in terminal 4 and the
security announcements were almost non-stop, so I decided to wake up and
read. Jared met me in Paris around 12:30 and our flight was scheduled for
1:45, but because of heavy fog was delayed about an hour.
The flight to Egypt was really beautiful, we flew over the Swiss Alps, then
down the coast of the flormer Yugoslavia, over Athens Greece and the Greek
Isles and then into Cairo
. I have to admit that as we were landing, I
suddenly became apprehensive about the whole trip. Pretty much everyone was
telling me to be careful and that Egypt is dangerous and to pretend to be
Canadian -- and I freaked out. Getting into the airport, where apparently
taxi drivers have free reign and meet you as you get off the plane and start
the touting did not really help. Arabic signs tend to panic the English
speaker as do the stores selling washers and dryers (before you even get to
customs, who buys a washer at the airport?), plus the proceduresw were not
well marked, thank God for the taxi drivers who explained to us how to buy our
Visas. Which apparently you can bargain for, i was told 17 dollars, but only
gave the man 15 and he gave it to me anyway. Our luggage made it and we found
the ATM and we were out the door. Into the arms of even more taxi drivers.
We finally just gave in and got a ride into town for what ended up being 2
dollars -- not a bad deal.
Taxi rides here are unexplainable. No one seems to use headlights, if there
are two marked lanes, then three cars will fit, Lada's (from Communist era
Poland) and Fiat's (from Mussolini era Italy) are the rule, they are all
painted black and white (but are all decked out with flashing exterior lights,
stroble lights instead of break lights, blue neon interiors, meowing cat
horns, and on and on and on). The impression we got was that we were going to
die at least 14 times a minute, but amazingly we saw no accidents, not even a
fender bender (and still haven't). Its really unbelievable, I made a video of
traffic today, but it doesn't even begin to do it justice.
Our hotel is on an island in the middle of the Nile. It was built in the 70s
and hasn't been touched since then. We have an amazing view of the Nile, the
city, and even the pyramids (we are on the 16th. The room is really clean and
the staff really helpful. The downfall is that the balcony feels like it
could fall off at any moment and the disco -- 16 floors below -- tends to be a
little loud, but we have a bidet, so who can complain.
Thinking of the hotel, safety comes up, and it is where we really noticed it
for the first time. There are guards at all the entrances, barricades as you
drive in (with armed guards who check under the cars with a mirror), a metal
detector at the door (that I always set off, but that doesn't seem to worry
anyone). Egypt is like that everywhere, I have never seen so many machine
guns in my life, but the guys holding the (the Tourist Police) tend to smile
and wave and can point out where the bathroom is.
Todays itinerary was to go to the Egyptian Museum and the Khan el Khalili
bazaar in the Islamic quarter. The Egyptian Museum is a ten minute walk from
our hotel. We literally stepped onto the bridge across the Nile, barely feet
outside the last barricade to our hotel when we were approached by a man who
was telling us Happy New Year and asking where we were going and where we were
from. The guidebooks tell you this can be one of two types of people, 1)
friendly, curious Egyptians or 2) shopkeepers who want your dollars. In our
case it was number 2. His name was Abdul and he had a little shop around the
corner from the end of the bridge that sold perfume bottles. He has friends
in Chicago and New Jersey and wanted us to know that he was a gentleman. He
wanted us to have some tea with him in his shop so that we would know where it
was and could come back later and he could show us the factory. If we wanted
to, he could arrange for a tour of the Pyramids with his cousin who lives in
Giza. This man was bending over backwards to sell a glass vase for 2 dollars -
- in the end, we drank the tea, looked around and left. He did walk us to the
museum though and gave us a tour of the area. In the end, I feel like I have
a friend in Egypt, I have his name and number if you should ever visit, let
him know that I sent you.
The Egyptian Museum was unreal, not only do you see King Tut's treasures
(which were phenomenal and did lead me to sing the Steve Martin song) and
countless millions of amazing antiquities, it is the most informal museum I
have ever been to. It was very haphazzard and had a whole casual "don't
touch" but we aren't going to put glass over anything, so if you happen to, no
big deal. It really was an amazing place, though, enough good things can't
be said about it. We also had lunch there, my first Egyptian food, a Shish
kebab and a coke -- I am practically a local. Up until this point Jared and I
had stayed in the area right along the Nile, were the luxury hotels line the
banks and the Tourist Police patrol approximately every twenty feetm we wanted
to live a little more dangerously.
We hopped a cab and went into Khan el Khalili market. Cab rides are eqaully
exciting during the day and you can see the surroundings, which really are
magnificent. The Islamic quarter was bustling and we got let off right in the
heart of it. We found ourselves right in the heart of the market and started
spenidn accordingly. Apparently, I am more than Abdul from earlier in the
day's friend, Jared and I were offered everything from sandals to hashish to
amber necklaces -- and we bought most of it (except for the hash, of course).
Actually, I had my list and I stuck to it. Mom got her camels, I got my
prayer beads and sheesha (more on that in a minute), and some of you have
scarabs in your future. There are so many funny stories from this experience,
and also it is at this market that I fell in love with Egypt. Jared was
buying his bedouin head wrap and left his bag with agate beads and silver
bowls on the floor. 30 minutes later when he was buying his traditional
Egyptian linen robe (look out for the Egyptian themed party, people) the man
was running down the street looking for Jared to give him back his bag. You
have to understand that this was in a winding street market with countless
arcades and sindeing streets, he looked for Jared for 30 minutes -- it was
pretty amazing. We also went to a tea shop to have some tea and so I could
learn how to use my sheesha (which is a water pipe used to smoke apple
flavored tobacco). We looked pretty hilarious and pretty much had fresh meat
stamped on our foreheads as every tout in Khan el Khalili tried to sell us
stuff from henna tattoos to carpets to those plastic glasses with the nose and
moustache attached to them.
One more taxi ride home and our cab driver didn't think we paid him enough.
He didn't speak English and we didn't speak Arabic, so I got our doorman
involved who quickly told him to leave that we paid him a fair fare (did I
mention there are no meters here in the taxis, yet another way to tear money
out of non-Arabic speaking people's hands. I tried to learn how to say hello
in Arabic, and I can't wrap my tongue around the words, I guess I am doomed.
We booked our day at the Pyramids for tomorrow and had dinner on the Nile. We
are now trying to figure out how to get Jared's ATM card to work and get my
phone to work -- no text messages yet. Small problems for a great trip. More
to come soon.
See you later. Next e-mail from Luxor