Ramadan? Rama-Damn-I'm-Hungry!

Trip Start Jul 25, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Friday, October 6, 2006

Cairo, Egypt. From Aswan I took the night train to Cairo. Getting to my seat was another example of baksheesh in action. As I got on the train, the porter tried to grab my bag, but smelling baksheesh and havng no small bills, I said, "No, its ok. I'm Canadian. We are very strong." He led the way through the door into the narrow corridor to show me to my cabin. As I went in, my backpack caught in the door, and I backed out to carry it another way. In a flash, the porter had grabbed it, lugged it about 10 feet into the cabin, put it on the rack, and turned with an expectant and triumphant grin. Which then quickly evaporated when all I gave him was 50 piastres (about $0.10), all I had for small bills. My cabin consisted of six cushioned seats, facing each other. With nobody else in the cabin, I stretched out over three seats and fell asleep, only to woken by another porter wanting baksheesh because I was stretched out over three seats instead of just the one I had paid for. I looked around at the empty cabin and just laughed at him.

In Cairo, I stayed for a while with Ian, a friend of Scott and Amber. A great guy, excellent photographer, and experienced traveler himself. On the first day, after dropping my bags at his place, he took me to his "club". This was an absolutely swank place with a golf course, a huge pool, three hot tubs, steam room, saunas, and I used them all. Absolute luxury. My poor budget backpacking body could barely believe it (how's that for alliteration?).

I will admit. I lazed my time away in Cairo. I didn't make it to Saqqara. I didn't make it to Dashur. I'm a bad history teacher, but in my defense, was also a very tired, slightly burned out one. I did make it out to Giza, however, and had a blast taking many photographs and being harassed by guys on camels wanting to take me for a ride.

The pyramids were, quite simply, astonishing. You cannot appreciate their size, or presence until you actually stand there and gape at them. I paid an extra $20 (a massive rip off) to climb to the centre of the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops). I was joined by a Korean woman, and considering how early we had arrived there, I believe we were the first ones in that day. We had the place to ourselves and spent about 10-15 minutes in the burial chamber, far up and far inside the pyramid. Granted, the burial chamber is completely empty save for part of the outer shell of the sarcophagus, everything else long ago being stolen by tomb robbers. Still, to stand in the centre of the greatest pyramid, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was pretty cool.

The third pyramid of Giza has a massive gash in one side. This was the result of one of the Caliphs of Cairo (the son of Saladin I believe) who took offense to the pagan presence of the pyramids, and wanted them destroyed. They are still there.

The other major visit in Cairo, not once, but twice, was top the Egyptian Museum. What a crazy place. Picture the biggest flea market/garage sale you have ever been to, and then make everything for sale at least 1000-2000 years old, and you will get a sense of this place. Some of the most priceless antiquities of history stored in a building that feels like a pack of boy scouts with a Swiss army knife could break into. My favourite non-Tut pieces? The busty woman making beer statuette, and the statures of Akhenaten. And, of course, there was Tut. What an amazing find. Tut was a relatively unimportant pharaoh, but incredibly famous because of the collection of treasures found in his small tomb, overlooked by the tomb robbers of ancient and modern times. I stood in front of his death mask for at least 15 minutes, marveling at the detail and craftsmanship.

My return trip was to the Mummy Rooms. There I came face to face (literally) with some of the greatest pharaohs in history. Particularly thrilling was seeing Ramses II (the Great) and Tuthmosis III (the warrior pharaoh with mother issues). In a moment of deeply gratifying creepiness, I could have sworn I saw Tuthmosis almost open his eyes.

Many, many thanks to Ian who allowed me to stay in his apartment even after he left for a few days, and to Willa, Kristie, and Leoni who helped me to buy my Middle East nargele souvenir in Khan a Khali (and again to Ian who will take it back to Canada for me! I hope!).

Oh, about the title of the post. I tried to observe the fast of Ramadan, I really did. In fact, I was quite sucessful for the first while, but after time, I admit, I faltered. My hat goes off to all my Muslim friends, at home and that I have made on this trip. Your dedication and faith are humbling. I'm sorry I wasn't a better "wanna-be" Muslim.
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