Walk like an Egyptian
Trip Start Oct 30, 2005
59Trip End Jun 19, 2006
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The prospect of Cairo had been exciting me for days now, ever since I caught a brief glimpse of its sprawl as I flew over on my way to Alex. I've always attached images of such exoticness and legend to Cairo, home to the Pyramids - one of the Wonders of any world, ancient or modern - and the bustling centre of the Islamic World. However, having once pinned such expectations on Mumbai, only to be disappointed, I was a little wary.
I needn't have been. I liked Cairo from the first, as I trudged out of Ramses Station, enturtled once more by my pack, and strode off with the vaguest of directions to find my hostel. Eventually, after several arduous navigational conversations with locals in my fledging pidgin Arabic ("alatool?" La, shimaal, 'then' alatool. "Cool, thanks mate!), I stumbled across it, dumped the backpack, and set off into the city. I had a goal, and would not be swayed from it. This was one of the most important things I was to do on this whole journey, and I wanted to see it done. Yep, that's right - I was off to acquire an ISIC card (International Student Card, for the acronym-phobic). Okay, I admit my student days are now long behind me, and though my recent gainfully employed stint at Auckland University was not really going to hold water, I knew that in Cairo, it didn't matter and that a valid and authentic student card only required 75 Egyptian Pounds. Easy! That little gem was going to pay itself off before I left Cairo, notwithstanding the enormous savings (we're talking $100's here folks) that I knew I'd accrue throughout Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and probably Europe.
With that accomplished, the next step was to hit the tourist trail for a couple of days and follow the well-trodden path to the Egyptian Museum, repository of treasures and a vast wealth of history, and of course, the Pyramids.
The Egyptian Museum stands imposingly at the edge of the motorised chaos that is Tahrir Square in Central Cairo. It is a grand building, its front lawn dotted with statues, and swarming with the chittering hordes continuously disgorged by an endless array of tour buses. The collection inside contains an astounding 40,000 items, running the gamut of classical Egyptian history from the Old Kingdom to the Roman occupation
The showpiece, of course, of the Museum, is the Tutankhamun collection, and rightly so. Following so excellent advice from Mum's cousin, Alison, I had arrived at the gates uncommonly early in the morning, and so was first through the doors at 9 am, ahead of the ravening schools of package tourists. I headed straight upstairs, and to the back, towards the Tutankhamun gallery, determined to enjoy the splendour of his famous golden funerary mask and sarcophagus in silent contemplation. And it worked. Myself, and 3 likewise clued-in folk, were able to enjoy 20 minutes of mute reverence and awe, before the jostling crowds made their way into the gallery
When, finally, I had slaked my thirst for beauty, and explored much of the rest of the Museum, I blinked my way back into the sunlight. I can't even begin to describe the other excellent works within, I wouldn't know where to start, but I will say to you all to come, and see it all for yourself. Indeed, I went back for more, on my last day, to saw it all again (plus many pieces I swear I didn't see the first time)...and to check on my wee golden bowl.
The following day I figured I'd devote to the Pyramids, sole surviving member of Philon the Athenian's Seven Wonders of the World and current finalist for the new list
I imagine, of course, that folk like that are probably in the minority, that it would like a fairly dour soul not to be stirred by the sight of the Pyramids soaring out of the rough sands of Giza. One of the most famous, instantly recognisable images on earth, the Pyramids are truly a humbling and awesome sight. And even better when you've managed to sneak in for free, via the local hawkers' entrance
I really enjoyed this city. Of a size and population with Mumbai, it has a cosmopolitan charm and amiable personality that I found lacking from the Indian city. Cairo appealed to me from the first, despite the intensity and the bustle. It's a place I could easily imagine living in, the first such city I've encountered on my travels. Indeed, I'm considering spending three months here at some stage in the next few years to learn Arabic.
As Ali Mohammed Adbel-Hameed, an Aswan poet I met one night in Cairo walking alongside the Nile, told me, "Once you have drunk from the Nile, forever will you return to Him."
I'll be back.