Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
127Trip End Aug 01, 2007
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Again another uneventful, but delayed, series of flights two days ago took us from Rhodes to Cairo. Thanks to the generosity of Katie's parents using their frequent guest points we are staying in a suite at the posh J.W. Marriott resort. It is fully tricked out with a wave pool, an ancient monuments-themed water park, and all the other trappings you'd expect in a first-class resort! A great respite from the hard beds and trickling showers of the budget guesthouses we've often been residing in. Katie's parents arrived a few hours after us, and once their misdirected luggage showed up the following morning we were ready to go! I visited Egypt a few years ago and loved it, so I was really looking forward to sharing the experience this time with Katie and her family.
Before I go into all the details of what we've been up to, it would probably be helpful for you know how the places we are going to be visiting relate to one another, here's 5000 years of Egyptian history in one paragraph:
Ancient Egypt as we call it began around 3000 BC when Pharaoh Menes united the tribes of the upper and lower Nile River
Now back to the trip. Saturday we ventured into downtown Cairo to start the sightseeing at the legendary Egyptian Museum
Yesterday we braved the heat and the worlds' most aggressive souvenir vendors to see the Pyramids. Headed out to Giza in the morning to see the Great Pyramid, its two partner pyramids, and the Sphinx (or as our cab driver called it, "da Sa-fink-ke-kees".) Between the Bedouin trying to get you to go on camel rides and the t-shirt vendors relentlessly pursuing you it is tough to grasp the whole site in its true magnificence. Remembering my previous visit, it was the exact same, the unremitting sales hassle at tourist sites in Egypt (followed closely by India) continues to be about the worst I have ever experienced
After making our escape from the Giza plateau we headed south about ten miles to Saqqara. There are far more pyramids in Egypt than just the ones at Giza. Saqqara is where some of the first pyramids were built and perfected before being expressed in the designs at Giza. We visited the Step Pyramid of Djoser, which being built in the 27th century BC is the oldest stone monument in the world and the first ever large-scale attempt at building a pyramid. For much of our wandering around the site there was hardly anyone else there. Not a t-shirt vendor for miles around...we loved the serenity! A dip in the Marriott swimming pool to wash off the dust of the desert rounded out the day nicely!
We were given a number of books as bon voyage gifts; I began one of them, Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux, yesterday. The book chronicles his overland journey from Cairo to Cape Town
When we were in Morocco, I read in our Lonely Planet guidebook that if you needed to get a males attention, you could simply call him Mohammed (used like the English word for sir). I remember thinking to myself, "Yeah, right. Whatever. I'm sure we are going to walk up to a random man and call him Mohammed." Based on our experiences so far in Cairo, you would have a 50% chance of actually guessing correctly. When we arrived at the airport, we took a cab to the hotel. Our gracious cab driver introduced himself as Mohammed before offering us a cigarette (he also picked up a random guy who rode in the front seat for 2 miles with the door open, but that's another story entirely). The manager of the business lounge/controller of the free drinks at the Marriott is also Mohammed...as was the driver that took as around to see all the pyramids yesterday
Of all the places we have been so far, Cairo definitely has the most in-your-face "souvenir" vendors. While we have learned to be polite but firm with people trying to sell us their wares, that strategy is no good here. We figured out that the first mistake is opening your mouth in the first place... that means you understand English. This subjects you to being followed around, and even tugged on. And in the most extreme case, you could end up being gripped and held "hostage" by an Egyptian man with a kufeyya (head covering often worn by Yasir Arafat) on your head, while his partner in crime takes your photo with your camera for money. Not that this happened to any of us, of course...