Big City Adventure
Trip Start Dec 09, 2005
25Trip End Jan 01, 2006
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While at breakfast, we met up with an American couple, who were interested in walking over to one of the bazaars in town and we thought it would be fun to trek with some other adventurous souls. We weren't quite sure how far the Kahn El Khalili Bazaar was from the hotel, but were later told three different stories as to how long it would take us to get there - one person told us 20 minutes, someone else said 45 minutes, and yet another suggested it would take two days by camel (a little Egyptian humor, no doubt). So with map in hand and our walking companions by our side, we headed out of the Cairo Marriott in search of some bargains.
We've already mentioned how crowded and dingy the streets are, and how atrocious the drivers can be, swerving in and out of the barely marked lanes, with no traffic signals to tell them when and where to stop. This also means that there are no crosswalks for safe passage from one side of the street to the other. So, needless to say, our lives were at stake, literally. Luckily (but who really believes in luck, right), a friendly Egyptian by the name of Tarik walked up and greeted us then struck up a conversation with Michael. If you know Michael like I know Michael, he'll talk to anyone, especially a local in a foreign country, just to get the inside scoop on the area.
So we walked along the busy streets, peeking into the shops that were just opening up at 10:00 a.m., admiring the leather shoes and handbags, jewelry and clothing. It was a nice stroll - until time to cross the street. Man, was I nervous! The cars were coming so quickly and, for the life of me, I couldn't imagine crossing to the other side without getting nipped in the butt by one of the fast-moving Peaguots or Mitsubishis speeding by. The locals have it down pat. It seems as though they just know where and when to cross. But I wasn't so confident. We found that the best thing was to find a bunch of Egyptians ready to cross and simply follow them, making sure to have at least three or four of them on the outer side so that if one of the cars didn't stop in time, we wouldn't bear the hardest part of the hit. I know that sounds mean, but hey, these people know how this works much better than we do.
Tarik kindly gave us a quick lesson in how to cross the street. "Just place your hands over your eyes and walk like an Egyptian," he explained comically, as he formed his hands in that Egyptian stance we are so familiar with. All four of us cracked up laughing at him. Taking his advice and combining our own methods of Cairo street crossing survival, we managed to traverse no less than five busy intersections before we bade our friend Tarik farewell. But not before he took the time to make a most surprising offer. "Is this your woman?" he asked Michael. "I give you two camels and a sack of bananas for her." As Michael grabbed my arm close to him, I laughed silently, hoping Tarik was just joking. But just in case, I didn't want to seem flattered at the proposition. But this was a great opportunity to see how well Michael could bargain his way out of a situation. I think the look on Michael's face let Tarik know his offer was unacceptable. I was hoping we could at least get an apartment, a small fishing boat and visitation rights for Michael out of the deal, as well (just kidding).
Anyway, we made it the rest of the way to the bazaar, thanks to another angel who gravitated to Michael. And as Mohammad briskly walked us in the direction of the shopping area, we asked if he could direct us to a toilet. Apparently he misunderstood us, because after guiding us through the maze that is Khan El Khalili Bazaar, we ended up at his little shop where he sells glass water pipes and perfume bottles. Not exactly what we needed after our 4-mile walk. Eventually we found the toilet, Mohammad disappeared into the crowd, and we all began our shopping experience.
Michael and I bought a few items and, somehow in our curiosity, lost our walking companions. How can I describe this bazaar? It reminds me of The Alley in downtown Los Angeles. Small cubbyholes filled from wall to wall, floor to ceiling with various specialty items, and men standing in front of the stores calling out offers for their wares in their best direct selling techniques. It was difficult to resist going into all of the stores, but that was just impossible. So after about 2 hours of shopping we took our buys and headed for the bus back to the Marriott.
Later we sat in on a lecture conducted by an American woman who now lives in Cairo. Her husband is Egyptian and they moved here 14 years ago. She loves it and was able to clue us Americans in on some of the intricacies of Egyptian culture and lifestyle. It was very interesting.
But now it's time to end the day. Needless to say, we need a long, hot shower and a good night's sleep. We're up early tomorrow for a flight to Aswan.
En Route to Aswan