Pyramids and desert

Trip Start Sep 03, 2006
Trip End Jul 21, 2007

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Cairo is not for the faint heated

We had been warned by other travellers that Cairo was dirty and polluted, however our first glimpse of the city is surprisingly pleasant: big avenues with dated elegant 6 floors buildings. The place is buzzing with life and anarchic traffic. Shenouda kindly takes the Metro with us to show us the way to our hotel: the Metro which has two lines at present was built on the Parisian Metro ( tickets, benches, gates look like their Parisian counterparts!) and is an efficient and reliable mean of transport. We decided to check in a hotel recommended by fellow travellers; the staff was nice but the room infested with mosquitos: an opportunity to use again our mosquito net...

Hate it or love it, Cairo cannot leave you indifferent! Noisy with traffic and continous honks (indeed, every driver honks to warn other drivers of their presence), crowded with people everywhere, the city lives day and night. Many women are covered up from head to toe (with socks and gloves by 35C!) which contrasts with the number of shop windows filled with underwears and sometimes kinky ones! People are friendly and "Welcome to Egypt" is the usual greeting we will hear until our departure from the country.

Stuck in a tourists trap at the Pyramids

Having come this far we could not miss the Pyramids and for convenience fall for a tour to the Guiza and Saquara sites (a tour widely offered by all hotels). If you ever come to Egypt, avoid this tour at any costs! The guide took us and two ausies to an expensive papyrus museum (ie another word for shop), sold us an illegal camel ride and hastened us around the pyramids, we had to firmly say no to the perfume "institute" at the end of the day... Thanks to Patrick's determination, we manage to see the pyramids closely and spend some time onsite. It seems that on touristy spots, Egyptians loose their cool and use their old tricks to sell you anything: open bottle of sodas and forced into your hand without asking whether you were thirsty, ask backshish for about anything, give you free presents and ask for money anyway...The beauty and majesty of the pyramids and Sphynx are somehow spoilt by this business, this is a real shame...

Excursion into the desert

The next day we set off for three days to Baharya, the closest oasis to Cairo (4-5 hours away by bus), "where we plan to visit the "Black Desert" and sleep out in the "White Desert". The White desert's particularity lies in the many white lime rocks which have been strangeley shaped by winds and erosion. Some rocks resemble animals while others are simple round blocks.  At night our small camp of five people is visited by fennecs in search of tourists meal remains. In the morning, tracks of several fennecs can be seen in the surroundings. Our guide, a young and happy Egyptian in his twenties and new father, tells us about the many stories of the desert: how a tourist who got lost was found after several days in the desert, how two unexperienced guides broke their jeep down in the desert and one of them was found dead etc.

The real Cairo experience: riding a taxi

Back in Cairo we use our 2 last days to visit the Egyptian museum and Cairo's Islamic quarter and bazar. This was the beginning of Ramadan so many businesses were doing short hours. We had to rush through the Egyptian museum in three hours (however even Saoyuth who is fond of antiquities was bored after the 50th sarcophage. Tutankhamun's room is a must!). The Islamic quarter with its imposing main mosque and bazar was a more lively distraction, especially during Ramadan when people gather inside and outside the mosque. Wandering through the maze and the lights of the bazar and stopping for mint teas on the way is a delightful experience and a good way to chat with locals.

Unfortunately time had come for us to leave Egypt. It would take at least one week to make Cairo justice so if you are planning a visit to Egypt, don't overpass this city. We took a taxi to the airport and were driven by Ayrton Sena's brother: crossing Cairo's street without being run over is a relieving experience but driving in mad Cairo is an exhilarating one! We loved the ride! We leave Egypt promising to ourselves to come back one day to explore the Nile Valley, the only things we won't miss though are the houmus and pitta bread served at every meal including breakfast: no more please!

To close the chapter, we would say that Egypt is full of wonderful monuments but this is the friendliness of its people that we will remember the most. Of course there will always be con men and people asking backsheesh for about anything from showing you something you didn't ask for or just to give you a piece of loo roll in public toilets...however Egyptians are pleasant and always ready to have a good chat with you.
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