The past 19 hours I spent in Cairo has been like an exhilarating roller coaster ride. I've heard/read lots of complaints about this place- hassles, weather, pollution, noise, etc- but I did not find any of them major. In the 19 hours I have been here at least. Knock on wood.
I got out of the Cairo airport around 2am. It took another 30 mins to buy the visa and go past the passport check. The Egyptian workers were super chill and quick. "I need a visa." "$15." And I got the shining visa. Waiting for the bags, I got slightly worried about getting a cab to the hostel. A little bit of background story: I am visiting my friend in Cairo and was going to stay with her. Her mom and sister also came, and they are all staying in their grandparents' small apartment. So I figured I would stay in a hostel in the city center. Using hostelworld.com, it was too easy and cheap. The hostel staff emailed me that they will pick me up for 75 EGP ($14), to which my frugal inner self silently replied heck no. Lonely Planet and Rough Guide both suggesthaggling down to 35-45 EGP. Standing by the baggage claim with 2 bags at 3am, I was not ready to battle Egyptian taxi drivers yet. Not alone at least. I looked around and recruited a girl who was also staying in the city center. For the next 30 mins, we practiced our nonexistent haggling skills. I personally thought the Egyptian guys were HILARIOUS. It was like an exchange of BS; I could not take them seriously. I can definitely see how it would frustrate people though. I ended up getting a driver to make two stops for us for 32.5 EGP each. My friend later told me we were ripped off as anything, but whatev, I was proud of this accomplishment. I only paid 33 EGP! When I safely got to the hostel, it was almost time for the 4am call for prayer. It kind of sounded like a background music for yoga.
In the morning, I had breakfast in the lounge area and met fellow travelers! I felt like I was a part of the world of backpackers! It was fantastic to share travel plans, stories, and tips and just chat about random stuff. Love the atmosphere.
It was still early, so I decided to call my friend in the afternoon. To kill time, I went to the Egyptian Museum because it was the most convenient activity. It was right across the street, but I had to somehow cross the crazy traffic. Cars were so off the lanes that I thought maybe they drive with the lane in the middle by law (no). Thank goodness a girl from the hostel, a veteran, came with me. You really need human shields when crossing these streets.
I wore a loose dark grey shirt, a knee-length black skirt, and black flip flops. I felt like I fit in alright at the touristy spot. The Egyptian Museum is AMAZING. It is definitely the most consistently interesting national museum I have visited. I bought a student ticket (25EGP vs. 50EGP for adults) with my ICSC card. Then I went through some security checks... I had a camera in my bag. Apparently you're not supposed to have cameras in the exhibits. That's too bad. I just won't post any of the inside pictures here :P I heard/read that the museum is very disorganized and terribly labeled or not labeled at all. I didn't particularly find this a problem, especially following the Lonely Planet. Plus, I had seen some exhibits in other museums. The Carlos Museum at Emory University had a King Tut exhibit last summer. I was also pleasantly surprised how much of AP Art History stuff I remembered. You can always go with a tour too. In fact, I saw very few people who were NOT a part of a tour.
Either way, GO to the mummy exhibit. It's an extra 100EGP (student: 50EGP yay), but it's SO COOL. You came all the way to Cairo. What's another 100EGP? It was incredible to see the mummies of the big name pharaohs and queens. Some were so well preserved, with curly hair or chicken pox marks. A must see. Plus, it has a/c, unlike the rest of the museum, AND it's less crowded (I guess the entrance fee repells a lot of people). I was completly alone in the mummy room at one point! (=time to whip out the camera! although I doubt I'll be sitting around when I get back home and print out pictures of mummies.)
After the museum, I almost got hit by a car crossing the street, despite using two human shields! Apparently it's almost getting hit is a routinely thing here. I lay around until my friend came over to pick me up. I hadn't seen her in almost a year, so it was a very exciting reunion. In Cairo! It was mid-afternoon and sweltering. We went to a nice cafe by American University in Cairo called Pottery Cafe and ate an Egyptian sandwich (forgot the name... yummy, mild spicy chicken) and smoothies. Smoothie is my absolute favorite beverage- I could live off smoothies. I was worried about getting them because people at my hostel were talking about how they popped their stomach problem cherry from drinking fruit juices. But Salma assured me that restaurants are fine. After all, restaurants bring out bottled water and pour it into our cups.
After making a start through a year's worth of juicy gossip over food and drinks, we took a cab to El-Azhar Park. According to Salma, this is the prettiest, cleanest and greenest part of Cairo. It was like a very, very nice resort with fountains, palm trees and rolling greens overlooking the city. And because it was high up, there was a nice breeze, making the stroll in the hot weather enjoyable. The park seemed like the prime date spot because I saw Egyptian couples everywhere. They were holding hands and walking, or sitting down on the grass whispering and smiling at each other. We kind of stood out because of me- all other women were covered head to toes. I saw one other pair of tourists. I think this is definitely the place to go if you want to get away from the busy busy city.
Then we walked over to Khan el-khilili, or The Bazaar as we tourists call it. Bazaar technically does not make sense, as the word itself just means a shop. I was really looking forward to all the chaos and cheap stuff and mad haggling. And it did not disappoint me. We rounded a corner and bam! streets and alleys packed with shops, trash on the street, child labor, and yelling. I was thoroughly entertained by these come-hither lines. "99% discount!" "I make you very happy forever." "I don't know what you want, but I got what you need." When someone said, "Come look at my shop," I was like oh pleeease, come up with a better line! We weaved through and around, looking at scarves, earrings, and bags. I got a gorgeous purple and turquoise scarf mixed with gold lining for 30EGP (6 bucks)! Salma turns really scary when she starts haggling in Arabic. This girl makes the shop owner cry. I got a pair of silver earrings as well. As we continued on, however, the tourist population diminished.
The alleys became narrower and more compact. Shop owners did not bother you anymore but rather sit in their chairs doing their own thing. We had somehow gotten to the local part of the market. I was kind of intimidated because of the looks I got. I had to put away my camera and not make any eye contacts. People were definitely staring and making comments like, "oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, Americans are coming!" (this of course was said in Arabic that Salma translated... who knows what else they said that she didn't bother to translate).
After a few minutes of the uncomfortable walk, we got into a cab and went over to Mohandiseen, a residential area on the other side of the Nile. I could tell it was the more western part of the town because of the big department store-looking shops with English names, colorful billboards, and the median lined with palm trees. The sun was setting and it was soo much cooler. I can definitely see why you should hibernate from noon to 6. We went to a nice hookah cafe and lounged around in really comfy chairs, smoking peach-flavored shisha. Then I took a cab back to the hostel and hung out in the lounge for a bit. What an eventful day! Cairo is BOMB, I tell you :)