Total hours in Cairo so far: 17Number of marriage proposals: 28 Number of gifts: 3 Number of gifts possibly hiding concealed narcotics: 2
Sept 2/3 I arrived in Cairo at night, after my plane was delayed in Doha. I dodged a proposal from the airport clerk (in exchange for a free visa, tough call...) collected my bag, and met my friend Sarah and her boyfriend Bilal, who were picking me up. I've known Sarah since I was little, even though she's from Germany, as she also works with the same charity in India, so we kind of grew up together. She even came and stayed with my family in Canada a few years ago!
They took me to this fish restaurant on the Nile (literally on a boat in the river, so cool! There's a ton of places like it along the river) where we selected our seafood like you would in a marketplace, then the chef weighs and makes it. Had amazing spreads and dips with bread, soup, salad, shrimp, calamari, and the fish. So much food! It was a feast. But a delicious one. I don't think many dishes can top freshly caught seafood. Move over, Red Lobster (except your biscuits, they can stay).
The next morning, Sarah had to go into her school (she teaches at the German International school in Cairo--the public system in Egypt is so bad that they have private International schools everywhere, so anyone who can afford it gets sent there), so Bilal took me to get falafel for breakfast, which was amazing. I can't believe I thought I wouldn't like it! And handy, too; it comes in a sort of pita so you can grab it and go. McDonald's, girl please.
After making sure I had enough water to last, he dropped me at the pyramids. I cannot stress this enough: if you have a student card, bring it! Everywhere! (The only catch is that because I have no date on my student card (unlike an ISIC card, which you have to pay for), certain sticklers at ticket windows won't accept it. But I've gotten away with it more times than not, so it's worth a shot for sure.) You never know where you can get a discount, and it never hurts to ask. Case in point: Entrance to the pyramids: 100 pounds. With student card: 30. Boom.
Alright. Going to the pyramids is exhausting. Luckily, I had just come from India, so I was prepared for the touts hounding you every step of the way. It's the blonde hair! I can't hide--they spot me from a mile away! Egyptians will come up and ask to take a photo with you, so I was back in celeb mode all over again. That much I was at least used to from my time in India. But Egyptians take it up a notch. When I take off my sunglasses and they see blue eyes, I'm really in for it. That's when the gifts start coming. I now have in my possession: a mock Sphinx, a model of the pyramids (to scale), and a papyrus painting. Not a bad haul.
Bilal warned me they can be quite pushy, so I was ready for anything. Instantly, someone came up to me and assured me they worked there, so it was fine. I repeated my standard "La shukran", or "No Thank You", but they're persistent. I make it clear that I'm not paying them for whatever they're offering, but they continue anyways. I figure that's my disclaimer; if I tell them I won't pay and they choose to give me info about the history, or take pictures for me, that's their problem for not listening. You have to stick to your guns and be ruthless, though! It's funny seeing the system they have--at the end, I start walking away, and they say "hey! what about a tip? I told you so much stuff, took photos, etc." Then they try to suggest what the "Standard" tip is--20-50 pounds..such a joke. Trying to guilt trip me into giving them money! I stand my ground and shrug, "Sorry! I told you I wouldn't pay for this and you kept going anyway! Not my problem." They get mad, but I think they're more angry that their little scam didn't work on the hapless little blonde girl. Ha! Don't mess with this seasoned traveler.
The rules in the pyramids are inconsistent at best. To go inside the big pyramid, no cameras are allowed--yet I saw at least 5 others with cameras once I was in the tomb. In another area, however, the guard let me walk right by the sign that said no cameras, because I was Canadian. No joke. They all ask where I'm from, and every time I tell them, they go "Canada Dry! Never die!" What?! such a random thing to say!
An FYI: the pyramids are HOT inside. The corridors were built for midgets at best, or I guess the average height of Egyptians back then, but it means you have to walk up crazy narrow ramps, bent in half. There's little to no airflow. It's cool to say you've been inside, but it's really not that exciting. What's a little sweat if you get to wear the police officer's hat at the end?
The tombs surrounding the pyramids were way more interesting--you can see a ton of hieroglyphs. In true tourist fashion, I decided to take a camel ride into the desert to get a good view of the pyramids (and photos, because let's be real, that's half the reason anyone goes out there). I haggled my way down from 130 to 60 pounds, and refused my camel owner's attempt to extract more as a tip from me. A price is a price, bud!
Really touristy thing to do, but I'm so glad I ponied up the cash (pun intended, ahaha).
I saw the sphinx after that, which was really awesome. It's smaller than I thought it would be, but the setup is neat--because it's sort of dug out of the ground, there's no fence or anything, just the edge, so you can take great photos. Minimizes the touristy feeling a bit, which is more than can be said for the pyramids themselves.
Another guide, Mohamed, came up to me and offered to take some photos. I did my usual speech about not paying, but for once, he actually didn't want money. He offered to show me some of the less busy tombs behind the sphinx that tourists don't really know about, so next thing I know, I'm clambering down stone steps into a dark cavern where they used to perform mummifications (the stone slabs are still there, creepy!). I did have a thought that maybe Mohamed had a more sinister reason for bringing me to a deserted tomb, but luckily all was fine and he was just a friendly tour guide. I got to see some interesting tombs, completely alone, and felt like I got to see a hidden part of Giza.
Last, Bilal met up with me and we saw the boat museum. Basically, in the 1920s, archaeologists discovered these massive boats buried beneath the surface right beside the pyramids. Turns out, these were the boats used to transport the stones used to build the pyramids up the Nile. They were buried next to the pyramids as a means of transportation for the afterlife. The museum is a funny concept--they raised the boat straight out of the ground and built a building around it so they never had to move it. And you have to wear these ridiculous slippers to prevent sand from eroding the boat (or something, they didn't exactly explain why they handed me burlap sacks for my feet).
When we got back to Sarah's, she was napping, so Bilal convinced me to do a video workout with him called Insanity. It is exactly that--40 minutes of cardio torture. Suicides, jump squats, pushups, football run thingys, mummy kicks (obv, we're in Egypt), mountain climbers, you name it, we did it. I could not move after it was over. Apparently it's a two month program with a different video everyday. I actually think I might check it out when I get home--I love that feeling of having nothing left after a workout! (My body, however, will disagree with me when trying to go down stairs for the next few days)
We went for sushi that night (my first sushi in 2 months, I cannot even tell you how excited I was for this--sushi is definitely my favorite food, I could eat it every day) and being the resident sushi expert, Sarah and Bilal let me explain a few things. Little did I know that this sushi place liked to use hot sauce instead of wasabi to spice things up. My spicy salmon, salad, and most other things were just about unbearable to eat, but it was too late to go back. Never again. I will ALWAYS ask to clarify this from now on, lesson learned.
A great first day in Cairo. Going to the Egyptian Museum tomorrow, can't wait to see some ancient treasure (and a few old folks--5000 years, give or take).