Johanna 's Travel Blog

January 08, 10:12 AM
Cairo, Egypt

Our first stop was Cairo—we began by dodging cars, weaving between 6 lanes of oncoming traffic without stop. We wondered around streets with only Arabic names and when we finally found our hostel, were told that they had already rented our room. However, the manager had a cousin or brother or friend who also owned a hostel ‘just down the street’ where we could stay the night. We followed the manager’s cousin or brother or friend to this second place, again dodging cars, motorcycles and hooka smokers to find this other place and lo and behold there were a ton of mosquitos (in the winter!) twin beds (this has been a trend for all of the places we’ve stayed in Egypt) and the kind of shower that isn’t more than a hose and a drain on the floor.

We spent our first day (after a meager breakfast of stale bread, jam and butter packages that appeared to be pillaged from an airline and terribly strong tea) getting to the pyramids of Giza which entailed kilometers of walking, jumping mini busses, the metro system (the only cleanish public place in the city, and with women only cars) and avoiding touts in cars, on camels and pursuing us on foot.

The pyramids were immense (100 stories high!) but what I was most startled by was the fact that these historic giants are in a suburb! Sand, rocks and blazing sun with houses, businesses and a university within sight. I liked the sphinx best. We proudly report that we did not engage any of tireless touts and were only overcharged about 100% with the tourist/white person tax.

Later that day, starving, we found a local fast food chain that had flat falafels! A very strange, puck-like entity. No humus ( the babaganoush was sub par) and well, not the delicious street food I had enjoyed in Israel. Days later in Aswan (southern Egypt, far down the Nile) we would finally find tasty falafel sandwiches for about $1. We then attempted to explore the old city which led to inevitable confusion, pushing through crowds of peddlers and solicitors.

Some observations: There are so many men on the streets! And they won’t leave me alone!! The marketplace seems dominated by men, most commercial activity we can see for that matter, and we hear the same lines over and over:

Where you from? America/British/Austrailia/I love America
I love you!
Buy this, good price
Egyptian price for you
Do you know the price of ____?
Just look, 2 minutes
Come back later, promise look then
You lucky guy
No hassle!

It is exhausting deflecting these questions and the feeling target by my clothing (even when dressed in long skirts and long sleeves). I flirted with the idea of wearing a head scarf and generally concluded that I would wear one in a mosque or when situationally appropriate, not on a daily basis. It would be like playing into their fantasies, rather than representing my own. Even worse is the honking and swerving of motorcycles. It really makes me feel vulnerable, especially when James is walking behind me (better when he is in front ) or not close by. I remember the luxury (albeit sheltered) of being in a group when I was in Egypt before. James and I have no interest in that way of traveling (for the obvious reasons: expensive, less authentic etc) but it felt much more protected.

We found a fantastic place to eat called L’Ambergine on the island in the middle of Cairo’s Nile. The island, Zamalek , is for me an oasis of clam—well, relatively so, less yelling, signs in English, European culture. It felt like such a reprieve to leave the chaos of Cairo (which James loves) and eat compexly flavored, well prepared food. And oh, have alcohol. Very expensive, highly regulated, and hard to come by in most places

Our second day consisted of the Egyptian Museum, which we unfortunately did not time well and could only stay at for a few hours (it was Wednesday, you see). James would have preferred a few weeks, Amazing collection, I wish that some of it had dates or explanations. It was really hard to appreciate all of the splendor out of historical context.

More exploration of the bazarre this time in the Islamic center. We wandered for hours over cobble stones turn dirt roads, and behind houses with communal dumps swarming with cats. Wherever we went, the 5 daily prayer calls megaphoned around the city. It is interesting that mosques of all shapes and sizes seem to comprise about 70% of enclosed spaces and we’ve only seen men praying there.

On a differently religious note,we were outside the Coptic Church the day before their Christmas (Jan 6th). The church was beautiful and that part of the city relatively slow-paced. I’ve also taken to humming Hebrew songs to myself (indecipherable by anyone i think) and that helps calm me.

Later, with much begging on my part, we returned to the Island to have a wonderful lunch (home made pasta!! some of the best food I’ve eaten thus far) and got ready for our overnight train to Aswan. More on the south of the Nile soon!

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