We have arrived. Finally.
For anyone who has never traveled to the other side of the world from wherever you live, let me tell you it is both exhausting and comparatively easy. That we can transport ourselves to the opposite side of the planet in a day is amazing. And yet traveling for 30 hours, sitting in cramped airplanes and meandering through airports, is exhausting and uncomfortable. Well worth it, but tiring.
Our flights connected in Chicago and Frankfurt, Germany. We had a 7-hour layover in Frankfurt, and so decided to take the S-bahn into downtown for a coffee and some breakfast (it was around 6am local time when we landed). After much needed coffee and some attending to a few affairs at home via wi-fi, we strolled through the public markets to find some food. Thanks to our confused internal clocks, bratwurst sounded pretty good. And it was!
We landed in Cairo tired but excited. A driver from our hostel was waiting for us at the airport, which was a welcome sight amidst the throngs of taxi drivers and touts offering “good deals” on hotels, tours, etc. A shower, some delicious shawarma pitas at Cairo’s favorite quick-food joint, and a comfortable bed was just what we needed. We passed out to the lullabies of thousands of honking cars.
Cairo itself is almost overwhelming. With 22 million inhabitants, the city pulses with energy. People are everywhere, shopping, yelling, eating, arguing, laughing. The smog is so dense it obscures buildings only a few blocks away. Your eyes and throat burn, and trash is always under foot. Riding in cars, taxis or otherwise, is always an exercise in trusting fate. There are no seat belts, nobody adheres to lanes or traffic lights, and often people drive double the speed limit. Cairo is a crazy place. It makes New York City seem quiet, orderly, immaculate.
Today we went to the Pyramids at Giza because, well, of course one should see them while in Egypt. They are the last remaining of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, and they tower almost 400 feet above the desert floor. The complex was a tourist circus. Everywhere we were followed by people offering camel rides, horse rides, carriage rides, souvenirs, water, soda. There were very few foreign tourists there, which likely made the attention a little more intense. Some Egyptian visitors giggled at our predicament, and even asked to have their photo taken with us, which we obliged.
We finally did hire a carriage from the man with the most well-fed horse (many of the horses are ill-treated and underfed). Mohammed with his horse, Sugar, drove us around the site, and implored us to pose for various ridiculous photos. He told us he had been working at the Pyramids for 40 years, since he was a little boy. Never went to school, he said. Only worked here, which his parents did as well. We asked him about his horse, and he told us, “Sugar is like my sister. I never hit her. I love this horse. And she only listens to me, would never go with anyone else.” Sure enough, he never whipped her, only said, “Go, Sugar!” and off she went at a trot or a cantor. He had only to say “Sugar, slowly,” for her to slow her pace.
After a couple hours in the Pyramid complex, we took a cab back to the Metro station so we could return to our hostel to retrieve our luggage. Today is a “million man march” in various places around Cairo in support of President Morsi, so some streets are closed and the Metro stations are crowded. At the University stop, throngs of demonstrators surged from the platform toward the exit, holding signs and chanting “Morsi! Morsi!” Egyptian politics are in a volatile place right now, with deep divisions among the population against and in support of the current administration. Needless to say, we avoid any area where demonstrations are taking place.
We leave Cairo in a couple hours on a sleeper train to Luxor, where we have a couchsurfing host. Although there is much to do and see in Cairo, we are not big city folk and look forward to a little more quietude in Upper Egypt. Plus, many of the attractions in Cairo, such as the Egyptian Museum, are inaccessible due to the political demonstrations.
So off we go to the Valley of the Kings, Luxor Temple, Karnak, and the Nile! More later…