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Just In The Nick Of Time


Good thing we left early! There’s no way they could have caught us on our trusty camels though!

Change Of Plans

We were originally supposed to leave Egypt tomorrow.
We were originally supposed to stowaway on a boat from Port Said to the Greek islands.
It’s a good thing we are nimble with a flexible schedule.

After further research online and talking to some locals about how to best catch a boat out of Cairo, our original plans turned out to be unfeasible. So instead we are leaving Cairo today via plane to Athens.

For all you keen eyed readers, you can probably already tell from the clues in this photo that it’s a travel day. Besides the more obvious clue that Jay is standing by a sign that says Cairo Airport, he’s also wearing his official travel day uniform.

Throughout the entire city of Cairo there is no shortage of uniformed armed guards. However they don’t exactly instill a feeling of safety. Many times they are passed out at their post in the hot sun. Other times they are standing around scratching themselves or picking their nose. You might expect the security teams at the airport to be a little more on their toes. That wasn’t the case at all. You see, we didn’t have any printed tickets or boarding passes (we booked online and don’t have a printer).  Like most airports, in order to get through the security check they want to see your tickets. The problem is the ticket counters at the airport are AFTER you walk through “security.” So what does the guard do? He lets us walk right through security without tickets. And we were each carrying giant 1.5 liter bottles of potentially explosive H2O! I’m pretty sure the guy monitoring the x-ray machine screen was using a braille keyboard too.

In defense of the Egyptian security forces, the Kuwaiti team didn’t look much more alert either. If you look closely, there is a guy sleeping in the back of this military vehicle.

Don’t ask me why they even have a presence at the Cairo airport.

This is the first time I’ve been in a high-winged plane that I wasn’t flying myself. The Avro RJ-100 is a pretty small plane, but it still offers some pretty cool views of Cairo and the surrounding desert.

And the best feature of all… it lands safely!

Wars Of Nations Are Fought To Change Maps…

…But wars of poverty are fought to map change.

— Muhammad Ali

It’s a totally different Muhammad Ali that The Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha was commissioned by, but it felt like an appropriate quote for this nation. We’ll get to that mosque in a minute. But first thing is first. Today we started out with Fatma at 9am at the Egyptian Museum.

We weren’t allowed to bring cameras into the museum, so just take my word for it… it’s an awesome collection of artifacts from the many dynasties of the ancient Egyptian empires. As to be expected, the stand out pieces of this Egyptian collection were all of the items discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings. From the 4 gold shrines that enclosed the sarcophagus which held the 3 coffins. Even his 4 embalming containers were on display. Standing there in front of his mask, and staring into the eyes of this young king was incredible, and an honer to have the opportunity to meet him face to face (so to speak).

This dude was well prepared for the afterlife! His mummy is still housed in the Vally of The Kings, but there were plenty of other mummified corpses to check out. It was kind of creepy to see how well preserved they were. Some of them even still had their original hair attached to the skulls.

You could spend a good two days in the museum to see everything, but we had places to go and things to do, so it after a few hours we were off to the next stop.

The Mosque of Muhammad Ali

Being a Muslim herself, Fatma was able to explain a lot about the religion to us as well as some of the history behind this incredible building.

We first entered the courtyard area…

…and were instructed to take our shoes off. The reason – because during the worship ritual Muslims put their face on the ground, so they don’t want the dirt from peoples shoes on the ground. Makes perfect sense. Optionally you can even wash your body in the fountain. This sorta reminded me of the onsens in Japan where you wash your body off first before entering the spas.

Here are a few photos from the inside…

After learning a bit more about the traditions of Muslims, we left the mosque…

…on the way to go spend some Egyptian money…

…at the Khan El Khalili Bazaar. The narrow streets were lined with small shops selling everything from colorful fabrics…

…to colorful spices…

…to colorful food.

You just had to be willing to wade through a bunch of colorful people…

…who wanted nothing more than to sell you something. Some of them must have been denied sales so many times that their sales tactics had now resorted to straight honesty, and I quote “Hello, hi there, how can I take you money today?” It almost made me want to spend money there, but I had no use (or room in my bag) for natural sponges. So I walked on…

…passed the homeless pita breads.

So Hot, Yet So Very Very Cool

Let me just apologize up front for any of you trying to read this post on a dial-up Internet connection. There are a LOT of photos to follow…

Upon first arriving in Cairo, my initial reaction was that it was very similar to Bangkok. A large city, with lots of cars, lots of dirt, lots of people, lots of chaos. After spending a full waking day in the city, not much of that initial reaction has changed.  The city has nearly 18 million people in it, and it seems like all of them drive. None of their cars have any sort of emissions regulations. But they all DO have working car horns. And they like to let you know about it… as often as possible.

We woke up bright and early to meet up with our tour guide Fatma at 8am. Even this early in the day, it was already pretty hot outside. Here’s a panoramic image from the hotel room.

We jumped into the air-conditioned van and were shuttled off to the first stop of Saqqara. Along the way we got a first hand look at the realities of this developing nation. There is absolutely no rhyme or reason to the driving. It’s utterly chaotic. There is no concept of driving lanes despite the guides painted on the road. There is no such thing of right of way, especially if you are a pedestrian. There are roads that seemingly lead to nowhere as traffic will go for several kilometers to only get to the end of the road and everyone — and i do mean everyone — turns around and goes the opposite direction on that same road, despite the fact that the road keeps going in the other direction. It just makes no sense. So many of the dwellings were dilapidated, or at least looked it. Many demolished buildings. Many animals on the road. And many young children walking around without supervision. It was quite a culture shock.

After driving for what seemed like forever past carpet weaving schools, we came to our first stop at Saqqara which features the world’s oldest standing step pyramid.

The pyramid and the nearby tombs were designed by Imhotep, one of the most advanced architect of ancient times. The cut limestone designs have stood up remarkably over the past 5000 years.

Flanking the great pyramid…

…are various tombs where kings from both the first and second dynasties were buried.

Many of the offering tables outside of the tombs have since been destroyed (not by us)…

The similarities between Latin characters and hieroglyphics are just uncanny sad!

This was an epic moment in our lives…

… but just the first of many that the day would provide.

Next up was a short drive over to the pyramid complex of Teti. The pyramid itself is pretty much gone and only resembles a small hill now. But the chambers and corridors below it are in very good shape. The hieroglyphics all over the walls are totally legible. If you can read hieroglyphics that is. We did learn one thing about reading them… there is no preset left-to-right, right-to-left rule. They can be read and written in all 4 directions! The direction in which you read them is determined by the direction that the bird glyph is facing.

With that new knowledge under our belts, it was off to Memphis to view more kings. No, not Elvis, but King Ramesses II. This 83 ton masterpiece is flawlessly carved in solid granite. It once towered above the land below at 11 meters high.

Also in Memphis is this alabaster sphinx from the 19th dynasty, or 1200 BC.

Now, for Big Bertha…

That’s right, the Giza Pyramids!!!! The only remaining member of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World!

OMG, these suckers are ENORMOUS!

Folks it doesn’t get any better than this. The great friggin’ pyramids are right there in front of us!

Er, behind us.

And under us.

It’s impossible to even capture their enormity on film. But here are a few photo to put it all in perspective.

Take just one of those steps, and repeat it over 200 times!

The great thing about having a tour guide is that she can take you to the spots that many people never see…

…and help you take photos that no one else will take.

And she can help you not fall into the typical tourist traps, of which there are many in Cairo. And instead get you the really good deals on camel rides!

Hey, we’re in Egypt! What did you expect!? Certainly not more Segways I hope!

And of course the most majestic half-human, half-lion hybrid of all time. The Great Sphinx of Giza!

What else can you really say about a day like this!? Nothing. Nothing at all. It was perfect.

Behind In Blogging

Sorry about the lack of updates here lately. It’s just that the Internet access here in Egypt has been sort of limited to that old-school method of using manual switchboards.

The operator operating this particular switchboard was nice enough to prioritize my bytes and I’ve pushed through a few packets of past blogs. Be sure to check the next page for an older post about Sevilla.

Will post more about Cairo in the coming days. Probably from Greece!

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