CAIRO! Day one

I went four days without an adapter and no place to buy one in Alba Adriatica, hence my dereliction of duty in writing. Finally, I was able to snag one at Fiumicino Airport in Rome right before my flight to Cairo.

(Just as an aside, I’m writing these postings as quickly as I can to get them on the Web. Photos might have to come later. My internet access here sucks royally so I have to strike while the iron’s hot. Sorry if it isn’t up to its usually stellar level…)

Flying without a net (no internet, computer on the fritz, no adapter) is the most frustrating thing in the world for a blogger. With the computer dead, there was no place to write and I’m too lazy to try and write with a pen. My mind works too fast to get everything down. Technology is perfect for me because it moves (almost) as fast as my brain.

So here I am in Cairo. I arrived on Wednesday around 4:00 p.m. local time. The flight was only two-and-a-half hours. Visas are required to enter Egypt and can be purchased at the airport upon arrival. According to the website, the government has the right to deny entry.

I was actually a bit concerned as I rode the bus to Rome and waited at the airport. I truly thought I might not be allowed in the country. What if they asked my profession and I told them I was a writer? Would Egypt’s president el-Sisi assume I was a liberal journalist arriving to discredit his human rights record? Such are the thoughts of a drama dweeb.

Upon entering the terminal, I faced a bank of, well, banks. All were Egyptian and all offered currency exchange services, as well as visa purchases. The visa is good for thirty days and costs $25. Foreigners are given a sticker that is then presented at Customs. The Customs individual applies the sticker in the passport and stamps the passport. It was all done seamlessly.

After leaving the Customs area, I met Amr, the shuttle driver. He had been assigned to collect me. Good thing, too. The drive to the hotel was over an hour.

When I stepped out of the terminal, a blast of heat hit me. The high today was around 95 degrees and a wind was blowing. The sky was filled with a haze. Cairo is a crowded metropolitan area of 22 million people and growing rapidly. Smog and overpopulation are a massive problem not just for Cairo but for Egypt.

The blowing wind made the heat a bit more bearable. It actually felt like summer all over again and I liked it. Palm trees undulated in the breeze and I could see the sun setting behind the haze. The atmosphere was actually a bit thick. Humidity was not something I expected to find in Cairo.

My driver buzzed us through the city on the way to Pyramids Inn Motel. I was impressed that the expressway was smooth as glass, much like the expressways in Istanbul, Dubai and Marrakech. I reasoned that, with a perpetually warm climate, the elements did not impact the asphalt the way it does in the Pacific Northwest. Southern California is similar.

The expressway bottle-necked from three, to four, to two, to five lanes as we sped along. Lanes were generously wide although the lines delineating each lane were woefully faded. It was difficult to tell at times how many lanes there were.

No matter. People drove haphazardly, just as one would expect in a pulsing, overpopulated metropolitan area in a third world nation. Luxury cars fought for space along with SUVs, jalopies and half-dead taxis. Sometimes cars would be stopped and people would be yelling at each other through windows. Horse-drawn carts plodded along the side of expressway.

As we sped along, I marveled that the highway was lined with sound barriers. It was difficult to see much of the areas we passed. Mosques were virtually everywhere, most with their tell-tale green neon lights. I asked Amr, my driver, why green neon was so prevalent. He told me that the green represented the fertility of the land. I got the impression it was meant almost as a blessing so the land would produce lots of food. After all, this is the Sahara Desert.

Continuing on, Amr pointed out landmarks. One mosque in particular intrigued me. It contained a very exclusive university for the wealthy as well as the crypt of the Shah of Iran. After he was deposed in 1979 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran, no nation would give him sanctuary. Egypt finally did.

Before we reached my hotel, we stopped at a roadside stand so I could purchase an Egyptian SIM card for my iPhone. It took awhile before the proprietor could find one that would work, but he soon did. Waiting in his little hut, I was accosted relentlessly by flies all over my hands, legs and arms. It was annoying.

After leaving the phone store, we arrived at my hotel. It was already dark and difficult to see what the hotel looked like. But, from what I could ascertain by the lighting, it looked pretty nice. The furnishings in the lobby were sparse, but the stairway was solid marble. My room was freshly painted a pale yellow with a Corinthian column inside.

The furnishings in my room were pedestrian and resembled something out of a 1950’s Hollywood movie. Made of a cheap wood byproduct, I assumed the furniture was purchased at the Egyptian version of Walmart. As I sat on the bed, the mattress immediately crashed to the floor and I found my legs sticking up in the air.

I walked downstairs and reported the problem. Kareem, my concierge, hardly raised an eyebrow as he nonchalantly said, “Oh, did your bed break”? It was repaired within minutes.

A late dinner consisted of a half chicken drenched in wonderful Middle Eastern herbs, brown basmati-type rice, Egyptian salad with vegetables and hummus and a styrofoam platter of an Egyptian crepe-type dessert. After polishing off my food, I undressed and got ready for bed. The next day the touring began.

I had been awake since 5:00 a.m. the previous day in order to catch my bus to the Rome Airport for the flight to Cairo. Traveling does become taxing and rising early, flying and acclimating to the ninety-five degree heat wore me out. I slept soundly.

The hotel is located on a busy highway. There is a coffee bar on the fifth floor patio that looks out over the Giza pyramids. On the sixth floor is a patio for better viewing.

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Nighttime view of the pyramids with the light show from my motel’s top patio.

My hotel is actually in Giza, which apparently, is a separate city from Cairo. This particular area reflects what one expects from a third world nation.

There is a canal that runs in front of the hotel. A two lane road is on either side. The canal is lined for miles with rotting garbage stacked upwards of five feet high, some of it burning. The canal, as one can imagine, is filthy with debris and trash floating in it.

Businesses line the two lane road on either side. It fascinates me how people do whatever they need to do to survive. Storefronts offer everything from snacks to tires to clothing to food. Some of the storefronts are really nothing more than the front door to a home.

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It was very hazy, but it’s still possible to see the pyramids from the patio of the hotel.

Women in hajibs abound. Barefoot children play in the street. The road was paved but pockmarked with deep ruts and holes. A healthy layer of dirt covered the asphalt.

I had marveled at the skills of my shuttle driver the night before and my driver, Gamer, today. Horns honked constantly and Gamer told me that it is a way of telling someone that you’re coming—they’d better watch out.

Gamer was remarkable as he maneuvered through Cairo. The Giza pyramids were not far away so we arrived quite quickly.

I had chosen a private tour guide. His name was Ramadana. I had wanted to ride a camel in Egypt and they found a well-trained one for me. Ramadana showed me how to maneuver the camel going up and down a hill. After a few well-posed pictures, we were off.

2015-10-15 09.38.08Ramadana was quite knowledgeable. From him I finally figured out what Cheops is–the largest of the main pyramids in Giza. There are three large pyramids. The largest, Cheops, was built as a burial site in honor of an Egyptian king. The second largest, Khafre, was built for his son and the smallest, Menkaure, for the grandson. There are  three smaller pyramids next to Cheops, one for each wife. Three smaller pyramids are also next to the pyramid for Menkaure, for his three wives.

Also visible are burial sites for the slaves who spent thirty years just in the construction of Cheops. Thousands died and at the end of construction, Cheops had the remaining murdered and buried. The goal was to prevent anyone anywhere in the world from having any knowledge or capacity to build a structure that could compete. Over 110,000 slaves died.

2015-10-15 09.56.44The pyramids were initially smooth. What is seen now is the rough part underneath. Outer casings of limestone were stolen to build the Muhammed Ali mosque in Cairo. Stones for Cheops were brought as far as five hundred miles away in Aswan by boat up the Nile River when it was built. Some of these blocks weigh as much as eighty tons.

Merely standing in the presence of such grand structures was intimidating. To see what man was capable of in such primitive times without today’s technology or transportation apparatus is absolutely astounding.

I was very surprised when I rode my camel, Michael Jackson (I kid you not, unless Ramadana was lying to me), to the site of the Sphinx. In photos the Sphinx looks enormous, as large as the pyramids. In reality, the Sphinx is quite small, probably not even half as high. Nevertheless, it is impressive.

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Sphinx with Cheops in the background.

From Giza we went to Sakkara, another pyramid site that had been recommended to me by several people. Sakkara was not as impressive as Giza, but the pyramids there are the oldest at nearly 7,000 years. The Giza pyramids are roughly 6500 years old.

Sakkara was built when Memphis was the capital of ancient Egypt. The pyramids are easier to enter and the inside rooms have many more hieroghyphics. I was able to enter many of the rooms and photograph stunning drawings.

From Sakkara we went to Dahshur, another pyramid location. It was here that I actually climbed the outside of one of the pyramids and entered a doorway to begin a climb downward, inside the pyramid. Walking down those several hundred steps, I was hunched over, sweating like a dog. My driver had warned me that it would be very hot inside the pyramid and that the smell was that of ammonia.

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Some of the limestone pieces ripped from the side of the pyramids.

Once I reached the floor of the pyramid, I then had to climb back upward inside the structure. It was inside where I was able to see the burial rooms. I didn’t stay long. Frankly, it wasn’t that impressive. It was also stiflingly hot and the stench of warm ammonia was making me lightheaded. I walked back down to the floor of the pyramid so I could then climb the stairway up to the exit.

I had made, though, the classic mistake of climbing the steps to the exit much too quickly. When I emerged, I was drenched in sweat. Even my shorts were wet with perspiration. The pyramid guide waiting outside looked at me as I emerged and made me sit down. It took a good ten to fifteen minutes for me to get my bearings as I was so dizzy I couldn’t see. I had to lie back and close my eye and breathe deeply to get the oxygen in my lungs. A guard offered me sugar water to replenish my system.

All in all, this particular pyramid was an experience, but not one I would encourage anybody to take.

After that last experience, I was ready to go back to my hotel room for a well-deserved nap. I will do a much better job at remaining hydrated and refraining from overdoing anything in this Sahara heat.


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