Egypt was another incredible country! It was made even more so through the introductions made by new friends I met in Jordan. My tour guide in Jordan put me in touch with a friend in Egypt who arranged another friend to show me around. These are the kind of connections that I love most about traveling – all the people I meet who introduce me to other good people. I can’t wait to return those favors in my city.
My first view of Egypt was in the evening. Not only had the sun set but a heavy fog hovered low over the city. Apparently that is due in part to smog but also sand storms from the desert surrounding the city.
That thick smog did make the sunsets look pretty.
The first full day was busy with a visit to the ancient city of Memphis which was the original capital of lower Egypt. The upper part of Egypt is known as lower, or South, Egypt and the bottom part is North Egypt due to the direction the Nile River runs – from South to North. A small museum is constructed at the site which houses the oversized statue of Ramesses II.
My tour guide then took me to the very first pyramid ever built, the Step Pyramid located in the city of Saqqara. You can see why it is referred to as the Step Pyramid.
We were even allowed to enter a couple of the tombs containing hieroglyphics and detailed drawings with some vivid paints still preserved.
Next up was the Giza pyramid complex, including the Great Pyramid and the Great Sphinx! These pyramids were built for one family spanning three generations – grandfather, son and grandson along with his mother, favorite wife and favorite daughter. I was able to ride a camel around the back of the six pyramids in order to view them all in a line.
Of course the camel’s name was Charlie Brown. I asked why there were no female camels giving rides and the guide explained that the males get too distracted when the females are around, therefore they stay back and are used for other things.
I ended the day by visiting a papyrus paper factory. It was fascinating and amazing how the ancient Egyptians made paper out of papyrus plants. This paper lasts pretty much forever and can be wetted, crumbled, twisted and written on without losing any of its integrity. In fact, wetting the paper erases the ink and allows infinite uses for note taking.
My second full day in Egypt began at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. The museum houses so many wonderful and mind-bending treasures such as the contents of the child Pharaoh’s (Tutankhamun) tomb, the hall of Mummies, a huge nesting-doll-style sarcophagus, a solid gold burial helmet and so many other great artifacts. The ancient Egyptians were a truly incredible people.
We continued to Muhammad Ali mosque where we mistakenly sat next to the shoe rack (wearing shoes is not allowed in Mosques) to talk about the building’s history. Stinky feet are a universal struggle. This mosque is also known as the Alabaster Mosque due to the use of alabaster stone extensively throughout the building. It is also notable in its similarities to Istanbul’s Blue Mosque.
Dinner consisted of a traditional Egyptian meal called koshary that mixes macaroni, rice, friend onions, chick peas and lentils. A tomato sauce is then poured on top and stirred in. I quite enjoyed it. Of course no dinner would be complete without mint tea – one of my favorite discoveries during this adventure is the wonderful Moroccan mint tea that I first tasted in Morocco and also found in Jordan, Egypt and UAE. It’s good enough that I may even be willing to give up coffee for it – maybe…
I asked my tour guide what Egyptians thought about Americans and he told me something that has really stuck with me. He said that Egyptians thinks Americans are kind and generous people but that was only because they were able to separate the American people from the American government. They could see that the government did not always equal the people.
Friday was spent on a sail boat on the Nile River and then getting lost in the city. And not in the cute, nostalgic, “lost in my own city” kind of way – the frustrating, walked-around-in-circles, got-turned-around kind of way. (side bar – I hate when people tell me “the best way to learn a city is to get lost in it!” like it’s somehow fun to not know where you are or how to get where you’re going. Getting lost is not the best way – the best way is walking to your destination via a pre-determined route while paying attention to things around you. Another good way is to read review sites and blogs from people who have been there before. I’m not meant to be Louis and Clark – that’s why we have off-line Google maps.) As you can maybe tell – I hate being lost.
Anyway, despite being lost most of the day, the beginning and end parts were still nice. I had a lovely time on the Nile and then was able to watch the sunset on the Nile that evening before attending a live performance by a local band at a coffee shop near where I stayed. I almost didn’t go to see the band since I was so drained from being lost all day but I’m glad I did. It was another reminder of how alike people are from all over the world. We like to think that we are so different from other people and so unique because of our country of origin but really, we are so similar and have the same desires and needs and fears. It has been so refreshing to have that belief confirmed over and over during my travels – we are more alike than different.
My last day in Cairo took place in the Islamic Cairo neighborhood of the city. I enjoyed more mint tea, teenagers asked to take pictures with me (this happened several times) and I discovered that Egyptian pizza is great!
Next stop – U.A.E.