Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cairo and the Pyramids

As it turns out, Cairo, Egypt will be the largest city we visit on our trip. With a population of almost 20 million it's a sprawling and active city. But despite the insane traffic, it's quite walkable, although crossing the street can be scary at times. Overall, we found it to be a perfect place to visit for a few days.

We were lucky to couchsurf with Lee, an American working for USAid in Cairo. He lives right near downtown, a block from the Nile river. It was great having him to help us navigate around, and since he speaks Arabic, he was able to get us better deals when we went our for tea or dinner. As many non-touristy restaurants don't have menus or prices in English, unless Lee was with us we were routinely overcharged. For example, we had dinner with Lee one night for 13 LE (Egyptian pounds, about $2.50) while breakfast the next morning for me and Jaimee cost 35 LE (about $7). Tea and a sheesha (more about that in a second) with Lee cost 8 LE (about $1.50) one night while tea for me and Jaimee was 20 LE (about $4) in the Islamic Quarter. Although all those prices are quite reasonable (who knew Egypt would be so cheap?) it's annoying to be over-charged just because we're tourists.

Although Egyptians are very friendly, we found scams around every corner. We like to give people the benefit of the doubt when they offer to help us, but we found many people had ulterior motives. This happened on our way to the pyramids yesterday. Surprisingly (at least to us), there are several pyramids right outside the city limits of Cairo reachable by public transport. Lee directed us in the general direction of the buses that head down there, and while we were looking for a connector bus a man offered to help us as he said he was going to the pyramid area himself. Maybe that should have been our first clue that it might be a scam, but the second was that his phone kept ringing and he said it was his wife calling him multiple times. But, he seemed like a nice guy (he even paid our bus fare for us) and we kept following him until he finally brought us to a tour operator way away from the main gates to the pyramids. The guy inside gave us a hard sell on an entire pyramid tour including camel rides. Wouldn't you want to trust this guy?
From Cairo
We had a rough idea of the entry fees to the pyramids and this guy was charging us double what it should cost to do it yourself. Plus, we didn't want to ride camels. Eventually we declined his offer by insisting we didn't want to ride any camels. Which led him to yell probably the funniest thing anyone has every yelled at me as we walked away, "If I see you on a camel later, you'll be in trouble." So I guess it was worth all the hassle just for the quote.

We found the main gates to the pyramids and after paying the entry fee walked around on our own. The pyramids are quite impressive, especially given that they are so close to Cairo. We went inside one of the pyramids which was quite interesting. It was a long, narrow, steep tunnel into a large cavern.
From Cairo
Coming from India where it was so humid, the weather in Cairo has been such a relief. It's hot, but since it's a dry heat it's very comfortable. And the food has been a very pleasant and yummy surprise. Egyptians eat pita bread at every meal, and similar to the thali meals of India where you get to taste many different dishes in one meal, they do similar things here; a meals consists of small dishes of foul (pronounced fuul - bean dip with tahini or oil mixed in), potatoes, baba ghanooj (eggplant spread) and numerous types of salads, mostly with cucumbers or tomatoes. Lee also took us to a Yemen restaurant where we had very yummy vegetable soups and more types of dips with fresh pita.

And given that we're in Egypt, we tried a sheesha (called a hookah in the USA) at one of the numerous Sheesha cafes that are everywhere in Cairo.
From Cairo
You can see the rest of our Cairo pictures including our wanderings around the city, including a few hours spent walking in the Islamic Quarter (where our pictures don't have captions as most of the time we didn't know where we were). We only stayed two nights with Lee in Cairo and yesterday took a nine hour bus ride to Dahab, on the Sinai peninsula of Egypt. It's very touristy here and a popular place to scuba dive in the Red Sea. The only hassle so far has been the overpriced taxi into town from the bus station. But so far it seems like a nice place. We're going to attempt to climb Mt. Sinai, hopefully even tonight (it's best to hike it in the dark because of the heat) since today is a full moon. We'll post more about it in a few days.

1 comment:

  1. You guys are lucky to have done couch surfing in Cairo. We did not have such a nice local to show us around, and being the first big city on our trip we got ripped off left and right. You may make a believer out of me for couch surfing.


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