Middle East Travelogue #9
Dear Friends & Family, 10/6/06
Now that we are somewhat caught up on the travelogues, we want to tell you a little more about Cairo.
I think we already mentioned that the traffic is crazy here. But they do drive slower than in Syria! The most annoying thing is that they honk all the time, especially at us, the taxi drivers anyway. That is because there are too many taxis here and they all want us to hire them. A thing that also amazes us is that there are donkey and horse carts going along these very busy roads too. Usually they are selling fruits and veggies. Today we saw one that had oranges all stacked up in pyramids, plodding down the road with not a single one falling off the stack!
The scariest thing is trying to cross the street because pedestrians do not have the right of way, and often the drivers don't even stop for red lights. So what you have to do is start out when the lane nearest you has a small opening, and then work your way across each lane. One day we did this across a street with about 4 lanes of traffic each direction and when we got to the other side, a Muslim woman looked at us and said, "Very good." It made us laugh.
The Egyptians are very friendly and often they greet us with a big "welcome". We passed a guard outside one of the embassies the other day and he said "Welcome", so we said, "Thank You", and then as we walked away he said, "I love you". That made us laugh too.
Costs here are much cheaper than Jordan but not as cheap as Syria. Here almost everyone expects some "baksheesh", which means either bribes or tips. Luckily, this usually means only an Egyptian pound or two, and each pound is worth about 20 cents. The biggest challenge Egypt has is over-population. There are way too many employees at almost every place of business. We have heard that people get by on between $60-300 dollars a month, but we don't know how they can do it. There are lots of very poor people here but most of them don't beg. They sell tissues (like Kleenex) on the street.
There is a very good underground train system here called the Metro and it is clean and cheap. For 20 cents you can get almost everywhere in Cairo. The best part is that the first 2 cars are reserved for women only, so we get to ride those instead of being on the others which are packed with men. The buses on the street are cheap too and usually very packed with people, some hanging out the doors while the bus is moving. It is very safe to walk the streets here, although many are very dirty with lots of litter, broken pavement, and abandoned cars.
Ramadan is still presenting some problems but also has been interesting. Last night we tried to find a place to eat at about the time the Muslims were sue to break their fast and every place we went was packed. We passed a Hardees (like a Carl's Jr.) and every table was taken, and people were just sitting there with some food and a drink in front of them but not eating it yet because they had to wait until the right time! Even on very busy streets, traffic disappears because everyone has stopped to eat. As we walked along the street, we could see people eating everywhere: on the sidewalk, at their place of business, etc. We passed a gas station where they had cones blocking it off and all of the 15 employees were all sitting in the back by the back wall eating take out food together. We tried to go to a supermarket and it was closed and we could see the employees eating inside. Today we had to resort to eating lunch at McDonald's because no other places were open because everyone is fasting. What a crazy time to be here!
Everyone eats on the streets because this is where a lot of their life takes place. There are people out there shining shoes, repairing bikes and cars, selling things, cobblers, even putting new tires on cars right in the street. Part of this is because it is warm here, even late into the night.
Yesterday we hired a taxi to take us out to two of the lesser know pyramid sites: Saqquara and Dashur. The very old Step Pyramid is at Saqquara, and also some tombs with some very fine carvings called reliefs, showing what life was like during the times of the pharaohs. The Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid are at Dashur. These are the 2 oldest pyramids. Actually, there were many more there but most of them have slumped into a pile of rubble now because the limestone blocks that covered them were removed and used on other edifices. Because these areas are about 20 miles outside of Cairo, we drove through places where there were lots of green and productive fields, and also date palm groves. They grow sugar cane here, rice, corn, cauliflower, and also some fruit. Pears are currently being harvested. One of the little villages we drove through showed us how people live who aren't in the city. There are very rough dirt streets, lots of donkey carts, water buffalo to work the fields, and lots of street activity.
There has been one negative event that we heard about. Some Aussies staying at our hotel had moved there from the St. George Hotel because one of them had been molested there. She had awakened from a nap when she felt a hand down her pants, and it was a hotel worker who had used his key to get into her room, and he actually had to reach over her sleeping husband to get to her. What nerve that guy had!! Of course, they reported the incident to the tourist police and also the Australia Embassy.
Other than that, Cairo has been great so far and we are looking forward to our tour through the rest of Egypt. That starts Sunday, so we will report to you about our new group after that.
Sending big hugs to everybody.
Love, Mary & Elaine