Travel Journal

Cairo parting the Red Sea

(Saturday 1 January 2011) by Mike and Julie's sort of round the world trip
Day 127-30 – 12/9-12/12/10
The minibus service was slow making me wonder if there would be problem catching the ferry as we had no ticket and had to deal with exit requirements as well. We were dropped off along with a Japanese tourist named Kojy and were going to split the cab ride as he was also going to the ferry but he had to go to the post office first and we wouldn’t wait as time was ticking. The taxi driver waited for us to purchase tickets at a travel agency along the way and we were charged the expected 120USD each for the ticket. We had to exchange some more USD to get enough for the exit cost (I think it was about eight dollars each) and then caught a bus along with Kojy to the ferry itself.

The boat departed about an hour late which, from what I’ve read, is actually pretty good for them. Arriving in Egypt we had to wait as immigration examined the passenger list and our passports which we had to surrender which took about an hour as well. The crew wasn’t very helpful with the procedure of customs just telling us the passport where out there. A bus dropped us at the Passport control and Custom area but the buildings weren’t marked very well and people had us going to the wrong place in the wrong order. The steps should have been: go to the one bank which issues visas but is not marked differently from the other two banks in the complex, pay in USD to get a visa sticker, exchange money while there, go to passport control building and have them affix the sticker and stamp passport, skirt through the cargo funneling through customs and have your bags inspected and then exit the building. I think we did every permutation of the above that was possible until at the end we crawled over boxes that worker were screaming for officials to examine and exited without a second glance from the custom agents.
I had no idea where we would catch a bus to Cairo but we were lucky as the port is next to the bus station and Julie saw the arrow for the bus to Cairo. We met a traveler from China and Julie, I, Kojy and Yi sat at the bus station waiting for our bus to depart and marveling at the amount of cargo squeezed into a bus. Travelers would arrive with luggage several times their size and yet all managed to get onto a bus.

It was about an eight hour trip to Cairo with one stop for dinner at a roadside café. Julie braved the grilled chicken while I sat with her. I had seen a waiter drop bread on the dirty floor, pick it up and place it back on to the plate, and then serve it to the table a few feet away without blinking an eye. Hunger did force me to eat some of her chicken which looked safe as we had seen them grilling it outside the restaurant. Back on the bus we did nap a bit but there were frequent stops for peeing and cigarette breaks – some people even tried to smoke on the bus but were told to put their cigarettes out, and boxes were piled haphazardly in the aisle and counter which happened to fall hitting Yi in the head!
We survived and pulled into the bus station at one AM but then were faced with negotiating taxis into town. Kojy didn’t join our offer to split a cab and jumped into a cab with little negotiating and I’m not sure what he ended up paying as our paths never crossed again. We had reservations for that night at New Palace Hotel and we talked Yi into checking it out as it was inexpensive. I let Julie handle the haggling as she is best at that and I only added support by pointing out the hotel was half the distance the drivers claimed according to the GPS and just being dismissive of taking the taxi. The price went down from 100EP (about 18USD) to 10EP each which we finally agreed upon. I was the lucky one to ride shotgun and enjoyed the front view as we careened down the still busy city streets.
We got at the hotel about 1:30 and were willing to pay for the previous night just so we could get some sleep. Checking in took a half hour – I’m not really sure why it took so long as I was dozing on the couch while Julie dealt with the clerk – but we got a room that Julie didn’t care for so while she went to check on that, I fell asleep on the bed and woke up the next morning. Julie had arranged to have our rooms switched while we were out, so we showered and headed out to the Cairo Museum which was only a half mile away or a dozen touts.

Yi had wanted to go there early to avoid the crowds so he could get some good pictures but when we arrived there we were told there was no photos allowed inside and the guards were quite thorough in there searches and sent us back to check our camera. Inside there were guards everywhere so even if you got a camera in they would see you. The even watch cell phone usage as I saw them checking phones for cameras. The second floor is the star of the show with the treasury of King Tut being in the spotlight. I think we spent three to four hours walking through as the museum is huge.
The rest of the day was spent making plans for the rest of Egypt. We listened to the owners pitches on guided tours and did sign up for a pyramid tour the next day but declined the Upper Nile tour which I was sure we could do cheaper than the $341 price tag (I think it ended up costing less than half that) and Julie checked on the flight out to Ethiopia or Kenya which we ending up purchasing the Ethiopian flight when the owner couldn’t get a better deal the next night.
Yi had ended up booking the same tour as us the next day as well as the extended Upper Nile tour, so it was just the three of us, our guide who spoke plausible English and the driver. Most of the way I pestered the guide with questions about the culture and one of the first questions was a casual question of what kind of crops do they grow as we passed farmland so he must have thought I had a keen interest in that and the rest of the day he was sure to point out any produce along the way.
The first stop was
which really is just a collection of statues near an excavation site which I would easily have dismissed if it wasn’t for the large statue fragment now reclining in a building. With the distance and the charge for admission I really can’t recommend a visit unless it is included in a tour package. Next was
which is a step pyramid and the oldest surviving pyramid. It also is next to a temple complex and a necropolis. The guide showed us the walkway the king took and had Julie demonstrate the walk. The pyramid has extensive restoration ongoing on both the interior and exterior and the interior is closed off now. We visited a few tombs in the necropolis and the guide pointed out some false doors to confuse grave robbers. We visited another tomb which we decended to the burial chamber where the guard informed us in a loud voice that photos were not allowed but as soon as we were alone he said photos are okay hoping for a tip.
The tour wasn’t without the mandatory stop at shops for a chance to provide our guide commissions. We passed on buying anything from a papyrus shop and I went to wait in our taxi as salespeople tried to insist the only way to get to the pyramids was by horse or camel. We were let off at the Giza entrance by the Pizza Hut (which has a great view btw of the plateau) and our guide said he’d return in a few hours so we were off on our own.
I think I’ve seen enough travel shows that nothing really surprised me about the Giza Plateau but to see the sheer size of these objects up close was a treat. Julie’s number one item on this entire trip was to see the pyramids and she was happy to fulfill that wish. We only spent a few hours there and just had time to look at the sphinx, the three large pyramids and a couple of minor tombs nearby.

There are the numerous requests for tips but it you just don’t let people do things for you, you don’t get the requests. It does get tiring constantly politely declining requests to take your photograph, flashlights to look at tombs, free gifts, etc. For porters on trains, hotel clerks carrying bags and someone taking you to a hard to find place, I don’t mind giving a couple pounds as it’s really only about 35 cents but some tourist getting upset saying they are being taken advantage of and it’s the principle of the matter. Ehh, it’s a different culture but it doesn’t bother me.
Food was fairly cheap and we frequented a popular restaurant nearby which made shawarma
sandwiches. Beer was more reasonably priced than Turkey thank goodness. I also gave up on trying to find a place to exchange guidebooks and bought the huge Lonely Planet book on Africa which was 202 EP which was a good price but now I have to lug this guide around for the next few months.
It’s funny, on the trip I happened to see a young man ridding a donkey up a dirt path to the road and talking on a cell phone. I think Cairo is very much like this a series of contrast. There are ten story buildings quickly rising but if you look carefully you’ll see they are made out of bricks with no metal reinforcement. Modern buildings are going up in slum areas, visitors at tourist sites are required to go through metal detectors but the buzzing alarms are ignored.
Sunday was a lazy day waiting for our 9PM train to leave. We checked out early and caught a taxi to the old Islamic city and the market area Khan el-Khalili.
We strolled around the stalls which are geared for the tourist rather than local people. We considered buying some items but left empty handed. We spent the rest of the afternoon around the hotel until about eight when we got ready to go. Yi had transportation lined up to the train as he signed up for the tour so we figured we might be able to bum a ride but the hotel clerk said no it would be 10 EP each for a taxi. I confirmed the railroad station was only a few blocks away and it didn’t make sense so we walked to the station found the train platforms behind the Metro station but the guard turned us away. Finding an office we determined we should be at the Giza station which was quite a bit away. The guy in the office said to take the Metro and said we better hurry if we wanted to catch the train!
Julie was concerned that we’d be late if we took the Metro so we got in a taxi and told him to hurry which he did as best he could despite the traffic. We had forty-five minutes to get there and did make it in thirty which was good as our tickets were non-refundable. Naturally the train was about fifteen minutes late so it wasn’t really close.
The train berth was small and clean and I slept well on the upper berth while Julie had problems with the lower bed with the noise from the train.

  • Two Points by The Elder

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