Sunday, 15 June 2008

Excursion to Cairo ... June 2008

05 - 15 Jun 2008

**4000 year old boat in the Solar Barque Museum** **Pyramids Police on Camelback** **The Sphinx with the Great Pyramid of Khufu** **Pyramids of Khafre and Khufu at Giza**

We had a few days sitting in Ismailia, stern to at the little marina wall there. Ismailia is a nice place, pretty laid back for Egypt, good places to walk to for dinner, supermarket down the road, very very cheap diesel and petrol the only downside were the "guards" on the gate who wanted bakseesh for everything, it was almost at the point where they didn't want to let us in or out unless we gave them something, certainly getting the groceries in - bakseesh, taxi to drop us off - baksheesh, and to get diesel, very much baksheesh to bring diesel into the marina, its not like we are doing the marina out of business by not buying it there, because they don’t have any, its just the “guards” love the power of being able to refuse us access with anything we bring in, its all about the baksheesh/bribes/favours, whatever you want to call them. Also everytime we left they checked our passorts, if we went out 5 times in one day and saw the same person he would still check them, normally they would actually look at the wrong countries stamp, Eritrea seemed the favourite, even if we gave them the passport opened at the correct page, often they would hold them upside down! Sometimes this could take up to 5 minutes, I’m sure baksheesh would have made this quicker but you really have to draw the line!!!

Ismailia is just a couple of hours by road from Cairo so we had planned to do our Cairo excursion from here, and after a few days cleaning Balvenie inside and out to try and rid ourselves of more layers of red sea dust, dirt and salt we were ready for our Cairo minibreak. We used a driver with car recommended by other cruisers instead of the hassle of local buses, we felt Egypt had given us enough challenges, we were over challenges!! Mohammed, our driver, spent the 2 hour journey speaking with Mark about Islam while I sat quietly in the back seat, happily watching Cairo and its outskirts unfold around me. We had a slight hiccup on arrival at our hotel, we had understood our car to be EGP200 for the return trip, guess what – yep, that was only oneway! Egypt wins again!!!!

We had chosen a small hotel ph 022 7352311 on Zamalek Island, this is the “Embassy” district of Cairo, it’s a very leafy lane environment, small cafes, book shops, quiet and felt safe. The island is located in the middle of the Nile, close to the Egyptian Museum and downtown Cairo. The very clean and nicely furnished room with ensuite and aircon was 360EGP (approx USD70), including an excellent breakfast, free wifi, and several taxes which seemed to be a large part of the bill!!! We settled in then wandered out for a look round, had an excellent lunch in a very local café then tried to catch a cab out to the Pyramids.

Once upon a time we were steadfast backpackers, and we certainly still have that mentality, as do most cruisers we know, we are not on holiday – this is just our chosen lifestyle – so we are as frugal as our bank balance necessitates. In Egypt we broke these rules and lived entirely by “What’s the easiest option?”, Egypt was wearing us down, slowly but surely day by day, we needed to make things easy for ourselves so we could leave the country still with a sense of humour and a glimmer of hope that maybe, one day, we might want to return! So we decided the Lonely Planet suggestions on how to get to the Pyramids by local transport sounded way too hard from where we were and flagged down a cab, but he wouldn’t take us, Mark tried another one, same thing. Maybe it was a language thing but surely they know what the Pyramids are, so on our 3rd attempt we show the cover of the Lonely Planet with the Pyramids on it, we are in business. We also show EGP30 (EGP25 was the suggested price by the hotel) and it would appear we are in business and on our way. It’s actually quite a way into the suburbs to Giza Plateau where the Pyramids are so we had a good look around Cairo’s outskirts before finally arriving around 3.30pm. The last half mile is somewhat interesting, the touts for the camel/horse trips through the plateau actually block the road to get business, it’s a little intimidating but our taxidriver did a good job of getting us through without running anyone over. But then ofcourse it comes time to pay, and now the EGP30 agreed upon is not nearly enough, and EGP50 is required. After much to-ing and fro-ing we pay EGP40 and Egypt wins yet again.

None of this can take away from the magnificence of that first up close vista of the 3 Pyramids and the Sphinx at Giza, they are truly awesome. We bought our entrance tickets (50EGP each) and set off to explore. This was a great time of the day to visit, the light was good, it wasn’t quite as hot and the crowds start to thin as the tour buses leave. We headed first for the Barque Museum (40EGP each) as it closes at 4.30pm. We had the place to ourselves and spent ages studying the 4000 year old Solar Barque (boat – see photo), we viewed the spot it was discovered and saw photos of the reconstruction. It was an interesting “extra” and although expensive we enjoyed it (plus its air-conditioned!!!) Then back out into the heat of the dropping sun and we spent the next couple of hours wandering around Giza plateau admiring these wonders of the world. We didn’t go inside them as that is only available at certain times of the day but we certainly inspected all nooks and crannies on the outside and again because of being late in the day shared these historical marvels with just a handful of others. We were last to leave as the guards locked up behind us, and had planned to stay for the evening sound and light show but it was cancelled due to a concert by a Lebanese singer being held instead.

So after a leisurely drink, we farewelled the Pyramids and braved the awaiting taxidrivers. After some negotiation we agreed on 40EGP for the return trip to our hotel, but then to our amazement we discovered that it wasn’t the taxi driver we had been speaking to it was the middle man tout who then wanted his negotiating fee. We had had enough, Egypt did not win again, the negotiator was not paid, the taxi ride was uneventful and the driver received nothing extra, we were getting even!! After having had an early start, large lunch and busy afternoon we had a quiet night in the hotel with a couple of drinks and crashed.

Next morning we walked through Zamelak, along and over the Nile and after spending way too much time trying to cross all the roads through the chaotic traffic we finally arrived at the Egyptian Museum. The 50EGP entrance fee is well worth it and you could just spend hours and hours foraging around in here, they have so many exhibits, not nearly enough room and a lot of it is just sort of “plonked” all over the place. The Tutankhamen Exhibition is outstanding, most of the contents of his tomb from the Valley of Kings are on display here and they are truly magnificent, we managed to view them inbetween tour parties which was achievable and spent plenty of time reading all the excellent information boards and starring in wonder at these priceless pieces of ancient history.

There are several truly worthwhile pieces in the museum but for the most part it is cluttered, they do not have the space to display these pieces in the grandeur they deserve. We also visited the Royal Mummies Hall an extra 100EGP, we felt this was overpriced but did want to see the mummies. The overwhelming impression was of how small the people were back then, we expected these great leaders of early civilisation to be large and strong, still a few thousand years preserved and wrapped up probably doesn’t do anyones physique any good! Just a word for anyone visiting, there are actually 2 Mummies halls at opposite sides of the museum, the one ticket gets you into both but they don’t tell you there is more. We spent several hours in the museum, with a coffee break to gather more strength and did very much enjoy all the pieces on display. Then it was back to the hotel, we were smarter this time and found the under/overpasses to cross the busy roads, a much better idea!!!

Mohammed arrived a little after our agreed time, apologising for his delay which was due to him spending all day copying off “An understanding of Muslim” for Mark with a couple of special sections for me on “The women’s place in Islam”, just on 360 A4 pages in all, what can I say, all we wanted was transport to Cairo and back!!!! Our trip home to Balvenie was uneventful, Mohammed’s driving by Egyptian standards was very good and we had enjoyed Cairo, it was now time to move on from Egypt to the Med.

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