Egypt: The land of the pyramids

Goodbye Europe and hello Cairo, Egypt. We arrived knowing we would experience culture shock entering a Muslim country, but underestimated what a different world it would be. We were picked up at the airport by our tour guide company, Memphis Tours. We were so thankful we booked an organized tour rather than traveling through Egypt on our own. We highly recommend this tour agency! As we drove in crazy traffic to our hotel the culture shock sank in. Thankfully we weren’t driving because the cars, vans, motorbikes and people were all over the road. Our guide quickly explained that Cairo was “organized chaos” that somehow worked. For example, pedestrians just walked across the road if they wanted to cross and vehicles had to dodge them. We saw so many close calls, but that is normal. We arrived at our five star resort, Mena House, which we were upgraded to (for free) last minute and went over the tour itinerary, paid our guide and settled in. This was going to be an interesting experience!
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Day one of the tour was our “pyramids” day out in the desert. After an enjoyable buffet breakfast at the hotel our first stop was the Giza pyramids. egypt prymidsThe six pyramids consist of one giant pyramid for the King constructed between 2560–2540 BC, one shorter for his son, one even shorter for his grandson, and three small for the king’s wives/queens. Each generation built a smaller pyramid in respect to those before. As we walked up to the massive 2.6M blocks that assembled the pyramid structure, we were so impressed. We learned that everything inside the pyramid rooms was stolen and most ancient pyramids were looted so not many of the ancient gold and goods exist. We splurged and took a $20 camel ride around the pyramids. It was hot and bumpy but we enjoyed the experience (and no we didn’t get spit on). Next we visited the great Sphinx, which was actually smaller than we both expected. camelrideThe lion body and man head were all carved from one piece of limestone. Very cool! We then stopped at a mummification temple where the Ancient Egyptians took deceased bodies to be mummified. The marble temple had impressive detail. We were quickly learning that the Ancient Egyptians were perfectionists and did everything precisely. Our final stop was Sakkara, a vast, ancient burial
ground, serving as the necropolis for the Ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis. We paid a little money to go underground into a tomb where we observed ancient hieroglyphics, the heavy heavy sarcophagus which the pyramids are built around and the treasure room where goods from a Royals life was stored so he/she had them in there next life. Back above ground we learned the pyramids that are still standing were the youngest and most sustainable because the my were built of limestone; earlier they were made of sandstone and mudstone which quickly erodes. As we stood on a view point there were pyramids as far as you can see. Some stood tall, while others looked like mounds of sand covering stones.dessert
As we drove to lunch we observed the cityscape along the roads of Cairo. Lots of poverty, run down houses, trash, malnourished children, goats, sheep, etc. People just throwing their trash on the ground which pained us. A canal built by the government for irrigation was closed because the people polluted it too much. Very depressing.
We ate near the hotel: kebab with chicken and beef, started with nonalcoholic beer (which was good after a long morning in the desert) and soup, then a mixed salad of garbanzos, tahini, babaganoush, Egyptian cheese (not good), and pita bread. It reminded us of Lebanese food eaten back in the states. Pretty good. After lunch we stopped at the “grocery store” (comparable to a mini-mart) for bottled water since you can’t drink out of the tap. We weren’t sure if they had big grocery stores. At the end of the day we were very thankful for our guide Amani who taught us so much, negotiated for us and gave us good tips for being in Cairo.
Day two was a “museum and historical sites” day in Cairo. MuseumFirst stop was the Egypt Museum which was huge and we could have spent all day. We viewed King Tutankamen and all his found treasure that he was buried with. Amazing! King Tut’s tomb which was almost fully intact was discovered in 1922 by two men from England. We saw his large gold burial mask with part of his mummified skull on the inside, his gold shoes, his hundreds of jewelry items, trunks, chairs, beds, “Russian doll” style wood covers, statues, chariots, toilet chair, food and more that were all stuffed into his treasure room and next to his tomb. We saw the amazingly well preserved (and written/painted) parchments and papers from the papyrus plant the the Egyptians used to communicate. Amazing they survived so long with the natural dye ink. Throughout the rest of the museum were lots of other tombs and carvings of giant stones. One was of the only remaining statues of the woman Pharaoh, Hatshepsut. She was one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman of an indigenous Egyptian dynasty.
Next we visited three places of worship that are all existing very close to each other. The first was a mosque, the second was the cavern church where they say Mary stayed for 3 months with young Jesus. It was the first church built for worship of Virgin Mary. Next was the first Jewish temple in Egypt. On our way out I found a nice silver cartush (Sanskrit writing) ring at a small shop on a street where it was said that Mother Mary walked. Great souvenir!Mosque
Lunch was a buffet with another delicious Turkish coffee. After we toured a papyrus factory/shop which was fun to see the paper making process but we didn’t enjoy being pressured to purchase a framed paper. We don’t have room in our packs and have no need for paper.
Our last stop was the famous Saladin Citadel of Cairo, a neat mosque built as a copy of the one in Istanbul. We felt like major tourists there, especially when I was in shorts. I quickly threw on pants but I wish I had a more clothes to fully cover my head. People came up (mostly teenage kids) to ask for a picture with us. Our tour guide shushed them away. Awkward! We can tell that tourism is way down in Egypt. The mosque was peaceful despite the crowds. From outside the mosque we could see all of Cairo and even the pyramids in the distance.
On our way back our tour guide made a pit stop to show us the Cairo street bazaar. We did a quick tour of the cheap market where everyone trying to get us to buy something that was obviously made in China or India. Will was feeling a little uncomfortable before the market and while I wasn’t exactly comfortable there, it was not as bad as we envisioned.
Selfie at the bazaar!

Selfie at the bazaar!

Along the car ride to the hotel I saw a man sweeping garbage on the side of the bridge over the River Nile; it seems like such a never ending battle against the trash/pollution here where people do not respect their city enough to throw things away properly. So much trash.
That night we ate dinner at the hotel and sat in the courtyard where across the garden an Egyptian wedding reception was being held. They had bright lights, blaring music and a crowd that took up the entire yard. It was so fun to observe a different cultures wedding reception. They danced hours before dinner, ate late dinner, had speeches and then danced a bit more. So strange but fun to see the beautiful couple enjoy there day.
night
On our last day in Egypt we relaxed, exercised, and played in the pool at the hotel for the day. That night we took a River Nile dinner cruise. The buffet dinner was good, but the view from the boat was lack luster. We enjoyed it but would have preferred going on the river further out of Cairo. The city is a mess. On the drive back to the hotel we were glad we saw Egypt and learned a great deal but were glad to be departing safe and sound from this unique place (both good and bad).
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view from our hotel balcony in Giza.

Next up: Muscat, Oman where we spent three days! Stay tuned for the post. We are currently in Nepal trying to catch up on blogging :).

Stay tuned, and keep adventuring,

Will and Jenny

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