After being primarily in remote parts of Africa for the last 2 months, Cairo was a bit of culture shock. This is an absolutely massive city. The surrounding area has a population of over 20 million people and is the continent’s largest metro area. With this population density comes smog thick enough to cut with a knife and traffic that requires a stunt man’s credentials to drive in.
We actually arrived into Cairo from Kigali, Rwanda at nearly 3 AM. We experienced another thing we weren’t expecting; the Las Vegas vibe of Cairo. No, not because there’s the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Vegas, but because at all times of night there are people out in Cairo. Just like Vegas, at 3:00 AM you can see a family pushing around a baby stroller through a smokey hotel lobby from the casino toward a late night spread of food. Apparently, we were in the high time of Arabic vacation time in Cairo. The hotel staff was telling us that most of the people usually stayed out until sunrise and then slept the whole day avoiding the 35 to 45 C heat. Sounds like Vegas to me.
Although I’m not exactly painting a rosy picture of Cairo, the rich and important history shines through making it a must see place. The Cairo museum was our first stop. It has slowly been trying to reacquire items long ago stolen by tomb raiders. The collection of mummies, relics and art is truly an amazing sight. The fact that some of the pieces date back prior to 2000 BC is unbelievable. Especially coming from the United States, we really have no concept of what old can really mean. Our guide Mamdoh who went to school for Egyptology and Religious History did an outstanding job taking us through the museum. The stories and history behind the items he pointed out were fascinating. Our guide also took us to the ancient Coptic christian churches and Muslim mosques with the same level of knowledge. Getting a good guide for these sights makes all the difference. We are on an around the world trip so we could not pass up the last standing ancient wonder of the world, the great Pyramids of Giza. We also saw the Great Sphinx, which also stands on the Giza Plateau. It was very magical to see these sights in person. One thing that I guess we didn’t realize is that the city has basically crept right up to the edge of these monuments. All the pictures you see make it seem like it’s in the middle of the desert in a remote location… not so much. In the middle of Cairo you can spot the pyramid silhouettes through the smog.
Another thing we were introduced to in Egypt was the wonderful world of Baksheesh, meaning tip or bribe. No matter what you do or where you go, someone is asking you for baksheesh for something they may or may not have done for you. I will give you some examples. If your walking along with your camera, someone may point at something. You will look and then they will promptly ask for baksheesh for volunteering their trained eye for photography. At the base of the Pyramids of Giza there is a line of armed guards dressed in all white uniforms behind a barrier rope protecting the pyramids. As you walk by, many would step on the rope and motion for you to step over and climb on the pyramid.
“No, no it’s okay. Really you try. It’s okay.” they would plead in a normal volume voice, followed by a statement at the same volume, but in a whisper sounding voice, “Baaaaaaksheeeeeeshhhhh.”