Saturday, October 09, 2004

More - Cairo

We are in Cairo! Somewhere completely far from home. The climate here feels very much like Cuba. There are palm trees, very narrow streets. So far we have seen a SMART car but no mini’s. There are Lada’s everywhere!

We woke up around 8:30 am and had breakfast at the hotel (SALMA hotel). We were the only ones in the restaurant initially. Then 3 Australians appeared. They were leaving Cairo this afternoon after being here for 2 weeks. They did a one week tour with Imaginative Traveler (our tour group). Their only complaint was that they wanted you to get up extremely early on most days to see tourist places. They said that once they got to Aswan they were too exhausted and ill to do the one day trip to Abu Simbel and they were very disappointed that they were not able to do this.

As I’m writing this journal entry, David and I are on the roof top of our hotel where there is a patio bar (that does not open for another 2 hours). Off to my left, between many apartment buildings with satellite dishes we can actually see the Pyramids! I can’t believe they are right in front of us. David took a few photos and they are included in this blog.

So it was the Australian tourists who told us about the terrible bombing in the resort area near Dahab (boarder of Isreal). David and I were anxious to find an internet café to tell everyone that we were ok. Last night we called my brother and David’s mom and left messages that we arrived in Cairo safely. We still wanted to get our message out. The porter at our hotel was able to find 5 internet cafes…all closed since Friday’s is like our Sunday’s in Canada. It is a day of prayer and most businesses are closed or open late. Finally he found one that was open. It was a little store shop that had computers with Windows XP. We read Goggle news about the bombing and tried to get information at the British and Canadian Embassy’s but their web pages were not updated yet. We are now considering staying on the West Side of the Red Sea if we decide to go to a resort at the end of the our tour. We will avoid the area of the terrorist attacks.

From the internet café, we wondered around the neighborhood and bought 2 bottles of water. The Australians strongly suggested that we drink lots of water everyday. We then took a taxi to the Cairo Museum. We were able to get there by taxi for 10 Egyptian pounds. WE wondered around the neighborhood around the museum but did not go into the museum. We will be going in the museum when we join our tour on Monday.

The people we meet on the street are extremely friendly. Someone approached us and explained to us that everyone was a prayer and that we would not be able to find an open restaurant until after 1:15 pm. He then took us to his perfume shop and showed us the fragrances he was selling. We ended up buying a very small bottle called Arabian Knights from him. I asked David to take a photo of us in his store. I thought the photo was worth the price we paid. We quickly discovered that people will approach you on the street and offer their business card and then ask you to follow them. David and I just say no – very firmly and then they turn away. Twice we had groups of poor children following us. The one aspect of Cairo that I find shocking is the large number of cats we have seen everywhere. While eating lunch at a small local restaurant I saw at least 15 small cats in 20 minutes walking in and out of the restaurant and on roofs across the street. I didn’t feel too bad for leaving a little lunch behind – I knew it was going to the garbage where the cats will get the left-overs. The roasted chicken we had was delicious, very well cooked and very fresh. We met the chicken, roosters, and ducks down the street before we found lunch.

After lunch we walked along the Nile J You can see both sides of the Nile from Nile street. It reminded me very much of the Ottawa river near RockCliff where you can see both shores. There were very large cruise ships and Feluchas (sp? Small sailing boats). We walked past several Embassy’s and very nice Hotels. We also found the Cairo Hyatt Hotel which we could not resist going into. We had to pass a metal detector and put our bags through an X-ray machine to enter the hotel. Once inside, there were huge beautiful flowers everywhere and a fantastic view of the Nile. The Hyatt hotel is on a man made island in the center of the Nile. Outside the hotel there were 2 truck loads of guards – 3 guards with very large guns. David believes that this is typical and NOT in reaction to what happened last night.

From the Hyatt we caught a taxi back to our hotel. The Australian’s wisely told us to bring a hotel brochure so that we could find the hotel again. The Taxi driver did not know English very well and got very lost on the way back to the hotel. We learned our first Arabic word “HOTEL” which sounds like “Fondot”. We heard him say this about 9 times as he stopped to ask for directions: “Fondot Salma?” We only paid 3 US dollars for a 35 minute taxi ride.

Here are my first impressions of Cairo:
Loud (call to prayer is deafening)
Dirty but you see street sweepers everywhere and people washing their cars constantly
Most buildings are brown or grey and laundry hanging out the windows
There is lots of poverty. We walked down alley ways where people sold fruit, vegetables and meat and you wonder how they could possibly sell any of it.
LOTS and lots and lots of street cats. They are all terribly malnourished and so small. We saw 5 kittens that 2 tourists were trying to look after. They could not find the mother. Maybe she was hiding. Moses is about 6 times the size of the cats we saw today.
Crossing any street in Cairo is very risky. Driving is worse. We saw bus loads of traffic cops being dropped off a city corners to direct traffic. No one pays any attention to any of the traffic lights.
Taxi’s are extremely accessible. The drivers will wait at the end of a block and honk to get our attention to see if we need a taxi. You have to negotiate your price before you enter the taxi because they will change the price as soon as you enter the taxi. David is getting very good at bartering a good taxi fair.
Everything here is extremely cheap. 4 to 5 Egyptian pounds equals one US dollar. We had dinner tonight on a ship, floating on the Nile and we only paid 150 Egyptian pounds which equals about $45 Canadian dollars for the both of us.
The cars are old here. While we were walking down a street this afternoon, a car sped by us and the door literally fell off as he passed. The driver got out of the car and picked up the door and then kept going…right in the middle of traffic! Amazing!
We need to bring toilet paper and buy wet naps…the restaurants do not have napkins or toilet paper in the washrooms

One final thing, we really enjoyed dinner tonight on the Nile. It was a challenge to find a restaurant near our hotel but it was worth looking for it. David had shrimp and rice and I had kabobs and rice. For appetizers we had hummus and eggplant with a delicious filling inside. Then we had Turkish coffee. Earlier in the day we stopped in at a coffee shop and we saw the men smoking something that looked like a metal water bottle with a long tube. So after dinner we asked to try it. It is called “SheShaw”. I was not as successful as David was drawing smoke out of it. They gave us an apple flavored SheShaw. The attendant put coals in the metal container that had boiling water below the coals. Then there was a long pipe from where the water was. This container sat on the ground and you sucked in air from a long tub. I saw men puffing smoke out of their nose and mouths. I only got a small buff out of my mouth a couple of times. It was surprisingly sweet tasting.

Tomorrow we are not sure what we are doing. We are considering hiring a driver to take us to the pyramids at Giza or taking a day trip to Alexandria. We are looking forward to meeting people on our tour. I think it will be a fantastic time. J



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