First. Does it make me an asshole that I set my alarm to wake me up to this?
My first day in Cairo and I am thrilled I did not need a gun. (I happen to have a box cutter with me; that’s just truly bringing a knife to a gun fight.) Had an early morning pick up to start my day touristing Giza, Saqqara and Memphis. I learned a ton about the history, the city, and did a nice job prying into the life of my tour guide, the Egyptologist.
We chatted about the political climate and the differences since The Revolution. As much as things change, they stay the same. Corruption is rampant and the rich keep getting richer as a result. The most telling comment came as we drove down the singular road to Saqqara, passing giant houses for the wealthy and women so poor they are selling packages of tissues on the corner. “There is no social justice in Egypt.”
Giza was, as you’d expect, spectacular. Just breathtaking in size and scope. We discussed many things this morning, but most compelling was discovering my Egyptologist actually had NO idea how the pyramids were built and did a stellar job of discrediting all the ways we had both heard they had been built. And trust me, we went thru them all. Seeing the photos is one thing, but standing before these ancient colossus and realizing that not a single person has yet to come up with a truly reasonable explanation for how they were built…chilling.
I was then on to Saqqara, where my guide paid the requisite bribe to the ‘security guard’ so we would be permitted in the unpermittable burial chambers and take pictures. There is no anxiety like that of climbing 100 yards down a tiny limestone chamber backwards, bent at a 90 degree angle into a tomb. Wasn’t claustrophobic before that little adventure, not so sure about once I got inside. Saw hieroglyphics 4,000 years old that looked like new. There was not much else, however, as everything had been pillaged at one point in time. In fact, the government, which one might describe as lazy, didn’t put any effort into preserving the pyramids or other remaining tombs until the 50s or so. They just didn’t care.
But what amazed me most of all, was that all morning while I climbed pyramids and jumped over barricades to prevent trespassing was that we were the only ones there. Literally.
There is a guard in this picture. That is it. I didn’t see another visitor until the Sphinx. Ran into three people at Saqqara, and no one at all in Memphis.
Whether you blame the media or The Revolution or both, there is no doubt that tourism has taken a massive hit. An industry that was the bread and butter is gone. Shocking and sad considering how safe I really do feel. Have not seen anything even remotely threatening outside of heaps of camel crap hiding in the sand. When you are one of two people at the oldest pyramid in all of Egypt on a beautiful afternoon, you know something is amiss.
Other highlights- and this one made my heart sing and sink like a stone, the sheets! And I didn’t even bring it up! Egyptian cotton, harvested in Egypt. Sometimes made into sheets here but more often than not, raw materials are exported and made into sheets elsewhere, then imported back. The lowest going rate these days is $170USD. The reason for this is the corruption, taxes and fees all the government workers make in this process. Truly criminal. And no sheets for me, the most criminal of all.
Lot of coops on rooftops. Turns out they are for pigeons to be raised then slaughtered for dinner. Fair enough. Not every caged bird can fly. Spent the day discussing food and cooking and the randomness of the pigeon coops. I came back to my hotel for dinner and tasty little bits of breaded meat that I thought was chicken. Then I realized, maybe not. But hey, when in Cairo.
The men who offer rides on the camels own them. You may wonder as I did, “Where does one buy a camel?” Let me tell you: at the camel market, only open on Fridays. Of course.
Visited a papyrus maker and was offered hibiscus tea as is the Egyptian custom and hospitality. Visited a perfumery. I left there smelling like a child prostitute. It’s not that I don’t like it, but I don’t like it. They say there is no obligation to buy and no pressure, but once they coat you in lotus flower up to your elbows, they ask what kind of bottle you would like it in. Your hard sell doesn’t work on Pretty Baby. I scurried out of there to practice my American custom of accepting a small token, acting gracious and then leaving to complain about it to anyone who will listen.