Landing in Cairo at 7 AM with no hotel reservation and no guidebook is unadvisable. Luckily we had the foresight a few days prior to get a hotel recommendation from a traveler we met on a plane in Ethiopia, the guy who said poverty looks the same everywhere. His buddy lived in Cairo for a few years. Unfortunately his buddy’s recommendation is cold, dark, dirty, musty. Strictly 2 star. In the rain and cold, not a great option. We use the hotel’s Lonely Planet guidebook to find a 3 star in the neighbourhood and luck out on the Golden Tulip Flamenco. I’d give it 4 stars. Just what we need, when we need it. Funny how that happens more often than not on the road. St. Christopher, the patron saint of travellers, does a pretty good job of sending us more than our fair share of good luck.
We are on an island in the Nile called Zamelek. Very ex-pat. Lots of embassies. A few very high end hotels. Many residential mansions. Private schools. A main shopping street with a few restaurants. Leafy, cleaner, less chaotic than central Cairo. At almost 10 million population, Cairo’s metropolitan area is the largest in the Middle East and the Arab world, and the 15th-largest in the world.
Walking to the main square, we discover the Hilton Hotel lunch buffet, as well as the Hilton gift shop. The buffet, at about $11/each, is massive. We indulge and then don’t eat much the rest of the day.
We get our first view of the pyramids from atop one of the many mosques. We also get a view of the damage from a decades old earthquake. The debris has mostly been left lying around.
The cab driver for our pyramid tour day is a talkative Cairene who wastes no time telling us about his three wives and eight kids, groaning about costs and how expensive it is. Craig is all sympathetic ears. I’m less impressed. I wonder why the guy was not able to figure out along the way that that many wives and kids is probably going to cost more that what he can earn driving a cab. Does he want a good tip, I wonder. Of course. He wants to let us know how we could help him out. Makes me mad. And yet, of course, I have way more than I need and he has way less, so why shouldn’t I help him?
The pyramids don’t disappoint. We have the place to ourselves, it is a bright sunny blue-sky day, our photos are fantastic. A tout convinces us to hire horses for our tour of the site and then takes over our cameras so we can pose for a couple of shots. The resulting photos suggest its not his first time!
As well, the Cairo museum is magnificent, containing a massive collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities, including several well preserved mummies and articles found in pharaoh’s tombs.
In Cairo we board an all day train travelling south to Aswan, to where the temples known as Abu Simbel were moved to make way for the Aswan dam. The twin temples were originally carved out of the mountainside in the 13th century BC (so OLD!!), during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II. They serve as a lasting monument to the king and his queen Nefertari. The huge temples were dismantled and reconstructed in 1986 on the new, higher and drier site.
From Aswan we take a boat up the Nile to Luxor. The Pyramisa is a luxury craft with a pool on the roof. Sitting in lounge chairs, we play Scrabble and watch life along the Nile roll by.
In Luxor we find the New Pola hotel. It is inexpensive, clean, and spacious. Another rooftop pool overlooking the Nile. Caleche (horse drawn carriages) rides to town for dinner. The temples and tombs in the Valley of the Kings. The ancient carvings and paintings. All remarkable.
From Luxor we head east toward the coast, to Hurghada on the Red Sea, where we board a ferry to Sharm El-Shekh, on the south east coast of the Sinai, and then a short bus ride north to Dahab, a Bedoin style resort. Another hippy haven meets traveler way station meets local culture. Like India and northern Kenya, we are glad to have traveled here when we did. Now it is not really possible. Too much unrest. From our hotel balcony we can see Saudi Arabia just across the Gulf of Aquaba.
From Dahab, we take a bus to Cairo, where we stay at the Cairo airport hotel for a night, awaiting our flight home. All of a sudden it hits us that this is the end. For 3 months, we we’ve been totally in travel mode, unaware of the passage of time.
We wonder if we could keep going? Head east to Asia instead of west to Vancouver. We agree that we think we could. Neither of us has felt ready to go home and we still, on the eve of our departure, don’t feel ready.
Not surprisingly less than two years later we will return to Africa. Back to Tanzania. Cairo, Nairobi and Zanzibar on the side. A month. With friends and with nieces and a nephew.
So taken were we with Africa, with safaris, with Tanzania, that when friends start planning their trip we know we want to go along and when we hear the friends are taking their teens, we invite Quintan and Mackenzie, 15 and 12 yrs, to come along. Erin, 24 yrs old and just out of university, as well.
That trip is magical. The kids’ involvement and perspectives such gifts. That’s the subject of the “Africa 2006/7” blog.