We did make it to Cairo and what a trip it is….lots to say about this city, so bear with me or hit delete (don’t worry, I’ll never know!)…. Santorini to Athens (45 min) and then Athens to Cairo (2 hours)… and oh yeah – WE’RE MARRIED!!! – just kidding…. I hope I didn’t give my family a heart attack with that….
You see, it’s much easier for a couple to be married in the Muslim world than dating. Filling out the visa papers, going through the health check at the airport, and checking into the hotel is much simpler with a little white lie. In addition, for a pretty girl like Bronwyn walking around the streets here, a ring on the right finger serves as a little bit of kryptonite for those wandering Egyptian eyes. And hey, anything is worth a try, so we’ll see how it goes – although checking into the hotel and asking for a 2nd key for my “wife” was a trip. In accordance with our white lie, we proceeded to argue about money until we got to the room and the ring switched hands.
Flying into Cairo was like something out of a movie. First the health check – pure chaos as soon as we entered the terminal from the plane – a mass of people in white lab coats and face masks taking our picture (one by one, glasses off please) and handing out little white cards for us to write down our name, where we’re staying and phone number (kinda like a virus outbreak on the TV show 24). Following this was visa check and then an onslaught of people from the “tourism” bureau to help us with our bags and get us a taxi. Even though I was ready for the scam thanks to the Internet, we still fell for it. $20 for a long cab ride (40 min) to our hotel, help getting through customs and getting an air conditioned van wasn’t a bad deal, even though we probably could have done it on our own for $12 or so.
Speaking of money – it was finally nice to start dividing by whole numbers. In Cairo we get more than 5:1 on the US dollar. One of the few things I won’t miss about Europe is the Euro; as pretty as it looks, the exchange rate ain’t that pretty.
Speaking of money part 2 – I want to give everyone a little context about life in Cairo. 80 million people live in Egypt, and roughly 20 million of them live in Cairo. Although I haven’t been able to find exact income numbers, a college-educated 25-year-old is probably making about $325/month (a little less than $4,000/year). And keep in mind that this is the most affluent city in the country.
Quite a contrast from our affluent, western oasis in the middle of the city – the Cairo Marriott, which was built as a royal palace in the mid-1800s. As we drove up, I thought there was NO way there was a palace anywhere near the block we turned down – oh how things can change in a split second. When the van pulled up to the hotel, we had to stop at a security gate first, where armed guards made us turn the engine off so explosives-sniffing dogs could surround the car while 2 men investigated the hood and car body. Upon entering the front door, we passed through a bag screener and metal detector, just like at the airport. To say the least, it was quite a trip to have that as our first experience at our hotel. At least we feel safe here… kinda.
The hotel is like an enormous estate. 1,250 rooms, 15 restaurants, casino, bar, shops, gardens, pools…. Cario is 85% Muslim, and Muslims are forbidden to drink alcohol, gamble or “show skin”…. But none of that applies inside our “compound,” as we like to call it. This estate is really just a money-making haven for the locals. We realized later that the whole married façade wasn’t really necessary at check-in because people are wearing bikinis, drinking beers and gambling like crazy… Pork, however, seems to be off limits still, which is a good thing for my arteries.
Speaking of my arteries, the next sandwich-like item on my worldwide feast is the shawarma. Much like the gyros, the meat comes from a vertical spit and the meat is shaved off. They wrap it in a flatbread that looks like a mix of a pita and a tortilla. Sauce, lettuce, tomatoes and once again, I’m in heaven….
I wanted to share some smoking stats with y’all because I couldn’t believe what I read in the paper here: 13 million smokers in Egypt spend 22% of the country’s per capita income on tobacco. There is an 8-9% increase per year in the number of smokers, 500,000 are below 15 and over 73,000 are under 10. Under 10 – that’s amazing…
Prayaragrah (paragraph about prayer): I knew something was up when on the flight to Cairo (right after we were allowed to use “approved electronic devices”), the guy next to me took his shoes off and started rocking back and forth. After a first glance I got my Heimlich maneuver skills ready, then after a second thought I realized what was going on – it was time to pray. At the Cairo airport, the signs for “Prayer Area” are bigger than the WC (bathroom). In addition, there is more room dedicated for prayer than the bathroom and it’s cleaner. I almost got on the matt myself after our bags were delayed, but they finally came around, thankfully. In the Egyptian Gazette newspaper that we get delivered to our room every morning, they list the prayer times (in a bigger font than the weather, I might add). Today’s were: 4:11 am, 12:53 pm, 4:29 pm, 7:51 pm and 9:23 pm. Don’t worry – if you forget, don’t get the paper, or aren’t within 100 yards of a mosque to hear the incredibly loud call to prayer, a car drives around with a loudspeaker belting it out. Thankfully the Marriot shields us from this noise and thankfully, I also read about this before I came. The loudspeaker is so loud that one might think it’s a giant Arabic rock concert nearby. It’s strange to say the least, and I’d like to think I’m getting used to it, but I’m not. Although Cairo is very cool, that simple jarring noise instantly takes away that “I could live here” feeling that I sometimes get when visiting new places.
Our hotel room has a great view of the Nile River, pictures attached. There is a Nile River cruise we’re going to take at some point, will fill you in.
PYRAMIDS, PYRAMIDS, PYRAMIDS…. Ok, what I’ve been waiting for every since we started planning this vacation. The first morning here we took the tour to visit them. I’ll try to limit this to my observations and not give any history lessons. They are more amazing than I thought. They are also taller than I thought, and until the mid-1800s, they were the tallest man-made structure (thanks to the French and that wiry Eiffel Tower they threw up). The pictures I saw before I left did not do the pyramids justice. I hope my pictures provide a little more perspective, especially when you can see how big each of the bricks is.
My first experience with the pyramids was with Indiana Jones when I was a young boy and I always thought they were in some distant desert. They are not – they are right on the edge of the bustling city of Giza, right outside Cairo. In fact, you can see a KFC/Pizza Hut while standing at the sphinx, right next to the pyramids.
The pyramids are littered with people trying to sell you junk, sodas, rides on camels, pictures with camels, anything and everything, and they are EXTREMELY persistent. “Desperation breeds aggression,” Bronwyn keeps telling me, and she’s right. It’s kinda sad that surrounding this monumental feat of mankind is poverty, begging, trinkets and smog from the city. I took some pictures of some of the people around the area, just to give you some perspective.
The traffic in this town is intense; if you’ve been to Beijing (or happen to live there) it’s very similar. People pay no attention whatsoever to any type of traffic lanes or laws (if there even are any). No pedestrian walkways, no traffic lights (only turnabouts), chaos in its purest form (I guess I should take that back – there are pedestrian walkways, but if no one observes them, do they really count?). Renting a car in Cairo for a tourist would be an interesting form of suicide if you ask me. Hertz does have a lot of ads at the airport, but if you’re anything like me and are leery about driving the 405 in LA, this would be like doing it on four flat tires going 120 mph, shaky breaks and drunk – pure insanity.
Internet at the hotel is freaking expensive – $30/day (or $12/30 min in the business center) – WOW….. In fact, everything at the hotel is fairly pricey. I probably won’t be online more than a day or so, so I apologize about the delay in these updates.
Obama is coming to town on Thursday. From what I’ve read the town is going crazy, especially with security. I’ll have more updates on this later, but I do have this fantasy that I thwart an assassination attempt on the President and become some international superstar. Needless to say, I plan on thanking each one of you for giving me the strength and fortitude to save the leader of the free world while becoming a worldwide hero and phenomenon.
Listen Recovery in Cairo!