Pigs in Spaaaaaaace.... Well, not quite.
12.01.2010 - 18.01.2010 28 °C
We arrive in Alexandria feeling a bit run-over… tired from a long 8-hour journey in a bus, still more than a little dodgy from our run-in with food poisoning (we came to the conclusion it was the tinned tuna our drivers served us), and feeling like we’ve just walked out of the desert after 5 or 6 days of dust and heat.
Right from the get-go however, Alex (as the locals like to call it), is a very different city than any other we have experienced in Egypt. The beautiful harbour and corniche (road along the river/water front) look nothing like anything else in Egypt. The architecture would be more at home in France or Italy. Even the people are slightly different (no - not in a duelling banjos way) - more fair, light-eyed and European looking than Egyptian or Arabic (stemming, we are told, from the Greek and Roman gene pool of 2000 years ago). The city feels relaxing, which is a nice change after the desert.
Our accommodation is a lovely old hotel (“Crillon”) on a side street off the Corniche. We dip out on a waterfront view much to Chalky’s disgust. Just up the road is the “Cecil”, where the likes of Winston have stayed (Churchill, not Peters).
Our modest 'Hotel Crillion'
Where we would've liked to be, 'Hotel Cecil'
That evening we let the bulk of our group head out for seafood (seriously? After 48-hours of stomach??) and a footy game, as our Egyptian group leader Soltan was eager to catch his nation's team playing in the African Nations Cup. Feeling adventurous, we head off into the wilds of Alexandria in search of food. It is rumoured the rare delicacy, the legendary “Chicken Big Mac” is to be found in the surrounding streets. Indeed, sidestepping cheering, jubilant Egyptian men (Egypt score a goal to make it 1-1 against Nigeria) we strike out to find the holy grail - processed food, figuring the repercussions can’t be any worse than those of the previous 48 hours. Pigs we were indeed… “Supersize Me” didn’t take into account Westerners in a foreign country with empty stomachs and the mighty NZ Dollar. And the Big Mac Chicken does indeed deliver satisfaction!
Nicely sated, and trying not to waddle too much we ease our way home, at which point Chalky noticed, directly across from the hotel, a local barber. Feeling woolly and adventurous he asked for a trim, in sign-language, with Jac trying very hard not to laugh out loud. A very nervous half hour later he emerged with a nice 80’s blow waved, brushed-back and razor-straight-parted hairdo… Nice one fella!! One lesson learned - a large Arab man, cutthroat razor, and Egypt playing football in the background makes for a nervous haircut experience… but hey! It grows back right?
Chalky's 80s coiff
Greed is good
The following day's highlight sauntering along the Corniche, taking in the waterfront sights - fishing boats, seaside cats, the kids fishing with basic rods, and drinking the BEST freshy-squeezed mango juice ever!
Jac, Chalky, Sioau-Mai, Mavis and Eric and tasty juice
'Abu Ashrat' juice bar
This was also the final day of the Intrepid tour, and culminated in a meal at a seafood restaurant (again - seriously? We are still getting over being ill!!). This particular seafood restaurant had no menu, and no prices… you simply walked up to a display of various fish, cephalopods, crustaceans, and ‘things’ and pointed. If you mumbled words like “cooked” or “gutted” you seemed to get a better looking meal…
Back in Cairo the group disbanded… A fantastic crew we had, and sad to see everyone disappear back into their normal lives. Thanks guys - we had a ball meeting you all!! And thank you Soltan, our group leader, for putting up with us all.
Our group at Giza
With Mavis’ flight not for another couple of days we settled in to see some more of Cairo. We hit the famous Khan el Kalili souq - soft-toy singing camels for Africa (literally) and other interesting sights.
Busy entrance to Khan el-Kalili souq
An antique Arabic telephone
A friendly family near El-Azhar mosque
We also took a day trip to Saqqara and Memphis South of Cairo, with Louise, also from our tour group, and also with another couple of days to spare. Saqqara has the Stepped Pyramid - an early attempt at pyramid building till they got the construction down pat. Climbed inside the Red Pyramid, and saw the Bent Pyramid in the distance (still off limits in a military zone). Figured out why the Egyptians finally stopped building pyramids… the penthouse is absolutely tiny!!
Stepped Pyramid at Saqqara, Memphis
Ancient grafitti, some thousands of years old
Jac, smiling in the ruins despite a troubled tummy
A crumbly pyramid
The Red Pyramid
Chalky climbing the Red Pyramid
Mavis at the entrance of the Red Pyramid
The Bent Pyramid, Saqarra
In Memphis we spent some time in a papyrus factory - learning the ins and outs of making papyrus - could be a handy skill back in NZ? Having spent an hour or so perusing the wares Mavis and Louise made purchases, and over tea and a chat afterwards Mavis received a very romantic marriage proposal! An astronomical amount of camels were offered, the deal only falling through once it became apparent that Mavis would be wife #2, an unacceptable situation! Wife #1 and the deal may well have been struck!
Chalky admiring the papyruses at the factory
Negotiating a good deal for Mavis' and Louise's papyrus purchases
A deal is struck with all parties happy
Celebrating Mavis' marriage proposal with some tea
Very sadly, it was time to bid farewell to Mavis. Tairua called… camping winning out over more adventures in Sinai and beyond. Thank you Mavis for being such a fantastic travel companion… and drinking buddy! Guinness and mulled wine (not to mention Old Bushmills whiskey) in Belfast; putting up with the rain and sharing sneaky, quasi-illegal Xmas wines in Chefchaouen; and magnificient sights and cold Stella in Egypt. How about joining us again in South America later in the year for some Chilean vino and Argentinean steak?
Time to get wet… Dahab and diving in the Red Sea next stop!