How to spend a lot of time in vehicles in Egypt
01.01.2010 - 02.01.2010 25 °C
Happy New Year! Well... that is where we are up to...
After the reasonably quiet NY celebrations with our new travel buddies, its straight into the nitty-gritty of Egypt, namely temples, tombs, and transport.
The first day proper of our Intrepid tour of Egypt is a whirlwind tour of Cairo. Up early and crammed into a bus, we are whisked off to the Giza Plateau, and the Pyramids. Holy sheet Batman! 3 words sum up the pyramids... Really Fkn Big. Standing in front of them is a reminder of how small and fleeting we are, when they have stood there silently observing for 3 millenia. The sheer size is enough to make you take a deep breath. Not too deep though, as the smog of Cairo can't be good for you. Reality check, as we realise just how close the suburb of Giza is to these ancient wonders (can almost smell the McDonalds). The three of us opt to pay the extra and enter the Great Pyramid, which is a really special experience. Although the interior is completely without decoration of any kind, the buzz of bending double to scrabble through the narrow corridors and ramps is really something to experience (as was the idiot - not me - who intoned "Im-ho-tep" repeatedly for 10 mins while ascending - too many Mummy movies methinks). Keen to prove the amazing engineering that went into building the pyramids, I remove my credit card to try to slip it between the blocks in the Kings Chamber. Incredibly, the blocks are so precisely laid that I can't get it in there, however unfortunately purchase a couple of camels in the process.
After some harried photo-taking (tight time frame), we are whisked to the panoramic viewing site to overview the entire Giza sight, before its off to greet the Sphinx. The word enigmatic is often used to describe the Sphinx. Dunno about enigmatic. It certainly is something to be standing next to an ancient treasure, but its a bit smaller than you imagine. I think its more a case of iconic, than enigmatic...
The afternoon is spent battling the traffic (more on that), and wandering the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities. This is one spot where the security is actually awake, vigilant, and alert (we quickly discover on this trip that metal detectors and automatic weapons are omnipresent, but the security guards themselves are more often texting or watching TV). A couple of hours in here is enough to spin one's head, but never enough. Even if you have a bit of an Ancient Egypt thing going on, its easy to become overwhelmed and blase about what you are seeing. However, two rooms are so stunning that they are must sees. The treasure room of Tutankamun is a dazzling sea of gold, lapiz, precious stones, more gold, sarcophogai, more gold, and the most iconic of all Egyptian archaeological discoveries... the funeral mask of the boy king. So stunning and lifelike is it, that the rest of the museum pales in comparison... you can almost feel yourself staring into his eyes. Needless to say the room is silent as tourists stare in wonder, transfixed by its beauty and history. The other is the Royal Mummy room, in which you can peer in awe at the rulers of the ancient world. The most staggering of the Royal Mummies, at least to me, is that of Ramses II... Incredible to gaze at the actual face of the man who erected so much of what we can see of Ancient Egypt today (and a real stud with something like 90 kids!!).
Cairo Traffic... some sort of Arab joke that Westerners don't get. Two fundamental concepts seem to be at play here...
a) You must travel as fast as possible, limited only by the relative state of disrepair of your vehicle (and the laws of physics);
b) Lanes are for pussies
Cairo drivers are profoundly confident of the fact that that gap IS big enough to squeeze into, regardless of the size of said gap / car. Headlights are optional (yes, even at night), and their predominant use appears to be to signal anger, frustration, imminent contact. Indicators - WTF are indicators?? I suspect an Egyptian Warrant of Fitness check goes something like "Horn works y/n?". The horn is without fail the most important component of any vehicle, allowing you to alert the vehicle ahead of your intention to pass, to signal a turn ahead, to let fellow drivers know that they are too slow / should get out of your way, or to express your frustration at having to slow to 100kph (in city) or 200kph (on freeway), and most importantly, to scare the bejesus out of tourists.
Tips for crossing the road as a pedestrian in Cairo
- Take a deep breath
- Look both ways (it won't help, but looks good on an accident report)
- Step in front of speeding (select one of the following: Bus; Car; Scooter; Taxi)
- Try not to flinch at horn / flashing headlights
- Do NOT stop moving
- Do NOT make eye contact with the crazy people (motorists)
Overnight train from Cairo to Aswan - an interesting experience (that is quite literally the nicest thing I can say about it). 15 hours of filth and discomfort punctuated by periods of listless sleep. Arrive Aswan to warmer weather (around 30 degs C.) with a sense of adventure...