Sunday, April 19, 2015

Egypt: Where do I start?

Once again, this blog has gone silent. It's not for a lack of things to post about, it's a lack of time to process everything we've seen and done in these last few months and to find the time to put all those feelings and experiences into words. So I've got a lot of catching up to do. Let's start waaay back in the December: Christmas break.

I'm not sure where to begin with our impression of Egypt. Friends and family that have travelled there before have given it rave reviews. You see Egypt in the movies and it is exotic and bustling, but all those movies are set in the '30s or the time of Lawrence of Arabia. I honestly expected Egypt to be more of what we have grown accustomed to in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait: a little modern, just dusty.

I could not have been more wrong!

It is a lot like the rest of the Middle East in that there is Arabic, mosques, and hijabs everywhere. But it was totally different than the Middle East that we live in because of the stark lack of luxury. Egypt was a lot more Third World than I expected, but I found it kind of refreshing. I walked away intrigued, and I definitely want to go back. I want to plop myself in places around the country and just watch. The whole country was a curiosity to me. I loved it.

The Mister, not so much.

He doesn't like crowds, and Egypt specializes in crowds. Especially in Cairo. The traffic and overcrowding in Cairo was astounding. Tyler said Egypt was like a training session for a trip to India. It felt that crowded.

Here are some of the funny things we saw in Cairo that you just don't see anywhere else in the Middle East:

The Pyramids
Alright, so It's not funny so much as AMAZING, but I had to include a few photos of the Pyramids. Duh. This was our view out our hotel window on the first morning in Egypt. It was foggy. Maybe it was smog. It's unclear.
 We stayed at the Guardian Guest House in Cairo and it was AWESOME! It's not a luxury hotel by any stretch--it's really just a step above a hostel--but it was tied for first as my favorite hotel on our whole trip. The hotel has an unobstructed view of the Pyramids from every window and a rooftop that looks out onto the Pyramids and the Sphinx. I seriously could have sat on that roof every day of our two week vacation and been a happy girl. I cannot recommend the tour company we used, Real Egypt, enough. Samir, the owner, made our vacation amazing and found these little hotels for us that I never would have known about otherwise.

The Sprawl

This is not a photo from 1985 that I found on a Google image search. This is from our vacation in 2014, and most of the cars we saw were rocking the pre-90s look.

According to our tour guides, since the revolution, Cairo has exploded. The city was already the biggest in Egypt before 2011, but after the fall of the government, unregulated building boomed and farmland that used to surround Giza has now turned into unfinished high rises. Apparently you only start to pay tax on your property after the construction is complete, so landlords are just not finishing their buildings while renting out crummy apartments on what used to be a small tract of farm land.

I loved that if you got high enough up in the city, you could always see the Pyramids. I was glad to see that Egyptians were respecting that old no obstructed views ordinance of days or yore.

Side streets with awesomeness

Anthony Bourdain ate at this restaurant. Tyler was super excited.

Ok, to be fair, all major cities have cute side streets with awesomeness, but Cairo's character was especially great. 

I really wanted to go in.

Animals in front of carts...or sometimes on them.

I can only assume this poor guy was on his way to the butcher. Also: Letting your child ride your dead camel to ...uh... anywhere? Apparently that's a thing in Egypt. 

It was not unusual to see donkey-drawn carts on the major highways as well as the small side streets throughout the city of Cairo. Well, mainly on the outer edges, not so much on the deep downtown. It was still unexpected.

People. Everywhere.

Gotta get somewhere? Walk your way in the opposite direction of traffic up the highway exit ramp while texting on your way to meet your taxi bus that is parked ON THE SIDE OF THE HIGHWAY at an unofficial taxi stand/bus stop/place to get into strangers' cars. 

And while you are on your walk up the exit ramp, stop and the makeshift convenience store that is literally propped up against the concrete barrier on the side of the road. 

Pigeon Towers

Pigeoning is a popular hobby in Egypt, especially in Cairo. It was pretty cool, actually. Guys raise their pigeons on these towers on the roofs of their apartments buildings and train them to fly around the city tricks? I'm not certain of that last part, but I did see lots of young men on these towers waving flags and flocks of pigeons flying toward them--ok that sounds totally lame but I promise it looked cool in person.

Moral of the story: I really enjoyed Cairo. Even though it was incredibly polluted and covered in litter, I found the whole city intriguing.

Vicariously yours,