Saturday, June 6, 2009

Trip Report: Cairo

I have returned from my two week stint abroad, and I find that the most terrifying part of Egypt was the severe lack of ability to use a computer. So here I am, two weeks later, post-camel and King Tut's Tomb and ready to make several reports as to my impressions of this beautiful country, as well as Cox & Kings, the tour operator we chose to go with.

If any non-Egyptians know one city in Egypt, it is Cairo, home of the Pyramids and the Sphinx, and many also believe it to be home to the Valley of the Kings. The former is partially true, as the Pyramids and Sphinx are located on the Giza plateau on the west bank of the greater Cairo area, but the latter is untrue, as the Valley of the Kings is located far south in Luxor, which was once Thebes.

Our plane arrived in Cairo at half past the witching hour and we were greeted by several people wearing face masks who took photos, stared at them intently, and then nodded people past. I'm not sure what would have happened if one of us had been stopped, but fortunately that did not happen. Shortly after there was a man with a sign, but instead of our names it stated WOE. Since it stated Cox & Kings, however, we took our chance and it turned out to be our South Sinai representative who we would see from time to time. He assisted us with our visa and customs entry process and then took us to another gentleman who would be our driver.

Being pitch black, we had no idea as we plummeted through downtown Cairo in a comfortably air conditioned van with someone else on our tour that we were driving by the Pyramids. They are not illuminated by night, and I found myself happy to know that they had not been disturbed with electrical monstrosities in order to cater to the tourists. On the other hand, stepping outside of our hotel room that morning was a surprise as the evidence of where we were manufactured itself right before our eyes - the great pyramid and its slightly smaller brother, capstone still intact.

We stayed at Le Meridien Pyramids and were treated to a buffet breakfast which included spiced fava beans, grilled tomatoes, rice pudding, hummus, slices of cheese, and a small, green tomato-like fruit that I never learned the name of. They had Western style food as well, though I was determined to keep that to a minimum. Here we met the rest of our group, and that there were nine of us, a very small group indeed, and one that proved to be perfect over the course of the week.

The morning stop was the Egyptian Museum. Although we did not have an excessively long time to visit, on our first day it may not have been fully appreciated anyway. We did see the fabled golden mask of Tut Ankh Amun as well as thousands of items secured from his tomb. Larger than life statues, chariots, bows and arrows, and even royal underwear with perfect seams intact were scattered through the museum and were labeled according to the age in which they occurred (Old Kingdom, First Decline, etc.). A special mummy room viewing could be ours for 100 L.E. and so we gladly paid and went inside. About 10-15 mummies of pharaohs lie about, some of them with red wisps of hair still intact and teeth jutting at odd angles from their skulls. One mummy was noticeably absent - that of Tut Ankh Amun himself. Later we learned that it had recently been put on display in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

Unfortunately there are no pictures allowed in the Egyptian Museum. One is able to take photos in the courtyard, which is stunningly beautiful, however, you must leave your camera with the doorman.

Stay tuned for Giza: Pyramids, Sphinxes and Camels, oh my!

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