God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Cairo, Camels and Chaos--and Ahmed

After a brief time at the hotel, time to freshen up a little, explore a little, and rest a very little, Mohammed and Mohammed picked us up for a quick drive into Cairo to the Al Ahzar park where we were to have dinner--a gift from Ahmed, whom we still had not met. We were, of course, tired (very) and so did not wander around this huge park area with dancers, strollers, lovers (inconspicuous as this is an Islamic country) as much as we would have liked. We did enjoy dinner at the restaurant at the top of the park with amazing views and then after a quick stroll, back to the hotel--to sleep!! Ah, yes. Except first we went to a Sound and Light Show at the pyramids--a great introduction for the rest of our trip. It was quite good as the lights played on the Sphinx and pyramids--and quite informative. A good history lesson.

Arrival Night

The most amazing eye-opener about that first drive and all subsequent ones was the mind-boggling, incredible, frightful, crazy, bizarre traffic behaviors. The streets are a mix of vehicles of all types and vintages--trucks-piled high with boxes and "stuff", cars, taxis, vans, buses, donkey carts, an occasional camel, horses, push carts and thousands upon thousands of pedestrians crossing and darting where ever and whenever, oblivious to the traffic and near misses. There are no such thing as lanes, or at least ones that are adhered to. Nor are there many lights or signals. When there are, often there is a policeman causing more consternation than if he had not been there. Definitely paying attention to lights is not in the psyche. Vehicles of all kinds try to enter from side streets with no order or means of doing so. Having been in Naples, Palermo, China and other places notorious for traffic nightmares, we still were not prepared for Cairo. Nothing, nothing nothing at all comes close to the 5* chaos there. A true testimony to the skills of our driver Mohammed, we always felt safe and with a master in control--amazing. Oh, as cars pass within milimeters of each other, no vehicle has an intact side.

After a surprisingly good sleep in very comfortable beds, we opened the drapes to gaze, transfixed on the huge Cheops pyramid--a site that always seemed millions of miles away from wherever we were. Now, we could reach out and touch..well, almost.

After breakfast, we were picked up by driver Mohammed and, finally, got our hugs from Ahmed whom we had been corresponding with for months. He has a smile that is warm, friendly and says that you are in for a good time.

Ahmed and Mohammed

After greetings, we trundled into our van, Mohammed motored our way through the streets and we ended in Tahrir Square and the Egyptian Museum. Quiet prevailed. There were no lines at the museum where we were first in. One of the many amazing experiences we had on this trip was being in the room with the riches of King Tut exhibits totally to ourselves--just to wander at will, taking as long as we wanted, soaking it all in. Usually there are snaking lines through this area with no time to absorb.

During the January revolution, Ahmed had been one of the men protecting the museum from looters. He told us the story of guarding the Tut area when he heard a noise from above. Someone was entering from the window at the top of the museum--the floor with King Tut. When Ahmed and others cornered this guy, he told them he was just looking for a bathroom. Funny story.

That night when we turned on CNN, we discovered that later in the day there had been a bloody demonstration in Tahrir Square but, as we soon learned, demonstrations are very localized and the rest of society goes on as usual. We had no clue there had been a problem in the very peaceful place we had visited that morning.

After lunch, we headed back to Giza and to the pyramids. When you look at the slide show to follow at sometime, do notice how uncrowded they were. Tourist are truly staying away from Egypt which is really too bad as so much of the population relies on tourism and, at least in our experience, it is quite safe.

After climbing on Cheops for a while and looking out over Cairo, we drove around to the back where there were even fewer people. It was more desolate (more like you think the pyramids will be) with colorful camels and drivers awaiting the few tourists who might show up--us. Although I had no intention of climbing on a camel, I somehow found myself hooked up with Moses and the three of us were off on an unexpected jaunt. It was an experience--probably one to have as it is so quintessential Egypt--but once is enough for sure.

The rest of the first day was spent at a papyrus place getting a wall decoration for Casey and a jewelry shop as Casey's really wanted a cartouche necklace. I should say, we had to ask Ahmed to take us these places as he does not like to take his clients shopping--rare with tour guides.  Oh yes, we also bought galabeyas for the cruise--you'll see these a couple entries from now.

That night we ate at the very excellent Indian cuisine restaurant at the hotel. It was very good; although Casey's spicy chicken was hotter than he anticipated--much hotter. Amazingly, he kept ploughing through it as the steam poured from his ears. We still hear about it.

And..now you've traveled our first day with us. Camels and all. Tomorrow--Day 2 in Cairo and a slide show.


cmvbbay said...

Amazing - can't wait to read more.

SuzanneF said...

Jane, we agree about the traffic. Tom has driven all over the world and stated Cairo is one place he would never think about attempting to drive himself. If we hadn't visited Egypt so recently, I definitely would want to go now. To be able to visit all the amazing places without the crowds - priceless! I'm so happy you decided to take your trip and look foward to the rest of your experiences and be able to relive our trip through you.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating, and great photos. The one of the 3 of you on camels should be your Christmas Card - maybe it was!

Can't wait to read more!

Donna in SF

girasoli said...

Hi Jane, Happy New Year! I am only up to this post so far catching up on your fabulous trip! Love reading about it and seeing your photos. So glad you were able to go after all and everything was safe for you.

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