On the bus from the airport all of the women on the trip were given a single red rose by the tour guide. As I expected most of the people on the trip were couples there was only 1 other person that was travelling alone, Richard or Chris or Wellington depending on who was asking (I called him Richard). Luckily we got along well and "adopted" one another for the duration of the trip. It was nice to have a companion to have dinner and drinks with and also to go off exploring. The one thing that did surprise me with the group was that I was the youngest person by a couple of decades (this was also pointed out to me by others on the trip) it wasn't a problem as I had many interesting conversations with the others on the trip.
Friday morning we were off to the Egyptian Museum for the morning. There is unfortunately no photography allowed inside the museum - that is of course unless you find a security guard wanting to earn a "basheesh." Basheesh is a tip and is a way of life in Egypt, everybody wants one from the people in the toilets that hand you paper towels and toilet paper to the people at the pyramids that "offer" to take your picture. After an hour with the tour guide getting an in-depth history lesson on the artifacts in the museum I decided to go off on my own so I could see more of the museum. The information being given was good but it was too much sometimes the guide would speak for 10 minutes about a single sculpture, I usually tuned out after 3 or 4 minutes. It was while Richard and I were exploring on our own that we came across a film crew from Japan that was shooting footage in the museum for a documentary. We stopped to check out the filming and ask a couple of questions, it was at this point that the security guard with them came over and told us we could take some photos - now all cameras had to be left either on the bus or with security so the only thing we had were our mobiles but I was not going to let this opportunity pass me by. He took us around to two sculptures and allowed us to take pictures when other people tried to do the same he said they couldn't we were working with the museum and were allowed to take photos. The one thing that amazed me about the museum were the sculptures that were from 2000 BC and earlier that were still in amazing condition, of course not all were there were some that had many pieces missing but the majority were fully in tact. In the sculptures of the men and women the woman always has her arm around the man, this signifies that the man is the center and the woman is supporting him. By far my favorite part of the museum was the animal mummies. Not only were the kings and queens mummified but animals would be mummified as well. Some of the animals were provided as food so the king and queen wouldn't starve others were sacred fish or pets. Some other little tidbits I learned at the museum:
- The beard attached to statues and masks indicates that deceased, these statues also have their arms crossed.
- The mask is attached to the mummy so that the King can be recognized, as the face of the mummy is bandaged there is now way to recognize him without the mask.
- The face painted on the sarcophagus is usually identical to the mask on the mummy.
After the museum there was an optional tour to the Citadel and the Khan-el-Khalil market but I decided I would rather do those on my own on Sunday so I just had lunch and headed back to the hotel. We took a taxi back from lunch and knew that we would have to agree on a price prior to getting in the cab and we were told that it shouldn't be more than 20 or 20 LE (Egyptian Pounds). The driver first wanted 50 and this is where the negotiating started, he refused to budge and eventually as we started to walk away and another couple headed to the second taxi in the queue he started getting rather animated and upset saying he was there first so he gets the first fare. He told us he would take us and we confirmed the fare would be 30 he said yes yes. I have to admit I was slightly surprised when the taxi driver started smoking in the cab, I haven't seen a cab where smoking is allowed in many years. When we arrived and paid him the 30 LE he said no it's 40 - this is rather typical we held our ground said no we agreed on 30 and just walked away, he took the money and left. The process of negotiations are definitely an art form in Egypt.
That evening I went up to the rooftop terrace of the hotel to have a drink and watch the sunset. The only problem with the view from the rooftop is the radio tower smack dab in the middle of the second pyramid. Here by far is my favorite picture taken of me while in Egypt.
That evening I signed up for a dinner cruise on the Nile complete with entertainment. I realized when we were seated that we weren't given menus but other diners were we had only been given an option of 3 dinner entrees. Of course I wanted to see what I was missing and how much more we were charged by going through the tour so I asked to see the menu. The entrees we were offered were all £30 each which was the cost of most of the entrees only 2 were higher. As I had paid £45 which included transportation to and from the hotel I didn't feel I was ripped off which was good. The best part of the entertainment was the whirling dervish - I had never seen one before and watching this man spin around and around was impressive. I've got video which I'll upload later this week.
Saturday was the day I had been waiting for THE PYRAMIDS!!! You might think that the pyramids are out in the desert and far from the city but they aren't you can actually see them from the city and there are major roads and businesses all around them. Even though I could see them from my hotel and as we were driving around I was still eager to get up close and personal with them. The tour did not include entrance into the pyramids so I spent an additional 30LE to go inside the second pyramid, how can you not go inside. The trip into the pyramid is rather interesting you go 15M down a slope hunched over as the opening to the tomb is maybe 4 ft high. There is then a little chamber where you can stand up straight before heading up a 15M passage to the burial chamber. Unfortunately no photography is allowed inside the tomb so you'll just have to imagine it. As you start the upward climb it starts getting warm and musty at the top you are in the burial chamber at one end on a tiny altar is the crypt that you can look inside - bear in mind the room is completely empty as everything in it has been removed and is now either in various museums or possibly in personal collections around the world. The room isn't that large maybe about 10 ft X 20 ft and I just looked around and tried to imagine the room packed with the various belongings of the king.
The number of people at the pyramids that ask for Basheesh is ridiculously high you have to be very prepared for the people who will offer camel rides or to take their picture or come up and offer you something "for free" only to come back and ask for money. I managed to ignore everybody trying to sell something but ran into debates when taking pictures of Ike. When taking the photo on the right a man dressed as a security guard stood behind me watching me take the photo and after I was done followed me asking for basheesh I said no and walked away. (In case you're wondering why the photo is in B&W it's because Ike wanted an artsy photo of him. More photos of Ike's adventures in Cairo will be provided in a later post).
The reason I say he was dressed as a guard is I quickly realized that there were some people there wearing guards uniforms that weren't actually guards it's actually a pretty good scam if an official looking person offers to guide you to a good place to take a photo or to take your picture you'll be more likely to oblige than not. In addition to scaling the pyramid Ike also wanted a camel ride I went up to one of the men offering camel rides and asked if I could take a picture of Ike on the camel for 5 LE he said OK and we went off arranging him in various poses and I took some pictures he then said that he would take a picture of me and Richard we kept saying no but he did it anyways. Afterwards I gave him the 5 LE and he started asking for more he said that was for the bear but he took pictures of us too and we needed to pay for that. Saying no we didn't ask for that and walking away seemed to do the trick.
It really is impressive just looking at the pyramids and the construction and manpower involved in creating these.
Walking around outside the pyramids I could avoid many of the crowds however this wasn't the case at the Sphinx. The masses of people jostling around to get their picture taken in front of the sphinx and jumping on anything in site is a tiny bit overwhelming. It's a much more enclosed area so while there may not be more people there than at the pyramids they are in a smaller space so it looks like more.
The afternoon was a trip further out of town to Memphis and Saqqara. Memphis is the site of a small museum with a giant statue of Ramses II and was originally the capital of Egypt. Personally I didn't think the trip to Memphis was all that impressive but Saqqara was. Saqqara is the site of the Step Pyramid of Zoser one of the oldest pyramids in Egypt. Comparing the construction of this with the "modern" Giza pyramids you can see how the thinking and construction evolved. In the distance you can see the bent pyramid and the red pyramid. The angle of construction of the bent pyramid had to be changed midway through construction which gives the bent perspective this knowledge resulted in coming up with the correct angle necessary to create the Giza pyramids.
Sunday was a free day and I opted to explore the Citadel and markets on my own. The military museum at the Citadel is unique. There are many wars, and battles that aren't discussed it would appear that only the wars that are favorable to Egypt are discussed if the end result was not favorable it is not mentioned in the museum. The views from the Citadel over the city were amazing. Everything is pretty much the same sand-stone color, there is very little in the way of colors on the buildings, my guess is that the paint would quickly look dingy with all the sand flying around. Satellite dishes are everywhere, looks like cable television didn't make it's way to Egypt. Many of the buildings look like they are unfinished, I found out that this is because if the building is under construction then there are tax breaks available.
Leaving the Citadel I headed to the market. Knowing that a bomb went off there a week ago I wasn't sure what to expect. All entrances to the market area are guarded by police every non-westerner is stopped and asked for ID and their bags are searched. We were able to walk in without being stopped. Once you get in the market the hawkers are all out in full force offering "just what you're looking for" - most of the shops are selling similar items jewelery, pipes, silk, purses and for similar prices I imagine the person that yells the loudest gets the business. Outside of the markets it seems like the majority of the shops are Papyrus and Perfume shops.
Anyways I wasn't looking to buy anything just photographing. It wasn't until we were on the way out that I stumbled across a nifty little trick to get people to stop bothering or following you. As soon as somebody came up to me I picked up my camera to take their picture they immediately said "no photo" and walked away. I tried it out on a couple of other people and got the same reaction. It was funny to see the reactions of course there were some people that let me take their picture and really got into it. Sometimes the people in the next shop would also ask for their picture to be taken. Through this I managed to get some great photos of the people in the souk. I'll have to remember this the next time I'm at a souk.
Sunday night was a sunset dinner cruise on a Felucca. It was a nice way to end the holiday. The only thing I was slightly disappointed in was the food. Of all the meals that were provided as part of the group excursions the meals were all identical - grilled chicken and lamb kofka. It would have been nice to have had some other options as well. I'll be posting more photos to my photography site over the weekend.