Monday, October 5, 2009

Hello Cairo

Ana and I had been speculating when we would take a weekend jaunt down to Cairo, well my friends, that weekend finally arrived. There is quite a bit of history in the city of 12 million and it has to be taken in doses. Ana had been bugging me about going to the pyramids (the well known ones in Giza) and I told her, “we’ve already drove past them twice and we ate lunch while looking at them, what more do you want?” Somehow I don’t think I persuaded her, it’s just matter of time before you see the obligatory posting of an American couple posing with camels and pyramids. Just in case you’re wondering, both the pyramids and Sphinx are located in Cairo, actually in the burbs to be more precise, they are what Newark is to New York and if that isn’t the best of both worlds maybe I should also mention that KFC and Pizza Hut are right within walking would be a lot sweeter if there was a Walmart as well. I admit it, I haven’t exactly been excited or the least bit proactive in getting up close and personal with the remaining wonder of the ancient world. Perhaps the documentary I watched on the Discovery Channel when we had free cable was sufficient enough to satisfy my cravings.

We tagged along with our friends Huck Finn and Jill Milk on a train ride from hell. We remained convinced for the duration of the ride that the passenger car was trying to simulate a walk-in freezer. The mixture of blowing cold air and cigarette smoke pouring out of the vents next to our feet plus random stops in the middle of nowhere for up to thirty minutes at a time was a little too much. We took matters into our own hands and hijacked a pair of seats when one of the smokers went to go do his thing, we figured that if he likes smoking so damn much maybe he’d like to sit next to the vents and go hog wild with second hand smoke. To add insult to injury, I took his paper and started on his Sudoku. When he returned he reclaimed his paper and found another seat.

We finally disembarked into human Tetris an hour and half after our projected arrival. Huck Finn knew all the tricks to avoid getting ripped off by taxi drivers, so we headed directly for the metro station and took a tram as far as we could and caught a cab to Harry’s Pub (located in the basement of the Marriot). Harry’s was pretty spectacular, an old murky bar with decades of cigar and cigarette smoke embed into its wooden walls. If you are singe man on a business trip and looking for some company for the evening chances are pretty good that you might find some here. We finished our pricey but worth it imported Belgian beer (non-inclusive to the 10% tax and the 12% service charge) and crossed the street over to Maison Thomas for what is billed as the best pizza in Egypt (owned by a Coptic family equals ham, beer, and wine). Delicious indeed. After our filling meal we walked to our hotel in the heart of Zamalek (an island on the Nile River in central Cairo-home to many Embassies, museums, the Cairo Tower, expats, and best of all...trees).


The following morning, Ana and I walked on a bridge across the Nile to catch a taxi to historic Islamic Cairo to go to the Khan el-Khalili (the mother load of all bazaars established in the 14th century-there is even an argument stating that if it wasn’t for the Khan, Columbus wouldn’t have discovered America) It is said that you can buy anything there; jewelry, clothing, spices, crafts, kidneys, etc. To tell you the truth we didn’t have the full-on Khan experience mainly because we went on a Friday, the Muslim day of prayer. Many shops were closed but that didn’t hamper our joys of exploring the labyrinth layout of the streets and swanky sales pitches like “come into my shop, I have something you have never seen before.” How could we not be curious? I’ve seen my share of souvenirs, crafts, and sweatshop crap over the years, so I was sort of hoping for something more exotic than a “stuffed jackalope,” needless to say I felt a little slighted when the shopkeeper produced an assortment of magnets and rulers. The junk and the bootleg selection was tops, Ana noticed a child’s shirt with a yellow ducky and the phrase “Lucky Dick” on it. We did manage to splurge and buy a wall hanging for our poor old bare walls. Overall the Khan was enjoyable and needs further investigation. We left in agreement that the Grand and Spice Bazaar in Istanbul trumps this one.

Our new wall hanging

8th wonder of the world- The Bearded Building

North of the Khan Khalili

The second part of the day was spent in Zamalek exploring boutique shops and enjoying Thai for lunch. It confirmed that we miss our selection of food offerings back in San Diego. In addition to missing food, clean air also ranks high on the list. The air quality in Cairo sucks, literally sucks the life out of you. Denver’s historic brown cloud and LA’s smog would be like a fresh tank of oxygen in these parts. At the hotel I did a little research on the air quality and the reports paint a pretty grim picture. We ended the evening with a bucket of KFC and some slaw at the foot of the Pyramids tossing chicken bones to the camels chanting U-S-A, U-S-A. Ok, not really. We did manage to have three-hour plus dinner with our friends at The Moghul Room in The Mena House (a hotel you can’t afford). The fare is Indian like you’ve never tasted set to the backdrop of a live trio preparing to seduce your taste buds. The interior was crafted all the way down to the salt and pepper shakers (which the owner thought we wanted, so she eyed us a couple of times). It was the high point of the trip.     

Yummy for your tummy

And just like that we were back on the streets of Giza hailing down a cab to haul us back to our little island. The main thoroughfare was congested and crowded, the driver dodged children and families trying to cross the road. After several minutes of that nonsense he opted to backtrack and hop on the freeway. Since air conditioning isn’t an option in cabs, this meant getting pelted with chunks of dirt and debris accompanied with warm air at high speeds weaving in-between semis and the occasional pedestrian.

Sights of Zamalek

The train ride back to Alex was a little less freezing and the smoke was replaced with ringing cell phones and crying babies, you have to compromise somewhere.

1 comment:

  1. dude, your blog rocks. it reminds me of mine when i started it in india in 2005. just taking everything in, finding something new and interesting around every corner.

    i heard last year that cairo is will more-than-likely be "unlivable" in 15 years due to pollution; and my favorite line at khan when i was there with my girlfriend was "you are a lucky man, how can she spend your money?".