Our reward at 3 pm on our last day of school was the 20-minute secret Santa gift exchange followed by the six-hour Death March of Bataan bus ride to Cairo. Getting to Cairo is never as easy as it should be, I'm just some new kid on the block, naïve on the most basic level in thinking that there exists some formula, path, or whatever to get into that city in a timely manner. Even something foolproof like a train will just stop on a track and sit for God knows how long. The 18 of us on the bus all had our own destinations. The first batch was dropped off at Novotel, the hotel across from the airport famous for their high water pressure showers, rumor has it that our teachers like to take multiple showers during their overnight stay. The second group was New York City bound and they were released in front of their terminal. Dean, Michele, Ana, and I were scheduled for the next drop-off at a bargain hotel in downtown Cairo. It's just a room, right? All we are going to do is sleep in it and for $20 per/night it can't be that bad and it wasn't, but mosquitoes and polyurethane is a cocktail that shouldn't be mixed. We paid our monies and Michele, Ana, and I caught a cab over to Zamalek with the plan of hitting the handful of hotels we knew searching for a room. Our two initial options failed, we were eventually referred to the President and upon walking into the lobby we run into Linroy (our school's Tech guy) and his wife at the desk checking in. What luck. We scored a room then hightailed it back in a taxi to our first hotel only to find Dean high as a kite from the fumes with someone's used chewing gum attached to the hair of his forearms, I thought it was customary for classy hotels put a welcome chocolates on the pillow, but this is over the top. To add insult to injury, the elevator didn't work so we lug or bags down several flights of uneven and broken stairs passing dark floors with people sleeping in cardboard boxes to catch a cab. The fun ended slumber party style at 2 am with the four of us crammed into a 2-person room and every time hospitality knocked on our door to deliver extra towels, Dean's assignment was to hide behind the curtains. This would go down as one of the more memorable nights on our trip.
Glob of used chewing gum
Our mission this trip was to play tourist. The Egyptian Museum was first on the list. We decided to walk from our hotel across the Nile to where we ran into the museum's "botanical director" on his lunch break who was kind enough to let us know that the facility wasn't open to the public yet, just to schools and tour groups and that we should go kill some time at the "government operated souvenir shop" across the way. He escorted us through traffic to what was probably his family's store. Welcome to Egypt.
The two-floor museum was cluttered and packed with history, tourists, and mummies. The artifacts were impressive. Michele was the only one brave enough to pay the admission to enter the Royal Mummy Room. Sadly the staff adheres to the strict no camera policy. We discovered the grounds provide excellent people watching opportunities. It's always fun to see westerners attempt to wear turbans and hijabs, it’s almost as cool as wearing a giant sombrero in Tijuana.
Michele working trying out some dust jacket ideas
Our next quest was to find the Whirling Dervishes, which meant heading over to Islamic Cairo to find the al-Ghouri Complex; a three-story cultural center with a courtyard theater where they perform bi-weekly. The nature of Whirling Dervishes dance ritual is a religious ceremony but fits nicely with the performing arts. The dancers are said to be members of the Mawlaiyya sect of Sufis, a mystic order of the Islamic faith. There was no actual line to get in, just a clump of people who resorted to pushing and shoving once the doors opened. This naturally led to some altercations and near fistfights. The show started with a line of musicians playing and jerking their bodies and heads to a hypnotic rhythm that set the tone for the evening. Twenty minutes into the show the dancers joined the musicians and dazzled the crowd for over an hour. One dancer spun his body continuously for nearly thirty minutes. He was obviously transcended the moment. The awe of this evening ranks right up there with seeing the Butthole Surfers back in 85' when they played with two naked fire-handling chicks dancing in front of graphic black and white highway accident prevention films. Both left an impression in their own way.
Taping wasn't allowed
Christmas eve would be devoted a day of shopping at the Khan al-Khalili which really didn't amount to much on the consumer side of things but we sure did browse quite a bit. People have remarked how crazy the Khan is and it is kind of like a junior version of the Great Bazaar in Istanbul but we would soon learn and graduate to a more intensive shopping experience a week later in Morocco. As an early Christmas gift Dean ate some bad falafel, poor guy. Welcome to Egypt, again. Ana, Michele and I headed over to the Cairo Opera House to score tickets to The Nutcracker. It was sold out but we bought tickets from people who had extras. I had to rent a tie and worse yet tuck in my shirt. Thankfully the camera was left at home. The ballet was nice and any venue that has an orchestra pit scores extra points in my book. A well spent $7.
Dean is one crazy foo
For Christmas we hired Mohamed (Linroy's driver) for our Giza experience. He explained to us the ins and outs to avoid being scammed by the touts at the Pyramids. I was reading a couple of stories the other day that the Pyramids were not built by slaves but by volunteers. Seriously…really, you think so? Personally I think it’s hard enough to find a friend who is willing to give up a Saturday morning to help you move. Ok, I've been hemming and hawing about going to see the damn things and it wasn't so bad. They were actually mind blowing. Then I remembered that aliens built them and I felt much better. How can we say we evolved as a species if we don't have the technology and precision to construct pyramids or the temples like in Baalbek. Its monuments like these that help you realize your insignificance. I realized that if there ever was an advantage to having light skin in Egypt, the Pyramids was the place to have it, it entitled you to free reign of climbing on them as you wished. The tourist police chased-off all the locals. Maybe it is built in through the cost of the ticket, Arabs pay 40 cents (2 pounds) and foreigners have to cough up $12 (60 pounds). Thank God the Sphinx and KFC were right down the hill.
Crazy dog making friends
Built by free labor
Mohamed drove us to the less-crowded Saqqara to experience the step pyramids. Outside the gate a tourist cop pulled our car over to bully us for lunch money. He asked Mohamed for all his credentials and all he really need was 5 Egyptian pounds so he paid him and off we went. He told us that’s how things operate in his line of work.
Little did we know that there was a secret watering hole beneath our hotel called the Cairo Cellar, the English style pub serves up a mean burger and draft beer set to a soundtrack of oldies. The lighting is dim, warm, and cozy…the perfect way to end a hectic day.
Our Cairo adventure came to an end when Mohamed drove us to the airport to meet Joseph and Lianne, the six of us Morocco bound.
Waiting out the slight delay