Thursday, March 31, 2011

Like a Mummy: Our Egypt Wrap-Up

Our trip to Egypt coincided with the start of some historic changes in that country and in the region.  Even though we (thankfully) left just as the major, shutting-down-the-city protests were beginning, it was an exciting time to be visiting Egypt, talking with local people - Christians and Muslims - and learning about current events from their perspectives.  I especially remember our guide explaining to us why Mubarak was so despised, how Egypt could only change with a revolution, and then adding as an afterthought, "I could be arrested for saying this."  We met some wonderful, warm and friendly people during our three weeks in Egypt, and we hope that they get the change they've been so bravely fighting for.

Dave gives an Egyptian a helping hand.
Presumably he asked Dave because he also looked like a fellow Egyptian.
The cost of our dahabiya aside, Egypt was a very inexpensive country to visit.  Getting around was, for the most part, cheap and easy.  The Cairo metro is a dream - about $0.16 gets you a traffic-free, hassle-free ride in comfortable, air conditioned style.  There's even a ladies-only car (which Dave inadvertently boarded, only to be scolded by the metro police) where women can avoid the lecherous male Egyptian gaze (and worse, grope). Cairo taxis come metered (white with black and white checkerboard) and non-metered, so be prepared to haggle if you find yourself in a non-metered cab.

We also saw a lot of Cairo on foot. 
The hardest part was finding a tiny gap in the parked cars so that we could actually get off the sidewalk.
This is an actual intersection, not a parking lot.
For a country that sees so much tourism, Egypt does not exactly embrace the independent traveler.  Big bus tours are ubiquitous, and even the most well-intentioned people seemed intent on getting us on one of them, or at the very least finding us a private car and driver, insisting that it would be too difficult for us to get around on our own.  Sights were poorly marked, if at all, and offered very little information. Some of the exhibits in the Egyptian Museum did have signs - these were typically haphazardly-placed yellowed scraps of paper with a typewritten misspelled word or two.

We assume there was a tree here at some point, in the last say, 5,000 years.
This was the only sign at Hatshepsut's Temple.

And then there is the hassle factor.  We had heard that Egypt was notorious for its annoying touts, smooth salesmen, and constant demands for baksheesh, and it really delivered on all counts.  At first we each employed different strategies:  I would stare vacantly ahead, refusing to make eye contact with anyone; Dave would stop and listen to the sales pitch of every. single. person.*  By the end of our trip, I was regularly employing my favorite Arabic phrase, "Yalowi!" (wow).  When a particularly persistent tout would approach me, "Only 10 Egyptian pounds, very good price, special for you, you buy, good quality," I would throw my hands up in the air in mock surprise and shout, "Only 10 pounds? Yalowi!"  Between the initial moment of shock and subsequent laughter, "yalowi" bought me just enough time to do a quick high-five with the salesman and make my escape. And baksheesh?  We eventually decided that it was best for our sanity to just treat it as the cost of doing business in Egypt.  In retrospect, Egypt was excellent training wheels for India.

Tout Alley (aka Khan al-Khalili market)
In the end, you don't go to Egypt for the delicious food (there isn't any) or the amazing shopping (unless you like junk).  You go for the incredible history and the ancient temples, monuments and artifacts. In our opinion, it is totally worth it.




* To be fair, there were some amusing sales pitches and one-liners aimed to reel us in:
   "You have money? Spend it all here!" 
   "Only one million Egyptian pounds!"
   "You buy now it's free.  Oh, too slow!"
   "Egyptian face! You have Egyptian face!!!  Best price for you!"
   "Free look, free look!"
   "Barak Obama!  Go Obama!"

Or Dave's personal favorite:
   "This your wife? I give you one hundred camels for your wife. Very good price."

1 comment:

  1. 100 camels? that's it? you should have told him to add a couple of donkeys, some sheep and maybe you could've had yourself a deal.

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