Monday in Cairo – The Giza Plateau!
First – breakfast, which included another blast from my childhood, Tang (yes, Tang is still around!). We had Tang with our breakfast every morning. Side note – not only is Tang still around, but there are many other flavors of it, including watermelon whallop, wild berry, tropical passionfruit, tangerie strawberry, orange kiwi, grape, and Jamaica hibiscus, among others. Don’t believe me? Check out the Kraft web site and see – they even have recipes you can make, using Tang.
So all Tang-ed up, we decided to bypass the private driver the hotel offered, or the taxi that was recommended by almost all the guides, and take the Metro to the Giza station, then find the bus out to the Giza plateau. Sounds easy, right?
Something about the Metro in Cairo – it is somewhat segregated by gender. That is to say, there are cars that are specifically reserved for women, on which men are not allowed to ride. However, the rest of the cars are for anyone – women or men. That morning, I rode in a “general” car, and as it turns out, in a full car, I was the only woman. It is a somewhat disconcerting feeling, to be the lone (non-Muslim) woman riding in a car full of (mostly Muslim) men. Of course, to take some of the attention away from myself (as if that was possible) I wrapped my scarf around my head and stood in a corner. After someone got up, one of the men motioned for me to take the vacated seat. It was an interesting ride.
After arriving at the Metro station we had one of those “now what?” moments, and again, someone came to our rescue by showing us where to catch a bus (or something that I will call a marshrutka, since it is essentially the same thing) and the correct direction to get to the Giza Plateau. One would think that you can immediately see the pyramids, but nope, they are blocked by the many, many buildings. You can catch a glimpse between buildings but you cannot actually see the pyramids themselves until after you get near the plateau. So on the bus we went, and the gentleman even told us when to get off the bus.
Someone else who had been on the bus showed us the way, and even brought us to a tour operator. While it is possible that this guy happened to get on the same bus as we were on, and works for the operator, it seems unlikely. He said he worked at the hospital and was on his way home. Perhaps he was friends with the tour operator, who knows, but either way, he got us to the right place.
The tour operator asked what we were looking for, and my answer – riding a camel! And oh, were we able to do so! We came to an agreement regarding price (perhaps some people would think “oh you paid too much” but I look at it in terms of what we got out of it – a nearly three-hour camel ride behind the pyramids and Sphinx, as well as a guide with personality and some funny experiences) and off we went! I quickly removed my sandals, as the fine sand was driving me crazy, so I was really having the desert experience!
So instead of getting the sales pitch from the guys who put you on a camel for 5 minutes, take you to a specific site to get your photo taken, then take you back to where all the tour buses are, we got a better experience, in my eyes! I also got to lay in a tomb (not the highlight of the day) and cozy up to some pyramid carvings/statues. Happy day, but over too soon!
As Giza only took until around 1:00 (we forgot to go to the Solar Boat Museum), we decided to try for more activities in the afternoon – specifically, looking for the City of the Dead.
However, first we had to get back into Cairo proper. We had been told to take the 997 city bus, but after waiting for one for more than half-hour, we decided to can it and go back the same way we had come. While I was on the marshrutka, I was again marveling at how friendly people are. When a woman saw we were to get on it, she patted the seat next to her, and would not let a young man sit there. She also told me where to get the Metro when we got to the bus stop. I wondered how many Americans use that method for travel around Cairo (my guess – not too many). It was a long enough ride that I had many thoughts of this kind while I sat (unbuckled, no seat belt) next to the open door and watched things go by on the ride.
After getting off the marshrutka, we got Terry a yam from the guy roasting them and selling them on the street. I also got a rather entertaining photo of him (will post to Picasa). By the way, I am not a yam fan in general, but these, roasted over fire, with a little salt, were pretty good. They sell them everywhere in Cairo. I cannot eat a whole one but a taste was good.
Did I mention we did not go to restaurants very often? We ate a lot of “street food,” which normally would scare most Americans, as would the prospect of eating a non-peeled fruit. However, I think I have developed a bit of an iron stomach in Ukraine and had no digestive issues the whole time. Sorry if that is TMI – it is generally something people have problems with…
Off to Bab Futuh and Bab An-Nasr, and to look for Qarafa (City of the Dead). Since our marshrutka ride was so successful, we decided to try a bus, and once again, someone helped to make sure we got off at the right spot (mind you, these people do not ask for anything in exchange for their assistance). While walking through what most Americans would consider a “bad” neighborhood (i.e., pretty poor), we were waved up to someone’s “restaurant” and had a whole bunch of food put in front of us. We kept asking “how much?” and got the answer “no problem!” Hmm. Well, we were there, and figured, how much would this guy try to charge us, anyway? 20 pounds seemed reasonable, and thought maybe he would quote a price of 50, and we would negotiate.
After we finished, he asked if we were done, and then pulls out his paper, writes down a bunch of numbers. We had no idea what all that meant, so we asked for the total. He circles the amount – 160 pounds.
Say what? For 160 pounds we had eaten a meal in a rather nice restaurant. Here we were, and yes we had eaten well, but certainly not 160 pounds worth. We refused to pay that much. I told Terry we should just leave 20 pounds on the table and go, and he responded that it was too late to do that, as we had already eaten. So he negotiated with the guy, and brought him WAAAAAY down (closer to our number than his). We left feeling a bit like he had tried to fleece us, and somewhat irritated over it, but at the same time with stomachs so full we did not eat for the rest of the night (and this was around 3:30 in the afternoon).
We did not find the City of the Dead that day.
However, we did pass through one of the markets, and after a few days of thinking, and seeing all of the beautiful jilbab the women wore, I decided to get one (and have it altered a bit to make a dress), or to at least look at them.
However, I did not want to get something too plain, or too ostentatious – that cuts down a lot of the offerings! I eventually found one, and when the man, who had said his prices were what Egyptians pay, since it was a market where Egyptians shop, quoted me the price on it, I said thank you very much, nice speaking with you, and goodbye. He asked what I was willing to pay – I told him, and said that is it, that is all, no more. He went to Terry, asked to shake HIS hand, then quoted a price still far higher than what I wanted. At that point, I walked out. Terry was behind me, and the man approached HIM AGAIN, quoted another price, still too high, then finally relented to my price. I am still a bit irritated that he approached Terry, when it was clearly ME who would pay, but…
So I got it, and they even took it in (though they expressed horror when I wanted it shortened – I will have that done in Ukraine or the U.S.). I was later told by one man that I got a good price, and by another that I paid a little too much (but not a lot). But what I do have is a unique item from Egypt – with a little tailoring, it is going to be a beautiful black dress! I put it on at the hotel after my shower, as that was the day I tried to do a blog post, and oh my, the reactions I got from the male employees were amazing! One asked me to turn around, then told me how beautiful I looked, and another did the “French” finger kiss thing, and asked me about it, then told me how it was hand-made, etc.
Now, that kind of attention, I don’t mind!