I wrote this yesterday, but posted it today because I was too tired to finish.
What an incredibly long day. I think I'm sleeping in tomorrow.
Oh, wait. I have to get up early for the Alexandria tour. Nevermind.
We woke up at 5:30 in the morning, and watched dawn as we approached the port of Alexandria. When we went to breakfast, I thought it odd, given the warnings about people stealing things, that so many people had large bags with them. Then I remembered that there was an overnight tour, and suddenly it all made sense.
Rick and I got on the bus, and the driver explained some things about Cairo to us, both modern and ancient. There's sixteen million people, and one million cars, for example. The government, concerned about overpopulation, has started trying various incentives to reduce population growth. What they found worked the best, and I kid you not: television. The Egyptian government is seriously considering offering televisions to help reduce population growth.
Despite being desert, there were small farms along the way, and lots of people wandering around with animals. There were small buildings I first took for small silos or kilns, but the tour guide clarified: they were dovecotes. I'd heard the word, I'd just never seen one before. They were everywhere. Basically, Egyptians frequently raise pigeons for food, and they use the droppings as fertilizer.
Mosques of all sorts appeared seemingly at random. Some were very small, about the size of a one bedroom cottage. One was at the side of a road near a tollbooth, with nothing else in sight -- obviously for the use of the staff during working hours. Some were large and ornate. Some were ornate. In the cities, some had three-story-tall minarets, but were surrounded by buildings five stories or higher, so they'd be tucked in and hidden until you turned a street.
After the farms, we saw quite a lot of desert, and quite a lot of billboards, including entirely too many for Pepsi (I've been jonesing for a Pepsi for a week now). As we approached Cairo, there was a technical park, which I snapped a photo of. Immediately after we crested that hill, I got my first sight of pyramids. They looked so far away and yet so big. Because of the lay of the land and the twists and turns in the road, they kept blinking in and out of sight for the next few miles -- until we were virtually on top of them.
We first stopped at a plateau overlooking the three largest pyramids. The scale is really not comprehensible, even when you see a person or two on the lower stones of Cheops's pyramid.
Unfortunately, the vendors there are extremely pushy -- and will not take no (or being ignored) for an answer. Rick and I crossed the street to see Cheops's pyramid, and the dude on the camel was still following us. I couldn't even take a picture of Rick in front of Cheops's pyramid without another dude imposing himself into the picture. Thank Goddess for Photoshop. :)
Honestly, the vendors were so pushy, I couldn't imagine spending more than 30 minutes at the pyramid. That's how bad it was. I can't imagine going through that experience again without a cattle prod. Or maybe that's a camel prod. That said, I don't dislike camels. I actually find them somewhat fetching. I took a picture of the tourist policeman's camel when it was resting.
One altercation between the tourist police and the vendors got so heated, there was much screaming in Arabic. I suspect this is a many-times-daily occurrence: the vendors overstep a boundary, the cop yells at them, they promise to be good and back off, then go back to their true natures not that long after.
By the time we got to the Sphinx, which I'd been wanting to see forever
, I was hot, tired, and not feeling the least bit patient toward anyone. We had twenty minutes. I didn't get close to the Sphinx, but by that time, that was just fine by me (this is really sad, btw, I've always had a Sphinx thing). At that point, I was ready to go back to the ship.
Fortunately, it was lunch time, and we had lunch at a famous hotel right at the foot of the pyramids: Oberoi Mena House
, which was really nice. Even the banquet food was great, and the banquet room was spectacular, just dripping with all the geometric art I loved. Suddenly, I wasn't quite so ready to get back to the ship. The only sad part: I ordered a Pepsi and they brought a Coke. Not that I expected otherwise, but after seeing Pepsi signs all day, I was really jonesing.
Our next stop was the papyrus place, where we got a demo of papyrus making. Nothing terribly surprising, but they did have some fabulous pieces available. Rick and I got two small pieces, then went upstairs to the jewelry store, where I got a custom cartouche. I wanted a simple one, and the simple one happened to be the expensive one. I also got a heart scarab and a small ankh.
The heart scarab
is so called because it contained a prayer on the back (from the Book of the Dead) to help one's heart balance on the scale so one could proceed in the afterlife (and not be eaten instead).
After that, we went to the museum, which is large, overstuffed, poorly lit, and lacks air conditioning (except in the King Tut Jewelry rooms) and an elevator. Despite that, it had incredible stuff, and it was really amazing walking by a row of sarcophogi on the way to the bathroom. Everyone there was nice, and there were a few places to sit. As I was sitting, an Egyptian woman sat on the other end of the bench. When her husband wanted to sit down, she got up, misunderstanding him, but then we both said it was okay for her to sit. What I hadn't realized is that there's something of a taboo against a man sitting between two women, so when she got up again, he moved to the other end of the bench and she then sat between us.
The Tut exhibit: it'll be more magnificent elsewhere, but if you're in Cairo, it's worth seeing even though it's not well-presented. I gather, from comments Rick's mother made, that the museum is in better shape than it was when she visited some years ago.
We drove back to the port, and the one place selling soft drinks? No Pepsi.
The leading cause of death in Egypt is cirrhosis, not because of drinking, but because of a parasite in the Nile.
More women are wearing veils in Egypt than there were forty years ago.
An image: a donkey-pulled cart carrying a man, his wife, and a stack of perfectly round watermelons making an emergency stop. The wife's veil blows off, billowing in the wind, and she holds on with one hand and re-wraps her face with the other.
Because there is no property tax in Cairo on unfinished buildings, there are many buildings that aren't finished, but people live in them anyway. Amazing rabbit warrens of people.
There were men and women salesmen in several different places we visited, but the cashiers were always women. You went to a sales person; they wrote up the sale, then you took the paperwork to the cashier who handled the money. Interesting system, and I'm not entirely sure why it's set up that way.
I've forgotten to write down a thousand things, but this entry's already over 1200 words, so I'll stop here.