Egyptian Escapades

It turns out that when life gives you lemons, you should always make lemonade. In this case after a fairly yucky January, we decided to make ‘lemon mintade’ and head to Egypt for an adventure.

With about 3 weeks to plan and in the midst of the Coronavirus scare we set off on our trip to see Egypt and the wonders therein.

We arrived in Cairo after a fairly uneventful flight with the exception of 2 highlights… 

1) We had to check our bags.  They weighed each of them and informed us that our 13-16kg bags were not allowed as cabin bags with their 8kg max.  Arghh! We could have had more room. 

2) Our departure from JFK was late — although the check in agents assured us we would be fine for our connection.

When we landed at 705a for our 725a connection, we were dubious, but as we stood waiting for disembarkation we formulated a well thought out plan. RUN!!! And we made it! The gate was close so we made it.

I now know that is pretty typical- we met a woman from California who had the exact same experience flying over Istanbul from San Francisco to Cairo a day later.

Thankfully the slept on the flight and both gave Turkish Air economy a thumbs up!

Cairo!

When we landed in Cairo, we had to go to the bathroom, unfortunately we picked the one bathroom before immigration. Yes the only one we saw and it had a deep, dark secret. Flushing one stall led to a deluge of water from various unidentified places. I don’t know from where, but both Peyton and I were SHOWERED with toilet water. I was unfortunately indisposed (frankly I was mid squat if you must know) with no defense. And Peyton ran out of the bathroom to the safety of her father and brother leaving me wet and alone. Screaming was my only recourse, so I did — LOUD. And when I escaped the stall, the bathroom attendant was there with mop and dollar in hand to indicate that her job mopping the floor required my personal compensation. With her blocking the door and dampness in places unimaginable, I tipped and fled. It was a set up.

We passed through the first immigration point where upon our temperatures were taken. Thankfully we were healthy enough to get in.

Immigration

We found Mr Abdul, our guide to help us navigate the airport. He showed us the visa booth, we paid for our visas at the bank (yes the bank) and our $100 was well received.

The immigration agent grilled me (well really Phil because he wouldn’t address me) about my lineage, “where was I from, no really, where did I reside, no not where I departed from or where I lived today, where was I FROM ORIGINALLY?” When that didn’t work, “where was my father from?” He seemed frustrated (disappointed maybe) that I wasn’t from somewhere more exotic than the US born and raised.  And the audacity of my father for also being from such a mundane place. He waved us on dismissively with annoyance. 

Thankfully, our baggage made the 20 min connection and we exited the airport with the help of Mr Abdul.  

Traffic!

We left the airport in a van driven by Mr Nagey.  We didn’t know it, but he would be with us for many days. 

And before I go on, let me just explain that driving in Cairo takes a series of calculated maneuvers timed perfectly to fit in between 3-4 other vehicles at a precise moment in time. I heard someone say that the lines on the road are more for decoration than direction and I agree. Stoplights are also suggestions versus traffic rules. But Mr. Nagey successfully navigated our travels across Cairo with ease. Wielding the horn to announce his intentions and an iron sense of will and space, he got us to our destination every time.

That first day, I didn’t have this understanding, so I just said hi and climbed into the van with no knowledge that I was placing my life and the lives of my husband and children in his very capable hands.

When we arrived at the hotel, we were greeted with the lovely Egyptian hospitality we would come to experience our entire trip. 

Day One:

After some time to check in and get freshened up, we met our guide Mr. Walid aka ‘Brown Sugar’ Abo. He and his colleague Aya would show us around.

We started off with breakfast. Who knew falafel in a pocket would be like manna from heaven? We also had Ful, which is like a cross between refried beans and stew. Turns out it’s mashed chick peas… and served in a pita pocket. And may I just say, when you are hungry from travel across 7 time zones… I ate more falafel and ful and potatoes in those pitas pockets on that first day than I care to admit.

After breakfast served in the back of our van, we headed off to the pyramids.

Giza (Day One)

It’s amazing to think that the pyramids have been there for eons. And across Egypt, I was astounded by the scale.  Think of the fact that these massive monuments and temples were devoted to one person.  Thousands of workers dedicated to erecting, decorating and maintaining them all for the posthumous glorification of one individual.  

We went in the pyramid at Giza and what an experience. More than 100 steps up a ramp to a room at the top that housed the shrine.  At one point, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. It was hot, closed, and crowded with people moving up and down. 

Once outside, we drove to the end of the pyramid complex to get a panoramic view and as I said, it’s pretty amazing to think about the engineering it took to build the pyramids with only people and ancient machinery.

Fun fact: Egypt is home to more than 108 pyramids!!

The pyramids were built with the idea that everything available in this life would be needed in the afterlife. So each time we could imagine the gold, silver, precious stones, food and finery lovingly stacked up in each memorial.

After Giza, we went to the Papyrus factory.  The kids learned about the origins of, and how to make papyrus.

Saqqara (Day Two)

When our guide took us to Saqqara, I wasn’t sure what to expect. These pyramids predate Giza but after seeing such a wonder there, what would we see next?

We started off touring the site. Initially, it was built in the same style as the kings palace. A huge stone door opened into the complex to a long hallway lined with cubbies on either side. The cubbies were designed to house statues to the king pop.

At the end of the hallway, it opened to a courtyard with a pyramid at the edge. It’s hard to describe the impact of the courtyard and pyramid — they were amazing. And the kids loved racing across the courtyard trying to beat their best time (or the best time of their twin).

It was in Saqqara that we let the kids ride… ride what you ask? of course Wilson wanted to ride a horse and Peyton wanted to ride a camel. Somehow we got talked into doing both. And you know, I got talked into getting on one too! It wasn’t so much the kids as the insistence of the guide and the camel guy.

Poor camel…these too rode like they were in the Cairo Derby!

Afterward the kids agreed that the horse was their favorite. Although not many nine year olds from NJ get to debate the merits of horse over camel. 🤷🏾‍♀️

After the courtyard, we visited the memorial, and went 25 meters down a passage filled with hieroglyphics to see the site of the sarcophagus. Our guide stayed outside but not to worry- another local guide helped us on our tour and took photos to boot!

We then visited the shrine to one of the Kings advisors. Here the hieroglyphics were even better preserved.

After Saqqara, Mr. Black Panther took us to the Cartouche factory – apparently it’s off the tourist track, so a special treat!

We also went to the Oil Store- I could have spent days with this guy. He’s Bedouin and sells oils – something to fix everything up! By the time I found out he also sold spices I was all shopped out!

Dinner Cruise on the Nile

Our last stop for the day was to sail the Nile. It was a fun evening out for the entire family. It started with some time on the top deck to take photos (& drinks for some) and then downstairs to dinner. However before dinner they put on the entertainment portion of the evening!

The Bellydancer was a hit for Peyton, but it was a little much for Wilson. He was embarrassed, but he was also looking out the window to the boat launch. However he missed that because of the spinning small person and the man twirling with a glass of water upside down on his head! The Tanura and Sofi show were definitely highlights.

Originally we were going to the Egyptian Museum after Saqqara, but the day ran long. So we started off Sunday with the Museum. There were more than 150k of artifacts — about 5K for King Tut alone. It was truly amazing how the number of artifacts and how they are displayed! It’s also under construction, so it was a mix of scaffolding, people, artifacts and dust! However without question, the collection is phenomenal. King Tutankhamen’s tomb was the only one not found by Tomb Raiders, and the vast majority of the contents of his tomb are housed in the museum. These shrines housed his sarcophagus nested one inside the other.

After the museum, we went to The Citadel and Mohammed Ali Mosque which is the complex built by the first leader of the Muslim world. It was massive and built on the top of a hill overlooking the City. Obviously chosen for defensive reasons, today’s its got a lovely view of Cairo. The Mosque is huge with a lovely courtyard.

We were done a little early, so when we got back to the hotel, we walked across the street to the mall and then walked down the street looking at all the goods – from pita to fresh fish to potato chips, you can get it at the side of the road market in Cairo.   When we got back the kids spent some time journaling their trip.  Wilson was determined to list all of his adventures… while Peyton finished and tucked in with her  book.

Whew!! What a day. Today we went to the Market and coffee shop… tried to find a Chase in Cairo, and enjoyed our second day of Egyptian Shwarma with Syrian bread.

Our guide treated us to fresh sugar cane juice which the Egyptians say is the way to start your day… and get all the bad cells out of your body.

The kids learned how to bargain… this is Peyton driving a hard negotiation for an alabaster egg. She exceeded our tour guides expectations on lowest possible price.