We were up at 1:45 am for our taxi pickup to Entebbe international, where we went through a much different airport system than were used to. It was easy though, and before we knew it in our early morning haze we were dozing off on our flight to Cairo. Here's us twinning on the plane:
Pulling into the city I saw just brown desert and really sparse looking farmland. We haven't flown since we got here and it was much different than pulling into Kenya.
We finished our 4.5 hour flight and got into customs, and by the time we finished filling out our immigration form our entire plane had passed us by. Everybody was connecting in Cairo. Josh and I and this old local couple seemed to be the only ones staying in Cairo. The airport was dead quiet, and at our belt it was just our two backpacks and the local 4 suitcases waiting to be picked up. I said to Josh, "I guess people really listen to those travel advisories eh?"
Our driver was waiting for us with a sign, and thankfully so as there were a few people trying to rope us in. It's a stat holiday here today and so that was the cause of most of the quietness, our driver assured us. We got into his beat up Chevy (a common theme in Egypt so far) and we headed out for the half an hour drive to our hotel, which would normally be 2-3 hours with regular traffic. We seem to be hitting the driving lottery lately.
Along the ride we saw a lot of malls, even an IKEA. But then we got into Cairo more and saw a mosque on every corner, each so intricate and unique. We saw a ton of construction and unfinished apartments, and our driver explained it's because if it's an unfinished building the owner avoids paying taxes. So he rents out the finished suits but doesn't finish the top part of the building. We also drove across the Nile and towards the pyramids, where we're staying. It's a hazy day so we can barely see them but we see the tips peeking out behind the buildings. We are staying right next to them, and basically on the last road before the desert starts and goes to Libya.
We arrived and we're greeted by some friendly Egyptian brothers, Mohammed and Karim, who run the hostel. They were so helpful in planning out our four days here. They organized a driver for us to take into the city so we could get lunch and go to the famous Egyptian Antiquities Museum. We freshened up and headed out. Our driver spoke no English, so Karim had to really prep him for our day as we couldn't even text him when we were ready to go. Since josh still has his Kenya cell phone we decided we would phone Karim when we were ready to go, who would then phone our driver. We decided it was a plan (even though it seemed like Karim and the driver were in a heated argument - it's just how they talk here). We didn't get halfway down the stairwell and our 55 year old zero-English-speaking driver who hasn't even acknowledged our presence whips out his phone and motions for us to stop to take a selfie. Both of our shocked faces smile for the world's most awkward selfie. And as I get in the car I asked Josh if that's the photo he sends to the future keeper of our dead bodies?? Morbid, but you're all seen the movies. Spoiler, we end up just fine.
We're dropped off at a corner of Tahir Square, and our driver assures us, in Arabic, that the restaurant we want to visit is just "waves and points arm in direction" and then "walking motion back to Egyptian museum". We said Shookram, thank you, in Arabic.
We obviously looked lost within the minute as a local came up to us and proclaimed he was not a guide but just a friend. He was to show us where this famous restaurant was. He leads us in a different direction than our driver had pointed, and before we know it we're passing his shop! He sells essential oils, and his family has been doing it for 120 years. Then he's showing us a photo of his dad with Mohammad Ali who visited the shop many years ago! That was pretty cool. The guy was bouncing around talking English very fast, really funny guy. Kept joking with us about different things. Next thing we know we're upstairs smell-testing the oils. We liked one and he quotes us a price and he starts pouring it and wrapping it up! We're like "no no no!" I did like it and I do use them at home, but it was way too expensive! I said if I'm gonna buy one it's got to be a tiny one. He pours it in a smaller bottle but doesn't charge that much less. Josh just wants out so we agree, and as a "token of our friendship" he fills up another bottle and wraps it, for free. He takes our money to make change, and while making change he is showing us all this other stuff and we're just like, we need to get out of here! Our first stop and we're already being swindled lol. So we finally ask him four times for the change and we get it and we're back outside.
We found the restaurant and it was super cute, we ordered some mezze, josh got a beer, everybody is happy!
We walk over to the museum and back into Tahir Square. Again, someone tries to tell us the time isn't right to go now, we better come to this bazaar first and wait for the crowds, we said no this time. We walk in and we're checked for security and our bags are scanned and checked a total of 3 times. I don't blame them since the stuff in this museum is priceless. We pay the small entry fee, and a small fee to take photos inside (3.75 Canadian) and we're in. The place is huge, 2 giant floors, and the guides all around are asking to take us, for a price of course. We didn't agree, though in hindsight it probably would have been nice to hear the history a little more.
The museum is stocked full of Egyptian artifacts. The bottom floor is all the heavy stuff, all the stone, limestone, marble etc. Huge tombs made completely of marble, huge stone casts of different famous pharaohs and kings. It was all so overwhelming and so cool. The hieroglyphs hey carved into this material is amazing. It's crazy how clear they could write into the stone. We wandered around the bottom floor for about an hour, reading whatever little write ups they had about the various pieces. I read about one cast that was found in two pieces, and for a while the shoulders were on display at the MET in New York. There were thousands upon thousands of these pieces here, and reading that part of one was on display at the MET made me truly appreciate where we were.
Lots of write ups talked about the break in of 2011 where items were stolen and then recovered, or found broken into pieces and then restored. The team did a great job of showing the before and after of what the vandals did to these artifacts.
There were also tons of artists inside, just siting down and sketching things or even standing up and painting like this woman. It seemed like a large group were maybe from a school and were all there to sketch for the day.
I found the jewelry to be the most stunning. How they managed to carve the beads this way in 2000 BC is beyond me. We had a look at a ton of tools, but it still didn't seem possible.
These clay tablets were used to deliver government messages across the land. They would wet the clay, use writing tools to write the tiny characters, then fire the clay to harden. They were then sealed in wax and delivered.
We also visited the room of a famous Pharaoh and were not allowed photos. On display was the gold pieces he was buried with. Intricate jewelry and chest plates, all made with gold and precious stones. The three gold plated tombs he was buried with were massive and so detailed, and we also saw his solid gold head piece that weighed close to 25 lbs. It was all so stunning. Lots of those creepy scared beetles everywhere!
We also paid extra to visit the mummy room. There were two rooms with about 25 pharaohs, kings, and common people on display, and you could see their faces, shoulders, and sometimes their arms and feet. Plus the body all wrapped up. It was astonishing to see that they still had heir skin, teeth and nails, and sometimes even their hair. These people were alive over 3000 years ago and their bodies were right in front of us! No photos allowed though.
Overall we spent only about 3 hours in the museum, but my feet and back were totally down by the end. We tried to make the call to Karim so he could call our driver, but Josh's phone had just run out of minutes since it costs more to call outside of Kenya. Ef! We wandered around trying to ask to use a pay phone, but the language barrier is real here and nobody understood us. Lots of people just waved their hands in a general direction and sent us away. A concession stand owner was very helpful but couldn't get Egyptian minutes to load on our phone.
After trying several stores with no luck, we tried an Egyptian Air travel agent, where they all spoke English and a woman kindly let us dial Karim. We got through and thanked her immensely, and she wouldn't let me pay her. Finally! We were getting frustrated and now felt much better.
We walked back to the museum and our driver was already waiting for us at that point. We drove home, only stopping when I pointed to a fruit stand and the driver pulled over. Bought a few things totalling less than $1 and then we were back to our hotel.
Karim was inside, and he helped us organize a few things for the next day. He is so helpful! He reassured us that our driver would speak very good English, and that today we had just booked so last minute that he couldn't find someone. He also ordered us some beer and wine to be delivered to the hotel, since its hard to find in Egypt, being a Muslim majority country. Our order was delivered in about 20 minutes and I had some awesome Egyptian red wine, the recommendation of a couple of the drivers who were hanging around in the lobby.
Beer and wine in hand we made it up to the rooftop of our hotel to finally get this view!
Muhammad, the other brother, and his friend Bahaat (spelling?) were upstairs and asked us to join them, even though Bahaat spoke no English. He did speak a lot of Arabic to us though haha. Muhammad is 25, so friendly, and we talked about many things. He mostly got fired up about soccer, and he and Bahaat support the two opposing Egyptian teams so that was funny to watch. We talked about the misconceptions of Egypt, and how we could walk around at 4 am with no trouble here. We talked about our trip so far and showed him some photos, and he talked about his plans for travel. Muhammad doesn't drink, and he also follows a strict diet of no sugar and no salt, just for personal reasons, to keep fit. He says he hopes to live a long life, and be in Brazil for his 60th birthday having a glass of red wine in one hand and a joint in the other for the first time. He's got quite the goals for himself!
We enjoyed the company, enjoyed the view, and enjoyed the sunset. Being up since 1:45 we were fading fast, but we ordered some traditional Egyptian food for dinner with the help of the guys. Not pictured is Josh's rice and shrimp, total cost $7.16 Canadian.
Off to bed and excited for a full day of adventure tomorrow.