december 19th : adventures on the roads of cairo


You’ve seen a spate of posts today … I’ve been offline since leaving Cairo on Saturday and have been writing all of these for posting when I could.  Haven’t figured out how to backdate yet, so they’ll all show up as being from today.  I’m back in Cairo now, sitting and looking out over the Nile and enjoying the view (and the noise).  I’ll try to stay awake into the early morning hours tonight, so I can start to turn my clock around.  Contrasting this with Luxor, the air is thick enough to eat.  It’s like breathing ash.  When I was working here last week, I thought I was suffering the effects of a lingering cold.  I’m pretty sure now that I was having a mild asthmatic episode – it’s happening again too.  Good thing I’m heading home soon.

Had originally planned to spend another day in Luxor, and head up in the evening.  At the last minute I changed to a morning flight, figuring that I didn’t really want to head back over to the West bank again – all that was left on my list to see was the Valley of the Queens and the Tombs of the Nobles.  Instead I spent the morning waiting for my delayed flight to take off, and then wedging into a teeny tiny seat on an A320 for the flight.

The cab ride from the airport was interminable.  I figured that by landing in the early afternoon, I’d avoid the rush hour, but that didn’t appear to be the case.  Two hours to travel about 25K.  On the positive side, it’s a lot safer that hurtling between trucks on the road to the fourth ring of hell so …

I’d tried booking into the Marriott, but ended up at the Nile Hilton.  After charting out the day, I felt disappointed about that.  While the Hilton is convenient to the Egyptian Museum (first stop!), the Marriott is closer to everything else I’m interested in (other than Islamic Cairo).

Plan A for today was to zip over to the museum, and then head over to Zamalek for shopping and dinner.  The museum was really something to see.  It’d be more fun if they provided maps, but I imagine that’d eat into the market for tour guides – you can have your pick of them outside the museum.  I braved it by myself and managed to see much of the Old Kingdom displays, along with the Tutankhamen galleries, ancient jewelry, Royal Mummies, and even the animal mummies (crocodiles!  Baboons! Dogs! – all mummified).  The strangest was seeing that they would mummify food, for the royals to consume in the hereafter.  The highlight was seeing the Tutankamen galleries.  People call him a minor king, but he did quite a bit in a short reign – including working to undo much of what his despot father did.  He restored traditional Gods and vastly improved Egypt’s fortunes in just nine years.  His tomb is small – especially as compared to the longer-reigning kings.  With that in mind, seeing all of the riches that went into the tomb of this minor king, means that the big guys must have had some mind-blowing stuff in their  tombs.  You’ve heard about the gold funereal mask, and possibly about the three coffins (inner – solid gold, middle – glass and precious gems, outer guilded wood).  But then there are the gold-plated sarcophagi, the gold beds and thrones, the jewelry, the beautiful statues, and the clothing.  The gallery takes up a lot of space – I don’t know how they fit all of that stuff into the small tomb.

As it was, I got my fill at the museum in about two hours, then headed over to the Fair Trade Crafts Center, and got a smashing dinner at Abu el-Sid (this was the place in Zamalek that Sherif took us to last week).  Five hours after landing in Cairo – I’m ready to get home now.  Unfortunately, flights are full tonight.  The only way I’d get back earlier would be to pay another $2K to take British Airways via London.  Oh well.

On the positive side, I got to see some new things this evening.  The first was a guy solving the traffic problem by riding his motorcycle on the sidewalk of the 26 July bridge.  It took a minute to register that my life was in danger, but I stepped aside for him at the last second.  The other thing was a guy (also on the 26th July bridge) selling grilled corn – walking his stand in a lane of traffic.  That wouldn’t have been a problem this afternoon when no one was moving, but cars were going about 35 around him.  And people got really upset when someone tried to stop to buy something from him.  It was hilarious.

You see all sorts of things on the road here.  People pulled over to the right lane, trying to repair their cars while traffic whizzes all around.  I mean – they’re under their car working on it in the middle of traffic!  In the morning, women stand on the freeway selling fresh bread.  People cross the freeway, as if it were a surface street.  I saw someone drive on to the freeway using the offramp.  Apparently all of this is normal enough that people know to expect it.  Apparently there are not many accidents until someone new gets on the road and screws everything up. 


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