We had a taxi take us to downtown Cairo, and opted to spend a few hours in the Egyptian Museum. Like everything else in Egypt, the museum seems a few decades removed from its prime, with old cases, poor lighting, and peeling paint. It actually creates a very cool vibe in this type of context, as it feels strangely more intimate knowing that all that stands between you and a Pharonic scarab broach are a pair of good wire cutters and some quick hands. The amount of Egyptian artifacts here is absolutely beyond comparison, would probably take a week or more to see everything. It is all crammed into close quarters, and many of the larger items are just out in the open for all to break the rules and touch.
We were especially excited to see the royal mummies. Of course, to enter that room of the museum costs an additional 100 Egyptian Pounds each, or about 40 usd total. This being our last day, we passed. It really irritates me how nickel and dimed that you feel everywhere here. Kristin went to the bathroom at the museum, and the bathroom attendant had confiscated all of the toilet paper. She was, of course, charging museum goers to use the necessity of toilet paper one pound per square, right in front of a sign that read "DO NOT PAY TIPS." This situation sums up Cairo about perfectly.
Our favorite exhibits were probably the mummified animals and Tut's burial treasures, though the museum, taken as a whole, was very very impressive.
We were going to check out downtown Cairo today, some souqs and mosques and the like. But as we walked out of the museum and into the polluted Cairo air, we made the collaborative decision to just get out of the city. Lucky for us, a driver that we met the night before was waiting for us around the corner.
To find the right driver in a strange foreign place, you must be a superb judge of character. You let potential drivers harass you, size them all up, give a few small chances to gauge their competency, short drives here and there. Eventually, you will meet one that smiles alot, speaks decent English, and seems like a very good person. For us, we have had several relationships blossom with our drivers, as we learn most of what we learn about their culture from them. We were relieved to meet Esam last night, and he drove us around all day today.
Esam learned English while caddying at the top golf course in Cairo. He is of medium build, but carries with him a very scholarly vibe. Of all the Egyptians we have met, he has spoken the best english by far, with almost a royal tinge to his words. With him we talked about many topics. He told us that eating pigeons makes you strong. For a relationship to work, you need to be strong when necessary and just love the rest of the time. This part did not involve pigeon. He believes that the media's liberal use of the word muslim when discussing attacks, and the vilification of the Christian agenda in the middle east leads to a misinformed public on both sides, compounding the issue. He also believes strongly that so long as he does good for others, god will take care of him. He thinks Barack is taking on too much, and he really really likes Bill Clinton.
He drove us through Cairo, showing us a few of the city's 20,000 mosques. We stopped on a long bridge over the river and he pointed out a vibrant green island in the middle of the Nile. "Christians and Muslims live there side by side, making papyrus and other crops. It is possible to live in harmony." I asked about the Jewish population on the island. He changed the topic. These things take time, I thought, thousands.
Anyways, our final destination was the Saqqara Pyramid, the oldest pyramid in the world. On the way, we passed many unfinished buildings. A few days ago, Cooper and Megan, our American friends that we met in Dahab, told us the likely reason for the excess of half finished buildings around Egypt. Apparently, the government subsidizes new constructions, but only to 50%. So theoretically individuals develop buildings to 50% and then move on to the next half building. It is definitely an amusing bureaucratic cause for this phenomenon. Finally, we were upon Memphis, the oldest city in Egypt, and home of the Saqqara pyramid. It is intriguing to see the first of anything, and Saqqara did not disappoint. It was less of an undertaking than the Giza Pyramid experience, and actually proved to be very peaceful. We even descended into underground burial chambers. After the pyramids, we stopped by a carpet/rug factory where they have child laborers make the rugs. Kristin and I thought it was fairly appalling, but they call the kids "students," and I figure it beats begging for a meal. We did not buy anything, though I took lots of pictures. Oddly, the proprietor brought up Lou Gossett Jr., twice. Whatever buddy. We finished our day in rural Cairo, taking tea with three guys called Ahmed, while the sun set beyond a field of green.
For dinner, we ate at the Tex-Mex restaurant at our hotel. Afterward, I would throw up for the first time in 2 years. Food poisoning? perhaps. The Tex-mex interpretation in Egypt is funny. Sort of like a game of cultural telephone, they get some things right and some things wrong. The Navajo rugs were an odd touch, though the Hank Williams and Johnny Cash were possibly a step in the right direction. The cowhide booths provided a solid interpretation, drinking out of coffee mugs? Not so much.