Just before I describe our adventures in Egypt, I will share with you some advices we have read in Lonely Planet guide and we have experienced personally. I am not saying that everybody behaves like that, but unfortunately those situations (listed below) are happening in bigger cities and at the tourist attraction’ spots more and more often
So, BEWARE of
Cairo is one of the most densely populated capital cities in the world. The crowds in these city footpaths make Manhattan look like a ghost town…Lot of people everywhere. We were hounded by papyrus or different souvenir sellers at every turn. Negations with local people became something normal. Even though we were bewared of dishonest and annoying people we still managed to get deceived. We got cheated in classical way at the gate to the National Museum. We got told by some guy that Museum and the main entrance was closed because of Public Holiday or something like that, but we might got lucky and we could try go round to the second “back “gate, where small market with souvenirs was located. We knew that we should not believe in everything what Egyptians are saying, but somehow we did exactly what the guy said and we were insolently misled. Anyway, we came back to the main entrance and we got in, and finally we never argued with the bogus guide as I guess we were too tired for that.
National Museum – We paid 30 Egyptian Pounds (around 4 USD) /person using our International Student ID. The Museum is like treasury. Lots, lots of interesting valuable exhibits, sculptures, monuments sometimes covered by dust and often giving an impression of being in Indiana Jones movie. On the other hand, the museum is old, chaotic, label-less and lack-lustrate in its display of treasures, which caused that after an hour of exploring the visit was getting boring and tiring. Air-con was available only in two or three rooms. Even if we found many drawbacks of Egyptian Museum I guess it was worthy to go. In our opinion the most spectacular exhibit was the magnificent golden treasures of Tutankhamen’s Tomb. Note: you are not allowed taking photos inside!!! Actually, you even CANNOT take camera with you – you need to deposit your equipment at the deposit box at the entrance!
We didn’t want to spend lots of time in Cairo as it was too hot for us, but we managed to discover that the city suffers from high levels of pollutions and traffic. We saw plenty of crushed cars, we attended in many traffic jams,– we even managed to have little car incident with a donkey(!). Poor little thing didn’t want to stand in a massive traffic jam and decided to bump into our Rusty.
A short video of driving in Cairo
We also passed through Tahrir Square – the focal point of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, and we saw burnt and abandoned TV building.
We also had opportunity to see Cairo Metro – one of only two metros on African continent. (As a curiosity: ladies have separate metro carriages – no men allowed!) Instead of unnecessary description, see video below🙂
As a lovely way to enjoy Cairo we took a ride on felucca (traditional Nile Sailing vessel). It was seriously worth it – We paid for 2 of us about 60 Egyptian Pounds and we had amazing and peaceful about two hours on the Nile River.
Short video of our cruise:P
With reference to food – When we finally entered Egypt, the Ramadan just started (Ramadan: it is a month of fasting from dawn until sunset; Muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids including water and smoking). Due to fasting time, we didn’t want to eat in front of starving all day people. Half of the shops and restaurants were open, but it was so weird to eat among people who were not allowed to. When we were eating or drinking we were trying to hide somewhere, however once we were so exhausted that about one hour before sunset we went to PAPA JONES for a pizza. Of course the place was empty, no customers, only two people behind the counter. The waitress asked us to choose a table and after about 20 minutes she brought us fresh, crispy and delicious pizza! (Still remember that taste). It was a nice treat – freshly made pizza just for us. When we were about to leave, we noticed that sun was going down and we saw plenty of people coming and… coming inside the PAPA JONES restaurant. Finally, they could eat after long, extremely hot day.
In terms accommodation – Well, we mostly slept on the streets – We looking for some bays and we were parking there. It was loud, but no one really cared about us. We were feeling almost like invisible.
This is not the last info from us about Cairo – we will be mentioning about the city in other posts as well as we were passing Cairo at least 4 times 🙂🙂
I think most of people associate Egypt with Pyramids and Sphinxes. I guess these tourist attractions are on the lists of most travelers, who come to explore that region. The famous pyramids of Giza, the sole survivor of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, have been visited and studied for 4000 years. Their extraordinary shape, geometry, age and location (rising out of the desert) pose the question “How were they built and for what reason?”
The Pyramids of Giza were of course on our traveler list, so this is the way how we got there:
Leaving Cairo was a…I even don’t know how to describe it, but it was a socio-environmental lesson about Egyptian style. Before we saw Pyramids of Giza we had noticed pyramids of rubbish…It’s a shame that streets of Cairo and Giza and other cities nearby are that polluted.
As a curiosity about garbage in canals and street. We read an article in the newspaper INDEPENDENT EGYPT (13.08.2012) “Rural irrigation canals are afflicted by water shortages and contaminated water“
This is small part from the article you can also find online on: http://www.egyptindependent.com/news/rural-irrigation-canals-are-afflicted-water-shortages-and-contaminated-water
“…Dumping garbage in the canals has long been commonplace due to the lack of waste management facilities in the areas. Usually, the canal water would at least push the garbage along a bit, but the severe cuts have allowed garbage to accumulate in the canals…“
Driving through Cairo wasn’t a very easy task and when we were finally reaching Giza the road was closed. We didn’t know what really happened as we got stuck in massive traffic jam. Suddenly a local guy run to us and told us that he knew a shortcut to the Pyramids. The problem was that we got stuck and we couldn’t drive out from all those cars. The guy pulled the barrier away, and we escaped from the huge traffic jam. Of course the guide wasn’t disinterested and at the end he wanted money for “the service”. We said that he never agreed with us the price or whatever at the beginning, but to get rid of him, we gave him some funny monies.
We arrived sort of during the sunset and we were trying to find a nice spot for the night. We were told that we could park overnight on the parking in front of the Giza Plateau. The parking guy said no problem, no problem and in 20 minutes asked when we were leaving, because he needed go home…We got frustrated, but another guy came and he said that we could park and go to sleep in front his shop. We used his offer and we parked in front of his shop with various perfumes, fragrances and body oils. The guy invited us inside, did the body oil presentation and was trying to convince us to buy something. He also said that he had healing touch and he is leaving Egypt as his Polish friend found a job for him in Poland. Charlie got offered to try his healing powers, but he didn’t feel any powers. Nevertheless the guy was a little bit insistent, he was actually nice and funny; and at the end he offered us a good deal for visiting the Pyramids with a camel, horse and a guide.
Night in front of body oil shop was horrible. It was very loud as during Ramadan not only adults are awake but also kids. Children were screaming and some of them wanted to get inside our Rusty.
All together for 2 people and half a day trip with a guide, camel and a horse we paid 300 Egyptian Pounds. (Entrance tickets were included and because we used our International Student Cards we paid 30EP/person).
Next morning, before sunrise, 3 of us (a nice guy from Hong Kong joined us) and guides started trip around Giza Pyramids. We started very early, so there were almost no people and the air was quite pleasant (no that hot!) At the gate some people warned us about the heat and started putting scarves on our heads. To be honest in first 2 minutes I thought that those scarves are included in our tour price (not forever, but just for time being on that trip). When they finally finished knotting those turbans on our heads, they of course asked for money. Obviously we refused and we gave those things back.
The jaunt was really nice. We started from the back side, so firstly we saw an amazing view of 9 Pyramids “located together”, then we came closer and we could see those interesting constructions up close. As everyone knows most pyramids were used as tombs and I guess lots of travelers are keen on what is inside. Some pyramids in Giza are open and you can go inside, and some of them are closed – to be honest I don’t know why as everyone tells you a different reason. Inside, you can admire hieroglyphs or what is left of them. You are not allowed to take photos inside, even without a flash. We didn’t take photos, but we stealthily recorded some videos. The interior of the pyramid can be a shelter from the Sun, but not an escape from the heat. There is very hot and humidity is high as well.
There is only one survivor Sphinx and in my opinion that area around the Sphinx is a place, where you actually cannot pass unnoticed. Lots of sellers will follow you and will try to convince you to buy something. Of course bargaining is included – it is like national sport. When we heard: “Hello Mister” or “My friend, special price for you”, we knew it’s not going to be easy to get rid of unwanted sellers. Some people will remit, but some people just cannot do it and starting behave aggressively. We had quite unpleasant situation. One guy was following us and he was giving us every 30 seconds the lower and lower price for two wooden sculptures. We didn’t want to buy them not because we didn’t like them, but because we knew that it would be a problem with transporting them later, but the guy still didn’t accept the word “no”. Finally, I said that I didn’t want them, because I didn’t need them and I didn’t like them. My words pissed the guy off and he aggressively pushed my arm and run away saying something in Arabic. To be honest I didn’t feel nice but I realized that those kinds of situations may appear more often and we should be prepared for them.
As you can see Pyramids of Giza were not enough to us and we decided to visit different ones, also located nearby Cairo. We went to Saqqara – where the earliest known Egyptian pyramids are found, and to Dahshur –which is known for several pyramids, two of which are among the oldest, largest and best preserved.
We paid (prices based on student discount) 30 EP/person for Saqqara Site and Imhotep Museum (it displays finds from the site, photos are not allowed) and 15 EP/ person for Dahshur.
When we were driving towards those pyramids sites, we accidentally lost our way and turned into small road, which led us to a small village. I am writing about it for two reasons. Firstly, it was so strange to see lush, green grass and palm groves nearby desert regions, and secondly people there were extremely nice and we finally weren’t felt like “walking cash machines”. We saw some guys selling grapes and Charlie decided to buy a little bit and those adorable people firstly refused payment, but Charlie insisted and they at last accepted our money. It was absolutely lovely to find that place.
Finally, we found our Saqqara Site. At the gate we were welcomed by a security guard who was trying to write down our details, but none of his pens didn’t work. I gave him mine and he was extremely happy when we said that he could keep it forever. At the gate we also bought tickets and after that we drove inside the site looking for a place to park. To be honest, there was plenty parking space as it looks that Saqqara is not that popular as Giza Plateau.
We parked and we started walking towards the main attraction of the Saqqara Plateau called The Pyramid of Djoser. At the entrance we had unpleasant welcome. Bunch of local people were sitting in the corridor and they said that we were not allowed to go further without paying. We said that we already paid for the tickets and we showed them the proof. It was not enough as they claimed that no one could go inside without a guide. We said that we never heard about that and there was no sign saying so. Somehow we managed to squeeze between them and just pass through. Similar situation we had around 30 minutes later. After the main pyramid, we were exploring the rest of the site. We saw another entrance to somewhere and again few local people around it. We asked them whether that place was for free to visit and they answered: “no, you need pay some money”. Expression “some money” didn’t convince us and we just turned back. After not even 3 seconds they start shouting: “We are joking, we are joking it is free”. We turned back again, but to be honest we didn’t find anything interesting there. At the end we popped in to the Imhotep Museum – plenty of finds, different kinds, and the most important – it is a great place to cool down (air-conditioning).
Dashur – almost no tourist there. Nice place to see. Main attractions:
1.The Red Pyramid, named for the rusty reddish hue of its granite, which is the world’s first successful attempt at constructing a “true” smooth-sided pyramid. In my opinion it is worth to see the inside of this construction. Pretty impressive.
2.The Bent Pyramid, it has a unique shape, which represents a transitional pyramid form believed to have been the result of an engineering crisis encountered during its construction. We could admire this masterpiece only outside. As I remember inside was under construction or so.
Short video – What you can find inside pyramids….
Cairo is one of the biggest cities in the World, nevertheless finding a bigger store was a real adventure. We wanted to do some shopping as we were ready to leave Cairo and we thought that it could be the best place to refill our supplies. After few hours we finally found Carrefour and big shopping centre – on the outskirts of the city. The size of the store and variety of products were pretty impressive.
When we finished shopping it was sort of late and Charlie got brilliant idea. He suggested that we could sleep on the city centre parking. It was free, secured and safe. Charlie even went to the parking guy and asked him if staying just for one night at shopping mall premises would be ok to. The guard said no problem so we were more than happy to stay at the parking. Nevertheless our happiness and peaceful night were interrupted as we heard a noise of glass bottle, which was kicked under Rusty’s wheel. Then we started hearing conversation of two males in Arabic. Charlie immediately moved on the driver‘s seat and politely asked those guys what was happening. We were trying to be nice, while those guys were arrogant from the beginning. The conversation between us looked like that:
Guys: -What u do here?
Us: -Sleeping, the other guy said that we can stay overnight here.
G: -No, you cannot be here, it is not allowed
Us: -But we were told that it was ok to stay here, your friend probably forgot to mention about us staying here
G: – What friend?
Us: – He is not here, he was the other parking guard, we asked him yesterday evening
G: -Your passports
To be honest we didn’t have to show them our documents as they were only parking guys, not government officials or police, but due to situation was really tense, we showed them our passports. They did few steps back from our van and examined every single page in our papers. They came back and it started again
G: -What you do here?
U: -We were sleeping because it was too late to drive further
G: -You not wife and husband, what you do in car, you f**k, f**k…
U: -No, we were sleeping, can we stay here till morning and go back to sleep now?
G: -Do you have whisky?
U: -No we don’t have whisky, we don’t have any alcohol.
One of the guys smiled insolentlyand started showing who was the boss and said:
G: -You cannot stay here…
U: -But it is a middle of the night we don’t know where to go.
G: – No my problem, First of all you must go…
And after his huge consideration he added again…
G: -And first of all and you cannot stay here you must go … go…
Charlie got pissed off, ironically thanked for “amazing hospitality” and we left at 4am the Shopping Centre Mall.
We were back on the road…It was dark but we knew where we wanted to go – we wanted to be back at the Red Sea Coast. It was not even 20 minutes of driving when an unidentified flying object (UFO) flew towards our windscreen and smashed it. Yeah sounds like a horrible and it was horrible. The UFO was really a wooden chicken box, which was never ever supposed to fly, but because a huge truck drove on this with an appropriate speed, it just went up and flu. We somehow managed to pull the truck driver over, but there was no communication with him – language barrier. We decided to call our Polish Embassy located in Cairo and asked for help.
After a short conversation Charlie only heard from the guy: – “Why I should call too our lawyer that early and wake him up”
Charlie was really angry, but answered politely: – “Because polish citizen is in need and you are here to help in cases like this”
The guy hearing this changed his attitude a bit, explained that at the same time people who worked in Polish Embassy were helping other tourists to return to Poland as some tourist agencies collapsed, and he said that he would ask their lawyer to call us back.
We wanted to talk with police, but we didn’t know where the nearest police station was and besides…leaving the place of “car crush”? The truck driver was all the time hanging on the phone. Few moments later we noticed that one of the cars driving on the opposite side turned around and our “guilty” truck driver jumped inside it… We thought that he ran away, but he came back in 30 minutes or so. During those 30 minutes we were still expecting a phone call from our Embassy, plus we didn’t want to move from the bay we already stopped. Luckily, the lawyer from Polish Embassy called us back, when the truck driver returned. We passed him our cell phone and they were talking and talking. After a long while, we got our phone back and the lawyer said that there was nothing he could do, police would not come and we had to deal with it somehow and he was very sorry. While we were talking over the phone, the truck driver got back to his truck and he was gone, but this time he never came back…We were left alone, thinking what we would do…Charlie thought that we should come back to Cairo and find the nearest police station.
So that was the plan, while suddenly a weird car stopped close to us asking what had happened. First thing what crossed our minds was that they were policemen in unmarked police car. We of course inquired whether they were police officers. They confirmed and one of them very quickly showed us some kind ID. Charlie was showing them the windscreen, the crush…but they were not keen on, they were more interested to see what we had inside the van. Charlie got suspicious and said that it would be better to talked about this car incident at police station. They said: “ok, ok…police station” and very quickly got back to their car and drove off. It was one of those weird and pretty scary situations!!! Fortunately nothing happened and we decided to stick to our plan of finding police station on our own.
In Cairo we finally found a police station, where Charlie explained everything, but they couldn’t help and sent us to another police office. On another police station they said that they need to translate everything and we need to organize someone who would translate our evidence and pay him for it…We got so frustrated and we didn’t want to have more problems than we already had. We didn’t want to get involved more people in that situation and we decided to just drive at the seaside.
The highway we took was quite nice a straight way, in good condition through the desert. However, we were surprised with the amount of crashed cars. Every 5 or 10 km we saw smashed / overturned/burnt out vehicle. We even were over taken by an ambulance, which we later saw it attending to a crashed side. We supposed that one of the reasons of those car accidents was the heat and the second – because of Ramadan drivers didn’t drink, they were fainting.
We finally end up in Hurgada. To be honest there is not much to write about it. The coast in this part of Egypt in comparison to Sinai Peninsula is boring and underwater life is not that rich. The reason why we came there was just to rest, relax and hide somewhere…We were fed up with everything. We booked really cheap hotel with air con and spent almost 3 days inside. Charlie once decided to just eat something out. He didn’t find any good restaurants but luckily he found a garage, where they were changing windscreens. Believe or not , but they had just one example of the front glass exactly for Mercedes Benz Sprinter, for Rusty. One guy said that it was like destiny as that windscreen had been gathering a dust and waiting for us 2 or 3 years. We were extremely lucky…went to the first town and found the thing, which was really needed.
The guys worked very hard and actually in few hours they did a good job. Charlie needed to lend them some silicon as they were running out of it. And also sometimes it was pretty scary to observe how two 12 years old boys were holding and helping to put a new windshield on its place. We paid for windscreen and the service over 910 Egyptian Pounds so around 150 USD. Well, it was fair enough price and for sure much safer to drive further.
When we were leaving Hurgada we wanted to fuel up, however diesel were not that available. We finally found one petrol station with diesel…nevertheless we needed to wait in a sort of log queue…