(Still getting caught up from this trip. Rome, Greece and London postings coming soon. We'll also put up two links to a lot of our pictures once we get them uploaded to the website.)
Okay, now we've been to the slums of Mumbai and our table mates, Duane and Kathy, had mentioned several times that Egypt was just filthy. Right, right, right. Little did we realize how much of an understatement that was! This place was FILTHY with rubble and trash EVERYWHERE! Words can not describe this place. Therefore, I took picture after picture after picture! Towards the end of the day Candice pleaded with me not to take another picture of the trash but I just couldn't help myself.
For some reason I've always been enthralled with trash but this was a pure SHOCK to me! Mounds of rubble piled up next to the roads and the irrigation canals along with piles of trash that were dumped over the edge of the canal sides. A lady on our bus told us she saw a dead camel in the water! Sorry to say that i missed that one but it doesn't take too much to imagine the extra detail! On our way out to Sakkara the irrigation canals stunk so bad that Candice had to resort to covering her mouth and nose with a washcloth that I had brought off the ship. Oh yeah, I took the picture and it is priceless! You can see her eye glaring through her sunglasses! As she was downloading the pictures later the next day, she ran across and started laughing so hard that she cried. Believe you me, she wasn't laughing at the time but I believe I was. I found the entire 18 hour day to be rather humorous and adventuresome!
We started the day off by getting up at 3 a.m. We had to have eaten breakfast and meet our tour group in the Chart Room by 3:45 a.m. to catch the tender off the boat in the mouth of the Suez Canal. Our ship transited the canal the entire day while we were off seeing the sights and garbage for 15 hours!
We had to have a security escort from the ship to the pier of Port Suez, so we made a five boat convey. We should have done this in the dark of the night but somehow the sun beat us and dawn was breaking as our convoy was headed out for a 20 minute cold journey. We laughed as we passed a sheep ship called Bader II, which was pointed out by our tender captain, when I said it's name is Baaaaaddddddder two, just like a sheep would say it! Ah, entertaining the troops so early in the morning is a tough job but someone has to do it.
Once we landed on the pier, our passports were checked by immigration officials and we walked the long pier to board the coaches. Another country who wants us to carry our passports with us is a sure sign of trouble to come. Trust me - they want to be able to identify the body! So off we were to the big city of Cairo. Eighteen million people live here with three million more that commute into the city daily making it swell to an odd twenty-one million people amongst as many piles of trash too.
As we drove through the city of Port Suez it was apparent that the military is one of the biggest employers in this area. The place looked like early 1950's buildings. There were larger buildings towards the outskirts of the city and many of these looked uncompleted. Now this government in Egypt is crazy because they don't collect taxes on buildings that are not completed. Hence, no one completes their houses. They leave about three feet of re-barb sticking up out of the the third or fourth floor and sometimes just empty blocks of rooms on the third floor. What makes things worse is that the larger projects all throughout this area and Cairo have been abandon due to their money being siphoned off. No one knows where the money is but I'll bet all they have to do is look in the mirror and they'll find it. To look out and see old houses unfinished with new projects unfinished was somewhat confusing because they really all looked the same with the exception of size at times.
Further into our drive in to Cairo the military had a strong presence. Long concrete walls lined their base with guard towers perched high on the front road containing guards with guns. Funny thing was there was a hole the size of a dump truck through the compound wall, which ran for miles, and no one was guarding that. A little later there was a pile of trash mounded up so high against the brick wall that you could just walk up to the top of the wall of garbage and step over. This was almost comical. All kinds of guards and trucks at the gated entrances, like someone was really doing their job, yet big holes exposed for all to see.
Now we had a security guard on each bus. They were all dressed in suits with ties and you could see their short 9" curved clip and handle from their guns protruding out from under their suit jacket. Along with these guards, we had a police escorts from Port Suez all the way into Cairo to our first hotel. I'm sure we were quite the spectacle with 12 buses rolling down the highway with police escorts speeding ahead and falling back intermittently with guns mounted on tripods in the back of the trucks and rifles in their hands.
Coming through Cairo during morning rush hour was too much. Coming from a country where there are rules, it was odd to see scores of people trying to cross the interstate on foot with fast moving traffic. People were stuck out in the middle and stuck on the sides of the highway, unable to cross in front of five lanes of 60 mph traffic. This would never be allowed to happen in America, my friend! It was incredible to watch.
The closer we got to the city center the thicker and higher the rubble piles got. Trash like I had never seen before with people living just steps from all the garbage! There were large lots in between houses with heaps of rock and concrete dumped out by dump trucks scatter around the piles of trash. We couldn't figure out what they had in mind. None of it was ever spread out and it was as if a construction company had just used an empty lot for their personal dump. Very rarely was a lot clean and level. One comes to mind. There was a restaurant that sat about three floors high with full length glass walls looking down into a semi-clean empty lot below but the rest of the entire area had piles of garbage surrounding it. I'm sure it was a view and a half to have with your meal.
Like I said, words just can not describe what we saw and thank God I had the movie camera to capture some of the sights while we were moving by. As we approached the Nile, the homes were very old and now not only was it a dump, the area had dilapidated houses which looked as if they would fall over any minute. Everything was coated in a 'nice' dark, grey dust color. Not much color other than cement grey and the occasional brick red. Even the stagnate garbage took on the dark grey hue.
Now twenty years ago, once you crossed over the Nile, it was a drive through the desert to get to the pyramids. Not today! The city has encroached upon the pyramids and some of the nicest hotels in town sit at the base of the road right below the pyramids. This newer section of the city is not any better than the older city, just a little newer with newer trash.
Now our first stop was breakfast at the Meridian Hotel. As we entered, there was a sign welcoming Government Motors, so I know where some of your tax dollars are going, people. The hotel was nice but their cleanliness is not up to my standards. Since we had been up for six hours at this time, I found a little bit of food to eat. Candice opted out for the most part. After using the restroom, we headed out to board the bus. While we were walking down the sidewalk towards our bus that was parked in the street, we heard this horrific screeching of tires skidding all the way down the road. Well, yes, there was an impact after that 5 second skid. Who do you think this guy rear ends? THE POLICE CAR! What a riot (especially since no one was hurt)! Well our security detail was standing outside the bus and I was trying to get around him and his gun in order to take a picture. The accident was on the other side of the bus as we passed, so I missed the really good shot but managed to get one with the car's engine leaking steam.
After that excitement, we headed right up the hill to the Giza Pyramids. Our personal tour guide called all of us Ha-Buh's. He'd say, "Now Ha-buh, we'll get off the bus and walk up to the top of the parking lot and I'll give you some details about the pyramids." He told us not to buy anything on the way and there would be some free time after he was done explaining things to us. Well, right off the bat this old man and woman start shopping with the vendors that gathered around the bus with all kinds of pyramid paraphernalia. Well our guide starts yelling for Ha-Buh but apparently Ha-Buh doesn't know their name yet. So, the guide finally had to yell off the vendors. He must have known them since he is up at this sight all the time. We finally got the group together and got the low down on the place.
The two tallest pyramids, which are the father's, and his son's, are each 365 steps high with the third one being the grandson and not as tall as the first two. The pyramids are spaced out in order to accommodate long ramps on each side that extended out for 100's of meters in all four directions to get the large blocks stacked up on each other. I think our guide told us that they are aligned with Orion's Belt. The base of the second pyramid is laid with individual pieces of stone measuring 30 meters long and about two feet high which makes it look much larger than the father's but it's not. The father's pyramid was built on more stable ground which needed less support but both are 170 meters high, I believe.
On the side of the father's and grandson's pyramids, there are smaller ones for their wives and daughters. The pyramids were built when the rulers were alive and once they died it was a thirty day process of mummifying their bodies. They cut all the organs and placed them in urns. They replaced the hearts with solid gold ones and this was the only reason the tombs were raided, for the gold. In the later years, the people started putting the bodies underneath the pyramids in secret rooms to halt the grave robbers.
We were warned not to let anyone take our pictures because they would then want you to pay them. Also, they might run off with your camera. Well, kids partake in this ritual and sure enough someone on another bus handed their camera over for a picture by a camel and off ran the camera. We were approached by multiple groups of kids hounding everyone. I told Candice, "My God, they've got the kids working this too." We declined very politely but they'd mock our answers. These kids were flashing new cameras in their hands and acting like they were just other tourist but I'd be willing to bet those are the cameras they ripped off of other tourists.
The police don't seem to care about the crime or all the vendors, and vendors there were. Too many camels all over the place and you had to watch your step. I asked a policeman if I could take his picture on the camel. He said yes, then he wanted me to pay him a dollar. Yeah, right! I just walked away. We then loaded up the bus and drove to an overlook of all three pyramids. Well, there were rows of vendor stalls lined up on the top of this mountain. It was hard to focus on the historical aspect of the place while everyone is trying to hustle you but we did the best we could.
Loading up all the Ha-buh's, we then drove down the hill to the Sphinx. It was much smaller than we had imagined and sat very close to the Giza Pyramids. I always thought they were way off in the distance but nope. Right over the hill and down a little. No McDonald's across the street from the Sphinx but there is a Pizza Hut. It was quite disgraceful to see these monuments taken over by intruding businesses and houses. No lack of vendors here at the Sphinx either. We got to walk up the gated path and check out some side rooms up to the top perch on the side. Below and off to the side some ruins were housed within the tall walls that sat next to the Sphinx. All with original marble stone walkways. The Sphinx was hand carved from one piece of rock and the nose was damaged by the enemies of the day. It was an insult to swipe off someone's nose in those days, thus the broken nose.
Once we were done with these sights we headed over to Sakkara, where we saw some tombs and the Titi step pyramid that dated back 4,050 years ago. We were able to walk down into the tomb of Ka-Gemni and see the crypt with it's inscription. The hike/crawl down was about 75 feet long and you had to really squat down and keep your head low. Once down in the tomb you could stand up. The walls were decorated with carvings and hieroglyphics.
The other ancient tomb of Mereruka was above ground with excellently preserved wall carvings and some painted areas still showing. The guards were elder Egyptian men and one was trying to tell me to take a picture of the walls even though pictures weren't allowed. I shook my head no and he insisted that I take a picture. I was tempted but then I thought about the movie "Midnight Express" which was about a Turkish prison and decided I didn't want to be thrown in an Egyptian prison that day. So, when I exited the room, he gave me the motion that he wanted money by rubbing his fingers and his thumb together. I told him I didn't take the picture and walked into another room. Since natural sunlight was streaming from the windows above, I didn't think a flash would hurt, so the rule didn't make any sense unless it was designed for the 'guards' to be able to make some money. Needless to say, I'm glad I'm not in prison somewhere in Egypt.
We drove over to the Titi step pyramid and the ancient city center. From here you could see the very first attempts at the linear pyramids in the distance. It was easy to see their early attempts of the straight line pyramids we know today. The second attempt was a little better and third one was even better.
Once we were done with these sights it was time to head back into Cairo, past all the smelly irrigation canals that branched off the Nile. I couldn't get enough pictures of these trash filled canals. If I could only have a 'scratch and sniff' card to hand out with the pictures!
We worked up such an appetite with the smells and the garbage sightings, it was time to go get some lunch. We stopped at the Mena Hotel which sits directly under the pyramids across the street from the Meridian and is one of the oldest hotels around with all handmade chandeliers and hand carved woodwork. This hotel had the only real grass I saw in Cairo that day. The grounds were beautiful and was an oasis in a sea of trash. Half the lunch was good. The other half we decided not to touch. This is also the hotel were six Germans were gunned down at the bus stop outside the hotel a couple of years back. Comforting thought, eh?
After all the Ha-buhs got back on the bus we went over for a demonstration on how they make papyrus paper. Of course, this was one of those tourist's traps but quite a few people purchased something from this shop. Now the artwork on the papyrus paper was beautiful but I just couldn't see it hanging in my house. Once we did a once-over through the shop we headed upstairs to catch the bus. There was a couple from Long Island that we met earlier that morning and they started telling us this wild story. They said one man on our bus needed to cross the street to the pharmacy to purchase some toothpaste. Now, the traffic was hectic and there were sirens going off every five minutes. I really thought we might hear a bomb blast any minute. Well, the guy couldn't get across the street due to the traffic, so our security guy pulls his gun out, walks out into the traffic and stops it dead in its tracks with his gun pulled. The guy who needs the toothpaste crosses the road and the same thing happens again when he needs to cross back over to our side again.
Too bad we missed this because the camera would have been wielded! Our security guard was really good at keeping an eye on us. He acted like he was ready for action any minute and watched the goings on around us with an evil eye. He was young but Candice had wished he had worn better shoes for running instead of his fancy shoes. I told her that he didn't need to run if he has a gun to shoot. He just has to have good aim! I don't think they mess around over here! A gun can speak volumes without ever uttering a word!
Our drive to Port Said was long and I kept dosing off. As night fell, it was apparent that we weren't going to be back to the ship at 7 p.m. We were over an hour late and once again we had a police escort from Cairo all the way to Port Said, which was 135 miles away. Our bus was waved back by the police while we were trying to pass another bus and they kept revving to the front of the convoy and then falling back. On the back roads we got a couple of stares and it was nice to be driving at night time in a vehicle since it had been so long since we had done this.
Once at the pier, we were shuttled through a gauntlet of vendors hawking their goods. The closer we got to the ship and within the security entrance, we noticed Cunard personnel blocking the way for anyone to get out of line and do some shopping outside the pre-existing vendor walls we had to snake through. Cunard greeted us with hot chocolate as we made our way to the gangway and since it had turned dark, cold and windy, it was a welcomed drink!
The day was long but we saw so much! Cairo is not a place to visit for the faint of heart. The pyramids were great! Some times I think the ancient Egyptians are rolling over in their graves. The current Egyptians have fallen far from their ancestors. They are a mess and unorganized. The government needs to get a handle on the situation but I doubt that will happen. They need to take care to preserve their ancient treasures but that seems to be a half-hearted effort. I found the people not to be impoverished but lazy, detached and unconcerned about their surroundings. Everyone was well fed and well dressed with proper hygiene but they lived in constant and deep filth. The problem is that these people aren't poor enough! If they were poor like the people in India, they would be recycling the garbage for money. Cairo would be a great project for a sanitation engineer!
The next night at dinner I had to apologize to Duane for ever doubting just how horrible Cairo's environment was. He told me that Alexandria was even worse and a guy on our bus said that Russia is going the way of Cairo, which is a shocker for me too. His wife asked if we could imagine spending the night in Cairo. At the time, I told her we would be in the country for another five hours and it was hard enough to imagine that!
We did the pyramids and that is all we ever probably need to do in Egypt for quite some time. If the tourist need security detail, I suspect it would be hard for us to arrange an independent visit. I also doubt we'd ever visit this place again. A once in a lifetime visit to Cairo is enough because the memories I have etched in my memory will definitely last me more than a few decades. I am all hustled out, Ha-Buh'd out, trashed out and wiped out! Therefore, I am all Cairo, Egypt 'd out for now!