So I’ve made it to Cairo which means that I’ve completed the Cape Town to Cairo leg of my trip.
The night of my flight from Addis to Cairo I was suddenly super excited. I was going to see the pyramids. It was like the night before a travellers Christmas. Egypt is one of the most iconic travel destination and I was going.
I had decided to fly into Egypt rather than try and cross Sudan on my own. Looking back, I probably could have made the journey but I only met one guy who had done it and he was on his own motorbike, so I had decided not to risk it at the time.
I arrived at 1.15am and didn’t get to the hostel until 3am. I was pretty tired and just wanted to sleep but the receptionist insisted on explaining to me the sights of Egypt and the tours they offered. Suddenly I was wide awake. The next three weeks are going to include seeing the pyramids, going to Abu Simbel, sailing the Nile, visiting the Valley of the Kings and climbing Mt Sinai. This may just be the best country yet!
Cairo was surprisingly quite beautiful. Some people I met were disappointed by it, I guess it depends on your expectations. There were tall modern buildings along the Nile, old colonial buildings in downtown and many statues and squares dedicated to the rich history of the place. Yes the traffic is the most hectic I’ve ever seen, yes car horns are blaring all the time, yes it’s difficult to cross the street, yes tour touts hustle you all the time and yes you’re guaranteed to be woken up by the morning call to prayer from one of the hundreds of mosques. But that’s all part of being in Egypt and I guess you either love it and embrace it or hate it and be miserable.
Cairo still oozes a sense of nationalism and pride and in fact it reminded me more of Beijing than any other African city. There were lots of statues for each important person, Nasser and Sadat especially. The government buildings were extremely overpowering and intimidating. The Egyptian flag can be seen everywhere. Police and army personnel also manned a lot of major intersections and roads, including in Tahrir Square where the 2011 revolution had begun. You can see that despite their more recent history Egyptians still have a high sense of pride for their country.
The pyramids are obviously the highlight of the city though. Over in Giza they just appear out of no where, like the city stops and the desert begins. I took the obligatory camel ride which headed towards the pyramids from the back meaning I could see the Sahara desert stretching to my left and Cairo city to my right which was a really amazing sight. There were hardly any tourists there and only a handful of Westerners which reflects the struggles the revolution has brought since 2011 for the tourism industry. But it made it much more pleasant as I only had crazy Egyptians riding around on horses obstructing my view.
Of course standing on the big blocks that make up the pyramids you can’t help but think about that mystery question, “how the hell did they build these?”! It really is an impressive feat. But I must admit that the pyramids were exactly what I had expected and nothing more. After seeing so many images of them over the years it’s hard to be ‘blown away’ by them, but they were obviously still great to see.
I drove out 30 minutes to Dahshur pyramid which you can enter for free instead of paying the high prices at Giza. I climbed down in a tunnel for about 40m and then walked through three chambers. Of course there was nothing inside but it was still very interesting to see what it was like.
The Egyptian Museum was actually a little disappointing. Despite having an incredible and unbeatable collection of artefacts, it was so chaotic and in a real need for a revamp. Still, it was worth going and to see the mummies was definitely the highlight.
I also spent some time around Islamic Cairo where Al Azhar Mosque is found; the oldest and biggest Islamic University in the Islamic World and Coptic Cairo where there were some unique Coptic churches.
My Egypt adventure has only just begun but it makes me realise that my African leg is nearly over which is going to be really sad. Every country has amazed me in some way or another and Egypt is already no different.
*post adapted from my trip here in March 2015 and from my original blog site elishasbigtrip.wordpress.com