A Journey

Basil & Tracy's Travels Abroad

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Camels in Cairo - Welcome in Egypt

Sabah el-kheer. Here we are in Cairo, described in our guide as: 'Defying doomsayers by dancing on the edge'. All that we have experienced since our arrival has confirmed the appropriateness of this. Twenty million people live here under a thick layer of smog; a third of whom have no running water. Teeming with people, the city never sleeps, with noisy, noisesome rush-hour conditions day and night. Crossing the road requires a leap of faith - just step out, follow the path of least resistance, and you will arrive on the other side - Insh Allah! Few of the roads have any markings, traffic lights or signs - just go with the flow, dart into any opportunistic spaces that present, sounding your horn with abandon, absorb the flow of jay-walkers and you will arrive. In bumpy, single-track, two-way lanes expect to meet: lorries, taxis, motor bikes, bicycles, donkey carts, hand carts and herds of sheep jostling for space with pedestrians, cross-legged hawkers, people bearing enormous trays of flat-breads or gas cylinders (or almost anything else you can think of!) on their heads and children playing in the gutters. Welcome in Egypt!

To balance the mayhem, or maybe to add to it, we find that the people are happy, friendly and welcoming. All kinds of people, young and old, rich and poor, calling across the street to you, inviting you for tea, offering you a taste of their wares and, always, 'You are welcome in Egypt'! We expected more hustlers here but, apart from Giza and the like, the Cairoese are more interested in being friendly than in your wallet. We have spent most of our time wandering through the souks in and around our neighbourhood; the souk of tentmakers (fantastic), souk of car accessoriess, vegetables, musical instrument makers, mobile phone accessories, harness makers, appliqué workers, furniture makers, goldsmiths, shoe makers, brush makers, second-hand books…almost medieval, but with a twist!

We climbed up the spiral staircase to the top of the needle-like miranet of a mosque to survey the scene ('You can see Giza from up there' we were told - no chance through the thick pall of smog!).

We visited Giza as well as some lesser-known, and therefore unfrequented, pyramid fields (there are hundreds of pyramids around here, standing in the desiccating desert, still and silent and timeless, their various shapes and sizes reflecting different periods of Pharonic history), driving to them through the lush date plantations and arable land on the banks of the Nile - such a contrast to the desert just a short distance away.

We absorbed the calm of the gardens of the Coptic museum (10% of Egyptians are Copts; apparently, the monastic tradition, the cult of the virgin and perhaps the symbol of the cross (the ankh? breath/life) originated in Egypt, the Egyptians of old (45 AD) could relate easily to the concept of the resurrection, especially if it is available to poor people who can't afford expensive burial rituals!

The Coptic church has its own pope, totally independent from the Vatican, and some of its liturgy are sung in old Coptic - a language descended from ancient Egyptian); we marvelled at the treasures of Tutankhamun, astonishing stuff; and, perhaps the best (!) have feasted on falafels, fuul (broad bean stew) and sticky sweets. A pitta stuffed with falafels, tahini and salad costs 50 piastres (5p) (sorry, Edd!) and a large, freshly squeezed orange, mango or pomegranate juice costs E£1 (10p) (sorry Jason!) - yum, yum.

Tonight we are embarking on a 12-hour, overnight train journey to Aswan, in the far south on the Nile, so who knows what we will find when we wake up! It doesn't feel very Christmassy here, although many people do wish us a Merry Christmas, but we are staying in a hotel off Rameses Square run by Copts, who have a tree and nativity, which remind us to wish all our friends a Happy Christmas and to send our love to everyone.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year


  • At 12:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Basil and Tracy, just got around to checking out this Blog thing, the pictures look great, Have a Fantastic New Year.

    Steve T


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