Arrive into Cairo at 5:40 am in the dark or was that the pollution?

posted Dec 25, 2010, 7:39 AM by Darren Cannell   [ updated Dec 25, 2010, 11:03 PM ]
Cairo is not a pretty city but it does have its charms.  When you arrive into the airport you have to purchase a visa from Thomas Cook, not from their government that checks your passport or anything but from a travel agency for 15 US.  I would suggest to the Egyptian government that this is more of an entrance fee to their country than a traditional visa.  We had hired a driver and guide from a suggestion of our friends the Kirkpatricks who used them.  So it was nice to get picked up from the airport and know that they spoke English and could get us to our hotel.  Raed and Mohammad are the owners of this company and you can get a hold of them by emailing and they charged 80 US a day for their service.  The driver was amazing and very good, that is a hard job in that obscene traffic of Cairo.  The traffic in Cairo is about as horrendous as you can imagine.  There are 22 million people in Cairo and they all live along the Nile River so getting across one of its many bridges or driving along the river takes an eternity and the pollution pumping out from all of its cars is atrocious not as bad as Bangkok in the summer but it is bad enough.   Everyone is honking and no one sticks to a lane, the lines are just for a joke I think.  It is a total free- for- all on the highways and roads.  There is much to look at outside the windows of the van while being driven.  Most things are a drab color due to the dust and the grime from the pollution but there are many mosques to see and ugly have finished apartment buildings built of red brick.  Most of the buildings have rebar sticking out the top of them and this to continue to add on floors and it gives a completely unfinished look to most of their buildings. 
They took us to our hotel at the Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino.  When you drive up there is a set of bomb sniffing dogs that walk around your vehicle with their officer.  We checked in early and took the upgrade to the Executive level which gave us breakfast and dinner and drinks and snacks in between for an additional 55 US.  I had a good rate to begin with from the friends and family program rate because I have a friend with Marriott.  The hotel was really nice and we had a Nile River view off of our balcony on the 8th floor.

We agreed to have them pick us up at 9:30 am which gave us time to rest from our overnight flight and have breakfast and have a bath.  We headed straight out to the pyramids; after all this is what we came to Cairo for to see the Pyramids of Giza.  I was a bit confused to find out that there are allot more pyramids in Cairo than just the Giza pyramids.  There are actually 120 pyramids in all of Egypt.  We first of all went to Dahshur Pyramid and this was really cool because we got to go down inside to the chambers inside of the pyramid.  You have to go down a steep embankment with 2” steel rods as steps.  The ceiling height was high enough for Daxtin to go down front ways.  It was easier for me with my height to go backwards.  It was a good hamstring workout and I enjoyed it, but it is a bit creepy because you are going backwards into a very dark and extremely musty crypt.  At Dashur there were no hieroglyphics to speak of just the tomb area where the sarcophagus once was and now is in the Museum of Cairo.  We explored a while and then headed up to the sunshine and fresh (not really) air of Cairo.  We were buzzing because everyone wants to see the pyramids their whole life and we were no exception.
We drove off to another one of the 3 pyramids because pyramids are always built in 3’s; who knew?  This one had some Tourism Police who had camels and this was a huge source of excitement for all of us and we walked up to see the camels and the police officer wanted to take Dax for a ride.  Dax actually went with the officer and got a ride off of this huge beast with its colourful saddle and blankets with its pretty doe eyes.  Our guide said we should tip the officers so I gave them 10 Egyptian Pounds which is 2 US approximately.  When I later thought of it, they should not have taken any money but apparently the police in Egypt for the most part can be corrupt, what a surprise.

Along the route to the other Pyramids of Gsr we saw much of agricultural crops and many donkeys and camels and tuk tuks.  Egypt’s biggest exports however are petroleum palm oil and Middle Eastern movies.  There biggest money maker is definitely tourism though.  I did not even know that Christmas season is there busiest time, because it is cooler and boy were the pyramids crowded.  The temperature was a pleasant 17 degrees which is decent for pants and then I felt allot more comfortable.  Some women (foreigners) wear whatever they want and apparently without any problem.  The Pyramid of Gsr was even cooler because there is an entrance area of columns and hieroglyphics everywhere and it was more ornate so this Pharaoh obviously spent more money on himself than Dahshur.  We went inside this one but we could not take pictures because the hieroglyphics are in pretty good condition and the colors were fairly intact.  This was so neat to see such ancient writing on the walls depicting the life of the Pharaoh.  There were many other writings on the outer walls to see and take pictures of.
We went for lunch outside the second set of Pyramids at a place where the women were hand-making the bread and the musicians pipe up as soon as new customers come in.  Everyone wants some money including every bathroom attendant.  Now if the bathrooms were kept clean then I would have considered paying but not in the conditions I found most of the toilet areas.  The meal however was really good and unusual with spicy hummus and the fresh Egyptian pita like bread to dip in it.  There was lamb and a zesty beef cooked in an unusual little gold barbecue that they place on your table.  There were many salads and falafel.  For dessert there was freshly picked date fruit before it is dried which I am used to.  I prefer it dried.

We moved onto the Great Pyramids of Giza which are the biggest and they are amazing to see.  There is a real desert of dunes surrounding it but with the city of Cairo underneath.  This Pharaoh had his tomb built on the highest spot in the area.  All of the pyramids entrance fees were 60 Egyptian Pounds which I thought was a bit high.  Lots of photo opportunities were available and then we moved onto see the Sphinx and the entrance area for the normal people to come and pray 4000 years ago.  The Sphinx is in pretty rough shape but it was still amazing to see her and the crowds were terrible there.

We walked outside the Sphinx area to a little shop called Ramses Perfumes Palace and the owner just happens to be Dodi El Fayed’s Dad the owner of Harrod’s in England.  Dodi was the dude who died with Princess Diana in the car crash.  We had a demonstration of the pure oils that make up their perfumes that are non-flammable and they sold me on them and we bought a case of 7.  Two for Darren and five for me, I felt that was more than fair.  We paid 1250 Egyptian Pounds with our VISA but you have to watch everyone because originally it said 1250 USD and that would have been extremely expensive perfume.  I called them on it and they did a credit and then put it is the correct funds.  Some of the scents that we bought are only available in Egypt like ‘Secret of the Nile’; so I would have to come back for a refill if I wanted to buy more.

We called it a day; we were exhausted with the long flight, jetlag, the excitement of the pyramids etc and got a ride back to our hotel for a good long sleep.