The Single Step – Cairo

11th May 2006

I finally arrived in Egypt today after a very long flight and 7 years of waiting. After getting settled we looked into going out to the Grand Bazaar “Khan el Khalili” and managed to hire a private driver for 180 Egyptian Pounds. We changed some money, that was fun there are four Egyptian Pounds to the Australian Dollar and the money is very interesting, but very old and dirty. We got no coins only notes and it kind of reminded me of monopoly money, very colourful and had wonderful things depicted on it.

The driver took us through Cairo in a “limousine”, in Egypt a limousine is just a new car with no dents. I was astounded by the way the Egyptians travelled, jumping onto buses already in motion, hailing cabs and then bartering the fare with the drivers, I even saw the odd donkey or two being ridden by the peasants, wares heaped on its back. When we drove past the Egyptian men, in cars or on foot, they seemed very fascinated with me, peering into the car and gawking at me. I felt kind of like a gold fish, I did learn before I left that fair skin, green eyes and red hair are the qualities which are prized by Egyptian men and I have all of them, the red hair is dyed, but I guess they didn’t figure that out.

We arrived at the bazaar and the driver told us where to go and said he would wait in a coffee shop until we were finished. We walked through an underground tunnel, that thankfully led us under the mental street above, as tired as I was, I was very glad I didn’t have to take my life in my hands crossing it at that point.

As soon as we got to the bazaar, I was the object of attention. I couldn’t help smiling at all the young men trying to get me to have a look in their shops by smothering me with compliments….of course I hated every minute of that. “Pretty Girl, you like this? Come here!” or “Very beautiful, come into my shop” my favourite one was when one asked my father “How many Camels?” I couldn’t stop smiling the whole time and my father kept telling me off for encouraging them, but I couldn’t help it I was almost hysterical after that Camel comment.

Khan el Khalili with Mum
Mum and I in the Khan el Khalili Bazaar

They had so much for sale in the bazaar; you could buy gold, jewels, water pipes or hubbly bubblies as the Egyptians call them. There were Canopic jars and all manner of Egyptian statues and carpets, perfumes, ivory and even furniture. I bought myself a small black and gold statue of my hero Akhenaten for 35 Egyptian Pounds, which my father again told me off for. He thought I had been conned, I thought that’s pretty good that’s only $7.50 Australian, I would have paid around $30 Australian for something like that back home. After my bargaining efforts my father insisted we leave. On the way back a little girl of about five with short brown hair and a cheeky smile approached my mother with handmade bracelets with a scarab beetles on them, two pounds she said and when I went over to her she said two for five pounds, which I thought was very cute and Mum and I bought one each. She probably went away thinking stupid tourists…cheeky girl.

We then managed to find our driver in the chaos of Cairo and had a drink, I was fascinated with my can of Coke which of course had Coke written on it in Arabic writing. We then took a drive to the Alabaster Mosque. This cost 35 Egyptian Pounds to get in, which seemed like a lot but of course it wasn’t. The whole building is made from Egyptian Alabaster and is quite a site. It has a large dome and I had to be covered up to go in. I was dressed in a beautiful emerald, green cover all before I could be admitted. While other travellers would complain about this, I thought I would try to find something similar in a bazaar later, it really was a beautiful garment and I had never seen such a beautiful green. I walked around the courtyard still in this garment; the courtyard was also completely made out of Egyptian Alabaster. I then proceeded to one of the viewing platforms from which I could see the city of the dead which surrounds the mosque and is right in the middle of Cairo. As I looked out at this very different city, I was again amazed by how densely packed, polluted and different it was to the city I had just come from and the culture shock had more than started to set in.

We then returned to the driver, and I suggested a trip to Dahshour to see the Red Pyramid and Bent Pyramid of King Snefru, but this was totally in the opposite direction, so we went back to the hotel and I went for a swim in the shadow of the Pyramids and then sat at the bar drinking cocktails with Dad. We then all had a nice traditional Egyptian Dinner, which I’m sorry to say I regretted later, my fragile stomach not being used to the travel and all the new spices. I then went off to bed in our Egyptian style apartment. Tomorrow we would be touring the great pyramids, I thought it’s a waste of time even trying to sleep, but to my surprise I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

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