Delenda Est Carthago

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Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!

21.11.06

Our Adventure in Egypt, Part Two: Cairo and its environs

As I do these posts, I will tend to ramble about things that have nothing to do with the sights we saw. You know how I am. So, today's topic, before we begin our journey around Cairo, is tipping.

Egyptians like the tipping. Egypt is very much dependent on the tourist trade, and the service, I must say, is impeccable. However, the tipping becomes a bit ridiculous. You have to pretty much tip every person you see. That taxi driver who didn't run you over on the street? Tip him. That old woman who tried to sell you a chicken and didn't hurl it at your head when you declined? Tip her. The pilot who decided not to crash the plane into the pyramids? Tip away! I'm only kidding by a little bit, mind you. I don't mind the tipping at all, but after a while, I made Krys do it. Yes, I allowed my wife to emasculate me - I'm the man, I should do the tipping, right? Well, I suppose. But I got annoyed with it, because I couldn't get change. Egyptian pounds go about 5 to the dollar (it's something like 5.5, but 5 is close enough). So we just divided everything by five to figure out how much something cost in the only currency that matters, American dollars! Well, soon after we got there, I decided I would never buy anything ever again, because I just hate haggling so much (I'll get to the bazaar in due time). So the ATM gave us 100-pound notes, and when we got change, we got 50s and 20s. 20 pounds, in case you're not keeping track, is about 4 dollars. I didn't mind tipping some people 20 pounds, but not others. We kept having to track down places to give us change to get 10s and 5s, but get this: we couldn't find a lot of places who offered change. What the crap is up with that, Egypt? All these reputable places - hotels, mostly - said they had no change for us. So we were stuck with all these 20s for, say, a guy who maybe moved out luggage five feet, from the car to the lobby of the hotel (and our luggage has wheels, so it's not like it's difficult). I realize I'm quibbling over 2 dollars, but remember: you tip everyone you see. That kind of stuff adds up, and I realize that I'm a rich American and should shut up, but it's was actually tiresome figuring out what to tip everyone. And the one time I tipped poorly, the guy actually gave it back to me, which really pissed me off. I didn't mean to tip him so poorly, I just wasn't thinking. So I'm sorry, but it is, after all, just a freakin' tip. I'm sorry your currency under 5 pounds is basically worthless, and I'm sorry the socialist practices of your government for the past thirty years has ruined your economy and it's only recently you've been trying to pull out of it. It's not my fault! I think we tipped pretty generously, but it was exhausting. That's why I made Krys tip. She didn't mind.

All right, more socioeconomic observations later! Thursday morning, the ninth of November, dawned bright and early. We went downstairs and met our guide for the next two days, the supremely excellent Ghada. We pronounced it "GET-a," but the "gh" at the beginning actually has a subtle "r" sound to it that comes from deep in the throat. Stupid Arabic! She was a fantastic guide, and we had a wonderful time with her. Of course, we had a grand time with our other two guides too, but Ghada helped us immensely through the daunting streets of Cairo. We met our driver, Felipe, who was also quite excellent. If you tour Cairo, you really need to have a good driver, because of the aforementioned traffic issues. We hopped in the van and took off like a shot. Whoo-hoo!

We drove south along the east bank of the Nile. After a while we crossed the river and headed into what I would politely call the seedier sections of town. In reality it looks like a war zone. From our window we saw many apartment buildings made out of brick that were unfinished. It was weird - they were three or four stories high, and then on the roof were columns that looked like the foundations for another floor, and then, sticking out of the columns, all this rebar. It was like the workmen just walked off the job one day. We could never get a clear answer from any of the guides as to why the apartment buildings were unfinished. Ghada told us that they would add floors when the people had more children. Mourad (our second guide) said it was because the Egyptians were just plumb lazy. Maybe they ran out of money? All over Egypt, we saw rebar. It's the national symbol!

Soon we were out of the city and into the suburbs. We drove south for many kilometers (metric, remember?) until we turned west. Soon we arrived at the first of many, many tourist destinations: the ancient capital of Egypt, Memphis.

You'll have to forgive me if, along the way, I don't really go on about the history behind all these various sites. That's what the links are for! We were generally overwhelmed by all the information, and I know I will forget something. I'll try to explain some things when I can, but these posts are more about more mundane matters, such as our ongoing battle with the French and the Mummy's Curse (more on both later). And, of course, tons of pictures. Like these:


Here's Ramses II. Ramses II is freakin' everywhere in Egypt, even when he didn't actually build the thing he claims to have built. Ramses, apparently, liked putting his cartouche on temples that earlier pharaohs had built, because he, well, was a jerk. But this is apparently actually him.




Here are two views of the Sphinx at Memphis, the second largest sphinx in Egypt (no points to anyone who knows what the biggest one is).


This is Ramses again, inside the museum. I'd tell you about the significance of why his left leg is forward, but I can't remember and it's not that interesting anyway.


This is the area right outside of Memphis. It doesn't quite capture the weird juxtaposition in Egypt of ancient monuments quite literally next to modern housing. We'll see better examples later. The museum, meanwhile, was typical of what we would see in Egypt - lots of very neat artifacts, not very good explanations of things (thank God for Ghada, who told us a great deal), and scary bathrooms. For men, of course, that's not that big a deal, but I think this was the last public bathroom (or, you know, "water closet") Krys used while we were there. She had joked about bringing toilet paper with her, and the very first bathroom she used, she was glad for her preparedness!

After leaving Memphis, we were off on the road again. You may have heard of the weird phenomenon of Egypt and the Nile. The Nile used to flood twice a year (until the 1960s, when the Aswan High Dam was completed) and leave ridiculously fertile soil where it flooded. This area along the river is still ridiculously fecund, and packed full of palm trees and other vegetation. You may have also heard of the divide between this fertile strip and the desert, and it really is remarkable to see. We drove for a few kilometers, and then, suddenly, we were in the desert. No gradual dissipation of the trees. Just tall palms, and five feet away, sand. It's uncanny. Suddenly we were among the dunes and rocks with absolutely no green anywhere. And we had arrived at the Step Pyramid of Saqqara.



The Step Pyramid is an early example of pyramid-building, leading to the big ones at Giza some years later (unless you believe Graham Hancock). It's a bit tilted and not at all as impressive as the big ones, but it's still pretty amazing. It's built in the middle of a temple complex, which is entered through this corridor:


There are a lot of neat things to see around the complex, so I'll just show some of the pictures we took:



























This is my Indiana Jones picture. Those black dots near the top are men, who were digging for something. It reminded me of the scene in the first Indiana Jones movie where they're digging for the Ark of the Covenant and the sun it setting behind them.

After leaving Saqqara, we made an unannounced pit stop. We soon learned that our tour guides more than likely steered us toward certain merchants in order to get us to spend money there. Shocking, I know. We went to the Akhnaton Carpet School, where we watched a carpet being made. It was pretty fascinating, actually - the workers were making them by hand, zipping through the knots on the loom. We saw how they get silk from silk worms. It's kind of an interesting process. Then, of course, we went up into the showroom, where the salesguy showed us all sorts of neat-o carpets. Krys really wanted a carpet, but she agonized over the decision. First we looked at woolen ones, and we could afford a bigger one. Then we looked at silk ones, which were much nicer but far more expensive. We probably could have gotten a smaller one, but Krys really liked a couple of the bigger ones. Finally she decided to get a woolen one:


I thought it was a pretty good deal, but ever since then, not unlike a female, Krys has agonized over it: "I should have haggled!" says she. I tell her to take the male perspective: it's over, move on. We have a nice rug!

So we left the Akhnaton Carpet School and headed north. I was going to post more about our day, but I've been rambling too long and the Pyramids at Giza deserve their own post. So we'll just leave us at the Peace II Restaurant in West Cairo, where we ate a rather tasty lunch at the buffet, and the owner gave us extra meat because obviously we weren't appreciating the full taste sensation of the restaurant's selection! Egypt, as I may have mentioned, is big on service.

Next time: pointy buildings and a lion with a dude's head. What were the ancient Egyptians smoking????

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Jon H said...

Where does that scary stairway go down to?

23/11/06 8:34 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Jon, that's a tomb. I'm not entirely sure whose tomb, but it's a tomb. The staircase actually ends not too far below the bottom of the picture, so it's not like it vanishes into the darkness - that would be even scarier.

24/11/06 7:21 AM  
Blogger Ashley said...

Fabulous! It looks like you saw some amazing places!

I am leaving this weekend for my international adventure. I have already carefully selected my 3 oz bottles of necessities to carry on.

Packing is such a challenge these days.

24/11/06 10:33 AM  
Blogger Belladonna said...

Here is what I found out about the rebar on the buildings - YES, part of the reason is so they can add another story on top of the buildings for the next generation (land is terribly expensive, so it's better to keep stacking the housing), but beyond that there is some law that Egyptians do not have to pay taxes on buildings that are not finished. So, leave the top undone and you are home free!

RE: the tipping - yeah, it can seem somewhat overwhelming / intrusive to westerners. My experience was somewhat different in that I had LOTS of 1 pound notes and even the smaller piastres (which I called "bathroom money" since it wasn't good for much else - only worth about 20 cents). Every hotel we stayed in at Cairo had a bank where we could easily get any change we wanted.

26/11/06 8:15 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Belladonna - that makes a LOT more sense. The government should start taxing all buildings! And that must have been nice to be able to get change. I'm not sure why we couldn't find people willing to give it to us!

26/11/06 11:31 AM  

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