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Sunday, October 30, 2016

10/18: A Slice of Life Near the Giza Pyramids

We had to leave our hotel in Karterados on Santorini at 5:50 am to get to the airport because we had received an email from Ryan Air we needed to be at the airport 2.5 hours prior to departure because of security concerns. Thira was so small it only took us ten minutes to get there. But we couldn’t check in for a good while as no staff had arrived yet! We were both surprised at how shabby the airport was – it was grubby and had exposed wires in the walls and not nearly enough seats for the passengers on the flight. Since we had arrived so early, we were lucky enough to have gotten seats but I pitied others who had to stand or sit on the ground for extended periods of time. Considering Santorini is such a major draw for international tourists, we were both surprised at the inferior airport.

We had never flown Ryan Air, one of the world’s deep discount airlines before that is also known for many customer service issues, but we would not hesitate to fly it again based on our one experience to Athens. Even though the flight was a short hop, the flight attendants kept going up and down the aisle trying to sell perfumes and other items. One way for the airline to boost their bottom line, I guess!

We got a connecting flight to Cairo on Egypt Air. How wonderful actually getting a free, hot meal served!
Landing in Egypt’s capital city, we remarked how we had never seen so many shades of beige buildings before. We saw no high rises and no gleaming modern buildings. (In our five days in and near Cairo, that never changed either. If you are a lover of all shades of taupe architecture, then Cairo is for you.)
We were met at the airport by the driver or owner – we weren’t sure of his role - of our hotel in nearby Giza, where the major pyramids are located. What a hair-raising drive from the airport to Giza. He said it could take anywhere from forty minutes to two hours depending on the traffic. There were technically four lanes but somehow five and even six vehicles managed to coexist, if only for only a moment or two, in the four lanes. The lane markings were only a guideline and turning signals were only a figment of a Westerner’s imagination. It was like driving in the madness of New Delhi all over again.
The driver would come within inches of the car ahead of him and then beep his horn repeatedly to have the car go faster or move out of the way immediately. The driver said Cairo was carved out of the desert and the city’s population is constantly growing so there used to be desert in between Cairo and Giza. Now though, there is no physical demarcation between the two cities and the urban sprawl is enormous. The population is a whopping twenty five million, just ten million less than Canada’s as a whole!
Because Cairo is a desert city, the population is so immense and there are few, if any pollution controls, the skies were very overcast. I am sure it must be a terrible city for anyone with long-term breathing problems. Our first view of one of the pyramids!

We could hardly believe the location of our hotel once we finally reached it safe and sound – it was right in front of the Great Pyramids! The driver/owner suggested we upgrade our room so we would have a direct view of the pyramids. Neither of us hesitated and we didn't regret that decision for one moment. There was nothing literally across the street -  no buildings between us and the expanse of desert that houses the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx. Our beyond-fabulous view of a couple of the pyramids from our room:
We didn’t realize our room would also be the ‘perfect place’ for all the construction going on during our entire visit literally next door as the hotel was getting that room ready for occupation. Oh well, we knew we weren’t going to be staying in the hotel all that much! Below, the entrance to the nightly Sound and Light show at the pyramids.
We didn't realize it immediately but the camels and horses that people ride on at the pyramids were stabled right next to our hotel too!
No wonder this one was called the Great Pyramid - look at it in relation to the tiny car! We would be seeing it and many other pyramids tomorrow with our guide - we could hardly wait!

Since we had some free time, we decided to go exploring part of Giza by ourselves for a couple of hours. When driving from the airport just a bit earlier, we had noticed a significant police presence as we approached the pyramids and thus our hotel. The driver had explained that they were tourist police making sure the most popular tourist sights were kept safe for tourists. 
The driver hadn't needed to stop - we assumed it was because he was well known to the police manning the checkpoint. There wil be much more about the tourist police in the upcoming posts about our time in Egypt. Just to make clear though - at no point did we have any misgivings about having chosen to travel to Egypt even though others had expressed significant concern on our behalf.

Photos from our stroll:
We had no goal in mind when we set out on our walk, no places that were 'must sees' – we just walked aimlessly. Steven has said sometimes my photos tend to overly glorify or beautify some of the places we have explored and I certainly understand what he means. I don't purposely set out to prettify places or people but I can't imagine you would like me to 'document' for lack of a better word, the ugly side of  places we visit. With certain places, there are few redeeming qualities and so I have attempted to reflect that through my photos and accompanying text.

A fact of life in Giza was the overwhelming amount of trash tossed everywhere. Coming from pristine Santorini, it was quite an adjustment but not an unsurprising one. Just a couple of blocks away from the hotel, the horses were tethered to the trees and rooting in the garbage strewn throughout the 'park area.'

We saw on our relatively short walk a fair number of abandoned cars.

There was no prettifying this sight.

Sponge Bob Square Pants!

All of Giza that we had seen both while driving from the airport and walking was desperately poor by our standards. But I cannot stress enough that we have never visited a country where the people have been as friendly and welcoming as they were in Egypt. I know I am getting ahead of myself here since I am only writing about our first few hours of our nine or ten days in Egypt, but still our experience walking around part of Giza was a foreshadowing of our time in Egypt. 
We were absolutely flabbergasted at the overwhelming number of people who said 'Hello,' and 'Welcome to Egypt' and 'I hope you enjoy our country' as we wandered up and down the streets. So many people also thanked us for coming even though they themselves had absolutely nothing to gain from our time in Egypt. But everyone knew that so few tourists have been visiting Egypt since the 2011 October Revolution and that the country has experienced a severe financial crisis ever since. There had been a number of people who had expressed misgivings about our coming to Egypt but we have never felt so welcomed in our lives. 

She’d stopped to speak on her phone!
Chowtime! Alright, he said, as I took his photo.

Children and adults alike constantly wanted me to take their photos. I was obviously happy to oblige as you might have guessed! No other foreigners were anywhere around and I am sure we were a novelty for the locals as indeed the sights and sounds were for us.

I cannot begin to count all the people who said, ‘Hello, welcome to Egypt, and thank you for coming.’ There had been a number of people who had expressed misgivings about our coming to Egypt but we have never felt so welcomed in our lives. 

Men smoking tobacco with water pipes was a very common sight throughout Egypt, I was later to discover.

Steven kindly 'posed' for me so I could take the photo of the men in the background!

Away from our hotel, it was clear the camel was not just for the tourists' pleasure.
This reminded us of 'Bicycle Alley' near our hostel back in Tirana, Albania earlier in the trip.

I felt like the Pied Piper of Hamelin as kids kept coming up to say a few words to us and then began following us around. None of them asked for any money, unlike so many other countries where we’ve been and have had children follow us. 

We had begun to attract quite a crowd of children, many of them the same ones who had been following us even though we had walked a fair ways. The children were all very friendly and wanted nothing more than to pose for a photo but the sheer numbers were tough to deal with. 
The taller boy - I think his name was Mohammad - had followed us the longest and was an absolute sweetheart. Steven persuaded me a short while later to put my camera away as that seemed to attract more and more children. Eventually, an older man helped us by telling the children in no uncertain terms to go and leave us alone. 

This was the first time I remember seeing coal for sale on the street.

The croissants cost all of fifteen cents.

We just had to get a close-up look at The Sphinx from the entrance gate right by our hotel even though we'd be seeing it too tomorrow!

We had the best seats in the house to that evening's Sound and Light Show as this is what we saw from our room!

Meandering through the area of Giza that tourists obviously never wander through had been an incredibly rewarding and touching experience.

Posted from Doha, Qatar on October 30th, 2016.

1 comment:

  1. "Hello and Welcome to Egypt" ! Friendly place. xo Lina


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