Monday, February 28, 2011

Crazy Cairo

from a bridge over the River Nile

With a population of more than 18 million, Cairo is a hive of activity. I am not concerned in the slightest whilst the revolution occurs around me, i am far more scared just trying to cross the road. A truly wild experience. My years of playing Frogger has finally paid off.

Despite its sprawling size, it’s not an unpleasant city – Central Cairo is reminiscent of Paris, with it’s suave cafes and sophisticated buildings and architecture.

Clearly there is still a sense of emergency in operation and my visits to both the Jordanian and Israeli Embassy were futile. Jordan stopped issuing multiple entry visas a month a go whilst despite taking almost an hour to get through rigorous security outside the Israeli Embassy, when i do manage to arrive at their office on the 17th floor in some unmarked and obscure building, it transpires that it has been closed since January.

Despite the close proximity of the pyramids at Giza, Cairo is not a pharaonic city, with it’s foundations laid in AD946.

Qasr el-Nil bridge

If you only have a short time in Egypt, a visit to the Egyptian Museum is a must. This rose coloured building is cram packed with ancient treasures, although it is poorly lit and labels are limited. Admission is E£60 for an adult and E£30 for a student. A new museum is currently in construction in Giza to provide a more appropriate holding for the exquisite collection. You can easily spend all day checking out some 60 rooms on its two levels, and it is best to be selective.

Upstairs you can find the Tutankhamun galleries. Although a very insignificant Pharoah – he only ruled for nine years, his treasures found by Howard Carter are simply outstanding, with lavish jewellery, artefacts and his incredible death-mask made of solid gold.

Having procured student status, i opt to pay an extra E£60 (E£100 non-students) to visit the Egyptian mummies – straight out of Scooby Doo. To see the remains of Ramses II with his whispy white hair, or Ramsis V with his small-pox covered skull is quite something.

No photography is allowerd unless you are an Egyptian using a mobile phone.

How To Make An Egyptian Mummy

1) Remove brain by breaking through the ethmoid bone
2) Make a small incision on the left hand side of the torso stomach, liver, intestines and lungs. These can be dried out in canopic jars, but the heart (the seat of the soul) should be left in place
3) Lay the body out and surround and cover it in natron (a mix of salt and baking soda to dry out moisture from the body tissue
4) After 40 days remove natron and massage the body with sacred essential oils and unguents.
5) Spend 30 days to wrap around bandages and jewels (70 is an auspicious number associated with the god Osiris

Cairo Tower and the Opera House

Khan Al – Khalili Bazaar is one horrendous sprawl packed with almost everything imaginable. The narrow lanes and alleys are not for the claustraphobes, but i manage to last about an hour. It’s also known as Islamic Cairo for its collection of old mosques.

mosque window

Old Cairo – originally Babylon, is small but interesting. Centred around the Coptic church and museum, it also hosts a few monasteries and a small souq. You can get there via the Metro and exit out at Mar Girgis.

old mosque in the Citadel

Coptic museum and church

outside an old mosque

and inside the aforementioned mosque

The Nile island Zamelek and Gezira is the place to be seen. Gezira is filled with parks, whilst Zamelek has some quality and expensive restaurants and bars. Maison Thomas offers the best pizzas in Egypt. Prices range from E£40 – E£75 plus tax.

Another good food option at much more reasonable prices is Kazaz with several branches around town. Large kebabs are less than E£10.

The pyramids of Giza lie in the city’s suburbs. There are normally regular buses heading out of Tahir square, but not at the moment. I take the Metro to Al Giza and get a microbus E£2 which takes you to Pyramid Way. A separate posting can be found by clicking here.

The Metro is clean, efficient and cheap; E£1 for each ride. In the middle of the Metro trains are two carriages for women only – no groping hands to deal with for female travellists.

Microbuses also serve the city for E£1 -3 if you can figure out where they are going.

Most pleasant of all is the lack of hassles from the people – i like the sense of anonymity, especially after being treated as a cash cow in Aswan and Luxor. I am even called back to have change returned on several occasions.

I am based at the lovely Pension Roma in the city centre, paying E£72 including breakfast and free Wi-Fi - my kind of place. It's situated at 169 Mohamed Fahid Street. My only complaint is the hard thin mattress. C'est la vie.

with so many people and traffic, pollution levels get seriously high

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Alien Intelligence?

I am always up for a good ol’ comspiracy theory. Ever heard the one that it was aliens that taught the Ancient Egyptians how to build the pyramids?

In an ALITD exclusive, i have collated photographic evidence that this was simply not the case.

This is a photograph of the “bent” pyramid in Dahshur. Surely extra-terrestial intelligence would not be capable of such a complete monumental fuck-up?

Whilst i'm on the subject, there are two further myths i need to try to dispel:
1) The pyramids were not built by slaves. The work-force were fed, had access to medical care and were usually top quality artisans who were used outside harvest-time.
2) Live people were buried with the pharaohs so they could lead a good life in the afterworld. Apart from the mummies, no skeletons have been uncovered in the pyramids and tombs.

And there you have it!

More stuff on the pyramids are on their way – you have been warned. Well i am in Egypt after all.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

An Eye and a Lens - Friday Demonstrations in Tahrir Square

The Egyptians promised to return to Tahrir Square every Friday until all their demands were met, so i spend yesterday afternoon checking it out.

My passport and bag are checked three times as i make the 1.5km walk from my pension to the square. Tanks are placed at every corner, and i fear this might not be such a smart idea.

Nonetheless, although the crowd is large – maybe some 5000 people there is very much a carnival atmosphere. Slogans are chanted, revolutionary songs sung, souvenir sellers plying their trade and a complete mix of people – young and old, men and women, orthodox Moslems and secular, able bodied and disabled. At times it looks more like a market-place.

Plain clothes offices mingle, but nothing kicks off. With my camera equipment a number of locals thank me for my “reporting”, and i don’t like to disappoint them by informing them i am just a passing tourist.

As usual, please respect these images are mine - i share them with you to enjoy only - not to infringe their copyright.

despite the threats of violense all remains peaceful

a revolution becomes a cash cow - good business for flag sellars

it could have turned nasty - sparing a thought for Libya

young women have their say

the Cairo youth revolutionists

fun for all the family

young victor

even the disabled join in the street demonstrations

Post Script: With a curfew at 12am, the police/army moved in at midnight with batons and beat the protestors.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Life's A Riot

I promised both Ma and Ying i would stay out of trouble, but as i arrive into Cairo, i can't resist a brief visit to see what's happening in Midan Tahrir.

There are a few tanks scattered around the centre and a lively demonstration going on, including a few foreigners with supportive placards. Nonetheless, the numbers can't amount to more than 400 and there are as many Egyptians there to take photos and videos on their mobiles than to join in the protest.

These photos were taken on Tuesday 22nd. When i revisit the next day, the square is deserted.

Tobes writes to inform me the border to Libya is now open and suggests i pay a visit; i could get some interesting photos. He's right, but i won't.

The cost to lost tourism in Egypt since January 25th now stands at US$1 billion.

Nubian Wall Murals

Luxor marks the northern outpost for the Nubians. They have been ever present with me since arriving in Sudan - although the Sudanese Nubians are far more genuine and honest than their Egyptian counterparts.

The architecture is beautiful and many of them paint interesting murals on the outside walls. Here are just a few of my faves.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Train Travel in Egypt

If you believe Lonely Planet, travellists need to purchase tickets for specified “tourist trains” at exorbitant prices. This is not the case. You can jump onto any train and get charged local rates, although seating is not guaranteed.

I grab the 8.45am from Luxor heading up to Cairo. It costs E£52 and takes 10 hours exactly. I do lose my seat at 1.30pm, but i am invited to sit on the floor on a piece of cardboard and plyed with cigarettes, Mirinda apple soda and chips from friendly and curious locals. Positive experiences with Egyptians have been decidedly rare and it make a refreshing change.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


central Mosque - East Bank

Built on the ancient capital of Thebes with a history dating back some 4000 years, Luxor is a must-see on the Egypt trail.

It is a busy city with a population close to half a million people, most of which is based on the East Bank. A ferry operates 24/7 across the Nile for E£1.

The two temples are seriously beautiful in Luxor (East Bank).

Karnak is an extraordinary vast temple complex. Built, modified, expanded and restored over a period of some 1500 years, it became the most important temple of worship during the New Kingdom. The main tructure inside is the Temple of Amun , and is considered to be the largest religious temple ever built. Entrance fee is E£65/E£35 for adults/students.

More Photos of Karnak in Monochrome

The Luxor temple has mini sphinx lined up as you enter and has plenty to offer. Whilst most of it was built by Amenhotep III, many other left their mark, including Tutenkhamun, Ramses II, Nectanebo, Alexander the Great and the Romans. There is even an 13th century mosque slapped into the middle of the complex.

The Luxor Museum has an excellent reputation, but all museums in Egypt remain closed. During the recent protest, the National Museum was damaged and looted, and security remains on high alert.

There is a large souq (market) selling all the usually tourist goods.

First i check out a couple of hotels on the East Bank the Nefretiti Hotel which has really nice rooms for E£100 / E£160 for singles/doubles including breakfast on their comfy rooftop. The Happyland is less salubrious and i have to battle to get a room for E£70 including a Middle-Eastern breakfast. The owner is a serious crook and i don’t feel comfortable staying here.

A much more tranquil option is to stay in the more rural Western side. We negotiate an E£80 single with no breakfast but use of the kitchen at Kareem’s. One of the owners (Mandu) is a serious gangster – but then so are so many Egyptians. His brother is far more pleasant. After the beautiful Sudanese, it seriously aggravates me. Ever heard of the expression “the cheating Arabs”? It must stem from tourists who have visited Egypt.

With all the outlays of money for temple visiting, i opt to self cater. The small grocery shop next to Kareem’s has a good stock and good and honest prices. For restaurants, Snack-Time opposite Luxor temple offers Wi-Fi and an interesting menu.

You can go nuts with all the temples and tombs that surround Luxor. My personal faves were Karnak, Ramusseum and Valley of the Kings. But hey – we’re all different.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Donkey Riding into the Valley of the Kings

Both Elizabeth and Caspar, my Felucca friends, were in Cairo as the locals tooks to the streets, and both had cool stories to share. Elizabeth meets a 22 year old blond American woman who has come "to help". She claims to be a Communist and Elizabeth who originates from the former East Germany lets rip. The blond backtracks pretty swiftly and settles for anarchist instead. It transpires she is a dominatrix at a SM parlour who spends most of her time bedding a Mexican journalist at the hotel. Caspar's friends call him in Egypt and tell him it is too dangerous. This to a man who has fought in both Afganistan and Iraq! Not really, Caspar is busy eating chocolate pancakes.

Elizabeth shares my passion for blogging. Much more knowledgeable than myself, with a comprehensive and concrete knowledge of Ancient Egypt, check out her blog for a far more indepth analysis and commentary on Luxor and other temples. Not sure who this mysterious Mountain Man might be though.

Elizabeth has now started taking video footage with her Nikon F90 and rather naughtily managed to video inside the tombs both the Valleys of Kings and Queens. Unfortunately the videos are long and need editing, but she has promised to send me edited footage when she returns to the USA in a couple of months time.

She sneakily videos Caspar and myself during our descent on donkeys into the Valley of the Kings. Caspar is the one in the cowboy hat.

Both Caspar and Elizabeth have made most congenial travel partners, but they extend their stay in Luxor as i head northwards up to Cairo. They both give me lovely presents, real American gum from Elizabeth and, from Caspar, ciggie papers and a new pair of headphones (mine managed to mysteriously disappear after posting the other night from the Net cafe). I feel bad as i have nothing to give in return, but Elizabeth requests a couple of my photos and i am more than happy to oblige. For Caspar? I will put him in touch with Seth for a low-down on the Saan tribe in Namibia. Perfect for Spirit Man!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Travelling with Milan

Celebrating his 59th birthday in Abri, the oasis town in northern Sudan, Milan is also celebrating his 20th year on the road. Coming from the Czech Republic, international travel was never an option for him. He has made up for it as Africa overland marks his sixth and, for him, final continent. He left Cape Town for four months and has fairly zoomed his way overland (like myself - barring Ethiopia, although he did try crossing overland from Kenya).

A most humble farmer he is also an incredible thinker and philosopher. Days and nights are intense, but he has been a quality travelling companion. He has given up drink and meat (his farm and beehives are all organic), thrown out his television (to the utter disgust of his wife, son and grandchildren. He won’t contemplate a computer or mobile phone. He is interested in the Amish community, but won’t join anything – including the Communist Party which did him no favours following the Russian invasion in 1968.

Milan closes his farm for the winter months and travels on a tight budget. He won’t pay more than US$12 for a room, choosing bus stations or parks as an alternative.

He is fascinated by the British and is totally delighted to cross-question me about completely everything. I keep reminding his i have been non-dom for 20 years, but he doesn’t care. His dream is to attend some philosophy lectures at Oxford University, and although i encourage him to go for it, i warn him i fear he will be very disappointed.

Milan is really out there. The mass media is designed to deprogram the human brain and dumb us up. The World is run by just a hanful of families, and Noam Chmsky is just a political puppet to appease people who try to question stuff more in-depth. Nonetheless he says it’s all natural and the maintenance status quo is essential. Almost every time he appendages his sentences with “but i might be completely wrong”.

He wants to stay in touch with me, although he can only do this with his land-line telephone, so i pass him my fsther’s telephone and ask him to call me in three months. Meanwhile, he heads to Alexandra before trying to catch the ferry to Venice on Sunday.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

An Eye and a Lens - Karnak Temple Complex

Karnak at sunrise

Karnak is an extraordinary and vast temple complex. Built, modified, expanded and restored over a period of some 1500 years, it became the most important temple of worship during the New Kingdom. The main structure inside is the Temple of Amun, and is considered to be the largest religious temple ever built. Entrance fee is E£65/E£35 for adults/students.

I see a first tour bus since arriving in Egypt, mostly dressed totally inappropriately in shorts and bare shoulders, but fortunately they don’t stay long. It takes me some 6 hours to do this complex justice.