View of the Nile at dinner.
June 1, 2006 (around 8:00am)
Get it? ‘Wrapping up’ as I’m in the land of the mummies? Okay, I know… a joke is never funny if you have to explain it.
Please forgive me – I’m going to blame this on the headache that I’m experiencing right now from being hungover…
I’m now going to tell you about the nearing of the end of my time in Egypt.
First thing’s first. For those of you who think this is a one year ‘vacation’, that couldn’t be further from the truth. This is
one year of ‘traveling’…the difference is that when I arrive in a city, I have errands that need to be done before I can think
of doing anything else. Upon arriving in Cairo, I had a list of things that needed to be accomplished before I allowed myself
time to roam around. First task: I had to figure out which bus station is used to go to Taba (near the border of Israel) and I
had to get there to buy my ticket for my train ride tonight. I thought I was timing this perfectly to make it on the bus in
Israel before Shabbat. Well, technically the timing was right for Shabbat. What I learned is that I am actually traveling
during Shavuot so bus service is non-existent for two days. Instead of going straight to Tel Aviv, I will make my home in
Eilat for a night. Now for my second task: find a place to do laundry. I finally found a place that just washes and dries
clothes (my tank tops are not worthy enough of a dry cleaning). Even with the lesser service, I have spent more at this
time on cleaning my clothes than they’re even worth. That being said, the idea of having clean clothes is priceless to me at
this moment. Freshly-smelling clothes are going to be quite a treat. And the last task: go to Cilantro and get my fresh
mango juice. Now my day could officially start…
I decided to go back to Islamic Cairo and got to fully take it in (as opposed to the last time I was there and had tunnel-
vision for only post offices and banks). I’m really glad I did this as my last time out there was a complete waste. This area is
a network of small alleys and streets that is sprinkled with mosques everywhere. You also get a taste of the local life
watching the guys drinking their chai in the teahouses (filled with only men), people transporting breads on their head to
the different shops, and kids playing in the streets. There is no range of colors in this area – only different shades of brown.
Despite this, there is something really beautiful and raw about this place.
After being tired (from not much sleep on an overnight train) and extremely hot and sweaty (it’s still about 100 degrees
out here), I decided to head back to my air-conditioned hotel room. My hotel room here has the comforts of home and I
have told myself that there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of that feeling. I took a shower and plopped onto my
bed for a nice little snooze. Taking a nap felt great. It was now time to start getting ready for dinner. A restaurant called
Sangria was recommended to me by a friend’s cousin and I thought ‘Hey, why not splurge tonight?’ (this seems to be my
motto much of the time). After a nice thirty minute walk (the sun was long gone at this point), I arrived at the restaurant.
The atmosphere and vibe of the place was great. The countertop looked right onto the Nile. It was there that I met Marcell
from Holland. He was a man who was here for business. We spent the entire time chatting. In addition, he also spent the
entire time having the waiters refill my wine glass. When my dinner bill came, he insisted on picking up my tab. After
explaining that it was all going to be expensed by his company, I finally gave up the fight and let him put his credit card
down. I was all but passed out at this point. If it is at all possible, my alcohol tolerance has actually decreased a bit while I
have been out here (I’m assuming this happens to anybody traveling through predominantly Muslim countries). He invited
me back to his hotel for another drink and I turned down the invite. Things were nice and friendly at the restaurant; going
back to the hotel would have just made it really awkward. It was nice to leave things on a pleasant note. We ‘bisou bisou’d
good night and I strolled the Nile back to my hotel. And this would be the reason for my hangover…
June 1, 2006 (around 5:00pm)
I made the executive decision to spend my last day in Cairo around the Zamalek area. Many factors were taken into
consideration: 1) I couldn’t get too sweaty because I checked out of my hotel at 12:00pm (therefore, I couldn't take a
shower before I left); 2) I wasn’t in the mood to be hassled; 3) I wanted to see more of this area; and 4) I didn’t want to
take taxis all over the place because I don’t want to pull out more Egyptian pounds from an ATM.
I discovered several things while strolling through this ‘hood…
I stumbled across the main side street. Lots of boutiques, cafes and a chocolate shop. Truth be told, the chocolate shop was
the main reason why I even ventured to this street. I saw an advertisement for it and looked up the address on a map. I
then headed straight to Marashli Street. This area feels like a piece of Pacific Heights (in San Francisco) that has been
dropped into Cairo. While this might not be suitable to everyone, it’s definitely suitable to me. I knew that I would come
back here to have my final dinner before hopping on the overnight bus to Israel.
When people come back from Egypt, you often hear stories about the pyramids they saw or the incredible temples they
saw. I bet you haven’t heard too many people talk about the fish garden that they saw in Cairo. While there’s probably a
good reason for this (as it’s not the most fascinating thing I’ve ever seen), it was in Zamalek and I was walking past it so I
figured I would check it out. It was like strolling around a park with a somewhat lush environment. The fish are housed in
tanks that are within caves. I’m beginning to think that I know where the Muslims’ secret spot to show displays of affection
is. Inside the caves you see many couples strolling hand in hand. And I didn’t see any of them looking at fish. Instead they
were all acting very schmoopie with one another…a sight that’s not common at all in this neck of the world.
Back to the fish. Nothing that great. Lots of tilapia and some turtles. The caves actually turned out to be pretty cool. They
reminded me slightly of the grotto that I saw in Lebanon with stalactites (I’m pretty impressed with the way that I’ve
retained this word) coming down from the top. The only difference here is that there is a noise. It was a noise I could have
done without. It indicated from presence of bats. And that was it for the caves…
I spent the rest of the time just sitting on a bench in the shade watching the kids play football (i.e. soccer). It was very
pleasant and very non-sweaty. A good way to spend a couple hours.
En route to the fish garden, I came across ‘Souffle’ - an incredible looking bakery that also sold gourmet little chocolates. I
obviously had to enter such a place and the guy insisted (literally) that I try several pieces - six to be exact. With such good
service, how could I not buy some stuff??? I proceeded to buy a piece of cake, an assortment of cookies, some savory little
treats and, of course, some dark chocolate. I’m not kidding when I say that I walked away with two bakery boxes. One was
smaller than the other and it’s not like they were completely filled…but still. As I walked down the street, I was an
advertisement for American women with a sweet tooth. And I have to say that I wasn’t even mildly embarrassed. If
anything, I was proud of myself for finding such a great shop.
I am now back at the street I stumbled across earlier at a place called Café Tabasco. I love this place. It’s just a shame that
I didn’t find it before today. In any case, it’s a great way to wrap up my time in Egypt. Though there’s nothing Egyptian
about it, I did hit a point yesterday where I was just a bit ‘Egyptian’ed out so this is what the doctor ordered.
Now that my time here is over, I will conclude with a few comments about my time in this country…
- Though I didn’t get to see and do everything that I would have liked to, I feel like I still saw a lot and that I didn’t
rush through anything. It would be hard to see this country just by going from sight to sight to sight. The downtime
on the felucca and in Dahab (and even in Cairo for the past day) has been extremely valuable.
- While people in Cairo look similar to people of the neighboring countries in the Middle East, the people further south
(particularly people from the Nubian villages) tend to look much more African. You can definitely see the two parts of
the world coming together in this country.
- Don't be a fool and try the fuul out here. It's good stuff (especially when ordered 'spicy')!
- I am sooo ready to not hear the word ‘baksheesh’ anymore. These people don’t want it for giving you ‘good’ service;
they want it for giving you ‘any’ service. A couple examples: I was in a bus from Kom Ombo to Luxor. I was sitting
behind the driver. Both his window was open and my window was open (this seemed like a wise idea as it was so hot
and there was no air-conditioning). He takes a swig of water, swishes it in his mouth and then spits it out his window.
I think you can guess where it landed. Straight through my window and all over me. And then he had the nerve to
‘baksheesh’ me when we got to my stop. Another baksheesh moment: I was at the Luxor Temple. As I was leaving I
was snapping a couple pictures of the entire place. The guy who worked there told me to walk up literally two more
stairs to get ‘a better view’. The view was obviously the exact same but to be polite I acted as if his idea was helpful. I
took a couple pictures from there. Then he did the finger rub and said ‘baksheesh’. (Just to clarify, neither of them
- After traveling in Egypt for a while you end up not trusting anybody. This is really sad because I’m sure there were
one or two people that were truly just being helpful and I completely snubbed them. I trusted several people in the
beginning and ended up being taken for a fool. I had my mind set that I was not going to have it happen again.
- I’m pretty sure that my body has been exposed to all sorts of Egyptian bacteria and it has withstood the test. For
example, our dishes on our felucca were being washed with Nile River water. Yes, you heard that correctly. And I’ve
been eating fruits and vegetables that haven’t been cooked. Not the smartest but sometimes there’s either no way
around it or you just assume that it won’t be a problem. In addition, I had fish for dinner the night after my felucca
trip. I had been involuntarily vegetarian for about three days. The fish tasted like river water. For some odd reason,
this didn't stop me. I was just happy to be eating something that gave up their life for me.
- I have said it before and I will say it again. I love Zamalek. I will tell you why…
- It’s not very touristy so when you go into a shop, there’s a solid price for everything. Not the inflated prices that
they give you in the downtown area (i.e. they tell me the water is 2 Egyptian pounds (L.E.) as opposed to
downtown where they tell you it’s 10 L.E. and then you have to spend 5 minutes getting it down to the normal
price of 2 L.E.).
- The streets are narrow and filled with trees. This creates shade. Shade is priceless in Egypt in May.
- There are great restaurants, produce shops, bakeries and cafes.
- Along the lines of things not being inflated, internet costs 5 L.E. per hour (less than $1 US) and it only cost me 5
L.E. to burn my 1 GB memory card from my camera onto a CD.
- Nobody hassles you when you’re walking down the street.
- I found dark chocolate.
So this has been Egypt. The land of pyramids, temples and people that hassle you to the point of being excited to move onto
the next country…