Thursday, January 22, 2009

In the Land of the Pyramids

From lush tropical forests to grand old cities to sun-swept beaches...we've been very fortunate to experience an amazing variety of travel destinations.

But very few journeys around the globe could prepare us for our recent whirlwind 8-hour tour of Cairo, Egypt. During our delightful time in South Africa, we examined our travel schedule closely and realized that with a bit of rearranging, we could delay our return to Amsterdam by a us a day in Cairo to visit the pyramids, see some ancient tombs, and perhaps tour the National Museum for a peek at some King Tut artifacts.

An important note: Thanks to a book that he had recently received, Cole was absolutely OBSESSED with the story of King Tut and the discovery of his tomb, regularly quoting facts that an eighth-grader would be hard pressed to remember! So the prospect of seeing Tut's "stuff" had him nearly shaking with excitement.

Our tour began in the morning with a drive through the city, enjoying the gorgeous early morning sun (more on WHY later) and getting a glimpse of the ancient burial areas, a collection of low-rising "houses" that entomb many generations-worth of Egyptian families. After a brief stop to photograph the (horridly polluted and crowded banks of) Nile River, our driver pulled over at the "Papyrus Museum."
I use quotation marks on purpose, because there was nothing "museum" about the place. The Egyptian economy at its best, the driver had some sort of collusive arrangement with the owners of this Papyrus Tourist Trap. Although a brief demonstration of the papyrus-making process was interesting, the hard sell of the papyrus products was less than desirable for these tired tourists. Caveat emptor, right?

Onward we went to a camel-back tour of the incredible pyramids, the Sphinx, and some ancient tombs. Cole loved the camels, while Maya simply tolerated them. But we all loved the views of these remarkable structures and felt privileged to be in their presence. The camel tour operator did a bit softer sell than the papyrus dudes, but still--a word to the wise: Caveat emptor. It was beginning to be a theme. It seemed that I had learned nothing from previous experiences in the souks and markets of Africa and other places in the Middle East!The Egyptian Museum was next...a virtual treasure trove of antiquities. Highlights were the Tut collection (overwhelming in its richness and size), and the MUMMY room!

Next up was a wandering journey through Khan el-Khalili, one of Cairo's major markets. Lots of fun and JAMMED with people looking for bargains or trying to avoid the hawkers. We escaped with most of our money preserved, minus a few Egyptian Pounds for some scarves and trinkets. But the crush of people started to overwhelm us, so we hailed a cab and headed back to the hotel.

That's when we realized the extent of the air pollution in Cairo. That beautiful early-morning sun was now a gorgeous late-afternoon sun, and had turned the sky a marvelous shade of red and orange. But the reasons for this spectacular light show were rather nefarious...the intense haze in the sky wasn't just "high up there" in the clouds. Brownish-gray clouds hung low, and afternoon traffic sputtered choking clouds of diesel fumes that forced us to cover our noses and mouths with scarves. Not a pretty sight.

But the overall experience of Cairo is certainly one that we won't soon forget...and one that you should take yourself if you ever get the chance.

HERE is a link to all of our photos from Cairo. Enjoy!

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