The first of the last. This post begins the closure of my trip in Africa, and what a wonderful place to end the trip.
I flew from Ethiopia to Cairo. Unfortunately, getting in Sudan is quite complicated regarding the visa, but it didn’t matter because I’d have more time to enjoy Egypt.
Cairo is an amazing city. My first impression is that it didn’t feel like I’m in Africa anymore. I was in an Arabic country, but besides that, Egypt is more developed than most African countries I was in. Furthermore, Egypt has a population of more than 90 million inhabitants, which live almost entirely along the Nile; particularly, 20 million people live in the metropolitan area of Cairo. So this is one of those huge cities that seems to never end.
I will tell you more about Cairo shortly, but first I’ll show you what you came to see, the pyramids.
The Pyramids complex of Giza is very large, it takes a few minutes to get from the entrance to the farthest pyramid. There are three big ones, a few small ones, some tombs and the Sphinx that guards them all. As soon as you enter the complex you get amazed by the size of the pyramids.
The pyramids were mortuary temples or tombs for the pharaohs during the Old and Middle Kingdom periods. There are many all through Egypt, the oldest ones constructed on the 27th century BC (more than 4600 years ago). The largest one is on the Giza complex, the Great Pyramid of Khufu, which is 140 meters tall and each side of the base is 230 meters. The Sphinx is much smaller, about 73 meters long.
It is possible to go inside the pyramids, but not take pictures. I went inside Khufu’s pyramid, there was a short small passage going down and then another long one going up towards the center of the pyramid and at the end there was chamber where the pharaoh’s tomb and some of his belongings would’ve been, but all empty now. Today, many sarcophagus and other items found in these chambers are in the museums.
Instead I took some pictures of the inside of other smaller temples where there are many hieroglyphics. You are also not allowed to, but the guards would let you if you tip them – the post revolution economic regression hit hard Egypt as tourism went down.
Camel riders, tour guides and souvenirs vendor may annoy you very insistingly through your tour but besides that it’s a wonderful site to spend all day marveled by these ancient structures.
In the rest of Cairo nobody bothered me to sell tours or other things, and rarely ever someone gave me a different price at a market just for being a tourist, like it happened on some other African countries. Most people were very welcoming, willing to help and eager to get to know about where I’m from. Often when I said I was from Argentina they would reply “Ah, beautiful country!”, after the usual “Maradona, Messi!”.
Cairo is a messy city, like every other metropolitan city. It’s busy, fast-paced, polluted, and sometimes disorganized. I enjoyed the fast pace for a change, and the city offers many beautiful places, streets, parks and things to do. I have to add that the Egyptian food is very tasty.
In the Nile there are a few islands. On the most famous one, Zamalek, there is the Tower of Cairo that provides breathtaking views of the city.
You can see a lot from atop the tower, but you cannot see where the city ends. It’s possible to see the pyramids far away.
I saw a couple throwing a balloon with a love message from the top.
Among the busiest places there is Khan el-Khalili, a bazaar district with a picturesque street full of mosques and mostly clothes, fabric, perfumes and food shops, very touristic even for Egyptians. On both ends of the street there are towers and a wall that used to surround the whole area. In the middle there is a small area where they perform events, like one I assisted, the International Festival of Drums. I also watched a dervish dance show in this area.
Besides those two musical shows I also went to see a friend and her band of Mediterranean music perform at a bar.
Another great place is the Saladin Citadel of Cairo, not as old as the pyramids but dating back to the 11th century.
Egypt is predominantly Muslim, but there is a 10% minority of Christians, which means there are more than 9 million Christians. Christianity was present in Egypt since its beginnings and Islam became the majoritarian religion on the 15th century.
The Egyptian Christians are called Coptic. There is an area called Coptic Cairo with many historic Christian churches and also a synagogue.
There is a church with an underground room where the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph) are believed to have overnight during their journey in Egypt to escape prosecution.
I was in Cairo three times because while traveling north and south to other locations by the Nile, Cairo was always the center from which I would depart and come back. The train rides were quite enjoyable when they were not delayed, some times up to three hours.
The best part was probably all the people I met and friends I made here. I stayed with couch surfer Nagui, a local French teacher and actor, and also met many other couch surfers staying with him, like Marine who is a Belgian volunteer working with refugees. I also met Luisa during on another city, she is an Italian volunteer and amazing singer and ukulele player.
Cairo was fantastic, I felt like I could live there for a while. But my trip wasn’t finished yet.