Cairo: Before the Arab Spring

Cairo, autumn 2010, was starting point of my round the world trip and other travels in coming years. Trip to Egypt took time few months before series of revolutions in Middle East and North Africa, that have since been known as Arab Spring. During my visit, Mubarak and his regime was still firmly in power, little could be seen or felt on streets by an unaware traveler. Quiet before the storm.

Muizz Street, Medieval Cairo.

Aug 23 2010 — Its around 2am and just arrived to my hotel in Cairo downtown. Travel from Finland via London took whole day. Room seems bearable, though if I had arrived with a companion, we would probably have turned away from the door. Its Ramadan, noise of traffic is constant from outside. @ Cairo

Aug 25 2010 — Got today a lesson from a Bedouin. Haven’t seen so good touts elsewhere, local souvenir shops are employing elderly men as storytellers to lure unassuming tourist in. They are polite, tact, well dressed and present themselves often as university teacher, their accent sounds like one too. They appear just hanging around, waiting someone, and simply being hospitable to the lost looking stranger. Not pushing or impatient, that usually sets my alarm bells on. I managed to bypass few yesterday, but fell right into a trap today of an old gentleman who was talking his mobile nearby where I was taking some photos over the Nile.

I asked man to take a photo of me, and conversation got going. He was telling he was working near by American University as biology teacher (maybe he was, or retired, drilled generations of students?). He knew my hometown Helsinki and said been there few months ago for a conference. Then he wanted to show me commercial district nearby, and… long story short, I find myself in his gift shop drinking tea served by his pretty young daughter. She was to be married that same week. Wedding reception was booked nearby Hotel Intercontinental. Spent time choosing which papyrus I like best, while not really needing any of them. And then considering what should be written on it by the girl.

Luckily didn’t bring much money with me. After all the stories, smiles and gifts of Bedouin hospitality, discussion of payment turns to bitter haggling. Clerks, now two more guys, also man’s “family”, trying to dig information did I really have not more money with me or could I come later and pay the rest. Ended up lingering away with ridiculous 15 Euro papyrus bookmark with me, signed by my Egyptian name. My self-esteem bit off balance and awing how good Egyptian touts can be. @ Cairo

Aug 26 2010 — Went to see Pyramids on horseback, and what a stunning sight they are! On clear sky, they can even be seen from highest buildings in Cairo downtown. Guidebooks tell it took 30 years from 7000 men to build the biggest ones. Popular image about the construction work is of inhuman ordeal, ant like slaves working and dying under the whip. And after the work was completed, everybody involved were executed to prevent details of royal tomb from spreading. Wonder how later Pyramids were built if all the know-how was wiped-off every time when finishing one. In those early years of human civilization, knowledge must have taken generations to groom to levels that were required for Pyramids. Not just architecture mastermind, but all the hundreds of skilled sergeants that were needed to keep day to day work going right direction. When things grow beyond certain point, it takes vision with organization to make things still possible.

Am not Muslim, but Ramadan seems drop my weight also, or maybe heat just cuts the appetite. At evenings after sun has set, its amazing to go see old town corridors transforming to improvised eating halls, tens or even hundreds of men, who have been fasting whole day, eating side by side on long tables. Been getting many invitations to join for dinner with the men. Women are eating somewhere indoors, out of sight. @ Cairo

Aug 27 2010 — First week in Cairo behind. From what I can say about Egyptians, the friendliest folks I’ve ever met. I get Hello’s and Where are you from?’s everywhere. Some are obvious attempts to trick tourist in, but many seem honest expressions of curiosity and courteousness.

Went to see Egyptian museum. Entrance fee was 7-8 Euros, additional 15 to royal mummy section. Its a place to where biggest treasures of Egyptology has been centralized, except those “rescued” to Western museums. Museum is centrally located in old town, bit shabby and dusty, but big building with lots to see. Downstairs has massive multi-ton statues, pilars, sarcophagus. Upstairs, royal mummies section was impressive, including Ramses The Great and other famous Pharaohs, their Queens’s and important Priests. Boy-Pharaoh Tutankhamen and all the glory from his tomb is in separate exhibition hall. @ Cairo

Sept 3 2010 — Am writing this at my first CouchSurf friend, at Swiss lady Sabine, living and working in Cairo for her 10th year. She’s fluent in Arabic and wonderful host. I didn’t have earlier experiences with CouchSurfing but its really nice way to learn to know locals. Talked also bit about politics in Egypt, whats to come. Sabine thought Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood had either Turkish or Iranian models those choose from, when deciding their own political agendas, and wether to weight secular or religious state.

@ Cairo