Travel diary: Cairo, day two

By: Sandstorm

Sep 05 2008

Category: Middle East

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After a turbulent night of absolutely ZERO sleep (not that we’d have got any anyway – the Cairo horn-blowing seems to kick off again around 5am), sis and I finally dragged ourselves out of bed, feeling decidedly pants.

The plan had been to get to the Pyramids at the light of dawn to avoid the seemingly real probability of melting, but we were too tired to move.

Instead, we wondered downstairs to breakfast in a huge, unforgivingly bright restaurant overlooking the busy roads and stretches of the Nile.

Warmed by the sight of piles of fluffy pancakes with velvety servings of melted chocolate sauce, we settled on a window table and concentrated on consuming a high dose of caffeine.

The strange thing was, our mood wasn’t lifting. We realised we weren’t just tired, but depressed too – the reason being that the Ramses Hilton’s breakfast background music was a curious CD of songs which could’ve been made into an album called ‘Now That’s What I Call Depressing Rock and Pop Ballads from the 1980s’.

We gobbled up and soberly left the room looking like we’d just been given some very bad news.

Moods perked up when we met the resident concierge Sami, who in less than a minute, organised our very own driver and tour guide for the day, at the princely rate of 50 Egyptian dollars.

He’d take us to the Pyramids, then onto the Coptic Christian part of the city and then the Old City.

Driving towards Giza, the first sight of the Pyramids was awe-inspiring.

After we queued for around half an hour in the mid-morning heat for entry tickets, wedged uncomfortably against a man who seemed entirely oblivious to the invention of deodorent, we returned to the car and our guide proceeded to drive us around the vast site.

Once or twice we hopped out to have a closer look, but being outside the scorching heat of the car was worse than inside.

And I regret to say it, but I the Pyramids up close weren’t quite as magical as I’d expected – they looked, essentially, like piles of perfectly-constructed rubble.

The experience was also marred by the alarming presence of the fastest-running sand spiders I’ve ever seen, while the mystic wonder of these incredible constructions was slightly blighted by the sight of hoards of noisy, half-naked tourists clambering all over them.

Respite came in the form of the spectacular Sphinx Cafe, an oasis of bar set on a cool stone terrace and shaded by a vast canopy.

We sat for an hour, sipping icey Lipton tea and enjoying the majestic views over the Great Sphinx of Giza (which isn’t half as large as you might think, particularly in comparison to the nearby pyramids) and the spellbinding Great Pyramid.

Back in the taxi, we headed off into the Coptic Christian part of the city, with the honest intention of exploring the church. Yet by the time we arrived, sis and I were singed from the red-hot leather seats and in desperate need of revival.

We stumbled out of the cab and inadvertantly into an Aladdin’s Cave of treasure!

It didn’t look much from the outside but we simply wanted to cool down in a shady place, and this was like an oasis in the flickering desert heat.

What we discovered inside was an incredible little shop with no name (though I’ll try to pinpoint it on a Google map soon), but run by the cheeriest man in Cairo, who sat us down on elaborate piles of beautifully embroidered cushions and fed us both beautiful little cups of warm mint tea while we poured over the best souveniers we’d seen throughout the entire trip!

After an hour, we eventually left with exotic little bottles of jasmine oil (the single most divine perfume I’ve ever owned), a beautiful rusty-red woven pashima (which we have joint custody over!), an authentic Egyptian script, a gorgeous cream and gold Moroccan pouf, and two pieces of stunning jewellery.

Delighted, we reluctantly stepped outside into the heat, stopping to chat to an adorable group of inquisitive little children, and finally got back in the taxi.

But we couldn’t face any more sitting in long queues in a baking hot cab, so instead we returned to the Hilton and spent the rest of our afternoon sipping divine mocktails surrounded by half-soaked sheesha smokers and their entourages.

Halfway through our taxi ride back to Cairo airport, we realised we weren’t in a taxi at all – we were in a knackered old Fiat being driven by some random opportunist who was well over 80 years old and quite obviously a few stones short of a pyramid.

The crazy old chap took us to the wrong terminal (which he found hilarious) and got pretty shirty when we refused to pay another 10 Egyptian dollars to be taken to the right one – so we clambered out and walked.

And the fun and games didn’t stop there!

Cairo Airport itself is one of the most chaotic, frantic, confusing and frustrating airports I’ve ever flown from.

Our flight was delayed, we were virtually out of money (the rest was safely locked up in Sharm) and no one – I mean no one – had a scooby doo what was going on!

Eventually we set off on what turned out to be a turbulent flight to Sharm on a miniscule plane which couldn’t have been carrying more than 30.

We were desperately relieved to reach Sharm (bearing in mind we’d had no sleep for 48 hours) and eagerly hobbled towards the first taxi we spotted.

Within seconds, another taxi pulled up. A man jumped out and began waving at us and shaking his head in disapproval. Our driver got out and the pair had a very vocal exchange before we threw up our hands in exasperation and asked what was going on.

The second driver explained that the first driver was part of the ‘Sharm Mafia’. I almost laughed at the absurdity of such a notion, but we quickly decided that given the amount of casinos in Sharm, it could well be a possibility.

So we took the safe option while our original driver stood shaking his fist and hopping about at the roadside.

The air conditioning in our room had been deactivated for two days and it was stiffling, but I could barely describe the elation of climbing into a safe and comfortable bed after our spooky night in Cairo.

Also see Cairo Day One and 10 Things I Learned About Cairo

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