Notes From Cairo

Nobuko is back in Cairo and sharing her impressions.

I left Bahariya on a bus and five hours later, I returned to the flat of my couch surfing host in Cairo. She welcomed me back and that night, we stayed home and ordered home delivery of beer and food, and talked. In Cairo, you can get home delivery of virtually anything you want from food to cleaning supplies to electronic items.

The next day I ventured out to the Citadel. The hefty entrance fees were getting to me and my wallet, but I went anyway, paying 50 E pounds. The most impressive was the mosque. Apart from that, the Military Museum held nothing interesting for me, and the palace complex was closed for renovation.

View from the Cairo Citadel

View from the Cairo Citadel

From the Citadel, I walked to the Bab Zuwayla area through a vegetable and chicken bazaar. When I asked three older gentlemen sitting and drinking shai (tea) for directions, they invited me for a cup. I talked to them about my trip in front of a barber shop that had closed down and this space became a sitting area for locals to sip shai, like they were doing.

I arrived at Bab Zuwayla, but the area was quiet with closed shops and not many people walking around like I saw on my first visit.

Bab Zuwayla

Bab Zuwayla

But it was 1 p.m., and at this time of the day, only tourists would walk around. The locals would avoid the heat by retreating into the house. Along the way, I received many “Welcome to Egypt!!” or hand waves  from vendors and pedestrians. I love this kind of reception!!  I happened to find a metro station, and it was 2:30 p.m., the hottest time of the day, so I took a metro back to my host’s house. It cost only 1 E pound for a ride.

I grew to like Cairo very much. But there was one more place I wanted to see … Alexandria! I said good-bye to my host in Cairo, and bought a second class ticket (19 E pounds) for a local train from Cairo and 3.5 hours later I was in Alexandria. I was received by the couch surfer, Islam, who kindly delivered me to the hotel (Crillon hotel). The room I got was 120 E pounds with breakfast, sea view, and a very retro interior. I loved it!

Islam invited two other friends named Islam as well. We went to eat kosharia (Egyptian food) where I got a meal for 15 E pounds. Alexandria has many eateries and cafés with tables outside. This is so nice since the temperature was very pleasant and there were no mosquitoes!  The three young men are young 20-something guys who are well educated, open minded, and hilarious!  I enjoyed their company a lot.

After dinner they took me to a place,  I don’t know what to call the place, it might have been a tea shop?  There are many establishments where people come to drink tea, smoke shisha (water pipe) and play games like chess.  It’s a very lively place with tons of people – mostly men – until well past midnight. I like cities with nocturnal hang-out places like this.

After a while, there were people congregating outside so we went to check it out. There was a group of several young boys doing a rap gig, surrounded by a crowd. One of my young friends joined in. I did not know this, but he is a mechanical engineer who spends much of his time writing poetry and singing rap!  The boys were very friendly (and handsome!) and we chatted a lot. They mostly rap about politics. This was impressive since usually many boys their age may have their minds filled with girls or naughty stuff. They spoke English quite well, too.

The next day, I ventured out around 11 a.m. to the Citadel by the sea. Wow. It’s a beautiful fort with the blue sea behind it. Islam and Islam came to meet me there, then we moved onto the palace at the other end of the city. Inside the palace we found three people playing music and dancing at the side of a parked car. Of course, the rapper Islam joined the dance and got me to dance too. I love this kind of spontaneous character.

We wrapped up the night by visiting the same tea shop we had gone to the previous night. And to make the night more special, we found those young rappers there again!  They were so happy to see us, too, and we talked again and exchanged our contact information. One boy in particular was very flattering, complimenting me with kind words, even called me beautiful! But come to find out, he is only 18! So I told him that I will be his Japanese mother…We took pictures together and said our good byes.

I find Egyptians to be extremely outgoing and friendly. My three friends named Islam did not know any of these boys, but they hit it off very well and made friends with each other instantly. This type of quick-to-warm-up social behaviors were seen many times not only with me, but also among Egyptians. This is the best part of my Egypt experience. People are ready to have fun and connect with others. Egypt got on my list of places to return to. Definitely!

 

 

 

 

 

Notes from Luxor, Assiyut, and the Dakhla Oasis in Egypt

Nobuko has been sharing her experience about travels to Cairo, Luxor, and now Assiyut and the Dakhla Oasis. See what she has to say.

Part 1: Getting from Cairo to Luxor

Getting from Cairo to Luxor was a breeze – but at $60 per bed, it is not cheap. The tourist sleeper train, which leaves from Giza station, was very comfortable with small 2-bed cabins that included clean sheets, a pillow and blanket, and a basin. Also included in the price were a pretty hearty dinner and breakfast which was served in your cabin. I shared the cabin with a Samoan woman who is a New Zealand citizen. She was also traveling alone for one year so we had much to talk about. The whole trip took 10 hours.

Part 2: Getting from Luxor to the Dakhla Oasis

Now, the transit from Luxor to the western Dakhla Oasis was an arduous one. It took me 16 hours to arrive there via Assiyut (more about that train route on TripAdvisor). I took a local train at 7:30am (cost less than 20 E pounds) which arrived in Assiyut at 1:30pm after enduring an incredibly dusty path. There was only one car for first class, but there aren’t any noticeable differences between first and second class.

I met a group of four female college students who kept me company by teaching me Arabic. I remember only one word from this lesson, which is magnun = crazy. After they got off, other women filled their seats. But these women made me feel uncomfortable by continious laughing at the sight of me. I think the laughter was not malicious, but I left to move to another seat.

Assiyut is a large city. But the bus station is only a five-minute walk to the left  from the train station. The direct bus to Dakhla did not leave til 6pm, so I decided to take the bus at 3pm to the Khagra Oasis which is located two hours before reaching Dakhla. My plan was to take another bus from Kharga to Dakhla. The ride to Kharga was hot but smooth, arriving at 6:30pm. But the onward bus from there did not leave til 8:30pm – which meant I would not arrive in Dakhla til 11:30!  By this time I was simply exhausted, so when I learned this I was going to look for an accommodation in Kharga.

I do not speak Arabic. There were many instances where I really wished that I had studied some words. But there is always someone who speaks some English and offers me much needed help. A group of college girls got me in a taxi with them, and I was taken to a micro bus headed to Dakhla. During the travel, they fed me and gave me drinks. When we reached Dakhla, one of them gave me a ride to an accommodation in her boyfriend’s car. So I was in bed before 10:30pm.

The travel route I had taken I would not recommend to anyone. But unfortunately, there aren’t many other options unless one has $130 to spend on a five-hour taxi ride from Luxor to Dakhla.

Dakhla itself does not have any sites. 30km away from it, there is Al Qasr, an abandoned medieval fort city made of mud and bricks which served as the capital for the area for a long time. It’s a surreal experience to walk through the maze of small streets in this ghost town. Some multi-storied houses are more than 1200 years old and still standing in good enough condition for us to walk in. The wood of Acacia trees was used for constructions and for city gates for its durability. To make it extra strong and preservable, it was soaked in salt water first. As a testament, none of the acacia trees were crumbling. Amazing!Acacia wood was also used for curving the prayer areas which decorate the doorway of the houses. These prayer boards record the dates when the house was built and the names of the artists who curved the boards.

The whole city was designed to remain cool in the hot desert climate by making narrow streets which created much shaded areas. The narrow and bending streets also served as a defense tactic to prevent invaders from marching into the city with  high velocity and momentum.

Aside from Al Qasr, the Dakhla Oasis was supposed to be famous for its hot springs. However, these are cemented structures with pumps that pour spring water into the pools. And due to the prolonged decline in tourism over the past few years, the pools had moss growing inside and some pumps were not operating. So my dream of getting into natural hot springs were miserably shattered.

The hotel staff were very nice people, but they did not speak English. This was a problem apart from getting breakfast and getting a wi-fi password. I could not get a map or contact information for the tourist office in town because they did not understand what I was asking for. I aimlessly wandered the streets looking for the tourist information office. Someone picked me up and drove me to the tourist police office. Probably they didn’t know what else to do with me. There finally I met the officer Mr. Mahmud, who spoke English. He gave me some tea and a snack, and called the tourist office on my behalf. With directions in my hand, I headed to the tourist office, but got lost within a few minutes.

Mr. Mahmud probably figured that I would get lost, so he came after me and drove me to my destination. There I met Mr. Omar Dahi who agreed to guide me to Al Qasr. But I admit, it was so much fun to ride in police cars! Now I understand why cops are one of the most popular attraction among the elementary school kids on  career day!

Dakhla Oasis, also spelt Dakhleh and translates to the inner oasis, is one of the seven oases of Egypt’s Western Desert. Dakhla Oasis lies in the New Valley Governorate, 350 km from the Nile and between the oases of Farafra and Kharga. (source: Wikipedia)

Notes From Cairo

Nobuko left Nepal a couple of days ago and is now in Cairo. This is what she has to say.

Hi! I arrived in Cairo today. Staying at the apartment of a couch-surfing host. What a place! It’s kind of quiet, surprisingly. But perhaps, other areas of the city are more crowded and noisy.
The airport was quiet and almost dead as well, with only my prime time flight coming in at 1 pm.

But the locals are fun loving and enjoy using a soft greediness, wrapped in humorous jokes that I could not help but to laugh and give in a little!! Women, on the back of motorcycles noticing me sitting in a taxi and cracking a big smile and waving with a loud “hello!!” Even women, fully clothed  in Muslim black attire complete with hijab headscarves walk into a local bar and …(gulp), not only drinking, but also smoking cigarettes! An unbelievable and unacceptable sight if this had taken place in India. I was  shocked. But in a ticklish, giddy, comradely way.

(Note: Before passing through Nepal to come to Egypt, Nobuko spent some time again in India)

What stands out here is the good and hearty sense of humor people possess, which is proudly and happily displayed with a big grin or a wink. It’s contagious. And its a good thing. Since I have turned into such a hardened and cold bitch, I welcome their easy and  fun loving attitude to melt me back into my natural outgoing, open self.

I like this shift  in my outlook. I feel that  I can finish my trip in a good way.
Tomorrow I’m viewing the pyramids!

All Gizah Pyramids

All Gizah Pyramids

(Photo credit: Wikipedia.file.All_Gizah_Pyramids)

I went ahead and got a preview of what Nobuko is going to see today.

Wonder what she has to say about Egyptian street vendors based on this excerpt:

“You can’t walk down here at all. It can’t be a short cut because you get stopped every few seconds.” [moves aside to let an elderly woman pass] “See? I bet she left the house when she was 10!”

— Karl Pilkington, travel host of “An Idiot Abroad”