The Old Market and Cairo.
I think the best way to describe the past couple of days is simply this: tiring. This isn’t a bad kind of tired though, this is the good kind. As mentioned in my previous post, one of my life long dreams was realised – but this is something that I’ll get into in a moment, I’m trying to keep things in order so that when I read this over in how ever many years time I can think… yeah, I remember that really clearly.
Alex, I think I should mention before I get to far stuck into my typing, is feeling better. I don’t know whether it was a combination of the heat and him not eating properly, but he’s feeling fine now. I found some Dairy Milk [there is actually loads of English/American brands of food, Pringles, chocolate bars etc] and fed him that, then went down to dinner with him and he actually ate more than he had so far. Which was good, because I think that was part of the problem.
We seem to be managing the heat better now – I would say that we are acclimatising better, but I didn’t generally feel too bad in the heat until Cairo. I am happy to say that I am still un-burnt, and that, whilst a lot of people laughed at me for buying factor 50 sun cream, it is certainly doing the trick. I have freckles appearing on my shoulders, and even along my arms, which I haven’t seen in quite literally years. My legs however are still pale pins that stand out like a sore thumb. I may have to do the cheesy sit and just spend a day sun bathing if I want to go home with them a distinctly different colour. I would imagine if they tanned, it would wash off in the shower though.
The area of Egypt that we are staying in is in the Sinai part. It is part of both Asia and Africa, and is typically the hottest part of Egypt to have travelled too. In some places, my guidebook tells me, the areas along the coastline can reach 50 degrees Celsius. I would like to add that taking our holiday here at this time of year was Alex’s idea – which is even more spectacular as he struggles in the heat of home on a sunny day. Maybe he’ll realise how easy we have it with our rainy days and drinkable tap water. Apparently the water in the whole of the Sinai area is not drinkable, and I’d really like to find out why. Perhaps once I’ve posted this, and the internet is fast enough, I’ll look it up on Wikipedia.
So on Sunday we went out to somewhere called the “Old Market” which is Sharm’s traditional marketplace where you can get what you need. My impression of it however was that it may be a traditional market – I think I was expecting something like the Brighton Lanes – the Old Market is a tourist traditional market – with all your typical Egyptian souvenirs available to be bought [I am not going to lie, I will probably get something typical for when I go home]. The only thing that I found that was off putting for me was that you can’t simply go round and look at the items on sale. Pretty much as soon as we stepped out of the taxi all the traders were there trying to get our attention and to practically force us into their shops. This is typical of most places, but it means that you just can’t browse the items. And as soon as you appear to be interested in something, then they are on you. If you decide that you would actually like t buy something, then you have to haggle the price that you want to pay. It’s a lot like hard work, so naturally I got Alex to do that haggling. I don’t think I’d have the confidence to.
We walked away from the Old Market with two scarves – we need these for when we go Quad Biking in the dessert tomorrow – two hats, because quite frankly they were really cool and would offer more protection for me than the hat that I came out here with, and a really cool Egyptian themed photo frame. With all the other stuff we’ve got – the snorkels for instance – I am a little concerned that we are going to exceed the weight limit for the stuff on the way back! But all things considered, we got the stuff from the Old Market for a really good price, and the hats seem to be made of a really good quality too. Not bad for £3.50, and £3.00 each [English money].
In terms of money everything out here seems to be really cheap, you just have to ensure that you apply the conversion rate which is approximately £E9.55 for every £1. It is also cheaper to convert the money in the Central Egyptian Bank, rather than book money through a travel company like we did. If I had known this in advance I think I would have brought more English money and exchanged what I needed when I needed it rather than having a big wedge of Egyptian notes.
So; to the bit that I’ve really been wanting to tell you about! Like I say, I am trying to do this in a bit of order, partly because I am writing it in my head when I am out and about as well as here in the lobby [I have Alex with me this time…]
First, let me begin. Cairo as a place isn’t somewhere that I have ever desired to go, but the Pyramids have been a lifelong dream of mine to go and visit. Ever since I was young and discovered what a vast and interesting history the Egyptians have, I remember even now, reading the history books, learning the letters of the hieroglyphs and thinking how amazing they were – that this ancient civilisation could build something so big, so lasting, for it to still exist in the modern world, through the wars, turbulence, and well… something like 7000 years! For something to last that length of time is just amazing. Just think about the stuff that’s about at the moment, I really doubt that today’s modern constructions will stand the test of time.
We went to Cairo by bus. From where we are staying in Sharm to the city it was approximately a 6 hour bus ride. With one stop about four hours in. We were one of the last to arrive for the coach, which meant that we were stuck at the back, above the engine, which was blowing out hot air, to which the air conditioning was not really combating the heat. So it was a long, uncomfortable bus ride. Did I mention we had to be up at 1 am for it as well? We were able to get some sleep for the excursion, but it was only a couple of hours. I didn’t sleep well on the coach at all. It actually made me feel sick, especially as I was desperate for a wee and refused to use the coach toilet. [Oh, you even get hassled in the restrooms – people hand you toilet roll, and expect you to pay them for it… there’s a reason I bought baby wipes with me!]
Whilst you are traveling along the route, because it can be quite a dangerous route [this wasn’t really gone into when we were told this] all the coaches that are leaving to Cairo have to go together. And there were a lot of coaches. Which meant that we had a lot of waiting around for them at certain points along the journey, making it more uncomfortable. I don’t think many people realised just how dangerous our journey could have been – really, if you think about it, if there are dangerous people/things out there, a convey of coaches with tourists on it is a moving target. The previous two trips that had been arranged by the Sharm Club [the guys we booked through] had been cancelled, so I think we were really quite lucky to go].
So some 6 hours later, although I am inclined to think it was much longer than that, we arrived in Cairo. The coach was filled with people from different hotels and booking agents, which meant that we didn’t go as one group, but that we splintered off into our groups which had our own representative. Our guy was an awesome guide, his name was Ali, and his enthusiasm in his history, his culture was just amazing. I later learnt he is doing his Masters in the links between the ancient cultures and how they are represented in Egyptian history – from the Egyptians themselves, through to the ancient Greeks to the Romans. This sounds like to most amazing history/ masters ever.
We started at the Museum in Cairo that houses the exhibitions of King Tutankhamun [I have to apologise, I can’t remember what the name of the museum is called!]. There was so much stuff there, and not all related to the Boy King. There were sections devoted to the Royal Mummies [you could see just how well the Egyptians embalmed their dead, their features, skin hair, everything is still visible today!] and there was a room for papyrus, scrolls and the such like. I always assumed that the colours used on the scrolls were obtained from flowers, but no, they used chemical reactions – copper, soot, all sorts to make the colours – which is why they are still long lasting into today!
After the museum we headed to the pyramids. This is what I have waited so long to see! My obsession with a certain video game character has inspired this as well. As you can imagine, this is a typical tourist trap – but you know what? I don’t care! It was amazing. You had to pay extra, but we went inside the Great Pyramid. I mean…. THE GREAT PYRAMID. It was a big, dark, steep incline to the top of the pyramid, and there wasn’t much there except a sarcophagus [empty, of course] but still. This was one of the things that I have always wanted to do, and I can say that I have officially done it. Alex did it too, but struggled a bit inside because it was really steep, and low in some places. Also, to get to the entrance, you had to climb the outside of the pyramid. I was so in my element it was unreal!
After the Great Pyramid, we moved round to the Sphinx. When I was younger I did a presentation on the Sphinx, about how it could possibly be older than the Great Pyramid, how it could have a sister sitting somewhere across the Nile. I found the whole thing really, really fascinating. We got some pictures too, but I’m not sure how they’ve come out as we let Ali loose with the dSLR, and someone who doesn’t necessarily use them they may not be cool. But we have pictures. Oh, and inside the tomb as well! [Our guide took these, and naturally expected a tip…]
Once we had finished at the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid we moved to a perfume shop. This brand of shops is owned by the brother of Al Fyed, the guy that owned Harrods. This perfume shop was such a contrast to Cairo itself, calm, unassuming, and more than that, they didn’t pressure you to buy. But it was really interesting as we learned about the history of the perfumes – and this shop, this place, supplies the WORLDS perfumes. We ended up buying some of the scents, Alex got some that are the base for Hugo Boss, and Diesel, and I got some that are unique to Egypt and are not allowed to be exported by the company by contract to the government. One of them is the scent of Lotus flower, and the other is called “Queen of the Desert” [I think, maybe queen of the night]. But these oils, they will never evaporate, or anything like that. And they will never loose their scent because they are pure. [There was some jars at the museum that housed scents like this, and if you could open the cabinet, you would still be able to smell the perfume of 4000 years ago].
Lastly, we visited a papyrus shop and learned how papyrus was made, and how to spot the fakes. We didn’t buy anything from here though, as much as we wanted to, because they were really expensive. But they were pretty!
The journey back to Sharm wasn’t the nicest. We managed to sit in a different place this time, so we weren’t boiled out by the engine…. instead I froze. I sort of slept on the journey back, but it was uncomfortable. Because of the whole convey situation it took us far longer to get back than it did to get there, but there wasn’t any explanation for it, I think they just assumed that we knew what was going on. When we stopped at the diner on the way back I couldn’t be bothered to move, so didn’t have any more food or a bathroom break. We actually didn’t get back to the hotel until four am this morning. You can imagine I slept like a trooper today – which has been filled with relaxing, sleeping, reading, swimming, and about to go and get some dinner-ing.
Take care folks, and hope I have bored you silly with my Egyptian Adventure posts!