I didn’t quite know what to expect from visiting Egypt. I think the main reason I went was to see the pyramids, but also did not know what the Egyptian culture would be like.
Here’s a few quick notes from my travels to Egypt.
- The roads are crazy. It was one of the first things I notice coming out of the airport, but it’s noticeable every day and pretty jarring compared to many other countries I’ve visited. There are no rules. And people just walk across the street in the middle of the roads, and no one stops. Moms do this with their little kids, and it looks to me like they are just walking into the middle of traffic. But this seems to be the way they do it in Egypt. I stood out so clearly as a tourist as I wait tentatively on the side of the road figuring out how to cross the street. The streets are crazy.
- I visited right during time around the vote around extending the time in office for President Sisi. The vote passed ( https://edition.cnn.com/2019/04/23/middleeast/egypt-referendum-results-intl/index.html ). As you walked around you could see lots of political posters. I did ask a number of people what they thought about the government. One guy told me he thinks the government is pretty bad, kind of like all governments. He said really it’s still as bad as Mubarak. But as I reflect on it in the context of visiting many countries, it seems to me that corruption, poor leaders, and people hating the government is the norm rather than the exception.
- It does not seem like Egypt is a big hostel spot. I think I stayed at one of the more popular hostels and it was very small and quiet.
- Each day out our hostel they served a really nice full breakfast: a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers, beans, a hard-boiled egg, mini falafels, and tea.
- Had koshary ( http://www.mattersofthebelly.com/koshary-egypts-favourite-street-food/ ) a typical Egyptian dish. Koshary is “rice, macaroni, and lentils mixed together, topped with a spiced tomato sauce and garlic vinegar.”
- Visited quite a number of mosques. Really interesting places to visit. You take off your shoes when you enter, or some of them had these shoe covers you could put on. Most were not too clean, but one of them was very clean. On the inside tile they had a zamboni-type vehicle cleaning the white tiles.
- Some mosques visited: Mosque of Ibn Tulun, Mosque of Sultan Hassan, Mosque of Muhammad Ali, Al-Azhar Mosque.
- Walked around Garbage City and to the cave church in Garbage City — Saint Samaan Monastery. That was pretty wild. We took an uber there and the uber driver, I think when we got close and he realized where we were going, was quite unhappy. At that point we got out and walked the rest of the way. There are really just piles of garbage everywhere. This church is quite a site but getting there is a trek, and it does smell horrible. I’m not sure of the current status — it seems they would pick up garbage for people in Egypt, and that Egypt did not have a formal garbage system. According to Atlas Obscura ( https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/garbage-city ) the efficiency of the recycling system was 90%… however now it seems the system in Egypt is different. But as we walked you could see people sorting out different types of garbage, and trucking garbage, and just piles everywhere. And just past walking through the area is a really nice church in a cave, open and spacious. It’s a strange juxtaposition. On the way back through the city we took a tuk-tuk to the edge.
- Did a tour of a number of pyramid sites. Saqqara — which we were told on the tour is the oldest building in the world — but I’m not sure if that is actually the case ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyramid_of_Djoser ) and ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oldest_known_surviving_buildings). Either way it is old, clocking in at 4500+ years old. You could walk down into the tombs which is a pretty interesting experience. They are pretty dark and small, don’t have the best smell and not really good steps, more just little pieces of wood along the way. Saw some other pyramids, the red pyramid at Dahshur ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Pyramid), and then the pyramids of giza — the most famous. Did a small camel ride there, which was fun, entertaining and quite a photo-op… but it seems those guys selling camel rides are scammers. It’s maybe not a surprise, but we agreed to one price before, then halfway through he says it now is a different price, and then when we are away from my group, him and another guy demand that I pay them 3x the original price and I ask to get off the camel, they won’t and eventually I do get back and to the original with a bit of help from the guide. But that was not the most pleasant.
- Egypt is a very cheap country — we found a nice restaurant in Cairo serving a range of dishes and the main pasta dish that I had was about $2–3 — that same dish in New York could be $15–25.
- The Egyptian Museum is really pretty epic, very historical, large, lots of hieroglypics, statues, tombs, mummies, and the King Tut exhibit. I got a guide for that which was helpful.
- Cairo was very militarized. Walking around central areas downtown or by tourist sites there were military posts. People in uniform with guns all over. Tourist police, or some other police. Very common metal detector checks — though those are in a number of countries. I don’t know enough about this presence around Cairo. I had heard, but cannot confirm that it was true, that much of this presence was to just quell and keep down protests.
After all that — I feel visiting Egypt was an interesting and informative experience, but not really the most enjoyable. It was pretty intense, and hectic and exhausting. I think it would take me quite a while to get used to it there.