Real Life Pac-man – Cairo, Egypt

The first piece of advice that several random people gave me while walking down the streets of Cairo:  “you know how to cross the road, right?  Close your eyes and pray”.  Well, I can see where they are coming from.  Despite the fact that my hostel was only about a five minute walk from Tahrir Square, the infamous site of the Egyptian Revolution that took place just about one year ago, quite literally crossing the street is the most dangerous thing I encountered, though it was truly a scary endeavor.   The whole process of crossing the street became a real-life game of Pac-man, the key was finding a local (preferably one bigger than me) and latching on.  I did mistakenly stumble upon an anti-Israel rally of about 20 people, but when I realized what it was I promptly got out of there not wanting to be mistaken for an Israeli.  Tahrir Square has basically just become a tent city with a make-shift street market set up; I could have had a shoe-shine, bought pantyhose, or sat down and had a cup of tea if I felt so inclined… This is in the midst of the massive damage that the protesters caused last year in their successful attempt to oust President Mubarak.  For reasons I can’t begin to fathom, they trashed a McDonalds, oh yea, and completely torched a government building right next to the famed Egyptian Museum.

I of course made the half-hour journey to the Pyramids of Giza.  I splurged and hired a taxi (instead of taking the public bus) in order to get the knowledge of a local guide as well as visit the sites of Saqqara and ­­­­­the Red Pyramid that were supposed to be even better than Great Pyramids.  Well, the guide was absolutely terrible and it turns out he skipped half the sites at Saqqara (even when I asked what all those cars were doing over on the other half of the site…).  So basically that experience reinforced my normal routine of doing things independently…  Anyway, I went up and then down (a super steep, super scary incline) into the Red Pyramid.  It was basically just three small, very hot and smelly rooms made of blocks that tapered to the top – definitely not something worth repeating, especially because the climb in and out made me super sore the next day.  And before you just assume that it was because I’m very out of shape, though I am, a guy who just summited Kilimanjaro was sore too…  Moving onto Saqqara, I entered a tomb with relief sculptures that depicted different aspects of everyday Egyptian life such as paying taxes, slaughtering cattle, and courtship.  Kinda cool I guess, but I wasn’t allowed to take pictures even though people, no doubt locals, vandalize the outside.  Then came the Great Pyramids of Giza, the only remaining Wonder of the World.  They are huge!  You can wander all around the area which includes the three big pyramids, the Great Sphinx (body of a lion, face of a man), and nine other smaller pyramids.  It was too foggy/polluted to get any of the postcard perfect pictures though…

The Egyptian Museum was disappointing to say the least.  As a world-famous museum holding amazing artifacts, it does an absolutely horrible job with the presentation.  There were very few placards with explanations (even in Arabic), so basically visitors are left to wander aimlessly through the museum looking at mummies, the clay pots holding the visceral organs (lungs, stomach, liver, and intestines) removed during the mummification process (I looked this up after), and other random paintings/scuptures/artifacts.   Hiring a guide might have been more informative, but after my experience at the pyramids, I was not interested in being ripped off again by a guide who knows less than a Lonely Planet guidebook, and mistakenly thought that there would be the poster boards explaining everything.  The best part was the gold masks and coffins of King Tutankhamen.  From the research I’ve done, he is really only famous because the archeologists who uncovered him did a really good job with preservation.  His short nine year reign, ending at the age of 19, really doesn’t have much to do with the fact that everyone has learned about him in elementary school.

I ended up spending a week in Cairo because my bank cut off my debit card and I had to wait for my new card to be FedExed.  Because of this, I did random things I don’t usually do while traveling.  I walked for about an hour down the Nile to a movie theater to see the movie “Contraband” in English, which by the way had a five minute intermission (for the ever important smoke break) .  I also took an adventure on public buses to a “western” type mall to find some new socks (something that is surprisingly hard to find).  Then I had to figure out how to get back…  In many developing countries there are minibuses that are an efficient and cheap mode of transport for locals.  These are basically vans that don’t drive on predetermined routes, but rather have a guy that yells the destination out the window and picks up and drops of people as needed.  Well, I had to take one of these or pay for a taxi… Keep in mind that nearly all the people who take these don’t speak English, and apparently tourists just pay the mere $10 for a taxi, but I had nothing better to do so I decided to brave the cultural experience of the minibuses.   Somehow I figured it out and for a mere seven cents I took the 45 minute journey back to downtown where I was staying.   And mom don’t worry, women take these all the time and it was daylight…

And now for my gastronomical escapades: after basically starving in India for both the fear and the reality of getting sick, my body went into survival mode I think.  I basically have not stopped eating in over a week.  I eat a full meal, and an hour later I am not just hungry, but I feel famished.  My guess is that I’ve been consuming over 5000 calories a day, so it’s a good thing that Cairo offered a variety of cheap food.  They of course have McDonalds, which was the first meal I ate when I got in.  I don’t think a Big Mac has ever tasted so good after being deprived of meat in India for two weeks.  They also have a McArabia sandwich, which is a gyro: I obviously have to try the “local foods”…  I became quite fond of the Egyptian equivalent to fast food with a restaurant called “Gad”.  They have a variety of beef and chicken shawarma sandwiches as well as falafels, which I have grown quite fond of.   These sandwiches are quite tasty and at only about $1, they are quite a great deal!  I also discovered an amazing bakery.  The cookies, pastries, cakes, and gelato also added to my weight-gaining diet, and they all tasted fantastic!

Categories: Middle East | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Real Life Pac-man – Cairo, Egypt

  1. Dave

    I totally want to try the McArabia sandwich. Can you get the McArabia with cheese?

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