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Matt & Mercaders - The World Tour

Cairo & Luxor

EGYPT | Friday, 19 September 2008 | Views [1009]

This entry almost deserves the title Death on the Nile. We were warned “good places are difficult to come by in Cairo” but we didn't expect this to be so true and extend to Luxor as well. We did grapple some highlights though to ensure we had covered the good, as well as the bad and ugly. In reverse order...

The Ugly

On arrival in Cairo I have to admit to having a bit of a Michael Palin moment. The contrast with Europe was even starker than I imagined. It was grubby, stinky, slightly scary and totally foreign. I loved it. The taxi from the airport to our hotel was brilliant to get a snapshot of the city. We later realised that this was the best /only way to see Cairo.

By foot it's even more of a mess of a city and more intimidating too. Luxor doesn't fair much better. We stayed in the upmarket residential area in Cairo and constantly battled the desire to not leave our accommodation. We stayed in a Nile view hotel in Luxor and felt exactly the same. As soon as you walk out the door you have to tackle any number of obstacles that renders getting any real value out of the experience pointless. For example...

The Bad

...leering men. Not pleasant. You don't see many women anywhere in Egypt and the atmosphere is definitely different for it. Especially hotels. Every member of staff is male. Its odd. Taxi drivers appear to line up their rear view mirrors on Chloe and passers by on the street attempt to be subtle when staring. The amazing thing is that although the men stare they don't acknowledge Chloe. All interaction is with me - any greetings and any conversation.

Egypt also has a questionable attitude to animals. No love lost here. Or as one fellow tourist said “we just love our animals too much in the UK”. Best move on or I might upset our readers. Food is appalling. Amazingly bad. You have to try it just to check that its as bad as it looks. And it is.

Number one on the hit list is the verbal hassle you get outside any shop/ tourist hot spot. A complete snub is the only way to tackle them. Any interaction, whether it be a response to a question or a glance in their general direction, intensifies the situation.

Three locations were especially bad. The Pyramids. Real shame, I've heard Taj Mahal is the same. Then there's the exit to Valley of the Kings. This is a bit special. The Egyptians - in their infinite tourism wisdom – have decided to construct a street of souvenir tat shops each with its own man-handling owner. Its the only way out. Getting from one end to freedom is like being inside a video game whereby you have to hectically destroy/ negotiate 5 shop owners at a time. Amazing characters the Egyptians. Finally, Luxor. Shops in Luxor have signs reading WE PROMISE NOT TO HASSLE YOU. Great lie. Also semi-dead horse and carts are popular here. On a positive note one of them has contributed an often quoted, unintentionally funny moment from Luxor. One of the carts accompanied us for 10 minutes as we walked along the road. The driver, registering our disinterest, suggested he was going to reduce his price by going “OK, OK...” and then saying the same price of 5 Egyptian pounds every time. He repeated this for the whole duration demonstrating some amazing comic timing. “OK, OK... 5”.

I should also mention that en route the taxi drivers take you to a few 'extra stops' before your final destination. Their brother's shop normally but it might be a camel or donkey yard in some desolate part of town. Nice.

The Good

The taxi's opportunistic extra stops make more sense when you take into consideration how much they're getting for the fare alone. London will always compare badly, of course, but an hour journey for £1 is about 50% less than you pay in our capital... before the cab starts moving. So my first positive for Egypt is that its great value. Looking forward to more of this in other countries.

The Pyramids really are incredible. Huge. If you take into account that they originally had a perfect, bright white limestone coating, and the surrounding area was much more fertile than the desert of today, you can only imagine how much more astounding they would have been to look at. Yes, the hassle you get does take the edge off the experience (that and the double-whammy of a KFC and a disgusting horse paddock/ rubbish tip marking respective entrances) but the Pyramids literally rise above it. But not for everyone I suspect.

We were in Egypt during Ramadan – the blessed month of fasting. This has been genuinely interesting to witness first hand. It really looks tough to be fair and when you hear the strange hours that Muslims operate on during this period its amazing that everyone's not moping about knackered. You do feel guilty eating, drinking and generally indulging in front of them. Well a little bit.

The mosques in Cairo were fantastic – and not just for the reason that they are the only places you're not accosted for one thing or another. We had hired a personal driver for the day (£10) so tagged on the Coptic region, the Islamic quarter and the Gayer Anderson museum at the same time. For the latter check the website for an explanation of its significance. I went because its featured heavily in The Spy Who Loved Me. The market in the Islamic quarter was great for a wander and an authentic sheesha and Egyptian coffee at the legendary El Fishawi's cafe. Brilliant.

Valley of the Kings is amazing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valley_of_Kings). I'd heard that some find it disappointing but after seeing King Tutankhamen's possessions in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo I was intrigued to see the mummified boy king in his original resting place. He's in a climate controlled box now and looking every day of his 4700 years. Weirdly captivating viewing. The hieroglyphics on the walls in all of the tombs are so impressive. I love all that Egyptian stuff and valley of the Kings delivered. Also on this roll-call is the Mortuary temple of Hatshepsut. Stunning place. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deir_el-Bahri)

Good places are difficult to come by in Egypt. But we found them, albeit with some pain involved. The same was true of our time in The Western Desert...

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