Gary is currently in Ketchum, ID (Aug 23rd, 2014)
 

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First Thoughts on Egypt

I haven’t really written anything since I’ve arrived in Egypt. Usually when I arrive in a new place it takes a while to adjust to things. That adjustment period can be as short as an hour or as long as a few days. Egypt has taken a lot longer than normal.

While it is ostensibly an Arab country like Gulf countries where I’ve spent the last month, it feels like a totally different culture. For starters, there is no oil money in Egypt. This alone makes it a much poorer country than the small states of the Gulf. Second, there are no guest workers. One could confuse most of the many of the Gulf nations as being ruled by Indian Rajahs if they didn’t know any better, but Egypt is full of just Egyptians.

The first thing most visitors to Cairo will describe to you is the traffic. I’ve seen crazy traffic before, but Cairo might be the worst. The difference between Cairo and someplace like Saigon is that everyone in Cairo drives a car, not a motorbike. This makes things exceptionally crowded. Also, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of parking rules. I’ve not only seen a lot of double parking, but triple and quadruple parking as well. Anywhere there is not a car is a potential parking spot.

The cars here are much older than I’ve seen anywhere else. The average taxi seems to be a Fiat made in the 1970′s and the taxi meter are all non-functioning and about 40-50 years old.

Since I arrived, I’ve been to the Egyptian Museum, the Cairo Citadel and Mohammed Ali Mosque (not the boxer), and the pyramids. I’ll probably be writing more on the pyramids later on, but what I saw at the Egyptian Museum is pretty indicative what I’ve seen all over Cairo.

The Egyptian Museum is both the best and worst museum I’ve been to on my trip. It is the best in terms of the items and artifacts on display. This is the permanent home of the King Tut exhibit, and has every manner of item you’d expect for a museum on Egypt. However, it sort of seems like a warehouse. The building is falling apart and doesn’t seem to have been painted or repaired in decades. The display of items is poorly done and there doesn’t appear to be any money reinvested back into the museum. You can’t help but wonder where it all goes.

There are police everywhere. Everyone seems to smoke. I haven’t seen a building in Cairo built within the last 30 years.

It is a very different place from what I’ve experience so far on my trip. Very different.

I don’t forsee uploading photos soon. The bandwidth where I’m staying is pretty poor. My current plan is to leave Cairo tomorrow for Alexandria, and I’ll see how things go there.

  • 13 Comments... What's your take?

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Comments

  1. Lei says:

    Congratulations to your 2 yr travel anniversary. We are the Chinese couple met with you in Cairo's hostel. We have been back to US now. What an amazing trip you have been! Keep updating. I definitely will follow up.

  2. Tonnie Lapaz says:

    Hey Gary, I went to Egypt for Christmas it was a good experience lots of history. I went on a cruise down the Nile from Luxor to Aswan. It was cool riding a camel on Christmas Eve. I enjoyed the tombs and the Pyramids. The Egyptian Museum was blah for me too.

    The only thing I didn't like about it was the hassling by the locals, they always wanted to make a buck for anything. Like carrying your luggage or taking your photo. Another thing that strike me as odd was they drive without their headlights on and only with their parking lights.

    If you get to Aswan they have a McDonald's there that has Wifi.

    Happy traveling,

    Jago (ex Djorker back in Panda)

  3. Culture sshock is a common experience for visitors to Egypt. it's quite unexpected from your normal travels. You need to keep an open mind and truly imbibe the local scene. The locals are indeed friendly and hospitable.

  4. To experience the true personality of Cairo, a person has to stay a length of time,

    I was in Cairo for a total of 5 weeks, although three different times. Three weeks was the longest stretch.

    The local people are wonderful.

  5. lara dunston says:

    Hard to tell whether you actually enjoyed Cairo or not, Gary. I've been a few times and absolutely love it, but I love Alex even more – it's a very special city with very special people. You must read some of Ahdaf Souief (not sure if the spelling is right) while you're in Egypt and do try and get to Luxor and Aswan too.

    There are actually guest workers in Egypt – a lot of wealthy families have Indian and Sri Lankan maids and nannies for instance – just not as many as in the Gulf, but of course they don't need them in Egypt because of the massive population. And while it appears very different to the Gulf countries – and of course each of those are different again to eachother – there are close ties between them. I have a lot of friends in the UAE who have Egyptian mothers and Emirati fathers and have been going back and forth between the countries for 20 or 30 years or however long, so there's a lot of giving and taking between the countries. It's all interesting stuff, isn't it? Especially when you get to meet the locals – hopefully you're doing that. Enjoy!

  6. Francoise says:

    Egypt, and especially Cairo, is quite intense. I've been told that you either love it, or hate it, but you'll seldom go away indifferent.

    Personally, I loved it, even Cairo.

    If you see only one thing in Alexandria, go to the Catacombs of Kom es-Shoqafa. Amazing Ancient Egyptian/Roman funerary carvings and sculptures.

    ClearlyEnlight: Wow 20 days in Siwa! I'm jealous :). Only got to spend 2 nights there as I found a ride across the desert to Bahariya which I couldn't pass up. Great place, very laid back and amazing scenery.

    • I agree, Cairo is a place a person will love or hate, for the most part. I found Cairo with a rare positive personality. Despite the smog and traffic, no other city I have visited comes close to the personality that Cairo manifests.

      The local people who do not work in tourism are very friendly and kind.

  7. Snark says:

    There's a new Cairo Museum in the works, so no upgrades are planned for the current one.

  8. TheTurtle says:

    Sounds like Egypt is everything I've heard it will be. I will be there for four days in about a month, spending 3 days in Cairo and one in Alexandria. I was told the main Pyramids are only worth an hour or two, after that the hassle from the locals is enough to send you back into town.

  9. While your in Egypt and Jordan you should inquire what people think about the Gulf. It is interesting the response of people.

  10. I cannot help from giving you a warm Welcome Egypt. It's the country I started my travels and traveled Egypt for five months. A person's written expression always cracks me up, LOL.

    The train is the way to go for Alex, the Union hotel is the best, right on the water. You can grab a packed, lol, micro bus to travel up and down the Corniche.

    I was blasted my first week in Egypt, I thought I was defeated and so soon from departing America, although I headed out to Swia for 20 days and recovered for the severe culture shock. Swia is only a 8 hour bus ride from Alex, and is worth the visit, even having to backtrack ten hours to Cairo it is worth it..

    Be prepared for Upper Egypt, it is worse than Cairo for a traveler, major hassle.

    Egypt is challenging to travel, no doubt about it. Figuring out their game and playing along it the secret.

  11. Take heart, Gary. That is the mystic of Egypt, all the things you have so honestly written about. I have been to Egypt and can really relate to your story. Egypt is quaint, antiquated, almost an anacrhonism. But all of these makes it even more appealing in a way. The heat, dust, noise –quite far from the modern world as we know it, and immensely enchanting if you chose to view it that way.

  12. Craig says:

    Sounds pretty intense. Shame about the museum…if only the had the money the British Museum has.

    I've heard bad things about the traffic before. “If you're in the States look left, if you're in Britain look right, if you're in Egypt say a prayer,” seems to be the motto.

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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