February 23, 2011

Arrival in Cairo and First Impressions

Our trip to Egypt was 11 days long. It included the normal 7 day stint in Cairo and Luxor, but we specifically added a 4-day extension to visit the Sinai Peninsula because I really wanted to see Mount Sinai and the Red Sea. At the time, the United States State Department had no warnings about Egypt in general, but had issued warnings in regards to the Sinai that it was not recommended for American citizens. But, we figured we were reasonably safe and decided to go for it.

Flying over Cairo on approach

We flew from Pisa to Rome and then onto Cairo. Upon disembarking the airplane, we walked up to the customs area and sat and waited for our tour guide from Min Travel to meet us. Once Mohammed arrived, he walked us up to customs where we filled out our paperwork and they stamped our passport book.

The columns and rebar are there for the family to build the next story sometime

Since it was late in the day, Mohammed and his driver Tarik, drove us to our hotel on the edge of Giza. It was a fascinating drive (almost an hour) past the massive sprawling city of Cairo. The poverty is so obvious right from the highway. Thousands of shoddy brick buildings sit half built with columns and rebar sticking out of them. Often there are tents or domiciles on the roofs and unfinished floors. It looks like people simply build their rooms one brick at a time when they find the money.

A war zone? No, just a normal neighborhood in Cairo

Clearly there are virtually no building codes. My thoughts are that when Egypt gets hit with a catastrophic earthquake, and it will given its location near a subduction zone, the devastation is going to be overwhelming and almost unlike anything any of us have ever seen. Remember, nearly 13 million people live in this substandard construction.

A early morning sunrise shot of the pyramids

From our hotel, we could see the pyramids rising above the tenaments with the sounds of chaotic activity in the streets below. There were families with their donkeys and garbage-filled canals lining the streets. The call to prayers rang out from the minarets of the mosques.  Dinner that night was not authentic Mediterranean food, but rather normal fare Westerners were used to. We were a bit disappointed, because we really wanted to try those all-time favorites of hummus, babaganoush, falafel, and cous cous.

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