Walk Like an Egyptian

The last ten days have been a  blur. Arriving in Cairo my first stop was the Sudan embassy to apply for my visa. There’s a reason why Sudan was rated the second “most failed state” (after Somalia) by Foreign Policy magazine. The consulate was a chaotic maelstrom of people pushing, shoving, and trying to wedge their way up to a counter where a bored bureaucrat was processing documents. The guy next to me, a tall black man in a tattered suit, had a yellow card that read UNHCR REFUGEE. I let him go ahead of me.

The upshot is that they need three weeks to process my visa. Even then there is no guarantee I would get one. America is not the most popular country in Sudan at the moment. Now, most people would not mind being stuck in Egypt for three weeks, but I am eager to get south. So as I write this I am debating taking a flight to Ethiopia and bypassing Sudan altogether.

Meanwhile my sister Katrina flew in from Denver for a week visit to Cairo. It was a nice break from cycling, but we walked so much my feet almost fell off.

Of course, we had to see the Pyramids of Giza. I won’t show too many pix–you can find 4 billion photos on the internet. Despite the hype, the hordes of tourists and the hordes of souvenir vendors, I must admit it was really, really cool. One of the most awesome things I have ever seen. The pyramids have been standing for 4600 years. I can’t even comprehend that. And the engineers (if you can call them such) were good: the length of the base sides are within two inches of each other.

We did a bunch of other tourist stuff, such as take a ride on a felucca, a canvas sailboat, on the Nile River. Here is a shot of a felucca with smoggy Cairo in the background.

One day we toured a huge cemetery, called the City of the Dead, where squatters have moved in and now live in many of the old mausoleums. This huge guy was there and gave us a tour around, for some baksheesh of course. He spoke only a few words of English and we laughed about him for days afterward. What do you think he is saying to me?

The muslim women still fascinate me. But they are not really allowed to talk to foreign men so I had to settle for a photo.

One day just walking through the streets we came across a street party, muslim style. Arabic music was blaring out through speakers and this group of people were dancing in the street. They quickly pulled us in and we became the hit of the party for a while. You will have to wait for the video.

We visited several mosques. They are huge but not many people praying. I thought I would give it a try. It is literally a head rush as the blood goes to your head. Maybe that helps concentrate on the prayer.

Many men have a dark spot on their foreheads as a result of praying like this. They are recognized as being very devout muslims.

Two men in the mosque.

A man reading the Qu’ran (I assume) in a mosque.

One mosque contained the remains of the former Shah of Iran.

The best part of Cairo was just walking the streets, dodging cars, inhaling exhaust fumes and chatting with the locals. Almost everyone who saw us would shout, “welcome to Egypt!”

We stopped frequently at little coffee shops to have some tea or strong turkish coffee and smoke a sheesha, or water pipe. Here is a typical patron of such a place.

One of our favorite meals was koshari, a spicy mix of lentils, pasta and meat. A bowl of this cost less than a dollar.

Kev relaxing on the street in Cairo.

While strolling through Islamic Cairo one evening we met this family and Katrina posed for a photo with them. Cute kids.

We climbed up a tower that was part of the original Cairo city wall build in AD 969. Here are some views from the tower.

Crossing the street in Cairo is a very stressful experience. There are WALK/DON’T WALK signs, but everyone ignores them. Sometimes police stop traffic so you can cross safely but mostly you just have to say a  prayer, step out in front of the oncoming cars and let them weave around you. The Egyptians do it effortlessly but I never quite got the hang of “walking like an Egyptian”. Look at this guy. The cars are passing by him seamlessly.

We took a lot more photos but I will let Katrina post some that she took. She can also describe our encounters with the never ending hustlers present in the Khan al Khalili market. Check her blog:


Overall, Cairo is an assault on the senses. 16 million inhabitants, constant traffic, horns blaring, people shouting, the smell of coffee and sheesha, dust and grit, the taste of felafel or shwarma, elbowing your way through crowds of people, the blare of the muslim call to prayer, men and women in robes and scarves…

It is a sensory overload, and I could see getting addicted to it. Don’t think about it, just go there.

2 thoughts on “Walk Like an Egyptian

  1. Capt. Don Kilpela Sr. December 25, 2008 / 7:52 pm

    Merry Christmas, Kevin, and may you have an interesting and eventful New Year. Of that there can be no doubt and you are dragging a whole group of us along on your journey. Betty and I are going to see Katrina in January so we’ll het to see all her pictures.

    Be careful now.


  2. JoJo February 22, 2009 / 5:37 pm

    Sounds a little like Macinac Island.

    The pic of you on the couch Kev could be a Calvin Klein ad.

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