lish (lishd) wrote,

egypt trip 2015 - part 4: cairo

part 1: cairo, giza | part 2: aswan | part 3: luxor | part 4: cairo

Day 8: Sat May 9 - Cairo. Free Day
We arrive back into Cairo this morning and transfer to the hotel. The rest of the day is free to explore Cairo as you choose or you may take an optional day trip. These include a city tour in Cairo which visits the Citadel and Mohamed Ali Mosque as well as the bustling market streets of Khan El Khalili bazaar. Other options include a visit to the colonial city of Alexandria on the Mediterranean, or a trip into the desert outside Cairo to see the World Heritage Site of the Valley of the Whales at Wadi Rayan. Overnight: Cairo 4* hotel.
Extras: Optional Cairo City Tour, Alexandria day trip, Wadi Rayan & Valley of the Whales day trip
Meals: Breakfast.

we started again with breadfast for breakfast, which i barely touched. pence sang, "i love breadfast, i love breadfast, think i'll go throw up" & it stayed in my head for an hour. pence almost got crushed by a runaway food cart; SquareBeard saved him. we made our way off the train & into a van, & sharif started explaining about the argument last night. we were right about the cause, & i thanked daddy sharif for being so protective of us & all. he made jokes about how he was a dangerous tour guide with his dangerous tour group running around egypt. *nods*

we got to the soluxe & were booked in our same room. i passed DorkBro carrying a breakfast of american champions: two donuts from the buffet (the least foreign food in the whole lineup) plus a pepsi *&* a mountain dew. quality. we went to chat with a silversmith sharif arranged for the group, who could make cartouches with your name on them & such, in high quality for a decent price. pence commissioned a simple bracelet with a scarab on it; i thought about a cartouche, but my name would translate to only three symbols, & i don't wear jewelry like that anyhow.

with this being our only free day, i had scheduled tattoos with graffinks tattoo for 1pm. i headed to the lobby to work out transportation. the studio was in maadi, about a half hour away, & sharif said i should get the hotel to take me since not many cab drivers know that town. at first the taxi organizer at reception said 200LE one way or 300LE round trip, but i noted we wanted to go to the markets after & then back to the hotel, so he said 400LE. i asked sharif about this, & he thought that was way too much. we ended up booking a one-way car to maadi for 150LE, which was then dropped (for no reason i can tell - perhaps sharif's biceps had something to do with it?) to 120LE. tom was kind enough to write the arabic translations for the tattoo studio, cairo markets, & the hotel, so i was confident with local transportation.

we met in the lobby at 12pm & left. it was just weird to see pyramids to the side of the highway like it's no big deal. i noted to the driver that i was hungry, & he said he knew a great place on the way to stop for food & a great rooftop view of the pyramids, & he would show us if we didn't tell the hotel. i didn't know why it should be a secret since i asked, but sure, we agreed. so for 70LE, i was given a takeout box full of rice, steamed carrots, three pieces of grilled chicken, several dense meatballs, as well as a small container each of spicy pickled vegetables & three honeyed pastries (including a very tasty piece of basbousa). the view from the roof was pretty great, too, with four pyramids visible.

we made it there on time, but had only the road, building, & floor numbers - no suite number. we counted floors as we climbed ten stories (fortunately the building was open form & had a decent breeze) but didn't know whether to start at zero or one; it was zero in most places we'd visited. there were no signs anywhere, & these were potentially residential apartments, two to a floor. we rang a doorbell on what we soon learned was floor eleven; after half a minute of peephole inspection, a nice woman in a hijab answered. i showed her the arabic for the tattoo studio, & she pointed downstairs & across the hall. we thanked her & left.

pence & i didn't know what to expect ringing the completely nondescript door on floor ten, but an american guy covered in tattoos answered & we knew this was the place. amusingly, we later noted that we'd each expected egyptian people on the other side of the door. the studio was huge & completely normal to studios in the US. they did have an egyptian artist working there, al, who i'd been talking with on facebook to set up the appointment; but today there was only kris, who'd answered the door, & a guy from dublin who was working on a chinese woman's traditional full sleeve. i was reminded of my tattoo experience in china, which also featured a man from dublin.

kris said half their business is from tourists, & half is from egyptians, as tattooing is gaining popularity... but it's not quite legal, & that's why they don't advertise. as always, when tattooing isn't legal, there are a ton of scratchers about - they spend a lot of time fixing local terrible work. i liked the shop poster they had, which noted graffinks is "egypt's only professional tattoo studio". they had a nice balcony & you could juuuust barely see a pyramid through the fog, but their balcony gave the best view of the preponderance of satellite dishes i'd been seeing everywhere. i snapped a photo that showed over a hundred of them, yikes.

kris offered us coffee, & said, "it's the stuff"... coffee in egypt is often powdered instant & that's what he meant, but the phrasing was amusing. he traced our stencils onto transfer paper by hand while we chatted - he's from new york but comes to live in egypt four months of the year or so, & travels a lo t. pretty neat, but not the life i'd want. stencils done, he applied the transfers & worked on pence's first. kris's work is very clean & the ink he used was super black - awesome. mine was next, & was as easy as usual. (for those who don't know, it's a part of a memorial for my world-traveling grandmother - the country name in her handwriting for every place i visit.) aside from keeping their inks in a tall soda fridge (it gets too hot in egypt & they'd evaporate!), everything was totally standard. there was, however, a power outage during pence's tattoo, which he said made it really feel egyptian, haha.

i paid the shop minimum of 427LE, converted from euros, & tipped well. roma, the shop's piercer, had come in & was friendly to us - she ended up calling us her favorite taxi to take us to the markets. kris used his key fob when we left, & we got to take the elevator down; there was a door at the floor, but the cab itself had no door & we could see building whizzing by as we dropped. it was dangerous & dizzying & awesome. the driver easily took us to the markets & we gave him 100LE at roma's suggestion. he seemed happy.

we started cruising the khan el khalili bazaar & wanted food, so pence asked a salesman who had particularly good english. he pointed out a falafel place we could see a block or so away, & said we should bring him some. off we went. the place was crammed & huge - they had a ton of sandwiches & offerings on the menu board, plus lots of stuff in tall refrigerated cases like american grocery stores use to display meats & such. pence ordered two falafels, & went over to pay. since an arabic accent of "three" sounds like "tha-dee", pence handed him 40LE, expecting a ten in change. the cashier said, more clearly, THREE POUNDS. okay, maybe we misordered? but no, we got our sandwiches, which were normal pitas with a whole falafel patty in them instead of little balls, & they were amazing. pence said it was the best falafel he's EVER had. & let me point out that three egyptian pounds is equivalent to eleven cents. WHAT. pence had the idea to actually buy a couple for the salesman who helped us, & i loved that.

we made our way back to his stand, crossing heavy traffic. by this point, we were pretty good at crossing egyptian streets between cars, holding a hand out in the "stop now" gesture as we went as we'd seen locals do many times. we made it safely, & i said to pence, "do you know what we just did?" he looked at me & said, "we walked like an egyptian." i nodded & we both giggled madly.

we gave the guy the sandwiches & he was shocked - he said in ten years of saying that, we were only the second people to actually do it. pence was happy to be one of the few ever to give americans a good name. the sales guy insisted that we sit & have tea with him, & eventually we accepted - it was just lipton, but they added mint leaves & that made it nice. we sat & talked with another guy at that stand for a while, joking & laughing. i think he said four generations of his family members had owned that booth. he didn't want us to leave, but eventually i got us free.

we tried to meet up with sharif, but he wasn't at the coffee shop he said he'd probably be at, so we continued on. the market was enormous & windy & passageway-y & really cool, & i liked it a lot. i had expected so much street harassment, but pretty much everyone in this market was jokey & friendly; pushy & aggressive to sell, but generally not disrespectful. it was more like street flirting than street harassment! some of my favorite incidents follow:

  • a man pointed at pence's septum ring & said "baneti!" & elbowed his buddies. he then saw my nose (septum & two nostril rings) & smiled wider & said something that seemed complimentary. we later learned "baneti" means "for lady" - he was giving pence shit for wearing jewelry!
  • a different man pointed at pence's septum ring & said "nice ring!" he then saw mine & got all excited & said "you have even more rings!"
  • a man wanted to sell us spices, & i showed interest in real saffron. i accidentally talked him down from 200LE for 10g to 70LE, then left with it for 25LE & $2US - about $6 overall - when i refused to part with my 200LE note that i was keeping for dinner & the cab back to the hotel. fortunately it didn't take too long, because the spices section of the market had such thick air i could barely breathe.
  • i regularly said "shukran" (thanks) or "le shukran" (no thanks), & impressed the hell out of the salesmen. one guy responded "oh!" all surprised that i spoke arabic. another said "good answer!" one guy was cute & semi-catcalled me "hey rasta!" all sing-songy, so i responded "shukran, habibi!" which is about equivalent to "thanks, baby!" & i'm pretty sure his brain melted. my dreads actually got a lot of compliments in egypt, especially in the market - one guy even went as far as to call me a "rastaferrari". i guess he liked my lines. X)
  • pence wanted a shemagh, a type of scarf, & talked the shopkeep down from 120LE to 30LE. i saw a pashmina that was super soft & shimmery, & he wanted 200LE for it. pence found one of those too, & we started pushing on him to give us all three for 200LE. he was pretty firm about getting 230LE, even trying to shake our hands on it multiple times, but i stood more firm because i didn't really care if we got the scarves. eventually he gave in & agreed, but then pushed his cheek towards me in an unmistakable "but you owe me a kiss" gesture. i was so amused by his gall that i went ahead & gave him the cheek smooch. so apparently my kisses are worth 30LE, or about four bucks.
  • a guy - we'll call him Bully - was out asking what we were trying to find, & i hadn't seen towels. i'd've really liked to find a great set of egyptian cotton towels. so Bully starts leading us to his uncle's booth where they wanted 350LE each for a set of four bath sheets that were super thin & poor quality. pence offered 30LE each which pissed him off. i didn't care about bartering him down because i didn't want his towels, so i said we'd come back later. we needed to stop at an ATM for cab fare, & Bully followed us. the ATM was broken, & pence asked a policeman where to find another. he pointed a couple blocks away, & Bully took it upon himself to show us. that was fine, & i figured i'd give him a 10LE note for the trouble. thing is, though the last ATM had given me 200LE in tens, this ATM spit out a single 200LE note. we literally had no other money on us to give him. & pence's "we're gonna be jumped" hackles were up because Bully was using his phone as soon as we got to the ATM; i wasn't so worried since it was still densely populated, but yeah, not a great spot to be in. anyhow, we started walking back to the market area, & Bully was constantly pushing pence on getting 10LE from us. i said several times that we need change, & he corralled us to a coffee shop. the proprietor came over & was asking what we wanted, & then Bully started pushing hard on getting a 20LE note, saying 10LE was nothing. i looked at the menu but didn't want anything, because i was getting too pissed off at Bully thinking he could bully us. finally, i stood up & said, "shukran, HALAS," & i walked away - it basically means, "thank you, BUT WE ARE FUCKING FINISHED HERE." & i really didn't say it nicely. pence quickly followed & that was the end of that.
  • multiple times, a woman (usually in a hijab) looked at me stone-faced in that "i disapprove of you" way. i smiled my most friendly human smile, & she bro
    ke & smiled back. it was just my jewelry & hair causing it - i kept all my tattoos covered, as well as my cleavage, in respect of the culture - so i guess it wasn't TOO much for them to get over. also, i only saw one woman in a burqa the entire time - lots of niqabs, though.
  • we ran into Montana Auto Sales & Princess Fakesmile, & they seemed oddly friendly & glad to see us - they must've been overwhelmed with all the non-americans surrounding them, lulz.
  • i got to use "halas" once more, when someone started following us down the block, pushing his wares. pence had said "le shukran" several times, & i finally turned around & used "HALAS." he immediately did an about-face & split, & i started actually cackling with power. i said to pence, "I HAVE UNLEASHED THE POWER OF THE HALAS" & i think he was actually a little scared. hey, i didn't even have to progress to "yab'ud"! (amusingly, the woman walking in front of me nearly broke her neck to look at me when i first said it - i wasn't sure whether that was simply because i said "halas", or because she didn't expect an american to come out with that.)
  • after a few hours, i was ready to get a cab & leave, but i wanted a juice before we went. we walked one storefront over & found a full-on juice bar! the man running the place knew just enough english to assure me that it was juice only, without sugar or local water being used (as tap water in egypt is non-potable, food stands can be problematic for tourists). i bought a giant mango juice & it was as delicious as that first mango juice i had in town - totally thick & pulpy & there must've been at least two large puréed mangoes in that cup. amazing.

    we caught a cab back to the hotel. our driver didn't know much english, but was able to teach us that "malish" means "excuse me" or "sorry". & his radio had some kind of speedometer on it with a tiny running pony (yes i took photos!), so obviously i was charmed. though it seemed as far as our 100LE drives earlier, the whole ride only came to about 38LE on the meter. he was awesome & polite, so i gave him 60LE & he seemed pretty stoked on that. (that made the whole trip 280LE instead of the 400LE the hotel originally wanted. HA!) we let him drop us a few blocks from the hotel since the one-way streets were getting difficult & pence recognized the area we were in, where we'd walked the first night we were in cairo. he felt very worldly indeed. ^_^

    we got back safely at about 9pm, & collapsed. once we could move again, i snapped photos of our new tattoos, then jumped in the shower. pence was called to the lobby to pick up his scarab bracelet; he came back to let me know everyone was congregating to say goodbye, so i rushed dressing & joined. most people had already split, which was fine by me; Blue Glasses & BossyWife were there; SquareBeard & Mousy were just leaving, & only said bye briefly as they were headed to the airport with us for the same flight out to frankfurt; Awkward Cute Brit came over to say he wasn't going to come over to say goodbye, but saw i was there, so he did (so awkwardly cute; would totally bang *nods*). we complimented the hell out of sharif, because he really made the trip. sharif noted, amused, that the whole tour group was scared when we didn't meet up at the coffee shop - they thought we went into the underground of egypt & would never be heard from again. it was all perfect, though. we wished each other safe travels, sharif gave me a hug, & we went back to the room for a few hours of net before our van to the airport at 1am. pence let me know we'd received invitations to crash space in amsterdam, holland, wales & other parts of the UK, & we may indeed take them up on it.

    Day 9: Sun May 10 - Cairo. Departure transfer to the airport
    Your time is free today for some last minute sightseeing or shopping until we transfer you to the airport for your departure flight. Overnight: N/A
    Extras: Extra nights in Cairo, Optional tours if staying an extra night
    Meals: Breakfast.

    so there wasn't really a last day; our flight was too early, plus had been moved up from a 4:55am departure to 3:30am, so we collected at 1am in the lobby. SquareBeard said he was super done with the trip & indeed i watched as he progressed from swatting mosquitoes away to actually punching them with a closed fist. tom gave us breakfast boxes with some kind of egyptian liverwurst & three kinds of bread (what with the breadfasts around here), & accompanied us all the way through check-in. i photographed more comic sans with a bonus of papyrus (papyrus font used in egypt -_-) & it was fine.

    at security in frankfurt, i was stopped to be felt up as usual, but the german security woman said she had to "control my hair" when she patted it down, which was amusing. pence & i were loopy & hilarious, & there wasn't much to report about either flight... except that we had no idea what time it was in frankfurt & had to be called over the loudspeakers to board because we thought we had another hour to loiter. we'd separated to shop (i bought some of those leibniz biscuits & a "true fruits" juice with dragonfruit & guanabana), & it was such a relief to see pence come running down the jet bridge towards me - especially since we kept making jokes that he wasn't coming back to seattle & would just keep traveling forever.

    nick was kind enough to give us a ride home; i fed vasuki & let my snakesitter (who'd been checking on him via snekcam) know he was released from duty; & i tried to stay awake as well as possible to flip my schedule back to PT, & mostly succeeded. over the last week & a half, i climbed on pyramids, took a photo of the sphinx's butt, froze my toes in the nile, ate three new animals, had the best falafel ever for the equivalent of eleven cents US, learned some arabic & got mistaken for fluent, & slept two nights on an open air felucca. it's good to be home.

    & for those interested, i scanned in the cheat sheets on gods & pharaohs we were given.

    thanks for reading!
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