Let me say this. If it weren’t for our tour guide that we found for the Pyramids and Alexandria over the last two days, I think Egypt would’ve been a major bust. Instead, the last two days rocked, and besides downtown Cairo which is a bit out of control, we rather liked Egypt and all the history that it has. The first day we were in Cairo we pretty much did nothing but catch up on work, upload pictures, and relax in the hotel room. We did this because we couldn’t breathe outside, the pollution and smog was that thick. We got our tour guide, Mahmoud, the next day and he took us to the Pyramids. We hit some less popular Pyramids first, Memphis and the Step Pyramid, which is actually the oldest one in Egypt. As you can see here, it’s quite a bit different looking from the set that most people see in postcards, but just as impressive:

Our guide told us to do this....Kings and Queens pose!

Our guide told us to do this....Kings and Queens pose!

While we were here, we obviously took a lot of pictures, and the touts started coming at us from all corners. Once decided to grab Annemarie, take off his head gear, and wrap it around Annemarie and reveal that he had a baseball cap on underneath. Of course the whole reason he did this was so we would tip him…for grabbing us? Welcome to Egypt. This happens….everywhere, honestly. Every person expects to be tipped for everything. Want to go to the bathroom? Tip. You want to move your luggage one foot in the hotel? Tip. You get shown to your room and they open the door to your room….tip!!! It’s beyond ridiculous. You constantly have to have small change in your pocket and sound like a meter maid around Chicago. More than a few times I caught myself asking for directions because I know they would grab me after they were done and say….”what, no tip?” Here is what we thought was a nice guy who wanted to take a picture who ended up only wanting, what else, a tip:

Ah, you will now have nice picture...now pay me!

Ah, you will now have nice picture...now pay me!

One similarity between Cairo and Beijing on our trip thus far is that there is no sincerity in either place for the most part. Our tour guide was the nicest guy in Cairo by far, and didn’t expect anything from us, hence we tipped him well. This same guy took us around the pyramids and then took us to Alexandria the next day which was a 6 hour round trip. That’s a lot of time to spend with the same two tourists, but he was very good. Anyway, of course we hit the Pyramids that 99% of the world know, and they lived up to the billing, as did the Sphinx. You really don’t realize how big these things are until you see them close up. These pictures don’t do it justice, but none the less, they are pretty big:

The Great Pyramids of Giza

The Great Pyramids of Giza

Like I said, pretty impressive. The Sphinx is very impressive looking from the angle above. If you look at it from behind, you see a beautiful building sitting behind it…KFC/Pizza Hut restaurant!!! It doesn’t fit into the area whatsoever, but is of course packed with tourists and locals alike. Kind of sad, but the city really bumps right up against these places. Kind of sad really.

On top of the Pyramids that day, we also hit a Carpet Making School, which in the words of Annemarie and my brother Conor, a child labor sweatshop!! Kids go here to learn the trade, and also earn money to go to secondary school. They start working here at the age of 6, and learn how to make carpets with wool and silk. It’s pretty amazing to see them create one. They have the fastest hands I have ever seen, it’s almost second nature to them to make these carpets….was that not PC? Anyway, we took some shots of an older gentleman who was making a carpet, and is the only one allowed in this particular factory to cut all the lose string at then end to finish the carpet. If one area is not cut right, the whole carpet is ruined:

Making multiple carpets at the same time...all same design

Making multiple carpets at the same time...all same design

We also stopped by a Papyrus factory on the way back to our hotel to see how paper was made back in ancient times. There are many shops in Cairo that still make paper in this old way, and then have custom paintings done on them and sell them to the public. Our host there as Abrahim, and he was a comedian in his own kind. He was almost too happy about his job, and loved the LA Lakers, and continued to bring that up since he knew we were from Chicago. I think he was on something, just like the ladies in Vancouver who loved their Visitor Info job too much, although he was bouncing off the walls and didn’t just have a smile on his face like the Joker! But, his enthusiasm must have worked, since we bought two, and had one customized with our names in ancient Egyptian alphabet symbols. You have to see it to appreciate it. All of these stores, along with the cotton shops and carpet shops in Cairo are owned by the government, so tour guides don’t make cuts on sales when they bring tourists to them, and all the prices are pretty much set (although everyone barters in Egypt).

I’ll throw an update up tomorrow about Alexandria and some other fun bits about our time in Egypt, and our excitement of getting to Athens (where we just go to today).

Shukran and Good Night!