Thursday, May 16, 2013

Day 2 in Cairo, the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, Sakkara Pyramids, Return trip To Israel

I woke up an hour earlier than necessary this morning, I did not change the time on my cell phone, and forgot Israel time is an hour ahead of Egypt.  I got up, got dressed, and headed down to the lobby at what I thought was one minute before 10 am, the time the guide was supposed to meet me at the hotel.  I got downstairs, there was no guide, I looked around, was I late, did they leave exactly at 10 am? Then I looked at the clocks in the lobby, they had a series of clocks with New York, Tokyo, and Cairo time, etc.  The clock said 9am, I double check with the front desk, the man said yes, it was 9am, he told me I could go downstairs to the restaurant for breakfast.  I was a little disappointed  I had gotten up an hour early, I have been sleeping in hostels for over a month, would have been nice to enjoy one more hour in my hostel room bed in Cairo.

I went downstairs, had breakfast, then went to the lobby and checked my email.  The tour guide called while I was sitting in the lobby waiting for pickup, he told me when he would arrive around 10:10 am, I went back up to my room for a few more minutes to enjoy having my own space, my own hotel room.  I then got my backpack and headed back downstairs to meet the tour guide.  Today I joined the Mexican group, we traveled to the Israeli-Egypt border with a Mexican group, we were split into two vans, English and Spanish speaking.  I was not staying in Cairo as long as the American college students, so I joined the Mexican group today.

The first stop on today's tour was an Egyptian cotton shop, not a place I wanted to go, but I am on a tour, not much choice, I go where the tour goes.  One thing about tours, when you sign up for one, you sign up for their itinerary, sacrifice a bit of freedom.  However, traveling in Egypt alone as a woman is a risk, traveling alone here in general is a risk, I preferred the increased security of my tour group, even if there were a few destinations I wanted to skip.

The Mexicans bought some items at the Egyptian cotton store, I love Egyptian cotton sheets, but this was not a shopping trip for me and I do not have extra money to spend, as much as I would like to contribute to the Egyptian economy.  After shopping for Egyptian cotton goods, we went to the Sakkara Pyramids.  Our tour guide gave a long explanation in Spanish and gave me the English Cliff Notes version.  He told me he had been thinking in Spanish, hard to switch English, I did not mind, I was more looking at the sights, I'll read more about it later.  The tour guide mentioned Imhotep as the architect for the Step Pyramid we saw at Sakkara, I remembered reading about Imhotep, he did not give me much more information on the Sakkara Pyramids.

Lynnae at the Step Pyramid Sakkara 

A highlight of the visit to the Sakkara Pyramids for me, besides seeing the step Pyramid, and more ancient Egyptian ruins, was meeting a group of students from the South Sudan.  Meeting these students was one of the highlights of my trip, because of their energy and enthusiasm. They walked by and said hello to me, I asked them where they were from, they said a new country, the South Sudan.  I congratulated them on South Sudan, they said thank you, they were very happy. They asked me where I was from, I said the U.S., they wanted clarification, they initially thought I was a Black Latino, I was traveling with the Mexican group.  They said you are a Black American, you are not a Black Latino, I assured them I was not a Black Latino, I was a Black American. They were excited and said something about President Obama, they said Obama several times, they were excited to meet a Black American.  We took a picture together, they said, today has been a very good day.

Me & Students from the South Sudan

After Sakkara we went to the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, an Ottoman mosque, the largest mosque built in the 19th century.  The discussion of the mosque was in Spanish, I looked around the mosque, I asked the guide a few questions about the separation of men and women in the mosque.  He said when it is used, the women and men are separated by a partition, originally women were permitted to pray on the 2nd level of the mosque.  He gave an explanation I have heard frequently, men could not pray next to women with out being distracted, so the genders are segregated at mosques or women pray at home.

Lynnae at Mosque of Muhammad Ali 

Lynnae Inside of Mosque of Muhammad Ali 

After the Mosque of Muhammad Ali we went to lunch, another buffet style lunch, with a decent selection of food.  We then went for more shopping at a market in Cairo, I did not buy anything, I walked around for a minute, a few Egyptians asked me, how they could take my money.  They also asked where I was from, when I said the U.S. they started calling me Obama and Mrs. Obama and saying, Obama, what can I do to take your money.  They Egyptians are the most aggressive sellers I have encountered on my trip, there is a lot of desperation too, a lot of poverty.  I took a few pictures, then went back to the minivan. 

Me at Market in Egypt 
After the market it was time to head back to Eilat, Israel, I was ready, it had been a great two days in Egypt, but I was looking forward to getting back to the relative calm of Israel. We loaded up the van, we got a new tour guide to accompany us back to Israel.  I asked the tour guide about whether we would have a police guard like we did on our way to Cairo, he said, no, but do not worry you will be alright. Turns out we did not have a the armed guard and we did not go back to Israel in a convoy.  The tour guide said we would convoy back to Israel, neither happened. 

Tour Van we took back to Israel 

I was sitting in the van waiting for us to join the convoy.  There were a group of vehicles at our first stop, tour buses, etc. I thought this was the convoy but we continued without them.  Everything was fine for the ride back, there were lots of jerks and bumps, but other than that an uneventful ride.  The only time something strange happened was when the tour guide asked us to close the curtains on the windows, without explanation.  At around 11 pm I looked out the window and saw a city with lights across the way, it seemed to quick to be Israel, we were supposed to take the long way across the Sinai, that's what our guide told us. Then he said, surprise, we're almost to the Taba border.  I was shocked, I thought we had at least six more hours to go, was happy to get back, although I did not have any housing arranged.  

Egypt's Goodbye sign at the Taba Border

We went through Egyptian and Israeli processing crossing the Taba border.  Egypt left a big impression on me, the sights, sounds, smells, the poverty, the people, it has been on my mind since I have been back in Israel.  I was happy to be back in Israel after all the chaos of Cairo, I enjoyed Cairo, but it was nice to return to the calm of Eilat. The Egyptians passed us through the border without much trouble, one of the men made me pull up my hat a little while looking at my passport, there was no purpose, I think he just wanted to seem serious about security, be Israeli like strict, who knows. 

I got pulled to the side on the Israel side of the border, they thoroughly searched my bag and I think tested my passport for residue.  They asked me if anyone had given me anything for Israel, I think what the agent wanted to say was if anyone had given me anything to take to Israel.  I told her no, she asked me the question more than one time, went through my bag, took a lot of things out of my bag, including tons of coins I have accumulated during my travels.  

Finally I cleared security and moved onto passport control.  The agent at passport control asked me about my travels, if I was traveling with a group or alone. I told her I traveled to Cairo with a group but in Israel I am traveling on my own, I join tours in some places, like Jerusalem.  She asked me where I was going next, I told her I thought I would go to Istanbul, she asked if I had purchased my ticket yet, I told her no.  She was satisfied with my answers and told me to enjoy my time in Israel.  I have not had any of the nightmare border crossing experiences others have had entering/exiting Israel, knock on wood.  

By the time I made it through the border crossing I was ready to get in the minivan and head back to my hotel, only our guides had disappeared.  I waited for the Mexicans to make it through passport control, nobody knew what happened to the guides, they just left us, did not tell us we needed to get our own transport back to our lodgings, no information.  One of the Mexicans called the tour company, after much delay, they told us the guides were not going to come back and join us and to find our way back to our lodgings, they would reimburse us later.  

I took a taxi with two of the Mexican me, I was dropped off at the hostel I stayed at before my trip to Cairo, it was booked.  Everything in the area but one shady looking hotel was full, I decided I would just stay up all night in the lobby of the hostel and take the first bus to Masada, the next stop on my trip.

Day 2 in Cairo Photo Album

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