Filed under: Egypt
Felucca ride on the Nile River at sunset.
Today was a pretty low-key day. I’m still getting my head back into traveling, and I was feeling some small presentiments of culture shock this morning; so rather than high-tailing it out into the intense heat and dust and exacerbating this intuition, I laid low this morning in my hostel and enjoyed the air conditioning and free wi-fi.
In the late afternoon, I ventured out to the expat area of Cairo, Maadi, which houses a lot of Western style restaurants (such as TGI Fridays), and lays right along the Nile River. I went to meet a friend of a friend named Ian, who’s been working in Cairo for the past six weeks. He arranged for a felucca ride on the Nile River (a wooden boat) during the sun set, which was absolutely gorgeous and exactly what I needed after a few days in the chaotic city of Cairo. It was also SO COOL to be on the NILE RIVER! I reached down and splashed the water out of delight, and Ian warned me about swimming in this area of the Nile (which prompted me to tell him THIS story…) He also brought along an amazing breadth of traditional Egyptian food, which was delicious (none that I can pronounce, but I wish I had the recipes to). We chilled on the felucca for a good two hours, drinking beer, eating Egyptian cuisine, and talking intensely about international development and environmentalism, which is a field he’s grown up around. Afterwards we headed over to the house that he’s living at for the summer in the expat area of Cairo, which was really interesting to see. Finally, we went back into the downtown area and drank tea (no, not traditional Egyptian tea, mine was Lipton. What a sham!) and smoked shisha, while discussing micro-finance, local Egyptian customs, USAID, The World Bank, more international environmentalism, and the entire field of aid. It was a really enjoyable way to end my excursions in Cairo. Thanks for the great night and conversation Ian!
Tomorrow I plan to romp a bit around Khan el-Khalili (the large bazaar in Cairo) again to shamelessly buy some trinkets for friends and family, before heading off to Jordan! Cairo was a fantastic experience, and I hope to come back to Egypt someday to gain more insight into the country’s culture, and visit other various sights and cities.
One more thing: since I spent the vast majority of my time today in a storm of frustration, writing and re-writing THIS page, definitely check it out so that I can feel like it was worthwhile!
That’s all folks! Until Jordan,
Filed under: Egypt
Today I achieved one of my Travel Goals by visiting the last of the original seven wonders of the world, the Pyramids in Egypt! We (some friends from my hostel) and I visited three sights today: The three pyramids of Giza (the Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid of Khafre, and the Pyramid of Menkaure) and the Sphinx; the city of Memphis (the old capitol of Egypt) and Memphis open-air museum; and Saqqara, which is most famous for the Pyramid of Djoser, the oldest stone pyramid in Egypt.
We first started off at the Great Pyramids, which was a very intense experience. It may not look like it in the photos below, but there were tourists everywhere. We managed to get off the beaten track a bit and walked around the graves, which was really interesting. We went the long way around (the route that the camel-riders go), so it took us about an hour to get to the base of the pyramids. By this point I was pretty dehydrated (it is REALLY hot in Egypt) and sincerely regretting my decision to wear flip flops today- definitely not the best for trekking up sand dunes. But the actual sight of the pyramids more than made up for it.
We then went on to Memphis, which was a bit underwhelming considering it was once the main capitol of Egypt. The driver refused to take us to any other areas than the open-air museum, which cost 20 Egyptian pounds (about 5 dollars) to get in. The open-air museum has one large statue and then a bunch of smaller ones. I’d give it a medium-priority of visiting- only because it was cool to have actually ‘been’ in Memphis.
Our last trip was to Saqqara, which was definitely a worthwhile trip. Not nearly as many tourists come to the area (at least in July), and the other girls from the hostel didn’t go in- so it was more of a loner trip, which was a cool experience. The Pyramid of Djoser is really interesting and different from the other Great Pyramids, and there were some areas where I was completely alone. There are also a lot of interesting graves and buildings around the Pyramid of Djoser, so I took some great pictures, which you’ll see below!
So our grand day came to a close, and I’m very satisfied with our experience (and my sun tan). Check out some tips below for traveling to the Great Pyramids, or scroll all the way down for the BEST part: the pictures!
Just a note: We arranged a driver to take us to The Pyramids, Memphis, and Saqqara (this was standard and we couldn’t forgo any of them), for about 180 pounds for the four of us, with the expectation that it would be from 8 AM-5 PM. Our trip was from 8:30 AM-2:30 PM, so you have ample time to see all these areas!
A few tips if you ever plan on visiting The Great Pyramids:
1) Buy water in bulk before going, as they charge 2-5 times the price inside the pyramids (and believe me, you’ll need water!)
2) As stated above, wear adequate footwear- I suggest shoes that you won’t mind getting sand in every crevice, so probably sturdy sandals
3) Before you enter the Pyramids, people will try to offer you camel and/or horse rides into the exhibition for exorbitant prices (we were first told 190 Egyptian pounds for an hour camel ride). Inside, Tara and Petra (two friends from my hostel) paid 10 pounds each for a half hour camel ride. If you’re into riding camels or horses, wait until you get inside the gate and bargain down the price.
4) Student rates at the Pyramids are half the price, which is a real bargain for students traveling cheaply. If you are a student, make sure that you have a student ID that HAS AN EXPIRATION DATE. My student ID (which expires in August, but doesn’t explicitly state so on the card) was vehemently rejected.
5) I don’t suggest buying any of the souvenirs inside the Great Pyramids- people will be much less apt to bargain to a fair price because it is such a touristy area. You can get all of the same things at Khal el-Khalili, the main bazaar in Cairo.
6) If you don’t want to pay the fee to go into the Sphinx, you can get the same great pictures on the road up to the Pyramids.
7) You will be constantly harassed inside the Great Pyramids. Hawkers will come up to you every few minutes offering souvenirs, horse rides, camel rides, drinks- they’ll offer pictures of camels, horses, or of you with them, and then charge a fee- if you don’t want to any of these things, my best suggestion is to just ignore these offers, even if it is irritating. Engaging with these hawkers only makes them follow you longer.
8). If you want to get off the beaten track a bit more (there were some areas where there were absolutely no tourists), take a left when you get into the pyramid, rather than a right. Then you can explore the graves and walk up the sand dunes to the pyramids, rather than up the road, which is teeming with other people and buses.
CHECK OUT THE PICTURES HERE: The Pyramids!
Rather than telling you about my day in long, languid detail, I decided to showcase my second day in Cairo, in picture form. There are a few reasons for this.
A) I’m exhausted! It’s hard to balance EXPERIENCING and then immediately telling stories/uploading pictures at the same time!
B) Sometimes I get self-conscious about the super long blog posts, followed by lots of pictures. Do readers find this too lengthy? I try to be a people pleaser, so I’m changing things up a bit.
C) As everyone says, a picture is worth 1,000 words.
So without further ado:
I’ve tried a variety of strange and interesting things while traveling.
In Thailand, I ate fried grasshopper and worms.
In Turkey, I consumed sheep’s brain.
In China, I dined on fried scorpion.
It’s been 24 hours in Cairo so far, and I’ve been enjoying every minute of it. When you get to Cairo, you are immediately IN it: the city, the people, the heat- and so quite like Cairo, let’s jump right into the travel stories.
I got in at 4 PM yesterday, sweated through customs (a pre-cursor to the heat wave in Cairo, which tops 95 degrees), and was greeted by a pre-arranged taxi driver (through my Hotel- I had heard through the grapevine that getting out of the Cairo airport was madness, and not something I wanted to brave jet-lagged and re-orientating myself back into the backpacker lifestyle) to take me to Cecilia Hotel (more about this awesome hotel later). He greeted with the customary ‘Hello ma’am, WELCOME TO CAIRO! Yes, you look like such a good and nice girl, I know that you are a good girl, here in Egypt we have this and that,’ and a stream of chatter all the way to his taxi, where he apologized profusely for his ’85 volvo (at least it had a seatbelt) and promptly offered me juice, cigarettes, and every item he had available in his car.
Driving through Cairo, and being here for the past day, has given me an immeasurable feeling of how similar the city is to Delhi, India. Car drivers jostle each other in the road, disregarding the lines and honking and cursing; the heat is overwhelming and the entire city has a dusty air to it; men either whistle at you in the street, try to come up and start a conversation, or force you to buy their wares; even the lanes on the side of the street are painted the exact same colors! It’s really surreal. And I love every second of it. I feel so comfortable, and uncomfortable here, at the same time. A walking paradox.
My hostel I’m staying at, Hotel Cecilia, is really fantastic for the price ($7 a night)- it has free breakfast (which consists of bread, cheese, an egg, and Egyptian tea), wi-fi with great speed (huge plus), an awesome terrace on the sixth floor (and don’t worry, there’s an elevator in the building), and best of all, air-conditioning- a HUGE plus and really difficult to find in a budget hotel. Plus, the staff are really nice. Best of all, it’s right in the middle of downtown Cairo. I totally recommend this place for budget travelers.
Back to what I’ve been doing– I could continue to tell every little detail of what I’ve been up to, but I’m trying to keep this post to the bare minimum, SO. This morning I woke up bright and early (I’ve successfully skipped the jet lag by making sure I go to sleep in this time zone) and decided I would spend my day wandering around the city area, with no particular idea in mind of what I would see or do. And as this always seems to happen to me on days I don’t have any plans, I immediately stumbled into one of the largest tourist destinations in Cairo: The Egyptian Museum.
A few basic lessons about the Egyptian Museum: one, bring your student ID card for half the fee. Two, do not buy ANY food or water in the restaurant, it’s 3 times the price anywhere else (the same goes with the gifts, which you can easily find in Khan el-Khalili) Three, be prepared to spend a lot there (about 30 dollars, if you’re not a student) for the entire package- they don’t tell you that there’s another exhibit inside that costs 100 additional Egyptian Pounds (20 dollars) where the best stuff is- the mummy collection. I sadly, didn’t end up going inside there (I’m budget traveling and decided against it), but it was a small collection anyway. The entire rest of the museum was really fantastic. It is massive, and avid museum-goers could easily spend hours there. I spent about an hour and a half there, which is rare for me since I’m not big on museums. My favorite exhibit was the room of King Tut, where two out of three of his tombs are, including his famous headpiece (check out the pictures below).
Afterwards, I went to Pizza Hut for lunch. I am totally not ashamed to say that. Adjusting to traveling again is hard, particularly on the stomach. I’d rather play it safe the first day while still orienting to the time schedule and traveling, then throw too many crazy things in the mix at once. So why I’m including this random factoid in my little story is because I met two other travelers at Pizza Hut, Petra and Tara, who were both from Australia. They had been traveling all over Africa and were ending in Egypt. We chatted for awhile and made plans to go to Khan el-Khalili, which is Cairo’s most famous bazaar, home to all kinds of artifacts and notoriously famous for its spices.
Khan el-Khalili is definitely a ‘tourist trap’- I’d say it’s on a similar level of Paharganj, Delhi, or the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey- except WAY more spread out. We spent about two hours winding through all of the streets and getting completely lost, only to eventually find ourselves right back where we started, where we relaxed at a restaurant with mango juice, and I tried grilled pigeon. I’ll save that for the next post.
So there’s a rundown of Cairo so far. It’s been quite an adventure, and I’m excited to see where this week will take me!
In the meantime, check out the pictures below! Enjoy and thanks for listening.
Filed under: Egypt
Here we go. First stop, Egypt! Stay tuned for all of the updates.
Dear faithful readers,
Sorry I haven’t updated in a few days. I am back home in lovely Florida, relaxing at my parents house. I’m not sure if you are all aware of this, but both of my parents have quite an unusual diet. You could say that they’re vegan, or raw foodists, or a combination of both (my mother has been this way for quite awhile, my father, more recently). My mom reads religiously on the benefits of raw nutrition and why they are so wonderful for your overall health.
So it’s wonderful to come home and reap the benefits, which means all kinds of delicious raw vegan cheeses, piles of fruit in the fridge for my sampling, salads galore, thai coconuts, and best of all, oranges and oranges for my parents’s pristine juicer. Whenever I come home it is paradise, and I am taking it all in and feeling so happy and healthy.
But this is not the point of this post, so I move on. I found out where I will be going for my Kiva fellowship! But before I get into the details, I wanted to explain a bit about what a Kiva fellowship is.
First off, for those that are unaware, Kiva is an online micro-lending platform, where people in developed countries can connect to entrepreneurs in developing countries, lending anywhere from $25 to an unlimited amount to these entrepreneurs. It’s a really fantastic and completely innovative concept to looking at development, and the best part is the lender gets back their money after usually a year’s time. Many people recycle their first loan right back into Kiva. It’s a wonderful system.
The way that Kiva does this, is by connecting with micro-finance institutions (MFIs) all over the world. Kiva currently has 100+ ‘field partners’ (MFIs) that submit Kiva entrepreneurs to the website to be lended to.
What a Kiva FELLOW does is work at one of these micro-finance institutions for about 4 months, overseeing the Kiva department and making sure that operations between Kiva and the micro-finance institution are running smoothly. And so with great excitement and pleasure, I’m really pleased to announce that I will be working with Faulu Kenya, the largest micro-finance organization in Kenya! They are a Christian organization originally founded by Food for the Hungry International, and they’ve recently started working with mobile banking, which I find fascinating (given my experience with mobile applications during my internship with Grameen Solutions, a software development company and subsidiary of Grameen Bank). While Faulu Kenya has branches all over the country, most of the Kiva borrowers are based in Nairobi, and so I will be stationed on the outskirts of Nairobi for the duration of my fellowship. I am incredibly excited to have such a wonderful opportunity, and I can’t wait to go!
But that’s just the beginning– I have a two week gap from the end of Kiva training (which is held in San Francisco) and the start of my fellowship- and so I will be going to Egypt for five days, followed by Jordan for four days! I plan to visit the pyramids and the Nile River in Egypt, and Petra (one of the seven wonders of the world) and the Dead Sea in Jordan! I am SO unbelievably excited to go to both of these places and have the opportunity to experience two countries I’ve been dying to see.
Moreover, after my fellowship ends, I have a month before I head home for Thanksgiving– and so I will be traveling to Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania, and maybe even stop by Malawi, or jet-set to Ethiopia.
So there you have it. My African adventures start on July 21st. At least six more countries in a duration of five months. Ready set go!