After returning to Cairo, Mohammad took me to lunch a local cafe where the menu was written entirely in Arabic and I was given more than a few stares considering I was both the only "Western" person in the place, but also the only woman. After asking me how hungry I was, the waiter brought me a huge bowl of "koushrey" (a traditional Egyptian dish of pasta, beans, marinara sauce, topped with bacon), which I then needed to walk off and decided to take a walk along The Nile, through the center of Cairo. I again received several stares, considering that I was wearing a tank top and shorts, and walking alone, compared to the few other women I saw on the streets and who were wearing the long dress-garments and scarves covering their heads and faces.
We next headed to the market - busy alleyways lined with shops selling water pipes, belly-dancing outfits, gold, silver, carpets, etc. There was an enormous mosque near the entrance to the market, so at 5:00 prayer, it became complete chaos with men leaving the mosque and tourists coming in and out of the market. Mark (the other American in our group) managed to buy a stuffed camel and ask our guide, "Why are there Egyptian people who aren't selling things, walking around the market?"... I am serious... he asked this. Our guide responded by saying, "Isn't it like that in the U.S.? People walk around wearing clothes and buying things, etc.?" in a very sarcastic tone. If it wasn't so hilarious a question and response, I would have been more embarrassed that we were sharing "American representation" in the group.
We then headed over to The Sphinx, the largest single stone statue in the world, and in between battling for space with the thousands of French tourists (again, tricky photography to leave out all the other tourists) learned that one particular legend of why the nose of the Sphinx is missing, is that Napolean had his troops use the Sphinx as a firing target and the nose was knocked off by a cannonball after such practice.
We ended our time in Cairo with a trip to The Egyptian Museum, where we saw the death mask of Tutankamen and the tomb in which his mummy was kept, along with many other fascinating Egyptian relics, tombs, mummies, etc.After a whirlwind tour of Cairo, we were scheduled to board an overnight train down to Aswan, so that we could then board a boat to sail down The Nile for the next few days. Before boarding the train, we learned from our tour guide, Rafike, that the U.S., Aussie, and British embassies all require that the Egyptian police know where all of their visiting citizens are at all times (meaning everything from what time we leave our hotel, to what train car we will be sitting in, etc.). After telling us this, we watched and realized that everywhere we went, an Egyptian police officer met us upon arrival and spoke with our guide to give us clearance to continue on and log that we had in fact travelled to where our guide had submitted a request and received approval from the government. It was crazy to learn how much we had to be monitored and Rafike explained to me that it was actually illegal that the day before I had gone on my own with a private taxi and no police approval beforehand, to Giza and The Step Pyramid (that explained why I saw my driver give the police officer money, while shaking his hand, when we had arrived - it was to bribe for my entry). Rafike also told everyone not to eat any pasta for at least two days, as our systems needed to get used to the water that is used to wash the pasta. After I told him I had eaten "koushrey" for one of my first meals, he had a brief look of shock and then laughed and went and bought a bowl for he and I for the train ride to Aswan. Everyone gave me looks of sympathy and some with fear for what I was likely to go through in the sickness category, but apparently Cambodia and the rest of S.E. Asia had already prepared me for whatever water The Middle East had to offer and now "koushrey" is a favorite dish of mine.
More to come on Egypt and our cruise down The Nile.