HURGADAH TO CAIRO
Friday is a holiday in Hurghada as is Saturday (similar to our Saturday and Sunday at home), so we have great difficulty in organizing a trip to Cairo and down the Nile. This is more complicated because it is the coptic Christian Easter here this weekend. We are told most hotels in Cairo are booked out and all flights to Cairo tomorrow are fully booked. We could not book this trip in advance as our estimated time of arrival was so unpredictable depending on the strong northerlies which can hold you up for days. The forecast for the next 6 or 7 days is unfavourable to continue north so this is the ideal time for us to leave the boat and venture off on this side trip.
The Egyptian driving is quite scary. Sometimes the drivers seem high on substance e.g. with radio blaring, hands off the wheel clapping, and fast erratic driving accompanied by loud honking of the horn. It is a relief to arrive safely. One of the yacthies says he offers a higher fare if they drive slower - what a sensible idea!
Saturday morning we have a great start to the day at a nearby beach. The rest of the day we organize the boat by cleaning the stainless steel, taking fuel on board delivered in jerry cans in a dinghy so has to be poured in slowly, and the new auto-pilot installed. Of course, the latter two begin only a couple of hours before we have to lock Impulsive to leave her for nine days, so we have a rush to the bus stop. Luckily the kind technicians for the auto-pilot drive us there or we would not have made the bus departure.
The flights are all full today but the bus trip from Hurghada to Cairo is a great trip. It takes five hours, traveling out through Hurghada and then along the coast road seeing fishing boats, oil rigs, incompleted houses in abandoned villages which have failed financially, and closer to Cairo large resorts being built on the coast. There is also a vast wind turbine complex with thousands of these machines. The desert seems like an excellent place for these where they are not disrupting anyone. The sunset over the desert is beautiful. The bus is very modern and comfortable, and we are served a snack for dinner. Ross and I enjoy the action packed film with Bruce Willis presenting challenged reality.
Arriving in Cairo at 9pm is such a contrast. We are suddenly hurled into the bustle of a large city and its unruly traffic. Phil does some marvellous bargaining for our traffic ride to our hotel. We have a night cap here at Harry's pub which is very pleasant with live entertainers. We are actually pleased to have a hotel room tonight as we were told they are fully booked.
Phil and Robbie have been here before so we have a different agenda from them. Their main objective is to obtain their visas to Russia to meet friends there for a cruise.
We are pleased to find an excellent guide (the brother of the man in the hotel bookshop). He has a doctorate of chemistry and works in an import-export business, has reasonable English, and is very knowledgeable.
Luckily Medo is a good driver. He says that in Cairo the traffic rules for red lights mean "go", orange means "go faster", and green means "stop". Also, he says the main problem in Egypt is the parking. We soon discover this is all so true.
We drive first to the Northern cemetery (City of the Dead). This was built for Mamluk sultans and emiris. These tombs were built so they had a room where the visitors of the dead could stay overnight. Now thousands of homeless people and refugees live here, and have done so for generations. The great problem is that Islamic rules stipulate these old tombs are not be removed.
It's building began in 1176 and was Egypt's seat of power for 700 years. It includes an Islamic mosque - Al Nasa Muhammad. This is monotone, simple and not a tomb. Later the Turkish Muhammad Ali Mosque was built within the fortress. Our guide refers to him as the greatest Egyptian. This is a tomb. The views from the Cidadel's western terraces are wonderful and help to give a good perspective of the city's layout. In the distance we can see the outline of some pyramids.
We have lunch at Fishawis, the famous coffee house. It has been a regular place for writers and artists, e.g. the Egyptian author and Nobel Prize winner, Naguib Mahfous. The atmosphere here, in the middle of the bazaar of Khan-al-Khalili is fantastic. Many people are smoking the water pipes with the sweet smoke. Trading first began here in C14, and still today the bargaining is part of the very colourful and busy scene. Glitzy bell-dancing costumes are hanging everywhere. Wandering through these old and narrow allies is fascinating, including along the medieval walled city, through the northern gate which was the main entrance to the medieval Cairo, and by the Al-Azhar Mosque founded in 970 A.D. The sheik of this mosque is still the highest religious authority here and pronouncements from this office hold more weight than those of the government. Medo then drives us through many back streets to shops he recommends where we can replace our camera and battery charges. This is a great relief to be able to use some of our equipment again.
A sunset cruise on a felucca on the river Nile is a most pleasant experience, and we are full of admiration for the skipper who manages in all the river traffic and with not much wind and no motor. He certainly is very skilled.
We meet Phil and Robbie at a restaurant near the hotel for dinner. It is in a lovely old building with lots of atmosphere, very high ceilings and interesting architecture. We have fun exchanging our days activities and ideas.