Monday, June 18, 2012

Election Day in Egypt …….. Celebrating a glorious past

Docked in Alexandria this morning and had very little time to survey our surroundings. Busy bees we are indeed today. Get to the Wheelhouse Bar at 6am to collect for our tour and then board the buses for our 3 hour drive to Cairo and Giza.

The cruise terminal was deserted apart from we passengers – no stores no officials – a beautiful art deco building, marble everywhere and absolutely empty.
A jarring note when we exited – a fellow passenger had fallen / slipped / tripped and had smashed her face – blood everywhere. Not sure what happened there. Heard we had an evacuation of a lady late in the day to hospital – was it her? Life goes on.

Driving from the terminal through Alexandria, its industrial periphery, surrounding marshes and salt pans was remarkably rapid today. Our guide tells us that the reason is the election – Sunday is usually busy and traffic is jammed but its election day; a holiday for people to vote.

The guide apologized that he could not take us through the beautiful parts of Alexandria – those on the Mediterranean. Apparently lovely waterfront property and a beautiful cornice.

Instead we were exposed to how the other half (probably 99%) live, work and shop. It was not a happy sight. Buildings are shabby

Trash and garbage strewn hither and yon

The ride from Alexandria to Cairo was filled by our guide telling us the tale of Egypt – ancient and modern. He was very proud of his participation in the democratic process but felt that both candidates were horrible. He had to make the best of two awful choices. (sounds like my view of the US upcoming election). In this case between a secular / pragmatic or a religious / Islamic future. As I write this I don’t know the result so can only hope it worked out for the best.

Along the road there were a few interesting sights and things to think about.
The Western side of the road represented the edge of the Sahara (Western) Desert – it was remarkable to see a road sign to El Alamein which was only 60 miles away. This was where the German Army was halted in 1942 to turn the tide of the war. Today there is a huge cemetery there (and a remaining minefield comprising millions of buried explosives). Also only a few hours to Libya.

The other sights I found interesting were the number of beautiful homes and US – style luxury developments – in progress; also massive Western – style shopping centers; large beautifully green farms – date palms, banana, mango and grapes and military camps and installations.
Crossed the Nile to enter Cairo metropolitan area – a city of 23 millions. This includes two cities actually – Cairo, East of the Nile and Giza, West of the Nile.

Our first stop was the Egyptian Museum. This is close on the square where the revolution of a year ago was centered. Next door to the museum the large Headquarters Building of Mubarraks party was burnt out and destroyed by demonstrators.

The Museum itself, like all of Egypt, has seen a >70% reduction in tourism which also made it easier for us to see the sights and move around (although it made the vendors increasingly desperate and pushy which resulted in the opposite).
There are an overwhelming number of exhibits here; we spent a few hours being shown the main pieces (out of thousands) found in the tomb of ‘ king Tut’.

Every Pharoah was entombed as a mummy with all their accumulated ‘stuff’ but the only Pharoah whose tomb was found intact was Tut. Tut was young when he died, was only in power for 10 years or so and had no real accomplishments yet his tomb was absolutely stuffed with relics of amazing workmanship and value. The guide makes the point – can you imagine the incredible wealth that must have been stolen from the tombs of older and more accomplished rulers?

The Tut relics are famous and we have all seen them or pictures of them but in this museum with a thoughtful explanation of their meaning was very special. No pictures are allowed in the museum so instead you can see the tourist junk made in their image!!!!

After the museum we drove across the Nile to Giza and lunch at the Oberoi Mena Hotel near the pyramids. This hotel, originally built as a palace for Empress Eugenie during her visit to the opening of the Suez Canal, became a hotel in th 1890s for British tourists visiting Giza. The hotel was absolutely spectacular

With beautiful views of the pyramids which are close to hand.

After lunch we went to the obligatory souvenir store. I stood outside and watched the pushy sellers fighting for attention and screaming at each other. Merle went inside……….

From here we went to the pyramids of Giza – there are three: 

Khufu (Cheops) which has lost its smooth covering altogether and you can see its mode of construction – millions of stacked carved stones weighing tons apiece

Khafre (Chephren), which still has its limestone finish at the apex

And Menkaure (Mycerinus), which is smaller.

Because the spirit (Ka) of the pharaoh entombed within has to find the awaiting mummified body (Pa) for the journey to eternity, it musnt be confused by other bodies so parents, wives and kids are entombed in neighboring pyramids that by now are piles of rocks.

All around the viewing sites there were people trying to sell you items, rides on camels, horses or donkeys or even ‘photos with their animals. One of our fellow passengers was not careful and opened his purse to get some money – the kid grabbed the money from inside the wallet and was gone – you have to take care here

Finally, we came to the sphinx – face of the pharaoh body of a lion – to tell the world what his characteristics were.

As we looked at these wonders of the world I was really pleased I had the chance to visit – just stunning what people were able to create in the name of their faith; just as it was in Easter Island.

So sad that todays version (for Egypt) will likely be an ‘Iran on the Nile’. We’ll see

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