Traffic and Trinkets in Cairo
‘Don’t cross the road unless you have life insurance’ – that was my sister’s piece of advice before I went to Cairo, and I soon realised that she wasn’t kidding!
When I arrived, my airport transfer driver pulled out of the car-park and set off the wrong way down a one-way street. Amazingly, the locals are apparently unaware of their mortality and step out in front of the cars, inching their way ‘lane by lane’ across the road (the roads are far too busy for you to ever get all the way across in one go). That said, lane markings seem to be considered merely decorative – coming off the ring-road there were two lanes marked but there were five rows of cars trying to squeeze onto the slip road!
The traffic in Cairo means that it is impossible to estimate how long it will take you to get somewhere. It is ‘rush hour’ all day long, with traffic jams everywhere. To get to the pyramids from the school, it can take you half an hour or it can take you over an hour – you have to adopt the Egyptian mentality and not worry about schedules!
The staff at the school arranged for an absolutely lovely guide to take me to the pyramids, and we went quite early in the morning, when there was a fantastic haze hanging in the air, which looked pretty atmospheric standing by the pyramids looking back towards Cairo or out over the desert. The tourists all pile out of the tour bus in front of the pyramid, take a photo, and get back on the bus. I definitely recommend walking round to the back of each pyramid, because they block out any noise and there are no tourists, so it is completely silent, and with the massive ancient structure on one side of you and the desert stretching out on the other, it is quite a surreal experience
The easiest way to get around Cairo is by taxi, as they are omnipresent and very cheap. The staff at the school were really helpful in giving me hints on how much I should pay for taxi trips, and how to tell them where to take you. On my last evening I took a taxi to Khan al Khalili souk (market), in old Cairo.
The market was noisy and bustling with people, and if you are looking for souvenirs you won’t go away empty handed – you can find anything here: pashminas, glass ornaments, spices and herbs, jewellery, and all sorts of trinkets. The guys on the stalls here can’t miss the opportunity to make a sale, and will say just about anything to get you into their store, so expect to get plenty of harmless hassle.
I certainly can’t count the amount of times I was asked the classic ‘where you from?’ (I started making places up to keep me amused), but my favourite example of their smooth-talking was:
‘What are you looking for?’
‘I have nothing, what kind of nothing would you like?’