At the time, it was the most ancient place that I had visited. Cairo- land of the gods and center of the world for millennia. President Obama had just won the election and it was a great time to be an American abroad- especially in the Middle East and Africa. I visited East Africa (Egypt and Ethiopia) as a gift to myself after an arduous year of finishing grad school. It was one of the most stressful years of my adult life and I felt the need to not only get away, but to experience a spiritual connection in my destination. When comedian Dave Chappelle quit his show unexpectedly and went MIA only to turn up in Africa, I understood his logic all too well. I stayed in the Maadi hotel in the Maadi district, an area full of international embassies. Like most of Cairo the area was also full of mosques so the calls to prayer could be heard reverberating across the city. I had a view of the Giza pyramids from my room and every morning I would have a couple cups of Turkish coffee and stare at them in disbelief.
I visited the Muhammad Ali mosque, one of the most beautiful in the city. I remember popular images from the mosque of Malcolm X praying. But once inside the ornate design and calligraphy was absolutely breathtaking. The mosque was very non-Muslim and tourist friendly but visitors had to be properly covered (women had to cover their hair and legs and men couldn’t wear shorts). And outside of the mosque, due to its high elevation, was a view of Cairo that was nothing less than epic.
I enjoyed the food at just about every place that I ate. The US dollar was strong against the Egyptian pound so every time I ate it was a veritable gorge fest. At times I felt a little guilty about it but not enough to stop myself from ordering at least 4 or 5 dishes each time. But I must say this one Lebanese restaurant that I went to was the best!
A few days after I arrived I made my way to the pyramids. I was given a choice of riding a horse, four-wheeler, dirt bike, or camel up to the pyramids from the desert outskirts of fast-food joints and tourist-friendly stores. In my mind choosing anything other than a camel would have made no sense. When in Rome, right? Or in this case, Egypt.
The Giza pyramids are a site to behold. It’s mind-boggling to imagine they were constructed thousands of years ago and are still standing. From a distance, the pyramids have such an otherworldy presence. The wind sweeps sand in the air in such a way that it almost looks like the sand is dancing. I felt very humbled to be at Giza.
Camels are interesting beasts. They are taller than I had imagined and walk a bit awkwardly- at least to me while I was on its back. The hardest part of the ride was getting on and getting off of the camel. When mounting and dismounting, there is a post on the saddle that you have to hang onto for dear life. Otherwise you can easily find yourself thrown off and face-deep in a dune. I shot some video and photo during the ride but it was no easy feat since every step was a bit jerky.
Visiting Egypt was surreal to say the least. I’m very interested in going back but I’m sure the post-revolution and lack of enthusiasm around President Obama will make for a bit of a different experience. I still want to visit Alexandria, Luxor, and Shark El Sheikh. In due time…