Walking to the pyramids; Cairo, Egypt

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Leave the bikes in storage for a few days.  Cairo is a walking city.  It is possible to cycle in the city, although best to avoid late afternoon and evening when Cairo reaches a climax.  Mornings are cool and quiet, as Cairenes sleep late and start slow.  Friday morning is especially quiet as the county is at prayer– also a good time to ride.  After enough sugar cane juice, shisha, and tea, Cairo gains steam by mid-afternoon and charges through the evening.  Fancy buying a watch or a car at 11PM?  It’s available, alongside counterfeit Levis and Adidas, many of which remarkably bear three solid stripes, at one-third the expected price.  Typical two stripe and four stripe models are also available.  Sidewalks flow steadily through the last half of the day, except for blockages near ice cream stands, which are en vogue.  Side streets reveal unremarkable shops selling mops and sponges and repair parts for Indian and Chinese made motorbikes.  The cheapest food in the city is found on these back streets.  Here the proprietor is also less likely to extort a few extra Egyptian pounds for the service, for lack of practice at such things.

In three consecutive days, today our fourth, we walk.  On our first day we walk to the pyramids, twenty miles round trip, with lots of dust and traffic but just as much fresh cane juice to wash it away.  Arriving just before the gates close, we spot the nearest two structures, embrace their presence, and turn around toward home.  There is a golf course just beneath the pyramids.  Some of the most aggressive touts in the city are found here, selling camel rides.  No thanks, we walked here.  Some have to be told twice.

We meet a helpful young man in an all white linen suit who claims to have business in Sharm el Sheik, a popular resort town at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula.  He indicates that it is safe to ride to Sharm; that he takes this trip by car weekly.  This is the hopeful answer to a question which we have been otherwise unable to answer.  Is it safe to cycle in Sinai?  Will we be able to reach Taba, at the border of Isael?  He thinks, and we hope. 

On the second day, we walk to the Coptic city, a walled area which encompasses ancient Coptic churches, a synagogue, and cemeteries with names written in French, Greek, and Arabic.  Copts are ancient Christian Egyptians– Oriental Orthodox– who predate the Muslim conquest of Egypt.  They persist as the largest Christian community in the Middle East, and the largest religious minority in the Arab Republic of Egypt.

On the third day we walk to the old Islamic city, in the shadows of the Saladin Citadel.  There are fruit vendors and tea cafes, and a vendor selling tongue, liver, and the skin of a cow’s head, skillfully removed from the animal.  We arrive late in the afternoon, as the mosques and attractions are closing.  No thanks, we don’t need a tour.  In most of the city people look at us with some curiosity, yet mostly leave us alone.  ‘Welcome to Egypt”, they say.  Near popular touristic attractions, it is different.  We’re happy to spend our time walking.

We meet a group of children riding bicycles in the gated lot in front of the Abdeen Palace.  The streets are too busy for children to be riding bikes, although as if by magic there are men delivering loads of bread by bicycle, riding against, across, and with traffic.  They balance long wooden racks of flatbread on their heads.  The boys in the lot are riding the typical fat-tire BMX bikes, the two oldest boys on typical British city bikes.  The boys heckle and holler in Arabic.  So as not to encourage them, I offer only a faint smile.  Three girls are riding bicycles.  Lael and I approach.  They accept our presence with shy smiles, questions and eventually, selfies.  We accept the offer to ride their bikes, wishing we had our bikes to show them,and to explain that we wish to ride across Egypt.  I try to explain, but without props it is hard to convince them of the inconceivable and impossible.  We feign normal levels of excitement to make their acquaintance, but Lael and I look at each other, our eyes screaming “these girls are riding bikes in Egypt!”.  For some context about women and cycling in Islamic countries, check out the inspiring trailer for the Afghan Cycles film, documenting the fledgling Women’s National Cycling Team in Afghanistan.

Check out Lael’s thoughts about Cairo in her post titled Running in Egypt.     

On the fourth day, we walk to the Nile and nowhere in particular.  We take a brief out-and-back trip on the metro.  In each car, men offer their seat to Lael.  We pack our things, downloads maps and tracks to the GPS for Sinai and Israel, including the Holyland MTB Challenge.  We will leave in the morning, after a cup of cane juice.

All images from Fujifilm X100T, purchased in Johannesburg to replace another broken Olympus body.

Check out the Blue Bird Hotel for a cheap place to stay in the center of Cairo.  In a city famous for disingenuous dealings, the young brothers that own this place are refreshing.  We paid less than $18 a night with breakfast.  Secure bike storage was made available.  Cairo is our favorite city anywhere.

To the pyramids:

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To the Coptic city:

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To the Citadel:

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The Nile and the Metro:

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19 thoughts on “Walking to the pyramids; Cairo, Egypt

  1. You’re doing a great job with the XT1 – I hope it stands up to the job better than your recent cameras… I finally managed to handle one at a shop recently – prob still bigger than my hands are used to now, so I’ll stick where I am. What lens? Keep up the good work – and let us know when you make it to Australia 🙂

      • Tom, I thought very seriously about the XT-1, especially as the guys at one of the shops I visited couldn’t wrap their heads around the thought of buying an X100T and not the XT-1, but they probably couldn’t have understood six months in one t-shirt, one pair of shorts, on a bicycle. The X100T is a few hundred dollars cheaper, which helped the decision. Ultimately, I wanted to move away from options, tilting screens, lenses. I might have just bought the fixed gear bicycle of cameras, but for now, I like it. I will seriously consider the XT-1 next time I want a serious system camera. Probably no more Olympus for a while. The Nikon Coolpix A still holds some appeal as a travel camera, as do a few others.

  2. That’s funny- I picked up a used x100s a couple weeks ago. I’ve really been digging it. Seems like a perfect camera to beat around with. I’ll be interested to see how well it holds up for you

  3. I love how this one is about the adventure: walking and not riding the bike anyways. I used to be like, I am going to climb this hill even if it blows my knees out. Now I embrace the old touring adage, walking is your lowest gear.
    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Inspiring photos! I’ve been slacking on the photo front lately…
    What issues have you had with the oly’s? I’m shooting the older x100 and am looking to replace it. LOVE the camera. Been through hell and going strong, but I’m ready for a long lense option.

    Safe travels,
    Ryan

    • Hey Ryan,

      Two broken shutters on the E-P3. Maybe there is a fix, but I get them for about $300 on sale and don’t expect it would be worthwhile. I bought an OM-D EM-5 used from a friend and it appeared to be in great shape until the tilting screen died a week later. A friend got a lot of use out of one until the same thing happened, but about 1-2 years in. I’ve concluded two things: that I need to be nicer to my cameras and that Olympus cameras might be Made in China crap. I really prefer the images from the Fujifilm X100T and am treating it as best as I can. I think I can live without lens options for now, perhaps for a while.

      • Thanks for the info. I’ll stay away from olympus and invest in fujifilm. After over a year of use, I’m still very happy with my x100. I purchased it used on Craigslist. It was a few years old when I bought it. It’s survived kayaking trips, a week in the wet appalachain mountains backpacking, and this trip where it’s taken a few spills including jumping from my handlebar bag at 20 mph. I credit a lot of its durability to the fujifilm case. Good luck with yours. It’s a lot of fun to shoot. I imagine the newest version being even more fun.

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