Walking through chaotic Cairo

Walking through chaotic Cairo

* This blog post is a Travel Narrative Project for my elective course Arrivals and Departures at Sheridan College. 

*Esse post é um projeto final da matéria eletiva chamada Arrivals and Departures, cursada durante a faculdade no Canadá.

After traveling to dozens of countries around the world, in Cairo, capital of Egypt, I had my very first experience feeling uncomfortable in a place from the first day until the last minute. Egypt was a dreaming country and I was so excited to be there and finally have the opportunity to see the history coming alive!

The chaotic traffic with no rules, the sound of the horns and the challenge of crossing the streets while the cars passed by so close to the pedestrians remind me of cities I had visited years earlier like Tehran, Marrakech or Siem Reap.

First lesson I got in Egypt: if you want to cross a street in Cairo don’t wait for a car to stop for you; just follow the locals and cross along with them.

No matter if you are old, or carrying a baby or if you have reduced mobility, they normally won’t stop for you to cross the street.

As I was walking around the chaotic streets of Cairo with my husband and my 9-month baby I could feel that we were great bait for sellers. Most of them started a conversation telling how cute our baby was and immediately invited us to visit their store or to drink tea.

We spent 20 days in Egypt and Cairo was the first city we visited in the country

Some of them were trying to sell products, others were offering services and so on. The country itself is very touristic and people all over the world dream about visiting there but the insistence from the street vendors is really tiring. In Cairo we were bothered by the harassment, and we did not expect it could be worse in Luxor.

Second lesson I got in Egypt: if you are traveling to the country without an excursion, like we did, try to be relaxed and prepare yourself to be stopped by people on the street hundreds of time.

If you don’t care about people interrupting you all the time while traveling, it’s not gonna be a problem visiting Egypt by yourself.

There was one place in Cairo on top of our must visit list and where our expectations were high: The Egyptian Museum. We have seen many Egyptian collections in places like Louvre, British Museum and Royal Ontario Museum, but at this time we finally had the opportunity to see the Egyptian history being told by the Egyptians.

Inside The Egyptian Museum, the oldest archaeological museum in the Middle East

There are many important artifacts and very precious collections in the museum, including the golden funerary mask of Tutankhamun which was buried for over 3,000 years and now it is placed in a special room with security guard and inside a glass display.

Despite of having a very rich collection, it was visible that the museum itself urged some kind of restructuring, as there was very little information about the pieces and there was no chronological order in the presentation of the expositions.

It was evening when we finally arrived at Khan el Khalili market and the harassment from the sellers spread out all over the place. In the middle of the noise I was amazed by the beauty of the fabric of the scarves and the mosaics of the Egyptian lamps.

One of the stores inside Khan el Khalili market

It would never be more than a minute without hearing someone offering me a product. Little by little we started to di-stress from the harassment and instead of saying “No, thanks” I started to bargain. Haggling in Egypt in part of their culture, it’s like a way they socialize.

Third lesson I got in Egypt: if you want to buy something start bargaining with a very low price.

Just to illustrate, I wanted to buy my son a t-shirt that was being charged 200 Egyptian pounds and after bargaining  I ended up getting it for just 75 pounds.

Khan el Khalili was one of my favorites places in Cairo! Even with all the insistence of the shoppers, the scent of the food was incredible. Talking about food, I have no words to define the taste of their delicious shawarma and the unforgettable kobeba (kibbeh) which was the best I’ve ever had in my life!

For a desert we highly recommend the El Abd Patisserie, a bakery that sells D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S cakes, croissants and gâteaux at a fair price. The bakery was very close to our hostel and we went there every single day we were in Cairo.

On top Shawarma being prepared; on the left the most tasty kobeba of my life and on the right side the delicious gateaux from El Abd Patisserie

Cairo is a unique city that mixes the Islamic world with all its beautiful mosques and the ancient Egypt. Its traffic is one of the craziest I’ve ever seen. It was an adventure to be there in the middle of the crowd with cars, buses and motorcycles mixed together from the narrowest streets to the widest avenues and do not know how to simply cross them.

I see Cairo as a city that looks a bit old-fashioned, with really nice buildings that are starting to crumble, and streets that are quite dirty. To tell you the truth, none of these characteristics I have just described about Cairo is a problem to me.

The beautiful architecture of the buildings in Cairo

The only challenge I have faced in Egypt in general was being a foreign woman, but I will leave this topic for a new chapter from this book.

Related articles (in Portuguese):

10 days in Egypt

Traveling to Egypt with babies

A two-day cruise on Nile River

Two days in Luxor

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