November 1 and 2, 2022
Egypt and Jordan for us were our postponed bucket list destinations, postponed from Stephen's 50th birthday. For a variety of reasons, we decided we would do this section as an organized tour. We went with Intrepid, who Stephen had traveled with 25 years ago when he went to Thailand and Cambodia. They do small group (4-16 people) tours and have a focus on sustainable and person to person kinds of activities. We arrived at Cairo airport and were met before passport control by an Intrepid guide and shepherded all the way through the process of getting our visas, picking up our luggage, and getting to our transfer vehicle to the hotel. Not that we couldn't have figured everything out ourselves, but it was nice to have that velvet glove touch. We stopped by the ATM at the airport, though, to get money right away so that we could start paying tips.
Once we experienced some of the chaotic energy of Cairo, we're glad we decided to do it on an organized tour. It'll be one thing that is easy and that we don't have to think about as far as navigating the chaos.
And although we might describe it as chaos, there is still definitely a rhythm to it, and there are obviously rules to it as well. Take traffic. There are no lanes, but traffic moves somehow. There is clearly a language of honks, and we've taken two Uber rides so far and only had one near miss. Egyptian pedestrians cross the street (sometimes across 4 or six "lanes") by just weaving through the traffic as cars continue to come. On our way to the music shops (continue reading below), we even learned to cross the street as the Egyptians do. Most of the time, though, we cheated and looked for a group that was getting ready to cross and just staying on the other side of the from the oncoming traffic. That seemed to work well.
Internet service has been tough for us. Eli got an eSIM through Airalo again for Egypt, but he couldn't figure out why his speeds were so slow. Stephen was having a similar problem with his phone, and the WiFi at the hotel gets barely 1mbps and goes out more frequently than it's on. We had brought with us an old android phone we had in case we needed to get a local SIM and that's what we did so that we have some reliable speedy data for basic necessities of travel while we're here. Hopefully we can get the issues with our main devices solved so we don't have to carry the extra phone.
Today we ventured into downtown Cairo from the hotel to go shopping for a tabla, which is a traditional Arabic drum. There's an area there that we found on the map that has a number of stores that sell traditional musical instruments. Before we started traveling full time, we would pick up a traditional folk instrument from each of the places we visited. Even though we didn't do that in any of our stops this year (and, believe us, we were tempted) we felt like we wanted to do that for Egypt. We ubered to the Giza metro station and then took that into downtown. The metro felt nice because it felt like travel in any other city and a sea of relative calm compared to the streets. It wouldn't have been that much more expensive to take the Uber all the way there, but it was good to take another transport option. We could have taken a microbus to get to the station, but that was just a little too much to figure out on our own.
The area where the shops are is filled with all kinds of cell phone accessory stores and furniture shops, some of which make their own furniture. Occasionally we would see a horse and cart pass by (we actually saw this on one of the boulevards as well weaving in and out of traffic just like the cars). There were a number of stalls making fresh bread, and there were people with trays of mezes moving down the street bringing lunch to groups of shop workers. We wandered around a bit and then headed to the stores we wanted to see.
We found a couple tablas we liked, asked prices, and started to haggle, but apparently at these stores it is a direct price. We picked one and were able to make the purchase with a credit card. We then hunted down a DHL shop so we could send it home. Given the weight and the shape, though, it's going to cost us 3x as much to ship it than what we paid for it. We're okay with that, though. We totally forgot to get a picture of it before we boxed it up, so you'll have to trust us that it's beautiful. We've included a photo here of some different ones so you get the idea.
We came back to the hotel to rest before our 6pm meeting with the others on our tour and out guide. We met a few of the other couples on the tour out for dinner at a restaurant recommended by our guide. It was a mix of European and Egyptian food in a lounge setting (we sat on sofas next to low tables). Eli ordered a tagine of chicken and molokhia (jute leaves) and Stephen had two stuffed pigeons (and could have survived on just one). We spent 23 dollars for the whole meal.