15 April 2011

Hangin' Lo in Cairo - Part 1

The first thing to notice about Cairo is that the city is alive. There are people, cars and bikes everywhere, anytime. Without lanes marked on many of the city’s roads, cars and bikes vie for their share of the roads. As a result of this, the city is engulfed with the sounds of incessant honking and some of the worst traffic congestion in the world.

The air of Cairo has an enveloping profound warmth in it. This warmth is certainly visible; it's orange and its tinge permeates through every inch of the city. It’s comprised of smog and dirt. I struggle to fathom the adverse health impacts of this toxic concoction on Cairo’s people. I was once told while living in Hong Kong that the air pollution is so bad that spending one day there is equivalent to smoking 7 cigarettes a day. In Cairo, I believe the air is as bad as smoking 7 packs of cigarettes a day.

Another thing to note about Cairo is that there are incomplete buildings everywhere. It’s a common sight to see a building lacking a roof. I was told that the reason for this is because of a loophole in the tax system: an Egyptian can avoid paying taxes of up to 6,000 Egyptian pounds on their building if they don't complete the building. This doesn’t stop locals from occupying/running businesses on every floor below the top floor of the building!

As mentioned in my last post, the food in Egypt is brilliant. In Cairo we followed some of the recommendations in Cindy’s Lonely Planet guide. Before I continue, I should mention that, to my surprise, there were hardly any tourists in Cairo. For example, we were the only occupants in our hostel which was highly rated on Hostelworld. Being tourists, it was quite nerve-racking to walk into a restaurant full of locals. There were generally no English menus nor English-speaking staff. For our first meal, in a restaurant hidden upstairs to a bakery, everybody stared at us (in particular, they stared at Cindy). She felt uncomfortable but I teased her about it. We ordered enough food to feed a family. We tried a few different types of foul and salads, as well as a giant pizza-like dish. It was delicious.

 We followed another recommendation one night and went to a fast food joint in a shopping centre. We got lost several times before finding the shopping centre. It’s tricky finding places with Arabic names when you aren’t Arabic-literate. As we approached this particular shopping centre, we lined up to get our bags screened and walked through metal detectors just like you would at an airport – this is apparently normal in Cairo’s shopping centres. We then discovered the best fast food joint in the world. They offered a large variety of foul, salads, grilled meat and all sorts of other things I can’t even describe. There were no English menus so we just ordered some grilled chicken and anything that had a cool name. Whilst this fast food joint was not so fast, it was well worth the wait.

Following Cairo, we went on a trip to the pyramids and to the Sahara Desert. But that’s for next time.


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