Today we bummed around Cairo and finally made it to the Egyptian Museum to see Tutankhamen’s treasures. Going to the Egyptian Museum certainly sounds like something innocuous, but there in Egypt it was still a mission of sorts. First of all it sits on the opposite side of Tahir Square, the largest traffic congested section in all of Cairo; ten lanes of traffic (with about two dividers) constantly whizzing past you at suicidal speeds. The traffic lights don’t help, because even if there’s a red light the Egyptians don’t bother to stop, let alone slow down. So, the only way to get across this mess is to pick the narrowest section where the traffic was slowing down a bit and go for it – rather a real life version of that old ‘Frogger’ video game. It took us a while to get used to it, but eventually we caught on. The Egyptians seem to walk out into the middle of the traffic, taking no notice of who’s coming or going. I watched a woman with a four foot long cabinet balanced on her head walk straight off the sidewalk and into the moving traffic, then waltz through the lead foots to the other side of the street unharmed. We, as tourists would start walking then run back to the curb if there was a car coming too close. Finally an Egyptian man came over and told us to just walk out into the street – the traffic would go around us. With that he stepped off into the traffic, but this time we followed him. Well, not really followed him, rather used him as a shield, keeping him on the side of the oncoming traffic. I figured if he got hit the car would be slowing down by the time it took me out. We made it! Every day since then while traveling in the Third World I’d always try to use human shields of locals against the traffic – just in case.
Made it to the Egyptian Museum, bought the ‘Foreigners’ tickets then paid an extortive amount for my ‘Camera Ticket’ so I’d be able to take photos. Rich and Sarah made it through the entrance with their day packs but the doorman grabbed me and told me to check it in with the coat room – no bags allowed. I’d seen Egyptians and other people already go through with their bags and there was a huge queue at the baggage check, so I tried a different door, but the doorman caught me again and told me to ditch my bag. At this point a huge French tour group arrived and I was surrounded by a sea of geriatrics, all wearing neon yellow Gilligan type sailors caps (so they’d be identifiable to their tour leader when lost – which was pretty much all the time). The doorman came away from the door and began speaking to the group in broken French. As I was immersed in this group I ducked and headed through the elderlies and through the door into the museum. Let the French people deal with the bag check, not me. The only item that really struck me was the huge gold mask that King Tut was found wearing when he was unearthed. The thing is large, and solid gold; more than I’ve ever seen in one place in my entire life – it was truly stunning.
We walked around Cairo a bit that day, then Sarah went to the room while Rich and I went out that evening to get some dinner. We headed to this shop that sells these small buns full of gyros meat, then covered with humus. Plus, they were so cheap we walked in there and, to the cashier’s amazement ordered twelve of them to satisfy our hunger. While we were walking through Cairo that evening I notices that the Egyptians would always look at our shoes. In Cairo there aren’t a lot of clothing boutiques, rather because the women have to cover most of their body from public view the only way for them to accessorize and express themselves is by their shoes. I have never seen as many shoe shops in a row in my entire life than there are in Egypt. The shoes are the way people make snap judgments of each other – the same way we might do it about someone’s car – so the bigger and shinier the shoes the more impressive. We were both wearing our clumpy hiking boots and they definitely caught the eyes of many a passer-by. Rich’s boots had all these shiny silver eyeholes which really caught the locals’ eyes. As we were waiting for our food this Egyptian man jokingly offered Rich two chickens and a camel for his shoes. Many people had asked if he was selling his shoes, but this last offer took the cake.