My last day in Aswan was all about killing time until the night train back to Cairo. Normally I could occupy myself for hours on end with a solid internet connection, but I had been informed that high speed access was down throughout the country. The 1st class ride back to Cairo was much more to my liking than the ride to Luxor. Instead of semi-private compartments, the carriage was open, but the seats were wide, comfortable, and almost fully reclined. I got 5-6 hours of sleep, arriving in Cairo at 6:30am, no more than one hour late. I took a taxi back to the Berlin Hotel where I slept much of the day in the little room I had my first night in the country.
In the evening, I attended a dinner cruise on the Nile, only as a means to see some bellydancing. As in my guidebook, the hotel manager warned against local clubs for such entertainment, as they had numerous ways of hiking up the bill. Unfortunately, the bellydancer on the cruise performed far less than I expected. Once we set off on the river, a musician began to play and everyone started to feed from the excellent buffet dinner. Then, the bellydancer from Norway burst onto the scene, and shook her moneymaker to the crowd of predominantly Asian guests. There were some Arabs too, but I was the only white guy, and I was certainly the only backpacker to attend. Not that I notice these things! Between the two bellydancing sets, the second of which was all about photo ops with the guests, a guy dancer in a colorful costume whirled in a circle for his full 5-10 minute performance. Like an ice skater in a perpetual spin, I was amazed at how he kept his balance, and ultimately enjoyed his show more than the bellydancer.
The next morning I packed up my stuff and took a taxi to Megan’s apartment in the international (wealthy) part of the city. I had been in touch with Megan since my arrival in Egypt, but was only able to manage my last night on her couch. She is the country director for Operation Smile, a worldwide children’s charity. Also staying with her was Tim, a Brit slowly working his way back to England from a teaching job in Thailand, via the Middle East.
Tim and I spent the day walking around Islamic Cairo, the old part of the city where you get the feeling life hasn’t changed much over the centuries. We walked through mosques and observed daily life. We saw a runaway donkey drawn cart bash into the back of a parked mini-truck, resulting in the inevitable argument. Walking through the various markets selling everything from fresh fruits to live rabbits, I was reminded of a similar stroll I made through the historic part of Kathmandu.
For those who fancy photography, the unique opportunities are limitless. I was glad Tim liked to take photos too, as we didn’t mind waiting for one another, but I found it hard to manage the light. Little kids would pass us by and say “welcome to Egypt” which was endearing. Demolished and crumbling buildings were a standing testament to the 1992 earthquake.
When I was feeling tired, I signaled to Tim that we should start to head back, but not before one more cup of tea. I loved the tea, and the little individual metal tables set up by vendors for their customers on the sidewalk. He must’ve been tired too, because I convinced him a taxi back to the apartment was in order (on the way, we walked for an hour, and used the subway, to save a dollar or two each in taxi fare). On our way to find a taxi, we saw a child pinned under a large bag, possibly of grain. A bunch of bystanders rushed around to pick the bag up, and of course, the mother began to give whomever was at fault the riot act.
While waiting for Megan to return from work, I watched “Superbad” on her laptop. I first watched the movie while it was pouring rain on a little island in Indonesia, Gili Trawangan. I still found it funny.
When Megan returned, we headed out to one of her favorite restaurants for dinner. We went all out, ordering several traditional Egyptian foods including stuffed pigeon.