Egypt: now this is eating!

The forecast for today is 102 degrees and dust. Not cloudy or hazy, just dust. I don’t even know what that means.

Good thing we have a day of mostly indoor activities planned.

Sam and Mohamed the guide first take us to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It’s a Friday, the Muslim holy day. Lots of people have the day off so traffic is not bad. We get to Cairo in 20 minutes (it can take upwards of 40+). Mohamed the guide takes us through the museum, highlighting various pieces. The 2nd floor holds an impressive Tutankhamun exhibit.

Above, King Tutankhamun’s funeral mask

Above, one of his chairs, depicting Tutankhamun and his wife.

And, as avid campers, we were thrilled to see the first ever camping bed among Tutankhamun’s tomb items! Notice the hinges where it folds up for easy transport.

It was everything DQT could do to keep it under 2 hours at the museum. There are just so many sarcophagi.

We wrapped up a little after noon and since we were downtown, we got to observe a bit of the Friday prayers. The streets around one of the mosques were closed off and men on rugs were praying in the mosque, outside the mosque, even on the street. Then it was over with no fanfare, shoes were being put on and people were bustling about again.

Lunch was at an outdoor cafe next to the mosque. It was strangely pleasant to be sitting at an outdoor cafe on such a hot day. We had roast pigeon stuffed with spiced rice! Not much meat (it is a pigeon, after all) but it was tasty. In what will become a theme for the day we are told that stuffed pigeon is a form of “Egyptian Viagra” and it is suggested MDT wait till dinner for this dish instead of lunch. But we decide to risk it anyway! While at the restaurant the street cats were on us like lasers, loitering under our table. DQT and Mohamed the guide were total suckers and fed them scraps (including pigeon bones) which only brought more cats to our table. This, of course, further encouraged DQT. It was a vicious cycle.

We took a stroll through the nearby market after lunch. It was lovely. Some of those stalls are just gorgeous, particularly the brass lanterns. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it wasn’t a peaceful walk. Everyone was very polite as they called out “Hello”, “I have special price for you”, “Nice to meet you”, “Where are you from”, “Very special deal”, “What do you like”. We just smiled, waved, and kept walking. If this wasn’t the beginning of our trip, we may have stopped to shop! After we leave the market MDT tells Mohammad the guide that he is very sad, because everyone in the market wanted to shake MDT’s hand, and everyone offered MDT “special price” but nobody offered Mohammad the guide “special price” or wanted to shake his hand. Mohammad the guide gets a huge laugh out of this, and says “it’s true everyday” and then recounts the story to Sam once we get back into the car. Sam finds it funny too!

We waited by the market for Sam to pick us up and it was mass chaos as others were also getting picked up after the mosque and lunch. Taxis and cars and masses of people all converged on one intersection vying for space and attention. After 15 minutes, Sam finally fought his way through the traffic jam and we were whisked away to St. George’s Church.

This church is built on the site where Mary fled with Jesus to escape the Romans. She hid in the cellar for a week without food or water. Things looked dire until water was discovered and the well still has water today. The church is still used daily by the local Christian community.

Next to the church is a synagogue built by a Jewish businessman who helped restore/save the St. George’s Church. The synagogue is no longer in use.

Across the street from the church and synagogue is the oldest mosque in Egypt and Africa – Masjid Amr Ibn El Aas. Sam literally picked us up and drove us across the street. DQT made a joke, “Were you guys not sure we could cross the street on our own?” Sam and Mohamed the guide didn’t seem to get it. MDT laughed though.

Mohamed seemed much more animated and comfortable telling us about the mosque – less recitation of facts and more like things he really knew. So that alone made visiting the mosque more interesting. It was the first time we’d ever been to a mosque, as most (at least in this part of the world) do not allow Non-Muslims to enter.

After a shower and nap at the Airbnb (102 degrees in the desert and we now know what “dust” means in a forecast; should have been called “Lots of Dust”), we check in with Mohamed the host about dinner. He suggests that camel liver is unique but he warns us that, “It’s like Egyptian viagra.” He had also given us a similar caution about pigeon, “People eat pigeon before their honeymoon. Don’t eat pigeon at night. It’s no good for sleeping. *wink wink* We’re not so worried about this as we are about…is it okay to eat camel? We are assured it’s not a taboo.

So, we run recklessly into the unknown and opt to eat both pigeon and camel liver IN THE SAME DAY. MDT thinks either Egyptian men need a lot of extra “assistance” from their food, or maybe they don’t actually know what Viagra is?

Mohamed the host introduces us to his friend Mohamed the bazaar owner, who offers to walk us to the restaurant and order for us. We protest but the Mohameds say that the restaurant is not used to tourists. We invite Mohamed the bazaar owner to dine with us. Mohamed the host is busy at the Airbnb and cannot join us.

Aside from the sign, everything at The King of the Liver is entirely in Arabic so Mohamed the bazaar owner facilitates the ordering. We get 1 kilo of liver – half cooked spicy and half not spicy. It was delicious, particularly the spicy which was not spicy at all.

After dinner, the staff let MDT come into the kitchen!

As a VW owner, MDT loves the local “Uber” system in Cairo. Basically just VW buses that will drive around with the side door open and people jump in an out when the VW stops ( and sometime when it just sorta slows down!).

Another form of transport that Mohammad the guide tells us they have adopted from Thailand, are tuk tuks. Originally powered by pedals, the Egyptians have mechanized them into little SMART Car sized vehicles. We notice that this seems to the primary transport for women in the city. We don’t see many of them driving themselves and we don’t see any using the horses or donkey carts. But most tuk tuks that drive by have a woman as a passenger.

We have a good discussion with both the Mohammads about the political system and tensions that have been in Egypt the past few years. In fact, part of our tour included the plaza that was a main gathering point for the “Arab Spring” protests a few years ago. They feel that for the most part things are much more calm than the media portrays. As folks who spend most of their time with travelers and hearing their stories and experiences, and who also works with government workers (museum staff, security guards, police, etc.) they seem pretty in tune with what is going on. They very much believe things are better and really want to encourage folks to see Egypt differently and for the tourists to return and feel free to explore (of course they have a certain bias since their business is tourism).

However, it was also pointed out to us that there were a lot of rumors that the political unrest was being orchestrated by the USA, and the American Embassy has been under heavy security and the public is not allowed in or near the building (for safety reasons). After the Arab Spring large concrete blocks were installed to barricade the streets and bottom floors of the embassy and they are still in place today.

After our short trip, it’s time to depart Cairo. We have to get up at 2am for an early morning flight. Surprisingly to us, Cairo and Giza are both active an alive on the 3am drive to the airport. Perhaps it was an assumption on our part, but we associate the “night life” with alcohol. However, although there is little to no drinking done by non-tourists there are many restaurants and cafes (and even stores) that are still open at 3am. The Eye Glasses store was open, so go ahead and get that vision prescription updated. And just to close out the theme for the day…….the “Liver King” restaurant is also open (and busy) in the middle of the night……..maybe…..just maybe…..there is something to “Egyptian Viagra” after all!

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