Garth and I just returned from a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Egypt.  It was such an amazing trip that I hardly know where to begin.  We visited the great historical sites that have excited archaeologists for centuries dating back to the stone age 10,000 years ago. We saw many Egyptian treasures which included the great Giza pyramids, the Sphinx, the Valley of the Kings, the Karnak Temple, the Luxor Temple, the Cairo Museum and more. For the next six days, we arose early and retired late in the effort to visit the famous sites and soak up Egypt. We rode camels, took a dinner cruise on the Nile, rode on a sailboat, enjoyed an evening carriage ride, shopped at outdoor bazaars and had amazing meals.  I took 1,350 photos so bear with me as I attempt to share some of our experiences while in Egypt.
View of CairoOur flight from Tel Aviv (Israel) to Cairo was only 1-1/2 hours.  In this photo, we are looking at the Egyptian coastline with the Mediterranean Sea. 

Cairo is a place where many worlds come together. It is the capital city of Egypt and has a population of 22 million people.  

Photo: Looking out from the bus with security guarding us with guns. 
Everywhere we traveled, we were escorted by three security or police officers.  When we walked to each site, one officer would lead the way, another stood guard and the third walked behind the last person in our group.  Security escorts are required by law in Egypt for large groups of tourists and we felt a little like celebrities as sirens blasted as a police lead our buses.  As we traveled along on the bus, people looked up out of curiosity, smiled and waved and it was not unusual to have residents rush up and ask to have our photos taken with them.

There are over 4.5 million cars in Cairo.  This is one city we would never dare drive around on our own.  Traffic was horrendous and there is no logical layout of the city other than it is divided by the Nile River.  

The history and architecture of Cairo date back thousands of years. Cairo is the capital city of Egypt and has a population of 22 million people. It boasts 24,000 mosques, 1,000 minarets, 700 churches, 11 Jewish synagogues but surprising has only 7 Jewish residents. Eighty-seven percent of the population is Muslim and 13% is Christian.    

It was disheartening to learn that 40% of the residents are struggling and live below the poverty line at only $2/day and that ninety percent of the population depend on tourism to survive. The poor are unable to pay for education for their children so we encountered people of all ages selling postcards and small souvenirs everywhere we stopped. The minute we stepped off our bus or as we walked along the streets to tourist sites, vendors aggressively approached us in the effort to make a sale.  We continuously heard, "One dollar . . .one dollar," or "Five dollars, no hassle." I quickly learned that the best way to avoid vendors was to wear sunglasses so they couldn't look into my eyes so I could keep walking. Nevertheless, they were relentless and understandably so when they have so little and probably live day to day on the little earnings they make. As Americans, we are so blessed and even the poorest in our country live better than many Egyptians.  

It was not unusual to see donkey or mule-drawn carts along 
with cars on the roads.

Egyptians have a reverence for the dead and on the edge of Cairo is an area 4 miles long known as al-Arafa or the "City of the Dead." It dates back to the 7th century where the graves were built as small tombs with gardens but now has become a slum area.

Some Egyptians live here by choice so they can be close to their dead ancestors in this sprawling cemetery but most of them are so poor that this is the only place they can live without paying rent.  The saddest part is that they collect garbage just to survive.  As we drove by this area early morning and then again at night, we saw men, women and children working outside in the dark organizing garbage to reuse or recycle.  This slum area is blocked off by walls on all four sides and has a population of half a million people. Parents can't afford to send their children to school and due to their lack of education and job skills, they can't get jobs and their futures are bleak.  Therefore, Egypt depends upon tourism and our guide said that currently it is down 90%.  The whole city is struggling and hotels are empty which was beneficial for us as we stayed in 5 star hotels at 3 star prices.  

In 1992, an earthquake struck with a magnitude of 5.8 leaving 50,000 people homeless. To this day, none of the rubble has been removed and people are still living around the broken down buildings. Several hundred mosques and 350 schools were damaged due to poor structures and still stand as if the earthquake happened just yesterday.

Egypt is often divided into two sections:   Upper Egypt in the south and Lower Egypt in the north. The sections are named this way because the Nile flows from south to north and the river empties into the Mediterranean Sea, on the country’s north coast. The Nile River is the longest river in the world and runs 4,258 miles and at it's widest point is 2 miles.  It's two main tributaries are the Blue and the White Nile Rivers which originate in Ethiopia.  It starts in Uganda and runs North through nine African countries.  Without the Nile River, Egypt would be a desert because there is very little annual rainfall. However, when the summer rains come,  the river rises and the valleys become flooded.   

We traveled in two groups.  The first group left at 4 AM so by the time everyone arrived in Cairo, we were famished.  We couldn't believe that lunch was at TGIF located on the edge of the Nile River where we were able to sit and look out at the famous river.

Located on the banks of the Nile River, Cairo is Africa's largest city, as well as the largest city in the Arab world. 

Lunch was delicious and was topped off with ice cream, the best we've eaten this past year. With full tummies and renewed enthusiasm to explore, all 90 of us were excited to experience Cairo. Little did we realize what the next eleven hours would bring.
A random fact is that Sunday is the first day of the week and Friday and Saturday are considered weekend days.  

Cairo (Egypt) is the largest city in Africa and is located 100 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea.  

Looking out from the restaurant window.

Students couldn't resist the chance for a photo on the Nile.

As we walked out of the restaurant, I saw these pipes.  

We left TGIF and were very anxious to start our day. The currency is the Egyptian Pound but we took only US dollars which were readily accepted.  We boarded the bus and went to the old city to see the Bab Al Futah gate and entrance into the Old City of Cairo.

The Bab al Futuh  or Conquest Gate is one of three remaining gates in the walls of the  Old City of Cairo.  

This gate was finished in the year 1087 and faces north and was part of fortification of the Old City. 

Our guide, a 42 year old Egyptian named Muhammad, was delightful.  He is getting married for the first time in September and has been a guide for the past 15 years.  He told us that Egyptians have very high moral standards and it is unheard of for an Egyptian woman to have a baby out of wedlock.  

The gate is covered in vegetal and geometric motifs.

Its rounded towers were constructed for strong defense with shafts for pouring boiling water or burning oil on attackers and arrow slits. 

We walked around the Old City and enjoyed the sights and the smells but I couldn't help comparing it to the Old City we know in Jerusalem.  

A very old mosque towers in the Old City of Cairo.

A total of 83 students were thrilled to be standing in the Old City of Cairo. This is just the beginning of many amazing experiences our first couple of hours in Egypt. 
(To be continued)