This post is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, "150 Times Around the World," by Dr Jac Fitzenz. Its a culmination of his life's travels around the world and a compelling window into his vast journeys. Take a seat and come along for the experience of a lifetime as you join Dr Jac on his travels. Click here if you'd like to be notified when "150 Times Around the World" is available for purchase.
It’s about 9:30 p.m. when our plane lets down into Cairo International Airport. So far, everything has gone well. Laura is with me, looking forward to experiencing this exotic region. Our flight is on time, and we had no turbulence along the way. It’s just a long day, over sixteen hours from San Francisco through Frankfurt to Cairo.
During World War II, the United States Army Air Forces built Payne Airfield to serve the Allied Forces on the site of what is now Cairo International. After the war, Egypt took over the facility, and in 1963 it became Cairo International. Now forty years later, the facility is showing signs of wear. It’s less than clean appearance is upsetting to Laura who is admittedly a “cootie freak.”
As often happens, our driver is nowhere in sight. This isn’t surprising to me, but it doesn’t help Laura’s view at all. While I walk around the area outside of baggage claim Laura, who is not noted for patience, charges off looking for a taxi service. Eventually, she finds someone who arranges a cab. The first person takes our luggage to the street and collects his tip. The second man takes our luggage through a dark and rutted parking lot to the waiting cab—and collects his tip as well. We board the vehicle and head for the town center, about ten miles into the darkness. We arrive at the Intercontinental Hotel and pay the driver, plus tip of course. By now Laura is ready to catch the first flight back to San Fran.
When we reach Reception they have our room reservation. If they hadn’t, I don’t know what Laura would have done. By now she is traumatized to the point where she is afraid the building might collapse as had happened to another building in Cairo recently. She asks for a room on the second floor. Of course, this isn’t possible, and I manage to assure her the building will not collapse. A bellman takes us to our room, and as soon as we settle, Laura calls her mother in California to let her know we made it.
Laura’s fears come through the phone. She’s on the verge of tears. Grandma tells her to wait until morning when she is certain everything will look less threatening. This doesn’t help much, and Laura spends a very fitful night. Come morning, Grandma is correct. Things do look much better in daylight.
I have to go to work at nine and am concerned for Laura. Fortunately, my main contact, a very friendly, fortyish, professional lady named Mushira and her friend arrive and take Laura under their wings. By noon, Laura is her old self again.
The next two days I do my usual song and dance while Laura has a fun time with Mushira. When my program is finished, we have a day of sightseeing planned. In the morning, we tour the Egyptian Museum of Cairo. Located along the east bank of the Nile in the center of the city, it is home to a collection of 120,000 Egyptian antiquities. Many are in storage, but when we were there, a renovation and expansion was going on. This means the museum is overcrowded with artifacts. We’re stepping around statues, masks, steles, mummy cases, and what-not. It’s so tight it was nearly comical.
After the museum, we were driven to the western edge of town for lunch at a beautiful restaurant within sight of the pyramids. The menu is a mix of Lebanese and Egyptian. I remember ordering Shawarma. It’s a Levantine meat dish where you choose from lamb, chicken, beef, veal, or mixed meats. They’re cooked over a spit. The chosen meat(s) are sliced off the spit and wrapped. It’s a very popular street food, but this was a step up in quality. Laura has a sensitive stomach, so she sticks to a roast chicken dish she said later was very flavorful. We’re sitting on a patio, and through a lattice grill, we can see the pyramids not more than a mile or two away. Cairo has grown so much since the days of pyramid building that what used to be the distant desert is now the edge of town.
When we finish lunch we head out to the Giza plain, home of the three great pyramids of Khufu, Khephren, Menkaure, and of the Sphinx. When we step out of the car and start walking toward these great monoliths, the fun begins.
Vendors of all types descend on us. The most active is an enthusiastic, smiling, young fellow in a white robe and the traditional headdress that looks like a long red and white towel. His gig is to throw the towel around your head and have your picture taken with him, for a fee, of course. The cootie queen will have none of this. The next offer is to sit on a very redolent camel. You can imagine how Laura responds to that.
Once we rid ourselves of the offerings, we have time to walk the vast area. It’s mesmerizing, especially the Sphinx. You probably know the history of the area, so I won’t bore you. I’ll just say it’s an awesome experience—a memorable afternoon.
Back in town that evening we had dinner at the hotel and packed our bags. The next morning, we caught a flight to Frankfurt and on to San Francisco.