pilgrimage day 11 – did I mention that Cairo is the overwhelming city?

It is. We had a very touristy day which started with a Mass (ok not so touristy) at a Catholic Church run by priests from the Camboni order (mentioned in day 9.5’s post) – the same order Fr. Chico is in. That was a special last Mass to have as the last since Fr. Chico got to really give us an insight into his life and calling and we got to know this charming man better and understand his no-nonsense, pragmatic, this-is-just-my-path approach to priesthood.

its all a blur

its all a blur

Comboni Order

Comboni Order

Next we went to a Coptic Orthodox church which contains a crypt where the Holy Family are believed to have hid during their flight into Egypt. Coptic  Orthodox is the Christian church started in Egypt by St. Mark, who converted thousands of Egyptians and endured horrific torture at the hands of the Romans eventually ending with him being dragged through the streets until his head came off. Coptic Christians were persecuted mercilessly yet the more they were persecuted the more the numbers converting to Christianity became. Today it is Coptic custom to tattoo a Coptic cross (derived from the ankh, which typically represented the “key of life” in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics) on your wrist as a way of showing a lack of fear in openly being Christian. Our guide, Max, is a Coptic Christian and has one of these tattoos. Max also points out that there are a few differences between Coptic and Catholic, one of the big ones being that where Catholics believe in Purgatory, Copts don’t.

where the Holy Family lived for some times

where the Holy Family lived for some times

We are taken to a shop and given lots of time to peruse the touristy wares, in fact a lot of the day centered around us being given lots of opportunity to shop. Next we drove to the pyramid complex of Giza, the streets were jam packed with people celebrating Eid – children running around, riding small Ferris wheels and camels and such. At the pyramids, Max warned us about the persistent hawkers and warned us not to engage them at all and how to say ‘No Thank-you’ in Arabic. We had a very short time at the pyramids, which were amazing but slightly underwhelming (Luisa thought they would be bigger). The hawkers were every bit as insistent as we had been told, sometimes resorting to forcing ‘gifts’ into your hands and then demanding that you pay for them. Despite the warnings, people from our group still got into trouble; I witnessed the amazing sight of Isabel rescuing H and Aunty B by throwing the ‘gifts’ they were given on the floor and leading them firmly away, one at each hand. We saw many ‘amusement camels’ – dressed up to the nines and hired to tourists for short rides and then we drove to the Sphinx which was even more crowded and featured two more pyramids.

slant

slant

pyramid + camela

pyramid + camela

storytelling

storytelling

After this began the shopping part of our day wherein we were taken to various shops all with a hands on approach to turning tourism in tangible economic gain. It was almost like Cairo knew we were only there for a day and knew it had to get as much money out of us as possible! We were taken to a perfume shop, then a papyrus shop and, finally, an Egyptian cotton shop. Of all these, the perfume shop left a lasting impression. I walked in there thinking that there was no way they would get me to smack down money on their counter – I don’t even wear perfume usually! But there I witnessed the most polished, charming and persuasive selling of my life. The place was filled with dainty glass bottles and we were invited to sit in a large wing of the shop by a friendly Armenian lady who took drink orders from us.  Next we were each given pieces of paper with the names of the perfumes she would be showing us and spaces for us to write down how much of each we wanted. “Yeah right” I thought. She then proceeded to tell us that the shop didn’t sell perfumes but rather essences, which perfume companies used. We got to smell pure flower essences such as the Lotus flower essence found in Tutankhamen’s tomb, and Yellow Lavender which was totally different and sweeter than the Purple Lavender. Under the unassuming heading of ‘Blends’ on our pieces of paper were popular blends of the pure flower essences which are completely identical to well-known commercial perfumes like Chanels Chance, and CK’s Eternity. When people starting raising their hands and asking about their personal favourite scents the woman would quickly present a bottle that smelled *exactly* like their perfume, even ones that are not longer being manufactured. She showed an unbelievable knoweledge of the perfume market down to which design houses, bottle design and the years that the perfumes were launched. We learnt that the difference between essences and perfumes is that perfume companies add alcohol to the blends, ensuring that perfume’s scent travels further, dissolving off your skin and making its way into other potential customers’ nostrils and that the perfume expires as some stage whereas pure essence never loses its scent. Next came the spicy essences like sandalwood (good for arthritis), frankincense (good for hay fever), eucalyptus (which literally clears your sinuses amazingly), narwatsu (a sweet vanilla scent) and sweet almond oil (good for moisturising skin and hair). Even the most hardened, tight purse string loosened after all the convincing whiffs and demos. Even Mae, who fell asleep during the demo, bought some for her arthritis. Between the Ladeira women we bought 6 bottles, 2 of which were for me (so very unlike me!).

a row of Portuguese ladies in the essence store

a row of Portuguese ladies in the essence store

just a touch of charm

just a touch of charm

view to another sale

view to another sale

cha-ching

cha-ching

With our  hedonistic detour behind us, we visited one more church – the Church of the Floating Bible which has a bit of a creepy story. It is built on a spot where a Bible was found floating and open at a passage stating “Oh weep children of Egypt”. By now it was dark and we were told that we should add whatever we had bought to our luggage now. So there we were in the dark street, lots of pedestrians walking past and an air of rush and panic. It was not good, even sweet A cracking and making some peeved comments. Then to finish the day we were taken to a yummy dinner cruise on the Nile which featured entertainment by a scary Bollywood-esque man who dragged unsuspecting guests on the dance floor to do weird synchronised dances with him, a belly dancer and man who spun continously for like 10 mintues while performing visual illusion type tricks. I have a tendency towards car sickeness, so riding on a bus all day, then eating dinner on a boat while watching the dizzying spinning man right before boarding a 7 hour flight was quite a test of my unfortunately delicate system! We ended up at the airport where some of us had a bathroom break in restrooms with no sinks and shared some calming cups of tea. Eventually we boarded our late night flight to Johannesburg looking forward to a tour bus-less existence at home and contemplating our experiences. At Johannesburg we still stuck together drinking coffees until eventually parting with new friends in Cape Town.

spinning man

spinning man

de Nile

de Nile

Tally for the day: 3 churches, 4 shop shop excursions, 5 pyramids, the sphinx, 1 Nile cruise, 1 flight home

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2 Responses to “pilgrimage day 11 – did I mention that Cairo is the overwhelming city?”

  1. Rudy Neeser Says:

    Phew. Did you land up enjoying the trip overall?

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