*** Saturday, 06May06 ***
I had a banana for breakfast and headed out to the Sadat metro station
under Tahrir Square where I took the Yellow line to Cairo University.
I planned to walk through the large campus on my way to the zoo. The entrance
was just at the foot of the stairs from the Metro but a white-suited police
officer would not let me enter. The campus is off-limits to non-students
like me. I had to walk around it to get to where I wanted to go. While
doing so I noticed a young man climbing over the ten foot tall iron fencing.
He was far more nimble than I am.
I walked into El Orman Garden and enjoyed the shade from the palm trees.
All the gardens here have entrance fees, usually about 50 piasters or
twelve cents US. Presumably it provides funds for maintenance but it functions
also to keep a lot of poor people out. Life is never easy if you don't
have some money.
A dust storm
from my room window.
I passed through the garden, crossed the street, and found an entrance
to the Cairo Zoo. When I tried to enter they pointed me back along the
wall to an obscure window that sold tickets. At the window everything
seemed rather chaotic. There was much discussion with a number of young
people and hands were thrusting money into the room behind the window.
I could tell that the fee was 50 piasters so I put a one pound note in
but they noticed that I had a camera and asked me if it was photograph
or video. I said "photo" and had to pay a 20 pound camera fee
(40 times the entrance fee). The video fee was much higher.
I went into the Zoo and wondered what direction I should wander and turned
left for no reason. A corpulent man dressed in a blue uniform politely
yelled at me and said the Zoo was one-way (a first for me) and pointed
to the right so I went that way. As I walked along the paving, there were
some streets on the left and I started to walk down one and suddenly the
fat man appeared and told me to continue on the street I was on. So I
did, wondering what I would find.
A hippo in
the Cairo zoo.
I went on looking at what I could see (a flock of white flamingos and
some antelope-like animals) and suddenly the uniformed belly was right
behind me. He told me to go to the reptile exhibit and then called to
someone and she opened a locked gate for me. He ushered me in and I was
soon in the reptile house. On the way in he pointed out a pool with some
Nile crocodiles sunny themselves on the edge. One four foot specimen sat
there with his mouth open as if he were posing for a picture. Those teeth
were a dentist's dream.
In the reptile house there were turtles or tortoises in various displays
and some lizards including iguanas. The fat belly was in front of me now
but clearly waiting for me to look at what I wanted to. I wasn't quite
sure what was going on.
As I reached the furthest point and turned to see the displays on the
other side, he called to someone who brought out a Nile crocodile. He
said it was six months old and that after nine months it was too dangerous
to handle. He told me to go and pet it. It was perhaps two feet long and
seemed very inert. The holder put it down on the counter and the belly
man offered to use may camera to take a picture of me stroking the croc.
I felt incredibly stupid and looked so. Eventually we walked out an unlocked
This set the pattern. I was shown animals from perspectives not available
to the general public. I got to hold an elephant's ear and to feed a hippopotamus
and the like. I don't like to invade an animal's space, I prefer to view
from a distance but I was clearly captured and had no way to break free
with out extreme measures which I was not willing to do. Eventually I
paid far too much for the services I had received and was allowed to exit
the Zoo vowing never to return.
I went back to the hotel and got some sun but there were clouds so not
much sun. At one point there were several drops of rain and given the
lack of sun, I went up to my room. A little bit later I was typing some
emails when I noticed something odd. The light in the room had changed.
I turned and looked over at the patio and was amazed that the light was
not a golden brown.
I got up and walked to the slider and realized that I could not see across
the Nile; visibility was perhaps one hundred yards -- at most! I guessed
it was a sand/dust storm (I had experienced one in Ashgabad) and I was
right. The newspaper mentioned it the next day and said that such storms
were fairly common in Spring.
*** Tuesday, 09May06 ***
Paul, Bill, Marcia and I had dinner at Taboulah's Lebanese restaurant.
We all talked a lot but perhaps I talked more than the others. It was
a fun time.
*** Wednesday, 10May06 ***
Marcia called me in my room at about 7:30 and said she had a pain in her
mouth and would be seeing a dentist and wouldn't be coming to work with
us. When I was in the lobby, Paul came in and I told him that "Marcia
called me and said she had awakened with a pain in her ear and I had to
apologize profusely." He laughed out loud as Bill smiled broadly.
*** Friday, 12May06 ***
I took the Metro to Dokki and walked to the Agriculture Museum. The guy
at the entrance declined to give me change for my 50 pound note and faked
confusion about what to do. He offered me a valueless coin instead of
change an then seemed to indicate that I could get my change on the way
Not sure what to do I walked into the enclosure and went into the first
building I cam across. It was a big hall with many dust covered dioramas.
As I walked down the middle an elderly man came up to me and tapped me
on the shoulder and took out some keys and opened the door of a life-sized
carriage to show the mannequin of a bride on the inside (for this they
needed a key?). Then he took me into a side door into some rooms with
more dioramas. All the time he talked in Arabic, I assume, about the displays.
On the way out there was the inevitable request for baksheesh (tip). I
tried to give him a one pound note but he rejected it so I pulled out
a five pound note and in the process dislodged another one pound note.
He took the fiver and snatched the one pound note out of the air.
The upshot was that after being robbed at the door, I had been scammed
in dusty, desiccated halls filled with jars of beans and seeds. All for
getting a tour I could not comprehend.
I went back to the hotel and managed to get several hours in at the pool
and really enjoyed getting some serious sun. While I was basking I saw
a person dive into the pool in the non-diving section. His dive produced
a lot of flying water which wet the newspaper of a middle-aged Egyptian
who was a pool regular. The Egyptian complained to the diver in English
and the diver shouted back in what I took to be a Texan accent: "You
don't like what I did? Come into the pool and tell me about it!!"
I hadn't seen anything like this since the last time I had to face a thug
in Lawrence. It was the case of the Ugly American -- but now in Egypt.