Gasoline Prices Flummox Christian Pharaohs in Cairo

We were wrapping up our visit to Lebanon and I agreed to pay for the gasoline on the trips to Sidon and Tyre. Darius was very excited..

“But gas is very expensive in Lebanon, Dad.” Dar warned as we pulled into a station.

“I live in Switzerland, Dar, nothing in Lebanon will be expensive.” I replied confidently. Then I saw the price placard: 36,500 Lebanese Lire. “That’s $21,” I exclaimed, “for how much?”

“A liter?” Darius replied.

“Can’t be, Darius. That would make around $80 a gallon. It’s impossible. Buy 75,000 Lire and let’s see how much you get.”

The tank was filled at 60,000 Lire. Gasoline, at all service stations in Lebanon, is priced at..”

“Lire/barrel?” I asked.

“Lire/20 liters,” the clerk replied - a fact that reduced the price to about $4/gallon - less than half the price in Switzerland.

Using frequent flyer miles and Hilton points, Nazy and I decided to take advantage of the fact that Darius was teaching and preparing for his seminars in Germany by flying to Egypt to see the Pyramids. We were both excited about the opportunity, but frankly, we had also heard that Cairo was not especially wonderful. On the other hand..

“... that is where they put the pyramids,” I concluded.

Alerted to potential problems in getting from the airport into the city, we decided to ask the Conrad hotel to arrange transportation. It was remarkably efficient. We were met at the gate by a representative who helped us pay for our visas ($15/each), pass quickly through immigration formalities and baggage claim. Naturally he wanted a small tip; we had no Egyptian pounds, Since he wouldn’t take Lebanese or Turkish money, we had to give him our smallest US$ bill - a twenty. The ride from the airport was smooth - but exceptionally crowded. The traffic of Istanbul and Beirut
paled in comparison.

The driver went out of his way to tell us what he thought we would want to hear about Egypt.

“The country is only 80% Moslem,” he began. “And 18% Christian. Islam came late to Egypt - about 1300 years ago. Christianity was much earlier.”

“I know,” I replied. “
About 600 years earlier,” I thought.

“In fact,” the driver continued, “the Pharaohs were Christians 8000 years ago.”

“It’s an amazing country,” I replied. “
A country that can void the one-way arrow of time,” I thought, “by recognizing Christianity 6000 years before Jesus was born.

Naturally, when we got to the hotel, we had to tip the driver and the guy who brought our bag to the room. (I converted some dollars into a plethora of small Egyptian pounds. The room had a nice view of the Nile which is..

“Very big and wide,” Nazy noticed. “At least as wide as the Mississippi at Memphis.”

“When it’s not flood season,” I replied as I remembered seeing ‘Ole Man River’ flooding into Arkansas with the west bank out of sight. “The Nile is the longest river in the world.”

After Nazy arranged a (next-day) tour of the major sites in Cairo - including the pyramids - we had a nice dinner at the hotel. When the bill arrived, I was somewhat surprised.

“This cost a lot more than the prices on the menu,” I muttered. “They’ve added a 12% service charge and a 10% tax.”

“Well, at least you won’t have to leave a tip,” Nazy replied - failing to notice a scowling waiter that overheard her commentary.

“Did you see the sign at check-in?” I asked Nazy.

“What sign?”

“According to Egyptian law, all foreigners must pay hotel bills in foreign currency.”

cairo Dan

Nazy had chosen an appropriate tour company: Cairo Dan. The tour was scheduled to include the main sights in the area - the Citadel, Mohammad Ali Mosque, the Pyramids, the Egyptian Museum and the Bazaar.

It’s a packed day,” I thought, “no time to stop at typical tourist places where we will feel obligated to buy something.”

Aside: I am sure that seasoned travelers will recognize the stupidity of that particular thought.

Our guide, Doaa, followed standard procedure. In general, she wanted to tell us what she thought we’d like to hear. She didn’t like President Morsi because..

“The country is a mess,” she noted seeing the crowded and relatively dirty streets. “We need the military to straighten things out and then we can transfer into a civil rule.”

The military had 40 years,” I thought, “and they created the situation you’re complaining about.”

When we arrived at the Citadel and the Mohammad Ali Mosque, she collected several booklets on Islam, gave them to Nazy, and took the opportunity to provide us with a
brief, eh, comprehensive, overview of the religion.
mo's mosque

“The media makes it sound bad,” she says. “If a Moslem gets into a fight with a Christian, the media plays it up. In reality, it’s just two Egyptians who don’t like each other.” She told us about the five central tenants of Islam while we sat on the floor of the grand mosque.

“That’s really interesting,” I replied. “
When can we go to the pyramids?” I thought.

We did learn a few interesting facts. Egypt ‘gave’ Napoleon an ancient Obelisk from Luxor (which is now in Place de la Concorde in Paris), France returned the favor with a large clock. The Obelisk is on display in Place de la Concorde in Paris; the clock doesn’t work.

The next stop, on the west side of the
Nile, was Giza and the pyramids. The traffic was unbelievable. As we drove, Doaa asked what we wanted to see in Giza.

“The pyramids,” I replied.

“And the Sphinx,” Nazy continued.

“A lot of people want to ride camels or horses, too. Would you like to do that?”

“Maybe a horse,” I replied. “We’ve done camels.”

“They will say 200 Egyptian pounds,” Doaa replied, “but I will arrange it for 120 pounds.”

“Hmm..” I replied.

“It’s so nice to see Americans again,” Doaa continued. “you are the second Americans this week. After the revolution, there was about six months with no business at all. Now people are coming back.”

“There’s no room for more people,” I thought as I surveyed the traffic. The driver squeezed between cars, onto the sidewalk, dodging donkeys and pedestrians.

There was an incredible amount of debris scattered on the major street leading into the Pyramid complex. “See what the ‘Brotherhood’ has done,” Doaa noted.

The Pyramids themselves are astonishing - and once you get into the park, it is clean and, at least for us, not very crowded. There are 2,300,000 stones in the Great Pyramid of Khufu. There are three large pyramids and a few smaller ones. More on the rest of our trip in the next issue of
The Weekly Letter.

pyramids from panorama

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