We’ve had so much success sightseeing and touring that it’s tough to have a bad day. Today wasn’t great — easy, but not great. Our final stop in Cairo was supposed to be the Egyptian ruins at Saqquara and Dashur, which include the Step Pyramid of Zoser — the oldest stone monument in the world. It represents an engineering and architectural breakthrough. But it’s about 20 miles south of Cairo and requires a car and driver for the day. I just didn’t have the energy to pre-arrange the transportation. Plus, we’ve seen so many ruins, it’s hard to get excited about another, even though it’s an important one. So we abandoned the plan over breakfast and decide instead to go to Dr. Ragab’s Pharonic Village, the ancient-Egypt-themed museum/amusement park for kids.
The park is ‘cheesy’ according to the guidebook, but our hope is that the kids enjoy the accessibility and change of pace. We know it’s a bit of a risk. It’s located on a marshy mini-island in south Cairo, not far from the Great Pyramids. They take our ticket and sit us down in a cafe-gift shop, a combo we’d see again shortly. The English tour leaves in 5 minutes we are told. It gives us time to check out the expensive, cheap souvenirs.
Twenty five minutes later we head off on a boat ride around a marsh. The information from the recorded presentation is not bad: we learn a few things, but we are just staring at cheap statues floating in the reeds. Further on, there are a few live ‘actors’ pretending to be ancient Egyptians plowing fields, making pottery, blowing glass. Off the boat we take a walking tour and it’s basically the same type of stuff. Emma likes it enough. Lily less so. It’s not Disney, but it’s somewhat interesting.
It’s just us and a middle-aged couple in our ‘tour’ group. She, an Egyptian woman in hijab and he, a European man in tourist gear complete with gigantic camera. They hold hands the whole time, clearly in love. It doesn’t appear they can speak more than a few English words together. We wonder what their story is. You see interesting people when you’re traveling. I remember the single, attractive woman in her 40s at the resort on the Dead Sea. She wore glittery club clothes and drank a bottle of wine by herself over dinner. What was she doing at a remote resort by herself? Or the Dad we saw on vacation with three kids but no mom. Where was she? A business trip? Divorced? Dead?
We enter another cafe-gift shop and the tour fades away. For the next 45 minutes we are shuttled from cafe to gift shop to cafe to gift shop, with barely a pretense that we are still on an edutainment experience we paid $120 for. Glass blowers will write your name on a bottle, copper smiths will write your name on a copper plate. They will draw your likeness on papyrus and even sell you the bread they baked in the ‘ancient’ oven. Even the guide makes excuses for the lameness.
The kids can see a ferris wheel in the distance and we tell our guide that we’re done and going off on our own. We stop at a playground, but most of the equipment is too hot from the sun to play on. I’m getting pretty frustrated and tired. We turn the corner to the amusement part and it’s a death trap. The tilt-a-whirl is rusted out and the ‘swings’ look like they’re made from concrete. It’s unclear if the rides are even running, but there are a few people hanging around that might switch on the rides if we paid. But you couldn’t pay ME to allow my kids go on those rides. They look medievel and scary. Lily thinks we are being too cautious and and tries in vain to persuade us that the everything is safe. We make a beeline for the exit of Dr. Rageb’s Moronic Village and Carnival of Death.
We’re Egypt’d out. It’s been 11 days in this fabulous country and we’ve seen a lot of the major attractions. It’s definitely enough, though. It’s a tough place to be a tourist with a family. And the ancient Egyptian stuff gets overwhelming after awhile. Out my hotel window, I see a fantastic view of the Nile and Cairo at night. The Mosque plays the final prayers. We pack and prepare for travel tomorrow to Morocco, an experience that should be very different than the one we leave today. I’m looking forward to it.
[Photos by Trisha Creekmore]