2/21/10

Cairo, Egypt (Part 2)


Whenever and wherever I travel, I'm always drawn to the lures of a local market. More than the prospect of souvenir hunting, it's the opportunity to engage in a banter with local merchants and see the various kinds of products on display that excites me. It's like going inside a living museum without having to pay any entrance fee.


Such was the case with Khan el-Khalili, Egypt's renowned souk or market. In many respects, The Khan (as it is now often called) is a microcosm of Egypt. It is loud, frenetic, grimy, seductive, kitschy and exotic all at once. In 14th century, long before there were environmentally-controlled malls in Cairo, merchants began trading at what was to become the city's first commercial center. Ever since, the Khan has been constantly used for selling goods and there is no waning today in its significance as a center for trade.

Our hired taxi driver dropped us off at a very busy intersection. Sharon, Rochelle, Nabil and I dodged cars as we crossed a street from where the looming Al-Azhar mosque stands and into a busy sidewalk leading to Al-Hussain Square at the edge of the Khan. We've barely set foot on a narrow alley with plenty of shops when a shopkeeper saw us and eagerly invited us for a look - the first of many.

"Just look. I have beautiful scarves for the lady". Mind you, these merchants are skillful in sweet-talking. I'm just glad we've armed ourselves to bargain well. Any visitor not prepared with bargaining tactics will end up paying more for an item. Nabil was looking to buy a set of hookah to bring back to London while both Rochelle and Sharon were stocking up on scarves to bring to Uganda, their next destination. Meanwhile, my eyes were simply fixed on refrigerator magnets for my collection back in New York.

From one shop to the next, we inspected, bargained, then inspected some more and bargained some more. What we did was basically get a price of one item from different sellers without showing obvious interest and then start bargaining at half its quoted worth until we reached a price we deemed fair. It worked! At the end of what was just two hours in the souk, our energy was drained and we sought for the taxi to bring us back to our hotel. This was our last day in Cairo and I'm leaving at 7:30 AM the next day so I really wanted some rest.

Of course, it's not just a simple goodbye for all of us in our group. Later that evening - our last night together - Waleed drove us in his car (while the others took a taxi) into the hip Mohandiseen district and settled for a table at Deal's, a resto-pub popular with the younger, football-loving crowd of Cairo. There was a big match between Egypt and Mozambique that evening so the patrons were even louder as we bid each other goodbye and thanked Waleed for helping run the trip smoothly for everyone. Ma'asalam Egypt!

from the conservative . . .

. . . to the daring, Khan el-Khalili has them all

hookahs for those who love flavored smoke

t-shirts that scream "Egypt" for souvenir hunters

spices for the kitchen

huge brass wares for big houses

shawarma for the hungry shopper

Egyptian sweets to go

At the Khan, not everything is fixed,
there are even vendors on wheels
.

31 comments:

  1. The souk looks like much those in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, a little fancier though.

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  2. oh those hookahs. we have two of those at home. my father brought it when he went to saudi.

    the two mannequins look weird and might actually scare children. hahaha... great series of egypt.

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  3. Lovely pictures. What is that blue-coloured spice?

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  4. the dessert looks interesting. what does it taste? are those nuts in the middle?

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  5. egypt sounds and looks really interesting. hope i can visit some time too.

    bluerlyn.com

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  6. third try to comment, i can not get on? is it my system?

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  7. Looked like you had a great time in Egypt. Good for you! Btw, did they give you the binoculars after your shopping spree?

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  8. haha this sounds like the indian shopping/marketing experience! it's sooo draining to me!

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  9. I am interested in those colorful handmade crafts behind the spices! They must have different patterns than the ones in most Asian countries..

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  10. The Nomadic Pinoy8:51:00 PM

    You're right, the souks in the UAE are absolutely fancier. I've seen the one in Dubai many years ago.

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  11. The Nomadic Pinoy8:54:00 PM

    Smoking hookah is quite a social activity so you must have enjoyed them at home with family and friends I suppose. As for the mannequins, weird nga Dong kaya kinunan ko. Parang panakot ha ha ha!

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  12. The Nomadic Pinoy8:57:00 PM

    If I'm not mistaken, that's indigo which is used for dyeing. . . not a spice then.

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  13. The Nomadic Pinoy9:03:00 PM

    So sweet Chyng! they're all very deadly to a diabetic but the last one with nuts in it is my favorite.

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  14. The Nomadic Pinoy9:03:00 PM

    Thanks for dropping by Erlyn.

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  15. The Nomadic Pinoy9:05:00 PM

    There was a maintenance issue with Disqus that's why you had some problems posting your comment. I'm thinking of reverting back to Blogger comments since the problem is getting frequent.

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  16. The Nomadic Pinoy9:10:00 PM

    It was a tiring experience and I'm glad we did that during our last day. I don't know about the binoculars - after seeing all those items on display, I just wanted to close my eyes and rest.

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  17. The Nomadic Pinoy9:12:00 PM

    Namaste! I'm sure India is giving you a mega-dose of cultural experience - just shopping in Indian bazaars is dizzying enough.

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  18. The Nomadic Pinoy9:13:00 PM

    Hi Micki, they're local baskets woven in the south by the Nubians.

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  19. interesting market photos!
    we're one in collecting ref magnets from travels; they're fascinating & super handy souvenirs.
    your fridge must have no spaces now because of your countless trips.
    let me share to you my youngest brother's collection :
    http://docgelo.wordpress.com/2009/06/14/irreplaceable/

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  20. The Nomadic Pinoy9:44:00 PM

    As you've mentioned, fridge magnets are so handy as souvenirs so I never worry even if I just squeeze them into a backpack. My ref still has space pa naman he he he!

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  21. maricar5:11:00 AM

    hi Dennis! thanks for dropping by in my blog and happy to know another Pinoy traveller :) your are one real travel bug! love your post about Egypt, and what you said about bargaining in the market is true.

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  22. sidney17:21:00 AM

    The problem with those shopkeepers...even at half the price...they still make good profits. They are real professionals.

    Wow! Very colorful !

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  23. Who would want to wear those Wonder Woman and Darna-type costumes? I presume those are just tourist traps? And those sweets look meltingly good!

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  24. so after all the inspecting and bargaining, what souvenirs did u bring back with u?

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  25. The Nomadic Pinoy6:41:00 PM

    I happen to see your banner with your photo taken in Egypt and I got curious about your own trip.

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  26. The Nomadic Pinoy6:43:00 PM

    Having been in this business for so long, they've mastered how to inflate the price really well.

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  27. The Nomadic Pinoy6:44:00 PM

    Hahahaha! Those daring 'costumes' are traditionally for belly-dancers but somehow curious female tourists buy them.

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  28. The Nomadic Pinoy6:45:00 PM

    Not much really: just fridge magnets for myself, boxes of dates and some shirts for friends.

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  29. Hey there, the pictures are beautiful. What's the name of dessert with nuts in it. I am looking for the name of it, so I can search some of those in UK?

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  30. Abhijeet,
    Thanks. I really can't remember now what that sweet dessert was - it's been a year ago when I visited Egypt.

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    ReplyDelete

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