Egypt, or, Where I Freely Walk Into Oncoming Traffic

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WHAT a nightmare! I almost died about five times a day (make that hour, actually), but somehow we survived six days in Egypt.

It didn’t start well (it’s actually my LEAST favorite place thus far, you’ll hear why…). We had booked a hostel online, as this is how we’ve been operating everywhere, we just sort it out on the way. All we knew about how to get to this place was to take “Bus #356”. OK. We got off the plane in Cairo and walked out into the stifling heat and set of to find the bus terminal, which turned out to be the sketchiest place in the world. EVERYONE was staring at us (although we would get used to that) and all the buses were about 100 years old with ancient Egyptian men hanging out of the windows smoking and there were no numbers anywhere. A super dodgy policeman tried to help us, but he didn’t really speak English so we gave up on him but he proceeded to follow us around for the next 15 minutes saying “Bus three-six-five, bus five-three-six, bus six-five-three?” Eventually we decided to go back to the airport terminal and there we were able to arrange for a taxi to take us into Cairo. Things were looking up…until we got to our “hostel” and realized that actually THIS was the sketchiest place in the world. NO other tourists or backpackers or anything, just more old Egyptian guys sitting around on worn out sofas staring at us. We already knew we wouldn’t be there for long, but it was quite late in the evening already so we decided to stay one night. We barricaded ourselves in the room with a plan to get up early and get the hell outta there – we were seriously quite scared.

In the morning we took advantage of the free breakfast (again quite dodgy – some brown bean things and a lump of weird cheese?) and then got our stuff and told the guy at the desk we were leaving (having found something better in our Lonely Planet book). We got into a shouting match with him about trying to get our money back, but he wouldn’t do it and kept telling us we had to give him our receipt, which he had never given us. Eventually we gave up because it wasn’t worth the $50, so we set off for an hour-long walk to another place, which ended up being lovely and a great deal. Phew. We didn’t do much for the rest of that day, as we were quite exhausted from our ordeal and we had gotten no sleep in our nasty, un-air conditioned room the night before.

The next morning we got up to out with a driver to the pyramids. His name was Hosani and he was brilliant – kept telling us he was our brother and went in for a high-five about every three minutes. We set off for Giza where we rode horses out to the pyramids and the Sphinx. They’re amazing to see, but the area is actually a bit of a hole – trash everywhere and whatnot. Still it was fun to essentially ride around in the desert on a horse called Michael Jackson. After that we went to see another pyramid at Sakkara and had a lovely lunch. We also stopped at a papyrus shop and a perfume shop, and I bought a beautiful painting on papyrus of the Goddesses of Beauty and Justice. I’ll hang it over my bed when I get home, and hope I’ll wake up gorgeous and fair!

We got back in the early afternoon and spent the rest of the day walking around the streets of Cairo. We were trying to find a bazaar that we’d read about, but we basically ended up in the ghetto (or, well, just in another part of Cairo – it’s all a bit grody) being visually assaulted by everyone. Seriously, I was covered up and everything all the time – I’m not a dummy- but I might as well have been naked. It is SO frustrating to have everyone looking at you constantly. It put us both on the defensive and took away from our experience, for sure. Too bad because Egypt is a great country and there’s lots to learn, but it’s SUCH a hassle just to walk down the road, LET ALONE trying to cross the road. I don’t ever want to hear that Italian or French or New York drivers are crazy. I would HAPPILY lie down in the middle of 5th Avenue or at the Arc de Triomphe, as I would be safer there than just trying to cross the street in Cairo!

Anyway, the next day (which happened to be July 4th) we went to the Egyptian Museum which was great – especially the royal mummies! I love all that death ritual stuff and the belief in the afterlife. They’re very well preserved – Ramses I, II, IV, VIII or whatever, every Ramses you can think of basically, lying there in a glass case. Some of them still had hair and eyelashes – crazy.

In the afternoon we went to the train station to buy our tickets to Alexandria, as we had heard it can be a nightmare trying to get them on the day. It was a total zoo, but a nice guy helped us by translating to the ticket guy, so it was much less painful than we were expecting. We had made plans to meet up with Broseph’s mate from college, Jordan, whose parents are ex-pats in Cairo. We took the metro (another hilarious experience) out to his neighborhood where most of the Western families live. It was lovely, and we went out for some hookah and beers (our first in a while – no booze in Egypt people!) at a couple places where the Americans and Brits hang out. Especially nice on Independence Day!

The next day we checked out of our hotel and went out wandering again until it was time to catch our train to Alexandria. We went up the Cairo Tower, which offers really spectacular views of the city (if you can see it through the smog). In the evening we set off for “Alex”, as they call it, which was about two hours and we were met by a guy from our hotel. It also ended up being a bit of a hole, with a disgustingly smelly bathroom and ants on the floor. We had to change rooms, but for the most part you get what you pay for in these places!

Our first full day in Alex was a day of strolling around basically. It’s a beautiful city right on the Mediterranean and we were staying on the water. We found a nice cafe for lunch run by this crazy guy called Cece (a red-headed Egyptian – bizarre!) who wanted to talk to us for hours about his American wife and son in Hawaii. He was practically grabbing our ankles when we left! Afterwards we walked to the Citadel, went to the “fish museum”, which we thought was going to be an aquarium but was actually just faux tanks of paper-mache fish, and watched women in full burkas swimming at the beach. THAT is a trip, let me tell you. I hate when my jeans get wet in the rain – I can’t IMAGINE swimming in all that get-up. I was quite fascinated by the whole thing.

The next day we set out for the Greco-Roman museum which is supposed to be excellent, but just our luck it’s closed for repairs. In the summer. When the place is full of tourists. Nothing about Egypt makes sense, really. Instead we went looking for the catacombs, but again got lost and ended up in such a dodgy part of town that some old dude came up to us and said, “What are you doing here??” Beats us, mate. We did eventually find the catacombs, where a policeman demanded a massive tip to basically show us nothing, but we ended up in the main catacomb by ourselves. CREEPY. It’s quite far underground, and goes on for miles and there was NO ONE down there. We were just surrounded by dark, empty tombs and total silence (actually a nice break from the constant honking and shouting in the streets). We walked around for a while in these caves and things, but I actually got a bit scared and had to get out of there! I was also worried the policeman was going to lock us in for not giving him enough “baksheesh” or something.

Our last day we checked out of our hotel and decided to go to the beach until our train. We walked for hours, found this supposed amazing beach which was actually total rubbish and I couldn’t sit in the sun or anything because I had to keep all my clothes on. Sigh. I was really looking forward to getting out of Egypt by that point – the whole thing had been exhausting. We walked back after an hour or so and went to see Cece again, who almost imploded when we walked through the door he was so happy. He REALLY didn’t want us to leave this time: “But Cece we have to catch a train,” we said. “No, this is not important,” was his reply. Eventually we escaped and got back to our hotel and on to the train station. Once back in Cairo we went straight to the airport where we sat around for five hours until our flight to Addis Ababa left at 3:30am.

So, summary on Egypt. Definitely go, but go with lots of money and ride around in a tour bus and stay at the Hilton (or the Intercontinental if you are well posh) and do a cruise down the Nile and you’ll LOVE IT! I WILL give it another chance, but not until I can meet the above criteria!

Next up, Ethiopia (amazing) and Tanzania (where I am now, also amazing. Am considering joining the Maasai for real. Sorry Mummy. Jokes. Maybe).

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