As I noted in our Amsterdam post, my anticipation for Egypt was running wild. I was trying to not get ahead of myself while in Amsterdam, trying to just enjoy the moment and take everything in. But when we were boarding the flight to Cairo, I was a mix of excited, scared, worried, excited, nervous, excited, and tired. I’m sure there’s a German word for that, right?
And, once again, as noted in the Amsterdam post, we’re travel snobs. We spent a few extra (hundreds, actually) dollars booking direct flights. I had originally pushed for a one-stop flight from Amsterdam, layover in Rome, and to Cairo, all in about 9 hours. It was $200 per person cheaper, but I am so glad Caitlin talked me out of it. We booked direct from Amsterdam to Cairo, and it was awesome. The flight seemed long and was very budget (no food or drinks, no entertainment, etc), but since I have T-Mobile, I downloaded a TON of sports articles, Wikipedia pages, and other random things to read onboard. It felt like forever, but 5.5 hours after leaving Europe, we were setting our feet on our fifth continent: Africa.
(I know, I know, Egypt is very north Africa, and it’s probably like going to Hawaii and saying you’ve visited the USA, but I’m counting it!)
I had read all the travel warnings about Egypt, Jordan, and Israel, and I had read about murders and violence in Israel which happened about 2 weeks before we left, so I was, to understate it, on edge. I probably told Caitlin roughly 2,187 times to “be aware” and “keep an eye out all the time,” and the Cairo airport was the last place I felt unworried. Since I’m writing this, you know we made it out fine, and nothing even remotely dangerous happened to us on the trip, but I was worried the entire time, even if I was able to put it out of my mind sometimes. Was it justified? Was I paranoid? Probably a bit of each. I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to go back, and I wouldn’t tell others to NOT go, but I was a bit relieved when we exited each country safely…if that makes sense.
THE HUSTLE BEGINS
One recurring theme of Egypt in particular is the hustle. Now, I get it. I’m self-employed. I like to think of myself as an entrepreneur. I know that in order for my family to eat, I need to sell. Money is a necessary evil. So I get that everyone across the world has to hustle just like I do. But in Egypt, more than any place I’ve ever been, you will get hustled like never before, no matter how careful you are.
Example number one: As soon as we were through security, a nice older lady came up to welcome me to Egypt. Now, I know this isn’t something typically done, but I had no idea what was happening. Caitlin whispered, “What’s she trying to sell us?” and I legitimately thought maybe she was just some nice person hired by Egypt to give people a nice first impression of their country. Hah. 5 minutes turned into 10 turned into 15 and she was still with us, asking questions, telling us about Egypt. When I mentioned we were going to look for our hotel shuttle, she told me she would take us to someone who would know, and before I knew what was happening, we were at a tours and info desk at the airport, being hard-sold on all sorts of Egypt tours and transport. Wow. I thought I knew what was up, but as you’ll see, I truly had no idea what we were in for. We escaped the desk by telling the guy we had already booked everything we needed, and besides, we were only in Egypt for 1.5 days.
THE TAXI SCRAMBLE
I’m usually really organized. I get things done quickly, efficiently, and (usually) accurately. So when we got off the plane, we were expecting a representative from our hotel to be standing before we got to customs, holding a sign with our name on it. I’d already arranged it weeks in advance. Only…nobody was there. No worries, thought I, maybe he’s after customs. Or after the bag claim…or…wait there’s nowhere else to be…Out came my phone (download the Tripit app, it’s amazing, it stores all your itineraries and creates a master list just from forwarding them to a certain email address) and I realized I had booked the shuttle for the wrong day. Cool. I’m in a country I know nothing about, headed to a hotel which I have no idea where it is, and now my driver’s not around because I screwed up. I was terrified and more than a little frustrated.
Luckily, there are a million taxi drivers at the Cairo airport. Unluckily, there are a million taxi drivers at the Cairo airport. The first rate we got quoted was $30 USD, to which I said heck no. The driver asked, as we walked off, “What’s it worth to you?” Not $30, thought I. After all, our private shuttle was only supposed to be $20, and that included help through customs, so I thought a taxi would be significantly cheaper.
In the end, it wasn’t. Each taxi seemed to be about the same, so we found one for $20 USD. Once again, the hustle, as I asked repeatedly if they knew where our hotel was, as well as if I had to pay anything extra. Yes, yes of course they knew our hotel. No, it’s only $20 and nothing more. Besides, I’m a licensed taxi driver, the best there is…until he took us to the parking lot and sent us off with his “cousin,” telling us as he shut the door, “If he’s a good driver, you need to tip him.” Sigh…and the hustle was only beginning.
Caitlin and I once rented a scooter in Thailand and drove through a large part of Phuket. The rural areas were beautiful and fun, but the city was terrifying. It seemed the traffic lights and roundabouts were mere suggestions, not binding rules or laws. People did what they wanted, went when they wanted, and I was basically white-knuckled the entire day. I thought I’d never see anything that crazy or chaotic again. I’ve never been so wrong. If I thought Thailand traffic was crazy, which it is, then Cairo traffic is like pure lunacy.
It started nice enough, with the area near the airport being pretty light on traffic since it was near midnight. But when traffic hit, oh boy did it hit. I’m pretty sure the freeway was 3 lanes, but there were times when I counted 7 cars across. The lines meant nothing. Motorbikes, some with 2 and 3 people riding, cut through traffic like maniacs. Several times, as we drove alongside the Nile, cars just pulled over on the side of the road to fish and barbeque, and the cars behind them deftly maneuvered around them like it was nothing. I’ve never been so glad I did not rent a car as I was in Egypt. It’s hard to describe the madness of the traffic, and I thought maybe we’d just had a weird night, but every time we took a cab it was similar. Totally wild, and fun to be in the backseat but would have been miserable to drive in. (Jordan was not as bad, but definitely crazy too.