Egypt - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 77
Wednesday 28th May
Last night was a nightmare. For all the benefits of relocating to this hostel, the only air-conditioning that we have is of the manually opening the window kind and the heat of the night was stifling. Sandy and I differ in that she can tolerate a warm night without any problems (in fact, she loathes air-conditioning or any kind of moving air at night) but it drives me completely nuts and I just couldn’t get to sleep. The problem was made worse by the fact that I was still feeling the effects of the Camel ride with aching muscles all over. It’s mostly the thigh muscles that hurt but I have muscles that I never knew existed also complaining. As if that wasn’t bad enough, another mosquito had found its way into the room (Sandy had felt it necessary to activate the air-conditioning system which let the pest in) and it must have bitten me a half a dozen times or more. The annoying itching from the ever-increasing number of bites that I received throughout the night was compounding my restlessness and I even found it necessary at one point to get up and seek out the anti-itch cream in our substantial arsenal of medical supplies. It helped marginally and I eventually managed to fall asleep again – only to be awoken soon thereafter by the now familiar calling of the faithful to prayers, which takes place no less than five times a day here. In times past, people, yelling from the balconies on the various mosque towers, carried out this calling to prayer. Today in modern times, however, the human beings have been taken out of the loop altogether in favour of loudspeakers which bellow out in all directions and from all mosques. Since there are over a thousand mosques in Cairo alone, the resulting, unmistakable, cacophony of noise can be heard from miles around in all directions. We even heard it loud and clear as far away as Giza and the pyramids yesterday.
Since I had been sweating most of the night, I decided that a nice, warm, shower was in order to start the day off right. Perhaps this would be the refreshment I needed to cure me of my ill temper. The stunningly, overwhelmingly, irritating absence of hot water, however, soon put an end to that idea and I was like a bear with a saw head all morning; so much so, in fact, that I spent the better part of the morning looking for an alternative place to stay – somewhere with air-conditioning perhaps? After several attempts to find something in our price range, I gave up and turned my attention to the next major task that needed accomplishing whilst here in Cairo, which was to procure the necessary entrance visas for Jordan. My travel agent had informed me that this needed to be done in Cairo as it could not be done at the border itself. The Jordanian embassy telephone lines were constantly busy (this triggered a nasty flashback, accompanied by cold shivers, to my experienced with the INS back in the USA) so we decided to just get a taxi and chance going down there in person.
Now numb to the physiologically disturbing effects of hurtling around the streets of Cairo in a taxi, we made our way to the embassy and went in to see what the procedure was. Luckily, the procedure was straightforward. We filled in a couple of forms, were relieved of E£160 altogether and told to come back at one thirty in the afternoon to pick up our passports with the visa stamps in place. With no time to do anything significant in the meantime, we took a taxi back to the hostel to speak with Mustafa about an organised tour down through Egypt to take in all the sights.
Mustafa explained, in some detail, the various things that he could arrange for us and we negotiated a price for a package deal of about six days and nights of touring around the country to include all transfers, transportation and accommodation. We would still need to pay for some meals ourselves and there is still the matter of the cost of admission at the various sights. Since we are now fully equipped with ISIC student cards, however, this will significantly reduce that additional, financial overhead. Our package deal takes us down to Aswan on the relatively expensive overnight train (with sleeper compartment), take an early morning (four a.m. departure!) trip to Abu Simbel and back and then get on a luxury cruise for a couple of nights back up the Nile to Luxor where we would spend another couple of nights before having to subsequently fend for ourselves again.
We had enough ready cash to pay for the trip but this would almost completely drain our reserves so we found another ATM and withdrew another maximum amount from our credit card. Hmmm. I just had a disturbing thought about what the charges on my next credit card statement might look like. Not to worry, it’ll soon pass.
As part of the negotiations for the organised tour, I had Mustafa arrange a private, English-speaking, guide (an Egyptologist) to spend the day with us tomorrow exploring the delights of the pyramids of Saqqara, Dashur and Memphis. Having paid him the fee for our trip, the clock was now yelling at us to go back and pick up our passports and Jordanian visas. Our driver from yesterday was sitting around doing nothing and Mustafa arranged for him to drop us off instead of us taking a taxi. This would give us a chance to give him his tip that we had forgotten from yesterday.
Our passports and visas were already waiting for us at the embassy and we were in and out in just a couple of minutes, to our pleasant surprise. Another hassle free encounter with arranging a visa from a Middle-Eastern country. Can’t be bad.
Our tummies were, by now, starting to complain about being refuelled so we decided to treat ourselves with a trip to one of the Cairo McDonald’s. The busy buzz of Cairo life was starting to drain us again and we needed a fix, to nip the emerging culture shock in the bud and this was the quickest way to go about doing it. Now, the taxi driver that we hailed to take us there, nodded affirmatively when we blurted out ‘McDonald’s’ through his window so we jumped in assuming that he would take us directly there. After driving us around in what seemed like circles for ten minutes or so, it became clear that he didn’t know where he was going but we eventually arrived at what I am almost positive was just around the corner from where we started. I handed him E£3 for what might have been a E£6 journey based on the time it took us to arrive at the destination but he must have had a flash of guilt as he made no attempt to query the amount and kind of shrugged affirmatively, with a bit of a grunt thrown in for good measure.
Since I’m on the subject of taxis, it’s worth briefly pointing out that the ‘correct’ way to negotiate a fare with a taxi driver in Cairo is to simply inform him of the required destination and just get in. No discussion about the fare need take place, as it is assumed that you know the going rate and will hand this over at the end of the trip when getting out of the car. Asking for the cost of the journey up front is often a trigger that warns the taxi driver that you don’t know what the correct fare should be and this will often lead to a request for a higher fare than should be the case. None of the taxi drivers have ever complained about the fare I’ve given them (we make it a point to be well informed ahead of time about what it should be) and even the one or two that have asked for extra have all immediately given up after my initial refusal.
O.k., back to McDonald’s then, where we happened to stumble into that same American that we met in the Internet Café the other day when the power failed. In a city with over fourteen million inhabitants, what are the chances of bumping into the same person in a different location on different days? Anyway, since it was obvious to both him and us that we were all travellers, we struck up a conversation and subsequently sat together over our burgers and fries. It turns out that he is a travel writer and is touring through Africa, writing US newspaper columns. He was a really nice guy and we talked for well over an hour about the travelling lifestyle and such before all leaving together to meander back to the hostel, via a brief interlude to partake in some ice-cream. His hotel, coincidentally, was just around the corner from ours and he came up to have a look at our hostel briefly. We enjoyed each other’s company so much that we decided that the three of us would enjoy an evening on the Nile tomorrow for dinner. We had already planned on taking advantage of this brief, two-hour dinner cruise and I’m sure it will be all the more enjoyable having a fellow Westerner to while away the time with as we slip up and down the river over a nice meal.
We bid farewell to our new American friend and hit the streets again in search of another Internet Café to polish off the rest of the evening with. We eventually went into the same place where I had failed to get my laptop fully functional the other night but they had apparently re-architected their network configuration and I was able to hook up my little baby without fuss and everything worked straight away.
We spent an hour working through our electronic chores before finally heading back to the hostel for the night. We passed by the same place that I stopped in at last night to chat with the waiter and I took advantage of the opportunity to introduce him and Sandy to each other. Still as nice and friendly a guy as ever, he, of course insisted that we have a drink with him on the house and we enjoyed yet another opportunity to get to know one of the locals again.
We meet our Egyptologist tomorrow morning for what will undoubtedly be a very long and exhausting day of pyramid information overload. If possible, we will try to convince him to take us also to the Citadel in the Arabic Quarter of Cairo as we will otherwise have no opportunity to take in this must-see landmark unless we return here again – which we are not planning on doing. We’ll see.