Cairo in one word: crazy. Completely and utterly chaotic, noisy, hot, uncontrolled, polluted, disorganized, dirty and so, so vibrant, colorful and above all: alive.
I was completely unprepared for the intensity of Egypt when we stepped off the plane 3 weeks ago. After one of the longest days of my life, catching an overnight bus from Logroño to Madrid to meet up with one of my best college friends, M, and hours worth of delays in the airport before hopping on a crowded 5 hour flight to Cairo.
As soon as we entered the terminal we were bombarded with the mayhem, disorganization, and confusion that epitomizes Egypt.
Where do we buy the visa? How much? ATMs where? So many automatic weapons! And getting a taxi. OH MY GOD, if I never take a taxi again, my life will be complete. Between bartering down a reasonable price, fending off hoards of incessant taxi drivers, and then clutching the seat in sheer horror of how they drive in Egypt, convinced your life is about to end, I am sure I aged at least a decade. In retrospect we probably should have taken a real, overpriced cab on the first night, and not the gypsy cab for half price. But hey, we are strong women’s college graduates on a tight budget. He was small anyways, we could have taken him down if necessary. Welcome to Egypt!
After a terrifying taxi ride to our hotel in downtown Cairo, where we quickly learned 10 key things about driving in Egypt:
1. There are no lines on the roads, and if there were, no one would pay attention anyways. It’s a free for all
2. You take your life in your hands crossing the street. It’s sort of a close your eyes, run and pray approach
3. Headlights and brake lights are optional, but a working horn is absolutely vital
4. Round-abouts can be traversed clockwise and counterclockwise
5. There are very few traffic lights, and those are merely a suggestion
6. Egypt has taken pimp my ride to a whole new level. I’m talking flashing Christmas lights, bright stickers, and a whole lot of 70’s neon shag seat covers
7. Taxi meters start a 2.50 Egyptian pounds, and unless you say something when you get in, they’ll charge you double
8. You can ride either inside your vehicle or on top of it, and if you are pulling cargo like vegetables, you might as well ride on that since it’s more comfy
9. Make sure your cab driver speaks English before getting in, otherwise you’ll end up lost, standing on the median of a highway, fighting in broken English-Arabic with 10 cabbies about where you were going and refusing to pay the cab fare. Long story.
10. It took me approximately 1o whole minutes in Egypt to wish more than anything that I was a brunette. And yes, I learned that in the gypsy cab NOT from the driver, but rather from all the men in cars we passed
We spent 3 days in Cairo before heading south to Luxor. We took in all the sights, learned how to barter, made tons of new friends, and got hustled and hassled constantly. It was in the upper 90’s every day we were in Cairo, and being two western girls traveling alone, we had to dress very conservatively, exactly what you feel like wearing in sweltering heat. NOT (I drank at least 8 bottles of water that first day, and I didn’t go to the bathroom til the sun went down).
Long pants, sleeves, scarves, ect, and even then I couldn’t walk down the street for 5 minutes without someone calling out to me. The hassling was my least favorite part of the trip. It’s exhausting and you get so sick of it! Who knew my sweaty neck, ankles and hair were so sexy and alluring? And on top of that Cairo is so dusty and polluted, I couldn’t wait to get to my ice cold trickle of a shower at the hotel and blow the gray snot out of my nose (from the pollution). Really sexy! If only all the men proposing to me on the streets knew that.
However, in spite of the heat, filth and constant hassling, I loved Cairo! There was something about that sprawling metropolis that tugged at my heart. Now is the best time to travel to Egypt too. I was worried about traveling there a year after the revolution, but seriously, I felt safer there than in some places in the United States. Egyptians are some of the friendliest, most helpful people I have ever met! They love foreigners, speak tons of languages, especially since their economy depends on tourism, so they are very eager to help out tourists, and now that tourism has dropped over 80%, people are really desperate for business.
It’s quite sad to see the position people are in now, especially when the country feels so safe. On our first day in Cairo we met a nice man who has a daughter living in the States. He took us around a local market and into a beautiful Mosque that wasn’t in any of our guidebooks. He gave us a tour and even let us climb up on the roof to watch the sunset over the city. And he didn’t want money or anything, just to show us his neighborhood. It was an amazing welcome to the city.
In spite of everything, Egyptians are very bubbly and happy, and they love to tell really bad jokes. The general opinion I got was that people are worried about the economy but are very happy since the deposal of Mubarak and are looking forward to the future. Many people came up to us to talk and show us cool places, practice their English, propose marriage, you know, the usual.
Everyone went out of their way to help us and make us feel welcome, which is a nice change from Spain where customer service has yet to be invented. Now is also a great time to visit Egypt because the usually overcrowded sites were empty; it felt like we had the whole country to ourselves. We kept running into the same tourists in different cities! But above all, we felt safe, and with every hot step I took around the city, I knew this was going to be a trip I’d never forget!
Have you been to Egypt since the revolution? What are your thoughts about traveling to places that have recently experienced social upheaval? Would you travel to Egypt now?
On top of a local mosque at sunset
They Egyptian museum, what’s wrong with this picture?
Tahir Square, where the revolution protests took place
Taxi photo source