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Egyptian Odyssey

September 25, 2010

I arrived in Cairo, Egypt on September 20th at around 1 PM after enjoying a conversation with an American man from Texas on the short 2 hour and 15 minute flight from Istanbul, Turkey.  As I stepped off the plane onto the jet way, I realized I was in the motherland.  I was breathing African air for the first time and as my lungs continued to expand and deflate, I started to feel a little emotional.  Yeah, I know that sounds corny and all but I had always wanted to feel African soil beneath my feet and the time had finally arrived.  I was so excited I practically ran to get my passport stamped, passing many of the passengers who had disembarked before me.  I joined the line of about 3 people and when it was my turn the really official, serious looking guy in the military looking uniform said,

“You have no visa, you have to go over there to the bank and get it.”

I said,

“Over where?”

And he pointed to a bullet proof window and gently shooed me away kind of like one does a mosquito or a gnat.  I made my way to the window and I paid the $20 US dollars and the lady on the other side found an empty page on my passport and quickly affixed the stamp to it.  I turned around and now each of the lines to get my passport stamped had swollen like the Mississippi  River after a quick moving  flash flood.  I joined the shortest line and the person at the desk seemed to have a problem, so I hastily made my way over to one of the other lines that seemed to be moving a bit faster.  It was my turn and before I new it I was free to roam about Egypt…the great land of King Tut and Nefertiti.  I looked around and there was a sign that read, “Baggage Claim” and I made my way there and I waited for my one and only checked bag.  It finally appeared and I picked it up in a hurry and looked around for the driver that was suppose to be there waiting for me and to my surprise, I did not see him.  I walked around and around looking for a placard with my name on it and nothing, so I found a desk and I asked,

“How much to downtown?”

The guy on other side of the desk first tried to sell me some tours to Giza, Aswan and Luxor, but I kindly declined his offers, telling him that I would be much better off booking my own tours because his prices were a bit too much for me.  I told him I was a student on a limited budget.  He offered me a pretty hefty student discount, but of course, I could not produce a student ID, so the offer was null and void.  Anyhow, I told him the name of the hostel that would be my home for the next 2 or three nights and he said he knew where it was and summoned a driver who said he would charge me about 90 Egyptian pounds (about $16 USD) for the ride.

Part 2

As an experienced traveler, one would think that I would have all the pertinent information about my accommodations in a handy little notebook, right?  Especially after what I went through in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Well, I didn’t learn my lesson because I thought the driver from the hostel would be there to greet me with one of those big signs with my name in huge letters, so I didn’t have the address on me.  It was in my email, which I did not have access to at this in time.  The driver said he knew where the place was, so I we made our way to the car and we started our journey into Cairo: a thriving, busy, congested, polluted, somewhat dysfunctional metropolis with somewhere near 20 million people, according to several estimates I heard.  As we twisted and turned through the overpopulated streets of downtown Cairo, it became crystal clear that this driver had no idea where he was going.  As he stopped to ask one passerby after another if they knew where the place was.  We were sent in what seemed like a dozen different directions when suddenly the driver stopped the car and said,

“Oh!  There it is, Hotel Meremees.”

I said,

“Where?  I don’t see it.”

He pointed and said,

“Right there.  It is written in Arabic, so you don’t understand what it says, but that is your hotel.”

The Naïve, former church-going Christian wanted to believe him, but the street smart, savy, world traveling New Yorker said,

“Call his bluff!”

As he opened the trunk of the car, I grabbed my bags and said,

“Follow me inside and I will pay you once I know this is the right place.”

He looked at me like he wanted to beat the bloody hell out of me and with a raised voice, he angrily retorted,

“This is it.  This is your hotel.  It is in Arabic.  I cannot park here, they will put a boot on my car”

Again, I said,

“If this is my hotel, just follow me inside and I will pay you the agreed upon amount once I know this is where I am suppose to be.  There are other cars parked here, so why can’t you park here for 1 minute as you drop me off inside?”

I had my bags in hand, just in case he decided to jump behind the wheel for a quick get-away.  There was no way I was about to pay this man a dime until he could convince every ounce of me that I was at the right place.  We both took our seats in the car and he immediately called him boss and began to speak Arabic.  About 30 seconds later, he handed me the phone and the guy on the other end said,

“You are in front of your hotel.  Pay him and get out.”

I explained to the person the the phone that I was not comfortable just getting out in a strange city unless the driver could go there with me to make sure this was the right place.  I handed the phone back to the driver and an argument took place, but my mind was made up and nothing was going to change it at this point.  The driver started the ignition and started to drive, stopping at the corner to ask where the hotel was and we were pointed in yet another direction.  At this point, I was so proud of myself for sticking to my guns and refusing to back down.  Traveling alone is a huge confidence booster and a great way to learn a lot about people.  The driver stopped the car and yelled,

“Back to airport, you!  Back to airport, you!”  I responded in a calm voice,

“Ok.  That is fine.  Take me back to the airport.”

The driver then demanded more than the agreed upon rate to take me back to the airport, so I said,

“If you take me back to the airport, you get nothing.”

“You pay zero?”, he said and I calmly said,

“That’s right.  I pay zero if we go back to the airport.  I am paying you to take me to my hotel and you cannot find it.  If you did not know where it was, the you should not have taken the fare.”

Of course, the driver had no idea what I had just said, so I repeated it a bit slower with a hint of sarcasm.   He sat there next me yelling at me, but I felt my blood boiling, so I decided to just sit there looking out the front window, giving him the silent treatment until he decided to move the car and it worked.  After more than 1.5 hours, he found it and I handed him the equivalent of $20 for the $16 ride and I immediately demanded the change.  He said,

“You no give driver tip.  You no give driver tip!”

I said,

“No.  You have just wasted an hour of my time.  You get no tip.”

He said he didn’t have change, so I gently removed the note from his hand and said,

“Fine, I will go get change.”

And I crossed the street , but the vendor on the adjacent corner did not have change and suddenly the driver pulled change out of his pocket.  I walked over to the hostel and yelled at them for not sending the driver.  The receptionist said the driver was at the airport waiting and he called him to tell him to return.  The hostel refunded me the amount that I paid the driver.

Part 3

I checked into the hostel, showered and made some phone calls from my computer.  I grabbed a map (I don’t know why because I cannot read one) and ventured out into the hot streets of Cairo.  I had my big DSLR camera hanging from my neck, like a Japanese tourist without those big paparazzi type, telephoto lenses they always seem to have.  I took one picture and two guys approached saying,

“Brozer, wassup?”

I said,

“I just got here and I am checking the place out.  What are you guys doing?

They replied,

“We are about to smoke some shisha (a fragrant tobacco often called nargilé in Turkey or hookah in India) and have some hibiscus tea.  Do you want to come?”

I went along and we had tea and one of them smoked his shisha.  We sat and talked and I told them the truth about where I am from.  Generally, I lie about being from the states because I hate being looked at like a bank, so it has served me better to say I am Brazilian or half Brazilian and half Cuban.  Shortly after we sat down, I asked about going to the pyramids in Giza and how much it costs to make the short trip from Cairo.  Suddenly, Ibrahim said,

“Hey, we live over there, so we can take you now if you want.”

I was ecstatic and unconcerned about my safety for some reason.  I felt very comfortable in their presence, so I knew things would be alright, but before we left I said,

“Look guys.  I need to ask you something and I hope you do not get offended.  You both seem like nice guys and I appreciate the offer, but I just want to know if you are going to ask me for money later.”

They looked shocked that it would even occur to me that there might be a charge for such kindness, so I went into a brief explanation about how that is usually what happens when people are nice to foreigners in strange lands.  They promised me that there would be no charge.  As we left the bar, the second guy who I will call Ahmed because I don’t remember his name got a call from his girlfriend and he left us saying he would catch up with us in Giza.   I was totally stoked about seeing the sun set behind the pyramids and as Ibrahim and I made our way to Giza he said,

“Look, there are the pyramids.”

I was so overcome with emotion, I didn’t know whether I should cry or piss my pants, so I just pulled out my video camera and made a quick video as we made our approach.  We parked and made our way inside an office where I feel like I was overcharged by a guy calling himself Mohammed Ali, but I didn’t care about the money because I was off to ride a camel and see the sun set behind the pyramids.  To my unpleasant surprise, I was about to miss the sunset, so as I made my way with my guide to our spot in the Sahara desert behind an ugly fence that blocks the pyramids after hours, I became pissed and it became obvious.  As the guide rushed me to take my pictures, I yelled at him,

“Wait a minute.”

Before we left the office with the camel “Mohammed Ali” told me that the guide’s tip was not included in the price and he said,

“If he does a good job, be kind to him.”

Anyhow, I was not happy, an his tip reflected it.  He had the nerve to ask me for a $75 tip and I kindly handed him $5 and told him that I paid to watch the sunset and I didn’t even get to witness it.  Unfortunately, I had already paid for a tour of the pyramids scheduled for the following and I was alreadyregretting it.  When I went back tot he office Ibrahim was there waiting and I told him that I wanted to cancel to tour for the following day.  He said he would talk to them for me, but he seemed uneasy about it, so I brought it up and they told me it was too late.  In my typical fashion, I did not back down and I stayed there debating with them for more than an hour until I had about a third of the money back and a tour scheduled for the following day.  The guy who sold me the tour was nowhere to be found, but I was dealing with a guy who said he was his brother.  He promised me an amazing tour the next day followed by a traditional Moroccan lunch.  After missing the sunset they invited me to the roof to watch the “sound and light” show.  This is where they illuminate the pyramids with lights and a soundtrack is plays that talks about how they were constructed.  I was bored and I knew I would not be able to last 50 minutes, so I told Ibrahim I was ready to go.  Ibrahim and I had agreed that he would get me a taxi back to Cairo for about 30 Egyptian pouns (about $6 USD), but he agreed to take me to take me back to Cairo, asking for a favor as we were en route.  He suddenly said,

“Can you do me a favor?”

I said to myself,

“Here we go.  This is where he tells me about all of his problems and asks me for money to help solve them.”

I said,

“What is it?”

He said, “

Can you buy me some alcohol from the duty free store near downtown?  My sister is getting married and I want to have a party for her.  She is my only sister.”

I quickly replied,

“How much?”

He said,

“I will pay.  It is just that here in Egypt one can only buy alcohol when they just arrive and you can only buy it once.  They will stamp your passport, saying that you purchased alcohol with the date.”

I already knew this and I agreed since it wasn’t going to cost me anything.  I offered to buy gas, but my offer was declined.  I asked Ibrahim if he got commission for taking me to that place and he said they offered to raise the price of my tour by 20% if he wanted commission, but he refused it.  To this day I am not sure if I believe him.   Shortly after I met Ibrahim and his friend he told me that he was home on holiday from Finland where he studies Finnish and something tourism related.  I asked him why he chose Finland of all places and he said that none of the tour guides here spoke Finnish and that he would be able to earn a lot of money.  He also explained that his university had a special exchange program with Finland.  As we were headed to the duty free shop I spotted his passport and asked if I could take a look at it.  I wanted to see if it actually had stamps in it form any country outside of Africa and to my surprise it did.  It seemed as though he was telling the truth.


To be continued……………..

Please do not forget to check out my photos from Egypt!

Hasta la próxima vex mi gente bonita,


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