From Here to Cairo… Yalla!
Thursday, April 29th – Friday, April 30th 2010: New York, New York
And…. I’m back in New York. My overnight stop was not without agenda – dinner with friends, a beer or two with a crowd of salsa dancers, H&M and Roosevelt Field Mall (Godiva for chocolate covered strawberries, Mmmm =p). Then off to the airport. It’s almost as if it isn’t real. I can’t believe it until we’re sitting with our seat belts securely fastened, tray tables and seat backs in their upright position, and are ready to taxi down the JFK runway.
10+ hour non-stop flight = not totally unbearable? WRONG. We were sorely mistaken in thinking we could stretch out in the empty rows of seats at the back of the plane because there were none. Instead, try getting stuck between grandma and the jolly green giant who must have schemed together beforehand to sleep like the dead the entire flight. Even better was the 5-year-old in front of us who didn’t sleep at all. His parents clearly left his tranqs at the zoo where they got him.
Didn’t matter. Uncomfortable as it was, we were on our way… yay!
Saturday, May 1st 2010: Cairo, Egypt
Thank you EgyptAir. There was no applause from me for the bumpiest landing ever. Despite my waves of nausea during the descent, I strained to see out either window across the aisles. Couldn’t make out much. But crossing the jetway to the terminal, I wasn’t the only one to slow down and stare out to the left at the expanse of hazy desert. Then things started moving pretty quickly. Customs & Immigration, a breeze; set my watch 7 hours ahead; Egyptian Pounds, yes thank you (USD$1 = 5 E₤); Bags, check; Contiki meet & greet, check; and off to the Victoria Hotel.
The streets of Cairo are not that dissimilar from any other metropolis, and yet they seem foreign and amazing. Old country buses weaved their way through the traffic with shiny Land Rovers. At some points there were even donkey carts and people, trodding along and walking through the middle of the ‘road’ together with the four-wheeled traffic. Were it not for the mosques and Arabic signs I could almost believe I was on a Jamaican street, with an old noisy Lada blaring it’s horn at a Toyota Hiace minivan packed with people. And my first photo op came and went – a little Cairene boy sitting in the minivan, window down, smiling with the breeze on his face – my camera was blocked by passing traffic.
At the hotel, just outside of Cairo proper, we were checked in and left to settle. Since our first group meeting wasn’t for another couple of hours, we decided to peruse the nearby streets ourselves. And as eager as I was to get out into this new world, I will shamelessly admit that within 5 minutes, I was ready to go back to the hotel with my tail between my legs. Unable to follow the directions to a restaurant, drawn on a piece of scrap paper given to us by the hotel clerk (who barely spoke any english), we returned to the hotel having only made it across the street and one block down. We had the spotlight on us, being the only two girls within sight who were not covered in a hijab or burqa. Several men were cat-calling and some weren’t so ‘appreciative’, shaking their heads while gesturing towards us asking ‘Where is your man?’ or ‘Where is your husband?’
Alright, not our smartest venture but still an experience. So we settled for lunch at the hotel with a quick nap, and at 7pm we met our group of 28 and tour guide, Sherif. After introductions and mingling, everyone walked down the 26th of July Street (not sure of the significance of the date) to the restaurant we couldn’t get to by ourselves before, Gad. As alive as the streets were during the day, they were even more so at night. I found myself comparing it to New York as I tried to drink it all in – the non-stop hum of engine traffic, the sidewalks crowded with people, vendors with their spread of wares, and the array of window displays. The restaurant, obviously a popular eatery, was just as impressive. Who knew there was Apple Fanta?! Minus the olives, my shawerma meat pizza was pretty good, but if you know me, then you know my favourite dish was the dessert: ‘pancakes’ with honey. This turned out to be a cross between crepes and flaky pastry drizzled with honey and it was so damn good. 🙂
The little shops and grocery store across the road from the hotel came highly recommended in terms of prices for bottled water and other small necessities. After stocking up we hit the sack since our first day of touring would start with an early wake-up call. I know it was only the beginning of May, but I was pretty pleased that the night was cool enough to leave our room window open.