My flight landed just after midnight last night at the airport in Cairo. A health checkpoint was our first obstacle. People were taking everyone’s temperature (and not doing a very good job) because they were paranoid of anyone bringing in swine flu. Tara (a CU student joining the same delegation), her aunt Donna, cousin Madeline, and myself were then allowed to exchange some dollars for Egyptian pounds and purchase a visa for $15. After our passports were checked, we went on a our quest to find transportation to the hostel in Cairo (I ditched my hostel in favor of this one, losing out on my $1.50 deposit). I have never seen so many cab drivers in one place all trying to convince me to take their cab. I was hounded by multiple drivers at one time and repeatedly denied all of them with “No thanks, I’m good” and the occasional straightforward “laa” meaning “no” in Arabic. We walked across the parking lot to look for the bus that Tara thought might take us to the city for next to nothing. Two drivers followed us almost the entire way. Luckily, living so close to Mexico and experiencing the hagglers of a couple European cities, I’ve gotten pretty good at not making eye contact and ignoring them altogether without feeling bad about it. Eventually the time came to give up on the bus idea and find a cab. It ended up being the equivalent of $3, but the haggling was half the fun and made for a good experience. After making it to our hostel at about 2am, we headed to bed and ended my 30-hours of non-sleep travel.
The next morning (today), I awoke with multiple bug bites – to be expected, but still unfortunate. We spent the morning and early afternoon checking out the streets and markets around us. This, it seemed, was the real Cairo. There were no other tourists except for a few Chinese men we saw for about a minute. Sticking out like a sore thumb, we explored the area and I was able to purchase a pair of cut-offs for less than $4. Lunch was a quick bite at a street vendor. I knew this was risky, but the girls were all OK with it, so I gave in. Hand sanitizer may have saved my life today. The man used his bare hands while preparing our small meal and was clearly handling money left and right.
The Egyptian Museum was a mere two metro stops away, so we decided to see it today. For about $10, we were able to see Tutankhaman and tons of old Egyptian stuff. We spent some time watching the sun set on the Nile and ate some dinner as well.
Overall, Cairo is very “intense”. Walking across the street could accurately be described by watching the episode of Seinfeld where George plays frogger, except faster and with a good chance of dying (or at least getting run over). In fact, just a few hours ago I saw a cab stop on a man’s foot. It’s also amazing to hear the calls to prayer multiple times throughout the day in the city. I’ve seen the hair of maybe 5 women all day and a few completely covered except for their eyes, including gloves – in all black, with temps not dipping below 90. Being in a country where Islam is widely practiced is quite the experience.