We’ve now finished our first day in Cairo. It is definitely different from anywhere I’ve been before. Somewhat intimidating, and yet also very interesting. We’re staying in the downtown area, just a couple of blocks from Midan Tahrir, where the Egyptian Museum is, and there is a huge variety of people around. We didn’t wander too far from the hostel today, and in the same blocks you could see people living in extreme poverty, and people who would qualify as middle class doing their shopping. On one corner, one side of the street was a restaurant which was as sterile and modern as any western fast food chain, and on the other side of the street, the building was crumbling, the sidewalk was covered in rubble.
There are three kinds of Egyptians when it comes to tourism. The majority, who are friendly to you if you ask for directions or look lost, but generally don’t much care about you; those who make an honest living in the tourism industry and want to make sure you have a good time; and the third, who seem to think you came here so that they could try to get your money without any service of value in return. Unfortunately, the last group is large enough to make walking around the streets a tiring game. On our first trip out, we were talked into a perfume shop, but after getting the hard sell, we were left alone when it became apparent that we were not going to buy anything. Having been caught once, you catch onto the pitch quickly, and become better at ignoring it. The downside is that sometimes you end up shrugging off people who are honestly trying to be helpful, which creates kind of a guilty feeling.
Apparently today is a national holiday (the Prophet’s birthday), so we are told that traffic is in fact lighter today than most days – a blessing as it was our first day to find and learn our way around. We did manage to cross the Midan Tahrir, which appears to be a huge psychotic traffic circle, and had API Call Errordinner at the Hilton, of all places. Not exactly budget, but not out of our means either, considering (the meals are not totally in line with room costs). It was a nice way to end the day, and after crossing the Midan twice, once with another tourist couple, it became a little easier – apparently the cars will watch out for you, though it really doesn’t feel that way. Neil likened it to a life-size version of Frogger. We are feeling a bit better at the end of the day than at the beginning.
So, we decided today that at least for Egypt, it might be wise to arrange a tour, so we sat down with our hostel host and worked out a custom package. So, for the next couple of weeks, we’ll have a little less to worry about (all transportation, and most meals, will be arranged for us, which means we hopefully won’t have to deal with random taxi drivers, many of whom like to scam tourists). We start tomorrow with a trip out to the pyramids, and a tour of Cairo the next day. Then we get out of the city, head for Bahariya Oasis for a few days, and then, after a brief stay back in Cairo to visit the Egyptian Museum, we’ll head south for Aswan and Luxor, before finishing a little over two weeks from now in Dahab, on the Gulf of Aqaba.
So there’s the plan for the next couple of weeks. It should be interesting. Updates may not be all that frequent over the next couple of weeks, as internet access may be limited (especially the day and bit that will be spent on a faluca on the Nile 🙂