December 3, 2006

Two weeks in Egypt


I spent my birthday in Cairo this year. Amazing, isn't? It's definitely appropriate. I love Egypt for what it is symbolically. However, Cairo is a terribly polluted city, in air and noise.

I met up with my friends from Austin at the Cairo airport. We stayed at an apartment in Zamalek, which is a nice part of Cairo where most of the Embassies are. So depending on how you look at it, it's a fairly safe part of town considering all the police guards in the area.

For any one going for purposes other than tourism, it's a good idea to get a cellphone for the time you're there. We were there for two weeks. The first 5 days we tried to use our cellphones from the US (mine from the UK); we bought a local mobile phone chip, but it didn't and couldn't work with our phones. We could only call other land lines from the phone in the apartment. You had to have a special calling card to call cellphones. This was our biggest problem. Keti, our friend who's apartment we rented from, loaned us her phone just before she left for Australia. She is a life saver!

She also recommended we use her driver, which we did. A taxi ride from anywhere to anywhere in the city is typically 10 LE (Egyptian Pounds), which is super cheap! However, the cars are not in the best shape. Sometimes, the door handle doesn't open from the inside or the fumes are aweful inside the car, etc. None of the taxis have air conditioning. Lastly, there were 5 of us, so we always had to squeeze 4 in the back, which is not comfortable for long rides... especially if you're stuck in traffic. That is why, half way through the trip, we realized how nice it was to just hire a driver (with a van big enough for 9 people) for the entire day, which costs about 200 LE. The driver waits while you do your visits and shopping; and he helps you load up all your good finds at the end of the day. You never have to wave down a taxi again.

One day, we went underground... we used the Cairo Metro! The subway is probably one of the cleanest part of the city. Like most subways, it makes sense to ride it rather than wait in the heavy traffic. Most notably, the first two cars of the subway train is women-only. I highly recommend getting in those if your party is all women. In the other cars, you risk the change of harassed or getting pinched in the booty... especially during traffic hour. One of the girls, actually, got pinched in the booty while we were in the subway.

A few tips for those who are considering going to Cairo/Egypt:
1. Stay covered. Girls, don't wear a tube-top no matter how hot it is outside. Boys, don't wear shorts; they're considered sleep pants.
2. Egyptians love Egyptians. Ok. This is not really a tip. Basically, if there's an Egyptian in your party, he/she will get most of the attention. This 'general' observation applies to women as well... The guys there go for Egyptian-looking, full-figured women. (That's why I'm safe.)
3. Egyptians love blondes. Ok. This goes against the above. But seriously, if you're blonde, you'll get lots of attention. The guys there will want to take a picture with you. (That's why I'm safe.)
4. Bring allergy medicine. The pollution is so bad there, it'll make you sick. It'll start off like an allergy and then become a cold/flu.
5. Haggle! You know you can do it!
6. Always agree to a price before you get into a cab. 10LE!
7. Learn the speak, hear, and read the numbers before you get there or bring an Arabic speaking person with you.
8. Hire an English speaking driver.
9. Get a local cellphone.

In addition to Cairo, we also spent 2 days in Sharm El Sheik. It's a very touristy place... which is fine if you're looking to relax and party. Everyone speaks English, German and Russian there. There were lots of Germans and Russians in Sharm. It's about a 5-6 hour drive from Cairo.

I'm not going to recap the entire trip, but here are a few highlights:
1. Went to the Pyramids.
2. Went to Sharm El Sheik. Rania and Stacey went diving while Yasmin and Maribel snorkeled. I just hung out on the beach. The Red Sea is too rough for snorkeling in my opinion. Since I went for a week-long scuba diving trip earlier in June, I didn't feel a need to do it again.
3. Rania got sick while we were at a friend's house. So, he had to call in a doctor who sent his assistant to administer a shot.
4. Saw a pack of camels roaming on the streets in Giza.
5. Went to 5 belly dance shows. If you go to the one on the boats, there's a chance you get to dance (it's because the boats are more touristy). But if you go to the fancy hotels, you won't.
6. Took 4 dance classes.
7. Went to shop at the Khan El Khalili a few times.
8. Stayed out so late that when we came out of the club around 5 am, the sun was rising. That night we saw Soraya first at the Sheraton, then Lucy at her club the Parisiana. Lucy came out after her show to talk to us. She pulled us up on stage with her during her show. Her wig is so real!
9. Rania bought several singing camel toys. I bought two off of her. They're hilarious!
10. Yasmin bought six metal hanging lamps.
11. We all got sick (coughing and sneezing), got well while we were in Sharm El Sheik, then got sick again when we returned to Cairo.
12. Maribel lost her voice when we got back to Cairo.
13. We all got lots of costumes!

That's about it really. The flight there was nice on Emirates, but I had a long layover in Dubai. Wish I had planned it better and just stayed a few days in Dubai on the way back... Well, there's always next time!



Posted by oneray at December 3, 2006 2:34 AM