Cairo #1

Sorry for the rather abrupt end to my last email. Had paid three pounds for airport internet access, and didn’t want to feed the machine any more. As it was, by the time I had published the blog I only had seconds to spare. Phew! If I had left it any longer I would have lost my changes.

Flight to Egypt was good. The leg to Frankfurt found me in an exit row seat (more legroom than business class). Unfortunately was a fairly short flight so it didn’t last. Slept well.

Arriving at Frankfurt, I found out about the London bombings. Shocking to see streets that I had walked the day before involved in such tragedy. Was glad to have made it out of Heathrow – they could easily have cancelled all flights would have made things very difficult.

The second leg to Cairo found me in a regular economy seat, but my knees faired much better than on the Virgin Atlantic from Hong Kong. Spent the flight listening to my mini disc which was great. Lots of arab looking people on the flight. Could they be terrorists fleeing London? Realise I am heading to the middle east.

Arrival at the airport and getting a visa was interesting. All that is involved is paying $US 15 to the bank before immigration and they give you two stamps. Unfortunately I did not have $15 on me, so had to negotiate to get an immigration pleb to escort me into the baggage collection lounge where they had cash machines, then back to the banks to get my stamp, and immigration was complete. No customs.

Lots of people eyeing up the tall white foreigner, and it wasn’t long before I was flanked by people greeting me with a “Welcome to you… you want taxi?” Fortunately Greg had told me exactly what the maximum I should pay was, and that subdued the crowd a little.
Finally found someone who agreed to take me, and we headed out to his taxi – a 30 year old fiat that looked like it had received much attention from a beginner panelbeater. Finally made it this part of town, and by asking about a dozen people, managed to find this street and eventually the apartment building. Was great to see Greg’s face.

I am not nervous about overseas driving. I realise that the road rules and sensibilites differ in different countries… but still I must comment about the driving here.

Taxis make up about half the cars on the roads. Almost without exception they are all black, handpainted, fiats or ladas and old.

The horn is used day or night to warn other drivers, pedestrians or anybody about your presence on the road. This might be a warning ‘I’m overtaking you’ or it might be ‘I’m approaching a corner’ or even ‘I’m an empty taxi, and I want to make sure that the tall white guy walking along the road knows I’m here’

The headlights are used in much the same way that the horn is used in New Zealand – as a way of communicating to other drivers at night that they are going to slow, that they should get out of your way, or that you are about to overtake them.

Like many other parts of the world, parking can often involve bumping the bumpers of other cars around you, and so people do not use there handbrakes when parked. I saw today from the balcony a car push six others along a queue as it moved out from a tight spot.

Upon arriving in Cairo, arriving at Greg’s apartment (a film set by any other description) and settling in, we headed out for dinner. Went to a very nice place on the Nile and ate too much. Greg had quail (two of them – they are not very big) and I had pidgeon. I have had pidgeon before in Hong Kong – it was minced and didn’t worry me too much. However this pidgeon was a whole barbeques pidgeon, including head and feet, and stuffed with rice. Hmmmm….. Ate a bit, shuffled the rest around my plate and focused on the french fries.

After dinner we headed out to see the Cairo nightlife and meet up with some of Greg’s friends. Initially tried the Cairo Jazz Club but they wouldn’t let us in because we weren’t a couple and didn’t have reservations. So instead headed off to After 8 – a cafe/club where friends were gathered and a great band were playing. Thoroughly enjoyed the band (funky acoustic Egyption music) and headed home at 2am exhausted.

The next day (Friday) was the muslim holy day, so a good chance to hit the town without too much traffic. I headed to the Egyptian Museum which is one of the most amazing and bewildering places. It has thousands of incredible exhibits that are badly displayed, most not labeled. Any of the random statues or pieces that were left outside would be centerstage at any Te Papa exhibit. Inside things were just packed in, and sometimes even stacked up. There were only three rooms that were presented in a modern museum style way, and they were even more fantastic than the rest. Tutenkhamans room was stunning, and thankfully was air conditioned too.

Headed home late afternoon with my head spinning. There was just too much history for this simple kiwi to take in. Collapsed on my bed, turned the air conditioner on, read about Egypt in the bible, and fell asleep.

Woke an hour later when Greg arrived home, and we went down into the markets of Cairo. Great place. Lots of friendly stall holders eager to attract your attention so they could do business. My favourite was the stall holder who called out to us “how can I take your money?” Honest.

Eventually headed to a restaurant that was on the rooftop of a hotel. Fantastic place to relax with friends, see Cairo by sunset and grab a bite to eat.

Greg and I then raced back home to grab some things, then met up with some others and we went off to (this bit is unbelievable) to Giza to go horse riding under the stars, across the sand from the pyramids! An incredible experience, but I fely very sorry for my small horse. Rode for about an hour. The taxi was on very shaky terms, but got us back to Cairo, we grabbed some food, and headed home at 3am. Phew. I love this place.

Today has been considerably more lazy. Woke up late, met Greg for lunch, walked back, did some shopping, relaxed for a bit, I walked around Zamalek (this suburb is really an island in the Nile) and now here I am, writing my longest ever blog post.

Think Greg has another dinner advenutre in mind (I will make sure to order food that doesn’t look too much like the animal it originated from), but tonight will make it to the next post.

Anyway, sorry for such a long ramble. Thanks everyone for your contact (and Matt for the rugby report).

Signing out properly this time…


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