Day 1 (March 9, 2007): Today I arrive in Cairo in the afternoon, hopefully I find my way through customs and will have some time to relax.
My flight landed in Milan a little early and when I finally got off the plane the line for security was HUGE, I found myself wondering if I would make my flight to Cairo. Then some guy said he had been in security like this before and it took him 4 hours. I’m sure Milan is lovely, but I really didn’t want to spend the day there. Luckily it only took an hour. I think the problem is that more people have connecting flights here then actually fly to stay in Milan. After getting through security I wandered around the airport a bit but stayed out of the shops since most were very Milanesk (expensive designer shops), instead I had pizza at 9am and bought some water so I had some before getting getting to Egypt, which turned out to be a smart move as there were any obvious places to get water when I first got to Egypt. Boarding for my flight from Milan to Cairo involved taking a bus to the plane and boarding from there. My theory on this is that they are either building or refurbishing a terminal and in the meantime board lots of planes from the tarmac.
At this point I was so exhausted that I could hardly stay awake for take off or for the food. I had opened my tray table and at one point I woke up and my food was there. Unfortunately the food sucked, I ate what was decent and went back to sleep. When I opened my eyes again, it had magically disappeared.
When we were over Cairo I woke up to look out the window and see the city. Years ago I had flown to El Paso, Texas and was struck my how much dirt was there and was expecting to see the same thing. Cairo was totally different, for the first time I was struck by how immense and sprawling the city was, it didn’t look that big in my guide book. However, everything was dirt colored.
When I got off the plane there were people along the side of the walkway with signs, after walking a bit I found Hashim with the “Contiki” sign, relief. He put me on the line for passport control and told me he would meet me on the other side. I had no trouble getting into Egypt. On the other side I was alone for a few minutes waiting for Hashim and I felt like some people (men) were watching me. I’m not sure if I was just paranoid or if they really were. Either way Hashim found me, we collected my luggage and were on our way to the hotel.
On the ride to the hotel Hashim told me that it was Friday, which is the holiday (weekends are Friday & Saturday) so the roads would be quite since most people were at the Mosque praying. The driving wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but I was assured it would be worse on Sunday. When we first left the airport is was really nice, kinda reminded me of Florida, with grassy medians and palm trees along the road. Did I mention it was toasty warm here, I was overdressed in my long sleeve shirt, YES! As we got further into the city it started to fit into what I had pictured it to be. Buildings that looked like tenements, some looked like they were crumbling, a lot had clothing hanging outside to dry, and generally the city seemed quite dirty. I also saw a lot of half built buildings, which I had heard about before coming, I’ll talk about them later. There were people hanging around on the side of the road, and not local roads, highways. And then to the left I saw the pyramids. I looked at them for a few seconds before it clicked, that they were the pyramids, the things I came all this way to see. I grabbed my camera and the driver slowed a bit so I could get a picture. Shortly after that we arrived at the hotel.
The hotel I was staying at was the Oasis Hotel and everyone there was sooooo friendly. The guy at the counter immediately recognized my last name as being German and even pronounced it right, I had to come all the way to Egypt to have my name pronounced right. At this point someone shoved my welcome drink in my hand, for a second I wondered if it was ok, but then figured Hashim would have told me if I couldn’t drink it. It was orangey, like tang. Then I had a conversation about German and the couple words of it I knew. It was all happily overwhelming. I was told my room was 1601 and that my roommate would be coming the following day, then I was sent with a bellman to my room. What kind of Contiki tour is this, I don’t have to schlep my bag everywhere?
The hotel had an interesting layout, it was an outside design (though the hotel was fenced in) with greenery everywhere, it sounds hokey, but it was a little Oasis in Cairo. I freshened up and went to the lobby area to get money and see if I could find anyone from tour. I had trouble getting money from the ATM, at first it said that it didn’t have enough 10 LE (Egyptian Pounds), so I tried a lower amount – 60 LE, which I got, but that’s only like $10. I ended up going across the street to the exchange place and exchanging some of the money I had brought with me. On the Contiki website Ed, Gary and I had discussed meeting up for drinks, but I didn’t find anyone. I asked at guest relations about Gary and Ed’s rooms, but was only able to get Gary’s room. I decided to give him a call and we met up for dinner at the hotel restaurant.
Gary told me that Karen was going to Alexandria the next morning, it was $100 for her to hire a taxi, but the taxi was leaving at 7am. I decided that I was too jetlagged to do it, on top of that I had felt like I was getting a cold, so I decided I was going to have a more low key day before the tour started. After dinner we went back to our own rooms and by 10:00 I was out cold.