Getting around Cairo in a car was an experience. No city that I have visited thus far would compare. Most of the street lanes were unlined, and drivers somehow turned two lanes into four. Cars were going in the wrong direction, and it didn’t appear that anyone obeyed the light signals. Honking was continuous, and traffic was around-the-clock. Donkey carriages and pedestrians battled with cars for the right of way, and small scooters squeezed between cars and sped ahead. I was amused by it all. Thankfully, I had a skilled personal driver included in my tour of Cairo, so everything went as smoothly as it could have in a city of 20 million people where four million cars are on the road. Things were hectic, but I felt safe in the back seat with my driver handling it all.
On my last day in Cairo, I had a free day to explore on my own. I decided to spend my day in the Zamalek district visiting a few art galleries, doing a bit of shopping, and having a nice dinner with Nile River views. Uber and Careem were available in Cairo, so I used those apps to get to Zamalek instead of a regular taxi since I feared getting ripped off or having to argue forcefully with a regular taxi. Careem seemed to take longer to arrive, so I used Uber both times.
On the way to Zamalek, I had to close my eyes and believe I would make it to my destination unscathed. It was a long and excruciating drive from my hotel in Giza. At some point the driver entered onto this weirdly designed ramp that looked like it was a one-way. I stared ahead confusedly as he drove up the curved ramp only to see two large trucks speeding down the ramp toward us. I immediately realized the reason the ramp looked like it was weirdly designed. We were ENTERING the highway from the one-way EXIT ramp. Had we gone in the right direction, it would have looked perfectly normal. Somehow, we avoided a collision and the driver entered onto the main highway and proceeded like we didn’t almost die.
That wasn’t even the worst of it. Continue reading
The hustle in Cairo is no joke! Be careful.
That was the warning I heard constantly from others who had previously visited the city. They told me stories of Egyptians pretending to assist them, then flipping the script and demanding large sums of money for doing almost nothing. Hustles were at the airport, restaurants, tourist sites, souks, and hotels. I couldn’t trust the children. If I handed over my camera to get anyone to take a photo of me, I might not get it back without having to pay a large fee. Painted wood and other cheap materials were being passed off as authentic alabaster. There would be a fee to use the bathroom in the airport. They would attempt to charge entry fees multiple times for places that should be free. I was expecting people to be rude, aggressive, and aggravating.
Part of me understood. Egypt relies heavily on tourism, but the impact of terrorism has plummeted the industry. The media coverage hasn’t been positive since the Revolution. Many people in the tourism industry weren’t able to support themselves and their families in the same way they previously could. Tourism was down, but those bills didn’t stop. Money needed to come by any means necessary. My tour guide dealt with the questions of safety so much, he started his own #EgyptIsSafe campaign to attract visitors.
With all of those warnings in the back of my head, I walked off the plane wearing my resting bitch face in preparation for the shenanigans that would ensue. In addition to this, I had lots of single dollar bills for tips in my wallet. The concept of handing over money for the most ridiculous reasons wouldn’t feel so annoying since I added “tipping for existing” to my budget.
My interactions in Cairo were mostly pleasant, but I won’t pretend it was all great. When I left my hotel on the first day to buy juice and snacks at the convenience store a few blocks away, I was followed by a man who was trying to get my attention. Continue reading
It took me three hours to make it out of Cairo’s airport. It was the longest time I have ever spent upon arrive in an airport, and an unexpected reality after traveling for 21 hours. My Emirates flight arrived from Dubai at 11:45 PM, and several other international flights landed within an hour of that time. That meant there were hundreds of people gathered in lines trying to get through immigration. It doesn’t appear that Cairo’s airport has established a method to expedite this process, but there was a separate line for diplomats and other VIPs that had zero wait time. There were over 30 lanes available, but only five officers working. I felt like I was at Walmart.
The wifi in the airport is limited to 30 minutes, and one has to provide an access code that is sent via text in order to connect. Well, my phone was not working in Cairo at all so there was no way for me to receive a text with a code that would allow me to connect to the airport wifi for 30 minutes in order to let my driver know that things were moving very slow at passport control. I was so afraid that he would leave after assuming I didn’t show up. Then I would have to fend for myself and negotiate a taxi to my hotel, a thought that gave me anxiety. Continue reading