Lost In Cairo

I was 28 and had just spent a month working on a Greek island called Ios. The job as a driver for the family-run hotel was too much in the end. So, I decided to go traveling instead.

I had been to Sinai five years earlier, but that part of Egypt didn't have much to offer other than beach life. What I really wanted to do, was to visit old temples and meditate in the grand pyramids of Giza.

There was a large number of ferries operating between the Greek islands. And a few backpackers had told me there was a ferry service from Greek Cyprus to Alexandria in Egypt. My journey to Cyprus went via the islands of Santorini and Rhodes. The final leg was an overnight ferry.

Arriving In Cyprus

Once at the large port in Limassol, I located the operator that could take me to Egypt. The bad news was that the service didn't run regularly. Moreover, the passengers were only allowed to spend 48 hours in Egypt. Then, I would have to take the same ferry back to Cyprus.

That wasn't exactly what I was looking for. Two days in Egypt was hardly enough time to recover from the crossing.

For a moment, I considered ignoring the rules and overstaying the 2-day visa. But when I took into account that I would have to throw away the return ticket and deal with the Egyptian immigration - I changed my mind and was willing to spend the extra money on a flight.

Cairo International Airport

A few days later, the plane landed at the airport in Cairo. I didn't have a guidebook, so I would have to figure where the hostels were once I got into town.

After having waited around for an hour or two, in the hot sun, an old public bus finally showed up. I was the only tourist among the passengers and no one seemed to know any English. To my surprise, Cairo was a really big city. The plan was to get off in the city center to find some accommodation. After about an hours ride, I got off the bus.

The city traffic was chaotic and the sound of car horns filled the air. Without any pedestrian crossings, it was a dangerous task to cross the main road.

So, where in town were the guest houses? I walked around for a good hour with the small bag on my back, without spotting a single place.

In the end I was approached by a guy who spoke English. I've never liked the idea of falling pray to tourist touts, but I didn't have an option.

First he offered to help out. Then, he asked if I could help him buy some alcohol from the shop at the Sheraton hotel. It sounded pretty shady to me. Anyway, in return he would treat me to a meal and take me a popular backpacker hostel. He seemed friendly enough, so I agreed to exchange services. The guy was probably my age and told me his name was Saeed.

First he walked me over to the guest house which was nestled in a small street not far from where we had met. Saeed really knew his way around, it must have been his neighborhood.

After having made our way up all the stairs, we were greeted by a smiling receptionist. The two of them obviously knew each other. And I tell you, it was reassuring to see some Westerners around.

I checked into the dorm. As I looked out the window, I saw thick layers of gray dust and rubbish on the outside of the buildings.

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Exploring The Egyptian Capital

Then, Saeed took me for a meal. The chicken restaurant had live chickens running around on the floor which was covered in 5 centimeters or 2 inches of wood curls. What a filthy place!

An old man took our order. To my surprise the meal was good, even though is was more like a barn than a restaurant.

Later on, we went over to the Sheraton Hotel which was about 10 minutes away. On the way there, Saeed explained how things worked. He said that alcohol was illegal in Egypt but 5 start hotels were allowed to sell it to tourists.

Saeed's business was to buy alcohol with the help of backpackers and sell it on to Egyptian businessmen, at a hefty profit. He also mentioned that the maximum allowance was 2 liters of spirits. Needless to say, Saeed wanted as much booze as he could lay his hands on.

It was a bit nervy to enter the Sheraton store. Could I get into trouble for this? Saeed had kept his part of the deal, so there was nowhere out of it...

Saeed routinely picked up two bottles of single malt whisky. Over at the register, the male staff looked at me with disapproval before he stamped and signed my passport. Saeed paid for the bottles in US dollars. The whisky was surprisingly expensive.

Before going our separate ways, Saeed asked me if I could send any friends his way.

Those were my first impressions of Cairo.

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