Thursday, November 29, 2001

And our final moments approach. We're now in Cairo, obviously the final stage in our 3 and a half month Frankfurt to Cairo journey. In just six days is my flight back to Edinburgh.

I won't be taking it of course, choosing to spend a couple of months working in Israel, but after over three months stuck next to Simon, I'll finally be rid of him. Rid of him and his exagerrated nose blowing, rid of him and these AWFUL jokes which he has begun telling with horrific frequency in the last month. He went through Hungary and Turkey without a single pun, but recently it's gone way out of hand. Not helped by the fact that Allie actually appears to find them funny. Encouragement is not what Simon needs. A kick in the head is.

Anyway, yeah, Cairo. A city of 16 million apparently, and one big crumbing mess. It's not as deteriorated as Albania, but it's well on its way. It's a vast sprawling traffic anarchy, crammed full of people, pollution, smoke, dust, crumbling buildings and anything else just about, except alcohol seemingly. Ok, not entirely devoid of drink, but you've got to look damn hard. Yesterday we couldn't find any. You can just imagine my despair.

We're joined too now by Susanne, flying in to join us yesterday. Tempted as we were to leave her stranded at the airport, miles from the city centre, we did greet her and she's currently trying to come to terms with the most manic and intense city I've yet encountered.

More on that later. We arrived in Cairo early Wednesday morning, about 6am. After perhaps the worst goddam bus journey I've ever endured. It was about 8 hours and after spending the previous night on Mount Sinai, you might imagine we were all a little tired. So though we never anticipate a terrific night's sleep on a bus, we didn't anticipate the bus company deliberately and inexplicably sabotaging our chance at proper sleep. I mean, it's this simple. An overnight bus journey - you expect the passengers to want a little sleep. So you dim the lights, you pull the curtains over the windows, you make fairly comfortable seats. All the ingredients for a passable journey. What don't you do? You don't put the TV on and play absolute bollocks Arabic TV comedy at a mind-splitting volume so loud you are rendered useless to even think. Especially on a bus with just 10 people, 8 of them non-Arabic speaking tourists. At least 6 of our 8 hours were spent enduring this evil barrage of loud and banal foreign TV and though I did fall unconscious through exhausation several times, it didn't particularly rest me.

To be fair, the two Egyptians on the bus seemed to be watching the TV with great enjoyment.

So nobody was in a particularly great form upon arriving in early morning Cairo, which was surprisinlgy quiet. We negotiated a taxi and got to a hotel/hostel called Dahab Hotel. It's alright, comfortable with adequate facilities and at least 63 staff to every paying customer. We got some sleep, and about noon me and Simon took on the fury that is daytime Cairo.

It's winter here and I can only imagine how this city would be like in summer, with the scorching 40 degree heat. The traffic is Albania-style - ie continual needless beeping of horns and survival of the fittest car laws. Traffic lights exist, but often more as decorations. Crossing the road alive really does seem like the will of Allah.

This city proves chaos theory basically.

We just wandered aimlessly, unsuccessfully looking for food, because it's Ramadan right now of course, and so we eventually had to settle at eating an ok snack at the hotel. It was...ok. All food in Egypt seems to range from between "ok" and "poison your cat with this."

We didn't do a whole lot else with the day because at 7pm we had to meet Susanne at the airport, and so this required leaving at least two hours early to get there. Finding where the bus departed was task enough. It involved asking many people, guessing which information was correct, and hoping that the random bus you were on would take you there. But we managed it and got to the airport almost an hour before Susanne's flight arrived. We hung around (I ate a gigantic bag of plastic sweets until I felt ill) and finally she appeared, smiling in great relief, looking a little scared, saying show she'd have "freaked" it we hadn't showed up.

She's only grown more scared since.

Cairo is an intimidating city and although fascinating, it's exhausting and for the uninitiated could be a little terrifying. After enduring almost two hours in the bus back to the centre of town, packed with a pile of loud traffic at a virtual standstill, not much helped by the fact that at one point with the bus stuck in non-moving traffic, the bus driver jumped out the bus, ran to a shop to get a kebab and only then did the traffic begin moving again with a lot of angry cars behind us waiting for the driver to find his way back into his bus trapped in the middle of the road.

Then upon getting off the bus, we were hounded by a very persistant and almost aggressive guy trying to trick us into getting Susanne to go to his hotel, and who followed us all the way to our hotel until giving up.

This is a big hassle of Cairo. I'm sure most Cairiens are friendly and pleasant. Unfortunately, a lot of the ones you meet are after something. They see the white Westerner in the street and they chase after you, asking where you're from, asking where you're going and pointing you in various directions. Being "helpful". But it's not help, it's usually trying to force you into their shop. It happened in Istanbul but never seemed so insistant. I think it's worst in our area because there's a number of hotels, and it can make going out a hassle. It's just wearing sometimes, having to be polite (because I hate to be openly rude) while walking on and trying to get rid of your new friend. And it does mean that some of the genuinely friendly Egyptians who are just wanting to help get brushed off because you simply can't talk to and believe everyone who approaches you. Fortunately, as a general rule, anyone who rushes to speak to you can just be ignored.

I got told to "go to hell" by one guy today, despite being polite but firm, but that might have been because Allie said "just ignore him".

So, last night, we just tried and failed to by alcohol, and just all spoke in the hotel restaurant area until about 1am. Catching up with stuff in Aberdeen with Susanne and all that.

Today, minus John (because he's been there twice before), we all visited the Egyptian museum until we were all pharoahed out. Tutankhamun was quite cool, and the room full of mummified corpses was pretty spooky, and the array of ancient relics was astounding. And remarkably preserved. Suspiciously preserved in fact. I'm not entirely convinced the whole pyramid thing wasn't just a scam thought up 100 years ago. I think it's a pretty good build up to the pyramids of Saturday.

Yup, that's the plan then. Tonight, a few drinks because tomorrow Allie and John are moving on to tour round the rest of Egypt, and we're going to pick Justin up at the airport at pm, if we can be bothered. I think that's it for now.

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