|Subject: Re: 1st installment of Egyptian journal..long|
As threatened, here's the 1st installment of my Egyptian journal. It's long & detailed but, I hope, of interest to some of you. It's fun typing it up & re-living my adventures.
Monday, January 19...I was off, after a final lunch with my Roger & a goodbye kiss, to Spokane to spend the night at the airport Ramada where I could leave my car while I was gone. I spent the night wondering whether my flight to Salt Lake City early the next morning would be able to fly#freezing fog had airlines canceling flights! Tuesday, January 20, another good sign, although there was still considerable fog, my flight was flying & I was off! I was flying 1st/business class on a Delta frequent flyer ticket & was routed Spokane to Salt Lake City on Skywest, then Delta to Chicago, Alitalia, the Italian airline, one of Delta#s partners, to Milan, and from there on Alitatia to Cairo! The flights were pleasant & I actually prefer to change planes on long trips so I can stretch my legs & walk a bit. Alitalia#s business class was quite empty as was Air France on the return so the service & food were great & I had 2 seats to myself. I prefer an aisle seat but it#s nice to have a window seat, too, for take offs & landings. I love the individual video screens & lots of movie choices. It#s about the only time I see a movie & I usually have to see it over several legs of the flight because I sleep through part of it each time. Seabiscuit kept me entertained & sleepy as I wended my way to my Egyptian adventure!
Wednesday, January 21, Reham, Milano Travel rep, met me at the Cairo airport about 3pm. I changed $20 bill for 123 LE (Egyptian poinds) & also paid $15 for an Egyptian visa which Reham pasted in my passport. She whisked me through passport control, picked up my luggage, & led me quickly through customs. I, then, waited outside on a pleasant patio while Reham went to pick up Margo, my niece & traveling companion, who arrived about a ˝ hour after I did. I noticed machine-gun armed tourist police standing at the top of the stairs to another outside level. This scene played out all over Egypt, everywhere we went. Security was tight with pillboxes on hills overlooking tourist sites & guardhouses on stilts & on the ground on highways & streets & Toyota truckloads of armed guards everywhere. It was never oppressive, tho, but we felt quite secure. The drive clear through Cairo to our hotel, the Siag Pyramid hotel, in the Pyramid section of Cairo, was an assault to the senses & quite exciting. Margo & I were glad we weren#t driving. Many, many cars, buses, trucks, & occasionally a horse or donkey & cart were all vying for the same road space. We got our 1st glimpse of the Nile as we took a bridge across it. The air at this point was amazingly clear & the weather warm & sunny, maybe 65 degrees F. We#d expected polluted air to start my allergies attacking! Didn#t happen!
Throughout the 45 minute drive, the drivers jockeyed for position & never seem to stay completely in their marked lanes, many times straddling the sometimes marked lines, so that if they wanted to change lanes, they were already halfway there. It was daylight for this drive but we noticed an interesting phenomena on drives through the city after dark. Most of the drivers drove with only their parking lights on or none at all so # the headlights wouldn#t get in the oncoming driver#s eyes,# was the explanation we got. Yes, there are many auto accidents in Cairo! We checked into the Siag Pyramids hotel which was listed as an Egyptian 4-star hotel. The facilities were old but comfortable & probably would compare to a European 2-star hotel. We went to the restaurant & were presented with a very large several page, English menu. But when we asked there were 2 or 3 entrees available. 8-) We had shish kabobs & rice which we ordered & French fries which we didn#t. Food was good & filled us up & we toddled upstairs & fell into bed. We had planned to meet our guide at 11am tomorrow for touring the pyramids. Glad we had some time because, of course, with the time change & excitement, both Margo & I, who travel comfortable together, were awake about 2am! We watched a wonderful thunder & lightening storm come in over the pyramids which we could see from our balcony. Welcome to Egypt, one day of rain a year & we#re in it! Actually, it only rained an hour or two.
Saturday, January 24, 2am, Hurghada! Procrastination runs high the last few days! I left my lovely Destinations journal which my son, Erin, gave me for Christmas at the hotel in Cairo. I#ve asked the Milano Travel people to check on it so I may get it when I get back to Cairo on Thursday. (Didn#t happen..everybody kept saying, #I#ll ask.# Their way of saying, it#s gone for good!) So we#re in Hurghada, awake again in the middle of the night. We#re having such a wonderful, unusual adventure..such sights & sounds! So I#ll go back to Thursday, January 22, 11am Reham & our driver & our guide, Dalia, picked Margo & me up plus we had Brian with us for the day. He was a recent graduate of University of Kentucky, doing graduate studies in accounting in London, & touring the Middle East for a couple weeks. He was on to Israel next & then Turkey, having already seen Greece. He was a delightful young man & we enjoyed his company for the day. That was it! We three tourists had 3 people to mind us#a driver, Reham, our facilitator, & Dalia, our licensed guide.
Reham is a licensed guide but is doing the operational stuff on this tour, handling the money, picking us up at the airport, solving problems which included changing our itinerary, escorting us to the bus station. Both Reham & Dalia have great personalities, are capable, intelligent, outgoing, young, willing to share personal information. Dalia is 26, newly engaged to a career Egyptian Air Force officer, wears the Muslim headscarf, but only since last year. It is a personal thing with her. She took it off & showed us how it worked. She is a private guide, who is hired by Milano Travel & other companies as well. Reham is a few years older, has been engaged twice, does not wear the headscarf. She wants to be married & have a traditional life of staying home & having babies but she is so independent & free in her job that I personally wonder if she could do the traditional, male-dominated life. Perhaps, that#s why there are two broken engagements already. Her father is a doctor in Malta & one brother is a doctor & her sister is still in school. Dalia has a brother of 20 years, recently diagnosed with diabetes & her mother also has diabetes. The brother#s disease is uncontrolled & Dalia was asking Margo, a nurse, many questions. The brother is very spoiled & undisciplined & won#t eat correctly or take medicine. Sad. Dalia#s fiancé is more flexible than the traditional Muslim man & she plans to continue working after marriage. She guides about 4 hours a day & can choose not to work every day. Reham#s schedule is crazy. She picked us up at the airport on Wednesday at 3pm, had us to the hotel by 6pm, went back to the airport & picked up Brian, had him at the hotel about midnight, & then normally would pick up a group the next day at 9am to start the tour process.
We had agreed to start our tour at11am because of Brian#s late arrival. And on Thursday night/Friday morning, our bus left Cairo at 1:20am #.and Reham was still with us! She had to greet other people the next morning for a tour & then fly to Luxor at the end of the next week to handle money for a Spanish group of 32. She had a boyfriend coming in from London#.who came every few weeks#and her father coming in for 2 weeks for the Feb. 1 Muslim feast day. Crazy schedule. Reham said that she lives with her parents, as Dalia does..all unmarried Muslim women do. If after she is married, she would be widowed or divorced, she would go back & live with her parents.
Back to touring#Thursday, January 22, we started from the Siag Pyramids hotel at 11am, in a Milano Travel mini-van & our 3 helpers & 3 tourists, with armed security guards in their Toyota truck, loudly announcing our arrival at every intersection by blowing their siren. I thought that this would allow anyone who might wish us harm to know which car we were in. 8-) The tourist police are everywhere with machine guns. We did feel very safe. The Egyptian people are very outgoing, friendly, interested in holding conversations. Yes, they want you to buy something from them but they are very polite & seem to really like the conversation, too, even if you don#t want to buy. They are not overly aggressive about selling their wares as I#d experienced in Turkey a couple years ago. Tourism in Cairo seemed to be good, although we heard from everyone that no Americans come anymore. And we heard very little English spoken, except to us. Reham & Dalia both said they were very busy but no Americans come. Universally, every Egyptian I talked to, welcomed us, wanted to know where we were from, blamed Bush for no Americans coming to Egypt.
More to come. Carol Bailey back in N. Idaho & dreaming of the next adventure