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10 Days in Egypt & Israel – Day 1-2

By tam-admin | December 1, 2007

Touring two countries in under two weeks is not for the weak, weary or faint of heart. It is for those who want to ramble through cities, villages and the occasional ancient necropolis to acquire a mere taste for each destination. Ten days or more could easily be spent in each.

Our journey begins on a Thursday with a grueling flight from Portland, Oregon. Three layovers, two countries and 30 hours of flights later Cairo is finally in sight. It’s 12:00 noon on a Friday. Stepping out of the airport and into the excruciatingly bright sun, we are met by a crowd of taxi, limo and shuttle drivers, all angling for our attention (and our money). There are 17-20 million people here (depending on who you talk to), and it’s said there are no better fast-talkers and scam artists than right here in Cairo, Egypt. We’re about to discover why.

We select a taxi driver who greets us with “welcome home” – a greeting you’ll hear from nearly everyone here. He takes us to the hotel we’ve reserved in Giza, Egypt. Although we initially questioned whether to stay outside the city, after the first day, I’m glad we did. The taxi driver weaves his way through the streets of Cairo, dodging camels, donkeys, people, bikes, motorcycles, cars, and buses as fluidly as an Olympic ice skater. Multilane roads simply do not exist here. Not that there aren’t lines in the road – they’re simply ignored. All forms of transportation weave in and out as if they’ve been expertly choreographed. In Cairo, you need all senses to drive – hand signals and horn honking are as crucial as clear vision and quick reflexes. As one of our later drivers described it – “Here we use our feelings to drive.” Any New Yorker would be envious.

 A camel “parked” along the street in Cairo.
Left: A camel “parked” along the street in Cairo.

We arrive in Giza and check-in at the Le Meridien, an upscale hotel with average rooms made exceptional by the view of the pyramids. The concierge desk here will also prove to be a lifesaver for us. Like many areas in Egypt, security is tight. Cars and bags are checked every time they enter hotel property.We drop our bags in our room, freshen up and meet back up with our taxi driver. He’s promised to take us around Cairo to the museums, historic sites and the train station to book seats on the sleeper train (they don’t offer online ticket purchases and we were never able to get anyone to answer the phone). What we didn’t realize was that our driver’s interpretation of “museum” was slightly different than ours. Where we meant the Egyptian Museum, the Citadel and other historic sites, his intention was to take us to a papyrus museum and perfume manufacturer. This, as we quickly found out, is the biggest scam in Cairo. Every taxi driver and tour guide in the city has deals with the multitude of papyrus and perfume shops – and they get a commission from everything you buy. You can’t step foot in a taxi without the driver giving a sales pitch about at least one of them. It’s as if they’ve all taken the exact same training class. One interesting thing to note is that we were told repeatedly by various people, and even asked to promise, that if we purchased papyrus stamped with the Egyptian official seal we were to keep it for ourselves – they were not to be given away as souvenirs. We could never get an explanation as to why.We also learned quickly that you must be extremely firm (even that may be an understatement). We “firmly” asked our driver to take us to the train station immediately and back to the hotel. As a tip for tourists traveling without guides – know exactly where you want to go before you get in the taxi and be firm. If they don’t listen, get out at the next location and find another cab.

 

We return to the hotel, exhausted and ticketless. Today is the last day of Ramadan. Tomorrow begins Eid al-Fitr, a 3-day feast to celebrate the end of the fast as well as a popular vacation period for locals to celebrate with family and friends. All of the overnight sleeper trains are booked. When you travel, you must be willing to roll with the punches and turn on a dime when necessary. We opt to shorten our stay in Cairo and grab an Egypt Air flight to Luxor a day early. That gives us only one more day in Cairo.

Our first stop to salvage what’s left of our stay here is a trip to the concierge desk of the Le Meridien. After explaining our disgruntledness with taxi drivers, they arrange a private guide and driver for us the next day for a very reasonable price. The service here is exceptional and every person we worked with was undeniably devoted to ensuring our satisfaction.


Check back to find out what happens tomorrow for Day 3 in Egypt!

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