Cairo Day 5

Fri, 11 Jul 2008 16:32:35 +0000

Cairo Day 4 Index Cairo Day 6

I slept in until what I thought was pretty late, but I'd forgotten breakfast isn't until 8:30 here. So it was a very slack morning. I didn't have anything to do until 10:00 anyway. I read news until then and tried phoning the Kenyan embassy again. This time, with a different guy at reception, he realised that the phone number was wrong: the Giza area had changed from area code "2" to "3" and the website hadn't been updated yet. So this morning I got through. The first time it was actually 9:50, and I was told to call back in 10 minutes. Picky, picky. So then I called back, was put on hold, and after two minutes their machine hung up. Sigh. I decided that there was no option but to turn up in person.

This time I took the metro to as close to the embassy as I could and walked the rest of the way, which worked very well with the GPS.

So I asked how my visa was doing. She went away for five minutes, and then came back to tell me I should come back in an hour. I was worried that this meant something had gone wrong, but she assured me that in fact I'd have my passport back today. Excellent, if true. So I went and sat in a nearby McDonalds to use the wifi. I'm very glad that I decided to turn up in person. When I returned, she was bothered that I only had a one-way ticket. I explained I was travelling by bus. Then she was confused that I didn't have a hotel reservation. I explained that I usually just turn up in a town and find a place, and she was astonished that that even works. Doesn't she get a lot of independent travellers?

Finally, she asked for my last three bank statements. Now, don't get me wrong, I hate computers, more than any non-programmer could understand. That being said, a couple of years ago a random request for three bank statements would be major logistical challenge. But today, I just went down to my favourite Internet cafe, called up HSBC's website (probably getting keylogged the whole time, but HSBC's security only asks for three digits of your eight digit PIN), and I printed off my last three bank statements. Done.

I handed it in, wondering what next hurdle I'd have to leap over. She frowned very disapprovingly at all three pages, then went away to the back office. I waited, and waited, and waited some more. And then I got my passport back with a visa in. Hooray!

So carried away with my success, I tried to take a taxi to the Tanzanian embassy. The security bloke at the Kenyan embassy translated the address into Arabic for me and I hailed a taxi.

I had actually asked at the hostel, somewhat incredulously, if Cairo taxi drivers could really navigate accurately to any obscure road in a city as huge as Cairo. Could they really hold such a tangled network of streets in their heads? I was assured yes. In practice though, here's how it works. They drive you vaguely towards the right suburb. Then they stop and yell queries at passers-by as to where the street really is. They'll even yell out the windows at nearby taxis, while we're all still moving.

So I guess normally this works fairly well. But my taxi driver seemed to have huge problems. We drove around in circles for a while, constantly asking random people, and then he stopped at the intersection of a major road and a minor road and pointed down the minor road telling me it's over there. I was skeptical, but he clearly didn't know where to go, so I was just happy to get out.

Needless to say, I couldn't find the road. So I hailed another taxi to see if someone else could do a better job. This guy was driving with a cigarette in his mouth and a full cup of tea in his hand, which was a bit casual for my taste. He really did just drive around in circles asking people where "Abdel Hamid Loutfy" was, and wasn't having much luck. After a bit he revealed that the embassy isn't in the Dokki suburb at all, but in neighbouring Mohandeseen. But if so, my address was likely completely wrong, and I didn't fancy his chances. So I abandoned him as well, gave up, and went back to the hostel. I'll try to find it again tomorrow, and hopefully the Tanzanians will be as efficient as the Kenyans, and handle my visa overnight.

I resorted to McDonalds for lunch again, because my stomach bug is starting to get quite bad and I want some safely cooked food. I also needed to use the Internet, since I'd realised that it may be necessary to get a Zambian visa before boarding the TAZARA. And indeed, I couldn't see any information suggesting that a visa on arrival was possible when taking the TAZARA to Zambia. Not only that, but there doesn't seem to be an embassy in Dar es Salaam, or Nairobi, or Cairo. That's a real worry. If I can't find a way to organise a visa, I may be forced to give up the train journey entirely. Which would be a massive disappointment. But I sent an email to the guy that sold it to me, and hopefully he will tell me that the train will wait for me to get a visa at the border. That's what they do in Malaysia and Turkey, so why not Zambia?

After that, the mission for the afternoon was to find the post office to get some stamps. This also proved extremely hard. I asked at reception and was given some vague directions, so vague that I ended up going nowhere. So I went back to try to extract some more explicit directions, and I swear the new ones didn't correlate to the old ones at all. I was supposed to head to a metro station where apparently I'd see it straight away. No, not at all. It was an area of lots of official-looking buildings, so I kept asking at their front desks. It took a long time, and lots of walking, partly in the wrong direction, before I eventually tracked it down. I was expecting a monumental temple to bureaucracy, like these things usually are, but in fact it was just a little shop tucked under an awning in the street. At least I did eventually get my stamps.

As a second mission, I wanted to find a USB card reader and powered USB hub. I have a backup of my important data, but my USB card reader seems to be on the blink, and combined with the loss of some of my electronics this means I can't keep the backup up to date. I don't want to cart around all those bulky electronics, but it seems more and more likely that I may well get mugged in Africa, making the backup more important. There's a cluster of electronics shops at the end of Talaat Harb, but to my surprise none of them had a powered hub (almost all the models on Amazon are powered). So it looked like a no-go. But to my surprise, I did see a miniature USB SD-micro card reader on sale. There was just a chance that it would be efficient enough to be powered just from the Nokia with no mains power supply, so I bought it for 20 EGP. And to my surprise, it worked! That's an excellent bargain.

Back at the hostel I finally had a chance to cool down and come back to life. My American roommate, Holly, was there and we ended up chatting for a couple of hours about random stuff. She turns out to be a Doctor Who fan. It always surprises me when Americans are Doctor Who fans. I love Doctor Who, but realistically, unless you'd been forcibly immersed in it daily since early childhood it's hard to see what the attraction is.

Anyway, that was my day. I'd originally had grand dreams of visiting the Citadel after my quick trip to the embassy, but that clearly didn't happen. I think I just have to write off the remainder of my time in Cairo as being dedicated to bureaucracy.

In fact, I'm starting to think that this will be the case throughout Africa. I'm not really planning to see stuff in Africa, like I have been in the middle east. It's just a question of getting out there, at ground level, and seeing if I can navigate my way from point A to point B. I doubt that it will be fun, as such. But it's something that I have to do, just to convince myself that it can be done. And maybe I'll be surprised by whatg I find.

Cairo Day 4 Index Cairo Day 6