Cairo Day 6

Fri, 11 Jul 2008 16:32:36 +0000

Cairo Day 5 Index Cairo Day 7

Today was hampered by what I hope is the peak of the stomach bug I've been suffering from the last few days. It didn't really disable me, but there were regular waves of severe pain whenever I rolled over in bed and the digestive juices sloshed to a new position. I didn't have any dinner last night and I couldn't manage breakfast this morning. In fact, I didn't eat a bite until the evening. So in addition to being in pain and not entirely trusting my bowels to hold themselves in, I was feeling extremely lethargic the whole day.

However, Tanzanian border officials aren't going to be impressed by excuses like that, so I forged ahead with my visit to the Tanzanian embassy. Recall that this is the embassy, indeed the entire road, that two separate taxi drivers had entirely failed to drive me to yesterday. So I wasn't very confident that I'd be able to find it today. Still, this time I had adjusted the suburb to be "Mohandeseen" instead of "Dokki", which is the information I'd gleaned from yesterday's expeditions, so maybe I had a better chance today.

I hailed a taxi, driven by a fairly young bloke. He offered me a cigarette, and almost pranged the car in astonishment at my refusal. He seemed enthusiastic enough about trying to find the place though, going through the usual iterations of asking random street denizens where it was. It took a long time of driving around randomly, but lo and behold, we eventually pulled into Abdel Hamid Loutfy street. Hooray, I'd found it! Except no. He asked a passer-by where the Tanzanian embassy was, and was told it wasn't in Abdel Hamid Loutfy street at all. As I'd suspected, my address was completely wrong. Stupid World Wide Web!

So we started the whole process again, this time from a completely different starting point. We drove around in various circles, and eventually zeroed in on the right place, tucked away in an absurdly remote cul-de-sac. This time, no mistake, there were brass letters right there on the building spelling out "Tanzania". At last! I went to give the driver the appropriate fare, which I judged to be about 20 EGP. Nope, he wasn't having it. 50 EGP. That's really rather a lot, more than I think is a fair charge. Nevertheless I handed it over. At this point, considering how much time had been wasted trying to find this place, it was the least of my concerns.

The Tanzanian embassy is rather swish compared to the Kenyan embassy, with a nice array of couches and a TV in the waiting room. They required me to fill out the form twice by hand, which I've always found to be a particularly ridiculous piece of bureaucacy. What, they don't have a photocopier? Anyway, I filled them out as best I could. One section asked for my sponsors/referees in Tanzania, with a specific notice saying "don't leave these blank". I left them blank, and this was ultimately accepted without murmur. Sometimes you really have to wonder why they bother with all this stuff in the first place.

I was asked to wait, and eventually I was called over to talk to a bloke about my form. He asked me a bunch of pointed questions about my lack of bookings, and why my submitted photos didn't match the one in my passport (I explained I'd grown a beard because the Arabs kept thinking I was a woman, which he found amusing). My tone of voice was verging on the pleading - I really wanted this to go smoothly. But as he checked each field of the form he kept saying "Correct, correct.", which I took as a good sign. Eventually he said that he wanted to see my Cairo to Nairobi ticket, although tomorrow would do, and he needed 280 EGP.

The ticket is no problem, I can just print it out at an Internet cafe. I didn't have the cash on me, so I had to go for a walk to find a bank. That took quite a bit longer than I expected, I guess I walked the wrong way. These embassies are all clustered together in what looks like a rather less prosperous area than other parts of Cairo that I've seen, with quite a lot of donkey traffic mixed in with the cars. So they just don't have that many banks there. Anyway, I did eventually find an ATM, and returned to the embassy very hot and sweaty. After another wait, I handed over the cash, and was told to come back at 12:00 tomorrow. During the wait, I was told by the guy on the opposite couch that in fact I was being served by the ambassador himself, which I'd already guessed since he seemed to be making his own decisions. That's pretty impressive service.

So then I began the trek back to the hostel. I really hate taking taxis, pretty much anywhere, and since there was the option to walk to the metro station, that's what I did. It's a very unpleasant way of getting around, walking. It's very hot, of course. The traffic is horrendous, and there's no such thing as a pedestrian crossing. You have to just march out into three lanes of traffic. The noise of car horns is constant. And the GPS is remarkably useless at telling me where to go, the more so since Google maps appears to be offset from true coordinates by about 100m. I took several wrong turns, and was in a fairly sorry state by the time I got to the metro station. But I really, really hate taxis. They charge too much, you have to haggle, and you can never be sure that they actually understand where you want to go, or know how to get there.

Back at Talaat Harb, I decided that while I could just print out my confirmation email for the ambassador, an itinerary on EgyptAir letterhead might be a better idea. So I went to the EgyptAir office, which is just down the road from the hostel, to see if I could get one. Unfortunately there was quite a queue of people there. I took a number and waited for well over half an hour. When I eventually got to the counter, he needed to confirm my identity with the credit card I'd used to pay for the ticket - which turned out to be the one I'd secreted in my backpack in my in-case-of-emergency stash. Damn. Rather than queue all over again, I decided that the ambassador would have to be content with a printout of the email after all.

By this time I was really feeling pretty sick, and desperately needed a nap. I slept for over two hours, and that helped a lot. In fact, I felt like I could eat something. But since I'm still feeling delicate and unadventurous, I just went to McDonalds again. To be honest, Arab food is starting to get a little bit old anyway. Not to the point where McDonalds is more interesting, but the key difference is, McDonalds has really good air-conditioning.

Another chore was finding an envelope for my photo CD, to send it to my parents. I wandered up and down the road looking for anything newsagent-like, but couldn't find anything even vaguely appropriate anywhere near Talaat Harb. The whole place is dedicated to selling clothes, to a ridiculous degree. I understand the economic rationale behind industrial clustering, but Talaat Harb really does seem to take it to excess. Do people really need so many clothes? Eventually I just bludged some sticky tape off the bloke at reception and sealed the CD envelope that way.

I got to chatting to a New Yorker at the hostel who's figuring out where he's going to go next in the middle east. He wanted to pick my brains about whether it makes sense to dash up to Syria and then back via Lebanon and Israel in about a week. My itinerary through Africa is starting to look pretty insane, and I'm starting to wonder if I've made a mistake committing myself to a month of pure travel with hardly any time for sight-seeing, let alone relaxing. But he was putting together something crazy, involving huge bus journeys that I would definitely have broken with overnight stays. My advice was, hey, if you think you can cope with that, go for it, but I wouldn't. I understand how he feels: the fear that you might never come back makes you want to pack in as much as humanly possible. It's an urge to be resisted. You can't see every place on earth. He left the decision dangling.

I also did a little clothes shopping, since I could use one more set of clothes to bring me up to the quota I originally set out with. I got two pairs of underwear and somehow managed to get hopelessly confused: the first guy I asked wanted 10 EGP for three pairs, so the next guy I asked I offered 10 for two. Of course he agreed like a shot. Too late to correct my mistake. I then hunted for a t-shirt. None, absolutely none of the street vendors I dealt with were prepared to haggle at all. I was really surprised. This despite the fact that their prices were very different for basically the same product, ranging from 30 EGP to 45. The problem then was that I'd tried so many, I couldn't remember who'd promised what price, so I couldn't go back and find the one who'd offered 30. So I just gave up in disgust. I might try again tomorrow.

Cairo Day 5 Index Cairo Day 7