Cairo Day 7

Fri, 11 Jul 2008 16:32:37 +0000

Cairo Day 6 Index Nairobi Day 1

I slept a good ten hours last night, and was astonished to wake up and find I was in danger of missing breakfast. I guess this is partly lack of energy from not eating yesterday. But it's a good thing, because I suspect I won't sleep a wink with the absurd red-eye flight to Nairobi tonight.

I decided that I really wanted to impress the Tanzanian ambassador with a printout on EgyptAir letterhead, and I had time to queue at the EgyptAir office, so that's what I did first. I carefully brought both my credit cards this time, to be ready to identify myself. I waited for about half an hour. And of course, this time, they didn't even ask for my credit card. Dammit.

So then off to the Tanzanian embassy again. It really is a very slow process taking the metro and then walking to the embassy, taking about an hour, and I was there only a little bit early. Of course they made me wait until well after the midday they had asked me to be there. Eventually I handed over my hard-won paper reservation, and was subjected to more waiting. And finally I was handed back my passport. They can't stop me now: I'm going as far as Tanzania, at least!

By this time I was starving, my stomach seeming to have settled down a bit. And since I needed to check my email to see what the Zambian visa story is, I decided to have lunch yet again at McDonalds. It really is pretty depressing, four days in Cairo and all I've done is spend that time in embassies and McDonalds. It's partly slackness, partly the difficulty of transport here, and largely just that me and Cairo got off on the wrong foot and I've never really felt the urge to allow the place to redeem itself. Egypt has been great. Apart from Cairo. I'm happy with that result.

So by the time I got myself back to the hostel it was getting on for 4:00 and I ended up just hanging out there waiting for my taxi, booked for 8:30. I got a reply from the travel agent about getting a Zambian visa at the border: he says that he assumes you can, but that I should ask in Dar es Salaam, and that there's a high commission in Dar es Salaam if I need it. I wasn't planning to stay long in Dar es Salaam, instead spending two full days on Zanzibar. If I have to apply for a Zambian visa overnight in Dar, it may force me to cut a day from Zanzibar. If things go really badly wrong, I may have to cut Zanzibar completely. Which would suck, but it'd hardly be the first time I've had to cut something from this trip.

After I finished with the Internet the reception guy started talking to me about computers, since he'd picked up my apparent skill with them. (Giveaway sign: constantly swearing at the things. No better way of picking someone who really understands precisely what their computer is doing at any given moment.) It turned out he was studying mechanical engineering, and was looking to develop his computer skills. When I said I used Linux, which he'd never heard of, and that it was free, he wanted to give it a shot. I protested that this was a bad idea, that he wouldn't enjoy the experience, but directed him to Ubuntu anyway. Lots of geeks would have promised instant computing nirvana in a conversation like that, but I'm long past that stage.

Eventually 8:30 rolled around, nominally time for my taxi to arrive. But it didn't. The guy at reception phoned the driver, but didn't seem to get a particularly credible response about how long it would take. In fact he was getting visibly frustrated at the delay, much more than I was, since I thought I had plenty of time. Eventually the driver turned up at 9:00. Assuming the hour to get to the airport that Wikitravel claims, that still left 1:20 before the plane leaves, surely plenty of time?

Nevertheless, the driver seemed to be in a distinct hurry. As hair-raising journeys go, it'd rate a solid 8 out of 10 I'd say. The highlight was probably driving down the "middle lane" of a two-lane highway, and also the moment a driver in front decided to serve between an impossibly small gap between two cars to change lanes, just as the whole assemblage happened to pass a driver who'd broken down in the road. Somehow no-one hit anything in that incident. My driver also kept reaching over to point out interesting landmarks we were passing, but I couldn't help feeling they weren't half as interesting as the traffic, and that the driver should probably concentrate on that instead. There was a frustrating 20 minutes of almost solid gridlock, but eventually things freed up and I was delivered to the airport a bit before 9:50. A good performance. The driver even apologised for driving "crazy". Hey, no bones broken. Amazingly.

And a good thing I was that early, too. Boarding turned out to be at 10:30, much earlier than I'd expected. There was a very slow security screen just to get into the airport. Then a very slow checkin queue. And I still had a pocketful of 42 USD worth of Egyptian pounds to exchange. So I was slightly "late" for boarding, although still far from late enough for it to be noticed.

Interestingly, in the boarding queue, the woman behind me recognised me from the hostel. I'd seen her around but never spoken to her. She's from Melbourne, and happened to be travelling to Nairobi too, to visit friends. In fact, we really should have shared the taxi, there was no need at all for me to push things so close to the wire. Still, ended OK.

And that's the end of the "middle east" chapter of the journey. A pity that the last four reports have been so dull and bureaucratic, without even a photo to liven them up. But tomorrow, I start on Africa proper...

Cairo Day 6 Index Nairobi Day 1