Fri, 27 Jun 2008 16:39:50 +0000
Eilat Day 2 Index Cairo Day 1
Man, I'm glad I had my earplugs last night. Apart from me and Stefan, there's a guy from Manchester and an Israeli, and the last two are pretty heavy snorers. But with the earplugs in, I barely noticed.
There was the usual good breakfast from the hostel, and then I was off. The good thing about being rejected from a border crossing is that you are much more efficient about it the next time you try. For example, I picked up the bus from directly outside the hostel instead of slogging my way over to the central bus station. At the border, I assumed I'd be hit up for another Israeli border tax, but the woman recognised me from yesterday and let me off. I thought that was awfully nice. On the Egyptian side I was just waved through, and there I was in Egypt. Hooray!
On the walk to the bus station, I got to chatting with another German on his way to Cairo, and we stuck together for safety from then on. Again, it's really nice to form these alliances, it makes everything so much more comfortable. My information, gleaned from yesterday's Guatemalan's guidebook, was that the bus left at 12:30, which would have been a bit of a wait, but there turned out to be one at 10:30 too, only a half hour wait. Excellent!
The bus was OK. No toilet, and rather weak air conditioning. I thought the seats were broken, but it turned out they just don't spring back upright, you have to pull them. I thought the bus was going to be half-empty, but a hundred metres after we set off we picked up a bunch of people, including one guy who sat next to me. He'd left a plastic bag with an important piece of paper to mark his seat, and I'd thrown it into the next one thinking it was junk. He seemed quite cheerful and friendly though.
After another hundred metres we stopped again and I had to pay a 53 EGP border fee. Always full of surprises, borders are. My friendly neighbour asked what that was about, and responded with a sarcastic "Welcome to Egypt". Ah well. It's only, what, less than ten euros?
We passed through a lot of military checkpoints along the way, which I decided not to photograph. The Egyptian military don't seem especially well-funded. There are weird bullet-shaped sentry posts just large enough for a man, and they seem to just be made of bricks with a plaster finish. In fact, one was being plastered as we passed. There were also lookout towers that were just a two-metre high concrete pillar with a concrete box on top. It all looks like it'd blow over in a stiff breeze, let alone repel an Israeli offensive.
We stopped at a flyspeck roadside diner for a break. I'm usually worried about being left behind at these places if I order food, but this time I had two western allies: a French woman joined my German friend and I. So I ordered "food", specifically "vegetable". The vegetable du jour turned out to be lamb, so lucky I'm not a vegetarian. It was served with fava beans, flatbread, hoummus, rice and pickles, so fairly comprehensive.
When I paid, the guy said "12". I handed him a fifty pound note, and he gave me back two pounds. I was too confused and unfamiliar with the currency to argue, but I was definitely robbed. Oh well. Again, less than ten euros, not worth getting steamed up about.
The Suez canal was fun. I had nodded off to sleep, but when I woke up it was to the sight of a container ship apparently steaming through the middle of the desert. We went under a tunnel rather than over a bridge though, so I didn't see any water.
Eventually we pulled up to the bus station in Cairo: inevitably, nowhere near anything useful, like a metro station or hotels. It was about 3km to Talaat Harb, the road with the hotels, and I could just about walk that, if uncomfortably. But my German friend had a heavy backpack and certainly wasn't going to walk that, so we agreed to share a taxi instead. The French woman, who lives in Cairo and speaks some Arabic, engaged in some extremely protracted negotiations with the taxi drivers, confusing the hell out of me and the German who didn't know if we were included in whatever deal was being hammered out. Eventually there seemed to be a conclusion that one taxi driver would take me and the German to Talaat Harb for ten pounds. But when we got in the taxi, this turned out to be ten each. No, that's more than we should have to pay. We got out, and another taxi driver offered ten each. I said ten together, he went to 15, then 12, and finally ten. Amazingly, he actually accepted that when we paid at the end. I fully expected him to revert to the "I meant ten each" line.
I saw the German to his hostel, because I didn't have a reservation for my preferred place and I wanted to be able to find a backup hostel quickly. Then I found mine, recommended by Wikitravel. At 100 pounds a night, it's at the high end of budget accomodation here, but I don't feel like slumming it. The room turns out to be massive, with very high ceilings and three beds. The air conditioning is cold, and although I have to use a shared bathroom there's a sink in the room too. But the street noise is appalling.
Walking out in the street it's clear why: there's basically no traffic lights. That means pedestrians just have to cross where there's the hint of a gap, and that means the cars are constantly honking their horns at the pedestrians. It's a bit of a nightmare.out there.
I went to find something to eat. I found a huge kebab shop, "Gad", that Wikitravel had mentioned. It uses the annoying system where you pay at the cashier first and then hand a slip of paper to the servers. This means you can't just walk up and point to what you want to eat. But I managed to get a baguette with meat in. The baguette was a pretty bad hotdog-style bun, but the meat was good, with some kind of dairy sauce on it. The cashier did the same thing as the guy at lunch, taking my 50 pound note and giving me two pounds change. I'd walked away before counting my money, and had to go back to complain. I said, "I gave you a 50 pound note". "Yes, I know". "You gave me two pounds change". And he handed me my two twenties as though it was no big deal. An absolutely shameful attempt to rip me off.
I felt like having a beer, so I went to the Odeon Hotel, again on Wikitravel's advice. It's a rooftop bar with a great view over Cairo's satellite dishes.
There were a couple of foreigners out on the terrace and some Arabs at the bar, but it was pretty quiet. I just sipped my beer and read the news. Two beers cost 54 pounds, which is quite a lot, but worth it just this once, I think. Cheaper than Israel.
So Cairo is a fairly scary place, but hopefully I'll get the hang of it. My planned itinerary has me passing through Cairo three times, so there's no need to rush around. And tomorrow's Friday, so I guess lots of stuff will be closed anyway.
Eilat Day 2 Index Cairo Day 1