Siwa to Cairo

Thu, 03 Jul 2008 13:19:01 +0000

Siwa Index Cairo Day 2

My bus for Matruh left at 7:00 this morning. Normally that would be unreasonably early, but since the bus station is only a short walk from the hotel, I could get up at 6:00 and make it no problems. I'm glad I paid the bill last night though: the front desk was absolutely deserted. There were only a couple of shops open as well, but I got some bread and cheese to make a breakfast out of.

This time the bus had decent air-conditioning, which made a huge difference. So off we set for Matruh. The journey was uneventful. We stopped at the same isolated shop we visited on the way down. Not as much of a novelty this time. We also had a small drama when we hit some roadworks: the bus driver didn't seem to notice that the road was suddenly extremely rough, and the bus suddenly almost shook itself to pieces before screeching to a halt. Then the driver and conductor had to get out to check that everything was OK before we carried on.

It was 11:30 when we finally arrived in Matruh, and I was a bit concerned about how late I would arrive in Cairo at this rate. Luckily there was a bus at 12:00, so I got a ticket for that. I had just enough time to order some felafel for lunch. I had a very confusing experience here. I was in a hurry to eat and get on the bus, but I kept receiving invitations to sit with people. One group offered me a felafel, and I thought this was my felafel that I'd just ordered. But then I was called over to sit with a couple of policemen, and there I was served with my actual felafel. No idea who my previous benefactors were. The policemen literally didn't speak one word of English, but still apparently wanted to talk to me. Only in an informal capacity, of course, but you don't say no to these people. We tried to communicate, and failed pretty much utterly. I don't think they were enjoying my company much. Eventually they got in their car and drove away, and I went off to catch my bus.

Again, the air-conditioning was decent this time. Unfortunately the seat in front was broken in a number of ways that left it leaning just slightly further into my personal space than I would have liked. So a fairly uncomfortable journey in which I really couldn't move much. At one point we passed another bus from the same company that had broken down, so we stopped to pick up more passengers. Somehow they found enough room for about a dozen more people. I'm glad I wasn't on that bus, though.

When we got into Cairo around 5:00 the traffic was appalling. We crawled along. I got my first glimpse of the pyramids over at Giza, and finally saw the Nile as we crossed over the bridge.

Eventually, going on 6:00, we stopped, a little way further on from the centre of downtown. This time it was walkable to the hotel, so no need to negotiate a taxi ride. That's good, because I really didn't have the energy to engage in Cairo haggling.

I was all out of luck when I returned to the hotel I was at last time: no rooms available. That was a bit of a disappointment. But I went to the next best option on my list, the Lialy Hostel. They had a bed in a dorm for 50 EGP, which is a good price for what is a really nice hostel. I got to chatting with two of my roommates: one an American girl doing an internship at UNAIDS, the other a Brit doing some travelling before beginning his studies to become a doctor. He'd just travelled up from South Africa, so we had a useful chat about what to expect. He'd actually come through Ethiopia and Sudan, which apparently is quite safe if you avoid the south and the west. Still a bit too adventurous for me, I'm afraid.

This is especially true since he'd been mugged at Mount Kilimanjaro. He said the villagers had rallied round and returned his passport and credit cards to him, so it was only cash that he lost. But still, I really can't get mugged now. He said he'd opted to leave his passport and other documents in his hotel, but I'm not sure I trust the hotels enough for that - a lot of the stories of thefts that I've read were by hotel staff, not out in the street. It's hard to know what the best strategy is really. I'm going to have to be extra careful to only go out in daylight and stick with the crowds. But you can never be totally safe.

I went out to grab some fast food. I seem to have permanent trouble with this in Cairo. In one place I eventually had to point to the board to order what I wanted, which since it was in front of the cashier, had him craning his neck around absurdly. And he still seemed to have trouble understanding. The hotdog bun that turned up was full of liver, rather than the kebab meat I thought I ordered. Not bad though. It wasn't quite enough, so I went to Gad to get some felafel. They did an extremely bad job of explaining where I had to go to actually get the food, and I think I visited everyone before finally getting to the right place. If only they could trust all of their employees to handle cash, but of course this is Cairo, and no-one can be trusted at all.

Siwa Index Cairo Day 2