1/22/10

Cairo, Egypt


Ahlan wa Sahlan! Our 4-hour flight from Amsterdam was half an hour late which meant arriving into Cairo at almost 3 in the morning, or almost before the first prayer of the day. To my disappointment, Cairo's terminal do not have airbridges so all of us bleary-eyed passengers have to disembark from a remote stand and transported by bus to a gleaming main building. Before joining a long queue at immigration, I went to one of the banks selling $15 visas (Western-passport holders can get visa-on-arrival). Thankfully, my backpack was already waiting for me at the carousel by the time immigration let me through.

Waiting outside for me was a driver with my name on a placard. I've pre-arranged transfers with the hostel because of the ungodly hour of my arrival. It cost me 65 Egyptian pounds ($11) to travel almost half an hour from Heliopolis, a wealthy suburb in Cairo where the airport is located, into the wait-until-sunrise-and-it-will-be-madness downtown area where I will stay. I'm only staying for the day at the New Palace - one which I found for $16 a room at hostelworld.com - before moving on into King Hotel, the staging area of my Gecko's Trip.



Youtube video of New Palace Hotel courtesy of bootsintheoven

There's nothing palatial about New Palace Hotel: it's a hostel on the 6th floor of a grungy building with an elevator that has a missing door. The mattress is lumpy and the bathroom has no hot water. Although the bed sheets are clean, the blanket look like they've been there forever. I'm too tired and sleepy to request a move so I just pulled out my sleeping bag and prayed I'll be able to sleep enough before my noontime check-out. I woke up later at quarter before 1 PM.

Cairo smog

In Cairo, the advice is to take the white taxis, not the black ones. And so I hailed a white taxi which runs with a meter. I showed the gray-haired taxi driver my destination written in Arabic, he squints at it and says "yalla!" - let's go. Little did I know that he had no idea where the street Abdel Rehim Sabri is, in a district called Dokki. While we were caught in the middle of Cairo's infamous traffic snarls, the old driver finds time to yell from his window to another taxi driver asking for directions. Our trip was slow as other cars and buses and the occasional donkey pulling a cart all vied for positions while the locals come dashing in and out between vehicles. It's 2:30 PM and the air is choked with smog.


We finally got to the hotel and I checked in. Surprise: the elevator here has a missing door too! My roommate, who got in before me, is somewhere in the city but his stuff is scattered all over his bed. I made a mess of my own as I lay all my bag's contents to sort the stuff I need while in Cairo. With time to spare before meeting our group, I went out to find a bank to change some money into Egyptian pounds. While waiting for my turn at the HSBC bank, I noticed how Egyptian men, irregardless of status, wears leather shoes - never mind if the street is dusty. Here I was wearing sandals and I felt like an alien compared to them.

I hurried back to the hotel and met my roommate for this trip, Nabil, a 26 year-old British of Pakistani descent. Our ice breaker as usual is about travel - it's his first time joining a group of "strangers". We met the rest of the group at the hotel's dining room: Waleed (our tour leader who's from Cairo), Lauren, Kristy, Emily, Jessica, Edith (all from Australia), Rochelle & Sharon (from Canada). This being my 4th time on a trip organized by an adventure outfitter (after ImTrav, GAP & Intrepid), I felt quite confident about our group dynamics. We swap travel stories right away - as usual, I got jealous of others who have plenty of travel time - they're either on their way to Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda or they just came from there.

Koshary

For our first meal, we wanted to go local and Waleed knew just where to send us to - a Koshary restaurant. We walked to the restaurant which only have an Arabic signage in front of it. It's apparently frequented by locals as we were the only foreigners invading two of their tables. We got the specialty of course - a Koshary meal - which is a traditional comfort food eaten by all Egyptians. We all thought it strange that the food has a mixture of pasta, rice, black lentil, chick peas, fried onions and garlic and topped with some tomato sauce. Our orders came quick, served on shiny aluminum plates. After the initial taste - the sweetness of fried onions blending well with the tartness of tomato sauce - we all declared it was good, not to mention very cheap at just 4 Egyptian pounds (about 80 cents) a plate.

We all went back to the hotel feeling so full while we continue to wonder if those missing doors in hotel elevators are the norm, rather than the exception, in Egypt.

17 comments:

  1. koshary appears interesting to me. how does it tastes like? salty, spicy, sweet?
    ...missing hotel elevators? that's strange (but perhaps, common in that place?)

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  2. sidney15:46:00 AM

    Lucky you... almost all girls ! ;-)

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  3. Nats Al Tere6:52:00 AM

    Hi Dens, welcoime to my adopted country. I am married and dovorced to one of the locals, remember? Don't miss Khan al Khalili, Suleiman's mosque, Al Azhar mosque and of the course the fabulous Pyramids in the Giza region. We were there before, di ba? Eerwin, Ferdie and moi!!!

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  4. Yeah, true. We really had a great time there. Its the best holiday i ever had. None of my other travels can top that. It was fun with the company of Renato and his Egyptian Boyfriend whose name was adopted by our dearest sister. And of course Ferdie who always antagonize my zest for taste of local delicacy ! Remember,that gorgeous Egyptian waiter ?!!!!! Bitch!!! Balakid ka sa aking mga pangangailangan !Isa kang Bella Flores sa buhay ko LOL !

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  5. Nats Al Tere8:13:00 PM

    My heart bleeds for Erwin. Imagine!!! not having his ways with the locaaaallllss!! How pathetic. Anyways, he got my beau sa Jeddah na not in Egypt. Can't blame Erwin, my guy is a hottie. ha ha ha. Sharing and giving di ba Weng. Hoy Dens this is just made in jest ha. If you deem we are scandalous to your blog, cnesure or kill us.Peace!!

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  6. The Nomadic Pinoy8:58:00 PM

    and all the girls were pretty Sidney!

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  7. The Nomadic Pinoy9:01:00 PM

    Oh yes I remember you went to Egypt, the four of you. Just can't remember the Egyptian's name but I'm sure we met back in KSA.

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  8. The Nomadic Pinoy9:04:00 PM

    With Nats and Ferdie around, any trip is bound to have some fireworks. That's the one I missed years ago but who knows when we'll bump into each other again?

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  9. The Nomadic Pinoy9:04:00 PM

    Nats, I'm about to crack my whip here ha ha ha!

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  10. Quite an adventure. Being in the company of pretty people really helps. LOL. Enjoy! I would be following this series.

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  11. The Nomadic Pinoy9:38:00 PM

    Thanks for asking Doc Gelo - in my haste typing this entry, I totally forgot about how the food was but I updated above. Koshary is a medley of sweetness (onions) and tartness (tomato) with the pasta, lentils and rice balancing them out.

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  12. The Nomadic Pinoy9:40:00 PM

    Thanks for asking Doc Gelo - in my haste typing this entry, I totally forgot about how the food was but I updated above. Koshary is a medley of sweetness (onions) and tartness (tomato) with the pasta, lentils and rice balancing them out.

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  13. The Nomadic Pinoy9:40:00 PM

    And they're beautiful too, Sidney!

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  14. The Nomadic Pinoy9:43:00 PM

    Pretty and young, you might add he he he! I like traveling solo but I do like traveling with like-minded people as well.

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  15. Do you have to pay a single supplement if they cannot find a roommate for you?

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  16. The Nomadic Pinoy12:48:00 PM

    Not at all Bert. I was lucky the first time, I had the room all to myself!

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  17. that was one great way to experience Egypt... nice share of your story.

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