Authored By Brian

And now for something completely different…

Welcome to Cairo, Egypt! For all of the interesting things Western Europe has to offer, the first time you have to get a visa for your passport as an American, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore.

Our flight from Greece left Athens International at 12:50am this morning and arrived in Cairo around 2:45. Jennifer and I both slept almost the entire way except when we opened our eyes to find the flight attendants had left us a late night snack and drink on our tray tables. I can’t remember the last time a US-flight attendant didn’t take a sleeping passenger as an opportunity to pocket an extra dollar for the airline by silently passing them.

It took a nervously long time for Jennifer’s bag to come onto the luggage carousel but otherwise our arrival was easily sorted. You can purchase a visa for $15USD on arrival and breeze through customs. I didn’t understand what the banker who sold the visa to me was saying so as we approached the customs officer I had two orange stamps with my passport and two blue stamps with Jennifer’s passport. The guard made the joke that I had picked orange and she picked blue because in reality they were two $5 stamps and two $10 stamps and we should have had one of each. That is pretty funny since orange is my favorite color. A tourism salesman arranged for a taxi for us and we were off to the Nile Hilton for a few hours of sleep.

Our taxi drove mostly in the middle of the two lanes occasionally flashing a car or scooter in front of him before passing just inches away. More than half of all cars were driving without their lights on but the roads were mostly empty at 3:30am.

Sleeping nearly brings us to where we are now at almost 8pm. We got a room for the night and slept until 2pm when the hotel called to ask when we were checking out.

In August 2004, 1 USD = 6.22 Egyptian Pounds

It only takes a few hours to see how things are so different. Immediately easy to recognize; things are cheap: lists the current exchange rate at 6.22 Egyptian pounds to 1 USD. The hotel restaurant we had a snack at this afternoon was something like 35EGP a plate. I bought a pair of boxers for 11EGP in a store across the street. Our hotel is “full-price” at 120USD/night but it’s one of the nicest in town (and it has wifi!) More important than the lux factor though is the location: it’s actually in Islamist Cairo and the Egyptian Museum is literally across the street. We can walk to lots of great restaurants tomorrow and see the sights of downtown without having to taxi or bus around the city.

Just a few minutes ago, I watched the sun set from the banks of the Nile River as it descended behind the palm trees and Vodafone billboard in across the water. Although the Hilton is just across the street from the Nile, actually crossing the street is tricky. The road is approximately three lanes wide in each direction but there are anywhere between one and five lanes of traffic at any given moment and they certainly aren’t in any kind of order.

However, a successful crossing rewards the adventurer with a front-row seat on the river. There are scores of little boats along the banks waiting to give people rides and many, many people strolling or sitting along the sidewalk all set to the backdrop of a blood red sun and pink sky.

The “Muezzin” is a recorded hymn that blares on loudspeakers across the city prompting Muslims to pray several times per day

It’s incredibly noisy but eerily peaceful at the same time. It’s that kind of hum you hear when aren’t listening to any one thing… like the sound of bees swarming. It’s Arabic being spoken and countless horns honking and music playing and kids screaming and planes flying and the sound of the Muezzin calling for the Muslim people to begin their evening prayers: utter cacophony but a luring song in its own right. This is a city of 12 million people!

It’s also a very different city. Because of the warm locales we’ve been visiting, Jennifer brought a lot of form-fitting tank tops and shorts. Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree though suggests that covering the shoulders and knees with loose-fitting clothing would result in much less attention and harassment. That led to a spirited “conversation” about what we each thought was appropriate to wear tomorrow. :)

Today was only 80-something but Aswan and Luxor are predicted to be over 100 this next week which will make our cruise interesting. Given that not many locals are on these cruises, I imagine the clothing guidelines will be relaxed and Jennifer and I will come to a “fair and balanced” agreement on what is respectful. The Egyptian people have been so incredibly friendly that I can’t imagine any hostile comments or actions.

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