6/22/10: Cairo, Egypt
Another one of those lasts reared its ugly head today: last day in a non-English speaking, undeveloped country. I only suppose it was fitting that today really tested us in pretty much every aspect of world travel. Let me break down today’s post into categories:
- Sleeping in uncomfortable, moving objects
- Finding our cheap accommodation
- Staying in touch
- Negotiating for gifts
- Eating foreign foods
- Side effects of cheap accommodation
1) Sleeping in uncomfortable, moving objects: In this case, trains. I loved the train ride from Cairo to Luxor, but it appears that they only make that one nice in order to get you to take the train back as well. This one was awful! We only received half-dinners (whereas everyone else around us received the full, delicious smorgasbord), our window wouldn’t close and they washed the outside of it without realizing they were splashing us, our sink hardly worked, and worst of all, the conductor must have been racing Gay Focker in Meet the Parents. Stop, start, stop, start – all throughout the night, waking me from my pleasant sleep.
2) Finding our cheap accommodation: Upon arrival in Cairo, we had our directions to the hostel and I was confident we wouldn’t get lost. Rookie mistake! We stepped out of the station and simply needed to head toward the Hussein Mosque on Azhar street, make a left on Mansouria, make a left on El Aded and we’d be at the hostel. Zhou was still a little groggy (read: grouchy) from the sleepless night before, so this one was on me. I wound up asking over 20 different people – this is no exaggeration – before finding our place. It wound up taking 45 minutes, one cigarette burn on my foot (yes, someone flicked their ash out the car window as I tried to dodge getting swiped by their sideview mirror) and nearly my entire body weight in sweat, but we finally made it. When we entered the hostel and told the guy we had walked from the subway station (as they had said to do on their website), he replied, “Wow! There’s no way I’d ever make that walk myself!”
3) Staying in touch: First step: buy postcards. Second step: write postcards. Third step: mail postcards. Today we tried to mail our postcards. This is actually a rather long story, but in summary we had to go to two different post offices, talk to six different people, overpay, and we still didn’t get to send our postcard to Peru because we didn’t trust that it would get there. Those of you who do actually receive a postcard from Egypt, know that you are lucky to get it. Those of you who don’t, it probably got lost in the mail.
4) Negotiating for gifts: We headed back to Khan El-Khalili, the famous Cairo market, to buy a couple gifts. I can’t say what we were haggling here, but I can say that I’d thought I’d heard every merchant negotiating technique over the past year. Nope. This guy surprised us both by saying if money was a problem, we could have the items for free, as long as we took with us his friendship. What? Zhou, back in her usual role of negotiator, didn’t know what to make of this. I was thinking we’d be able to get these for 50 or 60 EGP, but this comment so flustered us that we let our guard down. We wound up paying 80 EGP, which turned out to be so much that he even threw in a small gift for our generosity. Fortunately, from here on out there is no more haggling.
5) Eating foreign foods: “Have you tried koshari?” No, we hadn’t. Without even asking for explanation of what it was, we were both in. We wound up with a large bowl of mostly recognizable food, but all mashed together in a way we’d never seen before. It was like the three cheese heart attack bowl at KFC, only this one contained macaroni, rice, chickpeas, lots of sauce, corn, onion, weird black balls, and a bunch of random spices, and it was served to us in what looked like a tub for butter. It was actually quite delicious.
6) Side effects of cheap accommodation: Actually, we didn’t book the cheapest accommodation – that one didn’t have air conditioning. We splurged on Arabian Nights Hotel for about $18. We were amazed when we arrived in the room that it had towels, a TV, a fan, an attached bathroom, a refrigerator, a closet, two nightstands, a table, a couple chairs – the list of rare luxuries kept going on and on. The problem? Nothing worked! Ok, the tables and chairs worked, but that was about it. Wifi? Broken. TV? No channels. A/C? Blew hot air 50% of the time. Fan? Out of order. Beds? It felt like we were sleeping directly on its springs. “Aww moment:” at least we had each other.
So that’s it: our lasting memory of the crazy, never-know-what-you’ll-get life we’ve been living for the majority of the past ten months. I sure will miss it.
Picture of the Day: Satellite dishes here are more popular than fast food dishes in the United States.