So off to Egypt we go. We had arranged to get picked up at 2:30 at home in order to arrive at Pearson for our 7:00 pm flight around 4:00. Immediately after arriving at the terminal, we were told that our flight was delayed “at least 4 hours”. A missed connection and further delays at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, put us in Cairo 24 hours after our flight was supposed to leave Toronto. Not a particularly solid start to this vacation but we were there, in one piece and despite little sleep, everyone was in pretty good spirits. Until we left security.
There is a reason Cairo doesn’t make the “20 Safest Cities to Live In” list, and it is fairly evident why at 2:00 am in the airport. It was pandemonium. Hundreds of tired and disoriented passengers filing out of the secured area into a sea of, let’s politely say, “opportunists” was a little frightening. There are warnings about choosing your taxis carefully and we had been advised before we left home to seek out the limousine stand just outside security and book a cab before we left the terminal. Said limousine stand does not exist. Left with little choice, we entered into the abyss of shrieking and pulling taxi drivers and other shady characters. Spotting a “Gap Adventures” sign, we approached the young man, indicated that we were travelling with Gap and could he help us get a cab. Absolutely he could. He quickly deposited us with another young man who herded us outside and demanded Ba’sheesh to hail us a cab.
What is Ba’sheesh? Well, in a word, extortion. It is the norm and is not only tolerated but encouraged everywhere in Egypt. You will have to hand over Ba’sheesh to use a public restroom with squat toilets (read hole in the floor over which you squat), then you will hand over Ba’sheesh for the toilet paper which you need after using hole in the floor and then again when you want to use the sink to wash your hands after throwing the toilet paper into the hole in the floor. You will need to hand over Ba’sheesh when asking anyone for directions, if someone opens a door for you (they don’t do this to be polite) or really for any reason they can think of. Well, you can now envision us as fish in a barrel. We are outside of the airport and are unable to get back in so we hand over the Ba’sheesh and he pushes us into a car that came hurtling up to the curb. A quick stop at a security stand, where we had to sign that we were OK leaving with this stranger in what can very loosely be described as a cab, and we were headed to downtown Cairo with Mr. Alice in the front and me and the kids in the back.
It didn’t take long for my son and I to discover that there were no cranks to roll the windows down in the back seat or, better yet, handles to open the doors. Just a little disconcerting. We are in an unmarked “cab”, with a driver who speaks no English and we have no idea where we are headed. Now, the drive from the airport to downtown (near Tahrir Square) is not a little jaunt. It is about 45 minutes. Bad enough in the middle of the day with other tourists around but this is the middle of the night. About 15 minutes into this drive, I had convinced myself that we were not going where we had asked to go and that we may, in fact, be in some danger. I have on what I call my “travelling pants” that I bought at Tilley Endurables. Essentially, they are a pair of pants that has many different hidden pockets that really are invisible to anyone who doesn’t know they are there. I started to work at moving our passports and some of our money (US and Egyptian) to these pockets so that if we were dumped (if we were lucky!) out of the cab and forced to leave our packs and my “purse” behind, we would have enough to manage to get home. I truly thought that this is what was going to happen. We were in a situation that I wouldn’t want to be in in Canada, never mind in a third world country. My kids saw what I was doing and quickly figured out what was happening. Though they were a little taken aback, they kept up the conversation as if everything was OK and mom wasn’t putting together a survival kit in her pants.
And, all the while, Mr. Alice is chatting up the cabby in some sort of stilted conversation that neither of them understand in some mixture of English, French and Arabic, completely oblivious to the terror in the back seat (he has a door handle and a working window, we don’t). If you have met Mr. Alice, you will know that he is a pretty trusting guy. He gives everyone and every situation the benefit of the doubt. And don’t even try sarcasm on him. He doesn’t get it. He takes you literally. The kids and I have some fun with that but those are stories for another day.
Well, all of a sudden we screech to a halt at the side of the street, and there is the Cosmopolitan Hotel. The kids and I are all but ready to kick the doors open to get out while Mr. Alice and the cabby are all relaxed and refreshed. I believe to this day that we were very fortunate to have a happy ending to this cab ride as we did everything completely WRONG. We did the exact opposite to what we have been advised to do and somehow managed to get there safely. I would have kissed the sidewalk but it was pretty filthy.
I’ll let you check out the stellar reviews of our “joining hotel” below:
This isn’t the Motel 6, and they don’t leave the light on for you.