|Can be sure that his luck is as good as gold,
Money in the bank and you don’t even pay for it if you fold,
A Dollar in the shape of the pyramid that’s printed on the back….
I arrived in Cairo and by the time I cleared Immigration and Customs it was 3 AM. I walked out of the Terminal into the pitch black of night with everything clouded in dust, lots of dust. I made it through the gauntlet of touts and eventually negotiated a ride with some dodgy Taxi to the Hotel.
Now my hotel was in Giza, so it was a bit of a journey. So I settled in, (well kind of, the springs from the backseat were poking up everywhere and there was no seatbelt!), for the ride. And Immediately, before we even left the airport parking lot, I got the whole shake down routine. My taxi driver pulled over to the Guard Shack, that is specifically there to protect tourists, (it is were they are supposed to check to make sure you are in a semi-legitimate taxi and are not being driven off to your demise), and I was promptly asked for money. Yes money, they at first tried to pitch it as a fee for something or another, and when I said I didn’t understand (always best to play dumb and kind if easy for me anyway), they then came straight out and said that tourism was way down and they needed money and if I could please see my way to giving to the Security Guard Fund then it would help insure a safe journey to my hotel. No really. So I did the whole tap the pockets thing and make like they are empty and smiled and said sorry I have no money.
Okay, so off we go, fast, into the dusty dark night. Where to? I am so hoping my hotel. Now not more then 3 minutes later the driver, who speaks very little english by the way (read as none), picks up his cell phone (which didn’t help my confidence level in his driving - he was already totally ignoring the painted lines that show you were the lanes are - or my confidence level in my making it safely to my hotel) and starts jabbering away in arabic. (Which I speak none of). So I have no idea what he is saying but in my mind it was going something like this…..”he refused to pay the Security Guard Fee! He says he has no money. Huhn, if that’s so how is he going to pay me for the taxi ride? I have an idea, lets say I drive him to that alley near your place and we rob him of everything he has, everything!”
And then he hands me the phone….the dude on the other end proceeds to spend the next 30 minutes trying to sell me on different Tours around Egypt. Oh yeah, the first thing he says to me, in perfect english, is not too worry, I am safe, everything will be alright. Oh shit. In my experience the conversations that start with “don’t worry” normally end with me doing a whole lot of worrying! So the driver drives, fast, with no regard whatsoever for safety or road rules, and the guy on the cell phone talks non-stop, trying to sell me something, anything, and all the while asking lots of questions….where am I staying? how long are you in Egypt? does anybody in your home country know where you are? will you be missed?…..well okay not those last couple of questions but I figured that was the gist of it.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, we arrive at my hotel! I manage to get off the cell phone by promising to think about a tour with him and I make pretend to write down his cell phone number. The driver then pulls up to the Guard Shack at the hotel and they do the whole bomb inspection thing, then the whole metal detector thing on my luggage. Then they check my Passport. Finally able to get out of the taxi, I pay (oh yeah I do have a little money) a very fair price to a smiling driver. And I once again realize that different cultures are well, different, and not to think bad of anybody. At least not to begin with. I mean what is the worst that could have happened? I could be naked in some dark alley somewhere in the bowels of Cairo with not a thing on me, literally….orI could have found a really nice driver who speaks very little english (read none) who could have just been working nights trying to earn a living so he could pay his rent and feed his family. The imagination is a horrible thing to waste :-)
Out of the taxi and into the hotel. Yes, I’m relieved, but exhausted, and I do the registration thing and off I go to my room and it is an absolute dump! So bad that I go back down to the Front Desk and tell them no way can I stay in that room, I’m supposed to have Pyramid views and a modern room etc… The clerk pleads with me to just sleep there tonight and in the morning he will have another room prepared for me. Okay it is 4 AM and I need to get some sleep, so I surrender and crash. Before I go to sleep though, I look out my window - hoping to catch a glimpse of the Pyramids and - no luck, it’s pitch black out, so who knows?
Now, just to fill you all in, there are 2 reasons I came all the way to Egypt. First is to see the Great Pyramids of Giza. It is something I have dreamed of since I was a little kid. The second is to hook up with my friend Emma and go scuba diving in the Red Sea. Something I have dreamt of for the last few years :-)
So sleep I did, but only for a few hours and I woke up in the morning, opened my curtains and there in front of me was the most amazing view of the Great Pyramids of Giza!! Really! I was like a little kid, standing there smiling ear to ear in awe of what I was viewing before me. Absolute awe! Hehehehehehe….it was so amazing it made me giggle!
Revitalized and in a perfect mood, down to the Front Desk I went, to plead my case for another room (of course it had to have the same view!). And much to my delight, I’m really starting to warm up to the Egyptians, the clerk already had my room ready and waiting for me. So I change rooms to the newly renovated wing and WOW! It was like being in two different hotels. I had a brand spanking new room with all mod cons and yes, if you can imagine it, an even better view of the pyramids! Life is good.
Now I could go on and on about Cairo and Giza and all of the cool things I saw….I mean it is Northern Africa and there are Arabs everywhere, and there are open air markets and people sitting around drinking really strong coffee and smoking shisha and dust, lots of dust. And it is all very interesting and deserves more then this short mention but….
I came here to go to the Great Pyramids of Giza and that is exactly what I did. I figured what the hell? and payed for an English Speaking Guide, (no not the cell phone guy from the taxi the first night - I didn’t have his number…I only made pretend to write it down), as I wanted all the knowledge and all the stories and all the history and all that I could soak up about the pyramids.
WOW! A dream come true! It was amazing. Unfortunately for the Egyptians, but not so much for me, the place was empty, absolutely empty. In light of recent events, (for those of you who do not watch the news, there was a revolution), in this part of the world most tourists are staying away, afraid to go. Fools. It is the perfect time to go. It’s empty and the Egyptians are wonderful people and the prices are down and you can negotiate a fair price for anything. And contrary to my over active imagination it is extremely safe.
So there I was, alone, well me and a Tour Guide and a few camels (dromedary). WOW! As my guide filled me in on all the history, I gazed in wonder at The Great Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure. I even took a camel ride, (new to me, but I’m told one hump means it is a dromedary not a camel?) so I guess maybe I took a dromedary ride?, into the desert with a Bedouin Guide leading the way and me taking one picture after the other.
Eventually I dragged myself away from the Pyramids and down to the Sphinx. Again WOW! Another dream come true. Standing there with the Sphinx in the foreground and the Pyramids rising up in the back is a sight I will not soon forget. absolutely amazing.
A few days later I flew from Cairo to Sharm el Sheikh which is on the tip of the Sinai peninsula. I was going actually on my way to Dahab to meet up with Emma and go scuba diving.
Okay so taxi’s…..always a story….I had asked at the Front Desk in Giza what was a good time to catch the taxi to get to the Airport on time and they said 3 hour before my flight (1 hour drive to the Airport and check-in 2 hours before the domestic flight). Sounded very civilized to me. Now I get in the taxi and the driver (who spoke pretty good english) informs me that due to mid-day traffic that it is going to take 2 to 2.5 hours to get to the Airport! I told him I would miss my plane. He said if I didn’t have any objections, he could drive a little fast and maybe, just maybe get me there in time. I said have at it. Hahahahaha….. We took off so fast and he drove so crazy that I have never even come close to anything else like it in my entire life! Now in Egypt the traffic rules are kind of blurry to begin with, and even the best drivers are not too sure which lane they are in at any given moment, but my driver took it to another level completely. He honked, swerved, braked and sped his way through Cairo in the most incredible hair raising fashion imaginable. And there we were at the Airport with enough time for me to check-in, have a coffee, check my emails, read a book, talk to strangers, well you get the idea….I had lots of time to spare!
I arrive in Sharm el Sheikh and there was supposed to be a car to transport me to Dahab waiting for me, that was sent from the dive operator we were diving with. But no…no transfer waiting! I waited and I waited, and I wondered around form Terminal to Terminal (there is only 2 and they are 30 seconds from each other) and nothing, nobody. All this time I am getting hassled by the Taxi mafia guy, trying to sell me on taking a taxi. All the while telling me nobody is coming to pick me up. After about an hour of waiting I break down and go over to the mafia Taxi guy and start to negotiate. He’s having none of it. By this time he is well aware of the fact that I am basically stranded in Sharm and have no way of getting to Dahab (about 2 hours drive away) and figures he’s got me where he wants me. Well, remember that it is dead in Egypt as far as tourists go. There is virtually nobody coming to Egypt right now. So the some businesses better than no business, right? I counter his high price and back and forth we go. I’m hot and bothered and not too happy to begin with so I may have been a little too New York with him? But I haggle out a fair price (for me at least) and then the fun begins. He takes me over to the taxi rank and starts yelling back and forth with some of the drivers in arabic. It runs out none of the drivers wan tot take me to Dahab for the price I’ve negotiated.
Finally one of them agrees and off we go. In a dodgy taxi, with a driver (who speaks no english) who is not very happy to have me in his car. We head out of town and get on the highway and as soon as we are away form civilization there is a road-block and a Security Check. This one totally legitimate and a little scary. They checked all of the drivers papers, they checked all of my papers, there were armored vehicles and soldiers with machine guns. They checked underneath for bombs, they checked in the trunk and checked my luggage, finally they waved us through.
Off we go to Dahab…..only as soon as we were out of sight of the Security Check Point, we get overtaken by a shaky old mini-van with some Bedouin dude driving who pulls in front of us and then slows, to a stop, on the shoulder. And my driver pulls over behind him….oh shit…here it goes. Now, remember I am trying to not think the worst of people to begin with, and I have had almost a week of experiences with nothing but amazing Egyptians, but here I am in the middle of the desert with a not so happy driver, pulling over to….??…have me change cars? In very broken english and with lots of confusion (on my end), they attempt to communicate with me that I will now get out of the taxi I am supposed to be in and get in the mini-van with the Bedouin dude who is going to take me to Dahab. Yeah right. But what choice do I have? I mean what’s the worst that can happen? Hahahahaha…..
Two hours later the worst that could happen, happened. My driver, the Bedouin dude, had no idea where Mirage Divers was in Dahab! So we drove around for an extra 30 minutes or so looking, with me repeatedly telling him in english what we were looking for and him repeatedly not understanding a word I said! Hahahaha…. Life is good.
By a process of elimination, we drove down every possible street in Dahab, we finally found my destination and my friend Emma. Who by the way was waiting for me with the owner - Shady (yes that’s his real name) - who proceeded to tell me that my ride was waiting for me in Sharm and they couldn’t figure out how I missed him? Dodgy, the whole thing was dodgy!
The next day or so was spent getting acquainted with my new friends (there were a bunch of others - 2 South Africans - 3 Dutch - a Dane - who were going scuba diving with us, that were friends with Emma) and with me doing a few check out dives around Dahab. All good.
The group of us packed up and off we went, with Shady as our fearless leader, to board the Aeolus, a beautiful boat that was to be our home for the next week, out on the Red Sea. So with Capt. Karim at the wheel, and all of us settled in, off we went for 6 beautiful days of scuba diving at Ras Mohamed National Park. the Thistlegorm, various wrecks and reefs and one dive at the famous Blue Hole. It was a great week of diving, though a little tame for my taste, still very peaceful and serene and glorious none the less.
Back on dry land, I bid farewell to my friend Emma (I know we’ll meet again) and did the return trip to Cairo. A lot less dramatic this time. And after a nights rest in Cairo I was off….next stop….