Torin and I arrived late on the 25th in Cairo. Since our hotel failed to pick us up at the airport, we had to make our own way downtown. It wasn’t an altogether easy task given that physically and mentally, it was 3:00 am for us and the smooth, persistant, mafia style operating mode of the numerous taxi drivers, but we made it and didn’t get ripped off too bad. During those first 12 hours in Egypt we were struck with several observations. First, Cairo never sleeps. At midnight, all the shops were open, the streets were jammed with cars and the sidewalks were jammed with people window shopping. In fact, there’s the second observation – the people here love to window shop. They won’t actually go into a shop unless they’re ready to buy something but they’ll spend a copious amount of time on the sidewalks browsing. The third observation was that Egyptians aren’t big on the early morning breakfast concept. Torin and I wandered the streets of Cairo for hours that first morning looking for a decent breakfast. He ended up with a club sandwich and I ended up with a cheese sandwich. As an aside, I lasted 4 days as a vegetarian in this country – it’s just too difficult here but the cleanliness and food prep seems to be much more hygenic so I should be okay.
Observation number 4: if the U.S. is the fattest country in the world, Egpyt must be a close second. They lead the most unhealthy lifestyle here with the majority of both men and women being over weight. As well, most of the men here smoke – a lot. A few days later, Torin and I did an informal survey at the bus station (observing people coming down the escalator) and although not particularly scientific in nature, it did confirm that the majority were overweight. Further confirmation came later when talking with (or rather listening to) a seemingly intelligent woman at the tourism office. She had a 14 year old son as well and exlaimed with some enthusiasm that her dream for him was that he would grow up “big and fat”! Torin was aghast when she extended that dream to him by looking at him and saying “and I hope you do too”! My theory is that it’s a status symbol – being large means you have the money to eat well. I haven’t been able to prove that theory as yet. Our 5th observation was the source of their weight issues. They have cake \ pastry and ice cream shops like Vancouver has Starbucks. And late at night one has to wait in line to get into any one of them. Sticking to the food theme, we also observed that Egyptians don’t eat and drink in the same establishments. They have coffee shops (numbering more than pastry shops) in which one can have coffee\tea and sheesha but nothing to eat. And then have eating establishments in which you can’t get a cup of coffee or tea. If you order it, they’ll run down the street to their neighbor’s shop to get it for you.
And finally, we observed that our standards of acceptable bus quality had dropped significantly over the past 8 months as we found out leaving Cairo for Alexandria. Their bus station was large, bright and new and their buses were comfortable, the air con worked, their were even toilets on board and most of all, they were on time! What a complete reversal from Nepal and SE Asia.
Torin and I didn’t spend much time in Cairo before heading to Alex. The plan was to find a place in Alex to spend about two weeks before touring around the sights of Egypt. That plan never materialized as with Mary’s arrival on the 30th, we came up with a completely different plan. We did have an enjoyable 3 days in Alex – ate great food, drank a lot of good coffee, loved being by the sea again and met Yasmin. Yasmin helped Torin and I when we got lost walking from the bus station through a rather seedy part of town. Her concern for us was so great that she ended up escorting us all the way downtown and helping us find a place to stay. She left us her phone number and on our return visit, we met again, this time with Mary. The two of them got along very well and you’ll hear more of that as well as seeing a pic of two in the next entry.
We went back to Cairo on the 30th and picked up Mary (but not her luggage as it had decided to travel separately and arrived the next day). We spent several days in Cairo catching up on stories and relaxing before making our way back to Alex.