arriving in Cairo
We arrived in Cairo around 7pm. It was a quick flight from Larnaca (Cyprus). Our hostel offered free airport pickup – I accepted right away. With my experience arriving in Casablanca and Bangkok, I only pictured the agglomeration of taxi drivers, hotel representatives and tour guides harassing passengers as they try to leave the airport.
As we walked out we didn’t spot our name plaque, so we just sat down and waited. A few minutes later, Muhammed, smiling, dirty teeth, smelling like cigarettes, approached us, grabbing our bags, saying: “Sorry, sorry, Cairo traffic!”
It was a bit chilly outside, like typical nights in March. The type of cool weather a sweatshirt solves your “problems”. Plus, my ecstatic state distracted the slightest breezy sensation.
Leaving the airport, we were warmly welcomed by the city’s chaotic traffic. Along the three lanes on the street, six car lanes zigzagged their way, never using any type of signal prior to changing lanes. There was a type of code using horns – a long one, a short one, two short and a long one… A kind of Morse code for traffic, which can mean: moving right, moving left, going through, get out of my way…
The 1 hour + intense traffic jam was bliss. I starred out the window like a little kid, hypnotized, unable to blink as I admired the lighted mosques and passing by the Nile. The Arabic music complemented the decorated ambience alongside the sound of the evil eye slamming against other good luck charms hanging from the car mirror. The open windows brought in a dusty breeze. All I cared about was memorizing the scenery.
We were very well received by Karim and Simou, brothers and hostel owners who made us feel at home throughout our stay. After we left our stuff in our room, we sat at the Bedouin style decorated living room for tea and shisha – what would become habitual.
After socializing with a group of Kiwi backpackers, exchanging travel tips, we headed out to explore downtown Cairo. The hostel was on a walking street, no cars allowed, packed with plastic tables and chairs with groups (male dominated) chatting over shisha and tea. I grabbed Gustavo’s (my boyfriend) arm and clutched, with the awkward feeling of so many men starring at me. I made sure I wore pants and long sleeves everyday but western women are simply starred. All the time.
We walked around a huge commercial area, store after store with cheap looking garments, some tacky, others trashy; drugstores piled up with dusty, old products; street vendors selling annoying toys and shoe shiners thumping their brushes trying to make a few more cents that night. There had to be a few McDonald’s.
Trying to find a place where we could have a hhmmm… mmm… tea, given the fact alcoholic beverage is a scarce product in Muslim cultures, we found a nicely lighted place with candles and decorated lanterns to enjoy mint tea and apple shisha. Cairo is a dirty, dusty, noisy, crowded city but it’s still fascinating. And yes, tea and shisha is the way of life.