After months of fairly hassle free travel, my introduction to Cairo was not the greatest! I had just come out of the airport when I was accosted by a man who said he would call me a cab. I knew what was a fair price for the cab (about 80 Egyptian Pounds) but wasn’t able to bargain him down to less than 110 Pounds. Not willing to haggle in the early hours of the morning, I give in.
The guy asks for the money up front, and after enquiring if he had change (from 200 Pounds) I part with my money. He doesn’t have change and walks off saying he will get some. I wonder if I have been scammed and keep him in my sights.
He comes back with some money but my change is 50 Pounds short. When I enquire where the rest of the money is, the guy informs me it is a tip for the taxi driver and himself. I stand my ground, demand my money back and get in the cab and say I will pay the driver. I am annoyed at the brazen way this man tried to rip me off and hope the cab driver will take me to my hotel. He does, and by then I have found a smaller note. He now owes me 10 pounds change but decides to keep it as his tip. I climb out of the cab feeling rather annoyed but grateful I am at my hotel. I find out in the next few days that tipping is a huge part of this culture and people are quite up front and aggressive about demanding it. From the ladies who hold you to ransom in the loo (they’ve got the loo paper) to people who provide any other form of service, irrespective of whether it was good or bad,some baksheesh must always change hands.
The hotel staff are friendly but I have arrived early morning and the room is not ready. After a few mix ups and many hours later I am finally settled in my room and meet my new roommate. She is Lucy, a lovely young traveller from England who will be joining us for just the Egypt segment of this trip. We make friends quickly and exchange our news before we meet the rest of the travellers in the afternoon at the pre-departure meeting.
Amr is our guide, a local Egyptian man who is very knowledgeable about the history of his country and his keen to inspire us to delve below the surface. My fellow travellers include; Verna and Dan, an older couple from New Zealand, but originally Canadians, three ladies from Australia, Helen, Robyn and Zerena, who are travelling together, Victor who hails from Victoria but is of Malaysian origins, Emily a young Australian who had just finished Uni & another couple, Tim and Sam, making their way back to Brisbane after spending a year in Canada. Again, a lovely group of people who I will introduce to you more fully over the next few weeks as I travel with them and get to know them better.
After the meeting, we visit the night market for a bite to eat and a bit of shopping at the night bazaar. The traffic is horrendous and the bazaar buzzing with people. Cairo is a city of 20 million people. That’s the entire population of Australia,crammed into the space of one city, so a lot of patience is required when one wants to get about during rush hour traffic. To give you another perspective, it is the same population as Paris but in an area about 9 times the size! It is also the week before a significant festival and everyone is out and about buying new clothes for the festivities.
Dinner is yummy and we try something completely new to all of us. A local dish that contains rice, macaroni, chickpeas and various other bits and pieces topped off with a spicy tomato sauce. It doesn’t look fancy but tasted really good.
The bazaar is colourful and full of beautiful things. Unfortunately, it is hard to just browse because the minute you pick up a garment, someone is harassing you to but it. Somehow I come away with a long Egyptian dress, similar to a lungi. This could come is useful when we go out to dinner, since I have nothing that even remotely resembles a smart casual outfit.
We are all rather tired and ready to turn in after an hour of shopping. We have a long day tomorrow and will explore Cairo more fully then.
“Nowhere are there so many marvellous things, nor in the whole world beside are there to be seen so many things of speakable greatness,” Herodotus