AfricaEgyptCairo

Everything People Told Us Was wrong Wrong WRONG!

Cairo Travel Blog

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777 from JFK to Cairo, 11 hrs 30 minutes.

Having never left the continent before I found myself filled with a wondrous trepidation while waiting for the EgyptAir ticketing agents to report for work at JFK airport.  It seems that while they ask their travellers to arrive 3 to 4 hours prior to their flights, they don't request the same of their employees.  Jess and I puttered about the airport buying last minute must-haves at the various shops, until the last Air Jamaica flight left and Egypt-Air was able to flip the booths to their branded signs and monitors. Shoulda went to Jamaica, Shoulda went to Jamaica, Shoulda went to Jamaica, pounded in my head as I waited in the ever-growing check-in line.  No one seemed to know whether the 'electronic' tickets that Priceline had provided us would be good enough to get our boarding passes or if they had to be exchanged at a different ticket window in order to board.

My Love at the Brooklyn Brewing Company, International Terminal
  Finally, we got to the counter, and the guy never even looked at our multiple printouts, he simply scanned our passports and hit print.  That was it.

We went through security and browsed in all the duty free shops, just to browse.  I'd been taking the anti-smoking drug Chantix for almost a month so the giant faux-packs of Marlboros holding five cartons each were of no use to me; likewise, it is not recommended that you drink on Chantix so the half-price booze was also verboten.  We passed the time wondering about Egypt, dreading the length of our 11 hour flight, and trying to get last minute 'American food' at the Brooklyn Brewing Co's little Terminal Cafe.  I had a not-so-good-but-better-than-dorm-food pizza and Jess had chimichangas of which she ate half a Chimi and left the changas to rot.

Me.
  A wonderfully nice Egyptian woman was seated next to us on the plane and she filled us in on the majority of things we could expect upon landing.

Jess having to wear a head scarf, cover her shoulders, not show 'leg', not go off alone, watch our purse/wallet was all BS.  It's better safe than sorry, true, but take it from me, a lot of what you hear about travelling in Egypt is sour grapes from suckers or fear-mongers.  For most men and women it is crystal clear that you are a "westerner" as such, you are almost never held to the conservative standards of the Egyptian people.  The one caveat there being Mosques.  We only entered the Mohammed Ali mosque on our last day, but we were pleased to know that a head-scarf would not be required.

Cairo Museum.
  They only asked that we take our shoes off, and hold onto them, soles in.  Jess was also asked to put on her hoodie as the Superman-S emblazoned shirt she was wearing was a little tight across her rather endowed chest.  That aside, I was actually rather appalled to see other tourists just dropping their shoes onto the mats within the Mosque despite very clear signage in English and Arabic to NOT DO THAT.    Egypt taught me one valuable world-citizen lesson;  Just because the person you see in front of you is Caucasian does not mean that they speak English.  Time and time again, I would advise a passing family on a really interesting hyrogliphic or semi-hidden room only to be met with a blank stare.  Blond hair, Blue Eyes, No sprechenzinada.
The New Arrivals at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
  My bad.  Perhaps they couldn't read the sign after all.

Throughout our travels in Cairo and Alexandria, I was amazed time after time at how welcoming, friendly and open the Egyptian people were with us.  I can't say enough for their society.  There's little to no crime or violence; only the smallest iota that Poverty spawns.  They are not a rich people but they are generous.  The poorest Egyptian would offer you food, shelter or clothing if you needed it.  Which comes to one important tip, whenever offered anything, refuse at least once.  It is a part of their customs that they be very generous and you may be taking something from someone who has little or nothing.

Jess and my friend, our host, Sean.
  Refuse each offer.  If they offer a second time, they really do want you to have it.  If you think that they are poor, offer them something afterward.  They will refuse.  Press on, if you really want them to have it.  If you're on the fourth or fifth refusal, you may want to stop as you might be insulting your gracious host.

The most important thing to remember when travelling in Egypt is to simply not be a sucker.  Do things at YOUR pace and on YOUR Whim.  People will constantly be offering you things at the tourist places.  There will be plenty of opportunities to ride a camel or take a photo of one.  You don't need three tchotchke pyramids for $5 pounds.  You can buy them at the airport on the way out.

Lays Potato Chips in Arabic.
  Many of the Egyptian populace are poor.  Some who look it may not be.  The 'tourist hasslers' give you what you want to see.  That man in the head-scarf and gallabeya(no idea if that's how you spell it but that's what the man's dress is called), who looks poor and destitute and like he's never seen a dentist, may very well be hiding a Blackberry somewhere in his robes along with the keys to a Mercedes parked in the lot.  Looks can be deceiving.

The average policeman that you see on a street corner makes $60 pounds a month.  That's a little less than $12 American Dollars, a month.  $144 a year.  His meals and lodging are provided by the police, but his take home, before taxes is $144 a year.  This is why they take bribes.

Virgin Cola....oh yeah.
  They'll let you hold their rifle or put on their hat, if you're nice about it, and offer them a $20 Pound note.  $4 bucks to you is a 1/3rd of their monthly salary.  So when it comes to Baksheesh, give what you can spare, but remember that everyone will want a little.  If there was a bathroom attendant, I'd generally give him 50 Piastres or 10 cents American, honestly, he's only inconveniencing you as he has no right to actually bar the doorway, but he does, and he's got all the damn toilet paper in his hands.  Another travel tip for women, Wear a Backpack, Put a Roll of Toilet Paper in that Backpack.  You are going to need it.

So when someone starts wrapping a headscarf around your head, and handing you a stick to hold, and wants to take your picture, remember that picture is going to cost you; however it doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg.

The Great Pyramid
  Choose your price and give it to him.  IF the hassler says that 10 Pounds is not enough he wants 20, or he gets 50 per photograph.  Insist he take the Ten pounds or nothing.  Don't give him more.  If he wanted 20 Pounds, he should have told you it was 20 Pounds before he started putting his garb on your head.  The fact is he didn't tell you 20 Pounds because he's hoping for 50 Pounds.  It takes a while but you get used to nothing having a price.  Someone might tell you upfront that it costs 20 Pounds or 50 Pounds, but that's a rarity, and if a cabbie does tell you a price, he is most likely trying to screw you.  We stayed with a friend who had lived in Cairo for over a year.  We never agreed on a price with a cabbie beforehand.
Jess at The Great Pyramid
  Get in, tell him where you are going, when you get there, give him what you think the ride was worth.

Generally, we found that with our friend we paid about 50-75% less than a Tourist on their own would have paid.  Likewise, we still paid about 50% more than an Egyptian would have paid.  It's a poor country, things are really cheap.  A cab ride that costs 5 American may sound like a deal to anyone who has ridden in a cab in Manhattan, however, THIS IS NOT MANHATTAN, this is Cairo.  If you're going from one section of Cairo to another it's generally a $4-15, maybe $20 POUND ride, TOPS.  As a tourist, the cabbies will tell you everything is $20 or $50 Pounds.  It is not.  If you're taking a cab from one tourist spot to another expect the fares to be inflated.

Me at the Great Pyramid
  What you do is have a Tourist Policeman flag you a cab.  He will tell him in Arabic where you are going, tell him not to screw you too much, and then most likely take a 1-2 Pound bribe from the cabbie for his services.

When it comes to paying where no price was established, Egyptians will yell, they will chase and harangue and hassle, but they will very rarely do anymore.  Allah does not abide physical violence, theft, or robbery.  If you have a dispute with a cabbie or a street merchant, seek out the nearest Tourist & Antiquities Policeman, they are EVERYWHERE, and they will ALWAYS side with you.  Tourism keeps that cop's bribes flowing, a dirt merchant does not.

Keep as many small bills as you can get your hands on, break the $100 and $50 Pound notes that the banques and ATMs give you at reputable restaurants and businesses.

Us at the Great Pyramid, are you sensing a trend?
  The one frustrating thing about Egypt is NOBODY HAS ANY CHANGE.  At least none that they are going to give you.  You will overpay for things.  Even many of the Tourist Spots don't have change.  The Egypt Military History Museum charges $10 Pounds to take photos inside, they also can't break a $50.  Congratulations, you've just overpaid by 4x the amount.  Welcome to Cairo.

As much as you want to, don't buy the bread hawked by little boys with giant pallets on their back.  Many of those little loafs are cooked on the engine of old pickup trucks running off Leaded Gasoline.  Stick to reputable restaurants and hotels their kitchens have a much higher chance of being safe, nothing worse than ruining a great vacation with a case of dysentery.

The three pyramids of Giza.
  You can drink the tapwater in most of Cairo, however, you wouldn't want to.  It's so heavily chlorinated, it's like chugging poolwater.  Most restaurants will serve you from a giant bottle of spring/mineral water; one per table.

I had the luxury of being taken care of by a friend, whose business got us through customs, picked us up at the airport, and put us up at my friend's company owned apartment, likewise, they dropped us off again when our time was up.  Doing this on your own without a guide or a local ex-pat, may be intimidating but it is well worth it.  The people are friendly and nice, the sights are breathtaking and the dollar is king.  The only person who can ruin your time in Egypt is you.  Remember if you run into trouble, throwing money at the problem is an excellent solution.

Jess at the Three Pyramids of Giza.
  The only real rule is to remember that no matter how progressive you are in a Muslim country and should try to respect their big rules if not their small ones.  Stay away from Drugs.  If you do drink, try not to get hammered and out of control.  People will crowd you, yell at you, poke you, prod you, rub you, touch you etc.  It's annoying but try not to strike any of them. 

Most of all, the best thing I can tell you, is take some time at night, maybe over dinner or before bed, to just mentally go over your day either with yourself or your travel companions, you'll be surprised how many things you missed in the moment due to the chaos of the city.

 

 

ahtibat17 says:
Very interesting, informative and humorous. Thanks for sharing! I'm looking to go to Egypt next year and this will certainly help in planning!
Posted on: Aug 17, 2010
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777 from JFK to Cairo, 11 hrs 30 m…
777 from JFK to Cairo, 11 hrs 30 …
My Love at the Brooklyn Brewing Co…
My Love at the Brooklyn Brewing C…
Me.
Me.
Cairo Museum.
Cairo Museum.
The New Arrivals at the Egyptian M…
The New Arrivals at the Egyptian …
Jess and my friend, our host, Sean.
Jess and my friend, our host, Sean.
Lays Potato Chips in Arabic.
Lays Potato Chips in Arabic.
Virgin Cola....oh yeah.
Virgin Cola....oh yeah.
The Great Pyramid
The Great Pyramid
Jess at The Great Pyramid
Jess at The Great Pyramid
Me at the Great Pyramid
Me at the Great Pyramid
Us at the Great Pyramid, are you s…
Us at the Great Pyramid, are you …
The three pyramids of Giza.
The three pyramids of Giza.
Jess at the Three Pyramids of Giza.
Jess at the Three Pyramids of Giza.
Again.
Again.
Tourist Hasslers giving Jess a Sca…
Tourist Hasslers giving Jess a Sc…
Get this guy off me.
Get this guy off me.
Great, now Ive got a hat.
Great, now I've got a hat.
Oh damn, they got Sean too.
Oh damn, they got Sean too.
I think the crusty guy closed his …
I think the crusty guy closed his…
Emshee, Crusty Guy!
Emshee, Crusty Guy!
Egyptian Hustlers are not very goo…
Egyptian Hustlers are not very go…
The Sphinx.
The Sphinx.
More Sphinky-Sphinky
More Sphinky-Sphinky
Sphinx in Profile.
Sphinx in Profile.
A wider profile of the Sphinx.
A wider profile of the Sphinx.
Us at the Sphinx.
Us at the Sphinx.
Sean and Jess at the Sphinx, Sean …
Sean and Jess at the Sphinx, Sean…
The Sphinx Paw
The Sphinx' Paw
The Sphinxs Sweet Ace.
The Sphinx's Sweet Ace.
The tail of the Sphinx.
The tail of the Sphinx.
Ruins and Pillars.
Ruins and Pillars.
Pillars and Ruins.
Pillars and Ruins.
Pyramid up-close.
Pyramid up-close.
Pyramid in Perspective.
Pyramid in Perspective.
Pyramid up close.
Pyramid up close.
Pyramid in Perspective.
Pyramid in Perspective.
View of Cairo from Giza.
View of Cairo from Giza.
Cairo View
Cairo View
Cairo View
Cairo View
Cairo View
Cairo View
Entrance to tiny door with Hierogl…
Entrance to tiny door with Hierog…
Sean at Pyramid.
Sean at Pyramid.
Cairo
Cairo
Young Lovers in Egypt.
Young Lovers in Egypt.
Taking a break from the climb up t…
Taking a break from the climb up …
Chilling above the desert plain.
Chilling above the desert plain.
Man on Camel Rides In Distance.
Man on Camel Rides In Distance.
Boo-ya.
Boo-ya.
Hieroglyphics
Hieroglyphics
Hieroglyphics
Hieroglyphics
Hieroglyphics
Hieroglyphics
Tomb Raiding
Tomb Raiding
Pillar Posing
Pillar Posing
Hieroglyphics
Hieroglyphics
Hieroglyphics
Hieroglyphics
Hieroglyphics
Hieroglyphics
Hieroglyphics and Pillars
Hieroglyphics and Pillars
Hieroglyphics and Pillars
Hieroglyphics and Pillars
Jessica between two pillars.
Jessica between two pillars.
Hieroglyphics
Hieroglyphics
No Flashes allowed in the Tombs.
No Flashes allowed in the Tombs.
Hieroglyphics
Hieroglyphics
The entranceway to the Egyptian Mu…
The entranceway to the Egyptian M…
Cairo
photo by: vulindlela