Back in the developing world! Maia and I alighted in Cairo about 7PM after the usual grueling 26+ hour, 3-leg journey from Seattle. Getting out of the airport was slow but uneventful. I changed money at the state bank kiosk in the arrivals area and procured our visa “stickers” as well. The immigration control line was long and slow, but our moment at the window was just that, a moment. Then it was time waiting for bags, clearing duty control, and out to experience the gauntlet of taxi drivers at the door. A seasoned bargainer, I had no trouble getting a fair price into the city. Then it was the usual hair-raising cross between Formula One and demolition derby race into the city. You can read about that adventure in Maia’s blog. We stayed in the Windsor Hotel, a former 19th century British ex-pat club that boasts a threadbare echo of past glories. The dilapidated, manually operated elevator and the cable and pin operated telephone switchboard are both still in use. Our room had very high ceilings, a functional bathroom, and a wooden balcony one felt compelled to test carefully before using. The ancient dusty television had bedraggled rabbit ears and a single faded picture adorns the walls. The view from our balcony was debris strewn rooftops, other dilapidated buildings, and a male-dominated sidewalk café scene defined by hooka pipes, backgammon, and bawdy laughter. But the beds were comfortable enough and I had a sentimental attachment – I had stayed here in 1997 on my first visit to Egypt. The faded glory of the British empire lives on in the atmospheric bar. The half barrel chairs and ceiling fans are right out of a Hollywood movie. In fact, it has been used for that function.
Breakfast the first morning consisted of bread, bread, and more bread. But the coffee was hot enough and I was able to order an omelet. We stored our bags at reception and headed out to the Citadel, an icon of the Cairene skyline. Built by Saladin in the 13th century, the crumbling but massive fortress is an impressive sight. There is little of real interest within its walls, but the Mosque of Muhammed Ali is impressive and the view over Cairo is the city’s best. Looking out over the sea of minarets, domes, and brick buildings the overall impression is . . . brown. Egypt is brown – the buildings, the mosques, the paving stones, and even the polluted air of Cairo (a mere 20+ million Cairenes). This is the ultimate urban jungle. But the people are genuinely friendly with many greetings of “Welcome in Cairo”.
I imagine many travelers, those who require the American standards of comfort and cleanliness might be put off by Cairo’s extremes. But for me the constant background chorus of horns, the dusty air, the obstacle-course sidewalks, and intrusions of street peddlers and touts is not unwelcome. In fact, it stirs in me the spirit of real, close to the ground travel. This is real travel – Travel with Intent, and the reason I leave the comforts of home. To experience not an Epcot inspired faux version of Egypt, but the real thing, with all its in-your-face excesses. Bread, bread, bread; brown, brown, brown, but also boisterous, bountiful, and breathtaking.
[My apologies for the lack of photos. Egypt is proving to be challenging when it comes to bandwidth.]