Salam from Egypt
[note: hi!!! These posts are getting to you all super late. My wifi in Egypt wasn't strong enough to upload pictures, so I decided to wait and post everything until I got back to the USA. I'm home now and ready to share my adventures!!! Pardon the delay!]
Egypt from above is no postcard picture.
Egypt from above looks more like a rock sandbox than a country. No, for real. It took me a hot minute during our descent to realize that the geometric pattern we were flying over was a city, and not a collection of monotone stone that had been swallowed by sand.
Even more surprising than the severe over-presence of the color beige was the fact that our plane made it’s grand landing in the middle of the desert. I’m not sure how I pictured my first few moments in Egypt, but these were not it.
The third set of surprises was how dang hot Egypt was. Ok, duh, yes, I knew Egypt was going to be hot. But stepping off that plane was like walking into a oven.
That, of course, brought on mega India flashbacks. I forgot just how unbearable the heat is in this part of the world. I must have repressed the trauma that the heat in India caused because for some god forsaken reason, I recently convinced myself I could totally handle the May India heat again. Nope. The weather sign at the Cairo airport said 80 degrees, which is a nice 50 degrees cooler than India. I am mostly convinced that the temperature sign was broken, and fully convinced I am out of my mind for thinking I could do India in May again. Either way, Egypt is really freaking hot.
Getting through the Cairo airport was surprisingly easy. Although everything was written in Arabic, there were English counterparts on every sign. I made my way to the passport area smoothly only to make a mess. First, I realized I didn’t have a pen to fill out my visa application. I adverted the crisis by making friends with the currency exchange booth across the room. I borrowed what was probably the worst pen I have ever used in my life. Somehow I managed to fill out the form, though I won’t comment on the level of legibility. Next, I forgot to purchase a visa from the counter I was borrowing the pen from and instead skipped ahead to the customs area. Wrong move. The guys monitoring the passport stamps had a good laugh.
Eventually, I made it out of customs. After I grabbed my bags, I exited the airport to hunt for my driver who was supposedly holding a sign with my name on it. I found him pretty easily, aside from a few letters on the sign being backwards, and took to his liking rather quickly. He was the most precious grandpa and didn’t speak a lick of English. He took me on a literal hike to his car, insisting that he carried my luggage (turns out, every Arab man will insist on this) until we finally made it to his parked car.
The drive to the hostel was surreal. The only thing I could think of was the fact that I was in the country of my decade old musings. My driver turned on the “Nile FM” radio station- probably the only non-arabic station in Cairo- just in time for a Bob Marley song to hit the radio waves. Let me tell you, those three and a half minutes of being whisked through Cairo to “Is This Love” were pure magic.
When we arrived at the hostel, my driver unloaded my stuff and put me on the sketchiest elevator to the six floor. Because my driver didn’t speak English, he couldn’t exactly, you know, give me instructions on what to do once I got to the sixth floor. My dumb self ignored the sign above the stairs that said “Dahab Hostel, This Way” and instead, walked into the first hotel lobby I saw. I very confidently told the receptionist I was there to check in, to which he furrowed his brows, and confusedly showed me to a room.
The instant I peeked my head into my room, I just laughed. Something was definitely off. After seeing the bathroom, I knew there had to be a mix up of some sort. After I came back upstairs from paying my driver, I saw the sign that said Dahab Hostel. I quickly collected my bags, thanked the friendly men who had so kindly attempted to help me, and took the next flight of stairs to my hostel. The instant I heard the mix of music and laughter from the other travelers, I knew I had found the right place.
I checked in, and the guys working the front desk could not have been cooler. They showed me to my one person room (a mega cheap $8 USD a night) and gave me a grand tour of the hostel.
The hostel was two floors, all open air. The main level was a maze of brightly colored walls and plants. My room was on the small side, equipped with a super heavy duty fan that looked a lot more powerful than it was. On the top floor was a deck that was covered in the most picturesque Egyptian patio decorations. I figured the entirety of my time at the hostel would be spent on the roof, and I wasn’t wrong.
I stayed in my hanging wicker chair on the rooftop for a solid four hours, from daylight to sunset to night. The only thing that got me to leave my little cairo perch was the fact that our tour guide, Mohamed, told my friend and I that he’d arrive at 5:45 am to begin our week of travel.
Waking up at 5:00 am to pack up and meet Mohamed was easy. For one, I was in Egypt, and secondly and most importantly, I was reunited with Allie, my Egyptian travel babe and one of my closest friends from India. She’s a student at the University of Arizona and is the coolest person I know. Seeing her exactly 365 days since we first met in India was unreal. I feel so incredibly lucky to have met this precious soul last year.
When Mohamed arrived, it was around 6:00. As I learned, Egypt has the same concept of time as India: it’s a rough estimate that’s usually far too optimistic. As we waited outside the hostel, we must have shooed away 100 cab drivers who were eager to give us rides. Mohamed and Ahmed (his best friend and our second tour guide) pulled up and greeted us so warmly. I liked them immediately. Allie and I squished in the backseat with Mohamed’s friend who we were going to drop off at the airport on our way to Hurghada. The woman’s name was Shareen, and she was friends with the boys from childhood. She’s Egyptian, though is currently residing as a doctor in England.
After dropping Shareen off at the airport, the four of us scouted out a breakfast place. I told Mohamed to order me the best (vegetarian) thing on the menu, and he came out bearing three pitas stuffed with eggs, beans, and most importantly, Falafel, respectively. The three pitas seemed like way too much food until I took my first bite. After that, it was game over. If I could have physically fit all three pitas in my stomach, I absolutely would have.
We ate our falafel leaning against the trunk of the car. The guys acted as our body guards, warding off any unwanted attention from the other people out and about at 6:30am. Here, we all chatted and became quick friends. I learned that Ahmed is a sports journalist in Egypt- remember this, this will be important in a second.
After our heavy breakfast, we began the haul to Hurghada. The ride was filled with lots of laughs and impromptu Abrabic lessons. Allie and I asked lots of questions, and learned so much about Egyptian cultures and their view on the world. I was the honorary DJ of the trip, which gave me massive insight to the music tastes of Egypt. If you’re curious, it’s a strange blend of Michael Jackson and Nelly, and this is factual information.
When we stopped at the gas station, Ahmed rolled down his passenger window to pay. The guy pumping our fuel froze up and got super star struck all of the sudden. The next thing I know, Ahmed is nodding his head, and the dude is bending down taking a selfie with Ahmed. As soon as we pulled out, Allie and I piled on the questions. “What the heck??!” Ahmed just laughed and shook his head, “I’m a sports journalist!”. Mohamed was the one that clarified for his humble friend. Turns out, Ahmed islike a super famous sports journalist in Egypt, who, prior to his TV show, happened to be a super famous Egyptian volleyball player.
Travel with a famous person- marking that one off my bucket list.
When we finally arrived at Hurghada, I was shocked by how non-Egyptian it looked and felt. Our hotel room was super nice- we had an ocean view of the Red Sea and a huge space to spread out. We unpacked our stuff quickly, as the two guys made arrangements for us to go four wheeling and dune buggying. Allie and I put on our most hard-core gear (read: not hard core at all), and booked it to the lobby to meet up with the guys.
When we arrived at the desert sport venue, the four of us relaxed outside on chases. A few of the workers approached Ahmed and asked for a selfie (seriously, dude? What the heck!) and eyed Allie and I like we were famous for being part of his entourage, which I guess technically we were. We were briefed on the safety of the ATVs and given a run-down of the other activities of the afternoon: a tour of the indigenous Bedouin people’s village, a short camel ride, and a belly dancing show.
We rode on the sandy buggy’s first. Ahmed asked to ride with me, and insisted that I drive. I felt super confident in my abilities until I gassed it and kicked up every ounce of dirt in the area. Turns out, I basically dug our buggy into a hole, so we had to get out and switch cars. Whoops. My second attempt at driving went much better, I am happy to inform you. I made Ahmed drive the second half so I could snap pictures.
The four wheelers were next, and I drove those solo. I think maybe these four wheeled beasts were my missed calling in life. I swear I started out slow, mom, I really did. The parts where I accidentally took mounds too fast and got air- I don’t know how that happened. I payed for all that later, though, because I was so sore from squatting above the four wheeler seat.
From our motor sports escapade, we all loaded into the back of a desert jeep of sorts. The ride was the bumpiest one of my life, but cruising through the sand in the middle of Egypt was way too cool to preoccupy myself with such minor things. Our car eventually arrived at the remote Bedouin village. We all unloaded and explored the outskirts of the village, which they had converted into a tourist hub. As I learned, the Bedouin people had decided to open their village to tourists to receive a steady source of income. Here, we rode camels, watched the traditional cooking of the people and taste-tested some of their creations, and strolled through the little market full of Bedouin crafts.
On the ride back to the desert sport venue, our drivers took us the fun way. “So sorry for the people sitting over the wheels”, our driver laughed. We then proceed to fly over a sand dune, pedal to the metal, catching major air. I happened to look over at Ahmed while we were mid jump, and I swear, I have never seen the fear of god so pure in someone’s eyes.
We wrapped up the night with the most delicious Egyptian buffet. We enjoyed our food while belly dancers, traditional dancers, and performers entertained us on the stage before our floor cushioned tables. The four of us ended up dipping out early, as we were exhausted from the drive and from the desert heat. Needless to say, Allie and I slept like babies that night.