Ned’s Travel Notebook: What the Guidebooks Don’t Tell You About Egypt
Landing in Cairo, Egypt I was thrilled with excitement and at the same time I had my guard up. As a travel expert, I pride myself on researching a destination ahead of time to be ready for anything but those first steps on foreign soil always feel the same; you want to appear confident despite the fact that this might be the first time you’ve ever been there. Exiting the plane, following the signs in Arabic and English to Customs, we remembered that we needed to purchase our Egyptian tourist visas before we could go through customs. Waiting in line to buy our visas, the man behind the desk who is selling the visas just gets up from his post, lights a cigarette and informs the line of 20 people that his office is now closed. Lesson 1 about Egypt: shops will open and close at the whim of the shop keeper. Lesson 2: Egypt is a very smoking friendly culture, restaurants, hotels, airports…you name it; in Egypt, if you have a roof over your head, chances are you can smoke there. Passing through customs I was mildly bothered when the customs official slapped my Egyptian visa sticker upside down over top of my Belize passport stamps but I really didn’t care, we were now in Egypt!
After collecting our bags, we jumped in a van bound for our hotel. I tried to ask interesting questions about Cairo but struggled as jetlag was getting the best of me. On the highway, I learned a few more things about Egypt. Lesson 3, the lines on the highway must be there only for aesthetic appeal as our 3 lane highway carried 5 cars across most of the journey and even when there weren’t many cars around us, our driver mostly ignored the lanes. Driving on the highway in Egypt is as much about avoidance as it is about speed. Lesson 4: as an Egyptian driver, it is not just your right to have a horn in your car, it is your duty to use it as often as you want, if you are passing a car, changing lanes, speeding up, slowing down, making a turn or just saying hi…you honk your horn, not just once but a couple times for good measure. Some cars have taken this to a new level to with those goofy sounding horns mostly reserved for clown cars in the USA. Lesson 5: using your headlights while driving is not the law. Coming from a country where it is law to use your headlights from dusk to dawn and while raining, it was very strange to see a multitude of cars at night whose only lights I could see were their brake lights.
Getting off the highway in Giza, we glimpsed our first street views…which meant lots of store fronts & traffic.
Egypt’s traffic is fantastic! Most times of the day, you just budget yourself an hour to go anywhere in Cairo or Giza because you will be dodging trucks, tuk tuks, camels, motorcycles, horses, bikes, pedestrians and the occasional rickshaw. But hey, isn’t this why we all travel; to experience a different way of life? That night we took it easy, ate our first Egyptian meal and prepared for our first full day in Cairo.