What the Hell is Wrong with Me?

Trip Start Apr 21, 2011
Trip End Jun 07, 2011

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Got lost in Cairo

Flag of Egypt  , Al Qāhirah,
Thursday, April 28, 2011

April 28 What the Hell is Wrong with Me?

What the Hell is Wrong with Me? I fly thousands of miles to get to Egypt with its myriad of attractions and sites, and now my first free day and what do I want to do?

Walk around aimlessly in downtown Cairo, getting lost and getting found, just walking and watching and listening.

Memory moment for the day: Walking in the evening with Graciela, from downtown back to the hostel, passing a little boy who is banging an empty water bottle vigorously on the sidewalk. The bottle slips from his fingers and skitters in front of me. I take a big step and hook-kick it soccer-style back to him. Two young Egyptian men passing in the other direction yell GOAL!

All day long, I walk without direction. I am drawn to wander around the area, walking the area surrounding Tahrir Square,  choosing turns based on...I don't know. Based on a hunch? an intriguing view or a sudden flash of colors that strike my eye? I wish I knew, but I don't. I turn when the time is right. All I know is that something will appeal to me, what I cannot say beforehand. Like pornography, I cannot define it, but I know it when I see it.

So I get directions from Walaa to the railroad station is and I can buy train tickets, which it turns out is in Ramses Square: 'Just go out the door and walk right for twenty minutes', she says. Oh, yeah, like that will work right out of the box.) where.

Today I am meeting Graciela, from Argentina. We will travel together through Egypt. Hopefully we will get along. We have been emailing for almost a year and so far, of all the people I have talked to in person and on the internet, she is the one with the closest travel philosophy to mine.

Me: Which of these two hostels in Cairo would you rather stay in?

Her: Which one is the less expensive?

Me: You have a flight from Buenos Aires to Cairo and a flight home from Casablanca to Buenos Aires. Do you want to also reserve a flight from the Middle East to Casablanca?

Her: No, of course not. I don't know for sure yet which country I will be flying from and certainly not which day I will be flying.

Me: I like to have a hostel reserved for the first night after a flight to a new country, and have reserved one in Cairo. Do you want to reserve a hostel for Aswan or Luxor, which are next?

Her: No, we can find a place when we arrive.

Okay, so it looks good. But sometimes I can be a load to be around. Ask Annette. Better yet, don't. She will probably exaggerate and try to tell you I am moody. I certainly am not. Whenever she says that I sulk for days, but then something always happens to make me suddenly very joyful. At least briefly.

Moody. Huh! I am annoyed just thinking anyone could think I am moody. Besides, I am a writer. I am supposed to be moody, and a little socially inept. Right? RIGHT?

Whew, I feel better now that I had some breakfast. Rolls and jam, a hardboiled egg, and coffee. Sitting on a low cushion listening to the staff speak Arabic among themselves. The staff on duty right now outnumber the guests about five to two (there is a French girl whose name is Aurore, which I absolutely cannot pronounce, so she tells me to call her Dawn. I barely manage to refrain from singing, "Dawn, go away, I'm no good for you.

So I went off to Ramses Square to buy train tickets to Aswan. Glad I did it ahead of time as it was not a simple process. Egypt is about the friendliest country I've ever been to, but they do not make it easy for independent tourists. Fine in you are part of a tour package bought in the US or Germany or wherever you are from; a local operator has everything ready when your group arrives. Those of us who travel independently do all this ourselves. Much cheaper but frustrating sometimes.

This was one of those times. Ramses Square is huge, and the train station is off the square and any directional signs there might have been were not in English, German, French or Spanish. Then the station itself was a maze.

Everyone I asked wanted to help, but no one spoke English and my language book was good enough to get me to the station, but not to ask where sleeper train tickets were sold. I did not see a single sign in English in the train station. Finally a man who spoke English told me Platform Eleven. Luckily I learned the Arabic numerals which, by the way, are NOT the ones we use.

There was a row of ticket windows off Platform 11, and TA DA: a sign in English: Sleeper Ticket Office.

I bought the tickets without trouble. I love it when a plan comes together.

I felt guilty buying sleeper train ticket and going without Annette. She loves trains, especially sleepers, so much.

Not guilty enough to take a 48 hour bus ride in a non-air conditioned bus instead, though. No, not that guilty. Besides, I told her that she should come to the Middle East with me, and she declined in favor of France (Paris, Mont St Michel, and Provence), Germany (the castles, including Neuschwanstein, on the Rhine and Rothenberg) and Austria (Salzburg and Innsbruck).

This is fine with me. I get to travel alone where I want, and then I get to travel with her where she wants. What could be better than that?

Very hot today, 92* but feels much hotter, perhaps because it rained.

As far as getting back to the hostel from the train station, let me just say that when eight major streets leave a square, and you guess wrong and head off in the wrong direction, and then you take a bunch of random turns...you can find a nice place for lunch and have a great time.

I am really getting a sense of Cairo, now. I'm an old hand crossing busy streets, I've eaten from vendors and sort of know the drill. Have not stopped for tea yet, though. It seems rather ritualized and I'm a little hesitant. That will go away when I decide I want some, I suppose.

So it's off to the Egypt Museum, I guess. I mean, I have to go do SOME tourist attractions besides the pyramids, don't I? Isn't it some kind of law?

After the museum, I rode with Mohammed to the airport to pick up Graciela. I recognized her from her picture. She had a backpack and was ready to roll.

She settled into the hostel and we took a walk around the downtown area. Had some Kochary in a tiny restaurant where Graciela talked to everyone, whether they understood her or not.

Tomorrow: Giza and the pyramids.
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