Monday, July 4, 2016

DAY 16 - Dumped in Cairo!

The cab dropped us off at the border and I paid him 40 shekels.

Pulling out our passports, I showed them to the female guard and was directed into the building to pay our exit taxes. I counted out the last of my Israeli notes and realized I didn't have enough money. The woman at the window suggested I use my credit card. I sighed in relief and wondered for the umpteenth time what happens if people don't have enough money when they're at the border? Do they detain them and tell them they can't go back home? How do they squeeze blood out of a turnip?

I paid and we walked past the Duty Free shop and looked for groceries. We mainly saw bottles of alcohol, candy, and no one working the counter. I suggested we wait till we enter Egypt to find breakfast.

We stepped outside.

We were now leaving Israel.

We passed through more guards. Directed into a building, we placed our backpacks on the conveyor belt and walked through the metal detector. The male guard unzipped Pamela's pink backpack instead of mine, did a curt check of the first layer of contents, then handed her back her pack.

I showed our return visa's to a man at the window, he inspected, then stamped our passports.

We had officially re-entered Egypt.

Stepping outside, we walked past more guards and headed in the direction of the bus station. Immediately to our right we were met with shouts and waving hands. Several trucks and vans were parked along the road and a group of people were milling about.

A driver approached and explained in broken English that the bus wouldn't be leaving for another 3 hours. He could get us to Cairo in less than 4 hours! Only 150 LE he insisted.

Two caucasian males in their mid twenties approached us and said they too would be riding the same van. The taller one in the red Keffiyeh (Arabic head covering) spoke to the driver in fluent Arabic, then turned to me. He explained that the bus was very unreliable and sometimes late. If we took the van, we could ALL leave immediately for Cairo, giving us a head start.

The driver, and the two males looked at me expectantly.

I was confused and taken aback. This is not what I had planned. I had assumed the bus would leave at 8am. I did not realize it would be after 10 before we headed for Cairo. The last thing I wanted to do was get stuck riding through the Sinai after dark.

It was tempting but I needed to think about this. They seemed impatient. I told them 150 LE was too much! I was stalling for time. I was under pressure and couldn't think. Inwardly I said a quick prayer. Everyone was looking at me. Waiting...

I turned to Pamela and asked HER. She pointed out there would be no other ladies in our van. I nodded and looked over at some other backpackers. A few women were in the group but they appeared to be headed somewhere else.

I could feel everyone's glance and stared at the ground. Finally I had had enough. I told the driver, we'd catch the bus. He shook his head and said we'd be waiting all morning. I told him, GOOD! I'M A VERY PATIENT PERSON!!!

With determination I stooped down, grabbed my backpack and told Pamela, LETS GO!

The driver yelled for us to WAIT! The tall guy spoke to him in Arabic then caught up with me. He explained that the driver would only charge us 100 LE, and we could wait for some others to travel with us. I told him, NO again, and turned to walk away. Ignoring the yells and pleas, I noticed we were attracting a lot of attention. Guards walking past stared from us to the driver.

I could tell the two guys were a little disappointed but they were nice about it. The driver refused to take them alone. He wanted to make more money.

We walked for a bit following the road and turned a corner. Up ahead in the distance, I could make out the shape of the bus station. Passing us to our right, a white van slowed and stopped beside us. Incredulously it was the driver and the two guys!

ONLY 100 LE!! NO BUS!! WE CAN GO NOW!! Insisted the driver.

WE'RE TAKING THE BUS!!!!! I yelled.

I deliberately fixed my nose straight ahead.

Finally he passed us up, turned around and passed us to our left. I turned my head in the other direction, feigning interest at something in the trees.

Finally the van was gone and we reached the station. We stood at the outside window and purchased our tickets for about 60 LE. I sighed in relief.

There were plastic chairs scattered about the porch. A few buildings down from the station, there was a small store with open doors. Boxes of food, and crates were piled in a heap. Limited on choices, we selected our meal.

Our breakfast!

We were sitting at a table on a dirt driveway, tearing into our Twinkies when the two guys walked by. Looked like they were getting a snack at the store too, and waiting for their driver to find more suckers! That van didn't seem much faster than the bus, after all!! I smirked.

We had less than 2 hours to kill so we took our time watching people walk by. Suddenly the white van appeared in front of us. To my utter disgust, the driver yelled out again! NO MORE WAIT! WE CAN LEAVE NOW!!! The two guys were in the backseat, looking at me expectantly.

I yelled in disbelief, I ALREADY HAVE BUS TICKETS!!!!!!!!! Geesh! The nerve!

Two Egyptian men were sitting at another table and looked from me to the driver. The driver was red faced waving his hands out the window and yelling more offers.

LA SHUKRAN!!! LA SHUKRAN!!! LA SHUKRAN!!! I yelled and rolled my eyes.

The two Egyptians looked at the van driver again and busted out laughing. The driver waved his arms again, then stepped on the gas, spraying gravel. The Egyptians laughed again.

We watched a man pull up to a car in the parking lot with his camel. Obediently the camel heeled to the ground and waited.

Pamela checked her watch and said we had about an hour left for our bus. This time we had moved from our table and was sitting on the porch of the bus station.

Honking like crazy the white van drove past. The driver was making a HUGE DISPLAY of having a FULL VAN and wanted to gloat at me for having to "wait"... He honked the horn again waving. Look at us! Look at us!! He seemed to be gloating. The two guys were in the backseat with about 4 other people.

The two Egyptians stared after the driver and busted out laughing again. The van disappeared around the corner and one of the Egyptians turned to look at me. He smiled and gave me a THUMBS UP!

Our bus was on time. Sighing in relief, we sanked into our seats. I tried not to think about the long ride ahead. I warned Pamela to sip her water. We would have only 1 bathroom stop in 7 hours.

We drove for less than a minute. The bus stopped and guards climbed on board walking straight for me. My heart raced and I handed them my passport. They flipped through the pages. Handing me back the passports, they asked for 150 LE!! I was having a hard time hiding my frown. I was tired, and starting to feel very grumpy. Irritated, I dug into my wallet and pulled out the money. The guard took it and ripped off a receipt. Holding the paper, I watched them leave. The bus started driving again. I took a deep breath.

Like last time, we stopped at the dusty old bus stop in the middle of the Sinai and braced ourselves for the bathroom. We splurged on cokes, and chips.

Passing through a series of road blocks, we entered the Suez Canal. This time Pamela was awake. After a moment the bus stopped and some guys got off the bus. We continued on.

A few hours later we hit a traffic jam in Cairo. The bus pulled into a dinky station and stopped. The door opened, the bus driver stood, stretched, and motioned everyone off.

Was this a rest stop? The Central Bus station was clear across town! The bus driver told EVERYONE OFF THE BUS! This was the last stop!
I had no idea where we were at. Pamela and I stepped off the bus. I told the bus driver we wanted to go to the MAIN bus station. This was where we were supposed to go! He shook his head and said this was the LAST STOP!

I was dazed from the long trip and looked around. We were standing in the parking lot and people were looking at us. I knew we stood out.
I walked to the guard standing watch at the gate. He didn't budge to open it for me. The bus driver yelled out something about taking us to the bus station but we'd have to pay extra! A car drove past us and the guard opened the gate. I tried to exit and the gate started closing on us. We dashed through. Standing on the side of the busy intersection I waved at a cab.

Suddenly the bus driver appeared at our side, insisting he'd take us to the bus station. He'd be our "cab" he insisted.
I ignored him and grabbed the attention of the cab off the street. The cab driver pulled to the side of the road, and I stuck my head in the opened window. I told him -- GARDEN PALACE HOTEL!! He barely spoke English but nodded his head. Pamela and I shoved our backpacks into the backseat with us and closed our door. Suddenly our bus driver started yelling at our driver. He was furious that we had picked the cab over him. Both men screamed at one another red faced. We sanked low into the back seats. Arms were flying and cursing in Arabic.

Wow! We were relieved when we pulled into the traffic! Wow!

As we passed the Nile, the area started looking familiar. Our cab driver pulled to the side of the road and waved at a passing pedestrian. He spoke in Arabic, and repeated the name of our hotel. The person shrugged. We drove a moment further. Our cab driver stopped another pedestrian. GRANDE PALACE! He inquired.

"GARDEN Palace," I corrected.

Huh? The cab driver looked at me.

"GARDEN PALACE, our hotel is GARDEN PALACE!" I repeated.

The cab driver drove us in circles around the area. Nobody it seemed, knew where the hotel was, or had even heard.

Oh boy!
Our cab driver stopped about 3 other people for directions before we drove through a narrow street alley.

An alley? Cars were littered in zig zags throughout the street. Laundry hung from the windows. Trash was scattered about. I couldn't believe my eyes. The sign to our hotel appeared. A valet stood at the side of our cab and helped us out. He insisted on carrying our backpacks.

I paid the cab driver and we walked up the steps and entered the lobby. The man at the front desk smiled. I told him we had reservations and gave him my name. He asked for my printed receipt.

I told him I didn't have a printed receipt. I had payed for our room in advance in a coffee shop in Israel. There were no printers in the coffee shop! I didn't have room in my backpack for a printer! I didn't tell him this, but I couldn't believe he was asking for a copy of my receipt!

Can't you print it out for me? I can bring up my email for you!
He explained the hotel didn't have a printer!

I asked if he could just look at my email from my computer and we could just get my confirmation number from THERE? He shook his head. He would be unable to give us our room without the receipt. He needed it.

Frustrated I stared at him. What a long day!

Another man appeared and identified himself as the manager. He smiled and said if I could download my information on a thumb drive, he'd find a printer and print it out. I thanked him, dug out my laptop, and located the email. Now I just needed to locate my thumbdrive! It would be like a needle in a haystack!

Twenty minutes later, I had everyything downloaded and handed the thumbdrive to the manager. Pamela and I sat in the lounge, checking our emails and waited. The manager showed up with the paperwork, smiled, and handed me my thumbdrive. I thanked him profusely.

Finally we had our room key!

The valet said he would show us our room. Grabbing our backpacks we entered a small dirty elevator. We lifted to the sixth floor. There was no door on our elevator, so we watched the walls with peeling paint flash before our eyes. Finally we stopped and the valet took us down a hallway to our room. Unlocking our door, he waved us in. There were two double beds. He layed our backpacks on the dresser. I dug in my pocket for the tip he was expecting and handed him 10 LE.

After he left, we locked the door behind him and threw ourselves to the bed. After awhile we investigated our room. I turned on the TV and everything was fuzzy.

I searched for a plug-in by the nightstand and noticed the lamp was hotwired. We opened the curtains. They were huge windows that slid easily opened. I couldn't find a way to lock them. No safety rails. A child could easily fall out. I looked at the street alley down below and shuddered. I closed the curtains.

The computer was on and I tried to connect to the web. No signal! Darn!
Pamela and I stared at one another.

She said.

Well, I guess we can go to the restaurant in the hotel...

We grabbed the room key and chose to take the stairs. The front desk said the restaurant was on another floor, so we reluctantly took the elevator back up.

Other than one couple off in a corner, the restaurant was vacant. I asked to see the menu. We couldn't find anything appealing to order and I felt strange eating there.
We decided to check out the area by the hotel. It was dark outside. Linking arms, we quickly walked through the street alley, turned a corner and entered a busy intersection.

We passed by a few lighted shops, looked into some store fronts and tightened the scarves over our head. We passed a few dark alleys and walked the sidewalk. It was busy with people, but nothing like Talaat Harb street. Talaat Harb had coffee shops, and seemed more bright and festive.

I was afraid we'd get lost. Pamela said she really wanted a hamburger. It sounded good to me too. I was missing American food.

I didn't see anything from where we were standing. I hailed a cab.

The driver opened the window and I said loudly over the sounds of the traffic. "MC DONALD'S!"

The cab driver looked at me blankly. "WE WANT TO GO TO MC DONALD'S TO EAT! HAMBURGERS!"

Hearing my own words, I felt like a fool! We're in Egypt for crying out loud!

He nodded and we climbed into the back seat. After awhile, he pulled to the side and waved at a pedestrian. MC DONALD'S?? He asked the guy.
Oh no! He doesn't know where one's at!!! I was probably the only idiot in the history of his career, hailing a cab for Mc Donald's!
Suddenly I had an idea.

"Sir! Yacoubian building! Take us to the Yacoubian building, Talaat Harb!"

A glimmer of recognition crossed his face. Whew!
We finally entered familiar territory and up ahead Mc Donald's! He was surprised when I asked him to pull over. The Yacoubian building wasn't in sight yet. But that was okay. I had used a landmark to get us where we needed to go!

We paid, climbed onto the busy sidewalk and heaved a sigh of relief!

Entering the restaurant, we stood in the long line. We would get Big Macs, fries, and a coke. We sat down to eat and I could barely finish my food. I had a major headache. My appetite was leaving. Fatigue hit me like a ton of bricks. I wanted to pass out. Suddenly I recognized a song on the radio.

Bye bye, Mrs American Pie, drove my Chevy through the levee but the levee was dry...

I glanced at the people sitting next to us. Three women in burqa's and a child. them good ol' boys were drinking whiskey and rye, singin this'll be the day that I die...

The place was packed and I stared in amazement around me. We were the only American's in the restaurant, eating American food, and listening to American music, clear across the planet!


I just wanted to go back to the hotel, but worried about the nightmare getting back.

We dejectedly left the restaurant and walked down the sidewalk. I stared longingly at the Yacoubian building up ahead. At that moment, I wished that I had my backpack. I would give anything to climb those stairs and stay another night at the Brother's Hostel.

I couldn't believe those reviews said the Garden Palace was a 3 star hotel! There had to be a mistake!

Our Mc Donald's in daylight. I borrowed this from the web, because I had forgotten to take a picture!

I braced myself and hailed another cab.

GARDEN PALACE! I told the cab driver. He didn't speak English, but this time I was armed. I handed him a card the front desk had handed me. It had the hotel's name, and address in both English and Arabic!

After awhile, I realized we were driving in circles. I was very glad they didn't run meters in Cairo. We had an agreed price, right?! Our cab driver pulled to the curb and waved at a pedestrian.

GRANDE PALACE?? He inquired.

GARDEN! It's GARDEN PALACE! I corrected the cab driver. Geesh! What's with the grande?!... it's like everyone's speaking Spanish now.

The cabbie handed the guy my card. He looked at it, rubbed his chin and pointed in the opposite direction. Our cab driver did a complete turn around in the road, facing oncoming traffic. With a series of slammed brakes, honked horns, we circled the block over and over.

SONSOFABITCHES!!! Yelled our cab driver.

Pamela and I looked at each other. Our eyes were wide. We slunked in our seats. Pamela mouthed the words, oooooookaaaay??!

I wondered where he learned to speak impeccable English....

A policeman was stopped and he looked at our card. He pointed straight ahead, said to make a turn and then another left.

Finally we pulled into the street alley and the hotel appeared ahead.

I was never so glad to pay our cab driver! I was practically giddy. He earned every penny (I mean Egyptian Pound) and probably used a tank of gas to get us there! He also had a nasty temper.

In a daze, we took the elevator back to our room. We flopped ourselves back on our beds exhausted. Suddenly our lights flickered and went off!


The key! It's the key mom, you have to put it back in the wall!

What? Oh, the wall?

Yeah, by the door. PUT THE KEY BACK IN THE SLOT!

I slid the key in the wall and our lights came back on.

What an interesting way to keep people from wasting their electricity! I wasn't so sure I liked it.

Somebody was making a lot of racket walking down the hall. They stopped at our door, breathing heavy. We froze. Pamela and I looked at each other. We held our breaths. With relief, we realized they were trying to enter the room next door. We exhaled.

I think our nerves were fried....

Enough was enough. I slid a table to block our door.

Good night!



linux said...

Wow, I am tired after reading that. That was a tough day!

cpa momma said...

I agree, what a tough day. Egypt sounds like a hard country to travel in. You were really under a lot of pressure with the van driver and the hotel and the cab drivers. Oh Brother! Don't those people have any healthy snacks!! The food alone would have put me over the edge. What a totally exhausting day you had. I hope the next day you were able to enjoy yourselves and at least get a nice dinner! christi from ct

Patty said...

Goodness, did you make it back home to America?!:)hee hee hee

Did you at least sleep well?

Anonymous said...

What a stressful day!!

Helen said...

I think I slept well, or I fell into a coma! =)

Lancashire rose said...

Oh my goodness, what a story. What was with the 150LE to the guards on the bus? Was the legit? I think I might have been in tears over all that went on with your travels and the hotel. By the way, it i very common in Europe to have those key slots on the wall. I think it is a great idea. You are getting me nervous about our trip to Egypt!