Sunday, 29 August 2010

Cairo: dust, horns, pedestrian peril

The next morning after our Sinai experience, we were up at 5am again to catch the six hour bus to Cairo. Apart from a serious argument that involved everyone on the bus except us, it was fairly uneventful.

Too difficult for us to meet Sudan's demands for a VISA (letters, more VISAs, money, photos, forms) in time to catch the ferry, we suddenly have over a week to rest in Cairo. Though initially disappointing, we arrived totally drained from desert strandings, bus journeys and mountain hikes, and actually the prospect of a stationary week sounded delicious! Desperate to relax I asked a local what to do to relax in Cairo. "Relax?" he asked incredulously. "No relax in Cairo! Cairo stress city!" Unabashed I asked another Egyptian. "Relax?" came his reply. "Stay in your hotel room."

I have decided not to ask anyone else, because I am finding out for myself. I am learning our initial impression was typical of this heaving city - the largest in Africa and the Arab world. A thousands horns blast into the air, lanes upon lanes of cars (including our taxi) jolt violently and dart between one another, blast blast, people amble carefree among speeding buses, blast, a donkey here, a running teenager there, jolt jolt, blast, it is stickily hot, dust and dirt fly everywhere, jolt jolt. Out of the taxi and onto the street - even harder to navigate, more jolts - and horn blasts replaced with cries from street sellers, children, old men, anyone.

We arrived at our hotel of choice - the Berlin hotel. The entrance and frighteningly bolt of a lift was filthy. But everything is dirty is Cairo. A grey dust cakes everything in a thick film of dirt - the streets, almost every building, the walls, the floor, my feet. Our room was surprising clean (apart from the slightly grey looking shower), and we collapsed exhausted, hungry and strained on the bed. At this point meat re-entered my life. It was becoming increasingly difficult to find veggie food, and I was finding about three hundred other aspects of daily life challenging. I thought it would be good to ease up on the food side and remove that stress - and it has been a real relief! Nick, amazingly and so graciously, continues to fight the veggie fight, even through lowpoints such as waiters saying 'yes we have veggie... green salad?'

The Berlin hotel lasted a night and only a night. About the only time we were seperated Nick went out to use the Internet while I rested. I began to feel a bit fearful and thought lying on a bed alone was not helping my heart! I needed to get up and engage with the world. As I left, however, the receptionist dude (who had appeared about 80 years old and very sweet) took my hand and told me he loved me! Although this maybe sounds comical, actually I was alone in a weird hotel up five floors and he had known Nick was out - so I felt really uncomfortable. Also women and men in this culture show NO affection: they even sit in different carriages in the tube. The superfast lift served me very well as I zoomed out of the hotel, and I went to Internet cafe to find Nicholas. En route I hurried across a green mat on the pavement - it turned out to be a holy place and a praying Muslim shouted and chased me off! I found the Internet cafe. It was closed. I was now stuck in Cairo without a clue where Nick was. An Egyptian man approcahed me to help and by now I was fed up with Egyptian men but he turned out to be a persistent and actually a very helpful Egyptian man who said he would show me the nearest Internet joint. I accepted. This happened to be his best friend's travel agents: a little shop with leaflets and one computer with a man behind it. He booted his best friend off the computer, and I sat down, manning the travel agents. His best friend didn't seem to mind chilling and made me some sweet tea. I tracked Nick down on Skype (in another internet cafe he'd found) - and we arranged to meet. Phew! And we met - not without me getting lost one more time, after telling another Egyptian man 'No help thanks, I know where I'm going!' and humbly having to retrace my steps and ask him for his aid.

And so we left the Berlin hotel that day. We gave the receptionist a hard time - Nick trying to call the manager, me telling him he better not do that again to a travelling girl. He apologised profusely, his hands shaking. We left feeling that weird mixture of anger but so much grace - knowing he is not in a good place. We dumped our bags at Hotel Luna Bella which was a world away from the Berlin. A dirty entrance and fast lift were it's only similaritites. It was spotless and had pretty rooms with hat stands and decorative mirrors. The reception wore glasses and mainly spoke to Nick: we liked him a lot! We plan to stay here for the next few days.

Slightly shellshocked from our difficult days in the desert and now all Cairo was flying at us - add to that concotion my nasty cold and unwanted runniness - we sought rest and comfort. We found it at the Cairo Hilton. Cool, airy and wonderfully comfy, everyone was so gentle and helpful and I began to feel life flowing back into me! We spent the afternoon having yummy Italian food and lazing on a sofa reading, me ordering a hot lemon with sugar (I imagine about the only place in Cairo I could!) to ease my cold... I also found a copy of 25 Beautiful Homes magazine - which in London I might avoid for how it makes me want to live a decadent life - but in Cairo with only a backpack en route to Africa, it only brings colour and creativity!

I woke up in our new hotel yesterday and was musing on beauty... It brings so much joy and life to me: pinks and turqouises, patterns and peonies, golden evening sunlight and worn wood. Sometimes on our trip my eyes are flooded with beauty - and sometimes I miss it, in plain hotels, dusty roads and metal buses. And so I hunger for it and felt God honouring my desire for it, saying it was from His heart of beauty and creativity. As I thought all these things silently in my heart, Nick popped out and came back with a beautiful bouquet of pink, yellow and red roses! A birthday treat, as we hadn't been near any flowers earlier in the week! What a treat and a gift I think from my smiling God... Seeing this display of love (well done Nick!) the hotel manager upgraded us to their best room - spacious with two balconies! - for no extra cost. What a blessing.

And so in among the high stress of Cairo there is also delight and fun. We had a gorgeous Indian dinner last night to celebrate my birthday with lots of laughter... we got sent out of a cafe for being too affectionate (we have been SO restrained so far but had a momentary lapse) and as we left I smashed the glass by accident, I have never seen a sadder waiter about a glass... and we are learning to carve our relaxing spaces in our quiet times and in restful hotels! Still, Cairo has been difficult for us. It is hard to cross ANY road, and in a taxi it is joltjoltjolt, when I am not near Nick within seconds a man will shout or approach me, and it feels like at night the city is in a permanent state of riot. Actually everyone is celebrating Ramadan's end of day feast, but what we see is thousands of people cramming the pavements and traffic at standstill. What we hear from our hotel room is blast blast and screams (really - I don't know why, but a yell / cry / scream / laugh mixture fills our ears as we try our best to sleep... pray for Nick, particularly to sleep, as he isn't easily.)

So a delicious blessing to have a stationery week. We just need to know how in a chaotic whirl of a city, we remain stationery inside and out. I think we are learning.


  1. GOSH!I feel for you -not being able to go out without being pestered. That is the drawback to being beautiful!! Try and find the International Press club. The hacks will be better behaved..but please see the pyramids. (I missed out as being escorted to and from airport by police..)and have regretted it ever since. You write so wonderfully, there's a book somewhere (plus drawings?) Loads more comment, but save for Skype. Much love, other ma and pa

  2. If you're still in Cairo and you want a friendly face, or possibly even a place to stay, get in touch with this guy: who I stayed with for a week. He's really nice, speaks perfect English and when I was there I was also trying to relax and generally spent the whole time in his flat. If you do get in touch with him, give him a big kiss from me.
    Love Mikey

  3. Buenas Dias - great to hear the updates although I have heard Cairo is one of the most taxing/minging cities on the globe, and your experiences seem to be no exception!
    Dave Amer has family there, and even he tries to avoid the metropolis! But as you point out there are nice spots to be found wherever you are... and if you can stay chilled mentally that helps!!

    I could definitely imagine Dad not leaving the Cairo Hilton if he was there haha.

    Hope the VISA comes through for Sudan?? For me this will be the really fascinating part of the trip to here about (if you can find net cafes to write) as I know noone who has hit Sudan.

    I love hearing the anecdotes about the people you meet as that is what I imagine you guys doing best - standing away from the crowds chatting to locals about their life.

    I got a vivid image of you two moving away from the crowds at the Jordan River when you saw that old man... nice one

    Thanks again for the updates

    Love Drew

  4. Dearest friends, I'm just catching up on your travels in the middle of my Romanian adventures from a house surrounded by stunning hills and abandoned vinyards.. Loving the way you're both such brilliant story tellers and it's amazing to be able to hear what you have seen and experienced. Cate, very very extremely belated happy birthday! Praying for more of Him and His beauty for you both.
    Much love to you both, swede x x x

  5. el carotto planter5 September 2010 at 02:28

    hello my fine friends!
    let me ENCOURAGE and CONGRATULATE you with your wonderous adventures. WELL DONE DUDES!!! you are doing so so well...i mean it!!! 2, egypian men and chirpy in abundance!!! Your times sound incredible...highs and lows, laughter and tears,keeping it real. AM loving hearing of your tales. bless you guys.

    biggest of loves xxx

  6. Hello dear Nick and Cate
    I relish reading your accounts, they are like fresh air to me! My heart literally pounds when I hear of you on this journey together, undoubtably getting to know each other better with every step of the adventure! Especially love to hear of you, Cuz, my Penarn buddy, taking on armed guards and receptionists....very inspiring. Massive blessings guys, on you and your marriage, really feel this is all just the tip of the ice-berg for you in such an amazing way. Love from Al girl x