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Coming Undone

Excuse me if I’ve written this before.  It’s entirely possible.  Because every time I travel, there’s this surreal feeling of my life unraveling.  Maybe it’s just symbolic, but from the point I bundle up whatever possessions are going with me and lock the front door, it starts. I close the door on all but approx 40 lbs of worldly goods and drive away.  A few miles later, I’m parking my car at the MARTA station and leaving behind another of our most expensive possessions.  Now you can throw in a train ride and a few plane rides, and it just feels like I’ve come unraveled and everything is surreal.

Friday’s coming undone found me running behind as usual.  I don’t remember the last time I left on a trip and was packed well in advance.  I know in 2004, the first time I went to London, I was practically packed a week before I left.  Now, I’m tossing things in the back on the way out the door.  This is almost too literal for words.  I guess I’ve become sloppy about it, thus the unraveling.

I got to the airport fine, but stood in line for nearly an hour just to check my bags and get my boarding pass.  If anyone ever tries to give you paper tickets, especially for international travel, fight tooth and nail not to take them.  Thus was the results of booking my trip through American Express (to use up all my points but save $$ on airfare).  Luckily, security was less than 5 minutes.  No waiting, so I made up my time there.  Ironically, the bad weather on Friday delayed the flight an hour as well.  I knew that was going to happen.  I looked outside at the dreary gray mess I was leaving and just knew that there would be delays.

The Delta flight over to Paris was better than the last time I flew them over the Atlantic.  Roomy seats and I watched two movies.  I did my best to sleep along the way but got precious little.

Arriving in Paris, I managed to muddle my way through security and go wait on the next plane.  It’s so weird.  I’ve been to France now, but I wouldn’t really add it to my list.  It’s not like the airport of any city counts for much. But the Paris airport was predictably sytlish.  It felt like a mall with airport gates scattered throughout.  I slept for maybe a half hour at my gate. Woke up to the sound of people getting up and saw that the gate changed.  Trudged across the entire terminal and couldn’t sleep again.  Boarding was haphazard.  No announcements, no calls for rows or zones, just a note on the board for when boarding began and that they would not announce anything to cut down on the multiple languages required.  For the haphazardness, I couldn’t tell.  It was just the same as every other plane I’ve boarded, people crowding the aisles, hunting for space in the overhead bins, etc.

Most of this flight was in the dark.  The only daylight I saw after leaving Atlanta was sitting in the Paris airport.  Nearing 24 hours being awake, I slept almost all the way (4 hours) between Paris and Cairo.  I missd the meal, all the drink service, everything, just zonked out.   Believe me, it was exhaustion, not the seats, among the most uncomfortable I’ve ever sat in.  So much for the reputation of Air France…

So, this is the state I arrived in Cairo last night, nearing 24 hours of travel and over 24 hours awake.  And I enter the passport control area in a muddle.  Luckily I paid extra for airport transfer and the Intrepid rep met me and helped me get my Visa, pass through passport control, and get the heck out of there.  He popped me in a hired car to deliver me to the Victoria Hotel.

Here’s where things got interesting…  or started to… wow…  the driving here…  well, it’s not unlike Naples, Italy.  That’s to say that Cairo joins the list of places where Mark will never drive.  Let’s say they are creative about the number of lanes of traffic.  The lines are really just vague suggestions more than anything else.  And the number of lanes can go up and down suddenly.  It’s really an art to watch…  safely from the seat with my seat belt on and holding on to the “oh golly gosh darn EEEK” handle.   Mind you, the driver was not buckled… c’est la vie…  One other observation about Cairo drivers, they are far more aware of the dimensions of their vehicles than their American counterparts.  I’ve watched us, we never seem to think we have room and almost always have over-estimated the size of our cars.  The folks here, they KNOW they have room, and I’m looking out the window at the 2 inches that proved them right.  I’ll have more observations on the driving in a moment, but we’ll stick to chronological order for the moment.

Arriving finally at the Victoria Hotel (nearly an hour of that driving later!), I noticed something very common here, metal detectors when you enter the hotel… wow…  okay….  Mind you they seem to just be a formality because I beeped and no one stopped me.  And I’ve since seen that over and over.  And then I got to the reception desk and was informed I’d been moved to another hotel… oy vey…  I got very vague directions to it that I couldn’t follow on the amount of sleep I was working on.  I also couldn’t seem to find out if this was just a one night thing or what.  My first night here was my own thing, not part of the tour, so was I coming back.  They had no idea…  Great…  they did send a bell hop to show me the way.  We got to the corner, and again, I had no clue where he was telling me to go.  A taxi driver overheard and offered to drive me.  I wasn’t too thrilled but the guy was incredibly nice and said it was so close “no charge.”  He drove me the few blocks (no way I’d have found it in the dark, though, as tired as I was) and I tipped him what was probably more than the fare would have been for his kindness.   I may have gone too far, he was very happy.  Oh well…

I checked int Capsis (I think that’s the name) and they couldn’t tell me anymore about my permanence at the hotel, and I was too tired to care.  I went up to my room, text messaged my parents I was alive and collapsed.  Even the rhytmic honking in the streets 6 stories below (it was that loud) couldn’t keep me awake.

Now, the morning prayers that started around 5:30am, THAT woke me up… wow… piercing is the word!  It gets your attention.  And I could see a minaret nearby out my window – the only nice part of the view.  I was awake but watched some channel that was showing an Italian translation of an American movie…

Finally, got down for the included breakfast, which was surprisingly filling for little more than hard boiled eggs and bread.  I asked the front desk again if they had any idea if I was staying or moving to Victoria or what. No idea…  Okay, I asked, could I leave without worrying when I came back, i.e. check out is at noon, what if I am changing?  They said if my bag was packed, they’d put it in storage if I was to move.  I could come back whenever.

And so, I wandered out into the streets of Cairo, with no real aim of what to do.  I figure I’ve got 14 days coming of touring.  I thought maybe I could just take in some of the city not per se touristy.  I had contemplated an early morning sunrise at the pyramids, but I had missed that by hours and tomorrow morning is the pyramids anyway.  So, I walked…

And walked…

And walked…

Maybe I skipped the part about running?  Fast?

As nuts as Italy was, I finally got comfortable crossing streets there.  There was a controlled chaos in that the drivers seeing you crossing would slow to allow time.  Not here.  No slowing down at all.  I don’t know what they’d do if you couldn’t make it.  But it really is that bad.  Every major street crossing is an exercise in pray and run.  I was heading more or less towards the Nile, so I figured, why not see the Nile.  Not that I won’t be floating up it in a few days, but still something to do.  Wow, hair raising street crossing after hair raising street crossing to get to the Nile near the 6th October Bridge.  In fact, the last 3 or 4 lanes of traffic (hard to gauge how many), I kept standing at a cross walk painted on the street thinking surely they’d stop traffic at some point to let all those other lanes trying to cross up ahead…  Until a friendly officer walked up, hooked onto my shoulder and walked me across…  This was very nice of him, but also a tad scary.  This is the approved way of crossing – frogger style!

I didn’t stay long.  Took a few pictures, enjoyed the grimey ambiance and moved on.  I started heading back towards where I was staying.  I was a touch faster at all those crossings this time, but still it’s not a particularly pedestrian friendly place despite all those pedestrians.  And there’s nowhere in this area to just sit and enjoy.  So, I did a turn around the El Fath mosque (just the outside) to see where my wake up call came from and headed back to the hotel.  Went up and read the guide book trying to think up what to do next.  Was there maybe 15 minutes when the phone rang, my Intrepid tour guide!  Yeeesss!!

He’d come to collect his wayward tourists.  There turned out to be 6 of us that had been sent over and he was moving us back to the Victoria.  This place is definitely a step above.  Still not the ritz for anyone with US expectations, but I open the window and I hear birds!

We meet up later tonight to do the group orientation and have dinner.  So, I figured the internet cafe in the garden meant it was time to catch up.  I’m not sure when the next opportunity will be either.

Tomorrow morning, according to the itinerary is early morning at the Pyramids followed by the Egyptian Museum (walked by it this morning).  Not sure where that gets us into the day, but in the evening we board a sleeper train bound for Aswan.


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