Last Sunday after 31 hours of travel including a long, hot, and unfriendly layover in Moscow, I finally landed in Cairo. Despite a day and a half of nearly no sleep, I was energized as I passed through customs and made my way to the airport exit where dozens of cab drivers attempted to be the first one to offer a ride. I proudly managed to immediately bargain down the price by 15 Egyptian Pounds, to one that I knew was a standard and fair rate. My first reaction? This is not so hard!
The trip from the airport to the hotel was like an amusement park ride. We drove in the middle of the lane next to cars so close I could touch them without even reaching , sped by broken down cars in the middle of the road, were passed by cars with young men hanging out all four windows, and swerved around mopeds carrying husband, wife and baby. I am surprised I made it to the hotel alive!
Though terrifying the ride was also invigorating. The bright lights of the city and loud noises were exactly what I imagined. When I finally made it under the covers of the hotel bed I could hardly close my eyes, I was so happy to finally be in Cairo.
The next morning I learned the hot sun of daylight does not show Cairo in such a romantic light as night does. I spent that first night in a hotel my parents had insisted I book, worried I'd be to disoriented after traveling to make it safely and smartly to a hostel downtown. They thought it best I'd have night to recuperate before venturing off into a city I knew nearly nothing about. I am now thanful for their insistence. As I checked out I did not realize that would be last time I'd feel well rested, cool, and clean for the next week.
The city smells like the exhaust of an old diesel truck, and the dust makes you feel as if in each breath you're inhaling the second-hand smoke of a hundred men crammed into a tiny room.
I set off on my adventure of crossing the Nile to find my next hostel and after 15 minutes I was already sweating profusely under the weight of both my bags, and pretending I didn't speak English to avoid harassment from the locals. That does work by the way. When I told one man I spoke Czech he responded with, "Ahoj!" (hello in Czech). Many Egyptians have taught themselves multiple languages in order to communicate and/or make money off of foreigners.
When I finally did make it to my hostel, I was a bit disappointed. It had five star reviews on hostelworld, but had no air conditioning, and only one working fan in a dorm for 6 people. Needless to say, the nights were hot and filled with little sleep. The atmosphere was nice however, and the staff were pleasant. I also met some great people there! One who I convinced to tour Giza with me. Which was absolutely amazing despite having to chase away bothersome salesmen every three feet. The ruins of Saraca were fantastic too, once we found the Hieroglypics.
Ultimately Cairo is a city full of images of past lives and bustling with those of the present. It was not nearly as "developed" as I thought it would be. I had a love hate relationship with it. I loved it's energy; it's enthusiasm is contagious! But it took some intense mental preparaton to deal with it each day. You had to brace yourself for incessant hassling that goes beyond anything I'd seen before - men are literally touching you, picking you up, grabbing you, blocking your way, in an effort to get you to pay them something.
It's also true what everyone tells you. Being a girl is difficult. No matter what you wear out to the market, if your egyptian or a foreigner, the men are rude. Mostly they just stare you down, but you have to be careful of the occasional touch. You certainly cannot let your guard down, because if you do they will immediately sense it and take advantage of that. That part was difficult for me. I prefer to be open and trusting, but by the end of one week in Cairo I had learned that it wasn't an option there.