The upside of travelling to Egypt during the revolution -- if you can try and find a silver lining -- was that the people were very grateful for my business. I was treated like a Rock-star everywhere I went. Not just from the touts, but I had half-a-dozen handlers who accompanied me, from drivers, to hoteliers, to taxi drivers, to guides.
With so few tourists on the ground, people were sitting around without much business. They were happy to show me around for a small fee, and they even thanked me for coming when I visited their businesses.
please go home and tell all your friends it is safe to come to Egypt
The circumstances were unfortunate, but after 10 months of solo travel I have to say it was kind of nice to be looked after.
The worst part of my Egyptian Rock-star Experience was my final day when I left Luxor for Cairo on the overnight train.
The driver who took me to the train station (from my Luxor hotel) handed me off to another handler (agent). This agent didn't know much about me, it was only his job to get me a ticket on the train and stay with me until it arrived. Look after the foreigner, we can't have him running around Luxor on his own at 9pm at night; make him feel comfortable at all times (and collect a fee for the service).
This agent guy gave me his business card because I was telling him about some of the other stuff-ups that occurred on my "tour". I was a little anxious that no one would be in Cairo at the other end to pick me up and take me to the hotel. But I worry about things like that.
By this stage I had had around 10 handlers on the trip; my phone was quite full with Egyptian phone numbers.
I was still using the Spanish SIM card I picked up in Madrid, it automatically roamed to Morocco and Egypt. Well, I never made any calls, but I received a few, and I got those little SMS messages telling me "Welcome to Egypt", in Spanish and French; so I assume it was roaming.
In Cairo, the train terminated at Giza. I wasn't expecting that. I called the number I had for my hotel; no answer. I probably got the digits wrong; that's the trouble with trying to figure out the country codes.
I tried the agent in Luxor. Again, it wouldn't connect.
I should have confirmed with some of them how to make a call from a Spanish mobile to an Egyptian mobile. I should have had an Egyptian SIM card.
I was lost somewhere in Cairo and didn't know how to get to my hotel.
It was early morning, since I'd just caught the overnight train, so I had daylight on my side. The disadvantage was I didn't have a map, or any idea where to go, and I was carrying an 85L backpack and small daypack.
I found signage directing me to the metro station.
I figured it would be easy enough to find the way to central Cairo.
The line to get a metro ticket was a block long, no automatic ticket machines here. So I joined the queue and waited. I tried explaining my problem to the cashier, they weren't interested, and just issued me a ticket. From what I could tell, the metro ticket is a standard price for adults in Cairo, and you can travel anywhere.
I didn't know which platform to head to, or which train to catch, so at the entrance turnstiles I tried asking security. With a shake of the head they waved me off, turns out they didn't want to play traveller's charades with me.
I ended up seeking help from the hoardes of business people on their way to work. Thankfully one man stopped to help me, and we worked out what line and platform I needed to get the train downtown... somewhere near Tahrir Square.
Anxiety attack over, I was on my way.
I got the metro back down-town then wandered around a little until I got my bearings, and could understand the map on the hotel business card. It wasn't the greatest map in the world. One of those block-radius numbers so that taxi drivers can help you get home on a drunken night out.
Taxi drivers. Of course!
I could stop and ask a taxi at any time to find the address on the hotel business card.
I wasn't lost. This was turning into an adventure!
It was certainly a challenge for me, and exciting.
Lost in Cairo. Making my own way. During a revolution. This is why I travel.
I had to ask quite a few times for directions, but found my way from Tahrir Square to the hotel. The lesson here is to always ask for directions from multiple people, at least 3, before deciding which has the most substance. There seems to be a pattern with travel and 3's.
It all worked out in the end.
I made my way back to the hotel, not before meeting an Egyptian guy who was caught up in the riots in Tahrir Square just a few weeks earlier. His story was so moving, and he was passionate about sharing it with a foreigner.
The takeaways from my story are:
- Ask for help immediately when you think you are lost.
- Carry a business card and phone numbers of your accommodation (or CouchSurfing host).
- When getting directions, check with a few people before setting out on your way -- sometimes directions are lost in translation, and sometimes people just aren't sure.
- If you are the neurotic type, maybe confirm with your 'handlers' the time and place they will be picking you up.
- If at any time you are worried about your safety, grab a taxi, better to spend a few extra dollars than to wander around lost.
- You don't have to avoid travelling to a country just because of what you hear in the media.