Monday, July 28, 2008

Egypt and Dubai

* If anyone is looking for a guide I’d recommend my guide as a no frills climb. He picks you up at the airport, drops you off at the hotel, takes you up the mountain, and back down and is cheaper then everyone else. However it is no frills, really basic tent, sleeping conditions and food, BUT professional.

* Dave needed a ride to the airport so we asked around for a taxi. We got a guy who didn’t speak English very well so we got our hotel doorman to translate. Dave got the guy to agree to $40 USD and to pick him up at 5pm. Come 5pm the doorman shows up with his own car to take Dave to the airport. The taxi guy and doorman started a tug of war with Dave’s bags. Dave eventually got into the taxi but according to him he still had to ‘re-negotiate’ his rates again.

* That night after Dave left, I went out to the only tourist restaurant in town and had dinner. They were packed so I got placed at a table with two Dutch girls. We had a good conversation going until my Kilimanjaro guide showed up drunk. He then proceeded to monopolize the whole conversation and even had a business proposition where I would send him clients from the US. Really annoying, yet memorable. I would still recommend him in that he's cheap.

* The hotel staff in Moshi tried to charge me twice as much as the cost of the room. First they told me the rate changed ‘last week’ and then proceeded to tell me I was in a double when I obviously had a single. For the first two days I overpaid them so on the last day I told them I only owed 1/3 of the cost cause I paid too much the first two nights. This took 1 hour because the ‘rates changed’ and then I had a double room not a single.

* Cairo International Airport is the worst airport I’ve ever flown through. By far, nothing else even comes close. People complain about long lines and long waits at US airports, but at least at those airports you can eventually figure out what the process is and know that everyone else has the same wait as you. Not so in Cairo. First I arrive at immigration, I look at all the forms and they are in Arabic except one which has a few words of English I understand so I fill that one out. I get in line for passport control. When I get to the guy, he says it’s the wrong form, gives me another one, and tells me to get in the back of the line. I get back in line and 10 minutes later with 30 people still in line they shut the booth down and move me to another line. At this point I start noticing that random lines are being opened and closed. About 30 minutes later my line closes and they move me to another line, and at the end of it too. Finally getting fed up with this process I notice the ‘diplomatic/crew' line was empty and that people we just walking up to it. I decide to give it a shot and that was what finally got me into Egypt.

* On the way out of Cairo I took a taxi to the Airport and the driver asked me which terminal. I told him I didn’t know but I was flying Egypt Air to Dubai. Now there are three ways I’ve seen airports organized. One is terminals are separated by airlines, by international/domestic or by airline and international/domestic. In either of the three cases they usually have signs telling you which terminal you need to go to. Cairo on the other hand has no signs, simply Terminal 1 or Terminal 2. The driver asks a guard and the guard says ‘Terminal 2’, which is where he drops me off. Turns out it’s the wrong one. I ask for the bus for Terminal 1, they point me to the shuttle system up front, simple right? Nope the buses that run every 5 minutes only go to the car park and back to Terminal 2. This I found out by waiting at the car park for 30 minutes, now I only have 1.5 hours before my flight. I decide to head back to Terminal 2, at which point the information guy says just to wait up front. 1.25 hours before my flight and I’m still at Terminal 2. I get to Terminal 1 at 1 hour before my flight. At this point I realize there are 3 buildings at Terminal 2. I guessed building 2 and somehow ended up in building 1, but they are all Egypt Air counters but the building is just packed with people, barely enough room for you to move around. After much pushing and shoving and asking questions I get pointed to building 2. I arrive there only to find that there is a security line before check-in and it’s long! This is where I put in my casual line butting skills to work... I get into building 2 only to be surrounded by Delta Airline signs. I ask around and everyone gives me the casual just get in line... So get in line, I picked lane 2 with 45 minutes to go before my flight. The tiny room was fully packed wall to wall with people and luggage. They are shouting at each other in Arabic and being very angry. Also none of the counters have any signs, other then the ones behind me, which again said Delta Ailines. I noticed that in lane 1 (to my left) a guy at the front of the line was shouting at the guy behind the counter and making hand gestures to the lack of signs and the guy behind the counter just points him to the another line. Two minutes later I noticed that they put up ‘Business/First Class’ sign in lane 1. At this point the whole lane 1 erupts and starts shouting and gesturing. Thirty minutes before flight and I still haven’t checked in yet. Lucky for me I realize the two Egyptians in front of me, who speak very good English, are on my flight and they didn’t look worried. When I get on the flight I find out that for some reason Egyptians don’t care for seat assignments. On the way to my seat in row 42 I found 4 people in someone else’s seat including mine. Cairo Airport is absolutely the worst!

* Cairo Taxis are old and crazy! The taxi from the airport to the hotel was a 1971 Peugeot. The rear hatch door popped open in the middle of the ride. And we saw many broken down cars along the road, seems to be a regular occurrence in Cairo. The driver tried to tell me that my hotel was shut down for health reasons. I told him I had just called them and he smiled and kept driving.

* I got scammed in Cairo. I’m still embarrassed to get into details. Suffice to say I walked into it eyes wide open. I don’t even have the excuse that in 20/20 hindsight I could have avoided it. In fact I knew every mistake I was making while I was making it. All the things that you are never supposed to do in a foreign city, I did. I even had a few opportunities to walk away and/or mitigate my loss but I didn’t do anything. I’ll tell you about it face to face, so next time you see me and are curious, just ask...

* Pyramids are just awesome. Not sure how else to describe it. There have been many books written about them to make several Great Pyramids and enough photos to examine every stone one by one. However just being there makes a huge difference. So if you guys really want to know what the Pyramids are about, come check it out!

* City of the Dead is an interesting place. For those who don’t know about it, it’s basically two cemeteries where people live. These people live in the mausoleum, they play in them and even play chess over the graves. In return for the free lodging the people take care of the mausoleums. They only part that was a bit of a let down is that the mausoleums are built like houses so it really doesn’t look like a cemetery.

* Tamer, a Canadian Egyptian I met at the Canadian Hostel, along with Jolin from Taiwan, we went to the Pyramids together. There Tamer tried to trade a $20CAD for 200E£ (Egyptian Pounds) with one of the water hustlers. In reality the $20 CAD was worth 107E£. He managed to change it for about 130E£. We were about half way around the Great Pyramid (of Cheops) when the hustler caught up with us and wanted his money back; his mother was in the hospital. Would have been poetic if Tamer pulled it off. On the way to the pyramids we had many people shouting at us to ‘come this way to the Pyramids,’ just a lure to get you into their stable or shop. I almost fell for one if Tamer hadn’t asked the guy in Arabic what he wanted, which was to come see his shop.

* Dubai is hot, hot, hot HOT! It’s 42C outside and the wind is hot too. Just crazy! Don’t know how else to describe it. I tried walk around town but it’s way too hot. I caved in and spend money on a taxi to get me around. Dubai’s efficiency is refreshing after 2 months in Africa. Things are done quickly, everyone is attentive and everyone goes ‘yes sir’, ‘no sir’ or ‘please sir.’ The airport was a breeze, 30 minutes from curb to gate.

* Dubai is a whole world onto itself. It's full of foreign worker who do all the work. The locals do all the white collar work, such as stamping your passport.

* Mall of the Emirates is a sight to behold. I've never been to the Mall of America but I don't think the Mall of America can compare. The Mall of the Emirates has an indoor ski slope in the middle of the desert! I didn't ski as I didn't want to spend the money or time.

* Anyway just a few thoughts as I'm waiting for my flight to Beijing.

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