Welcome to Egypt

We had heard from many fellow travelers about what to expect in Egypt-a bit of a mixed bag. A few were quite complementary, but for the most part we had been told to prepare ourselves for quite a ride. The weather, the scams, and the touts all extreme. So far, the Egypt we have experienced has been a bit of a contradiction in itself, in ways big and small. I guess it’s fitting in a way for a land steeped in folklore and oases, where things aren’t always what they seem.

For instance, we arrived via ferry from Jordan into the little port town of Nuweiba, located in the Sinai region. The whole ferry process was confusing and a bit of a headache. Luckily we ran into some equally confused backpackers, two of whom were from the states and spoke enough Arabic to get us where we needed to be. We settled in for what was a surprisingly comfortable ferry ride, despite the fact that we were never told the scheduled departure time, but whatever it may have been I am fairly certain we left hours after. The exciting part came upon disembarkation. The ferry had arrived in Egypt and had docked for at least half an hour. Jeff and I calmly waited in our seats, seeing no reason to get up since the doors were not yet open and boat security were standing in front of the exits with arms crossed. Despite this fact, other passengers began to get impatient. A couple of women accompanied by approximately six kids a piece, somehow herded their way to the front, which is when the pushing, shoving, and yelling began. Finally, before it got too ugly, the security guard stepped in and shouted long and loud in Arabic and everyone calmed down. A few long minutes later, the doors opened and the calm was shattered. I have never seen people clambering over each other the way they were on this ferry. One would think the boat was sinking. Men were shoving old women and children out of the way, old women were yelling and pushing, children were elbowing anyone while trying to scamper ahead. When we made it down to get our luggage on the cargo deck, it was even crazier. Now the challenge was to weave our way between the hoards of people, but also the tour buses and trucks with engines running. This was not the kind of baggage claim where there is order, decorum, nor any person in charge collecting baggage tags. You just dive in amongst the enormous pile of suitcases, crates, bags, and parcels, and hope your bag is somewhere in the vicinity of where you left it. We found our stuff, wrestled our way out, made it through some type of security checkpoint and found ourselves at immigration, which looked like a big open warehouse, with a metal roof on stilts. Now we had to jump, sidestep, and/or run out of the way of baggage carts, horses, men in uniform (customs officials?), and the front lines of aggressive taxi touts. In the desert heat, this could easily qualify as an Olympic sport of the crazy sort. Quite the introduction to Egypt.

Several hours later, we arrived at our first Egyptian destination in the town of Dahab, a sleepy beach town on the Red Sea Coast. As far as contradictions go, compared to what we had just experienced getting to Dahab, the town itself was the opposite. It being the slow season, all the restaurants and shops were empty, the beaches nearly deserted, and we enjoyed several days of leisurely morning brunches on the beach, sheesha, and diving, snorkeling, and swimming in the Red Sea.

Other confusing and contradictory things are as follows. Pricing. First there is the fact that all prices are written in Arabic (of which I can recognize a total of three numbers and thus already at a disadvantage), combined with the fact that there are usually two prices, the local price and of course the tourist price, which is anywhere from four to twenty times the actual price. Prices and services that one would expect to be cheap are often ridiculously expensive, while other times it is the other way around. Some items that are expensive at one establishment turn out to be next to nothing someplace else. There is no rhyme or reason that I can see and I have no doubt that we have had our share of being ripped off. When people say things are “free” and “no money”, that means you will definitely have to pay. Cairo is considered a very safe place, yet some of the areas look quite sketchy. Upper Egypt refers to the southern region, while Lower Egypt is north. On a tour to the Pyramids, we were told it was safe to leave our bags and cameras, etc. in the car, but to make sure we took our money with us. There are usually two to three designated lanes for traffic, but somehow they are transformed into five or more, creating a parking lot scenario. When standing in line, order does not matter the way it should when in a line, as lines here are more like moving crowds.

Maybe “contradiction” is not the exact term to describe our experience of Egypt. There has definitely been chaos and a disorderly feel to our travels here, but only because we are foreigners and therefore by definition everything here is foreign to us. All the things we view as contradictions I’m sure make complete sense to the locals. And as much as I’d like to get it, I doubt I’ll ever get to walk like an Egyptian.

Posted: June 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Egypt | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

One Comment on “Welcome to Egypt”

  1. 1 Jeff O. said at 8:30 pm on June 27th, 2009:

    Wow, sounds wild, exciting and relaxing all at the same time.

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