Cairo is a crazy and chaotic city. Once we landed in Cairo Intl Airport at around 9pm we felt like we had arrived to a different world. Even inside the immigration area we started to be asked if we need a taxi or accommodation (how the hell do they get in there??). Once we stepped out to the arrival hall we were swarmed with guys offering taxi rides. One thing we noticed, not like other countries, they are very smart to deal with us one by one. Once we started to talk to one driver, others stepped back. When we finished talking to the guy with no deal, then other drivers rushed to us again. Anyway we were very tired after a long flight and made a deal with one driver, who picked up another customer along the way (it is normal in Egypt). Wow it was the scariest taxi ride in our life. The traffic in Cairo is absolutely mad. Cars don’t drive just straight here. They go zigzags around slow cars, donkey carts, and pedestrians dodging speeding cars. Egyptians hop on and off moving buses, just hanging on the broken door that never shut. But the scariest part was that our taxi went through this chaotic traffic at 100kph almost scratching his car to others. We got to our hotel safely anyway at the end, we were exhausted but really excited! It was just like the feeling we had in South East Asia, nervous and anxious but fresh and really excited to be somewhere so different to our world. We had a great time in Europe but it was somehow easy and their modernised cities were similar to the ones in our home.
Well there is so much to write about this amazing city, but let’s start from Ramadan. We happened to be there in the month of Ramadan, which is the Islamic holy month. During Ramadan, Muslims do not allow anything to pass their lips in daylight hours. This means they don’t eat or drink at all from 4:30am to 6:30pm. It must be so hard not to drink a single drip of water in 40 degree heat. They don’t expect us tourists to follow this fasting, but we felt bad eating and drinking water in front of them. So as you can imagine, everyone’s dying for breakfast at 6:30pm. At around 5-6pm, the traffic in Cairo becomes absolutely mad with everyone rushing to get home for breakfast. Beeping horns are filled in the air, they are all hungry, tired (they all wake up at 4am for the first pray of the day), and frustrated, so accidents do happen more at this time of the day. And naturally at 6:30pm there is absolutely no car on the road, and streets are deserted. It was one of the most amazing scenes we’ve seen on our trip! We loved watching this amazing show at 6:30pm on the road from our hotel balcony. A hotel operator doesn’t even answer the phone at this time!
Another thing we loved about Cairo is its people. We were surprised that they were extremely friendly. We walked everywhere, as we normally do, through Islamic part of the city, slums, and local markets, and we often received “welcome” and “hello” from locals, waving and smiling, or even some people stopped to have a chat. Yes, yes, I know, they are famous for cheeky scams and rip-offs (we’ve been tried at least 5 times just in Cairo), but they never steal or force you to pay for something that you don’t want. It is just the art of sales and the game of bargaining. A few tips for bargaining if you’re going to one of these countries that require you to bargain.
1. Your goal is not to get the cheapest possible price, is to get a reasonable price that both you and a seller can agree with. Bear in your mind you will never pay the same price that locals pay. Tourists are to be ripped off, but so what? It is seriously not that much in your currency.
2. Never get angry, raise your voice or swear. Stay cool and keep smiling.
3. If it seems to be impossible to get to the price that you are happy to pay, just walk away. There are a plenty of other shops selling same or similar stuff. Often they will chase you out of the shop and give you a better price.
4. Enjoy the game, it is fun!
We didn’t know ourselves until we got there but Cairo is very safe city to walk around anywhere at any time of the day, and we liked the fact that we don’t even have to worry about pickpockets in the busy market. It is amazing to know that violent crime rate in Egypt is lower than many Western countries like U.S or U.K despite the fact that Cairo itself has millions of people with dense living conditions and high unemployment rate. Why? We need to understand bit more about their culture and religion. Egyptians are very united and focus on their “afterlife” (do good things to go to heaven, do bad things to go to hell, sort of thing), which established a system of moral values. And another reason for their safe environment is the very-well united family and society. Walking around the city they seem to know all the neighbours, and they spend pretty long time chatting and drinking a cup of tea with family and neighbours. We learnt a lot from them.
You can tell how we loved Egypt by reading this so far and there are so much more to write about, food, pyramids and so on… but I’ll leave them for next entry, coming soon!