Get It Together, Air Cairo
Okay, let’s talk about the disastrous cluster that was Air Cairo. If you are just joining in, you can read all about the Finland prequel to this blog here or start at the very beginning of my journey in Iceland here. One of my connections from Finland landed me in Milan, Italy, where I had to collect my bag, run it through customs, and re-check it with Air Cairo.
When I got to the ticket counter for Air Cairo, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The line to check in was about 80 people deep and continuously growing. Good thing I had a three hour layover which gave me time to do this! As more and more people continued to line up, a big part of me wondered if they overbooked the flight and if there would be issues with the seating. I remember traveling to India as a very young girl, and Air India used to be infamous for overbooking. I have vivid memories of my mother arguing with the airline personnel, insisting she have the seats she booked, as she was traveling with two young kids.
Like Bees to Honey
Air Cairo didn’t seem much different, though to their credit, the flight wasn’t overbooked. The line moved decently well, as most of the travelers were families with at least 4-5 children each. Each family had about eight massive suitcases to check… so much luggage! Once I was all checked in, I made my way to the gate. This was an overnight flight and boarding was supposed to be at 9:00pm. One thing I’ve noticed on all flights into and out of Egypt: the second a staff member appears at the counter, everyone gets up and bum rushes the gate, pushing and shoving to be first in line. I couldn’t believe it. Relax guys, we’re all going to get on the plane… I hope! ?
9:00pm came and went. So did 10:00pm. There was no obvious reason as to why we weren’t boarding – it was all very unclear why we were standing there more than an hour later, while the status still said “on time.” I was hoping to get a little sleep on this overnight flight, but between the delay and surveying the room to find about 40 screaming children under 5 years old, it didn’t look very promising.
Smooth and Easy
Though the flight was delayed about 1.5 hours and was full of screaming children all night long, it got me safely from point A to point B, so I really can’t complain. I had read all kinds of crazy things about customs in Egypt and scammers at the airport pretending to be your pre-arranged ride, so I was a little worried. It was 4:30am and dark outside. Customs turned out to be easy peasy, and I was pleasantly surprised as the immigration officer greeted me with a wide smile and an enthusiastic “Welcome to Egypt!” I had arranged for someone from my hotel to pick me up, but that was for a 2:00am pickup. I was again surprised to see him standing out there with a sign, and he was equally ecstatic to see me, as he had been waiting over two hours in the middle of the night, in the cold, for me.
Room With a View
The driver that waited for me, Hamad, was very pleasant to chat with on the ride from Cairo to Giza. When I arrived at the hotel I was greeted by the night bellman Adil, a short, bald, sweet little rotund man that had the biggest and most genuine crooked-toothed smile I’d ever seen. He escorted me to my room and was as sweet as could be.
The hotel, Pyramids View Inn Bed and Breakfast (don’t get it confused if you plan on visiting – there are several hotels with a similar name) has, as its name implies, a direct view of the great pyramids of Giza. Really, it’s extraordinary (and very cheap, at about $25 per night during my visit).
I went upstairs to the rooftop where they serve breakfast every morning and was surprised to again see Adil’s smiling face as he greeted me (when does this man sleep?!) A few moments later, he reappeared and excitedly laid out about 10 plates of food in front of me, which he followed with “small breakfast for you.” Small breakfast?! Fritters, fruit, yogurt, cheese, eggs, bread, juice, tea — you name it, it was there. I could eat for the entire day from that massive spread!
The hotel and it’s staff deserve mentioning, as it is a small family run hotel and everyone is so incredibly hospitable and hard working. Later that morning I met Kamil, the owner of the hotel, and two of his sisters. I asked if he had a paperclip or something I could keep to access my sim card, and without missing a beat, one of his sisters literally removed the safety pin that was holding her hijab together. “No no no, that’s okay! You keep it, I’ll find something else!” I said, but she insisted. So far everyone in Egypt has been among some of the nicest and most hospitable people I have met.
Guide / Photographer Extraordinaire
What was the first thing on my list of things to do in Egypt? Visit the pyramids, of course! The pyramids are such an iconic symbol of Egypt, and consequently, overrun with tourists. I chose to book a private guided tour, as I had read that vendors are extremely persistent while trying to sell their goods to unaccompanied tourists. I can confirm this position, and highly recommend booking a guide to avoid any hassle while visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza.
What can I say that you don’t already know? The pyramids are absolutely awe inspiring, and it is a wonder how such structures could have been so expertly constructed so many years ago. Tiny little dark tunnels with steeply sloped wooden planks allow visitors to explore the inner secrets of these grandiose structures. However, if you are even the slightest bit claustrophobic, I suggest you skip the inside tour. Otherwise, go for it, it’s spectacular!
During the tour, my guide was more than happy to snap several photos for me – I didn’t even have to ask! It didn’t take long to realize that, not only was he a knowledgeable guide, he was a photographer extraordinaire!
As we continued on our way, I noticed my guide interacting with so many of the locals. They spoke Arabic, so I didn’t understand what was being said. Finally, after about the 10th or 11th time, he turned to me and said “Have you ever heard of the Egyptian actress Dina Al Sherbiny? You have similar features as hers, and everyone keeps asking me if they can take photos with you.” Hilarious! I did end up taking photos with two random people, as well as an entire (huge) family. I’m so curious what they tell people when they show the photo! ? It was my first insight into the fact that I could easily pull off blending in as a local. Throughout the remainder of my time in Egypt, I found this to be incredibly true and it had its perks – namely local rates on the taxis! Score!
Anything To Get “The Shot”
The next morning, I headed up to the rooftop for that incredible breakfast spread. In my mind, I envisioned a cute little video: me, casually sipping tea with a huge assortment of food laid out in front of me, and the camera slowly zooming in to an amazing backdrop featuring the pyramids. And… end scene! It would be epic! Soooo, I whipped out my drone and went to work.
Less than one minute after I set up my drone, the sweet hotel manager came flying up the stairs with a panicked look on his face. “No, you can’t use that!! The police give big problem for you and me!!!!”
Oh! I had no idea. I knew drones were not allowed at the actual site of the pyramids, but I thought this would be okay since we were so far away. Apparently not. I landed my drone and started packing it back into its case when I see a police officer appear on the rooftop.
The officer never actually approached me. He simply leered over at me as he chatted with the hotel manager for what felt like a solid 15 minutes. A very very LONG 15 minutes. Through it all, I wasn’t sure what to do, so I just uncomfortably picked at my breakfast, trying to look as contrite and innocent as possible. After all was said and done, I managed to sneak a peek at the officer leaving out of the corner of my eye. Whew! I looked over at the hotel manager’s sisters, and they signaled to me that all is well. Oh man, thank goodness. Finally I could let out a sigh of relief!
…nope. False hope.
As I continued eating my breakfast, FIVE other police officers appeared on the rooftop. ? Aww man! They all made their way towards me and surrounded my table. Geez, all I could think of was “Oh great, I’m going to get arrested in Egypt.” While I certainly don’t want to ever go to jail anywhere, I was especially not keen on the idea of getting arrested in a country that still has misogynistic tendencies! As they gave me the third degree with an intense interrogation, one of the officers demanded to see my passport. He took it and walked away with it.
<< Welp! I’m never getting out of Egypt! >> ?♀️?
Minutes passed, and he returned and copied all of my information down in his pocket notebook. Several questions later, they left my table and continued in a heated conversation with the hotel manager. After what felt like forever, the police finally left.
The hotel manager walked over to me and said he kept telling them “She’s a nice girl! She doesn’t want to bomb anything!” ? Apparently, two months prior, in January 2022 there was a drone bombing attack in Abu Dhabi. Since then, the entire area had been on extremely high alert for people with drones. The hotel manager told me he was going to confiscate my drone and give it back the moment I checked out the hotel. No problem man – I don’t want it!! He let me know if the “bigger police” came and searched my room and I still had it in my possession, I would go to jail for sure. ? My life of crime in Egypt ended there…. ?
…so did I get “the shot?!”
I’ll never tell! ??
Despite my rocky start in Egypt, I had an amazing time in this spectacular country! From exploring the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, to hiking up to Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments, to diving with sharks in the Red Sea, these experiences are ones that will remain burned into my memories for the rest of my life! But those are other stories for another day – to be continued…!