Yes, this is me on Tahrir Square in Cairo. Ridiculous. I know – I generally do not have pictures of self taken at different places and the iPhone is certainly not doing me any favors, but beggars can’t be choosers and this was The Tahrir Square. Accidentally had a 9 hour layover in Cairo on the way back from Dahab and a cabby by the name of Mahmoud offered to drive me around. So got to see the Nile, Tahrir Square, a number of mosques, was taken on a horse to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx (both from afar). All totally unexpected. If any of you want the number for the cabby, drop me a line – nice guy, barely functional English, not a tour guide per se, but you’ll get to see the city. When he takes you to see his friend to do a horse ride out to the pyramids, if you end up negotiating with a kid, beware: that kid is a hustler. Cute, but totally relentless, which brings me to the subject of culture shock… some general impressions of Egypt as a whole:
- 3am Cairo – Cairo at 3am is alive and kicking with open shops, people hanging out, etc. The only other place I remember being this alive is the Hongdae area in Seoul.
- women – almost no women on the streets. Seemed better in Cairo and tourist areas, but, especially in the more traditional areas, only only men. The interesting thing is that men are often affectionate towards each other (i.e. holding hands) in a manner that would make Westerners uncomfortable – wonder if this has anything to do with the culture of hiding away women.
- money – as a tourist, your name might as well be Money McMoneybag. There is constant, ongoing negotiation and people constantly trying to hustle you. When we got to Sharm El Sheikh, a cabby tried to charge us 300 Egyptian Pounds (50 bucks), when the price is actually 50 Egyptian… the aforementioned hustler kid tried to sell me something for 4300 Egyptian that was marked at 300, and then tried to sell me on doing the horseback ride out to the pyramids for 300 USD after I already negotiated with Mahmoud that I can only do it for 40USD… and then the kid, because I am his friend, and only because I am his friend and he likes me, made me an awesome incredible offer that I can’t refuse of… only… wait for it… 250 USD. Yeah, we settled on 50 USD. And then he tried to guilt me into giving him a big tip… to be fair, he did wake up in the middle of the night to ride out with me.
- markets – while the whole money thing may seem weird, it has an upside. Constant negotiation allows for a fluid ongoing market and, after you do it a couple of times, market rates become pretty clear. And, at the end of the day, this flexibility makes for a pretty healthy market.
- Sharm is Freaky– flew into Sharm El Sheikh… weird freaky place. Locals don’t go there – only tourists… and Egyptians when they want to get laid (according to the little hustler who also told me that people went out to the desert to party and shag… on horseback… and would fall off their horses upon having one too many drinks… I believe him given that I saw several groups coming back in the morning…).
- Dahab is Nice– liked Dahab a lot more than Sharm El Sheikh and Cairo. Many people are nice, genuine. The place is poor – there is a façade put on for the tourists along the water that tries to be very upscale, but as soon as you go a little inward, you realize that it’s just that – a façade. Average salary is very low, people are working hard to get by. Based on the conversation that I’ve had, many people come in from other cities to work for a period of time and then go back home to rest. This was the case for Mahmoud (the taxi driver) and the cab driver who took me to the airport from Dahab.
- Dahab & Israel – people seem pissed off at the government for the conflict with Israel – Israelis made for around half of all tourism traffic there.
- revolution – people seem genuinely happy about the revolution and the revolution seems to be a reference point for them.
Overall, Egypt feels like a place that is undergoing a major transition. A place I don’t understand and Cairo, frankly speaking, freaks me out – it’s that nagging feeling that something can go horribly wrong. That said, there is something beautiful about the people in Egypt…