We arrived at Cairo airport from London at about midnight. We cleared immigration on the 2nd try, after we went were sent back to buy a Visa stamp. Fortunately, it was $15US each, rather than the $25 we expected. Upon exit from the arrival terminal, we were fully expecting to be swarmed by airport “touts”, and had spent time on the plane discussing our strategy. The best approach seemed to be to push through the wall of men offering help with a taxi or hotel, and negotiate closer to the street. The guide book said 35 Egyptian pounds (E£35) was a good negotiated rate for a taxi to the airport, but this may have been only from the city to the airport. After negotiating with several guys, an impromptu auction arose, with Patrick talking to a group of men all at once. Eventually Patrick got a guy to agree to E£45.
He walked us away from the airport and down a long tunnel, which was a bit worrisome. We got to his small car, and Patrick got his first request for baksheesh (alms or a tip) from a nearby taxi driver, which was declined, because this other fella hadn’t done anything for us. Diane rode with our packs in the back seat. Why? Because it is easier to exit the cab for the agreed upon fare if you bags aren’t held hostage in the locked trunk. The car didn’t move for about 3 minutes, which seemed like an eternity, but I think it was because it may have been prayer time, as a chant came across the car radio.
Exiting the airport, the driver wanted Patrick to pay the E£5 airport fee, and he wouldn’t until the driver agreed that his remaining fee would now only be E£40. A bit of shouting ensued, but he was under pressure because we were blocking the toll booth. He reluctantly agreed, but it didn’t seem like he was committed to it, or very happy about it. He drove us to town, but didn’t know where the hotel was. After talking to a number of cab drivers (some while both cab were in motion) and a couple of street police offers, we made it to a huge locked gate on a very dark and dusty street with a painted sign that said “African Hotel” illuminated by a single incandescent bulb. Diane stayed in the car, which we couldn’t afford to lose until we confirmed that we could get in, while Patrick checked the gate. There was an old man on a cot inside the gate, who rose slowly, almost painfully, to unlock the chain that held the very old heavy cast iron gates closed.
We walked down a large hallway into what was once a grand old colonial building, with sparse lighting illuminating pealing paint. We climbed 3 flights of wide stone stairs, following small signs that said “Africa”. On the 3rd floor, we found a small, dimly lit room with a desk, and a helpful young Egyptian. He had our name already written in a book, from our online reservation done in London the night before, the technological advancement of which was in stark contrast to the environment we now found ourselves in.
We were shown to a huge room, with 15 foot ceilings, high door ways, and 3 beds. You could tell this was once a beautiful old building. It still was, if you could see through the dirt and the many layers of cracking paint. The old floorboards flexed so much when Diane walked on them, she was worried she might fall through. The sheets seemed cleaned based on the sniff test, and we locked ourselves into the room using an old-fashioned key from the inside of the room.
At this point, Diane was stressed almost to her limit, and it took some time for her calm down. Patrick laid out our sleeping sheets (individual sleeping bag liners made of silk), into which we put our money belts and ourselves for safekeeping. Diane clung to Patrick as loud noises outside made sleep difficult.
We wrote this the following morning, so we obviously survived our first night in Cairo. It was an exhilarating introduction to one of the world’s great cities.