Friday, March 09, 2007

A Journey Through Egypt - Reaching Cairo

Saturday, 24th February ‘07

Just checked into the swanky Grand Hyatt in Cairo sans our luggage. What a mess! NW-KLM has lost our bags, and we have no clue when we’ll get them back!! Here we are in Cairo, all set for a tour of our life time, wearing two day old stinky clothes, while all the carefully chosen “vacation” clothes are languishing somewhere else in two suitcases!!

This whole trip started bad! First the Indian consulate in San Francisco took a month to give us additional pages in our passports – as a result the Egyptian visas didn’t come on time and as a result of that we had to postpone the trip by 20 days! Then we come to airport only to find that KLM hasn’t issued a ticket for sonny boy! Some major confusion and an additional $150 later sonny boy gets a ticket and we board a plane to San Francisco and start the long journey to Cairo. Spouse had a premonition about the bags and I knew it too, in my heart – but who likes to believe in such premonitions anyway!!

Thanks to the free tickets bought on mileage rewards, we had this insane 10hr layover in Amsterdam. By the time I reached Schiphol, I was exhausted and delirious. We decided to rent a room at the on-site Mercure hotel. That was the most worthy $160 ever spent – we slept like logs!!!!! Woke up all groggy- even a hot shower in the dingy 80’s style bathroom didn’t defog my brain. Had to stand in line at McDonalds for sonny boy’s Happy Meal – no drive-thru here!! Forgot that the Europeans didn’t serve ketchup with their fries…by the time I realized, I was back at the end of the line for a 40cents sachet of ketchup!!! Sonny boy should learn to eat his fries without ketchup!

A café with tacky beach-shack décor was selling foccacia sandwich with tomatoes, mozzarella and pesto – sounded yummy (tasted like cardboard!) I asked for a non-fat latte. “We don’t serve non-fat milk here!” came the curt reply. Oh all right, make it extra hot then, 190 degrees. She stared at me as if I had landed from another planet or something. What? Spouse came to her rescue “Its Europe, they measure in Celsius, remember?” How much is 190 degree Fahrenheit then, translated to Celsius? Ok make it at 95 degree C – I’m still sleepy you see! Earlier I had wished her “Good Morning” at 7:30pm – so she has probably made up her mind about my mental health!!

Another 4 hours of flying got us to Cairo. First impression stepping out of the aircraft was, its very much like India. Same rickety old stairs leading weary travelers to CO2 spewing buses waiting to transfer us to the arrival hall. There a skinny young fellow ceremoniously handed me a bouquet of half-wilting flowers. “Welcome to Cairo”, he tells me. “My name is Ramzy”. We follow Ramzy to the immigration check, where a sour-faced officer promptly stamped sonny boy’s US passport but detained ours for extra checking! We stood around like idiots, while yet again I wondered why we’re still holding on to our Indian passports!? A little while later an angry looking older man stormed into the little cubicle where the immigration officer was holding court. The new guy waved our passport at the officer’s face, wagged his finger right in front of his noise and yelled in Arabic, before he stormed out again. Without a single word the officer stamped our passports and let us in.

Then started the infinite wait for our bags, which didn’t show up. But the KLM folks at the airport seemed helpful…aided by Ramzy’s translation, we managed to lodge a complaint for lost baggage. I didn’t quite catch what they said, but heard the word “inshallah” a few times. Yeah, god will bring our bags to us!! We took our complaint number and headed to the hotel.

The drive through the city of Cairo to the hotel seemed a lot like the drive from Chhatrapati Shivaji terminal to the town…only the number of rather grand looking mosques seemed to pop up every few meters reminded me that we’re indeed in an Islamic country. On our way, we passed Heliopolis, a very posh area of Cairo where all the grand palaces and villas of Cairo is concentrated. The roads were empty at that hour, but the number of fly-overs also reminded me of Bombay.

The Grand Hyatt is located on an island in the Nile. Our room has a fabulous view of the Nile and the city…apparently in the day we’ll be able to see the Pyramids from the room. Tried standing outside in the balcony, but the smog hanging over the city was asphyxiating me! There’s a barge bearing TGIF logo floating on the Nile – isn’t there a single place devoid of American commercialism???!

1 comment:

Moupiya said...

I can close my eyes and I can just feel like I am seeing egypt thanks to your travelogues. Simple, yet very well written and an amazing sense of humour. The best part is that very sublte human interactions (i dont know how to express this) are prtrayed..for eg the arabic lady trying to pull up the neckline....very touching gesture..and very aptly expressed...i have really loved all your writings....