The First Two Hours in Cairo by Nigel Snow

from : A bar frequented by explorer types, Windsor Hotel. Cairo.

"Hello, welcome to Cairo. You look friendly, where are you from? You need a hotel? I am a Bedouin but we don't live in tents. I live near the Pyramids and I don't have a phone. Come, I will take you there. I am Bedouin, come, come."

We had just flown in from Singapore, a place that is more than just different to Cairo; it is Cairo's antithesis. Singapore is modern; Cairo is ancient. Singapore is air-conditioned efficiency; Cairo is dusty chaos. Singaporeans are polite and reserved while Egyptians are ebullient to the point of abrasiveness and this was now apparent with the huge mustachioed man standing in front us. Everyone who talks to you in your first two hours in this city seems to be on the make. Within ten minutes of stepping off the airport bus we were in a perfume shop being smothered in aromatic oils,
"Good for the skin, contains no alcohol, fraction of the price of Poison. Here sit, have some tea. Try this one, it's just like Channel!" Smelling sweet we brushed past the next guy who had an 'uncle' in the Papyrus business,
"It's very cheap. I'll show you something you've never seen before, there's no charge for looking. Just step inside!" Cairo is a desert city of khaki and dun, though I think that has less to do with thoughtful eco-minded city planning than with the fact that half that desert blows into town and coats every surface. Still, after the climate of Singapore that physically assaults you each time you leave a building, the dry air of Egypt reminded us of how good the desert is.

The population of this maelstrom of a metropolis is unknown but everyone we asked is proud that the number is big. Very big according to a particularly pleased schoolteacher we met later and claimed 30 million. With half of them trying to sell us something, we realized it would take hours to walk to our hotel so we hopped in a taxi but the driver didn't speak English. No matter, we were quickly learning the language. He said 'Hello, welcome to Cairo. I will drive you around aimlessly, I'll eventually ask another taxi driver for directions to your hotel (which is only two blocks from where I picked you up) and when we get there I will be very rude when you balk at the extortionate fare I'll demand. Enjoy your stay.'

We arrived at the Windsor Hotel, an old officers quarters from the time when the British controlled this, and almost every country we have been to on this trip from Sedona to Sedona via the rest of the world. It was converted into a hotel around the time my grandfather was born and has proudly changed nothing since. In the hotel bar, there was a British film crew working on a documentary about a Persian army of 50,000 that was lost in the western desert hundreds of years ago. When we asked why they were using the bar as a set they said,
"it's the sort of place explorer types would hang out." I couldn't have agreed more and settled further into an easy chair listening to the clamor on the streets outside. I flagged down the waiter so I could 'explore' a few more beers myself. Two hours down, three more weeks to go.

~ Nigel


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