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Saturday, May 21, 2011

An Egyptian Excursion - Day 10 (25th May 2010) and General Impressions

This was our last day in Egypt with plenty of travelling to be done. There’d be no more calls of Salaam Maleikkum, Y’allah, India India, Insha Allah, Shukran, Amitabh Bachchan etc. after today.

We left the resort at 6am and took the flight to Cairo. Business class was empty except for us and some Sheik who looked to be Saudi, decked in the traditional robe and headdress. Just before we took off, 2 armed forces fighter jets did a flyby and then landed. The flight was good enough and the aerial view of sights like the Pyramids was amazing. We had quite some time to waste at the Cairo Airport. The shuttle bus was a pain-in-the-rear, but we soon reached our terminal and checked in and started our tour of the duty-free sections. There was some guy on a Haj trip being very generous, handing out cash to pretty much every airport worker he met. From Cairo, we took the flight to Abu Dhabi. Some Tamil guy who’d been stopped from boarding for having way too much hand baggage and he was charged for it. Bugger must have been trying to ship way too much booze from the looks of it, from the duty free shopping in Cairo. Abu Dhabi as such seems to be a small airport terminal with never enough seating compared to a lot of other international airports that we've seen. Here, there was some Bangla guy at one of the check-in counters trying his darnedest to make the counter staff understand what he was trying to say (he really didn’t know even a modicum of English).

Anyway, we took a walk to the nearby Terminal 3 where the shopping was slightly better and we loaded up on chocolates as usual. This is one of the few international airports I’ve seen where the Indian rupee was usable. The flight to Chennai was boarding soon enough, and as always there was a big rush to get on. It’s terrible why Indians can’t ever learn to respect the queue and keep their voices down too. There were also plenty of people removing their glittering gold bangles and putting them into their bags – don’t quite know why. The flight was pretty bad though with the air-conditioning system having some problem and we finally reached Chennai at 4am local time on the 26th of May.

The queues at the customs check-in counters were horribly mismanaged. People were jumping queues, and some queues were moving at a brisk pace while others were dead slow. Instead of giving preference to people who’d been standing for a while already, they’d just open a new counter when they felt like it and move people coming from the latest flight onto it. Then they’d close a counter and ask the people to go stand at the back of the queue at the new counter again. Just a whole load of bullcrap. One old man standing in front of his pointed out how this was rather unfair and poorly managed and the customs official standing there had the gall to say “We know how to manage, you don’t need to teach us” with no regard to the poor state of things there as well as any respect he should have accorded the man atleast looking at his age. Such is the hubris of some pompous government servants here. I wonder if they’ll ever be cut down to size and whether things will ever change. Probably not. And so it was back to Chennai and traffic.

General Impressions.

  1. People here generally start off a conversation with some sort of greeting - Salaam maleikkum, peace be upon you, how are you - before popping any sort of question, even if you’re just asking a stranger for directions.
  2. Around May 2010, 8 Indian rupees equalled 1 egyptian pound. Damn rupee is always low no matter where we go. Some people called the Egyptian pound’s sub-unit Piastres.
  3. The tout problem here isn’t really significant. Just say 'No thank you, la shukran' a few times and they’ll go about their business without bothering you.
  4. The Police are ALWAYS around. Plainclothes policemen carry sidearms. Uniformed ones in white sport Kalashnikovs. However I've read that it isn't safe for single women to backpack alone even with police around.
  5. Friday is a holiday here so plan accordingly.
  6. The drivers here proudly proclaim that Cairo is the worst place to drive. They obviously haven’t driven in an Indian metro like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai or Kolkatta.
  7. Taxi drivers in Cairo are pretty insistent. They may keep lining up, offering you a ride and turning it down again and again is made slightly difficult because of the language barrier.
  8. There are plenty of cats around –far more so than any other pet animal.
  9. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, has plenty of makeup on and a ton of hair gel for guys. Even little kids seem to sport perfect haircuts and several layers of makeup.
  10. Amitabh Bachchan fans are everywhere, very few seem to know Shahrukh Khan or Aishwarya Rai. There was just that 1 guard at the museum in the Coptic Area in Cairo who took a look at us and said “India – Amir Khan I like!” and flashed us a thumbsup.
  11. There are no Swensen's outlets here. No big ice cream retail chains I came across. And ice-creams don’t make an appearance at most buffets either. Only smaller shops and big bakeries have ice-cream counters.
  12. 10am to 4/5pm each day – that’s the only time attractions are open, so plan accordingly.
  13. If you’re a college student, bring your university ID Card. They’re actually supposed to give discounts only for Egyptian students or those with an international student ID (a specific kind of ID) but even I was able to save a lot despite my major being engineering and not history.
  14. Quote Amitabh (not Govindha), especially if you see a television set playing a Hindi movie in a shop. Once again everyone likes him, so you’ll get a healthy discount at some smaller shops if you do.
  15. If you’re vegetarian, things are going to be a bit difficult. I think they use animal fat while cooking even rice, because the rice does have a slight flavour of the same to it.
  16. People here drive on the Right side of the road like they do in the US.
  17. At most times throughout the year, it’s very dry, humidity is low and the temperature is high. So take enough moisturiser, sunscreen and protective wear.
  18. Remember this - my trip was half a year or more before the Arab Spring revolts that began in Egypt unseating the government of President Hosni Mubarak. Things have changed plenty in that country since then, the military is in charge, and it might not be quite the dream fantasy vacation it seems from these posts. A pity really considering all the magnificent sights Egypt has, not to mention the only surviving one of the true Seven Wonders of the World. 


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