Our first day in Cairo

A view of our future outside JFK

Well, we made it to Wednesday somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean I assume. Or perhaps even over the Mediterranean. We sort of made a global beeline from JFK to CAI; passed by the rock of Gibraltar and over Cicely, looped around the Nile Delta and landed on the East side of the river.

I drugged myself with a sleeping pill to try and actually sleep on the plane. I have a very hard time sleeping on moving vehicles of any kind. And any noise or light can keep me awake. I did manage to fall asleep, although I’m certain there was no point at which I stopped hearing babies crying. I felt SO fortunate that Tara and I shared two seats between the window and the aisle. No one sat next to us. The rows were roomier than I remember experiencing with Lufthansa. I could actually stretch my legs out and my knees did not touch the seat in front of me. The food was pretty bad, but then, it reminded me of airplane food back when they used to always serve it on long flights.

Our first view was apropos: dusty, flat, and hazy

Tara was not able to sleep, and instead entertained herself all night long with English subtitled Egyptian comedy and Arabic subtitled movies like Ice Age III. They cranked on the lights and suddenly started making a lot of noise a couple of hours before landing. I had decided not to ask for breakfast, but got a plate dropped in front of me anyway. I ate it to help me wake up.

Pyramids rising in the distance as we rode the bus to our hotel
Structures of mankind

The rest of the day we continued the battle to stay awake. Landing was smooth, and everyone clapped. Interesting. Egypt from the windows of the plane looked like a million square miles of flat yellow sand. (I would soon find out that my first impression of Egypt was accurate!) Customs was pretty easy except that I’m unfamiliar with the process and didn’t realize I needed to stop to buy visas first. But every line was short and simple and we went through without any trouble. Baggage claim took a very long time; it was about 45 minutes before our bags came through. The Gate 1 airport representative, Sami, found us before we had our bags and then we were all ushered to the buses. Sami handed us off to Hossam for our 45 minute ride to the hotel.

Our guide for the remainder of the trip, Hossam, did the guide thing with a microphone in the front of the bus, and Tara and I tried to see as much as we could see from the windows. Our driver, Mohammed, deftly whisked us through the outskirts of Cairo to miss the main city traffic, and many of us gasped in disbelief to spot the great pyramid rising beyond apartment high-rises. Hossam continued to talk about our upcoming itinerary as three Giza pyramids drifted by outside the large bus windows. “Blah blah, pyramids, blah blah blah.” Amazing sights are not amazing when you live with them.

Pyramids of Giza as seen from the streets of Cairo
Apparent construction boom in Cairo

As we saw it that first evening, Egypt is coral-coloured dust and sand and flat. Except for the pyramids. No wonder the ancient pharaohs wanted to build something monumental; everything else is flat. We drank in the sights though, of palm trees and acres upon acres of identical brick apartments. I hungrily scanned the horizon to see every minaret I could see. I love them. There is some kind of pollution/haze/dust in the sky, so we must look at it all through a yellow film.

Our room at the center of the photo

We pulled into our hotel outside the main city in a quiet area, which I appreciate. It should help for sleeping. We gathered in the hotel lobby and were served an orange drink that tasted like Tang to me. Tara loved it, and searched it out at every stop from then on. We were handed our keys and sent to our  rooms to unpack and take a moment to adjust to our surroundings. The Oasis Hotel is much like an American hotel, so of course, I am disappointed. It’s decorated predictably and the rooms are large like American hotel rooms. Tara was an extremely dedicated kid and worked on her math homework for about an hour while we waited for meeting time to make plans for tomorrow. Tara then insisted on writing in her journal, and despite my fatigue, I wrote while she did, to keep her company.

Palm tree with a white trunk!

It was wonderfully warm. When I was done writing, I went for a walk around the grounds to enjoy the remaining rays of sunlight. Everything is paved in stone or filled with lawn. It’s an apparently successful endeavor to keep the sand and dust at bay. I walked barefoot past small clusters of hotel rooms set up like a tiny pristine village beneath soaring palms. It’s remarkably clean considering the dry desert environment. How much cleaning must be required after a brisk wind! The palm trees have white bark, which I have not seen before. It’s very lovely here, though still uncomfortable for me, since I am used to common, blue-collar living. I truly, truly would prefer a tiny dark room at the back of someone’s apartment to this posh environment, removed from everyday life in Cairo.

At the predetermined time we gathered in a group in the hotel lobby while Hossam talked with each of us and checked our plans against his lists. I had hoped to be able to individually purchase the optional side excursions, depending on how much I wanted to spend and how we felt at the time. However, the system on this trip was apparently to make all our decisions on day 1, in a sleep-deprived haze. On the bus ride here, Hossam had explained his estimation of the various optional trips, and managed to talk us out of the pyramid and temple light shows that would be offered. I couldn’t choose a temple or a tour to leave out beyond that, and decided to purchase everything else for both Tara and I, in hopes that we could afford it once I got back home and worked out the finances.

Once we were released, I wanted to go directly to sleep, but Tara was hungry. We ate a simple dinner at the hotel’s Italian restaurant (ha!), with some of our traveling companions. Then we crawled into our comfortable beds.

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