Day 12 - Hurghada to Cairo, Kahn El Kallili

November 1997

I woke up bright and breezy for a 5am coach to Cairo which never turned up. It broke down before it reached us. We all went back to bed, now thoroughly wide awake, although we could have ended up in the disco again - we joked with the manager about opening it up for us and I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd done it for us either!

At 10am we all met for the coach. Again. It turned out that the 5am convoy, which we were due to go on, had only left at 9.30am because of a coach crash along the route ahead, so it was just as well that we'd stayed in bed. Not much to report after that - we got on the coach, stopped halfway along for a snack in the middle of nowhere, eventually arriving in Cairo. And what a different place it is to Hurghada.

Cairo is huge, smoggy, buzzing and ten times more chaotic than anything I'd seen so far. It makes 'The Big Smoke' look like a breath of fresh air. Also, I saw the first saloon cars in any great numbers here - up till now, all I had seen were pick-ups, buses, vans or caleshes. Or donkeys.

A moment of panic

Anyway, so we've just arrived in Cairo, I've established that much. I had a moment of panic when the coach stopped, Kali said "Just wait here, I've just got to check something out," and then disappeared with the Egyptian rep down a street until she was out of sight. The traffic ahead of us moved on and we were blocking the traffic. Then our driver got out of the coach and walked down the street. And what if we had to move the coach? And what the hell was the problem that had called Kali away so abruptly? I began to think that maybe someone had done a runner with one of the cases and that they were in hot pursuit or something. Me and my active imagination - we were in fact just a stone's throw away from our hotel but the coach wouldn't fit down the narrow road, so Kalie and the driver were trying to work out how to resolve this one.

And then we had the next Geoff incident ... It seems that one of his cases is missing. Perhaps my imagination (about someone doing a runner with a case) hadn't been over-active after all, but he was sure that something was missing as the cases were brought off and piled up on the pavement. Me and Ian C were tasked with watching all the cases to ensure that they all got on to a taxi and all made it the short distance down the road to the hotel. I watched them like a hawk, paranoid that someone might walk past, pick one up then sprint off into Cairo's back streets. If they tried my case, they'd make it 50 yards then keel over with a heart attack, it was that heavy.

Busy bazaar

After being allocated our rooms we went straight back out to Kahn El Kallili, the bazaar near the El Hussein mosque in central Cairo where everybody meets. That's EVERYBODY. On a previous Explore tour, a group arrived in Cairo for their first night and went by taxi to Felfelas to eat. Or at least that was the plan. The tour leader's taxi arrived there, while everyone else got dropped at Kahn El Kallili. They couldn't have found themselves in a more manic place and it must have scared the wits out of them!

We squeezed in to the tightest space ever for a round of felaffals and teas. Geoff was moaning again because no-one was passing down the plain felaffals for him and he wouldn't take the risk drinking out of a glass. I think we provided entertainment for the passing Egyptians and John drew the short straw sitting at the end nearest the alley - every mobile vendor was asking him to buy something. For 'good price' of course.

Mosque meet later

We arranged to meet by the mosque after an hour then took a wander around the bazaar. I didn't intend on buying anything but I came away with one trinket. I bought a little mother-of-pearl box, haggled down from 65 LE to 25 LE - or a fiver in English money. I probably could have pushed it down further. We all split up, me and Andy finding ourselves walking down ever-narrowing alleyways with fewer stalls, so we took an about turn and headed back into the thick of it.

Roadside café

We stopped for a cup of tea at a pavement café. Well, it would be a pavement café if we were in Paris but this is Egypt so instead we had a table on the road from where we casually watched cars drive past within inches of us. While we sat and watched the world go buy, more mobile vendors brought the bazaar to us, including the shoe-shine man who wanted to polish mine and Andy's trainers. That's right, trainers. He took a little convincing that we didn't actually want black polish smudged all over them.

We thought about going to the Cairo Tower but weren't sure when it closed, so instead we opted for the safe option - back to the hotel for some Stella Exports. On the way our taxi driver jumped a red light and got pulled up for it by a traffic policeman. He stopped right in the middle of the street to argue with him about it, causing a traffic jam and much honking of horns in the process. Traffic lights were introduced in Egypt back in the early 80s and they still haven't got used to the idea. Instead they ignore them.