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Back in Cairo

Well another early morning (3.30am wake-up). The trip from Dahab to Sharm el Sheikh is uneventful until I reach my final checkpoint into Sharm. The so-called security, military, tourist police officer (wearing only normal clothes) asks to see my passport which he is reading upside down. I look at him with a "what the ....??????" kind of expression and he asks my driver if I have an airline ticket. The driver translates this to me which I find absolutely incredible and say of course I have a ticket. The security guy then opens the gate and lets us go.

Sharm airport is a sea of Russians and Italians. Showing how popular this area is with Russian holiday makers is the evidence of signs that are in Russian and Arabic. I move through the security area and into the departure terminal. All my fellow travellers are obviously travelling on package tours because they all have their breakfast boxes full of food. It's funny to see a couple of hundred people milling around with cardboard boxes that have the name of the hotel they have stayed at for the last week or so. They all tuck into their breakfast as they wait for their respective planes to depart.

I arrive in Cairo at the spritely hour of 8am. I look around for my transfer to take me to my hotel in the city. After waiting for 30 minutes I realise no one is coming and find myself a cab. The driver wants 50 EP but I know that I can get it for around 30 EP. He refuses the 30 EP that I offer and will take 35 EP. I agree but then he goes ahead and sticks someone else in the car. I get angry because I don't know who this other guy is. I tell the driver that if I have to share then I will only be paying 30 EP for the trip. The driver agrees and I make my way to the hotel.

I am not looking forward to staying at the Garden City House Hotel again. I ask for a warm room but alas it is not forthcoming but they offer me a heater instead. I look at the tiny one bar coil heater which is some ancient prehistoric thing dating back to the Pyramid era. There is no way this heater is going to keep me warm in my room and I know that it will be another couple of nights freezing again.

I get organised and hit the streets. I want to go and visit the mosques in the Islamic Cairo area and start walking. A guy asks if I am okay and I ask if I am walking in the right direction to the markets and Hussein Mosque. He says that it is too far and that I should catch a cab. He then asks me to see his shop and write my name and address in the guest book. I don't really want to do anything but because of his hospitality I go ahead.

After 30 minutes, I reemerge with some perfume that I had no intention of buying and feeling very ripped off and upset. The pressure to buy was unbelievable and it was the first and only time I really felt unsafe and wanting to just go home. I leave the shop and just start walking in what I think is the right direction. I ask a lady to help me hail a cab and I get to the mosque in time for Friday morning prayers.

This is a very interesting experience. I am allowed to enter one of the mosques. This is pretty cool. There are police men in bullet proof vests everywhere outside the entrance. There are also riot squads and tactical response trucks complete with bullet proof glass, machine guns mounted to the trucks and water cannons. This is really full on and I feel quite insecure about all these security measures. I am asked if I am American and I say no way. I am Australian. Next thing you know the guard is telling me that Australians are okay and that we donated money to Egypt after the 1992 earthquake. Australians are good, you are welcome he says.

I get some great photos of people praying and sitting around waiting for the main prayers to start at around noon. I am shown a number of different rooms etc including a tomb of someone. The guard says I have to leave an offering of 10 EP for the gods or goodness knows what. I leave 5 EP which he promptly pockets. He then allows me to leave the room which unbeknownce to me he had locked. I then had to give him a tip for showing me around. It never ends the pursuit of the tourist doller.

After finishing my first mosque, I wait outside and meet two sisters from Singapore. We talk for a while and go and have a drink together. We are sitting outside the Hussein Mosque drinking tea whilst watching all the men enter the mosque for Friday morning prayers and the women remain outside or enter through a side entrance. It is truely an amazing experience. The ceremony starts and I sit enthralled. It is amazing to see the people praying alongside those eating and drinking at the cafes lined up next to the mosques. Pretty surreal.

Afterwards, I walk around the markets for an hour or so. I then sit on a fence outside the mosque. Its nice just watching the world go by and feeling the sun on my skin. After a couple of hours I make my way back to the downtown area to get some late lunch.

I then decide to check out an Internet cafe and emerge after two hours. I walk home and another guy wants to have a chat. I talk to him as I make my way towards my hotel. I get rid of him pretty quickly which is a pleasant change and then another guy says hello. He turns out to be from Melbourne but is living in Cairo whilst studying at the American University. He says that he heard my Australian accent whilst talking to the other guy. His parents are Egyptian but his dad has returned to Cairo to live and his mother remains in Australia. We go out for a drink and arrange to meet later for drinks and dinner.

He takes me to a nightclub, but we can't enter because of a private party so we go to TGI Friday's instead. Its quite nice and situated on the Nile River so the views are fabulous. We have to pay 75 EP as an entry fee but whatever we order is redemable against this deposit. We have a couple of beers and some food. Its not too bad. After a couple of hours of exchanging cultural experiences and differences its time to head home.


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