Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cairo,EGYPT Hurghada, EGYPT: How to survive and enjoy : WHERE IT ALL BEGINS Part 1

If you have seen the tourism commercial and ads of Egypt...you won't miss out this phrase "Where It All Begins".  It's up to your wildest imagination : ancient civilization, political chaos, baksheesh (i'll talk about this later) or the dishes that are available in Arab and Meditterenean countries: ...Curious?  Go visit Egypt! :)

Egypt is a country wherein you have to study, research and understand before doing your first step  unless you're booking your holiday via travel agencies and just follow those flags or umbrellas of your tour guide.  In HT couple's opinion, if you don't know the language, prepare thoroughly.  The only Arabic phrase i learned was Thank you (Shukran) and No, thank you (La Shukran).  And learning these were essential.

Where to start:

Start by looking out of the window of the plane.  Desert, Red Sea, Desert..oh and Nile river...that comprises Egypt :) I haven't flown above this continent, so this was something unique.  It was my first time not to fall asleep during landing (I usually fall asleep during take offs and landings..it's like sleeping pills to me)

If you're a dive enthusiast, do visit the Red Sea together with your dive gears and excitement. 
The Red Sea is known for it's abundant water species and it didn't failed me!  I was so happy that Red Sea is very comparable to the dive sites in South East Asia (Indonesia and Philippines being my favorites).  During summer, wearing 3mm dive suit (same as in Asia), is good enough and diving from September onwards, a thicker (5mm) dive suit might be handy (especially if  your freezing tolerance level is as weak as mine).

Take liveaboards!  I can't remember when was the last time i dive via land.  I just enjoyed staying in the boat, sleeping there for a week while being rocked by the sea waves (with seasickness pill) and of course, the unlimited food!!! HT hubbie booked BlueOTwo for our dive trip to the Red Sea.  It was the best liveaboard that we've been to...here's why...

We had spacious, clean room (and our own tv with media player...beat that!) and private bathroom (which was wide enough and for the first time, i didn't get bruised while taking showers), good dive deck, 2 huge saloons where you can read a book, watch a movie or play games (rummikub!) with the other divers.

wide selection of books, huge sunbathing deck (be careful being friendly with the sun in Egypt, it's atrocious!), unlimited snacks (cookies, breadsticks, chocolates and softdrinks!) and those bean bags where I sat on was addictive.  I was supposed to study some dutch in between dives, but with this beanbag seat, snoozing is inevitable.  Sleep, Eat, Dive, Eat, Sleep, Dive...yes this is what i called a getaway!

This boat fed us pretty well.  I had all types of Egyptian food prepared just like they do at home (It was the best Egyptian dishes I had in the whole Egypt trip), plus, there was one dinner wherein we had a huge roasted turkey with gravy!  Our room was beside the kitchen so i've sneaked out this photo of this big bird before it was served.  In this boat, you don't have to be considerate to others as they have more than enough food for everyone and there was a point that we were all shouting for mercy to stop OVER feeding us.

Not only 1 but 6!  We were pretty lucky but i heard the week before we went diving, other divers saw 50+!  It was mating season so they're all over the sea.  The dive crew was very helpful.  They don't speak English but sign languages worked well.

BlueOTwo is a British dive company therefore, it's not surprising that majority of the divers and instructors were British.  I haven't been to the UK nor dealt with a group of British before but it was nice to hear your name being pronounced correctly (Trivia: my mom chose a british name for me, but she removed one of the R's so that my name will still be unique and my grandmother of chinese heritage wouldn't have more difficulty in pronouncing the R's.  One is complicated enough so why make it 2? :D).  And every morning, they would ask me  "How did you sleep, ?", with an accent that sounded like a royalty and I was so tempted to reply "very well, sir" with a good curtsy (no worries friends!  I decided not to, as I don't want them to think that Filipinos are not in their right state of mind :D)

We would definitely be diving with them again...the only concern is where...but we'll take a break for now. :)

In Cairo...
from left to right: Don't miss the Egyptian Museum and be amazed of the artifacts.  Go early as the group tours are quite irritating as they blocked your way.  There are freelance tour guides standing outside the museum, who can be friendly with you by asking " where are you from? , etc" and later on convincing you to get their tour guide service.  Don't pretend that you don't know English as most of them are multi-lingual.  (I heard they don't have much chinese or japanese tour guides...so we Asians can pretend if they started to be annoying...and believe me, they are). To shoo them away, just say " La Shukran".  No cameras inside.  The Royal mummies are recommended if you want some few goosebumps here and there.

Visit the Coptic or Old Cairo.  This showcased catholic churches and a synagogue bringing you to old times when majority of the citizens are Christians.

Coptic Christians don't have statues of saints.  They have pictures of saints and I saw the locals kissing portraits or hand-sewed image on carpets.

Visit Citadel where the mosque of Mohammed Ali lies.  They asked us to remove our shoes and go barefoot.  Check out how i have lifted my toes.  There's a vendor who's selling throw away socks but I was stingy to buy a pair.  I had wet ones with me so I cleaned my feet before wearing my shoes again. :)

 We were in one of the main roads in Cairo. Only in Egypt!  These camels are cute!

Stroll along Khan El Khalili Bazaars.  I love seeing herbs and spices being sold as well as bread being carried by vendors around.

There are a lot of vendors trying to sell you herbs, souvenirs and even revolution shirts...and if you don't want any...just say 'La Shukran' or if you want to buy something, put in mind that they see you as a cow that they can milk so during bargaining, it's reasonable to bring it to 1/3 of the price.  You'll still get ripped off, but at least not much :).  And if you have space in your luggage, take home one of the seeshas.

Take some Iced Karkadai (hibiscus tea drink) at Fishawy in Khan El Khalili while watching the tourists and locals passing by.

While sitted in Fishawy, lots of vendors are going around and trying to sell items.  There's one guy who wanted to sell sunglasses to HT hubbie and even if he had said no several times, he was really pushy up to the point of annoying.  As a good loving HT wife, I told the guy nicely 'La, Shukran' but i was shouted and informed that he doesn't talk to women only to men.  Fine!  Then why bother reacting to me then?  I was irritated but decided not to stoop down to his level and just accepted that that is their culture. 

A local told us that they're a bit disappointed with the backward attitude of some of their citizens which drives away tourists.  There was a guy who tried to pull my arms to draw to his stall and I told him not to touch me and he said something in Arabic but definitely not a sorry.  A local also mentioned that it's safer to be with guides especially if the group is all ladies to avoid this situation.  They still have this notion that women are not equal to men.  And as tourists, you have a big dollar or euro sign on your forehead to some of the vendors and taxi drivers so beware.  Make sure you have enough small change with you as drivers always pretend they don't have change for you.  Don't be scared to ask a local to exchange money so you can give the driver the exact amount.

Here's a taxi fare guide from our hotel.  We stayed in Zamalek area and not downtown in Cairo, due to the political instability.  We wouldn't want to get stuck in riots and protests so Zamalek was a good choice for a quieter, peaceful and a few minutes away from downtown.

Baksheesh - tips you give in restaurants or to the people who helped you out.  What's irritating is, they see you as a baksheesh giver before they help you.  No baksheesh, no help.  A guy helped us crossing the street without asking for help and we thought there's still hope in this country until he started asking us " Where are we from" and followed us.  We just ignored him and he got tired anyway.  So much for the hope. 

There can be a lot of touts.  You just need to be aware and be cautious.  Make sure that at the end of the day, you're on vacation, have fun and don't let touting ruin your holiday.

Part 2...up next!


  1. Wow I love your blog!
    Looking forward to go there again myself!

  2. Wow, interesting write-up about Egypt... Didn't expect the locals to condemn women so badly... That is quite rude of him to say that to you...

    The dive boat looks so new and beautiful, gonna forward your link to my ex-colleague... She is a dive-fanatic... Not sure have you been to Palau but is highly recommended by her to divers.

    It is amazing how you manage to plan such comprehensive free and easy, love the way your concise introduce on the food, place and culture... =)

  3. @mercedes - Bedankt!
    @Fen - the diving is breathtaking. The tour was more adventurous and challenging but we didn't get a tour guide (except for the desert tour), so DIY opened our eyes how it is to be a REAL tourist in Egypt :) It was fun studying and preparing and being there :)