Early this year when I returned from my 2010 Malaysia trip, I committed to a dive trip organized by one of the local dive shop to scuba dive in Egypt Red Sea. Back then I didn’t expect my brother to get married in the same year since he couldn’t give me a definite answer if his wedding is a go or no go. I was actually on the waiting list to go to Egypt since the trip was full. But after the April Egypt riot, the travel list got shorten since many people dropped off the list, and I officially became part of the group that go to Egypt.
Fast forward through summer, I was busy getting my Rescue Diver certification, and get ready for my brother’s wedding which required me to do some shopping, plane ticket handling, and of course the wedding cake thing that I posted, hence there was lack of blog update from me this summer. Besides all these, I was having a nightmare dealing with VISA issue, no it’s not the US VISA issue, it’s the Egypt VISA issue! The dive shop who organize the trip wouldn’t be able to help me with it since they book the trip through a whole sale travel agent, and me being a Malaysian among the Americans diver, I’m on my own when come to that.
You see, if you go to Egypt Embassy Website, they don’t have clear VISA requirement information for Malaysia passport. They say Google has all the answer you need, em, yeah, not even close! A few non official websites list that Malaysia passport will need to obtain Egypt visa prior visit to Egypt, and to get an Egypt visa, you will need to get it from Egypt Embassy. Well, yeah, that’s where the night mare begin. Well, you see, there are 4 Egyptian Embassies in the US, according to my place of residency, I need to apply my VISA through the Egyptian Embassy in Houston, Texas. So, before I leave for my Malaysia trip in August for my brother’s wedding, I got in touch with the Egypt Embassy in Houston, and was told I need to submit my application to the embassy. Fine, I mailed my paper work, passport photos etc, and was told they will notify me when it’s approve. I went on to my Malaysia trip in August, spent 3 weeks in Asia worry if the Egypt visa will arrive in time.
You know the funny thing that went on when I was in Asia? My brother helped check with friends and a couple travel agents since Egypt Embassy doesn’t seems to exist in Singapore: Malaysia passport holder do not need Visa to enter Egypt if the stay is less than 14 days! But wait, the Egypt Embassy in Houston told me I need VISA! What the hell? Well, I trusted the embassy anyway. When I return to US in mid September, there is no news, no mail and nothing about the Egypt visa! I called the Egypt Embassy in Houston, and was told the application was sent to Egypt and waiting for approval, but but…… I will be flying to Egypt in 3 weeks!
Out of desperation, I called the Egypt Embassy in Chicago to check the VISA requirement. Guess what? They freaking told me Malaysia passport holder do not need Egypt visa if the visit is less then 14 days! I asked Embassy in Chicago why Houston said I need VISA? They couldn’t answer me and told me to get in tough with the Embassy in Houston since they’re the one that serve my state of resident. Bloody hell! You thought bad customer service of sending people to run around only exist in big evil corporations, it happen in government agency too!
Needless to say, I was too exhausted to want to deal with the Egypt Embassy in Houston especially no one would answer the phone when I call, so I decided to get on the trip regardless if I have the Visa or not. Worse case is I will just get stuck and have to contact the Malaysia Embassy in Egypt. I have spent so much money to get on the Egypt trip and it’s too late to bail out because of a VISA question that even the Egypt Embassy is not capable of giving me a straight answer.
So, the big day came, a group of 8 from the mid-west got to the airport, try to get on the plane. First, our plane carrier is Delta Airline. And let me say this: Delta ticket/boarding pass system is designed by IDIOTS! The counter doesn’t issue boarding pass, to get your boarding pass, you have to use one of their kiosks to “check-in”. To check in using their kiosk, you need to type in the e-ticket number, indicate how many bags to check in, and last, swipe your passport. I swiped and swiped, it wouldn’t go through. Stupid engineer in Delta, they think only American passport holder fly Delta?! Me being a Malaysia passport holder feels so discriminated, nothing work in my favor these days even I went through the proper process of applying my way to get my green card.
Needless so say, I forced my way to the line of counter while the staff say I have to have a boarding pass printed from the kiosk in order for them to help me. I almost have to make a scene by yelling at them that their stupid kiosk wouldn’t work for me because I don’t own a US passport. Few of the passenger behind me seems to agree with me that their kiosk design has a big flaw.
With all the drama aside, the Delta Airline staff manage to work with me 1:1 to get my bags checked in, re-edit my reservation number so I can get a new boarding pass print out. The night mare is not over yet. Our flight depart to Detroit, and from Detroit to Paris then to Cairo. The flight from Detroit to Paris took 6 hours, I manage to catch some zzz since the airplane TV system sucks big time, I’m so spoiled by Singapore Airline!
While transit in Paris, my anxiety start to set in when we were in line to board the plane to continue to Cairo, Egypt. Will I need a Visa to enter Egypt? It’s one of those moment that you’re dying to find out the answer, but you’re afraid the outcome is not in your favor and you end up become a big looser. In my case, I might have to buy my own plane ticket back to US, which could cost a lot, or I might have to live in the airport for a while, it’s an uncertainty sickening stress that no traveler would want to go through.
At the end of the transit, I have to remind myself what’s going to happen is out of my control, I just have to go with it. Some how I manage to sleep on the plane a bit, that helped me to gather myself a little bit to prepare what’s coming next.
When we landed in Cairo, we deplane, ride the shutter bus to the immigration office. Long and behold, the local travel tour company staff was waiting for us, and have the Americans’ visa pre-purchased, when he sees me, he just say “You don’t need Visa”. Oh my oh my oh my! If it’s not because he’s a complete stranger and the fact that we’re in a Muslim country, I would have give him a big bear hug! That just made day! And I wish the Egypt Embassy staff from Houston is in front of my so I can scream the soul of of that stupid idiot for putting me through this unnecessary stress, don’t they know international affair of VISA is not a laughing joke?
Anyway, it was about 6 pm when we landed at Cairo, we gathered our luggage from a pile of luggage “landfill”, and got on the bus to head to our hotel. The traffic in Cairo was bad, and if you think Kuala Lumpur is bad, you have to see what’s going on in Cairo! There is no sense of traffic light, drivers manage to turn a 3 lane road into a 6 cars lane traffic.
By the time we check into Marriott Hotel of Cairo, it was 10 pm. While my roommate scout around for dinner, I decided to skip dinner, but just go to the hotel bank to exchange some Egyptian Pound, and take a quick look of the facility before call it a night since we have quite a lot of trip lined up for the next day.
The Marriott hotel room we stayed at is very comfortable compare to the air plane seat and air port setting that we were at for the past 11 hours. It’s the biggest hotel in Cairo, but a tube TV? Seriously? Well, I guess only the bed count.
The bathroom is good, so I can officially acclaim that I had my worst hotel bathroom experience in Hong Kong.
Emm…. wait a minute, there is another bowl next to the toilet bowl? Oh wow, em….. why is it not automatic like those in Japan? Am I suppose to clean myself with drinking fountain kind of water stream with my bare hand? Yeah, no thanks, I’m sticking with toilet paper.
It felt wrong to go to bed at 10 pm, I’m on vacation! I didn’t feel like wondering around a strange place my myself, so I peek out the balcony from my room to at least check out the city scene. All I see is the hotel courtyard, where patrons hangout and dine. The weather in Cairo get quite cool at night in October, it’s easily mid 60F when the wind blow. I decided to pack my camera gear bag, re-organize my back pack so I can lock my valuable stuff away the next day to get ready for a full day of travel and sight seeing.
The next day morning, we got up quite early since the tour guide will pick us up around 7:30 am. We had to leave early to beat the traffic, and we need to drive to the country side of the city. On the way out, we stopped by a bridge that over look The Nile, which is the longest river in the world and it’s the life source of Egypt since the ancient time.
I have to say, without knowing the history behind it, it sure look just like a regular river that flow through the city.
As we ride in our tour bus and start to get more remote from the city center, we started to see the true color of the city: lots of brick buildings.
Many of the buildings look abandon and unfinished. It turned out that many of the buildings are not legal and were built on top of agriculture land that the government own. The building support post are expose on top of many building mainly to indicate that the building is not finish, it’s kept that way because if the building is finished built, they will have to pay property tax.
Another reason to leave the building support post exposed is because there is no plan on how many stories they will build for that building. As tenant occupy the building, they will built up more and more. So the building might look 2 stories now, but if you come back next year, it might become a 5 stories tall building. Emm…. what kind of building code is this? I guess no building code exist in this part of the world.
We were told the garbage collectors went on strike since the riot, but growing up in Malaysia, which used to be a 3rd world country, I know that’s not the case in Cairo. Judging from the surrounding, the trash pile is not just happen in one specific area.
Everywhere you go, there are pile of trash at the corner of the street, at the side of river and street. Let me tell you this, we easily can see floating dead mouse in rivers in Malaysia, and we saw floating dead cow in one of the small creek at Cairo as we drive through the country side!
As we enter the country, things become more interesting. Transportation seems to go backward from 4 wheels to 3 wheels.
Before you knew it, water buffalo is sharing the road with our bus!
The best way to observe the local culture is by understanding their everyday life. Seeing the fruit stand really reminded me of the way I grow up: no such thing as air condition store, fruits are in the paper carton for ease of pack and unpack. The variety of fruit also tells me what’s consider local fruit, in this case, Mango seems to be the common fruit around.
As we past by some residential houses, we understand that there is no such thing as lawn and landscape, just sand and palm/mango trees.
I know life could be simple in the country side, but to the point of selling pita bread in open dusty area? It’s a bit hard to accept, yet it looks so rustic and natural.
Everywhere you go, most buildings have exposed support post on top for future expansion. I wonder if there is engineers around to limit the number of stories the building can have.
The rural area is where many of the local agriculture happen. The soil around the area is rich from all the flooding in the ancient time.
Besides water buffalo, local people also use donkey as vehicle.
Almost every corner you turn, there would be a fruit stand. You don’t see any street food stand like in Malaysia or Singapore. I guess Egyptians are not big on street food and snack!
Our first stop of the day is to the Mit Rahina Museum, which is in Memphis. Upon enter the museum area, we saw a few souvenir stands that seems harmless.
I was expecting air conditioned well displayed merchandise souvenir store! Instead, the souvenir stand business people just lay big items on the floor, and keep whatever they can lock away in their booth.
The eye catching outdoor display of the museum is the Sphinx of Memphis.
The Sphinx itself is not very big, but it’s big enough to work us up to want to see the big one later that day.
Our tour guide have a degree in Archeology, so he explained a bit about the history of how Egypt capitals got move a couple times around the Red Sea and delta through out the history during different invasion.
The tour guide did a good job in explaining the history, but all the unfamiliar Egyptian king’s name threw me off so I started to wonder around and snap photos. The Sphinx’s face is very well preserved and smooth consider it has been a couple thousand years old.
Even though the Sphinx of Memphis is not that big, but it sure weight a lot, about 90 tons!
Another signature artifact of the museum is the Statue of Ramesses II (Mit Rahina), which is the most celebrated King. It’s say that he’s the playboy with multiple wives and no less then 200 sons and daughter, wow! The reason why he’s consider the greatest because he got to live a long life of about 90 years old while the common life expectancy of King back then was around 40 to 50 years old.
While we were looking at the statue, the tour guide also explained to us about different posture of statue signify different meaning: two arm cross the chest means dead statue, left leg out means alive, and it’s always the left leg out. The hand of statue is never open and always hold something in the hand, like sword or whip.
Besides statue, there are other artifacts discovered in the desert.
We got a brief explanation of what those symbol carving means, and how they concluded those meaning.
Even though the carving was done thousand years ago, they look like it was done not long ago. I guess being buried in the sand in past couple thousands years manage to preserve them.
After the outdoor museum tour, we went indoor to check out the highlight of the museum, the Statue of Mit Rahina. The reason why this status is famous because it show case the detail and precision of carving in the ancient time. The proportion of muscle, the vein, the clothing, the smoothness of the statue that’s done without machine sanding equipment. It really make you wonder how it was hand made to these level of quality.
When the statue was discovered, it was half sitting on delta/swam water, hence part of the back was corroded
The face of the status really showcase the workmanship of the artist. It also depict the ancient king attire, which is beard and hat with snake as protection.
The Museum is not big, so we were done with it pretty quickly and ready to move on to our next stop, which is on the other side of the country side.