Thursday 19th January 2006
Set off from Nottingham, England for Egypt on Wednesday evening, straight from work. This is normal for myself but I am not sure that everyone would put up with the overnight journey at the start of what was going to be a hectic 3 weeks, but hey, here am I am now in Cairo ready for the start of the competition.
The journey involved catching an overnight bus to Heathrow, due to arrive in plenty of time for the 6 a. m. flight. Although, this was in doubt around Luton when the driver was heard asking passengers for confirmation that he was on the right road, a quick 180 degree turn at the next roundabout saw us back on track. Any hope anyone had of a reasonable kip were thwarted by the drivers announcements as he arrived at his latest destination and yelled, without using the intercom. ‘Are you all awake, well you will be now and we’ve just arrived at….’
The journey involved a change of planes at Milan, where upon joining the queue an announcement was made ‘Please note that your flight may be delayed or cancelled due to strike action here in Italy’. This would not be the first time that I had been affected by such a thing in Italy, and so it was no real shock. On this cheery note I set off to check the departures board to find that a number of flights had been cancelled but that God willing, the flight for Cairo was due to depart on time. Worryingly a flight back to London around the same time had been cancelled.
There were a number of bona fide French and Italian journalists on board and the flight made good time and arrived 30 minutes ahead of schedule. There were a number of posters advertising the football competition and even a welcome desk, but it was unattended. Coming off the plane we were straight into a throng of people queuing at Passport control. This became a bit of a melee as I realised that I needed to purchase a visa before I could join the main throng. A scramble had developed as some people realised they needed to prioritise which queue they joined first.
I noted that the exchange rate given for the Egyptian pound at the airport here in Cairo was much better that anything I was able to obtain at home about 10 Egyptian to 1 British pound. In fact a number of High Street Banks did not have the currency in stock. A visa was purchased for 90 Egyptian Pounds and two small stamps were given to me. Someone else in the crowd handed back the stamps thinking they were ordinary postage stamps…. only to return later. It took over an hour to clear customs, not something I had bargained for.
After this I made my way through the mass of people waiting in the arrivals hall, and was accosted by a number of taxi drivers offering their services. Me jump in a taxi, and be driven straight to my hotel, in a country I’ve never been to before and don’t speak the language. No way. Off I went out into the car park where I understood that there would be a bus – Number 356 to the City Centre. There was no sign of any bus so I sloped back to the terminal building and found that I needed to get the Car Park bus to terminal 1 and from there I could pick up a bus that would take me downtown.
As I got off the bus at the car park I saw the 356 pass by. I had studied my Egyptian numbers and at least I now knew where to catch the bus from. As I walked towards the spot on this roundabout I enquired if I could catch any other bus. I was informed that there were any number I could catch and that if I wanted to come with my new found friend he would ensure I got to my destination. As a bus approached he shouted at me to ‘get ready’, as it drove past us he shouted “run’ and we jumped on the bus as it sped off. I had no idea what bus number I had got on, due to the speed at which things had happened and the fact that I had only mastered the numbers 3 5 & 6 to enable me to spot the right bus.
My new found friend asked if I was OK, on this bus as we could get an air conditioned one if I wanted. I was fine and simply opened the window so that I could see what was going on. The bus was rather old, not quiet the 50’s American school bus type but probably something built just after then and what’s more it hadn’t been washed since then either. My new found friend then insisted on paying the fare – 25 piastres (3 pence). Indebted to him for this I found that he too was going to be watching the football and “inshallah” (God willing) he felt that Egypt as hosts were favourites for the competition. After this brief exchange he called over an elderly gentleman and gave him his seat, he waved farewell and said he knows where you are going.
I then sat back and watched the chaos on the roads. I had been aware that ever since I had been on the bus I could hear car horns regularly giving single beeps of the horn. As I looked out of my open window I could see that drivers were correcting their steering and criss crossing between lanes. In fact there were 3 lanes of traffic to my left filled constantly with 4 cars. I then heard one long beep of the horn as a car managed to speed past the traffic. So I gathered,1 beep is for watch out I’m here, and the long beep seems to be saying get out the way I’m coming through. I then saw a car on the other side of the road reversing at speed as he had missed a fork in the road, all this while cars were still travelling at speed towards him. I also noted the number of pedestrians risking life and limb crossing the roads in the middle of all this chaos.
I noted that my guardian had now fallen asleep. The bus by now was crammed full and I noted also that it was starting to get dark. I got out my guide book to try and work out where we were, but I had no idea from looking at the road signs. I did gather that we were near Heliopolis as I saw the old trams I had read about. I knew that I had a big river as a landmark so I just waited for the bus to either pass the River Nile or arrive at its terminus. After one and a half hours the bus came to a halt. I wandered off and looked around. Immediately I spotted the Nile Hilton (written in English), no problem I knew where I was just 5 minutes from new home. But wait, how do I get from here, to the other side of the main road. Oh hell, just go, and there I was dashing in and out of the traffic with the locals.
So god was willing and I made it here in one piece. Tomorrow morning the next instalment will see me go to collect my tickets for the competition from The Ministry of Youth, this is bound to be straight forward as I had all the incidents one could cope with in Lima when I collected my internet order there.