Feb 12, 2017

My first time in Egypt: The Gong Show.

My first time in Egypt:


So Doger and I are off to Egypt, I’ve brought all his documents, called the airline ahead to make sure he gets on.  Most airlines are starting to recognize therapy/psych support animals (PTSD) as service animals, so this waives the fee for pet in cabin and pretty much guarantees your pooch a spot at your feet :)

We checked in nice and early from Milan Malpensa, they thoroughly checked my documents including his passport (the one I made and will soon be distributing) before letting me go.  This was the most he was checked for the remainder of our adventure. 

I went through Italian customs and was a little surprised to have the customs officer asking me loads of questions; what did I do in Italy, what am I doing in Egypt, how did I learn to speak Italian, what do I do for work, how I spoke so well, then I realized - he was flirting with me!  THIS was a first. Customs in any country is usually very serious, I’ve never had this happen… so I'm blushing and trying to be sincere but also slightly nervous because I often come back and forth through Italy so I don't want any trouble with immigration, and then I realized HE WAS HITTING ON ME.  He had asked me to come around to the back to see the rest of me... he was CHECKING ME OUT. he even had his friend take a look!  I blushed and laughed as I clumsily exited the customs stand and wandered to my gate...

So I was booked on Egypt air, and I was travelling with my dog. I had flown once with this airline before and it wasn't too easy, but this time everything went smoothly. I boarded the flight to Cairo without a hitch, and had the seat next to me open for comfort (thank you Egypt Air!) 

now, normally I pre-order a vegetarian meal. I'll tell you why EVERYONE SHOULD DO THIS before I go on:
BECAUSE YOU GET FED FIRST.  Doesn't matter what your meal preference is, if you don't have any dietary concerns, just order kosher or low sodium, you still get fed first and that's AWESOME!
Secondly, if they have any leftover meals, you will have finished by the time they go past so you can ASK FOR MORE FOOD!  Do it. I do it all the time. Yes, I like airplane food! 

Anyhow I had forgotten about my vegetarian meal so I was watching them hand out the special meals and this flight attendant caught my eye, I was slightly confused about his reaction and also he was in the other row, but I had the idea he was asking if I wanted to eat... Did I fall asleep? Did you have to ask for food? Anyways, lots of back and forth hand signals and eye movements, and I gave up and just waited. I did get a meal, and I had to ask for a vegetarian option but the hostess was gracious and gave me one of the crew meals YAY THANK GOODNESS and then that guy kept eye googling me!  Finally he came up with two cups of juice and said "here, special for you, juice." and then proceeded to tell me that he had to see me, and I should stay with him one night in Cairo. Thanks, Mohammed, for the awkwardness.
But guess what, it didn't end there!  THE WHOLE FLIGHT he kept staring at me from across the aisles and tried to find excuses to come and talk to me (and by talk, I mean beg me to stay in Cairo with him.)  Now this guy is what, 30-35 years old, has a belly, and is so aggressive...  and he doesn't even know me and I don't know him, but he's insistent that he's in love with me and it's my fault cuz "my eyes."  
He was GRABBING MY HAND. Kissing my hand. Sitting in the empty seat beside me.
I asked Mohammed "isn't this behaviour going to get you in trouble? Shouldn't you be working?" followed by a desperate plea; "BEHAVE!" and I'm sitting here laughing out of sheer embarrassment as the surrounding passengers are getting a kick out of this primal attempted-mating display, and finally I asked "how long have you been working for this airline, exactly??" 
Oh, only 13 motherfucking years...

Never in my entire life have I seen this kind of behavior from flight crew. Pilots off-duty Ok, I get it, but this??? This dude's #1 job is SAFETY and all he can think about is getting his dick wet.
I smell a pink slip....

SO needless to say, after getting his number, I finally escaped, never to call him or see him again (thank GOD)...  For my domestic flight to Hurghada. Now I am a bit in panic, because I only have 40 minutes to hit customs and get to the next flight, WITH A DOG. Shit.  Now I do what I usually do, stick him in the bag and RUN TO THE PASSPORT CONTROL and figure I won't say anything if I can avoid it, so I make this flight (late night...)
I get to the place - down to 30 minutes... and I need to GET A VISA FIRST.... all these signs saying VISA ON ARRIVAL GO TO NEAREST BANK. WTF?
You actually have to GO TO A BANK and PAY FOR YOUR VISA. 25$ US AND THEY DO NOT TAKE CARDS.  Mother fuckers want US dollars, direct me to the ATM, but it only dispenses local currency. I figured it was less so I took out 100 Egyptian Pounds, turns out that's 1/4 of what I acutally need. But why the fuck would he tell me local price for a visa when he can tell me AFTER I waited in line for the ATM? I run back, waiting again, get the money, run to the bank...
I have already at this point begged the staff to inform the plane I AM ON MY WAY... 20 minutes to takeoff...
Pay for my VISA. Now the airport staff is rushing me through passport control and the security screening, pulling doger out for the xray of his bag and nobody says a word (good news) I proceed to RUN TO THE PLANE.

I get there, and NOBODY IS BOARDING. There's just a long ass line... I could have had a smoke, fuck man.

Anyways, I get to Hurghada and go to pick up my bag, now they tell me I have to talk to customs with my luggage for screening! AH SHIT. Here's where they'll ask for the paperwork for Doger.... I prepare myself, and walk towars those doors at 1:00 in the morning...
The guy looks at me, and loos at my bags, and says "what's in the bag." 
"Oh, that's my DOG."
"Oh. Ok. No no, I don't want to see. What is in your SUITCASE?"
"Oh! My suitcase? Clothes?"
"Ok thank you bye."

Egyptian customs ... don't care about dogs. cool beans.

SO my host is waiting for me outside the airport, thankfully there is wifi so I shot a message on What's app, he kindly takes me to the car and greets Doger (somewhat awkwardly - I learn this is common in Egypt. People love dogs, but do not touch them.) and I jump in the car to go see my accommodations.
Which, I might add, were acquired only 1 hour prior to my arrival...

A nice GIANT villa which will be hosting a group of 4-5 people, they had put a deposit for 1 month, but it's not like a hotel. It's just, a privately owned, old, and somewhat run-down villa which is in desperate need of a cleaning.

No toilet paper, no towels or clothes, kitchen has a couple forks, one glass one mug, and a few plates... NO dish towels, no clothes, no SOAP.  gross.

ANYWAYS - at this point I don't care, I am hungry and want to settle in.
We head out into the night and Hurghada is far from asleep at 1:00am! We drive through the bustling city to find some good streetfood/seafood...  I LOVE eating streetfood! It's gross and delicious and gets you immersed into the place, but I do not recommend for anyone who has a weak stomach ...
My host is reaching into a zippered pouch attached to the shade above the drivers side, and I kept thinking "is it safe to keep cash in the car?" I am slightly paranoid, especially after living in Vancouver, but he doesn't seem rattled. He does lock the car every time we exit, even if only a door down, but the stack of cash stays in the car.
Egypt is safe, he assures me.

so I chose to get grilled prawns, the BIG ONES omg I love them ... Egyptian style (some interesting spices used, and they ended up being overcooked, but they were AMAZING at the time.) and my host chose some fish (which I thought tasted like kerosene from the grill but I discovered that ALL grilled fish tastes like that here, so I don't like it at all...) and we picked up some veggies & fruit from the stand, then popped over to another store to buy some beer and wine for the meal!  We were ready.

On our way back to Villa #1, my host was reaching for his phone when the asshole in front of us CUT US OFF IN A ROUNDABOUT (left turn when he was in the right lane) - because of that idiot, and the one on his phone (DO NOT TEXT AND DRIVE PEOPLE JESUS WILL YOU EVER LEARN) we HIT THE FUCKER.  Rear ended him! Spilled everything everywhere, but no broken bottles thank GOD, and nobody got hurt. We stopped, put the 4-way flashers on, and THE GUY DROVE AWAY!!!! WTF????  If you rear-end someone in Canada, you're 100% at fault no matter what the reason.  And this idiot runs off? Was he afraid to get in trouble for pulling that stunt?  Maybe... 

So welcome to Egypt. First experience in a hit and run accident.  Car has a new tattoo... Host doesn't care, we're ready to eat and drink! LET'S GO!!!
We make it back, park the car, and go to prepare our dinner at 2:00 in the morning.
I washed off some tomatoes and cucumbers, cut them and served them with a little salt. Big bowl for the prawns, and plate for the fish.. and YUMMMMMMM eat!
We cracked a couple beers and just chatted, talked about the things we wanted to do etc.
I am pretty sure we were up until 6am... I wanted to swim in the pool (yea, the villa had a pool!) But it was filthy, the "house guys" who lived in the back yard promised to have everything cleaned in the morning.

DAY 2:
I dragged myself out of bed and happily got ready, of course had to borrow a towel because there were none in the villa, but showered and got ready with what I had.

I went up to the top for a nice view, and really noticed the layer of dust covering every inch of the place. "hope they clean this thoroughly," I thought. I took a photo of the view, and realized just how dirty our place was... the pool hadn't been touched. Wasn't it afternoon, now? I guess I'm not swimming...
My host got up and had to leave for a meeting, so I dedided to relax in the sun and write, or play on my computer, no worries.  He promptly came back into the house and said "come here, look at this surprise..."

I walked out to the car, and the rear driver window had been smashed. everything was strewn about. The car was broken into! My host was in shock, he swore that never happened before, and it was a safe place... but because of his trust, ALL HIS MONEY WAS STOLEN. Why do people carry cash, anyways? It's always a bad idea.
This was the very beginning... of my "worst vacation ever..."

I spent the following 10 hours sitting in the car. waiting. Because of this we decided it was a good idea to change accommodations, and he suspected that it could have been the keepers that broke in, so since they didn't do their job (to protect us and to actually clean the damn house) we spent the next 4 hours looking for another place. I found a great one on air bnb, but my host was insistant on going to another villa he found before. we went to check it out and did a lot of back and forth... that day was cleaning the car, fixing the window, packing our bags, trying to get a deposit back from the other villa, ugh... what a stressful day! End of the day the police were out in full force as it turned out the thief had broken into 12 cars the same day. 

We ended up moving into Villa #2 (which was much cleaner, had a gated parking spot, and a nice clean pool) by around midnight.  The villa was quite cold, so I cranked the heat and wrapped myself i a big furry blanket. I had packed for temperatures of 20-26 degrees Celcius, but the average temperatures were 15-20. I WAS FREEZING! Plus the villa was concrete, so extra cold. And the winds were cold.  My bad, though. Poor planning on my part! So I threw on some pants. When we came back to Villa #2 to make a deal and collect the keys, the owners "forgot to mention" they needed a MARRIAGE CONTRACT (Because I'm a foreigner and a woman.) in order to go ahead with the rental. THANKS FOR TELLING US BEFORE WHEN I TURNED DOWN AN AMAZING AIR BNB! We decided to stay one night then try again to find a new place tomorrow.
THEN we grabbed a bite to eat, and went back to sleep. I was so exhausted I put on my meditations and passed right out.

DAY 3: Next morning I booked a room at the Hilton (because after HOURS OF SEARCHING we couldn't find pet friendly, and remember I have Doger.) so we booked 2 rooms at the Hilton for 2 nights, then we would go to Cairo after that. We have now wasted 3 days. The desert safari and day on the island (beach day) are still waiting, but the temperatures are dropping and all activities are looking less and less likely...  We checked into the Hilton and FINALLY I GOT TO UNPACK. Keep in mind, this is day 3, location #3! It was too late to do anything, so we went to eat food then decided to go out to a club. We had planned to take the boat at 9am so I told my host "please we need to be back early or I won't be able to wake up"... instead, my host got white girl wasted and we didn't get back until 4-5am. After I turned down his drunken advances, he angrily stormed off to mope about his rejection while I once again, put on my meditations and slept.  I woke up at 11am, sad that I missed breakfast and the opportunity to go to the island, but I thought "screw it, there is a pool, maybe I can hang out in the sun here away from the wind?" I went to wake up my host, he was completely passed out.
I left him alone to sleep and waited until about 2pm before I tried again.  I asked if we could go eat, as I had been waiting already for a while, and my belly was STARVING...
We got dressed and went out to eat.  
I'll admit, while the itinerary and accommodations were not a great experience, I did enjoy the food in Egypt! Especially the prawns.  Mmmm.

So day 4 was a write off.... Let's try for day 5, shall we?
It turned out that it was too windy for a desert safari, so we decided to extend our trip by another day. My host was freaking out about the budget, having lots a good chunk to 2 failed villas, and now had to pay for 2 hotel rooms (which cost more individually) AND the 25 USD daily PET FEE (service animals NOT exempt, thanks, Hilton!) was breaking the bank.
We had to move, again.  FML.
This time, he said we would get up early and go to an apartment his cousin had found for him. We would get the numer at 10am...

So we woke up, checked out, and waited.  Again. In the car, with our luggage... for 5 hours... before we heard from our contact about the apartment.

There goes THAT day... moved in around 6-7pm, day 5 location #4.
We decided to get the jungle safari done the next day... FINALLY! Something touristy!

After all that time, my trip more than half finished, I was excited to DO SOMETHING!

We woke up bright and early to go on our adventure! They picked us up and took us out to the desert... It was a long and bumpy ride, but I was primed and ready to go!  First we were going to ride ATV's through the sand dunes... I've seen pictures and it sounded awesome!  We had a group of 6 with us, some muslim ladies and a polish mom and her little kid. I wondered if the kid would hold us back....  I guess we'll see.
We arrived after a good hour of driving to a giant ATV place... there were several shops/companies that had TONS of quads... some people were driving down courses with rubber tires, like go karts.  We went to wrap our heads in the typical way to protect ourselves from the sand and sun, and boarded our ATV's. The tour was 100% in arabic. I didn't understand a word. We got out on the ATVs and I was under the impression we had to drive in a line so they could determine our abilities and comfort on the quad, before doing anything fun.
I was mistaken.
We drove in a line, for half an hour, not faster than the slowest person, and got in shit if we went out of the line.
Well, it was kind of fun for the first minute, anyways...

Next, another hour drive into the desert. I think they normally get you to drive the ATV into the desert for a couple hours, but because it would be dark, they took us in the van. (I think it would have been way more fun to take the quads, oh well...)
We arrived at a little spot for tea and bread, then went to ride camels... YAY!  CAMELS!

I was SOOOOO looking forward to this! Like, the number one thing I wanted to do next to see the pyramids, was ride a camel! I wanted to pet them, see how they behaved, play with them... and ride along the sand hills ON A MOTHAFUCKIN CAMEL! OOOOH YEA!

There was a huge crowd of people at this point, about 50.  There were 4 camels.

We stood in line for a while, and then eventually, climbed onto the camel, walked about 20 feet, turned around, walked back, and got off the camel.
THAT WAS IT. 2 minutes on a fuckin camel.

We saw an "authentic village" in the desert (right next to the stages set up for tourists), where they made pita's on the fire, used desert dried things for hygiene and health, and didn't have electricity (except for the tourists) so they slept when the sun went down.

After that we skipped off to ride something called "spider cars" which was kind of like a shitty golf cart, same rules as the quads. Straight line, follow the leader.. Still kind of fun :)
We finished our circle and hopped off to walk back towards the stage/food area.
We then walked through the "snake pit", a mini zoo like terrarrium set up of a few reptiles, one cobra, and then... dinner!
The dinner show was mediocre at best.
Waited again to line up for the buffet. Fresh salad, the dressing ran out quickly... Mushy pasta, a couple sausages, rice, and an orange for desert. Yum!
(not really, though.)

The show started with a guy who laid on pins and swallowed a sword, it was so damn cold I hid in the corner (didn't really see it) but then there was a little boy dancing in a dress thing with plates so I watched that little bit of culture, after was the belly dancer (yay! I haven't seen one since I have been here!) and out came a petite lady, wearing a plain black dress, and her moves were not as good as my own mother who took a couple classes 20 years ago. She danced for a couple songs, facing mostly the camera's (for the video taken for the tourists...)

After the "amazing show", we all got back in our vans to drive back through the desert at night... but not before we blew a tire in the middle of the cold desert! Yay! Thankfully it only took a half hour to fix as we all stood in the wind under the black sky and a few stars...

That was the highlight of my trip. That day. Best thing that happened.
Can you hear my enthusiasm from the other side of the screen?

Moving along... the next day we were going to CAIRO! Packed our stuff (again) and got into the car, but my host had been up until 4am stewing about something, the next morning he told me he had a meeting with something that was super important, so we couldn't go to Cairo.

We moved, instead, to apartment number (5?) whatever, ugh.  Spent another day in the car, before we went for food. I had camel, and it was delicious. I felt sick after I ate it. Probably because I don't eat meat... But I couldn't miss the chance!

So the last day I had, we ended up going to the island. I felt like it was the final apology attempt from Hurghada for ruining my entire vacation...
It was too cold for a bathing suit, and really windy, but I just hung out and drank beer and enjoyed the remaining sunshine (in my coat and scarf).
We also managed to buy a hookah for me, a travel sized one, so at least I had something to bring back for memories!

My last meal was seafood, a FEAST!  I had a very early flight, so I put myself to bed very early.  I woke up about 630 am, pretty much already packed (I had only upacked once on this entire journey) and went back to the airport.

LAST DAY the trip home:

When I went to the airport, similar to Chiang Mai, they had an xray at the door. THEY MADE ME PUT MY FUCKING DOG IN THERE.  WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK!!!???
I checked in and planned to carry the hookah to prevent breakage, but THEY MADE ME CHECK IT.
Fuck off, Hurghada!
I was sooooo pissed off by this point... In Cairo, my transfer was less than simple as they spent almost an hour confirming the documents for my dog.
I had to show the email confirmation, explain all the letters, etc, they made copies, and finally let me go.

At least my crazy flight attendant wasn't on board!

When I made it back to Italy, I sighed a huge relief as I walked through to without any issues.  Thank you, Italy!

Will I go back to Egypt? I think I have to, because after that terrible week, I really didn't have the ability to make a judgement call. I feel that I really saw the worst possible outcome, had the most difficulties, and really didn't see ANYTHING of the culture or tourism that gave a fair explanation of how thing should be.

I will probably update this article with photos and details on my food, because it was the most interesting and useful thing about my journey. I just really needed to vent! LOL

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