Arriving just after 1 o’clock in the morning to Cairo, I was on cloud nine after seeing the Nile from miles above. Flying over one of the world’s most ancient cities, my 12 hour layover seemed like a perfect idea… until I landed & got off the plane.
First there were the visa bank tellers that pretended they couldn’t speak English. When they eventually ceded in the language game, there was the single broken ATM behind the customs border. While I knew I needed a $25 visa on arrival, I had no idea how complicated a border control could actually be. After the language game and the broken ATM, was the informing that they only accepted American dollars (no pounds, no euros, so no luck for me).
Finally, after hours of begging for other cash machines, I pleaded my way to a visa and escaped the customs border from hell just before sunrise. Running on no food or sleep, I started rethinking if my ‘perfect’ layover plan was actually that great of an idea & if these pyramids were actually worth all of the trouble they were proving to be.
Turning the corner of the complex though, with the Sahara on my left and the pyramids straight ahead, suddenly all of my airport troubles became irrelevant. Riding past the ancient tomb of Khentkawes as my tour guide pointed out ancient hieroglyphics on the cracking walls & lopping around to the Great Sphinx, I was suddenly completely mesmerized by everything around me.
As my aggressive camel kept knocking off my shoes, I eventually climbed the Pyramid of Kafre barefoot (at the insistence of my tour guide), touching pyramids that were built over 4,500 years ago and that hold ancient mummified pharaohs I thought I would only ever read about.
After a quick Egyptian perfume smelling and a photo opt at the Nile, I began my drive back to the airport, still unable to comprehend what I had just experienced. My driver speaking only Arabic and I only English, we chatted the whole way back to the airport in a new dialect that only we could understand. With a check-in through five metal detectors and three passport scans, I was back on my Emirates flight with sandy Sahara feet & an experience that would last a lifetime.
So long story short, while Cairo is crazy & scary & I’ll never go back, it is absolutely the most unreal, incomprehendable, and life-changing travel experience anyone could ever have… just remember your twenty-five dollars or you may never get out.