By Mary Anglberger
‘Stay safe,’ they said. ‘Be careful,’ they warned me, when I told people that I’m off to Cairo for a long weekend. I always wonder how one actually follows that advice, apart from obviously using common sense and being streetwise the way one is in any new city.
Chances of a terrorist attack or a random shooting seem pretty much evenly spread across the world these days and chances of a plane crashing over the same country twice in a row slim.
In fact, I lived in Cairo in 2003 – only for a few, but very enjoyable and very ‘local’ months. I fell in love with this vibrant city and its people and always felt safe.
This time I went back to stay with a friend from back then and met up with several others. I felt safer and more charmed than ever.
The whole trip there, including my arrival, went much more smoothly than many other trips I’ve taken. We boarded right on time and arrived early at Cairo International Airport after just a little over an hour’s flight.
The signs at the airport were clear and I got my $25 visa stamp at one of the bank’s counters, changed some money and went through immigration.
It was a full flight of mostly Egyptians or at least Arab speakers which may explain the minimal waits. My ride into town was arranged even before getting to the baggage claim.
I had read up online and decided to splurge and get one of those 10-euro transfers which presented itself promptly via a well-dressed young man speaking perfect English. He quoted those exact 100 Egyptian pounds (€ 10), called my Cairo friend from his personal phone, helped me get my bag and within minutes I was seated in a clean, air-conditioned car with a driver who again spoke good English.
He put my address into Google maps on his mobile, called my friend to say we’ll be there in about half an hour and left me at her doorstep, making sure she was coming down to meet me. Thus began my perfect stay.
I took many more taxis during my visit as they are the easiest way to get around – most rides within central Cairo are less than €3. While some cars had no AC and those drivers obviously did not speak English, they were all smiley and always put on their taxi meters.
I found the people in the streets and at the markets to be as kind and cheerful and cheeky as I remembered them. Maybe, as one friend suggested on Facebook, “I was doing something right that others do wrong,” but I believe, simply going out with a relaxed attitude and a smile on your face will do the trick.
True, I did very few ‘touristy’ things as I was on a people photography mission and it was also Ramadan, but I saw hardly any tourists. Several people, including the fantastic professional guide I had hired for one evening, told me “There is no more tourism in Egypt”.
I felt saddened by this, as the country is so welcoming, versatile, cheap and yes, I will insist – safe. To me, Cairo is one of the most exhilarating cities in the world and I’ll be sharing more of my Cairo adventures in the hope of convincing at least a few people to explore this wonderful place that has been through so much and so desperately needs a break.