Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Travel Tuesday : Casablanca to Cairo

I remember writing on my big calendar for July 30, 2009:

Casablanca to Cairo

Could any single day feel more jet-set than that? It seemed so romantic -- you know, the romance of travel and all that. Sure, it would be a long day, but wouldn't it be thrilling?

In the end, no. It was tiring and very long. But we did indeed travel from Casablanca to Cairo, via Barcelona and a lot of driving around in the dark. But there I go again, getting ahead of myself. 

The morning in Casablanca was very easy -- we just got up, showered, zipped up our bags, and walked out of the hotel. Quickly got a taxi -- too quickly, really, and we got to the train station at 8:04... which meant that, by moving quickly, we were able to catch the 8:07 rather than the 9:07 we had tickets for. We were going to play dumb if the conductor gave us any grief, but he didn't.

When we got off the train, before we could enter the airport, we had to go through another scanner. Including the bags. Kinda weird -- some people were even being pulled aside for questioning. But we went through just fine (even if it took us 20 minutes to get through the line... there's only one scanner for a train full of people.

Then up into the terminal, where we went off to find the Iberia counter. Three lines, 2 family/travel groups of 2-4 people each. We joined one and still, somehow, had to wait nearly 20 minutes. Oh well. We had time.

Then we passed through to the passport control. First you show your boarding pass and passport to one person, who looks at them and then points you in the direction of a person sitting at a table at the end of a deserted stanchion maze. Wil noted that the person looked at the wrong page in his passport. So you zig zag over to the person at the table, who looks at your passport and boarding card again, says "Tourist?" and then when we nodded, points us toward the next lines at the windows.

So we wait in the line at the windows. And get to the front, and the man in the box says "card?" and asks us to go back to the second person, get a card, fill it out, and then get back in line. Awesome!

Then the official spends a long time perusing our passports before stamping all over them, his desk, and various papers, and waving us through.

Then another round of security -- x-rays, a bit of pat down -- and we were through -- to the most dismal "modern" international airport in the world.
  • nowhere to exchange the dirham you weren't supposed to take out of the country
  • lots of shops that only accepted Euro
  • signs to a food court that had been closed
  • toilets without seats (the seats had been broken and not replaced)
  • a restaurant / cafeteria that shared a room, but the "restaurant" wasn't open so you couldn't sit at those tables
  • a Duty Free shop that didn't inform you what you would be forced to throw away the bottle of Jim Beam upon your arrival in Madrid

BUT we amused ourselves by buying bags of crisps, mediocre food, overpriced sodas, some scarves/sarongs, and a "Jedi" shirt for Wil. Then an easy flight to Madrid.

In Madrid we threw away our Jim Beam and bought a replacement, bought some candy and some overpriced "beach reading" paperpacks in English.

Then the flight to Cairo -- where we sat in row 6 next to a very stinky man who hadn't had the opportunity to bathe in days.

Landing in Cairo, where we were asked to fill out supplemental health forms, and then handed them to people who didn't look at them. (It's been interesting to see different takes on the swine flu pandemic.)

Then we got in the passport control line, though I noticed a sign saying we needed to buy entry visas for US $15 "at any bank". So we picked one of the 4 windows, handed them $40, and got a crisp $10 bill in exchange. Wild. Some random pushing and queueing, but then we were through to baggage claim.

I needed the WC, so I asked the machine-gun toting guards if I was allowed to go down the hall. They smiled and pointed the way. Of course, there was an obsequious attendant, who handed me "wet naps" and escorted me to a stall from which she had removed the toilet paper. Why? So that when I was finished, she could turn on the tap, squirt some soap on my hands, and then hand me toilet paper to dry my hands. Having no Egyptian small change, I had to give her a dollar bill, which made her grin from ear to ear.

Then our bags came and we faced the arrivals hall gauntlet. I was so pleased to have booked our hotel in advance -- so absurdly pleased. None of that hassle at 11pm. We had read that we could just book a limo for a fixed price -- no haggling. Okay, I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but I was tired of the haggle. And so we went to a limo desk, were told it was 120 Egyptian pounds ($25 US), but easy. So we said yes.

We told the men at the desk the name of our hotel. They swore they knew the place. The took us down to where the towncars were parked. We met our driver and insisted on paying him. We paid the "escort" a "service charge" of a dollar. And then the adventure began.

Two hours later -- after a lot of stops where the driver got out and asked others where to go, including other cabbies, people on the street, policemen, etc.; after getting stuck in bumper to bumper traffic; after the electronics on the car died and the driver had to get out and fiddle under the hood; we spotted the Hotel Oasis. It was 1am.

The driver had been kind, and I had begun to feel sorry for him. At one point we feared he would just dump us at some other hotel -- but instead he saw us "home". So I tipped him $3 and he was thrilled. Again, when do you get the chance to be a hero for $3?

We walked into the hotel, tired and travel worn, and the men at the front desk were jerks. (Admittedly, the 1am staff at most hotels probably isn't the varsity team.) Someone tried to grab our bags, and we instinctively refused to let them go. Then they stopped being even remotely helpful. We asked for someone to show us to our room as we had been told it was hard to find. They made us wait for 5 minutes for a man who took us to the sign that said "ROOMS ---->" and abandoned us there. Ten minutes later we had found the room (after consulting two maps). Not the best first impression.

Luckily, we had our Duty Free bourbon from Madrid and my Coke Light to ease our jangled nerves. It was 1:30 when we got to the room, but we were asleep by 2.

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