In my first steps off the plane, I was met by a thick desert heat that even at in the morning was oppressive. I had arrived in
Aside from all that, though, it would be the first time in nine months that I would have to consider myself merely a tourist in a foreign country. I felt all the uncertainties of that long-ago flight to
The flight had gone smoothly, albeit mostly sleeplessly. On any other airline, one could expect a flight departing at and arriving at to pass quietly and rather uneventfully. But Ethiopian Airlines is not like any other airline. And so it was that my "red-eye" flight was filled with the constant glare of the artificial overhead lighting, the loud and jovial chatter of Egyptian men, two in-flight movies, two drink services, and a dinner, for which occasion the flight attendant felt compelled to forcibly shake me awake. After now two international flights with Ethiopian and having been woken up for every snack, meal, and other offered service, I am beginning to think that they take sleeping on their flights personally.
After deplaning, I mentally braced myself for my first set of challenges. Buy visa. Exchange money. Pass customs. Find taxi. The first three were much simpler than I had envisioned, as the entire procedure for obtaining an Egyptian tourist visa consists in handing 15 USD through the money exchange window. (I was thankful that I had not bothered to complete forms and submit pictures beforehand to the embassy in Addis.) As for the taxi, I found myself apprehended by a small, wiry man at the airport information desk and shuffled upstairs to "an honest government tourist car." I'm sure the wiry man was simply a taxi operator, and I'm sure the driver was simply a friend of his, and I'm absolutely certain I paid double the normal going rate, but as a rather clueless tourist showing up alone in a country where I speak almost none of local language, I'm going to have to expect to get ripped off a little bit initially. The driver asked me if I would like to listen to Egyptian music, then asked me how much I would pay to hear it. He also told me several times during the drive that he hoped I would not forget his tip.
On the drive from the airport through the city, I felt like a little kid, wondering at the beautiful domed mosques and soaring minarets, the intricate palaces, the imposing stone citadel. I caught my first glimpse of the Egyptian Nile lying serenely between
I was staying with a friend of a friend of a friend, who was kind enough to offer hospitality to a total stranger (outside of the all-important Facebook friendship) for the several hours I'd have to myself in the city before meeting my tour group. When I opened the door to the flat, I was struck immediately by the wood floors, which I had seen in
I slept through most of the morning and took a cold shower upon waking in order to relieve the heat. Then I strapped on my pack and hit the streets.
For a large capital city, it seemed a relatively calm Saturday morning. Families strolled together in residential areas. In the commercial districts, business owners watched people in the streets from the cool shade of their breezy shop doorways. I stopped at a small snack shop and bought some coconut-flavored biscuits to get change for the Metro. Being confident in only three words of Arabic (the common two-word greeting and, thanks to watching Al Jazeera in
Half an hour later, I found myself standing in front of my hotel, feeling quite proud of myself for having successfully navigated the Metro and city streets to arrive there. (I chose to ignore the fact that I had stood with my back to the door for about five minutes, looking undecidedly at the large stone building across the street, before the doorman told me to turn around because my hotel was probably right behind me.)
I had made it just in time for our tour group meeting. Introductions around the table showed us to be a well-traveled group, all of us coming to