Back at the airport, ready to go once again. This time, I've checked, double-checked, and triple-checked that my flight is on schedule and that no more travel agent hoops will need to be jumped. Avid readers will be aware of my inability to sleep on planes, and you will all be pleased to know that the fundamental fabric of the universe is intact and will not unravel our existence, at least not in the foreseeable future. On the 6-hour flight to London, I watched a couple of movies, and an episode of Arrested Development - the discovery of which was joyous news - and got zero sleep.
I arrived at London Heathrow, and because I had to collect my baggage for the connecting flight, I had to go through customs, which technically meant this was my fourth time in the United Kingdom. Heathrow has become a somewhat familiar place, despite the construction going on at present.
My next flight was a cause for worry. While my flight in was with Air Canada and it's modern fleet with relatively comfortable amenities - power outlets, on-demand video, even a USB port, the function of which I wasn't entirely clear - the connecting flight was with EgyptAir, of which I knew nothing, but suspected would be a shady airline that would fail many standards tests back home. My worries grew when I actually got on the plane. It was old. Quite old. The upholstery was worn, the armrests were off-level, half of the ceiling-mounted monitors scrolled in dizzying fashion, and the tray in front of me refused to stay in its upright position, the latch securing it long having worn away to the nub. I was shocked to find that the seats still had ashtrays.
As we began the taxi to the runway, I prayed that they took much better care of the engines than they did of the interior of the plane.
The flight itself, thankfully, turned out to be uneventful, and I landed in Cairo in the evening. As I walked into the terminal, I was immediately met by my airport transfer, which turned out to be a smart purchase. He assisted me on getting my visa (essentially a visitor's tax, as everyone gets a visa for a $15 fee, whether or not you are later permitted into the country), pointed out my bags, escorted me through the hordes of hungry taxi drivers and led me to the van that would take me to my hotel.
Despite the number and variety of places around the world I have visited, Cairo taught me that there is still so much out there that is so different from the world I know. The first such lesson was in traffic. Back home, we say drivers in Montreal are crazy, but really, they're just a little more aggressive than in Toronto; not much difference really. Traffic in Rome was hectic, but the rules of the road kept people alive. Athens, I had thought, was the worst of the lot, but drivers there look like old ladies on Sunday mornings compared to the ruleless mayhem that is driving in Cairo.
Cars sped along in the waves of traffic, inches from each other. Lights flashed, cars weaved, entire rivers of traffic merged, horns honked ceaselessly. Pedestrians put their lives at risk, crossing the street at any and every point, trusting a taxi will not mow them down. The lines on the road were totally disregarded; lanes mean nothing here. While the road may have been constructed with the intention of three lanes of traffic, drivers will nose their cars wherever they believe it may have a slight chance of fitting, so that traffic will often flow five cars wide. Turn signals were used, but their purpose was not entirely clear, as they tended not to use them to signal intent to turn. It seemed more like communication to other cars, like "You should have turned this way, then I wouldn't have t-boned you like that".
At one point, released from idling by a traffic cop, our three lanes of traffic curved to the right, and from my window I could see another three lanes of traffic about to merge with ours, seemingly intent on joining into a single mass of three or four lanes of chaos. I closed my eyes and braced myself for the crunch, and was shocked to find that nothing happened. While the traffic may be psychotic, drivers here must be considered some of the most skilled in the world. They know exactly how much space their cars take, and know where they will fit, and tend to get through the mess unscathed. The nature of the cars on the road, however - old, beaten, and invariably covered in a textured mass of dents - tells you that this isn't always the case, and that contact is common.
Even parking here is chaotic. Cars line the curbs of streets, literally bumper-to-bumper such that it would be impossible to extract your car until the people around you leave. Further to that, street parking is not limited to just the curb. People will commonly park their cars two, three, even four rows deep along the side of the road. I have no idea how those by the curb or on the inside ever get out.
I survived the Cairo traffic experience - the first of many - and reached the hotel. I took a much needed shower, made several attempts at phoning home (the CanadaDirect number in Egypt didn't work, to no surprise), and went to bed, hoping to quickly adjust to the time change. I got up briefly to close the window and shut out the ceaseless noise of honking, to find that it was already closed. Wow. 20 million people can stir up quite the racket. I laid on the rock-hard bed, scarcely believing I was actually in Egypt, wondering what the heck I was doing here, and ready for an adventure.