Journal: Friday 15 December 1995
Friday morning. A whole week had gone by and we had arrived at the last day on our cruise boat. By yesterday, three of my five friends and many more from our boat had come down with an attack of ’Pharaoh’s Revenge’ – a very unpleasant tummy bug which many people seem to suffer from in Egypt. We were told that the main cause of this is from not drinking enough water in the hot climate. Fortunately there were magic pills to be had from the reception desk which seemingly would stop an elephant in its tracks and my poor friends slowly began to recover.
We now had the emotional task of saying goodbye to all the new friends we had made among the passengers and crew. We had shared so much in the past week, friendships had been forged, unhampered by the cares of every-day living or the differences in life-style. We had been pampered, entertained and cared for by the excellent staff and we would surely miss them, though they would be too busy with the next influx of tourists to miss us. But it was only the end of the first part of our adventure, with just as many eventful days to look forward to and in a way we were having several holidays rolled into one, at least this was what it felt like to me. As I made my way once again towards Luxor on the coach, the road was familiar as if I had travelled this way many times before. The whole group were taken to the airport; some were flying back to England, but I was so thankful when I wished them a good journey home that I was only flying as far as Cairo.
The short Egyptair flight to Cairo lasted forty-five minutes. Flying low, we followed the winding river that glinted in the sunlight, with the shadow of our aircraft below us and very soon, we were descending on the flight path into Cairo, circling down through dense patches of cloud and yellow-tinted smog. The airport terminal was much bigger than Luxor and crowded with many travellers, Arabic and European voices mingling with Japanese and Australian, with some Egyptians who looked like they had been camped there for days.
My first impression of Cairo was not good. I thought it noisy and dirty and there were too many people. I am a country girl at heart. As we drove from the airport at Heliopolis the smell and taste of hot traffic fumes, caught in the ochre haze hanging over the city, blended with all the other smells of humanity living in close proximity. Neither was this the Cairo I had read about in historical novels, it was a modern city of multi-lane highways, concrete and glass like any other. Many of the grand houses and palaces of Cairo’s colonial past have been replaced by high-rise apartment blocks, crammed into small spaces and already turning into slums. I felt bitterly disappointed, wishing that I had stayed in Luxor where the fresh breezes from the Nile carried a hint of the fragrances of jasmine, spices and incense and not the noxious odours of this teeming metropolis. Coming from the intimate cosy atmosphere of the boat, our hotel was a bit of a shock too. It was situated on Gezira Island, a vast building, like a small glass city in its own right with a shopping mall and several restaurants and bars on the ground floor beneath a soaring soulless tower of impersonal rooms, on levels linked by crowded elevators. Looking out from the window of my room on the ninth floor I felt remote, isolated from the movement and noise of millions of people below in what was, after all, the biggest city in Africa. Even the Nile, here bordered with skyscrapers, seemed like a different river, not the friendly ancient waterway I had bonded with so intimately further south.