Journal: 1 January 2003
Picture the scene. It’s 10.00pm on New Year’s Eve, it’s freezing cold and raining stair-rods and I’m about to board an overnight coach for Heathrow. The coach pulls up to the bus stop and Tony, who’s brought me to the coach station, prepares to take away my thick soaked Mountain jacket that I’m sheltering under. Just as I’m about to get aboard a group of fifteen merry young people in fancy dress turn up and try to hijack the bus to take them to St Ives (a destination it isn’t going to). They crowd around the doorway, these, angels, fairies, devils and other assorted beings and hammer on the door shouting at the driver to let them on, becoming quite threatening. So the driver pulls away and drives off, leaving the youngsters and a handful of hopeful dripping passengers behind. What a way to begin a new trip to Egypt – things are not looking good at this point.
Eventually the police turned up to disperse the crowd, who by then, thwarted in their travel plans, were throwing cans and bottles and becoming an angry mob. And the coach thankfully did came back for us in the end and we were off. My friend Sam was getting on the coach at Plymouth because we were travelling to Egypt together and we spent the next eight hours slowly drying out, steam rising from our clothes after our drenching, while excitedly making plans for our trip. Although its only January the promised warmth of the Egyptian sun seems even more attractive. We arrived at Heathrow early in the morning with another long wait until our flight left at 2.30pm and then we were off.
Our Egyptair flight was only a quarter full with lots of free space and we were each able to stretch out over two or three seats and get some well-earned sleep during the journey. The sun had already set by the time we reached the south side of the Mediterranean four hours after take-off and looking down I could see the islands of jewelled lights that defined the curving coastline of the Delta. I’d never flown straight from London into Cairo before and it was fascinating to fly low over the city towards the airport at Heliopolis and be able to pick out the landmarks I knew. Sam was giving me a guided tour from the air as she knows Cairo well. For several years Sam has arranged tours in Egypt for small groups of people and she always uses the same driver. Abdul was there to meet us at Cairo airport and took us to the Ciao Hotel, where I had stayed a couple of years ago with Jenny. It felt like nothing had changed since I was last here except that Jenny has been replaced by Sam as once more we went up to the rooftop restaurant to have a ‘welcome’ drink with the manager. The night-time temperature is a comfortable 17 degrees C. but for some reason feels a little chilly – probably because I’m tired. Installed by Midnight in my room on the eighth floor I’d forgotten how noisy Cairo is, even at this time of night, with a constant flow of traffic on the nearby Sharia Rameses flyover. Opposite our hotel, Rameses station also seems to operate through the night as trains pull in and out with the haunting sound of their air horns. But none of this mattered because here I am in Egypt for three whole weeks and it promises to be a very adventurous trip.