Here on day train 9:30 am to 8:30 pm. and back to our favorite hotel, Ismalilia. Fridays are their holy day so much is closed...we will be trying to formalize our next moves with transport and visas, etc. Major group discussions and debate going on...Jordan, Sinai, Turkey...timeframes, etc.
Bon, Mari, & I went to Giza and rode the camels out to the pyramids - photo 1.Major backsheesh costs...what was supposed to cost only $5 US ended up costing over $10 US!!!
It wasn't ever close to our experience/enjoyment of the Gobi in China due to the constant 'harassment' for $$ tips!
Today - 25th - Typical Day in Circle Group Life: I woke up at 7:30 am and went into common room for jam,chez,bread,butter,hard boiled egg, & tea breakfast - always the same everyday. Watched BBC news waiting for the others to get up, we had planned to go to Syrian Embassy fo get visas today. By 8:30 Jake was up, and a short time later Bon was also...getting our breakfasts. By 9 Todd came into eat - Mari came in +/- 9:30(she took her food with her) There was some confusion since we had planned on going to Alexandria after visas if possible leaving today...however, it turned out Jake,Bon, & Todd had decided last nite to cut out Alexandria since I had expressed concern about time in Sinai for diving was getting shorter(visas for 30 days we thot). We all headed down to the Metro station where Mari(holder of group funds) bought tickets...2 stops from where we are. We got off train and up to street to begin orienting ourselves from guidebook as to where Embassy might be. Arriving at Embassy the guard indicates it is closed but speaks no English so Todd & I go to nearby hotel and ask dedk clerk who very kindly returns with us to the guard and clarifies for us...opens again tomorrow(27th) at 9a(til 2). Thanking him, we gather around Bon who suggests we go to the Jordanian embassy nearby to check there. About 5 blocks and 10 min later we find it closed as well, opens at 9:30 tomor. Now the group begins new discussions about strategy while we head back to hotel. Situation: we don't care to spend a lot of time in Cairo waiting for visas which may take up to 5 days yet most in the group(not I, however) want to travel overland via Jordan & Syria to get to Turkey since we will cross the border in the south and not have to waste time/$ backtracking from either Istambul or Ankora to get down to the coast.
Again, entering the Metro Mari buys tickets and gets a 25 piaster coin with hole in it-unique coin that Todd & Bon say they would each like as well. While standing there an Egyptian man hands one to Todd out of the blue - Bon then also is able to get one from the ticket sales guy and we all leave happily for the train & hotel. Once bac in one of our rooms, sun streaming in, Bon reads the Lonely Planet about desert oasis sites to visit in the interim should we have to wait for visas, and more discussions about options:1) Return to Syrian E. and see if we can get visa in short time(1-2 days) which will allow us to leave tomor or next day by bus/train forIsmailya on the Suez Canal, stay the nite and continue to Dahab on the Gulf of Aqaba(E. side of Sinai) where diving/snorkeling is good and Mari/Jake can go see Mt. Sinai(of Moses fame). 2)If timeframe is longer we can opt to go to Bahariya Oasis SW of Cairo for 2-3 days while waiting or Alexandria for 1-2 days. During this meeting the group funds(fondly referred to as Buddy) are religiously handed over to Jake. We then discuss suggestion from Bon that an extrension of visa in Egypt might be possible and Mostofa(our desk guy at hotel here) has told her it is just across the way from our hotel(govt bldg.) Bon & Mari were hesitant to do it now but the 'guys'prevailed and we left(it is now +/- 10:30 am).
It took Jake,Tim,Bon,& Todd 5 minutes to get there and turning we searched in vain for Mari...after 10 minutes Jake left to look, then Todd, then Bon...they all returned 15 min. later with Mari in tow...I never did get the story on that one! The building is huge and there are tons of people coming and going everywhere...asking directions several time we get to first floor and many amny windows(it is a circular bldg so you can go lt. or rt. around the center)with lines of people in front of each. Finally, an English speaking guy points the way and after some discussion she looks at our passports and informs us they have visas for 6 WEEKS! Great, no worry, we now have plenty of time so since I have to pee, I head off back to the hotel leaving the rest behind...it is 11 am now I am in the hotel and no one shows up. Since I thought we had discussed going to the post office to ship a box of stuff back I wait...now writing, now napping, now its 2pm...still no one, so I leave to get KFC down around the corner. Mari returns when I have finished eating back in the room, says the others are looking at cameras! Some discussion follows...after which Todd returns, now it is 2:30. I leave to go to the internet but promptly return since there are too many people and this always slows down the uploading of photos. Mari & go to the American U. around the corner and visit their bookstore, I buy a paper and return to read...Todd has been napping & Bon & Jake have returned. Bon is working on the box to ship but gives me no idea when she thinks we should go...I return to our room where I begin to read the paper I purchased and fall asleep...6:30 I wake and decide to head for the internet, Todd is still napping, and here I am.
Next day...leave at 8:50 for the Syrian E. and arriving at 9:20 +/- we find out that to get visa we must have a tourist, 6 month resident visa from Egypt. Back to the govt. bldg. where we found out yesterday that we didn't need to extend our visas, but to get into Syria we must. The cost is 11.50 E#s ($2 US)...which takes a photo, a form, and 2 hours. We go our separate ways, I to the hotel (also Bon & Todd later) where I decide to go to the ATM to pay Syria visa in Egyptian $$ so as to preserve my US $$. Bon comes with since she wants to go to the internet after. At the ATM Bon has no trouble but for some reason I am stymied so I go to the Hilton and get my money at their ATM...now it is 11:45 which is when Bon wanted us to meet at the govt. bldg. to pick up our extensions and be able to get back to the Syrian E. in plenty of time(they close at 2)! Bon and I are there and get ours no problem but no Mari, Jake, or Todd...they cruise in 10 minutes later at 12:10...Bon's upset but off we go to the Syrian E. but on the way Bon calls a group meeting on the street where we go over our plans again and discuss the situation in Syria and the possibility that we might have to eat the visa $$ and not go into the country due to the political stuff Bush and others are pushing... we arrive at 12:45...the process takes about an hour to fill out papers and pay our $$$...$660 E$($114US)...they will be ready we are told, tomorrow between 11 and 2PM! Leaving Bon calls another meeting which convenes in their room at 1:30 when we discuss the difficulties of arriving at places at the right time so as not to cause others to wait or waste their time arriving on time, etc. The passive/aggressive thing comes up and we finally all agree that if someone deems a time critical, they must inform everyone and set a definate place to meet...if anyone disagrees they must bring it up at that time or do everything in their power to arrive at the designated place on time! Now it is 2:45 and we decide to be ready to go to the Post Office to mail our package at 3, this being near the place to get tickets on the train as well Todd comes also to do multitasking!
At the P.O. the parcel office is closed - only open 8 to 3! Meeting with Todd we discover after more investigation that train tickets cost twice as much as bus and takes the same amount of time to get there. Since Jake & I are not feeling great we head back to the hotel with the box while the others go to the bus station to buy tickets for tomor.