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Archive for December, 2011

Where have all the tourists gone?

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Egypt is full of tourist traps, it is a “fact” widely circulated in guidebooks, online forums, and even the “scammers” themselves would caution you.

“Going to Pyramid? Bus station this way, come, I show you, sometimes no good people here waiting for tourists, I just want to help,” says a young chap as my sister and I exit the Giza metro station.

Yet our experiences in the last few days tell us, anyone who appears to be too eager to help have something up their sleeve; they are out to “detour” you, telling you the museum is closed for prayer, or the buses are not running on schedule, or the road ahead is blocked for demonstration, and out of good will, they want to show you the “right or safe” route, which ultimately would lead to their shops.

Well, no true harm comes out of these “detours”, except some delays and long talk to decline viewing or buying souvenirs, or sometimes, desperately refusing to accept “gifts” that are literally shoving down your pocket. But what do you expect? when you clearly look foreign, carrying a backpack, visiting touristy sites, with camera hanging down your neck, and you are just a piece of sweet meat, calling out to a swamp of ants to devour you.

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Life as a Movie

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“This whole year, we are living in movie,” says Samu with a dejected look. Initially I thought the 30-year-old receptionist meant the unfolding political upheaval in Egypt is as dramatic as a movie, but on probing further, I learn that the statement is an expression of disillusionment.

Since the popular uprising in January this year that eventually brought an end to president Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule in Egypt, a series of demonstrations, marches, and civil disobedient movements have continued to plague the country, especially in its capital Cairo.

At times, the protests ended in bloody clashes between the demonstrators and the military, which takes over the helm of the country until an elected government is formed (scheduled to be mid-2012). The political instability has also disrupted economy and scaring away foreign investors and visitors, adding pressure to the livelihood of the people.

“Nothing has changed. Those in power are still the people close to Mubarak and the previous government. They are all acting, they say they will listen to the people, they arrest some policemen for hurting the people, they put Mubarak on trial, but all these are lies, not real, like movie,” Samu unleashes a barrage of frustrations, trigger by a photo I showed him. (more…)

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23 Dec 2011, Friday, Egyptians of all walks of life converged at the Tahrir Square in Downtown Cairo to demonstrate; some speak up against the brutality of military personnel against a veiled woman during the previous week’s protest (now famously known as the blue bra woman); some demand leaders with affiliation to the old Mubarak regime to step down; some call for a fairer and just political system, etc…..

The mood at the square is calm, no sign of clashes, in fact, it feels a little carnival-like, and street vendors are doing brisk business….

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Jet Lag in Cairo

It’s 5.17am in Cairo, and I have been up and about for more than two hours. The Azan call has just been sounded, one mosque after another blares their speakers, calling out to Muslims to perform their first prayer of the day, the rhythmic Arabic verses ripple through the winter chilling air, reaching every corner of the city resided by 20-million people.

It’s still dark out there, only a faint orange-grey hue is starting to filter through the sky in the distance horizon. From my 8th–floor hotel room’s balcony overlooking Cairo Downtown, I could see silhouette of numerous satellite dishes sitting on rooftops, puncturing the skyline. The streets below are still void of traffic, though I could hear occasional horn beeping and passing cars from a distance.

The blocks opposite my hotel, lights are shining through a few windows with french balconies, just a few lighted households showing signs of early morning activities, other than that, all is quiet. The streets in Downtown are lined with European-style architecture, these are the buildings raised up on a once swampy plain during a city make-over in the 1860s, by a ruler who returned from Europe and determined to transform the city into Paris by the Nile.

Somehow, I have the feeling that these buildings are left standing to decay, as many of them clearly lack maintenance, additional makeshift and non-descript concrete structures are springing up on neo-classical buildings’ rooftops, some balconies appear to be near-collapse, and the elevators that chomp up and down these buildings are moving through crack walls or iron-grill gates covered in cob-webs.

But in this early hours of the day, the city’s aging facade doesn’t seem as old under the disguise of semi darkness, until daylight breaks, the vibrancy of this over-crowded city is also contained. Having wake up so early from jet lag, I am enjoying a rare moment of tranquillity in Cairo.

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Egypt in “Transit”

A news photo showing protesters and army soldiers clash in Cairo December 16, 2011. Source: Reuters

My luggage is packed, my ipad loaded with e-guide and maps of Egypt; I am set to fly to Cairo in a few hours, yet my mind is still murky over what to expect from the journey ahead.

Until two days ago, Cairo doesn’t feature in my year-end travel plan, it was supposed to be a transit point en-route to Morocco (which I failed to obtain a visa), but now, Cairo has become THE destination. (more…)

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I have dreamt of staying in one of these traditional Moroccan courtyard houses named Riad. pix source: web

“My flight to Casablanca is on Sunday! I can’t wait….” before I can finish the sentence, the Moroccan Embassy officer interrupts flatly: “14 people are supposed to fly off tonight, and their visas are still pending.”

The message is clear – my case is not the most urgent, as I still have two days grace period, while others are only hours away from boarding, why am I complaining?

My sister and I have submitted our visa application to visit Morocco since December 4th, but the very next day, apparently, the country experiences a worldwide technical problem with its electronic visa issuance system.

My sister is lucky, as her application was one of the three visas approved for the entire past week before the system crushed, while mine, got stuck in the midst of processing, just short of pressing the “print” key when the system failed. (more…)

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