Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Guide to Cairo

A guest post by @g33kmate who made a recent visit to Cairo, Egypt for the Maker Faire Africa 2011 event.

Getting There: Several airlines fly to Egypt from Nairobi including Egypt Air, and Kenya Airways at a cost of ~Kshs. 70,000 (~$700) for a return ticket, as well as others, that may be cheaper, but not direct such as Gulf carriers and Ethiopian Airlines.

At Cairo Airport, clearing at the airport was pretty fast, there was no hassle; in fact it took less than 15 minutes from disembarking from the plane to being out of the airport.

Getting Around: There are two main types of taxis - those with meters (painted white with checked stripes on the side), and those without (usually painted black with a white line). The taxis with meters are cheaper, costing about 5 Egyptian Pounds (~Kshs. 125) for 4 KM. The ones without meters tend to be more expensive as the drivers decide on the pricing. Other transport options include government buses, as well as hotel taxis, which are very expensive (not the buses), mostly ranging from US$20 (~Kshs. 2000) and prefer to be paid in dollars.

Cairo scene

Cab drivers will try to convince you that the streets are insecure just so you can take their cab service but having walked around, I did not feel any sense of insecurity, apart from the evenings when all you find in the streets are crowds of men, but everything else looked calm, with no incidents.

The local language is Arabic with just a handful of English speakers. Most if not all of the printed press I saw was in Arabic.

Keeping in Touch: For communication, I was able to use my roaming service on both Safaricom and Airtel but ended up getting a local SIM card as it was cheaper to use. With a local provider, Mobinil, local calls cost me 90 Piastre per minute, an equivalent of ~Kshs. 22 and for international costs, there was a day I called Kenya for 4 minutes and spent about 50 pounds which is an equivalent of ~Kshs. 1,100.

As most people use their Blackberrys for internet, there are a few cyber cafes, unlike like the hundreds in the streets of Nairobi.

Where to Stay At the Baron Hotel, which is a really nice hotel that costs $150 per night. There was also Wi-Fi at the hotel.

Shopping & Sight-Seeing: Getting around each day cost about 20 pounds (equivalent of about Kshs 500). The main shopping area is downtown Cairo was at the mosques and the Pyramids and the other site to see besides the Pyramids, was at Alexandria City.

Business & Infrastructure: Electricity is reliable, and it was there every single day with most parts of the city well lit. I hear it’s cheap too and solar is not very popular!

Most of the architecture is very amazing and very old ancient Egyptian. Also, it’s amazing that the tallest building I saw was about ten storeys.

Food & Bars: The Local dish is Koshary, which is a very interesting dish of pasta, rice, macaroni, peas and a few other ingredients mixed and served with tomato, garlic and vinegar sauce. Beer is not very popular especially being a Muslim community but they take bitter tea and smoke cigarettes a whole load! The talk now is about the revolution and the life that is going to come or what is expected after Mubarak.

Local legends are everyone who was in the revolution!
Shockers: The separation of the sexes. Men are more open to hanging out and working with men, but you hardly find any women in the midst of men. Men hug and kiss on the cheek every so often before and after a conversation and the best they give with women is a handshake. This also applies to the women.

The other big surprise is how friendly everyone is. Egypt is depicted as a very unfriendly country especially as most of them don’t believe they are in Africa, but the people in Egypt are all very nice and welcoming. One word AMAZING!

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