The third and last trip in this series was my trip to Hurghada to visit some friends there.  But on the way to Hurghada, I stopped in Cairo for a couple days to see my friends there and attend the Fourth of July bash that the American embassy sponsors every year.  This was an eventful update, so get comfortable and enjoy!  Okay, here we go!

I left for Cairo on July 3 and met up with my friends who live there.  I spent the night with them, and then on July 4 we went to the Khan-el-Khalili in the morning.  Of course, I had to stop by and see the friends I made the last time I went to the Khan.  The girl from the store and the guys from the booth where I "worked" were still there and still remembered me!  They asked if I wanted to "work" again, and I said I did, but I didn't have time that day.  One day I do want to go down to Cairo and just hang out in the Khan all day.  Maybe then I'd sell something!

That night we went to the Fourth of July party at an American school there in Cairo.  It was paid for by the U.S. embassy, and it was fantastic!  It's one of the best Fourths I've ever had...because there was so much stuff and everything was free!  The only thing missing was fireworks.  =(  But everything else made up for it.  There were red, white, and blue beads, fans with the American flag printed on them, and lots of food!  We had REAL hot dogs with actual pork in them...and they were sooooo good!  I guess Coke helped sponsor it, so we had all the free Coke products we could want to drink.  Pizza Hut and KFC were also available in the food line, but I can get those anytime in Alex, so I went straight for the hot dogs!  And then there were the Frito-Lay chips!  We can get Lays potato chips fairly easily here, but the Cheetos, Fritos, and Doritos are really hard to get.  I was one of the first ones in and to the food table, but even I didn't make it before the Doritos were gone.  I almost was able to get a bag of Cheetos, but someone right before me took the last bag.  So I took a Fritos, and I was very thankful for that!  At least I made it before only potato chips were left!  There were also real Fudgesicles and Rocket pops (or whatever those red, white, and blue fruit popsicles are called).  And, free popcorn and cotton candy!

There were lots of games and things for the children, and there were free massages for the adults.  You better believe I hit that!  There were also free henna tattoos, so I got one of those on my hand.  It wasn't very good quality and only lasted a week.  Oh well--you get what you pay for, right?  =)

Also, there were constantly door prizes being awarded, and prizes for games.  I didn't win anything, of course, but it was still cool.  The Marines were there and presented the flags at the beginning, and we all pledged allegiance and sang the Star-Spangled Banner.  And get this--there was an invocation prayer!  AND the band they hired to play the event was a Christian worship band!  I laughed at the irony that prayer and a Christian band paid for by the U.S. government would probably not go over too well at some of the Fourth of July celebrations on American soil, but here in a foreign country it was completely okay!  The band played some secular songs as well, but mainly Christian worship songs.  They were called Worship Planet, and I bought their CD.

Later on, the Marines challenged everyone to a tug-of-war, and that was a sight to behold!  There were about 10-15 Marines, and about 30 or so civilians who stepped up to the challenge.  They did it like 3 times--each time the number of civilians increased, and each time the Marines won.  Basically they knew what they were doing and worked together in perfect sync (and they were generally a lot stronger).  I talked to one of the female Marines when we were in line for the massage, and she said they were stationed there in Cairo as a Security Unit for the U.S. embassy.

Well, this party was so was like a little piece of America in the midst of Egypt.  There were a bunch of people from Alex and other cities who came down as well, and I saw some that I knew.  One thing that I thought was funny....they were letting both American and CANADIAN passport holders in!  I don't begrudge the Canadians anything, but don't they have their own Embassy and their own holidays and their own tax dollars?  Just curious.  =)

The theme this year was "Mardi Gras," which is why they had the beads.  They also had a King Cake.  Now, don't ask me why a theme is needed at a Fourth of July party.  To me, it is its own theme, but I guess not to the Embassy!  Anyway, they sold t-shirts, so I got one of course.  But since the area of Cairo where it was held is called Maadi, the t-shirts said "Maadi Gras"...LOL!

Anyway, we left when the party shut down and went back to my friends' apartment.  I spent the night again, and then headed off the next morning for Hurghada.  Hurghada is about a 5-hour ride from Cairo.  Normally you would take a bus down, but since there were 5 of us going, we rented a private microbus to take us.  It was nice because it had AC and we each got our own bench seat!

We arrived that afternoon and I went to my hotel.  It was called the Four Seasons, but don't get too excited--it had nothing to do with the luxury hotel chain of that name.  It was nice though, and my room had AC, a refrigerator, and satellite TV--I don't have AC or TV in Alex, so that was a nice treat.  There was also free breakfast, and all for only $11 per room per night!  So when my roommate and I split it, I ended up having that room for $5.50 a night!  I tell you, everything is INSANELY cheap here!  If you can afford the plane ticket over, and don't mind the occasional bombing, it's a great place to vacation.  =)

Anyway, after I arrived at the hotel, I had a few hours before we were going to meet for dinner, so I turned on the TV and what should I see but Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!  Awwwww yeaaahhhh!  So I watched those and got my game show fix , then took a nap before dinner. 
(Unfortunately The Price is Right hasn't made it over here.  Maybe if they had that show and listened to Bob Barker, they wouldn't have so many stray dogs and cats running around.)

We were going to meet for dinner at the Italian restaurant right next to my hotel, so I went down a little before the appointed time and waited.  I watched all the people walking by and was amazed by the number of foreigners!  After a while I got tired of waiting and went to the grocery store nearby to see what they had.  As I went in, I greeted the store clerk in Arabic.  I then spotted one of my favorite candies and decided to buy one.  As I went to the clerk to pay, I did the typical Egyptian thing and pushed my way in front of the people standing there (who all happened to be foreigners) and put my product on the counter to pay.  Egyptians don't believe in lines, so you just push your way forward and hand them your money.  It works well for aggressive types like me.  =)  Anyway, I knew that my candy cost 2.50 (Egyptian pounds, not dollars), so I put the money on the desk.  We then had the following conversation in Arabic:  the clerk looked at me and said, "That costs six pounds."  I said, "No, I live in Alexandria and I know that costs 2.50."  He replied matter-of-factly, "Yes, I know you're an Egyptian, but Hurghada is a tourist town and everything costs more.  Here the candy costs 6 pounds."  I was so overcome that he thought I was an Egyptian that I almost burst out laughing!  But instead I just said okay and paid him the 6 pounds.

Then I went back to waiting at the Italian restaurant.  In Hurghada, as in any tourist area, people are always trying to get you to come inside their store or their restaurant.  So one of the workers came out and was trying to persuade me to come in.  We were talking in Arabic as well, and I told him that I was waiting for my friends and we would be coming in once they arrived.  Well, that relieved his urgency, and he started talking to me normally.  He asked where I was from, and I said I lived in Alexandria.  Then we had the requisite conversation about how beautiful Alex is.  I asked him where he was from and he said Minya!  I said I had just taken a trip there and that it was a very nice town.  He was absolutely floored that I had been to Minya (it's such a small town and not really a "destination") and started telling me how much he missed it and how nice it was and everything.  He asked why I had gone there and I said to spend time with my Arabic teacher and her family.  He said, "Arabic teacher?  Where are you from?"  Well now the jig was up, so I said I was from America.  He said, "What?  It's not possible!  Well....I thought maybe you were a foreigner, but then you started talking in Arabic, and I just wasn't sure!"  Haha...too funny.  Then he asked if I was a Christian, and I said yes, and he said he was too.  He knew of the church in Minya where my tutor's father was pastor.  So that was cool.  Anyway, my friends finally arrived and we had our meal.  Since that one guy was Christian, I figured this place might be Christian-run, so I took a chance and ordered spaghetti with cheese and egg sauce and bacon, just hoping against hope that it was real bacon.  And it was--what a treat!  When we left, my new "friend" said I was welcome back anytime.  I did end up going back there a few times with my roommate from Alex once she arrived, and they always welcomed me profusely.  Great people, great food.

That night I went to my friends' apartment.  It was very nice, and they even had AC in one room!  But on the way there, I learned that getting around Hurghada is interesting.  All public vehicles are microbuses.  They can be either buses or taxis.  They are not labeled as such; you just have to ask.  The buses are cheaper than taxis, so are preferable if you are going somewhere on their route.  There are only two or three main "routes," so that's not too bad.  The taxis are preferable if you're going to a specific destination that's not on a route, if you have a lot of people, or if you don't want to switch bus routes.  The taxis are pay per ride, the buses are pay per person.  Anyway, sometimes the taxis would lie to you and tell you they were a bus, and then try to charge you more!  We would always reprimand them for lying and just get out when they started trying to negotiate prices with us.

Later that night, we went to the port to meet my roommate from Alex.  She lives in Dahab part of the time, and she was coming from there.  She took the bus from Dahab to Sharm-el-Sheikh (an hour and a half ride) and then the ferry from Sharm to Hurghada (another hour and a half).  Hurghada is on the Eastern Coast of Egypt's mainland, and Sharm-el-Sheikh is on the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula.  They are not far apart by water; you just have to cross the Gulf of Suez.  Anyway, while we were waiting at the port for her, some men tried to approach us asking us all kinds of questions about where we were from, and one asked us if we wanted a man for the night!!!  I could not believe it!  But my friend that lives there said that prostitution is rampant in Hurghada, amongst men AND women.  She said many foreign women come in just to sleep with or even marry Egyptian men.  So I guess the guy figures he's got a 1 in 10 or 20 shot...if he asks enough women, he'll eventually get a yes!  So sad.  Well, my roommate arrived safely and we went back to the hotel.  She was happy to see the AC and TV as well, since she doesn't have them in Dahab.

It was very very hot in Hurghada....we usually tried to stay in between 12 and 3 to avoid the heat.  We did go to the beach a couple of days.  There is only one "free" beach in Hurghada (also in Sharm).  The rest are owned by hotels and you have to pay to use them.  The free beach is nicknamed the "Ghetto Beach" (although its real name is "Paradise Beach") and we didn't go there.  We went to another one that cost 20 pounds.  They give you a towel, and they have lounge chairs with umbrellas, so that's pretty nice.  There is a restaurant at the beach as well.  Anyway, this was a nice beach, but you couldn't get out to the deep water to swim because of all the coral and rocks.  We kept scraping ourselves!  So I gave up on that and just laid out.

One day we were able to take a glass-bottom boat and stop out in the deep water and swim for about an hour.  That was good stuff.  I stayed in the water swimming and floating until it was time to go.  My friend that lives there is a little scared of the open water, where you can't touch bottom and where there is no pool wall to grab onto.  So she was usually either holding onto the boat ladder or holding onto me!  Once she got used to it, she didn't hold on as much and enjoyed herself.  But I told her she had better get used to this stuff if she was gonna live in Hurghada!  =)

We also went to the beach one other day, this time to the Hilton beach. This cost 50 pounds but was so much nicer.  You could swim pretty far out there without getting scraped up!  At one point when I was swimming, my hand touched something slimy in the water and I stopped to see what it was.  I had touched the top of a jellyfish!  I looked around me and I was in the middle of a whole group of them!  Well that's just no good, so I ducked down deep under water and swam away from them.  Whew, that was a close call!  I got stung by one once before in Florida and had no desire to repeat it.

Also, as we were walking around the town on different nights, we noticed how bad it really was with the guys approaching you and asking all kinds of inappropriate questions.  The Khan in Cairo is one thing, but they are just asking questions related to selling their goods.  They might be aggressive and they might be annoying, but at least they are asking business-related questions.  In Hurghada, they are asking personal questions and making personal comments.  "Where are you from?  How long are you here for?  You're so pretty!  Want to stay with me tonight?"  My friend that lives there said she gets so fed up with it sometimes that she just wants to scream.  They will even say such things to her when she is with her husband and son!  I started getting sick of it too, and one time when I was with my roommate I said, "The next time a guy looks at us like he's going to START with that stuff, I am going to beat him to it."  And sure enough, a guy started walking toward us with that "look" in his eyes.  He was about to open his mouth, when I said in Arabic, "Welcome to Hurghada!  Where are you from?  How long are you here for?"  He stopped dead in his tracks with his mouth open, and my roommate and I just kept walking.  He did not follow.  =)

Oh, one last story from Hurghada that I thought was interesting.  Across from our hotel was a long, low building and then the hospital.  We didn't know what the long building was until one day when we heard loud wailing early in the morning.  We looked out of our window and saw a group of women all in black huddling together and wailing.  (This tradition is thought to be more common in Upper Egypt, as I have never heard of it in Alex.)  My roommate and I figured someone must have died, so we watched a little longer.  There was a group of men standing near the group of women, and people kept coming and joining both groups.  Well at one point the wailing got really loud and we saw a wooden coffin being carried out of the long, low building.  It was carried into the mosque nearby, and the men followed.  Maybe 10 minutes later, the coffin came out and was placed into a waiting vehicle.  The women wailed a while longer and then dispersed.  It was quite interesting.  So my roommate and I figured that the long, low building must be a morgue or something.  Later on we walked by it and looked in the windows.  Sure enough, there were the big metal "lockers" like you see in the morgues on TV.  So, if you ever want a nice view of a morgue, stay in the Four Seasons in Hurghada!

It was interesting that there were so many foreigners there, but not many Americans.  Many shops, hotels, and tour agencies had multiple flags up to represent all of their clientele.  Never once did I see the American flag.  There were lots of Europeans and many, many Russians there.  Almost everything was in English, Arabic, and Russian.  Some restaurants also had menus in French and German as well.

Anyway, when it came time to return to Cairo, my friend from Alex and I went to the bus station to catch the bus back.  This was my first time riding a public bus on an inter-city trip!  It was a nice bus that had AC and the ride wasn't bad at all.  We met up with my friends from Cairo and spent the night with them again.  We had hoped to get our train tickets from Cairo to Alex that night, but the ticket office was closed.  We knew that there was a 9:00 a.m. train, so we targeted to get there by 8:30 the next morning to make sure we had time to buy our tickets (and hope it wasn't sold out).

Well, the next morning we got off to a late start and didn't end up making it to the train station until 8:55!  We were running through the Metro station and up the stairs to the train station, and then I started running to the ticket counter, but a man with a badge on said the train to Alex was sold out.  But he said if we hurried, we could still get on.  Now, this is
something I thought we might have to do if we couldn't get a ticket (because I sure didn't want to sit in that train station for 2 hours waiting for the next train).  See, here's the deal: you don't actually need a ticket to get on the train.  You can just get on and then pay once you're on.  Now, you take the risk you may not get a seat, but that was a risk we were willing to take.  So we ran to the train and hopped on!  We stood in the little hallway between the cars waiting to see if there were any empty seats.  There were no empty seats in the first-class car, but we saw some seats in the dining car and sat there.  We were able to sit there the whole time, so that was cool.  We were so glad we made it on before the train took off and so thankful to have a seat!  So we made it back to Alex safe and sound...whew!

Cairo 4th    Click here for pics of the Fourth of July party in Cairo

Zahabia beach    Click here for pics from Hurghada

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