As I'm writing this, we are preparing for bed in our hotel in Juba, South Sudan after having left Cairo, Egypt. The past 3 days have been such a blur, but I'll do my best to describe the first part of our travels. I apologize in advance for this long post.
We left early Saturday morning (June 4th) from Rochester, New York for Toronto, Canada where our plane would depart. Our dear friends Brian and Carol graciously drove us to the airport. There were no lines in the airport so we checked in our bags quickly (with no charges!) and went straight through security without any problems. After a big second breakfast, we boarded the plane. Many naps, a few airplane meals, and three movies later we finally landed in Cairo Egypt at 5:00am (11:00pm EST). Everything had been smooth sailing...until we got out of the plane. During our 22-hour layover in Cairo, all sorts of confusion broke loose.
A week prior, I had arranged for us to have a guided tour of Cairo. I had always dreamed of visiting Egypt, so I cannot describe my excitement when Liasor told me he found a flight for us with a full day layover in Cairo. (Insert emoji with long steam of joyous tears).
Anyways, I got right to work saving extra money and researching ways to see the city during our layover. I have a couple friends who live in Cairo, but they wouldn't be in town that day. Luckily, I found an amazing - and legitimate - tour company which would send a guide to pick us up at the airport at 5:00am, book a hotel for us and take us there to rest, then return to our hotel 7-8 hours later to take us on a multi-site tour of the city. It seemed so perfect.
When we landed in Cairo and exited the plane, we descended an escalator searching for a sign with our names on it. Nothing. We then proceeded to walk around and wait in that area of the airport for 45min in hopes of uniting with our tour guide. We came across a desk that handled travel accommodations and we inquired about our tour and hotel. The attendant at the desk had our names on a list and said he'd take care of everything. We thought he was connected to the tour company, but later we found out that he wasn't. This attendant was giving everyone on our flight complimentary hotels and meal tickets as an agreement with the airline due to our incredibly long layover. He took our passports and boarding passes, and we happily awaited our "tour guide" to take us to get some rest.
Another 45 minutes later, we were still waiting. Finally the attendant called for a huge group of passengers from our flight to follow him. "That's strange," I thought, "many people from our flight signed up with the exact same tour company!" Silly me.
The attendant didn't return our passports or our boarding passes for the next day's flight. He didn't even say where he was taking us. We were ushered to a drop-off area outside the airport where we waited for another 30 minutes, without any information. Finally a bus pulled up to take us to a hotel, and we piled in. We asked the stoic attendant when we would get our passports and boarding passes back and he told us that we had to wait and not to worry. We, however, were extremely worried. At the hotel, it took a while to get checked in and we were almost falling over from exhaustion. It was in that moment that we finally realized that we were not being taken care of by the tour company and that we were in a totally different hotel than the one we had arranged with the tour guide via email.
Long story short, it all worked out because if we had gotten our hotel and meals through the tour company we would have spent a lot of money, but instead we had those things covered by our airline unexpectedly. So we got a free stay at a fancy hotel and three great meals on the airline's dime. Still, I was rather disappointed sitting in the hotel, thinking that we had missed our chance to see/tour the actual city of Cairo. And without our passports we were a little nervous to leave the hotel alone. In our hotel room we found a wifi signal (God bless it) and I discovered that I had quite a few missed emails from the tour company asking where we were and saying that our tour guide was still waiting on us in the airport with our names on a sign. Mind you, this was 3 hours later so I started freaking out. I have no idea where our tour guide had been earlier because we spent so much time searching for him when we first landed. Liasor and I concluded that he had either arrived late or had been hiding.
I emailed the guide back saying that we would sleep for at least 5 hours and then contact him again about whether we could still arrange for the tour. We just couldn't keep our eyes open any longer. Liasor, his mom, and I all passed out for a few hours until we woke up suddenly to our hotel phone ringing incessantly. It was the tour guide calling! I still have no idea how he knew which hotel we were staying in or what our room number was, which was really concerning. But then again we knew his company was connected to the airport and our airline. On the phone, the tour guide said he could still take us on the tour despite the confusion earlier, and after Liasor spoke to them for a while (because I couldn't even open my eyes, let alone talk on the phone), we arranged to meet him in the hotel lobby that afternoon.
Fast forward (because I'm boring you all by writing too much): So it all worked out and we went to see the Giza pyramids, the Sphinx, downtown Cairo, and the market. Rumthus, Liasor's mommy, got to ride a camel for the first time, which she said was pretty terrifying. I agree. I didn't want to ride a camel this trip after having painfully done so for two hours in Morocco two years ago. Plus, the camel rides always feel so touristy to me. But our guide convinced us to at least take a photo in front of the pyramids with his friend's camel.
Cairo was such a beautiful, lively city. I loved hearing all the history and stories our guide shared with us. It was great seeing firsthand things I had only read about in school. We had a wonderful time. We also visited a perfume museum and bought some lavender, mint, myrrh, and golden watel, which we're all super excited about - well probably Rumthus and I more than Liasor.
Even though we were having an amazing time, we were still concerned about our passports and boarding passes which were still in the possession of the airport attendants. Our tour guide even mentioned once that he had our passports which confused us, but I guess he only meant he knew where they were (??). Finally, we were informed that we would get our documents back right before our flight, and the same would be true for everyone else who had a long layover through EgyptAir.
When we got back to the hotel, we had a lovely dinner outside and then slept for a few hours. We woke up around midnight and got ready for our next flight. Despite not being told much information, we figured out how to catch the shuttle bus from our hotel back to the airport and retrieved our passports and boarding passes from a desk near the entrance (to our GREAT relief!). We were with many other passengers also heading to various locations in East Africa and they also were super relieved about their passports.
We made some awesome friends in Cairo during all the layover/hotel confusion. The first friend we made was a gentleman who continued on to Juba, South Sudan with us. We also befriended a sweet woman heading to visit her family in Asmara, Eritrea. We bonded with her early on in all the airline confusion. We shared our last meal with her and had great conversations full of laughter!
We had some pretty stressful moments during our time in Cairo but I'm so glad we saw the city and that I'm here with Liasor and Rumthus. We had some great laughs through it all.
Our tour of Cairo was absolutely breathtaking and I wouldn't mind moving to Cairo. I love the city's energy. I'm not sure if Liasor feels the same right now, but mostly because he took on the bulk of the stress during our time in the city. Between the two of us, I'm more of a planner; I enjoyed setting everything up for our time in Cairo before arriving. But Liasor is more of an executor of plans and he is also better under pressure, so he took the lead on figuring out everything once my plans were actually in action. Despite some stress and crazy moments, we (mostly he) figured out what to do and we had a great time!
Currently we are in Juba and have been here for 2 days. Tomorrow we'll fly to Doro Refugee Camp. Our hotel in Juba is really nice and we are two doors down from Samaritan's Purse's office where we picked up our U.N. tickets to Doro and dropped off our checked luggage. Ever since we made it past the Juba airport, things have been smooth again. But only after the Juba airport, because going through the Juba airport was extremely stressful for all three of us:
When we landed in Juba two days ago, we got in line to handle customs/immigration papers and to have our visas stamped, but some of the airport attendants took us out of line to help us get our papers handled faster. They brought us to the front of the line where we were scolded for cutting and told to go to the end. The long line went all the way out the door and so we started over in the back of the line, sweating profusely, only to have the same airport attendants snatch our passports and papers from Liasor and direct us out of line again. This time when they took our passports they went away somewhere, promising us that they could help us faster. We were all stressed especially after the passport fiasco in Cairo, and Rumthus was pretty angry with the attendants. But it all worked out in the end because they did succeed in getting our visas stamped somehow, found all our bags for us, and helped us get a taxi. Our taxi driver was pretty awesome and helped us get our bags in the hotel, and then took Liasor to run some important errands.
But I digress. We've just finished eating dinner with Liasor's Uduk contacts in Juba, including one of his uncles. They ate with us at the outdoor restaurant at our hotel and we had great conversations. It has been incredibly hot in both Cairo and Juba, but today it rained so it was so nice outside. We're entering South Sudan during the rainy season so we'll see many more wet days.
We're all so anxious to get to Doro tomorrow. We've each had our share of stomach aches today, probably a combination of excitement, jet lag, airplane food mixed with new cuisine in two countries, heat, and exhaustion. But we're feeling better and having a great time. Thank you to everyone again for your thoughts and prayers. To my family, I'm doing alright and I'm sending love your way! The next time I write, we will be in Doro at last.
P.S. We haven't been able to upload pictures from our tour in Cairo yet, but will try to share them when we do. :)