Updated: Oct 19, 2018
by Nina Sabin - Travel
Welcome to Blog #6
Wow, what a week! I thought before I told you about our first trip we took out of Saudi, I would update you a little on the freedoms we have been experiencing in life. First, being semi-retired is awesome. We can sleep in to whatever time we like, go for walks at all hours of the day, enjoy a cup of tea while sitting on our balcony, and taking trips as often as we like.
With that said, we are on our fifth excursion (with only being back not even four months) around Florida and the surrounding states. We have been back and forth to South Florida to spend time with family, back and forth to Tallahassee, and we just came back from an amazing trip where we reconnected with family in Georgia after 30 years and drove to North Carolina to visit friends who retired last year from Saudi Arabia. In three weeks, we will be heading on a 22 day cruise through the Panama Canal, Guatemala, Cost Rica, Mexico, and finishing in Vancouver. Traveling, as I have mentioned before, is our passion and with the freedom of not working a conventional full-time job, there is nothing to hold us back from enjoying the freedoms of traveling. Mind you, we still are working hard on blogging, article writing, and a myriad of other things – we just tend to do these at all hours of the night.
We have been waiting almost four months for our shipment from Saudi to arrive – looks like next week!! It took four months to get to Saudi 17 years ago, so we are used to the slowness.
With that said, let’s go back in time now to our first trip out of Saudi. As we planned our first trip out, we realized since our sea shipment had not arrived, we needed to either borrow or purchase some warm clothing. We didn’t expect it take over four months to get our shipment and we didn’t pack for cooler weather. One of the benefits of living in our compound was they had a clothing exchange that people could donate or consign their clothing. I was able to get some items so we could be prepared for the cooler weather in Egypt, where we were heading, on our first trip.
John is a very organized person and he created his first overseas travel itinerary. Which took him over two months to plan. He was able to work with a traveling company in Egypt. We had activities each day of exploring the major sites of Egypt. As we headed to the Dammam airport, this is only three months after we arrived in Saudi, we weren’t sure what we were thinking, except that we are excited to head to a new country to explore.
Our first unique experience started on the plane when the stewards came down the aisle spraying aerosol cans of air fresheners and cleaners. The passengers seemed to duck down and covered their faces as they came through. This was a first for us.
Arriving in Egypt was another cultural shock for us. The guide met us at the baggage location of the airport in Cairo. He said to me, stay to the side with the girls as he and my husband went to retrieve our luggage. As I watched, I could see people on the carousel throwing suitcases. The best way to describe the luggage retrieval process at the Cairo airport is to imagine 400 kids diving for 100 pieces of candy when a piñata breaks open! When all the bags were distributed, the concern everyone has, came real to me. My bag wasn’t there. Our first trip out, I had to buy and borrow clothes, and now my bag was missing. There was a bag that looked like mine, but it wasn’t mine. We learned later, that is it very important to put some kind of unique identifying mark on your bag, because black suitcases are not rare. After making a claim, we headed to the hotel in Cairo, and hoping that my suitcases would come in time before we left on the train to our next location in Egypt. We thought for sure that it would not be found. We did some shopping that night, purchased some new clothes, prayed about our lost luggage and it was returned to us two days later. A great lesson of God’s goodness for the kids and us.
It was Ramadan time while we are in Egypt. Ramadan is observed by Muslims as a month of fasting. They fast all day until sunset, and then celebrate all night until sunrise. At the hotels, we were able to have food only in our room during the day, but after sunset we were able to have meals in the city. Follow by the Eid holiday – Feast of Sacrifice - after the month of fasting. This is why we were traveling as part of the perks of living overseas was being able to travel during these holidays.
There were also very few tourists at the time we went to Egypt. This was due to the September 11, 2001 incident which affected tourism. However, we did feel safe walking the streets of Egypt.
95% of all Egyptians live in 5% of the space in Egypt. Of the 95%, 90% live in Cairo, which accounts for about 20 million people. Cairo averages about ¼ inch of rain a year. Throwing trash on the street, even weekly household garage is the norm. Combine those three things and you get a very filthy city. However, there are some beautiful areas to see.
The driving in Cairo is “incredible”. Remember what we said about the piñata above? - Same concept. There are no rules, other than that you must continually swerve, know how to slam on your brakes and honk! Most cars are complete junk with no seat belts, no head or taillights, but great horns. Did we mention that there are no streetlights or signs, no lanes on the roads and they drive with their headlights off at night? Oh yes… Not too far off from what we had been experiencing in Saudi.
We spent the first four days in Cairo at the Gazera Sheraton, a 4-star hotel directly on the Nile in the best part of town. We visited the Great Pyramids at Giza and the accompanying Sphinx, the protector of the Pharaohs. The vendors outnumbered the tourists 2 to 1, so we were constantly mobbed with offers. Panhandlers were all over Egypt, especially at the Pyramids, even as young as five years old were trying to sell us items. Our children learned “la Shukran” which me no thank you, and used it often.
Stay tuned for my next blog where we will continue discussing our Cairo Adventures.