21-year-old seeks advice about Cairo adventure
Replies: 21 - Last Post: Feb 4, 2013 1:41 AM Last Post By: catw
Jan 27, 2013 12:50 PM
21-year-old seeks advice about Cairo adventureMy ambitious dream is to fly to Cairo, Egypt in the late months of this year, ideally sometime between October and December. I'd like your perspective, fellow travelers, and Egyptians as well.
What You Should Know
1.) I intend to travel alone, walk alone and explore alone. That is, unless I find companionship in kindred spirits or interesting people.
2.) I am a 21-year-old female a tiny bit under 5'2.
3.) I am part Mexican - dark hair, dark eyes, and my skin is a lighter hue of beige. My language is English. I will attempt to learn Arabic, but I struggle with my Spanish, too. I continue to learn about the customs, culture and the way of life in Egypt, in all aspects.
4.) I intend to spend a month in the heart of the bustling city; ideally, in cheap hostels, such as Dina's hostel.
5.) My ambitious budget is $2,800. And somewhere between $1,100 to $1,400 is for the roundtrip flight between the United States and Cairo, Egypt.
6.) Depending upon how much money I can save, I'd like to explore Luxor and fly to Rome for a seven-day expedition.
7.) I am accustomed to traveling and vagabonding across the United States, and I have adapted to the bare necessities and outdoor elements - it's a lifestyle. But of course Egypt will be different.
1.) Is Egypt, and especially Cairo, a relatively safe place to travel alone to, with common sense and pepper spray as an ally? What precautions should I take? What should I be prepared for? Is it safe to walk alone and take buses throughout most of the city? Nighttime not a good idea? (Most likely.)
2.) I have heard of accounts of Egyptian men hassling Western and American women - groping, catcalling, making lude and often outright suggestive gestures, following them, touching them, etc. Of course I know that such behavior is not uniform to all Egyptian men, but how can it be avoided or reduced?
Is it a huge concern, a danger?
Because of my darker features, will Egyptian men percieve me differently from the standard prototype of fair skin, light eyes and light hair of American women? Will my appearance alter their attitude towards me?
3.) What can I do to show my respect of Egypt's culture?
What kind of things or experiences in Cairo will I find startling, strange, new and sometimes, uncomfortable?
What are the key, noticeable differences between America and Egypt?
4.) Is my modest budget realistic? Will I be expected to tip or bribe anyone in order to pass through certain points?
Is the food and water safe to eat and drink? What about street vendors?
5.) What should I expect from Cairo and its people? Its women? Its children? Its business people? Its young adults? Its students? How many Egyptians speak and understand English?
6.) Will I be allowed to explore the American University and talk to its international population?
7.) I intend to bring the bare necessities - but do you have suggestions?
8.) I am defying my socioeconomic status - I am poor, but an incurable dreamer, and most times, doer. Will Cairo see me differently because of my lack of wealth? Will my fellow Americans see me differently? (This seems like a myopic question, I know.)
9.) Lonely Planet recommends travel to Egypt in the time bracket I have chosen, but what should I expect from the weather, the landscape, the environment, the pulse of the city? What political opinion should I expect? Political atmosphere?
10.) Those with firsthand experience of traveling to Cairo, what do you feel I should know? No matter how small or insignificant you feel it is, I want to know. Recommendations of sights to see? Places to eat (though not very important to me)? Places to experience the most culture, the real Cairo? Places to take my breath away? Places to meet educated people? Souqs? Parks? Places, mostly hostels, to stay at? Places to meet intriguing characters? What is Dina's Hostel like?
Thank you so much for reading through all of this, and a thousand times more so if you take the time to answer some of my questions to the best of your knowledge. Shukran.
Jan 27, 2013 1:41 PM
1If you are self confident and strong you won't attract one of the guys. If you are not self confident and strong, you will attract alll of them. In the later case it would be by the way not about you. It always would be just about them. 100% attention seeking and trying to appear with some importance. It's about pampering their ego.
Mexico? Then some of the machismo in Mexico should be familiar to you. And you will be prepared to some of the stuff happening in Egypt.
The USA and Egypt. The difference. The USA are an "open society" (well, more or less). Egypt is not (a so called "closed society").
And another difference. In the USA people exploit people. In Egypt it's vice versa.
Egypt is not a backpacker destination. Egypt is a tourist destination. Just to mention it.
You will be fine. And you will have an interesting time. You are welcome.
Jan 27, 2013 2:19 PM
2Me again. I just got an idea. An option for you. Don't tell the guys about your Mexican/US-background. Tell them you are from Hawaii.
This will give you an advantage. And you will feel way better. But don't laugh all the time when you are telling them you are from Hawaii.
And this is not a joke. I'm serious. Just try it. You will be convinced very soon. Muy rapido. Okay?!
Jan 27, 2013 2:36 PM
3From what I have heard, God protects drunks and idiots. However, don't depend on this. Read a guide book. You are a 21 year old female who wants to walk in Egypt alone. Yikes. Egyptian men prefer groping blondes but I am sure you will do as plan B.
I have read that your generation only accesses information on a 'need to know' basis. Really, you need to know!
At 21 you are no doubt familiar with internet research. Google, sexual harassment in Egypt.
My recommendation is that you try Zanzibar for the Maasai experience. Apparently a lot of young western girls get into this and it's completely voluntary. In Egypt it may not be.
Jan 27, 2013 2:58 PM
Jan 27, 2013 3:00 PM
Jan 27, 2013 3:16 PM
6And also i think Couchsurfing would be a good thing for you.
Egypt has a good and active couchsurfing community especially Cairo. Couchsurfing is a site where you stay with local people (for free but always giving omething back). There are some sleazes in there so read people profiles and the references left by other couchsurfers who have stayed with them. In your case i would choose a host who is a family and just doesn't host woman only.
Have peruse at couchsurfing.org
Couchsurfers also organise events, so even if you are not hosted you can do things with locals while there. It gives you a more direct insight to the local culture when staying and hanging around locals rather then other backpackers/tourists.
Jan 28, 2013 3:42 AM
7Hi there! Dont try to play it from Hawai my dear, thats stupid, most people know that Hawai is us territory. Tell them you are mexican and this will be ok, you cant do better. You must be well prepared to cope well with the egyptian people, thats a bit difficult at your young age because i think you will be first time in the middle east. I dont know why you have so muuch expectations from the American university in cairo, If you need to be in such environment why you travel and spend a whole month in the middle east, it seems an inconsistent search, sorry. i suggest you must find a better topic to interest you during your egypt stay.
Jan 28, 2013 4:23 AM
Jan 28, 2013 8:11 AM
9I really liked Dina, it has a backpacker hostel feeling like in Australia: young people sitting together in a common area. Bathrooms & toilets are shared and clean.
Food & drink: 1.5L bottled water are for 3EGP. In Cairo, GAD is a cheap eat, but otherwise we chose midrange places. Never had digestion problems. I would avoid street vendors.
Cover your arms, shoulders & head.
We met English speaking teenagers when got lost on bike in Siwa, on the way to Fatnas Island. On the other hand, nobody spoke English in El-Mouneib, when we tried to find Upper Egypt Bus "station".
Personally I liked Cairo the least. I can't imagine myself going to Egypt for a month and staying there more than a week. The Western Desert was a much memorable experience, closely followed by Luxor.
Jan 28, 2013 12:35 PM
10Cairo is a great city but you may want a break from the people and the dust.
Consider a trip over to the Red Sea for some swimming and relaxing.
Jan 28, 2013 4:22 PM
11Ignore everything our amigo Clockwork says, though highly entertaining, he generally hasn't travelled to the places he comments on.
Generally you will find Egyptians respectful. Dress modestly of course, and walk with confidence. When my girlfriend was walking alone, she had some unwanted attention but also had other egyptians intervene and insult and move on the pesterer. This stuff usually happenned when she was near toursity places. When we were in the suburbs, it did not happen.
Jan 28, 2013 4:27 PM
Jan 29, 2013 5:43 AM
13No one cares what you look like, where you come from and how tall you are.This is the real world, not a casting for an MTV video.
Egypt, especially Cairo, is a very safe place to travel alone as long as you have common sense - do not walk alone on an empty street in the middle of the night, do not enter a dense crowd during a protest or some sport event, do not dress as if you were on the beach in Mexico, do not flirt with men you meet on the street.
It is safe to walk alone. Taking buses is safe but will expose you to potential harassment, and you're likely to get lost as it's difficult to know where they go, not to mention that they do not stop - you're expected to jump in and out from the street. Taxis are cheap and practical; white taxis have a meter and their drivers a license. Nighttime is not a problem as Cairo is alive all night long, just avoid walking on empty alleys, and in Tahrir square if it's crowded.
Harassment is an issue in Egypt, but there's not threat involved for your physical safety. To deter harassment it's advisable to dress conservatively on the street (cover your legs and shoulders, no cleavage, cover tight tops with a scarf); this does not apply to the Red Sea beaches or to bars and nightclubs. If a guy makes you feel uncomfortable, tell him loudly to leave, don't hesitate to ask people around you for assistance, if you don't speak Arabic simply gesture at the guy, people will understandably what you mean.
If you want to meet Egyptian men and discuss, go to the Westernized places where they are accustomed to interacting with Western girls: bar/nightclubs like After Eight or Cairo Jazz Club; traditional cafes like Al Horreya; bar-restaurants like la Bodega, Starbuck copycats like Cilantro or Coffee Bean. You can also check the events taking places in Western cultural centers (French, American, British, German...) or in cultural venues.
Men groping, catcalling, following or making gestures to Western women? It does happen but not everyday. The best is to ignore them entirely. Alternatively you can ask anyone on the street for help. Bear in mind that harassers are terrified at the prospect of being seen harassing a woman by other Egyptians, they will run as soon as you shout or attract attention on them.
Be smart - Egyptian culture is not as open as Western culture. Speaking at length with a guy, reacting only with an amused smile when he touches your arm can be misinterpreted as an invitation. Most harassers will test you before harassing you, typically by trying to touch your arm or by following you and trying to speak to you. Be polite but firm. I've heard countless stories of Western women complaining that the taxi driver touched their knee several times. They did not react, which led the guy to believe that they were ok with it. A taxi driver touched my knee once, I yelled, he did not try again, he understood the message. Had he tried again, I'd have left his car and taken another taxi. Do not be shy, be always polite but very firm. Dressing conservatively does help. Telling people that you're an expat and live in Cairo with your husband can also help.
Whether you're a tanned brunette or a fair-skinned blonde does not make any difference. You will be seen as a Western woman, with all the cliches associated to Western women.
What you may find startling in Egyptian culture, you're unlikely to see on the street. The key noticeable difference between America and Egypt is poverty.
You do not have to bribe anyone, ever. Tipping is part of the Egyptian culture but has to be used wisely. Only give money for a service that YOU have requested. Giving money to the guy who carried your backpack on two meters without asking you first is not ok. Giving a small tip to the guy keeping your shoes at the entrance of a mosque, or to the guy letting you climb up the minaret of the mosque is ok. A tip can go from 1 to 10 EGP, depending on the kind of service the person is performing for you. You will not see too many beggars; my personal rule is to give only to women and old people selling handkerchiefs on the street, which is a dignified way of begging.
Cooked food and bottled water are safe to eat and drink. Street vendors... it's up to you. I'd say that as long as it's cooked it's ok, but it depends on your stomach.
Few Egyptians speak and understand English and if they do, it's really bad English. If you want to be able to speak with Egyptians in English go to one of the westernized places I mentioned.
In theory the American University is not accessible to strangers, however you can access it by telling the guards you're heading to their bookshop
Do not miss the huge, extraordinary Islamic Cairo neighborhood, the LP gives detailed explanations as to what to visit (Al-Muizz street towards Bab El Futuh, Al-Muizz street towards Bab Al Zuweila, Ibn Tulun mosque, Al-Suleymani house, Al Azhar mosque, Harrawi house, Bab Al Zuweila fortified dorr and towers... Do climb up the minarets of mosques and up towers. , Al-. There's only one real park in Cairo, the Al Azhar park built over a former dump, a very nice place at sunset. Try to attend the show of the At-Tannoua turning derviches in the old al-Ghuri caravanseray. Try to stay in small pensions in order to meet other independent travelers.
Jan 29, 2013 3:12 PM
14With 50 or so people gunned down by Morsi and his thugs in the last few days, with church burnings, riots, tear gas, the burning of US flags and the escallation of sexual harrassment I would argue that Egypt is not the primier travel destination for young women traveling alone. CatW, you disagree but I admire your ability to do so without personal attacks.
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