An American in Cairo


This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, June 01, 2004 was originally posted on June 04, 2004.

DAY 227:  Cairo, Egypt is known around the world for its ancient historical past.  The ancient Egypt civilization was one of the greatest in the world, attracting millions of visitors around the world to see its pyramids, hieroglyphics and other ancient artifacts.  However for me, having been away from the conveniences of American modern life for quite some time, I was looking forward to Cairo’s fast food, movie theaters and other things that I took for granted back home in metro New York City. 

All this would have to wait, as getting passed Egyptian immigration proved to be my toughest border crossing yet.

WITH RED EYES FROM THE ONE HOUR NAP on my three-hour “red-eye” flight from Addis Ababa, I looked out the window from my window seat.  No longer was I in sub-Saharan Africa, but in the Arabian north, where skin color was lighter and there was sand everywhere.  We touched down, rode a transfer bus to the main building and went on line at customs.  When I got to the window to have my passport stamped, the guy, after scrutinization, just took it away from me.  “Go inside and sit.”

Great.  But no big deal.  There were four others detained too, two Asian guys and two black guys; perhaps we were the only non-Egyptians, and we all raised flags in immigration officers’ eyes.

Time went by, and it was “Waiting Time,” which always seems a lot longer when you don’t know how long it will be before something progresses.  Curious and a little impatient, I went to the immigration booth and asked about my passport after the line had disappeared.

“Sit down,” was the only answer.  The officers had a real attitude with me too.

More Waiting Time.  The Asian guys and the black guys didn’t have as much hassle as me.  Perhaps I was even more suspicious because of my American passport.  Soon a plain clothes detective approached me with my passport.  He had been assigned my case.  He asked me in his broken English for my outgoing ticket and some identification.  I showed him my driver’s license.  Everything else was in my baggage, so he escorted me to the back room where it was waiting for me.  I showed him my outbound ticket to Casablanca, but he wanted to see more.  In fact, all my tickets stubs since New York.  My ticket back to New York.  A whole bunch of stuff to prove that I wasn’t a terrorist posing as an American since I didn’t look typically American. 

“Where are you from?”

“The States.”

“But where you were born?”

“The States as well.”

Again, another person who thought my truth was the “wrong answer.”  They never seem to believe that I’m American.

“No, your father then.  Where was he born?”

“The Philippines.”

“And your mother?”


Furnishing all my ticket stubs since New York was hard to do b/c usually I just throw them away when they’re not useful anymore.  I searched and searched my bag, but found only a couple of stubs.

“Um, I don’t have them anymore.  I must have thrown them out.”

Red flag.

Together, the two stubs and some old baggage claim stickers didn’t quite put the entire puzzle of me together.  I was an International Man of Mystery and they wanted to discover my intentions.  To be fair, I could see their vantage point.  There I was, a non-American-looking American, flying in not from the U.S.A. but from Ethiopia.  I had no consistent proof to show my itinerary from New York to Quito, Quito to Cape Town, etc.  I didn’t have a ticket back to New York either. 

I’d call that a big red flag, but come on, it’s not like I said “bomb” on an airplane.

Luckily for me, I still had a printout of my bookings from, which showed the flights I took from New York all the way to Cairo.  That sufficed enough for their inquiry, although they probably were suspicious of it being a forged document since it wasn’t official or anything.  That and the fact that the itinerary ended in Cairo with no bookings to go on.  (When I booked AirTreks tickets in July 2003, they could only give me flights from one year from then, which only brought me to Cairo — the second half I’d have to book later on.)  The detective went back to his office to consult, leaving me some more Waiting Time.

Am I going to be deported?  Would they send me back to Ethiopia?  The States?  Oh, wouldn’t that be cool; finally all the drama of travel would be over, and I could just veg in front of my old TV and watch DVDs again.

The detective came back with a card and asked me to write my signature five times in a row so that someone could analyze my handwriting.  Simple enough; it was the same signature I’d been using on all my documents since I was ten-years-old.  The detective took my card back to the office, giving me more Waiting Time, but then came back with another officer. 

“Your signature doesn’t match your passport.”

“What?!”  This was a total shocker for me.

“Signature again.”

I signed on a blank card again.

“It doesn’t match.  Look,” he said, pointing out the ascender of the first “d” in “Trinidad” was present on my passport signature, but in none of my signature tests.  Great, the ONE time I put a line for the “d” and it’s on my passport.

“But look, it’s not here.”  I showed him the signature of my New Jersey driver’s license.  The ascender of the “d” wasn’t there either.  He believed me.

But then there were more questions.  I felt like I was in a federal police interrogation.  Wait a minute, I was in a federal police interrogation.  The kind you see in the movies.  “Why did you take Malaysian Airlines?  Did you go to Malaysia?”

“No, from Buenos Aires to Cape Town, they run a flight en route to Kuala Lumpur.  They stop in Cape Town on the way.  It’s cheaper.”

“Ah, okay.”

Slowly they soon realized that my story was too involved that it couldn’t have been made up.  The puzzle of this International Man of Mystery may have not been complete, but at least there wasn’t anything that made me look like nothing but an innocent tourist.

“Okay.  Welcome to Egypt.  Go have your passport stamped.”

I sighed and smiled a relief. 

“Funny huh?” he smirked.

“I don’t know what to think.”

POUND.  POUND.  Passport stamped.  I had arrived in Egypt officially.

Allow me to interject for a moment, but I am really wondering how many people are actually reading this.  Seriously.  If you are, please send me a comment below with your favorite color — i.e. “My favorite color is… ” — even if you are an SBR (Silent Blog Reader), or haven’t commented in a while.  Thanks.

MY PLAN WAS TO GET TO THE RECOMMENDED SUN HOTEL in Tahrir Square in the modern sector of Cairo.  I asked the tourist information desk the best way to go about getting there.  The woman told me that taxis were expensive and that I could take the public bus down the road.  “Take bus twenty seven, two seven, or four zero zero, four hundred,” she advised me.  She wrote down “27” and “400” in my notepad.  When I got to the terminal, it was pointless because all the numbers were in Arabic numerals.

More Waiting Time.  I asked a bus that pulled in if it went to Tahrir Square, and they said it did.  I rode in the bus full of locals into town, through the modern streets where I couldn’t read any of the Arabic signs to get my bearing.  I never felt more lost.  We drove by a KFC next to a McDonald’s, in a similar position as I saw in my Lonely Planet map, which meant that the nearby rotunda must be Tahrir Square, so I just got off.  Little did I know at the time that there were hundreds of KFC and McDonald’s in Cairo and I had just gotten off at some random street in an unknown neighborhood not on my map.

A police officer directed me to another guy who could help me, and that guy put me on another bus.  That bus drove and drove to God-knows-where, and on a highway too, so it never really had a chance to stop.  Farther and farther we went, and it looked like perhaps we were leaving the city.  I got off at the first opportunity and just hopped in a cab.  I think I ended up spending more money than if I had just taken a taxi from the airport.

I FOUND THE SUN HOTEL and got a single room in the very modern neighborhood.  Finally Cairo was looking up.  A big modern city (picture above) like New York — swap Nile for Hudson and put everything in Arabic — you could walk the crowded streets and just be anonymous.  Unlike the other places I had been to recently, I didn’t stand out and no one bugged or hassled me.  I actually felt safe walking around and didn’t feel like somebody’s watching me (and I get no privacy).  The only time I didn’t feel safe was crossing the street; there seems to be lawlessness in the pedestrian/motorist relationship and every journey across a major road (even at a crosswalk) was like playing a game of Frogger.

Having been hassled for being American at immigration that morning, I decided that for the rest of the day I’d just continue to be American.  Funny what seven-and-a-half months of travel does for a person.  Perhaps if Egypt was my first destination I’d be more into the local customs, but instead all I was looking forward to was Western culture.  Cairo was the perfect place for that, influenced by American and Western culture from everything from fashion (baseball caps, jeans and sneakers) to movies (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was actually sold out, opening day) to fast food.  I was actually worried about walking into a McDonald’s since I still had a mental image from the news back during the anti-American war rallies of 2003, when protesters trashed McDonalds in Cairo for being symbols of America.  But when I walked into the first McDonald’s, I saw nothing but Egyptians loving the wholesome goodness of greasy American fast food.

Finally, I could satisfy my Big Mac Attack.  I hadn’t had one in perhaps ten months.  Ah, two all beef patties, special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun!  Oh what a glorious meal!  And McDonald’s signature french fries!  That’s right!  “French fries!”  No Brits here, they weren’t “chips” anymore! 

THE REST OF MY DAY was spent being an anonymous person wandering the city, the way I was in New York, and I felt like I was home again — just what I needed.  Above all, just like New York, there was an ATM machine on every block — and they took MasterCard bank cards!  I got really lost though in the maze of streets with Arabic names and ended up having to take another taxi ride.  I shopped around for a new digital camera to replace the little spy one that my manual said has “An error that is irreversible,” and a very knowledgeable camera shop guy gave me the low down.

“You come from the Land of Cameras.  Why you want to buy a digital camera in Egypt?  Did you know that one in every six cameras comes from New York?”

“Mine is broken.  I need to replace it.”  I showed it to him.

“Where did you get that?  Forty second street?”

He explained that with taxes and tariffs, cameras cost 80% more than what they should, so no one really sold cameras.  True, wandering for blocks and blocks, I saw electronic stores, but no one sold digital cameras.  He advised that I just shoot film and scan my photos in and just wait until I get back to New York to get a new camera.  (He didn’t know I wasn’t going to be there for another nine months.)  I told him about my desperation and he told me that there might be a Sony dealer across the Nile in Giza.  When I asked two more people, they directed me to the neighborhood known as Zamelek, which was a cheaper taxi fare.  However, when a driver took me to all the digital stores there, there was nothing but web cams and big bulky Kodak Easy Shares. 

THE SOUNDS OF HEAVY TRAFFIC was music to my ears as I walked along the Nile during sunset, passed the dramatically-lit Egyptian Museum and back to my hotel’s neighborhood.  For dinner I splurged on the KFC near my hotel (Finger Lickin’ Good!) and then vegged in my room to catch up on writing while listening to the No Doubt MP3s I copied from American ex-pat Tony in Moshi, Tanzania. 

Yes, you can be an American in Cairo — provided that they let you in at immigration.

Next entry: Then and Now

Previous entry: My Life in Airports

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Comments for “An American in Cairo”

  • Ok, I comment like every day, but my fav color is green smile
    Hiroshi (my DH) who half-reads your blog (not enough patience to read in his second langauge) but loves all your pics, his fav color is blue
    Hey maybe there will be a freaky trend of fav colors… anyone know what your fav color says about your personality?

    SILENT BLOG READERS - Take two seconds to say hello so Erik knows you are out there

    Posted by Liz  on  06/04  at  03:14 PM

  • Light blue…

    Posted by Daniel  on  06/04  at  03:49 PM

  • Oh, and I had similar difficulties finding digital cameras (other than Sony) even in Bangkok. One million mobile phone shops for every camera shop…? Best, Daniel

    Posted by Daniel  on  06/04  at  04:12 PM

  • i know MITCHELL is gonna reply with “hot pink”...but that’s for obvious reasons….

    don’t have a fav color since there are too many colors in the pantone color book more than just the 64 crayola crayon colors….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/04  at  04:30 PM

  • sometimes i like green and sometimes blue

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/04  at  11:10 PM

  • Um, green..

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/05  at  07:21 AM

  • Erik….I am Liz’s mom in Canada.  Go to Japan if you get a chance as it is a beautiful country and I can vouch for Liz, she’s a great host.  My fav color is green…any shade.  I read your blog daily and love your adventures, keep up the good writing fav show is “amazing race”....  Rose

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/05  at  04:24 PM

  • Favorite colour = red.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/05  at  05:07 PM

  • Dark blue, maybe teal?  Ugh, I just realized those are my companies colors.  Talk about being brain washed.

    My buddy Bob has a web site called “toliets of the world” (seriously, he’s a big time traveller, too, plus he’s kinda weird.  But he’s a professor, so what do you expect.)  If you run into any really weird ones Erik, take a shot of it, send it and I’ll get him to post (add and explanation, origin, funny story, etc.).


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/05  at  11:24 PM

  • Erick:  Although this would be my first official comment, I have been an avid daily reader since December.  Im sure I speak for many of the SBR crowd when I say that we love the blog and really appreciate the time and effort that you put into it while on the road. 

    Favorite color: BLUE


    James (US expat and fellow wanderlust victim writing from San Jose, Costa Rica)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/05  at  11:36 PM

  • First entry and I misspell your name…so much for making a good first impression.  Sorry about that,  I’ve got it right now..ERIK.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/05  at  11:42 PM

  • Hey E-money and the GT crew! This is my 2nd official comment.
    fav color=blue/purple.

    I read the blog daily too. Love the blog and time you spend. I love reading liz, jen, markyt, lovepenny and all those guys’ comments too. Some of it is inside jokes but it is funny and touching to see so many people cheering you around the globe!

    Be good, or be honest!


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/06  at  06:42 AM

  • Fav color: maroon.

    Nice Frogger reference. Not everyday you get to squeeze that into conversation. I can’t believe Harry Potter is that big even there. I guess there’s no point in fighting it, you might as well go catch a flick and keep current on your Potter-knowledge.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/06  at  06:44 AM

  • Hey, I 2nd that motion with all the BH’s & SBR’s great job on the blog, we all support you from our half-walled cells, keep the great work ... as for color I would go with light blue.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/06  at  06:19 PM

  • color=blue
    just wanted to let you know that i’m also reading every entry.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/06  at  06:51 PM

  • indigo blue or orangey-red, it’s a tie!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/06  at  07:14 PM

  • hey! I haven’t read in awhile- I am on vacation in NYC, so I have some time at my parents house. Cairo looks good, sounds like you are getting a little homesick?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/06  at  09:52 PM

  • it’s a toss-up between black and blue. depends on my mood. sorry it took a while to answer, i don’t get a chance to go online on the weekends anymore. =)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/06  at  10:17 PM

  • Blue, or is it Red… I seem to be wearing a lot of red lately.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/06  at  11:10 PM

  • DUAINE: sounds like monty python’s holy grail…

    “What is you favorite color?”

    “Blue…. I mean red. Whoaaaa….”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/07  at  12:58 AM

  • I find it interesting that there are so many “blue’s”.  Lots of calm people here smile

    Posted by Liz  on  06/07  at  04:03 AM

  • Chartreuse.

    Erik -  This blog added South America to my trip and now I want to go to Ethiopa too. Man, my mum is gonna kill you!  But keep writing - I read a few blogs, but this is the only one I recommend to others. And ta to the BH’s too - it’s like eavesdropping on people in a train station reading some of the comments.  Even the ones I don’t get.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/07  at  06:35 AM

  • Green.

    Posted by Alyson  on  06/07  at  07:48 AM

  • Semi-silent guy, who finally had a chance to catch up.
    Geez…it seems as though markyt would have walked directly past my office when he was in TO. (markyt: I’m at Adelaide and Peter St)

    Favourite colour: yeah, another blue—though the faded blue jeans blue…the natural kind…not acid washed or some sort of manipulated shade, just the…well, you get the idea…

    (the OTHER James)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/07  at  05:07 PM

  • Also green:)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/07  at  09:50 PM

  • Is the Nile dirty?

    I saw Super Size Me and can’t fathom eating Mickey D’s ever again!!

    I like blue and green.  There are a ton more comments on this page after your plea, Erik.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/08  at  06:39 PM

  • Slowly catching up on the Blog!

    Yellow =)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/08  at  08:14 PM

  • Dark Green

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/08  at  10:02 PM

  • heather gray with a tinge of brown and some speckle of blue…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/08  at  11:51 PM

  • yellow though i wear black all the time

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/08  at  11:56 PM

  • green, white, red, silver…
    - your blog fan from singapore (living in los angeles)

    Keep up the great work!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/09  at  12:57 AM

  • red

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/09  at  01:40 AM

  • Hi Erik, did you have a chance to go to any religious places on friday. it should be one interesting experience. I would like to read about it.

    Posted by Amira  on  06/09  at  02:34 AM

  • Hi Erik

    I have been NIZ myself and finally catching up on the blog.  Sounds like quite the adventures lately.  Keep up all the stories, now that I am back in cyberland they will definitely brighten my day, and heck I even have my boss reading so I can’t even get in trouble while I catch up.


    oops… My favourite colour is Red and my boss says hers is purple

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/09  at  07:24 AM

  • Purple.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/09  at  08:03 PM

  • JAMES - doah…i probably did walk pass your office…oh well…toronto is only an hour flight away… baby!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/10  at  01:25 AM

  • blue

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/15  at  12:17 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today,, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.

Next entry:
Then and Now

Previous entry:
My Life in Airports


Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

SBR: acronym for "Silent Blog Reader"; a person who has regularly followed The Global Trip blog for years without ever commenting or making his/her presence known to the rest of the reading community. (Breaking this silence by commenting is encouraged.)

Stupid o'clock: any time of the early morning that you have to wake up to catch a train, bus, plane, or tour. Usually any time before 6 a.m. is automatically “stupid o’clock.”

The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

WHMMR: acronym for "Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush"; an unofficial deadline to get new content up by a Monday morning, in time for readers in the western hemisphere (i.e. the majority North American audience) heading back to their computers.

1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.

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