"Humorously (or perhaps terrifyingly) dubbed 'Egypt Scare' or 'Insh'allah Air' by jaded travelers the world over, Egypt Air's service isn't particularly good, and its fleet is in serious need of an upgrade, unless of course, you're a fan of rapidly aging Russian planes."
--Excerpt, Lonely Planet
Time to head to Egypt. As I had written earlier, I had seriously considered doing this trip overland but after trying to figure out all the ferry and bus schedules I figured it would be helluva lot easier to just fly. Granted, Egypt Air was the only one who made the flight I needed, and their reviews from Lonely Planet were less than stellar, but it just made much more sense to fly. After I made this decision I heard from someone in my camp at Wadi Rum who had taken one of the ferries I had been considering that, "yes it is the "fast ferry" - as soon as it arrives. Which was 6 hours late and no one seemed to mind." Made the right decision there...
I was headed to southern Egypt - to Aswan and the only way to get there was to fly through Cairo. I had a strong suspicion that my luggage would never manage to find its way so I packed lots of clothes in my carry on. I did not want a repeat of the Great Sarajevo Luggage Debacle of 2009.
As we drove to the airport in Amman I was a little intimidated by the armored tank with armed soldiers at the ready. Men carrying guns were everywhere. Made JFK and Newark seem a lot friendlier pretty quickly. The airport is total chaos. You walk in and put all your belongings in a conveyor belt - the first of like 8 times before you board your plane. Women have a separate entrance for getting screened where you are felt up by another woman behind a screen. Always fun. The woman at the Egypt Air counter looked genuinely confused about my destination and did not inspire confidence that my luggage (or I) would arrive in Aswan.
Time for passport control and then upstairs to a waiting area before you can go to your gate. I was amused to see KFC and Pizza Hut. In some ways this airport was totally foreign an in some ways it so wasn't. There were lots of really religious looking people in the airport - it felt like everyone had robes and head scarves. One woman had a small child who was playing and I smiled at her and she gave me a dirty look. I think it may have been because I was dressed so immodestly (by which I mean a tshirt and capris). I have to say I have never felt like such an immodest dresser as I have on this trip. I've pretty much resorted to wearing about 1/8 th of the clothes I brought here since everything else is either too revealing (shorts) or too hot (pretty much anything!) I think I'm doing such a good job until I get stared at or some guy says something in Arabic and I think wow, I could really use one of those tour groups right about now. Marisa Tomei's voice from My Cousin Vinny is always in my head saying "Oh Yeah, You Blend."
I reiterate again - except for Amman, I often feel like I'm the only person traveling alone in these parts!! Fellow tourists are always flummoxed when I tell them I'm traveling alone and walking through the markets in Aswan I will see not one other Westerner. It's definitely different than the usual youth hostel feel of tons of people traveling alone. Maybe they were all smarter and came before the summer!
Back to my flights. I had been quite apprehensive but the flight to Cairo took off as planned. We left exactly on time and it never felt like we were going to crash even once. I was totally down with Egypt Air. Landing in Cairo (and Aswan) is totally interesting. You look out the window and it literally looks like you're about to do an emergency landing in the middle of the desert. Just sand everywhere. Then all of the sudden, a runway magically appears.
I get off the plain and even more chaos ensues. No one tells you where to go or what to do. I was sent to all these lines until someone finally explained you have to go to a bank and buy your visa. I did that. Then I went to the counter where it said domestic transfers and everyone else seemed to be talking to the guy behind the counter. He sends me to immigration. Except this is just for people transferring flights. and it's totally closed and apparently no one but me is using it. Some guy shows up and tells me to remove the rope and come on through. I answered his questions, got my passport stamped and seriously had no idea where to go. There were about 10 gates, it was like 1 in the afternoon and except for a few cleaners there was not a SOUL in the airport. No information desk, no shops, no signs. Just gate 21. I sat there for like an hour trying not to be concerned. Finally another family shows up. It really was so odd and I just kept feeling, does anyone else fly to Aswan?
A few more security checks, herded to the next waiting area and finally board the plane. Lest I become too confident with Egypt Air, an announcement comes on that we are returning to the gate for some mechanical difficulties. Soooo what I wanted to hear. We finally leave and the plane is making some strange sounds. We did arrive in Aswan late in the afternoon and a flight attendant announces that it's 42 Celsius outside. I was like wow - I'm not sure what that is, but it's hot. and it's almost nighttime!! LP mentioned that temperatures in Aswan could reach 50 in the summer time but I was like um no way - that isn't humanly possible. So, actually, it is.
This airport is seriously a hut in the middle of the desert and of course after like 3 minutes the luggage is done coming off and mine is so not there. I was familiar with that sinking feeling where the conveyor belt stops and you just know. I wouldn't say I was surprised, but I was a little disheartened. Mostly cuz there was NO ONE there to talk to. No office. No person. No nothing. Some guys finally helped me track someone down and while we were filling out a report he suggested we look in the international section. (and by section i mean the other conveyor belt in the room which is on the other side of a glass wall) I told him that Egypt Air assured me my luggage would arrive on my flight from Aswan but he said let's look. and we did. and it was there. I still don't know if it came on a different flight or if somehow it was the only piece from my plane put on a different belt, but i was very happy. I think the airline worker was too cuz I wasn't exactly the happiest person. I couldn't believe there wasn't even a place to buy water in the airport while I waiting! Time to negotiate yet another taxi cab and make my way into the city. I really don't like the game where they tell you 3 times the price just to see if you'll bite and then act like they're doing you the biggest favor when you get tired of arguing and agree to a price you still know is too much but are willing to settle for. God how I can't wait to see a taxi meter again....