Travel Agent Recounts Her Escape From Egypt

Travel agent Diane Arnold spent time in Cairo during the recent political upheaval. She recounts her experience getting out of the country in a guest column.

Just saw your article and thought I would send this email to you. I was actually in Cairo when things started getting hot and we chose to cancel the rest of our tour and get out.  Being a travel agent, I was able to make our changes myself but it would have been overwhelming for the average person.

Thank you all for your concern!  Travel is an adventure, for sure! As most of you know, I sometimes get quite close to danger in my travels.  I think that being just five days away from being in Phuket during the tsunami was much scarier than this.  Frankly, being in Cairo during the protests was rather interesting — how often does one witness a revolution?

We arrived in Cairo on Wednesday evening, one day early, as we changed our tickets to beat the snow storm.  On Thursday, we decided to hire a guide (with car and driver) who was very careful about where he took us.  Good thing we did, as we didn't see much after that day. We were told that the protests (they called it a "parade") would begin on Friday afternoon after prayers. We wanted to see the Egyptian Museum on Friday morning but were told that the museum was closed due to the upcoming protests. We walked over anyway, crossing the October 6 bridge that was shown on the news constantly, to see the museum and square where the protest would take place. Seemed like a normal hectic Cairo morning except for the police trucks mobilizing. At one point, we were sandwiched between the trucks and a fence. Got back to the "safe" side of the bridge by 12 noon. The rest of the day was spent watching the activity from our side of the river, from the 20th floor of the Marriott Hotel, from our balcony and on the TV.  We saw lots of fire smoke and tear gas smoke across the river....a good traveler always carries binoculars!  

Later in the day, protesters marched (in a peaceful fashion, I might add) past the Marriott and later gathered on the bridge below our balcony. They would move closer to the police, prompting the police to throw tear gas canisters (made in the USA).  The protesters picked up the canisters and threw them into the Nile River.  From our balcony, I got a good dose of the tear gas. Boy, was that painful! It makes your eyes and nose burn, and it even numbed my lips!  Hopefully that was a once in a lifetime experience.  Between the "live scenes," I was glued to the TV. The first curfew was called that day at 7 p.m., forcing us to cancel our dinner plans (had to eat sushi instead in the Marriott).  Also, the Internet and cell phones were cut off on Friday by the government. That night we stayed up almost all night changing our tickets and hotels as we moved up our planned visit to Israel: a good thing we did  — a delay would have meant no seats were left. We could not get a nonstop flight to Tel Aviv until Sunday night due to the Sabbath.

We got out on Saturday to have lunch at the local restaurant where we had planned to have dinner on Friday night. After the food arrived, we were told to rush as a new curfew was declared for 4 p.m. and the workers needed to get home. The rest of the day was spent watching the protesters again outside and on TV. The government did turn the cell phones on on Saturday but left the Internet off so the protesters could not use social media like they did in Tunisia, to call for reinforcements.

On Sunday we left the hotel at 12:30 p.m. for our 10:30 p.m. flight. The airport was mobbed with people, and they allow smoking, which was another painful experience for our eyes. We found some chairs in the cafe and sat there until 6:30 pm, enjoying an interesting conversation with a young female doctor from Oman. At 6:30 p.m., we pushed our way through the crowd (trying to avoid someone stepping on my broken toe, which happened at home just before I left) to get in line at the El Al counter. Actually there was no line, just another mob scene. We finally decided to re-arrange our suitcases so we could sit on them. As it was, we waited in that line until 12:30 am to check in. With El Al, that is a very serious process — they ask lots of questions to each person. Ruth was even asked why she took Hebrew lessons when she was young. We finally took off at 4:00 a.m. and arrived in Tel Aviv at 5:30 a.m.    

Funny how people think that Israel is unsafe — I have never felt more secure. But I must say that I never felt in serious danger in Cairo. I was actually very relaxed for a change.

We spent just two days in Tel Aviv, a very energetic city with many restaurants open 24 hours a day. They call it the "Big Orange."  Next we traveled to Jerusalem, only a one hour drive from Tel Aviv, and took a walk into the old city via the souk to see the Western Wall.  

— Diane Arnold