Cairo International Airport
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

The Chaos Known as Cairo International Airport

A fter being a passenger on the worst flight I have ever experienced on an airplane operated by Gulf Air, I was greeted with what felt like a blast furnace when I exited outside of the airplane, as I have never felt such intense ambient heat as the sun burned through the hazy brownish air. I later found out that the outside temperature was 112 degrees Fahrenheit when I trudged across the tarmac to the terminal.

The next thing I knew, there was an unexpected stampede of hundreds of people — apparently from different flights — clamoring for the few lines to go through customs. I was reminded of my perception of immigrants being processed on Ellis Island after a long voyage to the United States. The large hot customs hall with the high ceiling was filled with a huge swarm of humanity — disorganized and confused, patience waned as tensions mounted, with their highest priority to get through customs as quickly as possible…

…apparently at whatever cost: two bearded men in thawbs — one sweating profusely, with his face drenched in a hot sweat which matted his dark hair to his head — eventually engaged in a shouting match in Arabic before becoming embroiled in a brawl which at least a dozen men and women were required to intervene before it was finally quelled.

The people who broke up the altercation repeatedly scolded the two men in an exasperated manner to stop the fighting immediately — almost as if they would get into serious trouble and suffer from potential repercussions if they were caught.

There was one line which was closed; but that did not stop dozens of people from frenetically rushing to it and waiting in it, hoping and anticipating that someone would arrive to man that station.

After what seemed like forever amongst the crowded sea of people — more accurately, greater than an hour — I finally approached the weary customs official with a stern appearance on her face. After searching through my passport, she informed me of the bad news…

Visa Upon Arrival?

…I needed to get my visa upon arrival before I could pass through.

After asking where I could get that visa, I was instructed to go towards the back of the customs hall and turn left; and the place where I need to go will be on my left.

Sure enough, there were at least three vendors which sold visas upon arrival. I briefly wondered about how I missed these booths — only to be reminded of the aforementioned stampede.

I was concerned as to whether or not I would be able to even visit Egypt, as authorities in the country announced in March of 2015 that they were contemplating to require visas in advance as of Friday, May 15, 2015 for all foreigners traveling to Egypt for tourism will require visas in advance; but fortunately, the decision was reversed in April of 2015 until an electronic visa system was in place.

Fortunately for me, the visa upon arrival — which cost me $25.00 — was still in effect, as I did not purchase a visa in advance. There was no line to obtain one; so accomplishing that task was fairly easy…

…as was returning to the lines to pass through customs, as many of the throngs of people had already passed through the customs hall, which was at that point thankfully relatively empty.

Once passing through the customs area, I arrived in the chaotic area where baggage is retrieved. It was like a zoo in there; with a cacophony of voices filling the large room and literally hundreds of assorted bags were either wandering around unclaimed on conveyor belts or on the floor randomly awaiting their owners to retrieve them.

It was now time to rent the car — not realizing what it would be like to drive in Egypt

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

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