When Wendy and Dai Roberts arrived in Cairo on January 21, there were warning signs right from the beginning. On their first day of sightseeing, the guide alerted them that trouble was brewing in Egypt - the people were fed up with a corrupt police force, low wages and expensive housing. But the couple enjoyed the Pyramids, the Sphinx and a camel ride, and later went to the Egyptian Museum to see mummies and artifacts. Six days later, there was a break-in at the museum and 17 artifacts were stolen.
On the evening of January 23, the Roberts took the night train to Luxor and transferred to a river cruise boat. They heard about the uprising and watched the news on TV but the tour continued undisturbed further up the Nile.
On January 28, the couple returned to Cairo to catch a plane to Casablanca. At a stop-over at Aswan Airport, there were rumors of riots in Alexandria and Cairo, but the Roberts' flight was normal and they enjoyed the views of the country and the Nile. In Cairo, a guide met them and ushered them into a minibus with the assurance that the driver spoke English and would get them to their hotel. The traffic was light, but they soon ran into the first of many road blocks. With their Canadian passports, they had no trouble getting through until they approached downtown. The hotel was located close to Tahrir Square, the centre of the rioting, and no traffic was allowed into the area. He kindly assured the Roberts that, if he couldn't get them to the hotel, he would take them to his mother's place where they would be safe.
Determined to deliver the couple safely to their hotel, the driver turned into an underground parking garage of another hotel and then left by a different exit that brought them into the closed-off area. Although there was virtually no traffic, there were throngs of rioters and police. The driver stepped on the gas and honked his horn to avoid being stopped. When they finally arrived at the hotel, they were rushed inside. Later, they shared a drink with one of the hotel's employees, a single mother from Sudan whose 12-year-old daughter was waiting at home alone. Due to the curfew, the woman couldn't leave the hotel and phones and the internet had been shut down.
In the morning, things appeared to be calmer outside. The army had moved in, replacing the police. Wendy and Dai took a short walk and saw burnt out police vehicles and tanks.
On January 29, the Roberts went to the airport. On the 20-minute-drive, they passed numerous road blocks controlled by the army, with tanks blocking the way. Civilian road blocks were set up to prevent looting.
The airport was teeming with people trying to get out of the country and the departure board showed many cancelled flights. Wendy and Dai checked in and went to the departure lounge. As they passed through a second security check, it was announced that their flight was cancelled. Due to the long line at the Air Egypt office, it took them four hours to obtain tickets for January 31. As the general curfew also affected the airport, they had to spend the remainder of the night there.
The next morning, they went to a nearby hotel. It was comfortable but soon became crowded. The Roberts heard of a group of eight sharing a regular room and sleeping in shifts. The next day, the couple returned to the airport, four hours ahead of schedule. To their surprise, the board showed that the flight to Casablanca had already departed. As the airport was subject to a curfew at 4 p.m., the flights had left as soon as there were passengers on board, regardless of scheduled times.
At the Air Egypt office, the couple was advised that there would be a flight the following morning. But when they returned the next day, there were no flights leaving for Casablanca. They waited and waited. After being assured that there would be a flight the following week, they decided to buy tickets to Madrid for the next day instead, foregoing a refund on the Casablanca tickets. After another night in a hotel, they returned to the airport, pushed their way through the slightly thinning crowds and checked in for Madrid. They were both relieved to be leaving Cairo.
Wendy and Dai Roberts will speak about their experiences in Egypt at the Rotary meeting on May 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Snug.