Egypt Day 1: The most stressful day in my life

The fact that I had to be at the airport at 4 a.m. didn’t really help to set a relaxing mood on my first day of vacation, but in retrospect it now seems so insignificant.

I got to the airport early enough that I wasn’t worried despite the fact that there were a lot of people in the airport. Besides, I was pretty pleased with myself because my luggage was only 15 kg (I was authorized 20 kg and yes, I take comfort in small pleasures). I got on the 6 a.m. Transavia flight to Hurghada—by the way, first time on Transavia and I’m pretty satisfied—slept all the way except for when they served breakfast, of course.

Five hours later, I landed in Egypt.

Last time I was here, I remember landing, going to the bank, buying a 15€ visa and passing immigration, all in less than 30 minutes. This time, things didn’t really go as planned.

I got to the bank. They took my Costa Rican passport and frowned. They took me to immigration. They frowned too: “Sir, you should have requested your visa in Paris.” What?! But I checked before leaving and it said everywhere that all I had to do was buy the visa at the bank upon arrival! “Give me your passport please, sir, and wait here. Someone is going to come get you to sort things out with Cairo.” What?!

While “someone” came, I called the travel agency in Paris. Of course, their first reaction was “But didn’t you check before leaving?” Yes, I did, but that’s not the matter now, what I need now is a) tell whoever is waiting for me outside, to wait until I get there and b) help, if you can provide any.

“Someone” came. Mostly in sign language, and a couple of English words, he invites me to follow him into a small office not far from the immigration counters. There, I try to explain what my plans are for the next two weeks, but try explaining “I landed in Hugharda, but I’m being taken to Safaga to a hotel where a diving centre is going to take me diving for a week, then I’m being taken to Hamata where I’m taking a boat to dive for another week and finally I’ll go to the Marsa Alam airport to fly back to Paris in 15 days.” Impossible. the guy makes several short calls in Arabic and writes stuff down on my immigration card; in Arabic. Not having the slightest idea of what just happened, I’m taken back to the police officer at the immigration counter. He calls a guy to sell me a visa, but they’re not convinced. He calls another police officer. It’s been more than an hour since my plane landed.

I’m taken to baggage claim. Where I get my bag and try to understand what’s happening. Unfortunately, my police escort doesn’t speak a word of English, so he calls one of the drivers from the tourist agencies to talk to me. The guy doesn’t speak a lot of English but he utters the words “they are sending you back.”

I thought I’d have a heart a attack or shit my pants or have some sort of panic attack, but nothing happened. I followed the police officer thought the airport. We are now in the part of the airport that is open to the public and we are walking towards Departures. OMFG.

“Hey, sit!” Who me? Here? Where are we? Can someone explain what’s going on? Oh, a sign, it says Immigration Office. I wait, no news, no English or French or German or Spanish, nothing. Forty-five minutes go by: “Hey, come!”

We start walking back the way we came. This is reassuring, isn’t it? What is that? An information booth! They have to speak English, they’ll translate for me! Officer, please, wait. Sir, could you ask the police officer what’s going on? “It’s OK, they’re letting you in.”

Ah! Relief.

Back to the bank. I pay 15€, they give me 2 back and a visa. I go the same immigration officer who’s seen me through the whole thing and he finally stamps my passport.

On the other side of the immigration counts, the first guy who invited me into the small office is waiting with his boss, who speaks perfect English. He scolds me for not making my visa in Paris and tries to explain that I’m very suspicious: travelling alone, no family, no agency waiting for me. I try to explain that my agency is Paris-based, small but I have all the papers that show exactly what I’m doing, when and with whom. He tells me “I had already decided to send you back” and then, for some reason I didn’t understand because I was very politely apologizing for the inconvenience, he changed his mind. I thank him again, and I’m out of there!

My driver was waiting for me outside. He waited for more than two hours. We drove to 60 km from the airport to the hotel and here I am.