Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Visiting Egypt: Wear Comfortable Shoes

I often get contacted by readers asking what to pack for a trip to Egypt. The main concern everyone seems to have is what to wear. But every now and then someone asks the all important question about footwear. Are open toe shoes OK? Is it OK to wear sandals, flip-flops, high heels, etc. The answer to all of those from a cultural standpoint is, of course, YES. They are all acceptable to wear in Cairo. However, from a practically standpoint - not so much. The streets of Cairo are not only covered in trash, sand, and dirt, but are also full of extremely hazardous obstacles. Take a look at these photos of a portion of sidewalk on Road 9 in Maadi:

Even during the day it is difficult to negotiate the barrage of obstacles you will run into when walking in Cairo. But at night it becomes next to impossible. The majority of streets are poorly lit making a seemingly simple task like walking slightly more difficult. I lost count of how many holes I fell into, curbs I tripped over, or puddles (of unknown origin) I inadvertently stepped into. Two simple things you can do to make life a little easier: carry a pocket sized flashlight and wear comfortable shoes.

Open toed shoes and sandals are OK - but be prepared to get back to your hotel with very dirty feet. Because of the amounts of trash and possibility of disease (from spitting and urination on the streets) it makes sense to skip the sandals and opt for something more practical such as a decent pair of athletic shoes or sturdy walking shoes - preferably in a flat heel.

Crossing the streets in traffic is even more difficult and often times you find yourself literally running and dodging between speeding, moving vehicles of various sizes. What you have on your feet can be the difference between life and death for the novice street crosser in Cairo. Egyptian women seem well adept at running through traffic in 3 inch heels, however, I don't feel adventurous enough to attempt it.

Some sidewalks in front of shops and buildings are tiled. It is not uncommon for these tiles to be hosed off or mopped several times a day. Sometimes you will see shop owners throwing buckets (or even cups) of water out the door onto the sidewalks. I guess the theory is that it keeps the dust down and prevents it from blowing into their shops. But in reality, the only thing it accomplishes to do is make the sidewalks very slippery. Don't bother to look for those yellow "CAUTION FLOOR IS SLIPPERY" signs. They don't exist.

If you are going to be doing any amount of walking in Egypt - and inevitably you will be - pay close attention to your selection of shoes when packing. Your feet will really thank you.

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