Here’s a link to Part 1 in case you missed it.
So, on January 16, 2011 my wife (who’s American) and I went to visit my family planning on staying there for three weeks through February 6, 2011. Our first week in Cairo was amazing as usual. Time with family and friends. We also had some time to shoot some footage that will be used in a feature that shoots late spring and parts of it take place in Cairo. With a three week stay we scheduled a little mini vacation to Alexandria for three nights starting January 25, 2011. I’m sure that date sounds familiar now around the globe. We heard the day before that there were gonna be peaceful demonstrations in Tahrir Square. Nothing alarming life is still normal and for the most part everyone’s going about their business. We took the train from Cairo to Alexandria and enjoyed the leisurely ride as the train cut its way through the green fields of the Nile Delta as we sip our cappuccinos and take random picture & videos.
We arrived to Alexandria in the afternoon and things still seem normal. I ask the cabbie about the demonstrations and he says there are a few hundred people in Manshia square in Alexandria demonstrating peacefully. We reach our hotel in the heart of the Montazah palace. A heavenly place established by a former Turkish ruler whom after an African Safari wanted to have his own little jungle so he created this huge forest like surroundings for his palace that looks over the Mediterranean. In the past the forest used to have exotic animals roaming around and was restricted from the public. After the 1952 revolution the animals were moved to a zoo and the park was opened to the public and a few hotels were built there. We were lucky to stay at the hotel with the most prominent view of the sea and had a room with an amazing view, thanks to my Tour Operator brother. We were sort of isolated in the hotel as we had everything we needed there. I mean why go out while you’re sitting in your balcony watching the waves crash on shore while you update your Facebook status?
Wednesday evening we hear about the protesters announcing Friday the 28th as the “Day of Rage”. My brother calls and recommends we move our train time a little earlier to avoid any traffic caused by the protests taking place after the Friday prayers in the afternoon. On Thursday, January 27 my cousin came over and drove us first to the train station to change our tickets and then to my aunt’s house and we spent a wonderful day and had dinner and didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary as we drove from and to the hotel. Random talks of the protests but again nothing too alarming. No huge media coverage but we heard that Twitter was shut down in Egypt! Now that can generate some rage!
We wake up early on Friday watched the sunrise, enjoyed a huge breakfast buffet and then off to the train. On the train I started hearing people referring to the protests as a revolution and that today is going to be huge. In the back of my mind I started remembering days of college protests and how they usually grimly ended. I realized this was happening on a bigger scale but I didn’t quite absorb how big the scale really was. We get to Cairo around noon and again things look normal we take the subway and learn that they blocked the two stops leading to the square to prevent more protesters from joining. As soon as we got off the subway I tried to call my mom and tell her we’re a cab ride away but I had no signal on my phone. We decided to get a coffee at our favorite coffee shop named Cilantro. We were about 15 miles away from Tahrir Square. As we sip our lattes I hear other patrons talking about how they also don’t have cell phone signal and some mentioned that the Internet was disconnected as well. More in Part 3…