I have to agree with Majorly here. The efforts of our Egyptian hosts were all undone by their mercenary countrymen who view anyone with a fair skin as a walking wallet that needs to be emptied. The Egyptian tourist board needs to get their shit together and clean up Cairo airport. I should not have to fight off vagabonds with no identification who want to take my luggage off me, nor deal with opportunist taxi drivers who tell me that €10 is a good price to get from one terminal to another. I already knew there was a free shuttle, but no bugger would tell me where it was because there was no profit in that.
While at terminal two I met up with a number of German Wikimedians, the fact that they did not even know that the shuttle bus was picking people up at terminal one speaks volumes about the effectiveness of communication regarding this. We fought off taxi drivers who offered to take us to Alexandria for 800 Egyptian pounds and eventually got the shuttle bus to the other airport – terminal one – where we assumed we could relax and wait on the bus to take us to Alexandria. We were not the first Wikimaniacs to get there.
There were already about seven or eight conference attendees at terminal one. Some had been there since a little after 8am, and we got there around 3pm. A bus had been supposed to turn up at 2pm, but had not. Fortunately some of those already at the old airport had phone numbers for local Wikimedians, someone turned up to help us out, and at around 4:30pm a bus turned up to take people to Alexandria. The bus had seven seats, there were around 16 of us. GerardM faced down the bus driver and browbeat him into taking those who had been at the airport the longest, regardless of the precious list of names of people he was supposed to take. The rest of us were left with our Egyptian Wikimedian to figure out how to get from Cairo to Alexandria. That involved a – thankfully airconditioned - coach trip. There were two prolonged stops in Cairo while additional passengers were picked up, so what we were told would be a four hour trip took five and a half. However, I suspect everyone was just relieved to actually be in Alexandria; the issue of getting from the bus station to our accommodation – in my case the dorms - was a minor detail. When its midnight and you’ve been up since 4:30am you tend to be relieved you have somewhere to sleep, although the emails I had been sent about that turned out to be utter fiction.
The conference itself was great, and a significant counter to the trials I had actually gone through to get there. We had WiFi in the dorms, but to be perfectly honest that was a bit of a joke – as was access in the library itself. In the library you could pretty much get a WiFi signal anywhere, the problem was that the pool of available IP addresses was not big enough. If you did not get logged on early enough in the morning you could move around all you liked, get a great signal, but simply not get online because there were no more addresses to give out. I had a number of reports passed to me indicating that only about half of the attendees could get online. It probably did not help that many attendees were using one address for their laptop and another for their iPhone. In the dorms we had one mickey-mouse Linksys box for about 40 people in an old building with thick walls. The signal didn’t reach the end of the corridor where we were… And Cisco were one of the conference sponsors.
The return to Cairo airport was less dramatic, and traumatic. However, as Majorly pointed out, both the limo (i.e cheapest Toyota you can buy with airco) driver and porter were obnoxiously persistent about tips.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf Of Al Tally
Sent: 28 July 2008 16:18
To: Wikimania general list (open subscription)
Subject: [Wikimania-l] Comments
It's now been a week
since I got back. I enjoyed the actual conference, and meeting everyone in
person. However, I have made up my mind that I never want to go to Egypt again,
nor the next Wikimania.
First off, the planning for this conference was pretty poor with regards to information. What I mean is, I had to pester people on IRC to get any kind of information regarding how to get to the shuttle, what to do on arrival etc. The schedule the team was supposed to be following wasn't followed. The scholarships were very late indeed, and when I finally received my "I'm sorry, but..." email, I'd already booked.
The fact there was very little info *on the wiki* is atrocious. I had to pester Mido on IRC several times a week, to try and squeeze any information out. It got to about a week before I was due to leave, and still with no answers to basic questions, I sent an email to this list, begging for information. Eventually it was answered, but it was never put on the wiki. I spoke to some people, who don't subscribe to this list, so didn't ever receive this important information.
The whole shuttle thing was a disaster. We should not have needed to sign up - just run a "shuttle" every 4 hours as stated. No where did you mention where the shuttle would be on arrival (until I explicitly asked on the list, even then it was wrong). The shuttle for me on return left at 7:30am when my flight was at 5pm. Why was there not a later shuttle?
On arrival, I was with Charles Matthews, and we spent several hours waiting at the airport, then we realised we were in the wrong hall. So, after meeting with two other Wikimanians, we waited a further two hours for the shuttle, which was very late. We arrived in Alexandria at 1am-ish. I was put in a room that was a different one to the one I had been told I was in.
After a very nutritious breakfast, we went to the first day of the conference bright and early. The schedule changed several times, there was a lack of plugs in the halls, and some of the talks were frankly dull (this applies to all three days).
There was not really anywhere suitable to go for lunch, so we sort of sat around on the floor... not good. How did Alexandria get chosen in this respect - the social areas were basically non existent.
On returning to the dorms, I found that I had to change rooms, again, still not to the one that I was put into originally. The beds were rather hard, no sheets were provided, and there was no toilet paper in the toilets (luckily I had brought my own as I imagined something as basic as that would be left out).
The next two days went similarly I suppose. The end of conference party was done badly again. Why did we have to get a sticker? No one even checked I had one when I got onto the coach. The party was OK, and the food was probably the best I had the entire time I was there.
I left the next day, with Brianmc (sharing a cab). We got to Cairo airport, but the wrong terminal for me. I had to make my own way to Terminal 1, after being tricked by someone into paying money I shouldn't have had to to get there. I was then harrassed by a man who claimed to be an "honest policeman" who charged me £300 EGP for the use of his cab. He wouldn't let me leave, even after I spilt water in his car. I tried to walk away, and he grabbed my arm demanding I paid him. I don't think I'd ever felt so awful in my life. It was the most horrible experience of the conference. Why are people like that allowed to roam about the airport, looking for weak, defenceless (and rich) tourists like myself? It's ridiculous.
I am still struggling to see how Egypt was chosen to host Wikimania. Yes, the people at the conference were nice and friendly, and the conference was enjoyable enough, with a few minor issues, but the country itself is the worst I have ever been to. You cannot cross the road without risking being killed by the mad drivers (who beep at all hours of the day for no apparent reason). They should save painting lanes on the roads, as no one bothers following them. There was a family living in the street, the same street the BA is situated on. Just goes to show what a mix of life there is.
I was so disturbed and put off by my experience of Egpyt, there is no way I'd consider going to Buenos Aires. While I'm sure they are very different places, I don't want to risk anything like the harrassment, the poor hygene, the dangerous roads and the poor organisation again. It'll be way too expensive for me as well, and I doubt I'd get a scholarship. I'd rather go somewhere closer to the UK where I live, or where the culture is more similar to here.
I'm sorry my words are harsh. This is not a dig at anyone, just my honest concerns about how this whole thing turned out. I know for sure others feel the same way I do about a lot of the things I said.