Carson woman sets off on vacation, lands in a revolution

Beverly Wickel had no idea when she flew to Cairo, Egypt, that she had landed in the middle of a revolution.

"It was pretty scary," she said this week, from the comfort of her Carson City home. "I went to see the pyramids, but all I saw was the top of one of them in the distance from my hotel room."

Wickel said she flew in alone on Jan. 28, a Friday, and was supposed to meet up with her tour group, but that never happened.

"When we got off the plane, we learned that the entire city was under a curfew, so we couldn't go to the Marriott Hotel. There were hundreds of people stranded there because of the curfew," she said.

Eventually, however, she met up with her tour guide who arranged a ride to her hotel with a driver who didn't speak English.

"I should have stayed at the airport, too," she said.

So began the 1⁄2-hour drive that ended up taking more than an hour.

Wickel theorizes that they got through on the roads because they found a small window of opportunity.

It was between when the people had left the Mosques and their prayers to head over to the protest, and when the curfew time was imposed.

It was a ride she won't soon forget.

"It was a very, very scary ride," she said. "We encountered numerous police - they were pulling people over. Then we began to encounter soldiers in trucks."

Crossing the 6th October Bridge also was frightening because it was so empty.

According to Wikipedia, the 6th October Bridge is an elevated highway in central Cairo. The 12.7-mile bridge and causeway crosses the Nile River twice from the west bank suburbs, east through Gezira Island to downtown Cairo and on to connect the city to the Cairo International Airport to the east.

"The tour guide said it should be bumper-to-bumper traffic, and that in 30 years, he'd never seen it so empty," Wickel said. "People were pulled over to look down, and we saw soldiers in riot gear and tanks still on trucks. We were turning the other way, not toward the riots, so they let us go through."

Once settled in her hotel room on the 19th floor, she said she could see across the river to where the ministry building was burning and where a lot of people were gathered.

"I could hear sporadic gunfire when they were shooting over people's heads and I could hear tear gas canisters," she said.

"At first I thought this was quite an adventure for a little old lady from Carson City," said the 65-year-old, "but when I got to bed, I was shaking so much I couldn't sleep, and I only slept off and on Saturday. Sunday night I didn't sleep at all."

The hotel guests spent two days locked up, so she spent her time swimming in the hotel pool, shopped in gift shops, which weren't open during regular hours due to the curfews and people's fears about leaving their homes. She was able to eat at the restaurants, "but we weren't allowed to leave," she said.

On Sunday morning, a meeting was held in the hotel to decide a course of action. There had been no communication at all throughout Egypt for the first 24 hours of the protest, including cell phones, Internet or television.

At 1 a.m. Sunday, Cairo time, Wickel received a call from her daughter letting her know that U.S. evacuations had started at the international airport and that she needed to get out.

It wasn't until Monday that she but was able to leave.

Wickel and others took a bus with her tour guide, but they encountered a roadblock every other block.

"There were soldiers with guns, and they wanted names and to see papers from the driver," she said.

After arriving at the airport, her son called from Washington state to tell her she needed to be at Hall 4 where they were evacuating Americans through the State Department, so she took a taxi to the right place.

"I was on the first flight out," she said, and ended up flying from Cairo to Athens, Greece, and then from Munich, Germany, to home.

"The U.S. looked mighty good," she said. "I didn't allow myself to break down until I got home."

And even though she didn't get quite the experience she had paid for, Wickel will at least have all her expenses reimbursed.


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