The team in front of Khafre’s pyramid
While traveling, there are things that you learn fast. For instance, how to convert Canadian dollars into Egyptian pounds, how to barter with cabdrivers in really bad Arabic, and how to walk through traffic with speeding cars, trucks, bikes, and horses – with no stop lights. Then there are other things you don’t learn as quickly, such as having seven days of diarrhea and still consume a diet of spices, beans, oily eggs, coffee, and ice cream. But if you were to travel to a place to learn the basics of backpacking, Cairo is the place to grip those ropes fast.
A stunning (and quiet) panorama view of Cairo from the Saladin Citadel
Being one of three girls traveling to a Muslim country, during a revolution, at Ramadan, in the hottest month of the year, and with semi-solid plans, it was clear to us that we were in for adventure and an unforgettable learning experience. It was not long after we walked off the plane that we knew we were going to make some mistakes that were worthy to be found on an Arab version of a popular blog that would most likely go along the lines of Silly White Girls. Going through customs unsure if the headscarves we were wearing was a respectable move or a jab at Muslim culture; it was no denying that we needed to learn the ways of an Egyptian woman. This was to avoid having a pashmina assembled over the hair like an ancient Egyptian funerary mask (think King Tut). Needless to say, I studied the moves and mannerisms of the women as much as possible. This ended in a possible success! Near the end of the week long trip, I was being asked on the streets if I was Egyptian, which might be tooting my horn, as it is more than likely that this was a maneuver to lure me into a trinket shop.
There were certainly times in which we had over paid, like on freshly pressed sugar cane juice when we forgot to set a price before downing the ridiculously refreshing drink, and when the driver of a horse drawn carriage changed the price we initially agreed on. But there were more times than not that I felt damn proud of our successes in getting around the hectic city of Cairo and which may be the largest hassle capital of the world, Luxor. In Cairo, we pushed through people at the Ramses national train station to find the well hidden ticket booth, sweaty, dirty, and of course, accompanied with another giant gaping hole in the seat of my pants (not uncommon to our group). Already we had a challenge ahead of us: we had left buying train tickets from Cairo to Luxor until we actually got to Egypt. Then to raise the wager in this challenge, we find out at the train station that due to Ramadan, there are no tickets being sold, and our only option is to come back the next night and hope to get a leftover seat on the train if someone doesn’t show up. So, with crossed-fingers we did. We ran through the underground tunnel and up and down stairs to get to the different tracks, while balancing our giant bags on our backs. All the while, teetering in our flip-flops from the weight and slipping through the sewage that has flooded the tunnel and splashing over our feet as we slide our way to the track. At platform eight is where we wait for two hours in a hub of families who have set up camp and men making too-long of conversations – because of course the trains are that unreliable. This wait quickly made its way to the top of my list of uncomfortable moments. I counted the number of beads of sweat that were simultaneously crawling down my back and thighs while I was being asked why I don’t have boyfriend in Canada and what were the qualities I was looking for in a boyfriend. The train finally came after we were asked far too many times if we would like to take a bus down to Luxor by the unrelenting help of our new “friend”, who was apparently a PhD student and had family in my neighbourhood. My sweat had pooled in the elastic cuffs of my pants at the time the train pulled up. This was good because I needed to move and get some air from the smell of sweaty Arab man, which I shortly found out was from me.
We made our way to a crowd of men surrounding a worker standing at an open train door. We pushed our way in and scored the last seats with a bribe in Egyptian pounds. As we fell onto our couch in a private room with beds, the intense air conditioning began working its magic and three huge smiles appeared from ear to ear. We made it! We had safely endured Cairo and were on our way to Luxor. After a round of high-fives, we broke into the mushroom pizza we had brought with us from dinner while the opening credits of Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life played. We clocked in some good hours of sleep and woke up to the view of rural Egypt, how Africa, the cradle of life, has sustained a similar way of life through the years. Passing villages made up of mud-brick houses and women balancing water jugs on their heads by the Nile River’s edge is a sight that really makes the train trip worth all the while. Especially when its with breakfast, a hot cup of tea, and two smiling friends.
The bank of the Nile
There are many sights of the cities and the countryside that will never be forgotten. But there is also a sight of myself that I will always remember. It is when I was walking up the stairs at the Bob Marley Hostel in Luxor and I caught my reflection in a mirror. There I was with my cameo-green camera bag strapped over a plaid shirt a friend left behind, my favourite jeans worn to shreds, two-dollar flip-flops and my hair pulled back in a simple pony tail. I thought to myself: Here I am, sweaty, mangy and with a few dollars in my bank account. I am in Egypt with a camera over my shoulder and I couldn’t be happier.
Smiling with the Sphinx at the end of a long day