I planned a solo trip to Africa once again.
Maybe it was the clucks from my coworkers at the mention of spotting a cheap flight to Egypt, or the wide eyed look of friends when I said I wanted to go there for a long weekend in May, I don’t know what it was, but I remember clicking the purchase button on the AirEgypt site so fast that I didn’t have time to second guess myself half in fear and half in defiance.
I’ve started to realize that moments leading up to my favorite trips haven’t been relaxed coolness, but rather nervous excitement.
After I bought my tickets I kind of stopped telling people. There was something that felt ridiculously pretentious about saying I was so casually popping over to a country that was home to one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. I mean I was taking a weekend jaunt to EGYPT! Who does that?! (FYI my flights were €330 RT and I spent about €150 in country = around $600 USD!)
But I didn’t only stop blabbing about my trip because of travel guilt, but I became tired of the responses I was getting. After happily telling a Spanish teacher my plans, the first words out of her mouth were, “Aren’t you scared?” (and this was before saying I was going alone). Not the type of bon voyage you’d hope to get.
So, for a while I kept Egypt a secret for only myself. It was strange holding in such big news, but I so quickly tired of defending my decision to go. Maybe my friends and coworkers were rightfully worried about my safety in Egypt post revolution. Many tourists were concerned for their own. The unrest in the country has caused a 37% decline in the number of visitors.
Regardless, I knew I had to go. If I said no to visiting Egypt it would give me reason to say no to all my future dreams that may not seem to be the safest. I’d say no to the women empowerment volunteer program in India. No to teaching in South East Asia. No to living in Brazil. No to joining the peace corps. With this “no” I knew there would be a snowball of new “no’s”. So, with that same nervous excitement I heaved my backpack onto my back and set out on one of the most rewarding trips I’ve taken since moving to Europe nearly 1.5 years ago.
Although I found Cairo quite chaotic and dirty I can’t recall even one moment that I feared for my safety (well besides crossing the street which is like real life frogger). I found the infamousTahrir square, primary destination for protests during the revolution, to be an anticlimactic roundabout.
In regards to dress, I did find that I got much less stares or hello’s when I covered up. I would estimate that nearly 80% of the local women were wearing hijabs and didn’t have any skin showing besides their hands and faces. I found that wearing a maxi skirt and having a scarf handy was a comfortable way to dress appropriately and not boil to death under the African sun.
An unaccompanied foreign female walking alone definitely attracted more attention than one walking with a male (who will repeatedly be assumed to be your husband) , but the trick was to walk with purpose and ignore any attempts to start a chat, something that Egyptians LOVE to do with tourists. I had absolutely no problems wandering Cairo alone, going to a salon for the most painful sugar waxing experience of my life, and catching a train to Alexandria.
I’ll let the photos do most the talking!
Egyptian food is delicious! Although rich in vegetables, I found the food heavy and high in carbohydrates. Yum! Multiple Egyptians told me that I hadn’t visited Egypt at all if I didn’t come home a few pounds heavier. My favorite dish was the national dish, koshari, a flavorful combination of rice, lentils, and macaroni topped with a delicious tomato chile sauce, garbanzo beans and crispy fried onions. I also enjoyed various forms of hummus (who knew it’s thought to have its origins in Ancient Egypt), mint tea, fatta, hookah (I believe it’s on their food pyramid har har!!), and even had the chance to sit down to a meal on the floor in an Egyptian family’s home (more on that to come!).
I found Egyptian people to be some of the warmest, friendliest and most inviting people I’ve ever met during all my travels. (This is a HUGE statement since I’ve visited most of Latin America) I’ve speculated that this may be one of the positive outcomes of the revolution and decline in tourism. I felt a genuine vibe of “Thank you for coming.” While walking the streets I heard “Welcome to Egypt” nearly every few minutes. When crossing the street one man even turned to me and said, ” Walk like an Egyptian!” People smiled at me with kind eyes, helped me find my trains, bought me tea for no apparent reason other than wanting to be friendly and genuinely made me feel welcome.
Oh and I was kind of adopted
I met the loveliest sisters and mom on my train ride to Alexandria who insisted I come to their house for lunch. Trusting my gut, I got off the train with them and followed them out of the station to meet the rest of their family. Lunch turned into a walk around town and trip to the mall which then turned into dinner and finally…
spending the night at their house!
The next morning we woke to have breakfast and spent the day visiting the city’s citadel and taking a boat cruise around the harbor. When it came time to catch my train to Cairo they sent me off with a bag of koshari, well wishes and I’ll miss you’s.
We’ve been writing each other back and forth since I got back and already have plans to meet in Italy this summer where they vacation to visit family who lives there.
When you go on a trip you hope to meet good people, but this experience was so much more than I could have ever hoped for. I came to Egypt alone and left with a second family.