Let me first tell you about Karim…
Five years prior… I went on my very first backpacking trip to Cairo in Egypt. I was too timid and decided to find out as much info as I possibly can about Cairo. Google didn’t help much, which made me to turn to a travel buddies group on Facebook. I asked questions, a lot of them and got answers from both travelers who had been to Cairo and locals as well, one of them being Karim.On my second day in Cairo, he sent me an inbox asking how am I finding Cairo and that I should feel free to ask him anything about the place. He became very helpful and gave all sorts of recommendations. He also asked that we meet for coffee, to which I agreed but gave him a big no when he suggested that we meet after 22:00. You see, I come from a country where chances of you getting mugged at night are higher while life in Cairo starts at 22:00. Everyone goes out at night to do some shopping or to enjoy tea and shisha with friends. So as much as I was looking forward to a coffee date with my new Egyptian friend, the idea of meeting him at night scared me to death. I didn’t wanna become another statistic, “a solo female traveler disappeared” written in bold letter on the front page of the local newspaper. I started analyzing all his social media accounts and he seemed harmless, but I was still like a cat on hot bricks. Like they say, fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.
My flight back home was at midnight, so I decided to take a chance and meet him for coffee just before my flight. I then told the receptionist at the hostel of what I’m about to do and asked him to call me just before takeoff to make sure I’m not kidnapped. He must have thought that I’m deranged, but nontheless he agreed and did check up on me before takeoff. I actually wanted us to meet at the airport but unfortunately there are no coffee shops there. So we agreed to meet at a shopping complex which is 5 km from the airport.
Have you ever met someone for the first time but felt like you’ve known them all your life? That’s exactly how I felt upon meeting Karim. We only had 30 min for coffee, but had so much to talk about that I almost missed my flight. I kinda regretted not meeting earlier, but hey, I’d rather be safe than sorry.
Five years later… As part of my 30 days trip I’m presented with another opportunity to visit Cairo. It’s been 15 days from the day I had bid my family adios and embarked on a solo journey to 7 countries starting in Germany and going all the way to Jordan and ending my journey in Spain . Europe has been colder than I had anticipated and I had not packed warm clothing. The past 2 days had been emotionally draining, from being stuck in a Greek island due to strong winds which prevented any flying to almost missing my flight to Cairo. The difference in time zones is making me loose my mind. I flew for an hour from Santorini to Athens and had to get my luggage from the hotel which was an hour drive away making the return trip 2 hours. Then fly another 2 hours to Rome which is 1 hour ahead but since my flight was delayed by an hour, I have to run to the border control, hoping I won’t miss my connecting flight. Then finally 3 flying hours to Cairo. So emotionally, I’m a mess. I just want a warm hug from mom telling me it’s okay, but that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.
So still in that bad emotional state of mind I land in Cairo International airport and guess who’s waiting at the arrival section to paint a ray of sunshine all over my face with his big bright smile ? Yes, you guessed right, Karim. We walked out to the parking lot to find the moon swiming naked and the stars whispering to each other. The kinda view that has instant healing and reviving powers, because the sun sees your body while the moon sees your soul. He had asked his sister to host me and she welcomed me with open arms which made me feel at home. I woke up to a home cooked breakfast by Karim’s sister and spend the rest of the morning listening to all her interesting travel stories.
Midday, I took a taxi to the hostel in downtown Cairo, the same hostel I had booked 5 years ago and guess what? The hostel owner and receptionist recognized me, and it just felt like one big family reunion. I spent most of the day catching up with them over a cup of tea and we even had dinner together. I really didn’t care much about sightseeing since I’ve been here before hence I decided to just go along with the flow.
The following day, Karim took me to the Cairo tower where you have a spectacular 360° view of Cairo. Starting from the two Nile tributaries that join together to form the renowned Nile river which is the longest river in the world. A distant view of the pyramids of Giza and also the view of the whole city. Then we went downtown to a hidden coffee shop called Oldish which, like the name suggests has a classic vintage decor and a beautiful indoor garden. And I got to indulge a delicious chocolate cake topped with a warm chocolate sauce. That evening, I went to downtown with my hostel mates for tea and shisha, something that most Egyptians do in the evenings.
There comes a time where you get tired of early morning flights and I knew that with 30 days of traveling to 7 different countries I’m bound to get tired. So the plan was to rest as much as I can in Cairo so I can be energized for my next destinations. From the hostel, I went to spend 3 nights in a 5star hotel where I spent most of my time by the pool area catching up on some reading and waking up late to enjoy room service breakfast with a bit of exercise in-between.
“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill
There is something about traveling solo that makes you vulnerable. This vulnerability comes from the nature of travel itself. You have to be open to new opportunities, experiences and even people to truly absorb the culture and feel of a destination. When you open yourself up like this, you also welcome like-minded travelers and locals. However this does not mean you will connect with everyone you meet. Just remember to build bridges and not walls because each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not yet born until they arrive and it is only by this meeting that a new wold is born.