If I’ve learned something in the past months is that being alone can be very interesting and eye opening, especially when it comes to exploring a new place. When you are with someone you sometimes feel the need to talk, to comment on what you are seeing and to keep each other entertained. When you are alone you need to look around, be aware, and entertain yourself. Last week I went to old Cairo by day, alone and it turned out to be a very unique experience.
At first, I had no idea where I was, I got down on the nearest metro and using google maps and logic I took a taxi in the right direction. I had to use my newly found bargaining skills to avoid getting ripped off, and it worked 🙂
As soon as I got down a man started to show me the direction toward Khan el Khalil (the tourist market filled with pashminas, souvenirs and all kinds of pyramids and pharaonic stuff) I ignored him and continued my way. Spoiler alert: he will reappear later.
I had been in this part of Cairo 3 years ago and surprisingly my brain started to remember streets, buildings, restaurants and moments. Its amazing how some memories are kept in the brain and come out very vividly years later… 3 years ago I was just here on tourism so everything was planned and rushed, this time I could walk around and enjoy.
A sort of door/tower called my attention. I walked up to the entrance and the doorman told me it was the Al-ghuri complex. I have to admit I did very little research on Old Cairo before going. He explained a bit of the history and asked me if I wanted to go in. (History: It consists of a of a Khanqah, Mausoleum, Mosque and Madrasa and was built in 1503).
I decided to walk for a bit first and told him I would come back. I started to make my way through the crowded and loud pedestrian streets (with motorcycles) filled with stalls selling clothes, blankets, underwear, etc… I walked until the end admiring the architecture, the people, the life of the street…
I walked back to the Al-ghuri complex and went in. The man, Mohamed, was very eager to take me around; before I knew it he was giving me a private tour of the mosque. It was prayer time and we went up to a balcony that overlooked the praying area. I took pictures and admired the stained glass while he prayed. We stayed there for a while in silence, absorbing everything and then we kept going.
He took me to the roof of the mosque overlooking Al-Azhar Street. The view was incredible. The city didn’t look menacing from such height and the distance between me and all the chaos below made me feel very calm and peaceful. At this moment I realized you have to get away from the chaos to appreciate the magic of Cairo. We also climbed into a sort of roof and I had to push myself up which was almost a complete fail as I have no upper body strength…. It was somewhat successful I just ended with a minor bruise on my leg.
There was no rush, no impatience, just listening thinking…
After this we went down and I continued my way. The next stop was Khan el Khalili, my plan wasn’t to buy anything, just look around and waste some time.
The small alleyways of the market give the place a very mystical vibe, it feels that anything can happen, that everything has a story behind it and they all intertwine somehow… I listened to some vendors because that’s sometimes fun to do, hear how they try to convince you to buy one useless item after the other.
Finally I sat at Fishawy cafe, which is famous for hosting musicians, authors and intellectuals like Naguib Mafuz. Of course it has a special charm, but its not just the café, it’s the tourists, the locals, the little alley, the vendors… everything comes together to create a magical atmosphere.
I had some tea, wrote for a while and then kept on my way. I crossed the street and the first guy (Also named Mohamed) that had talked to me that morning came up and asked me if I was Egyptian, I told him no and he said: of course ! That’s why you didn’t respond earlier! I saw you and I was afraid to talk to you again because you were Egyptian! Where are you from? Colombia? Wow we are friends! Come on, I will take you on a tour of the real Khan el Khalili!
I followed him because why not, and he started walking very fast along narrow and crowded streets filled with all types of vendors. It was a new world, here there were live chickens, ducks and turkeys, fruit and vegetable markets, people bargaining loudly, no one trying to sell you anything unnecessary touristic items… We stopped at a fish stand and he was telling me to take pictures when suddenly the owner of the stand threw a live catfish at my feet! At least it was freshly caught from the Nile…
After a bit more walking around, we both continued our way…
I have learned ( not 100%) to be alone and enjoy looking, exploring and imagining … To let myself go and enjoy whatever happens. It’s hard, sometimes I manage it, and sometimes I don’t. But when I do very unique things happen.