Adventure is a mindset, not a destination.
Last month after I had spoken at Mercersburg Academy and returned to DC, Kimmy, Ihita and I debated what we could do with our extra 4 days after Iraq now that Syria would likely be once again postponed. It was quickly raised whether I could fit in a fourth return to Egypt. After a survey with the rest of our group, it felt like destiny that I must and should return. It just felt right. Maktoub.
Anyone who now dares to challenge me if I would follow through on my travel promises may look to this as yet another example; even when I don’t know where I’m supposed to be or go, I’m already there.
After a remarkably heartfelt and personal conversation in between rest stops and bidding farewell to Mihaela in Jordan, we lounged at the Crown Lounge at Amman airport before boarding a 3:35pm EgyptAir flight to CAI, landing at 4pm local time. We then proceeded through health inspections with our vaccine cards where Anjali then discovered she had left behind her passport on the plane, let alone had no power left on her cell phone to coordinate with us.
But not even within 10 minutes of a hurried scramble a Good Samaritan who had sat next to her on the plane quickly handed back her passport at arrivals. Not even having time to breathe sighs of relief (but we should’ve to honor the kindness of strangers), we then obtained the $25 visas on arrival, navigated the parking lot to our Uber, and arrived at our hostel in Tahrir Square by 6pm.
After settling in and watching the group take it in that they were finally in Egypt (it’s their first time), we decided to go on spirited walk through the frenetic streets of downtown Cairo before reaching Khan Al-Khalili market. And on the advice of our hostel concierge and guide Youssef, we stopped for drinks, shisha, and dinner at Café El Sehemy.
What a choice: the atmosphere at El Sehemy takes my impression of Cairo to the next level — the hospitality, graciousness, the value, and live performances was way better than what I could have expected to give a first impression of Egypt to my fellow monsooners on this trip.
After a splendid fish dinner at the café, we then walked a bit out of the market to take Ubers back to our hostel. By 10pm we headed to bed early for our 4:30am wake up for… well you know where this is going:
Sunrise. Horseback riding. The Pyramids. Even if it’s my 4th time, I’ll never get sick of my origin story.
After breakfast on the plains of Giza, we returned our horses, had some coffee on the rooftop of the family’s stables, and then paid the 180 EGP admission fee to visit the Pyramids up close.
We then set back out at 9am during which we reunited with Badry — with whom we camped in the White Desert 2 and a half years ago — as he and his driver took us to his camp and oasis for lunch and a switch to his 2 4WDs.
5 hours after the Pyramids we were back at Bahariya Crystal Mountain, made entirely of calcite crystal.
We managed to find a cave this time to crawl under and through.
After 45 minutes here collecting crystals and faux bouldering, we set out for the White Desert itself.
As I had wrote 3 years ago: once submerged by the sea, this desert now exists as an isolated and gorgeous moonscape with chalk white pillars coming out of the sand, formed after millions of years of sandstorms that eroded calcium rock into these natural sculptures that look like mushrooms or ice cream scoops, or for others, abstract man-made statues you’d find in a modern art museum.
Before long I was back at Chicken & Mushroom:
After our surreal sunset, we set up for camp. This time Badry prepared proper shelter and tents given that the weather was much chillier this time of year.
Always appreciate good company and stories by campfire:
The next morning after our 7am sunrise breakfast, we were sent to wander off some more on our own as Badry tidied up the camp for a spirited return back to Cairo.
One more group photo for the road. For our memories.
We stopped back at the the volcanic ash covered Black Desert for a climb up to the top, which I didn’t get to do last time.
And then switching from our 4WDs to our minivan at Badry’s camp, we were back in Cairo by 9pm.
We then sprinted to Abou Tarek right before its 11pm closing for a quick sampling of Koshary, Egypt’s national dish and street food consisting of pasta, rice, and brown lentils topped with a zesty tomato sauce, garlic vinegar, chickpeas and crispy fried onions.
Afterwards we then retired for one last Egyptian shisha at an outdoor café around the corner from our hostel.
The next morning we bid our goodbyes to Anthony and Anjali for their early morning flight home before taking the rest on my rush-speed impromptu tour of Cairo that I had done both 3 years and 12 years ago.
…then a broken down Uber and walk to Ibn Tulun (where I would sadly lose my jacket). . .
. . .before finally resorting to a $1 tuk tuk through traffi to rest our legs at the Salah Al-Din Al-Ayoubi Castle.
From there we walked the 45 minutes through high speed traffic and bridges into the post-apocalyptic Manshiyat Naser, aka “Garbage City.”
By 3pm we reached the famous Rock Church of Cairo:
Don’t miss the opportunity to find the vantage point at a 2nd floor café to see Perception, which spans over 50 buildings and can only be appreciated from this vantage point. Designed by French-Tunisian artist eL Seed, this artworks spotlights the unique way of life of The Zaraeeb people living in Manshiyat Nasser, also known as “Garbage City.”
As per eL Seed: “Manshiyat Naser is perceived as dirty, marginalised and segregated because of the association with the trash. So I decided to create an anamorphic design, a piece that you can only see from one vantage point.”
In other words, while people in other areas of Cairo may only see scattered parts of the mural, it is only from Manshiyat Naser that one can see it in its entirety and appreciate the Arabic calligraphy that translates to: “Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eyes first.”
It’s now time to return home; despite a harrowing hour stuck in traffic to get back to our hostel in time so we could pick up and jet out for our flight out, it was a run-to-the-gate type of situation before we finally made it to our 3 hour 7:20pm flight to Dubai.
There I took advantage of my 10 hour connection there to reunite with my friend expat-turned-local Sean, who I had first met on my first time in Iraq and then in 2019 where he graciously toured me around his favorite parts of the UAE:
Having then pulled an all-nighter to enjoy Dubai without the crowds, I began to feel that the conclusion to another destiny’s dream materializing.
But I would be reassured by the will of some … thing out there. Because not even within 30 seconds of my final goodbye on the trip at DXB airport and at the very moment I thought about moping to myself — when I would be alone for the very first time after 10 days of monsooning — a familiar face would be staring right back at me as if it had manifested just at that moment to reassure me.
It was such a remarkable moment that I turned my cart back around just to make sure it was her, and it was. The face belonged to renowned writer and model Amy Sall, whom I had met by sheer chance 6 months ago back home in NYC and within 10 minutes of that chance meeting found out we were both in Paris at the same time only 48 hours prior to meeting, and where she would teach me about Nevile Goddard and his Bridge of Incidents, where nothing is truly random.
And here she was, at Dubai airport, coming out of nowhere just to give me a hug to let me know everything is on its rightful path.
After 18 hours of transit from DXB to Athens and Athens to Newark airport, I landed back home at 9pm.
And not even within 10 hours later I’m back at work at the United NYC Half Marathon, reunited with Anjali from the trip and whom I had last saw only 24 hours ago back in Cairo.
This is my life. It’s the only one I got now. And I don’t intend to waste any minute of it.