When you travel, you experience, in a very practical way, the art of rebirth. -Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage
I woke up this morning to the scent of Lotus flower and I thought I was still in Egypt. I bought Lotus perfume at Khan El-Khalili Market, from a persistent seller who start the conversation by showing his family pictures. I love the lingering soft scents and my memory immediately pulled back to Egypt, the um ad-Dunya (Mother of the world).
Nobody took me seriously when I said I’m going to go for a backpacking trip to Egypt. My friend Matthew thought I will go backpacking in high heels (Of course not! I got my flat shoes done just days before the trip). Peter doubt me, because he said I don’t even walk (In my defence, I walk from home to car, car to office, and sometimes hours in shopping malls). My assistant worried, because she said I’m a princess. (That means I’m lazy, because I don’t have to move and everything will be done for me, she’s right about this one).
But I managed to survive the 9 days budget trip to Cairo, Luxor, Aswan and Alexandria with 18 friends from Muslimah Backpacker group. That means while in Egypt, along with others: I carry my own luggage, I use public transportations, I eat street food, and I stayed in budget flats. Not only surviving, I also find Egypt as one of the most impressive destination of my life!
I used to do backpacking trip once in 2007 to KL – Phuket – Bangkok with 2 of my bestfriends. It was fun and of course I intend to redo the fun. It was more a spiritual journey for me, because Egypt is full of stunning historical sites full of stories of the past that I’m willing to discover.
When I saw The Great Pyramid of Giza for the first time, I thought it looked small from afar, but when I walked closer, turned out the rocks are bigger than my body! Of course there are a lot of questions and theories on where they got the rocks and how did they build it, and it remained a mystery that attract thousands of people coming to witness one of the seven wonder of the world.
There are not too many tourists since the revolution in Egypt. It’s been said that Egypt has not safe enough for tourists to visit. But I had no problem at all while I was there, so, I must say that Egypt is safe (well, at least in most area) and this is the best time to visit Egypt- when it’s not overcrowded with tourists.
At Karnak Temple, in Luxor – around 3 hours from Cairo, I’m in awe with the grandness of this Pharaoh’s temple. When I was walking between the giant pillars, I can imagine how posh all these must looked like thousands years ago.
Furqon, our Indonesian friend who’s study in Al-Azhar university, said, Allah preserved the Pharaoh’s Palaces and Pharaoh’s body (as mentioned in Quran 10:92), as a warning that we, human, won’t last forever in this world, no matter how much power we have and how much money we collected. We will, soon or later, be back to God and we must remember not to be arrogant and also think about the afterlife.
It was blaring hot when we walked to Hatshepsut Temple. At first, I didn’t pay too much attention to the Temple because I still strucked with the awesomeness of Karnak Temple. I was about to leave when Nongky said to me, “Hatshepsut is a woman Pharaoh! But she wore a beard.” I look back and saw Pharaoh-like giant statue carved in the thick red rocks mountain. Wow! Women struggle for a recognition since thousands of years ago. Even a Woman Pharaoh need to prove herself under ‘a male mask’. She’s proven an ‘effective’ Pharaoh at her time before her cousin replace her.
Though dusty buildings in Cairo reminds me of James Bond’s movie set, thanks to Nile river, other part of Egypt are shockingly green, just like in Indonesia (I found that out on a long train trips from Cairo – Luxor – Aswan – Alexandria).
I had a lot of contemplative moments in this trip, like inside the car to Abu Simbel, where we go thru the desert, and while on 21 hours train journey from Aswan to Alexandria. I wrote some poetry in my phone. Egypt has been a very inspiring country for a writer like me.
After enjoying the beauty of Alexandria, with Mediterranean beach view and nourished my mind with Egyptian Literature at Bibiliotheca Alexandrina, one of the biggest library in the world, I decided to stay in Cairo. Some of my friends continue their journey to hike Mount Sinai, I felt I have had my limit of ‘body’ fulfillment, and now it’s time for a soul searching journey.
A visit to the magnificent ‘twin Mosques’ Sultan Hassan Mosque – Al-Rifa’i Mosque, and The Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein’s grave at Al-Hussein Mosque, has completed my journey to other holy Mosques in Cairo like the legendary Al-Azhar Mosque and the Ottoman-influenced Mohammed Ali Mosque inside Citadel. The artistic and sophisticated architecture from the past never ceased to amaze me.
After climbing Bab Zuwayla and watching Cairo from the tower, I almost can hear the vibrant city buzzing in my ear, under the echoing sounds of Adzan from ‘thousands’ Minarets.
Cairo is so loud and alive, everybody wants to be heard, they horn, shout, and persistently ask for your attention. As a ‘timid’ Indonesian, I feel intimidated at first, but then I understand the key.
When I bargain a souvenir in Khan El-Khalili market with a considered cruel price, I expect the young Egyptian seller would shout in my ear, or click his tongue twice as a sign of disapproval. But instead he shrugged and said, “Ok.”
He must have seen my surprised-face, because he continued, “You know why I give you (with that price)? Because you smile!”