You see a city’s ghosts best when you walk its streets at dawn.
After a whirlwind, solo sojourn across Egypt: the unimaginably ancient titans at Abu Simbel and also Luxor; the desert’s roaring quiet on a trek from the Dome of the Wind to St Simeon’s Monastery, I was back in Cairo, with a precious day left before my flight.
I took a surprisingly comfortable night bus from Luxor, which bus dropped me an hour ahead of time in the heart of Cairo. After the scruffy chaos of Aswan; the spartan grandeur of Luxor, I was finally back in the craziest Egyptian city of them all, three hours before my hostel opened.
I waved an awkward goodbye to the disappointed businessman whom I’d sat next to for the 8 hour journey to Cairo; he had initially been so excited to meet a Singaporean (“it’s the heart of all global trade!”); and then heartbroken when he found out I was only a History major. I sat a while in the dawn chill, marvelling that for a desert city I was getting goosebumps at 5am in the morning from the cold. I wanted to sit awhile at the outdoor cafe that the bus had deposited me at for a bit, but when they tried to charge me $4 for a cup of kopi-o (Arabica beans!) I walked away in disgust, having been scammed enough in Aswan and Luxor.
I decided to walk a bit, and take in the messy splendour of this city I had only glimpsed en route to Giza (since the Pyramids actually lay on the periphery of Egypt’s capital), wondering how Cairo – which had first assaulted me on my first day with its glorious, horrifying sprawl and mess – would glimmer in its predawn slumber, still being serenely burnished by Ra’s golden Sphere.
Before it growls and rears up to its full midday chaos, the streets of this ancient city are surprisingly quiet and placid. The palette is khaki and brown, but everywhere there are flashes of colour and character; people already on their daily trajectories. And for a moment, amidst all the noise and haste, at the tail of a adequately crazy voyage, I was content simply to walk, and to watch.
One day soon I shall tell the story of this grand adventure in fuller resolution. But know for now that Cairo – still cloaked in a spectral predawn mantle- is a lovely sight to behold, to experience, and to breathe in. You see a city’s ghosts best when you walk its streets at dawn. Cairo is no exception to this unspoken characteristic of all great and ancient cities.