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An Explorer Reflects in Cairo

Cairo, Egypt

Lao Tzu once said that ‘a good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving’. And yet two hundred and eighty-seven days since setting forth from Cape Town I found myself, rather reluctantly I hasten to add, arriving in Cairo. And whilst I must admit I had a general intent on doing so at some stage, I was not quite prepared for how that arrival would affect me.

Upon arriving at the pyramids, with my fellow gentleman explorers, there was an initial sense of euphoria at having completed what is, by anyone’s reckoning, quite a considerable milestone. However, as I bid my trio of travelling companions a safe onward journey (they were heading straight for Libya) and climbed into a taxi the euphoria slowly began to fade as the reality of my achievement hit me.

All but a handful of those seemingly endless days in what I construe as ‘real Africa’ had, I was to rapidly discover, changed me as a person. Looking out of the window as we negotiated the craziness that is Cairo’s traffic - driving here is for only the brave, suicidal and stupid - I could not have been more shocked. It was as if, in comparison to the last nine months, I had arrived in a major European city and I didn't like it one bit.

I found myself longing for the quiet of the Ethiopian countryside, the calmness of Lake Malawi and the friendliness of Khartoum. Instead, as I left my taxi in a traffic-jam to continue on foot, all I got was a cacophony of noise and bright lights that hit me harder than a Mike Tyson punch. I stopped and looked around to see high-rise buildings towering above me, cars in gridlock all around, shops selling brand clothes that would not have looked out of place on Oxford Street and vast crowds of locals going about their lives.

There was only one thought in my mind; this is not Africa. In fact this couldn't be any further from the Africa I have come to know and love if it tried. After nine months of roughing it you might think I would have welcomed the modern, and very materialistic, city life - not so. I craved to be back in a remote village where the dirt roads are littered with people selling goods ranging from roasted maize and an assortment of vegetables to various animal parts (for cooking), dried fish and various altogether useless cheap gadgets imported from China.

Even the noise, and I am not a fan of noise per-se, of real Africa grew upon me, and now I longed for it - the shouting of hawkers, bleating animals roaming free on the streets, the odd car horn mixed in with the laughter of children playing in the late afternoon sun. All this was gone and would not be coming back anytime soon, and this thought filled me with a sadness I could not shift. I flooded my mind with many happy thoughts from the journey, but that only served to remind me of what had been and gone.

And so, on the eve of completing a travelling milestone I found myself sat with a bottle of red wine (maybe the only silver lining to the cloud) pining to be anywhere but Cairo. The magnitude of what I had achieved was not lost on me, but without the quite of the African night to reflect on it I was lost in a world I don't belong to. For mine is the Africa where life is a simple one, where at night the stars and moon are the only light as village elders hand down stories around the fire. Mine is the real Africa, the Africa that has molded me into who I am, the Africa that will live forever and a day in my heart.

The journey will go on, as it must, but it will take time for me to adjust to what is to come. But it will not be a permanent adjustment as one thing I am certain of is that my life is for living in Africa, and live it I will.

permalink written by  MarcusInAfrica on December 26, 2009 from Cairo, Egypt
from the travel blog: Cape to Cardiff
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Hi Marcus,

your blog looks pretty cool. I think I'm going to go back and read quite a lot of the entries. Or maybe wait for the book! I can't find your email address, so you might not get this message.

Luke (a juggler in Berlin)

permalink written by  Luke Burrage on March 27, 2010

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