Let me start again, it’s not about Touristing for me. It’s not my preferred mode of travel. I prefer to live and breathe and experience as much of a local resident’s life as I can – in the shoes of a tourist.
My first day in Cairo, I took a wrong turn. Apparently my hotel was near the heart of the city, but it’s not the road I took when I first ventured outside the door – and I am very glad I made that mistake.
Very quickly I found myself in a market – but not a tourist bazaar by any means. It was a local market, where neighbors were exchanging goods and very very poor people were trying very very hard to make a very very small living. Their goods likely not good enough to go to a large marketplace.
Food was rotting, some men cat called and stared, some men drank tea and smiled, some women were shoeless and desolate, some women chatted with their friends and judged me, cars squeezed into every possible opening without any regard for pedestrians – and vice versa. It was so dirty. And I was definitely a little scared – the only blond white girl, a long way from home.
But it was a real scene.
I think it’s important when you travel to see the good and the bad, happy places and sad places. Only then do you get the full 360; only then do you know what it is like to live there.
If you are lucky you can even get that with a tour group – I did an intrepid tour for a few days in Egypt and we actually went into peoples’ homes and ate dinner with them, had tea with them, talked politics with them. They were, without question, the upper class of the community but nevertheless they were a real part of it.
We had a beautiful evening along the banks of the Nile with local farmers and nomads who happened upon our bonfire. Certainly a moment to remember – and cherish.
It is wonderful to connect with people on a person to person basis, as opposed to a buyer to seller basis. Sometimes that can be hard to achieve – authentically.
So research your tours carefully – or don’t take one at all; grab a guidebook and wing it. Either way, take a few roads by mistake. Trust me. The payoff in experience and memories is well worth the short term fear and a few hours of literal ‘lost’ time.