Queen of the Nile: My birthday trip to Egypt was a chance to meet amazing new people

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There is no Discovery Channel on Earth that could do justice to seeing the Pyramids of Giza in real life. Egypt’s 4,500-year-old pharaoh tombs are an extraordinary feat – filled with hieroglyphs and other remnants of a once-mighty kingdom.

So, when Flash Pack launched a new Egypt adventure, I knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially as I was celebrating a birthday while there. 

I’ve never been to Africa before. So, touching down in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, was very exciting – and also a culture shock. I wasn’t expecting it to be so big and the traffic was wild.

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Touching down in Egypt was exciting

Everywhere we went, cars honked their horns. Technically there were lanes, but no one paid any attention. Even crossing the road was an adventure – we were advised by locals to just look drivers in the eye and keep walking.

As a woman travelling in North Africa, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but everywhere we went, people were super friendly. This warm welcome was also helped by our Pack Leader and resident Egyptologist, Halla, who is hands-down the coolest person on the planet. 

We dubbed Halla “our group mum” but really she was more like an older sister to us all. She was funny, fashionable and full of knowledge about the history and culture of her home country.

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Our guide Halla was the coolest person I know

There are so many different dynasties in Egyptian history and Halla was able to share interesting, quirky insights about each one. It was so empowering to have a female Pack Leader in Egypt, which is traditionally a male-dominated society. 

It’s hard to put into words what it was like to see archeological wonders, such as the pyramids and the temples of Luxor, up close – especially as the country celebrates 100 years since the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Walking within them, it was fascinating to gain an insight into how people lived in 2550 BC thanks to the incredibly ornate hieroglyphs. 

Halla also pointed out what we should pay attention to – with details, such as what meals the ancient Egyptians cooked or how they cared for their animals – which was awesome.

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The Valley of the Kings felt like walking among history

It’s amazing to think how advanced these civilisations were, in terms of astronomy, astrology and maths. Nowadays, we calculate everything on our smartphones. But the ancient Egyptians used celestial constellations to perfectly align each pyramid with the stars.

The Valley of the Kings in Luxor was incredible, too. There we were, walking in the footsteps of history, with dramatic details around each new corner. Our group spent the whole time saying to one another, “Look over there!” and “How did they do that?!”

Our group dynamic was great. I’ve travelled with Flash Pack before on their Turkey adventure, so I was confident there would be plenty of people I would connect with.

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The ancient Egyptians aligned the pyramids to the stars

Everyone was really open and mixed well together. I could be my usual outgoing self and there were people that, straight away, made me think: “You and I are going to be friends.”

We bonded together quickly on a backstreet food tour of Cairo. As a vegetarian, I found there was a lot I could actually eat, including falafel made from fava beans and koshari – a spicy mix of pasta, lentils and tomato sauce. 

Koshari is Egypt’s national dish: there are seven-storey restaurants dedicated entirely to the art of it. We also tried a green soup called molokhia and sampled green coffee, and local cakes like kunafa (made from cheese, rose water and pistachio nuts) at a dessert shop, too.

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Our sailing trip on the Nile was another key moment

Wherever we went, people were so hospitable and loaded us with huge portions. It was lucky we were walking around the city; we needed the step count to burn it all off.

Our sailing trip on the Nile was another key moment. We hopped aboard a traditional wooden felucca to visit Elephantine island, where we were treated to a home-cooked dinner with a Nubian family who lived there. It was so beautiful and powerful to see this community of people, continuing to live off the land, as they did thousands of years ago. 

I loved mountain biking along the west bank of the Nile, too. We had the freedom to explore archaeological sites that are still in the process of being excavated – and we also managed to drink a few beers en route, too.

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We were treated to a home-cooked dinner with a Nubian family

However, perhaps the biggest highlight came on my 41st birthday. It just happened to fall over the dates of the trip – and two other Flashpackers were also celebrating their birthdays at the same time. Our guide Halla arranged a beautiful cake for us in the hotel we were staying at. It doesn’t get much better than having 12 new friends sing Happy Birthday to you on a bucket-list adventure in Egypt.

On our last night together, we had an outdoor dinner with flowers, candles and local live music, overlooking a golden sunset on the Nile. Moments like these are like therapy to me. Back home in Sacramento, I always have my annual leave stamped in my calendar. We all need something to look forward to and these group adventures are my cue to meet new people from all over the world.

Flashpacker, Laura Baker, lives in California and travelled with Flash Pack on adventure in Egypt

This year, Flash Pack’s “Don’t be a Tourist. Be a Flashpacker” campaign aims to encourage travellers in their 30s and 40s to stray away from the expected path – seeking out the road less travelled.

Images for this story were shot on location in Egypt by Flash Pack photographer Liam Baldock.

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