Tour guide: Ahmed Maged
Company: Tree of Life Tours
Private Guided Night Tour of Cairo
I went to Cairo for a weekend of photgraphy centric tourism. With that in mind and to maximize my short time, I sought out tours that I thought would scratch that itch. Using the Viator website, I discovered the aforementioned tour (one of several similar), but selected Ahmed Maged's tour specifically because of some of the photos on the site.
The tour covered a felucca ride on the Nile, the Cairo Tower, and then a bit of meandering through the Khan al Khalili bazaar and old Islamic Cairo.
Ahmed and his driver picked me up at my Hotel, and we drove downtown, the driver expertly getting us there by liberal usage of horn and flashing the high beams which apparently acts as a sort of force field. If you've never experienced Cairo traffic, just arriving somewhere safely makes the sights more beautiful, the smells more delightful, and the songs of birds more pleasing to the ear. You feel like you have a new chance, a new beginning...verily, you feel more alive than ever before. But back to the tour.
I explained to Ahmed that I was interested in trying to capture some shots of the City at the Blue Hour (just after sunset until it's totally dark), and he worked the schedule so that we could try that. That meant that we cut our felucca ride a bit short. Point being, he was happy to work with me to get the opportunities to shoot what and where i wanted.
Cairo Tower is an impressive spire near Zamalek with expansive views of the city. By the time we got there, we were close to the optimal time for photos. As we got out of the car, we were greeted with a HUGE line. But, with his intimate knowledge of the ins and outs of local tourism, he knew the secret to access: buy a 100LE ticket (around USD5) for elevator access to the cafe at the top. I gladly sprung for the pass, and off we went.
I briefly felt guilty walking past hundreds of people waiting to go to the top, but realized that we'd be there all night if we hadn't gotten the cafe pass. And it's available to anyone who wants it. A minute or so ride to the top, a few flights of steps, and we were out looking across the city.
In the dusk with reflections of neon on the river Nile, the city was absolutely gorgeous. Not quite like a disco (as sung by Natacha Atlas and Trans-Global Underground), but it's a fantastic way to see the city.
After getting all the shots I was interested, we moved to the cafe. The price of admission included up to 100LE of cafe items (standard cafe fare of coffee, cakes, drinks, etc.). It was a form of credit, and essentially, if you had a cup of coffee and a dessert, you could stay under that limit and feel like you ate for free. Very nice, and a continuation of the views via the windows.
We finished up, descended, and hopped back in the car to grab some shwarma which we ate in the historic Al Fishawy cafe. A haunt of Egyptian movie stars and directors, it's world renowned and has been in operation since the early 1700s. We hung out there afterward and sipped on some tea and second hand smoked hubbly bubbly. Eventually, we left and wandered around the Khan al Khalili for an hour or so.
We found our way out of the market area, and back onto the streets of Islamic Cairo, which, on a Friday night, were bustling with people enjoying an evening out. Families were dining, market stalls sold fresh juices and snacks, and there was generally an atmosphere of congenial fun. Ahmed again showed his knack for finding great photo vantages, and I spent a happy couple of hours working on compositions and crafting photos that I think I'll be proud of.
Following this, we headed back to Giza and he dropped me off at my hotel. All in all, it was a long day, with a tour in the morning, and the night tour as well. But, as I laid my head on my pillow after a refreshing shower, I reflected on the whirlwind tour, and looked forward to importing and processing the photos I'd managed to make.
Ahmed was fantastic. He was patient, and more than willing to wait while I refined a particular scene. At one point, he was drafted into service to spin a lighted baloon while I worked on getting a steady non-tripod low light shot again and again and again. He is friendly, knowledgeable, and had a wealth of information about the places we visited. Even better, he was so willing to craft the tour to meet my photographic expectations, and at no point was I detoured into a papyrus/perfume/crafts shop to meet his "cousin," a technique that is all to common in the area.
All in all, it was a fantastic way to spend the evening, and absolutely was worth every penny that I spent (I was a solo traveler, and the price tends to be more than with a group). While not technically a photography tour, Ahmed was familiar enough with concepts of composition that I was able to craft some shots that I will be very proud of, once I download and process them over the next couple of days. A few mobile phone samples are below in the meantime.