Saturday, August 15, 2009

trip photos

You can see some of our photos here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Just letting everyone know that I'm home safely. Thanks Clare for all
the fun.

Sent from my iPod

This concludes our broadcast

Today finds me leaving England, and Clare packing to move to Belgium.

We hope you liked following our intrepid adventure to the middle east.
Pictures may get added once lives calm down a bit.

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Explaining falling numbers in the Church of England

Just a quick blog because I am very tired and ready for my bed. Since returning to the UK we have been very productive including going to evensong at Westminster Abbey. Sadly though we received a terrible welcome there. Actually welcome isn't the right word at all. The staff there were so keen to keep out tourists that they were rude to everyone who attempted to enter the building, particularly those who said they wanted to go to Mass. We made it in to be given grief by even more church people and eventually gained seats. The service itself was very nice and we got to sing 2 hymns very loudly but we were then chased out at the end with the church people again complaining about 'tourists' who came to the service.

Tomorrow I intend to write to the church and complain. It is hardly surprising that fewer and fewer people are attending services if that is the welcome they get. And it is the complete polar opposite from the welcome I received at St George's in Kingston and that we both received at the mosque in Cairo. What a shame.

Back in the UK

An early start, a taxi driver whose only English seemed to be 'Give me tips' and an uneventful flight have brought us back to England. So far we are excited about drinking tap water. And we are off to eat some lunch now.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A collection of mad drivers

We had great success getting onto our night train due to the genuine
helpfulness of a tourist policeman--yes we found it hard to believe
too. They must be there for tourists because they did not leap into
action when a fight broke out on another platform.

The train was there early but that was the only good thing about it.
The air conditioning didn't really work in our car and the driver had
clearly learned his trade amongst the taxi drivers of Cairo. Clare was
thankful the top bunk had a rail, or she might have been throw to the
floor more than once.

We refused dinner which was offered at 11pm--the same packaged
cardboard that we were given last night train...dinner "of sorts".

The steward made up our beds and we tried to sleep all night but
probably managed only 4 or 5 hours total. Not consecutive hours!

We finally arrived at Giza. (oh no not Giza again). The ticket said
we'd get to Cairo. The tourist police compensated for their
colleagues helpfulness in Luxor by pointing us in the wrong direction.
He was quite confused when we knew where the metro was.

We had a good ride back in "girl car" and got to the Capsis hotel
which is wonderful. We got a room from 9am and slept for a while in
lovely airconditioning.

Our excursion of the day was to Zamalek, to find a fair trade shop and
book store and post office. We hailed a cab and were so impressed with
his immediate skid stop that we overlooked his complete lack of
English and got in. Clare used her map and we pointed him in the right
direction at major intersections. We are not sure he really is a taxi
driver, Clare thinks he borrowed his friend's taxi for a joke, because
after he dropped us off he went the wrong way up a one way street and
had to do an interesting reversing manoeuvre amidst the honking
oncoming traffic. It was Clares favourite taxi journey of all time.

After our successful outing we returned to the comfort, and toilet of
the hotel, only to find that "mad donkey" had stolen the hotel key in
the backpack.

We are counting down to our flight. We know a good restaurant with
safe food for our last dinner, and a good cafe for tea later. Safe
food has been an issue since we left the gourmet cooking of Captain
Ali, the 15 year old. We had opened warm mayo brought to our table at
one place. Who knows what goes on in the kitchen.

Mom: can you have yogurt and milk and clean fruit and tuna (not in
oil) ready when I get back? :) Thanks!

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Valley of the kings, fair trade shop

This morning we were feeling a bit better, and set off to get yogurt
(yay activia). We hailed a cab driven by "Nooby" who was ridiculously
excited. He had one window crank that he used on each window in turn.
He had no mirror and at the Colossus of Memnon the car wouldn't start
up again. His wrench did the trick and we were off to the valley of
the kings.

We saw the tomb of Tuthmoses 3 the successor of Hapshetsut the female
pharoah. Siptah (he's not popular--we were the only visitors), and
Ramses 4.

We avoided Nooby's recommendations of seeing more temples or buying
alabaster--his friends must have a factory.

We returned to find the post office closed because it is Friday, but
the fair trade shop was open and we did s good deal of business with
them. There was no hastle and it was run by women.

Clare now has a donkey named "mad donkey" for her classroom.

We stocked up on good English food and yogurt and are ready to take
the night train to Cairo.

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Karnak and Luxor temple--slowly slowly

We got up early and bartered a taxi to Karnak. We are getting very
good at bartering for taxis and water. Karnak was pretty empty when
we arrived, and we played dodge the guides and groups and had a good
read of both our tour books. We had to sit often to drink water, take
pictures and marvel at the size of the temple complex. We left when it
got busy, and got a cab to the post office and internet cafe.

We ran into our cab driver from earlier that morning who said "hey do
you remember me, I'm Donny Osmond". We pretended we didn't know who he

After we got back to the hotel we slept and felt a bit sick, but
recovered enough to visit Luxor temple by night--slowly slowly.

It was gorgeous. There were not many tourists there, and most of the
guidey people left us alone. We saw many magic sticks and could
recognize them as fertility gods--thanks to Tiger from Abu Simbel.

We got back to the hotel--slowly slowly, and had a toilet crisis. It
wouldn't stop flushing. This was a shame considering our fragile
dispositions. Clare called the desk and a man came up to the room, hit
the toilet and then came back with three friends and a small boy and
some tools. I was half asleep and remember the commotion a flooded
bathroom and lots of men milling about the bedroom having a toilet
panic. It took over an hour but finally was fixed.

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Kom Ombo

We sailed as far as Edfu, and camped there for the night far from the
expensives and their party boat. We were beside some donkeys and
buffalo that were rustled in the middle of the night. (we arrived at
this conclusion because we can think of no other reason for two men to
load them onto a motor boat at 4am. )

That morning the expensives were off at the crack of dawn to tour the
Edfu temple. There was no wind and it was arranged by the felucca
mafia for Flower 2 (our boat) to hitch a ride back to Aswan with the
expensives' feluccas and the party boat with the loud motor.

Our plan was now modified to have us dropped off after lunch (5pm
Egyptian time) at Kom Ombo.

We ate wonderful balti fish that was bought from fishermen while we
were swimming from the rope off the stern. The fishermen got quite a

At Kom Ombo we met a relative of Hamada who had just got his license.
He loaded our stuff in the back of the pickup with Hamada and some
other guy. We sat in the front seat, which was designed for perhaps 2
lanky Nubians, but not 2 pear shaped westerners. Poor Clare spent the
majority of the journey (when the driver was in 4th gear) with the
gear stick under her bottom.

We arrived at the train station and were the only white people there--
maybe the only white people they had seen all year. They enjoyed
pointing and staring and discussing us.

The train arrived and we were told that we must sit near the police
for our safety. Clare asked repeatedly if this was because we were
white or because we were women. We concluded it was because we are
both, and also independent. We refused help to carry our bags to our
special seats.

The train ride was predicted to be one hour--true to form it was
three. The lights were on half the time, and sales people walked ip
the aisles singing about grapes bananas wallets matches necklaces
water and sweets. There was one man with obvious learning problems who
wanted to sit in the empty seats by the police. He wouldn't leave, so
they whipped him. This has confirmed our view of Egyptian police.

Luxor was happy to see us. Our taxi man told us that he was a taxi, a
tour and a coffee shop. He was not a good driver, but we got to our
hotel and turned on the AC and all was better.

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How to wash up

1) Take all the dirty things onto the prow of the boat.
2) Fill a bucket with Nile water.
3) Pour a little water from the bucket into a dirty bowl (from the washing up pile) and add some washing up liquid.
4) Wash items in the bowl, using the scrubbing brush.
5) Rinse items in the bucket.
6) Lay items out on the prow of the boat to dry.
7) Use remaining water to clean and rinse the area where the washing up has been done.
8) Tie bucket back to the boat again.

Making Tea On The Boat

Step 1: The tea tray (10 inch round cake pan), tea glasses (1/2 cup), sugar bowl, loose tea, and tea spoon come off the shelf.

Step 2: The gas stove is lit (with matches or with flint, as Clare showed us)

Step 3: The kettle is filled with tap water, from a big container on board.

Step 4: The kettle is boiled, and the glasses are rinsed with boiling water. To do this, cardboard is needed to wrap the handle of the kettle or else you will be burned.

Step 5: Tea is spooned out carefully into the glasses. Captains take 1 spoonfuls, but we only take half (Egyptian spoonfuls are HEAPING spoonfuls).

Step 6: Sugar is added. Captains take 3 spoonfuls, and we started off taking 2, but weaned ourselves to 1.

Step 7: Hot water is added, and stirred.

Step 8: Drink the tea after it cools a bit and everything settles.

Step 9: Carefully lean over the edge of the felucca and hold the glass tightly and dump the tea leaves into the Nile.

Repeat 6 times a day at least.

Skills learnt on the felucca

1. R can now light a gas stove.
2. R and C can now bathe in the Nile with soap, shampoo and conditioner, whilst holding a rope.
3. C now has her felucca captain licence and can steer the boat around major obstacles e.g. rocks, cruise ships, swimming children, buffalo etc
4. R and C can now make candle holders out of plastic bottles.
5. We now know lots of new Nubian recipes and have an understanding of exactly what great food can be cooked over 2 hobs.
6. Captain Ali learnt how to use our digital cameras and then went photo crazy!
7. C learnt how to pee behind a bush, even with a dog sitting 10 cm away watching her.
8. R and C both learnt how to fish. One was more successful than the other....
9. How to make tea (see next post.)
10. How to wash dishes (see next post.)

Things We Learned

1. Do not go to the Memnon hotel in Aswan
2. Do not follow a slimy man with the wrong name to the cruise ship
3. Tourist police are not there to help tourists, and dont like having their hands shaken by feisty western women
4. Egyptian time is 3 times longer than english time. They often use the phrase "slowly slowly" to emphasize this.
5. Nubian magic is alive and well in Aswan.
6. You can see more stars if you take the roof off the felucca
7. Donkeys are BRILLIANT!
8. The process of washing a boat never ends.
9. Dont trust anyone named Captain Chill
10. Nubian houses are blue because Nubians like blue.
11. Nubian villages are really hospitable--welcome actually does mean welcome here.
12. It is a compliment to be told that you are the colour of cheese.
13. Sleeping Captians is a great game
14. There are no phone books along the nile.
15. Felucca captains all know each other, and they all have friends who have friends who can find you the information you need.
16. Sometimes 15 year old boys can be VERY mature
17. The most fun conversations happen when people dont speak the same language.
18. White people bruise, and Nubians don't know that.
19. There is another meaning for "soap on a rope"
20. Cruise ships must have a lot of "egyptology lectures" since nobody is ever out in the fresh air.
21. Egyptians are astounded to see a blonde felucca captain, and tourists take lots of pictures.
22. "expensives" get better toilets.
23. Feluccas have postal addresses, but the captain and crew are almost illiterate.
24. Buffalo rustlers prefer the 4AM call to prayer for loading the animals onto their motor boat.
25. Egyptian tourist and antiquities police will shoot their guns if they find people robbing a temple.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A run in with the tourist police and some rash decisions!

On Saturday, as those of you who have been following our progress will know, we were scheduled to get on a cruise from Aswan to Luxor. We planned to eat breakfast, visit the Nubian Museum, say bye to the felucca captain (of previous posts) and then join the cruise. But a series of events led to a complete change in plans. Whilst we were stitting eating the usual hotel breakfast fare of day-old pitta and slightly soggy triangle cheese, the hotel man told us that our cruise man had come to collect us. We finished breakfast and met him. We both took an immediate dislike to the guy, which I think is pretty unusual for us. He had disgustingly greased back hair, a briefcase (!) and an extremely over enthusiastic manner. He was also not the man we'd been told would meet us and didn't know our names or even which boat we were going on. However, we went to get our bags and came down to hand in the key and join the cruise.

When we handed in the key, the hotel men claimed we had not paid. This was complete rubbish (and far too boring to go inot the details now) but led to us spending at least 45 minutes at the hotel desk talking round in circles. The main problem was that we are women and therefore know nothing and can not possibly be trusted to know what we're talking about. That and the fact that the hotel men clearly thought they spoke better English than us and could understand the Expedia voucher better. Hmmm. Given our problems in checking into the hotel and general standard of the hotel we were pretty unimpressed. As usual in these situations we started speaking French, which gives us some privacy and we also got talking to a very nice french family. Our slimy guide was not helping matters by urging me to pay so that we didn't miss any of his tour of Aswan and siding with the hotel men. He also said we had no time to go to the Nubian museum and could not say bye to the felucca captain. He then decided to list the entire itinerary of the day in an attempt to show me how silly I was wasting time with the hotel bill. We were to arrive in Luxor the next morning and then just do coach trips from the boat. He also revealed that he spoke French, which was probably the final straw. At this point I said to Rachel "I've half a mind to jack in this whole cruise thing and get Hamada to take us to Luxor on the felucca." Much to my surprise she agreed and ran off at full speed, coming back 5 minutes later with an agreed price and departure time. We were so excited. It was a reckless and rash and incredibly silly but without a doubt one of the best decisions of our lives (Rachel will post about what we got up to for 4 days and 4 nights on a 9 metre sailing boat!)

Meanwhile the hotel men were threatening me with the police. They seemed quite shocked when I didn't seem bothered. They started smoking and drinking tea with the slimy guide and we waited. I knew that eventually I would end up paying again and claiming back from Expedia or travel insurance because the police are so corrupt here but I wanted to cause them all maximum inconvenience. The Policeman eventually arrived and there were hearty handshakes all round. All round the men that is. Clearly as a woman, and a wannabe criminal (!) I was not to be included and in true Egyptian style they would just talk about me in Arabic and then tell me what to do. I was having none of this and put my hand out to shake the Policeman's hand. The look on his face was priceless and clearly the men took an even greater disliking of this feisty Westerner than they had already. As predicted, the Policeman sided with the hotel and, short of actually going to the Police station and getting my bank details up online, which would have been unsafe and they would not have believed anyway, I had no choice but to pay. I made it very inconvenient and told them loudly and clearly that they should be ashamed of themselves and that we would make it our mission to ruin their hotel on the internet. Never go to the MEMNON HOTEL in Aswan.

But we were excited because of our rash decision and now had to get rid of slimy guide. This was quite hard. He refused to believe that we were serious and told us how he had left home at 2 am to pick us up and how he had done this and that already for us. I pointed out that it was our money and we could do what we liked. He eventually gave up, we dumped our bags on the felucca and headed to the Nubian Museum. That would have been good but we were too excited to take it in and anyway, a man shouted at Rachel for using her flash even though she hadn't. Obviously he was right as he was a man and it took a firm 'Oh, for goodness sake go away and leave us alone' from me to get rid of him.

Lessons learnt: Egyptian men are, generally, pretty horrible and have no respect for women. Nubian felucca captains are, however, a different thing all together. And impetuous decisions should be encouraged!

Gaining an understanding of Egyptian Time

Our dinner with Captain Hamada and Ali was wonderful. There is seemingly always a breeze on the Nile. We sailed around Elephantine Island (no elephants), and up the Nile. We had agreed on a 3 hour sail including a fish dinner, but as we have come to realize, Egyptian time is usually multiplied by 3 to arrive at English time. The wind was strong, and other feluccas were being told to go to the shore. Captain Hamada told us that one of his felucca colleagues (Captain Chill) had capsized, and that was why the Nile Police were out and about. He however was not worried, and was very skillful in navigating the wind, and he pretended that he couldn't hear the warning of the other boats, so we pushed on. We sailed for about 4 hours, capturing another beautiful sunset from the water. We even went under a bridge, which is quite a feat--the sails needed to be taken in, and the mast angled to fit under.

We had fun chatting with the Captain, and trying to chat with Ali, who is 15, but works harder than many adults I know. He is very shy. We told him that, but "shy" in Arabic means tea, so I think he was confused. He did make us lots of good tea though.

The fish were gutted, de-scaled, and cooked with the heads on. Hamada was the chef of the evening while Ali took over as captain. It was the best fish and rice I've ever tasted. We learned that the fish was called "Balti", and we think it is the kind of fish, not the word for fish. We ate by candle light. A 1.5 liter plastic bottle was cut in half, and water put in the bottom. The cap was cut and a candle was inserted into the top of the bottle, so when the top of the bottle was inverted, it rested on the weighted bottom half, and protected the candle from the wind. It is a marvellous way to reuse the bottles. We ate with our hands, tea glasses and dishes were washed in the Nile (there is quite a process--as we later learned), and there was a constant need to wipe the boat down of any dirt or crumbs, sand or water.

Having already ducked the Nile Police we felt like we were being a bit sneaky, but we didn't realize that captains were not supposed to sail after dark with tourists. Hamada said that at this point we weren't really tourists, we were being Egyptians. We laughed and played games together after the meal. It was here that we were introduced to "Nubian Magic", a string game. I used my knitting yarn to show the guys how to play "Cats cradle". Then we played a game that I learned at camp where everyone is on the ground in a circle with arms overlapping and each person takes a turn to tap the ground, passing the tap around the circle. It was a relaxing time in the cool breeze, and I think we all were hoping that we could just stay there longer. We had the invite to get our stuff from the hotel and have a sleep over, but we decided that we needed to use a proper bathroom and headed back to the horrible Memnon hotel. Clare navigated the boat on the way back, including steering us skillfully between several cruise ships to reach the mooring. We said our goodbyes, partly sad to think that the next day we'd be off on one of those gigantic boats, who look so dirty and noisy in comparison to the "Flower 2" with a patchy sail, chipping paint, and bedecked in flags from the Chelsea football club, and several from Jamaica.

We hopped straight into bed at 1AM, thus concluding our 9 hours of a 3 hour cruise, and confirming the mathematical equation of

3 x Egyptian Time = English Time

Friday, July 31, 2009

A day in the life of an "expensive"

Last night we created a rainforest in the hotel room. The hot water wouldnt shut off, and it steamed up the entire room until one of the hotel guys came to turn off the hot water. Thank goodness for AC. The room got down to 28 overnight.

We woke up at 3AM to meet our car and driver that we hired to go to Abu Simbel. This is a temple in a town that is 40km from the Sudanese border. There are two scheduled times for convoys to pass all together on the road. There are many military checkpoints to get through, but mostly a long long desert highway. We were in an air conditioned limousine car (which we have decided means a car that has furry curtains and seat covers). It was comfortable, and we dozed most of the way there. Our driver kept trying to go really fast though, and his car was outfitted with a speed controller, or alarm, so when he hit a certain speed it would beep. He used headlights for some of the way, but mostly to flash at oncoming traffic. There is a different road code here. It seems sensible for them to drive on the wrong side of the road even on blind corners that are labeled in English and Arabic "Dangerous curve".

We arrived at Abu Simbel at 7AM and met our guide (or so we thought). We actually met the man that would take us from the car to the ticket gate to meet our guide. It's quite a life being an "expensive". Our guide's name was Tiger. He spoke English, but sounded like he practiced the entire speech nightly with a tape recorder. He is not even in the running to be named "guidey". He walked us by Lake Nasser, the largest man made lake in the world, and told us about the middle deep and the middle wide of the lake. He pointed out that the Nubian people who had lived along the banks of the Nile were displaced after the lake was created. They were not pleased about having to move to the desert. He sat us down and explained, with pictures, what we would be looking at within the temples. That was a good technique, since the tour guides are not allowed to explain things inside the temples themselves.

We saw many big Ramses statues, and inside, lots of wall reliefs depicting events in his life, or how he thinks he's a god. There may be the first attempt at animation shown on one of the wall carvings. The temple is unfinished, because Ramses died (a very old man, in his 90s), so they didn't continue. We were asked to look for Ramses with the god of fertility......who has "a magic stick" protruding from his loins.

The most impressive thing about these two temples was to realize that they had both been cut up into blocks of 1-3 tonnes and moved from the mountain face, up away from the water. They were reassembled, and a fake mountain was built around them. The temple was even realigned so that the sun entered and shone on the "holiest of holies" in the temple on almost the same day as before (Feb 22 and Oct 22).

We went in the temple that was dedicated to Nefertari (his favourite of of 86 wives). She is depicted with him on the temple facade, and she is the same height as he is. This is rare. There are however only 2 of her image, and 4 of his. So, we get the impression that he was a bit conceited.

Inside the temple we were shown the female goddess of fertility....she is depicted as a cow in a heavenly boat among lotus flowers.

It was sweltering at 7AM. We had had enough by 8:45 and were waiting for our car. On the long drive back we were glad of the AC. We saw mirages everywhere we looked. Quite an astounding sight. I hope my pictures turned out--the driver was surpassing his speed control while I was trying to photograph.

We returned, and had lunch (do not ever order anything called yoghoort, it looks like warm vomit on a plate). We decided that we want a decent evening meal, so we are taking up the offer of a new friend, Captain Hamada, our friendly neighbourhood felucca captain that took us for a ride yesterday for sunset. He's going to cook us fish on his boat tonight. His brother Ali and he live on the boat, and are quite the pair. We are bound to have a memorable evening as we felucca around Elephantine island--maybe we will even see Elephants?

The heat is getting to us, and we still need to catch up on sleep. Next post will hopefully be more sensible. We board the tour boat tomorrow, so it might be a while until we are using the internet--the life of the expensives is a taxing one!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Aswan - not recommended, even for the most intrepid of travellers!

We are saddened to have to report our unhappiness with Aswan. This will be done through the medium of some letters we planned out whilst sitting for 3.5 hours in 40 degree heat to get into our hotel room:

Dear Grandpa,

Thankyou for your advice about trust in relationship to Egypt. You will, no doubt, be unsurprised to know that things have not changed since you were here in the war. The locals have proved themselves to be remarkably unreliable and very flexible indeed with their concept of time. Did 1 hour really mean 3.5 hours when you were here? I'm surprised anything got done. You will be pleased to hear that we have now taken matters into our own hands and have booked a trip to Abu Simbel with an organised, Western company.

Lots of love, Clare xx

Dear President of Egypt,

Whilst we are huge fans of the female only carriage on the metro, love the lemon squash with mint and would happily sit for hours in an ahwa drinking mint tea, we would like to ask you to improve the time-keeping, reliability and general service skills of your citizens (particularly the male ones.) We are fed up of delays, times being wrong, rudeness and annoying men trying to get us to buy everything in sight.

Thank you very much,

Ms Morley & Ms Bearse

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Our night train

We had a four step mission:

Step 1: Take the metro with all our bags, and get on the girl car.

Step 2: Change lines to head to Giza, still on the girl metro car

Step 3: Find the train station from the Giza metro station.

Step 4: Get on the right train at the Giza station.

Our friendly hotel man, not the cranky one that lost Clare's clothes, was trying to be helpful I think, when he told us that it would be very difficult for us to get to Giza train station without a taxi. I was trying to find out how close the train station was to the metro, and that too was apparently very difficult...."you have to go right and left and down..." But he conceded that there would be signs, and probably helpful people, so it wouldn't be impossible for us to succeed.

We set off, confident in our metro navigation skills, but still leaving an hour for potential complications with step 4 of our plan. We were wondering why the train left from Giza, and not the more popular central Ramses station.

Step 1 was accomplished in a great showing of girl power. We got giggles and big smiles from the children, and mothers on the train. I'm sure they don't see girls with enormous backpacks on the train often.

Step 2 was also not a problem. Rush hour doesnt affect the girl car as much, so we had enough space for us and our bags.

Step 3 was a bit of a challenge. We met a very very very helpful man that we wanted to avoid. He was trying to find out where we were sitting and on what train. We went to ask the tourist police (something we try to avoid, as they tend to sit in groups on street corners and leer at us). We did get ushered in the right direction, with the helpful man following us. Time to start speaking french again!

Step 4 was the biggest issue. We checked with the tourist information on the platform, and we plopped ourselves down on the dirty benches at the station to wait for the hour that we had until our train was supposed to come. Trains, like everything else here seem to be running perpetually slow, so we were expecting to wait an hour and a half at least. We had come prepared with snacks that we got at almost uninflated prices from a friendly snack seller that we have bought water from over the past few days.

We sat and waited, worried until we saw more foreigners arriving. There were announcements made in fuzzy Arabic that I'm not even sure Arabic speakers could understand. Luckily the Mexican couple beside us had a guide with them to help them get on the correct train. We figured that since they were also taking a sleeper train headed in our direction that we must be on the same train as them.

Trains came and went, locals got on and off, and we noticed that there were always one or two people hanging out on the back of the last train car. I guess hitching a ride on the rails is an accepted practice here.

The train was 20 minutes late, and there were fuzzy announcements that mentioned Aswan, so we asked the mexican's guide about the announcements. He said that the train hadn't come yet, but he realized we were going to Aswan, and the Mexicans were going to Luxor. We were on different trains--mild guide panic moment--he went with our tickets to check if our train had come and gone.....

Luckily it hadn't, and it would still be another 15 minutes until it did arrive. He was able to point us in the right direction, so we did get on the correct train, and he even gave us his phone number in case we had trouble on our travels. I hope we don't need to use it.

The train was great--AC and food (dinner "of sorts", and breakfast "of sorts")--we enjoyed our snacks! Our seats got converted into beds, and we had a good peaceful sleep with double locked doors. I don't know that I enjoy sleeping on a train--it feels like sleeping on a runaway roller coaster. That perhaps explains why I am so tired today.

Mosque moments with the Muezzin... and other grand adventures!

Today (Wednesday) has been a day of great adventures. We took a very cheap taxi (we knew we'd bartered well when the driver looked sad as we left!) to Hussein Square with the intention of going to the local market there, which comes highly recommended. No sooner had we left the taxi driver than we were accosted by a man asking us to come into a mosque. The mosque in questions is about 1500 years old so we decided it would be fun, and he claimed women were welcome. He also claimed to be the Muezzin (the man who leads the call to prayer) so we found ourselves entering the Mosque without much chance even to discuss it. Visiting the mosque involved taking our shoes off and dressing in a long dress with a hood that made us look like ewoks! The tour was incredibly long and involved us having our photo taken in front of every mihrab. The "muezzin" was very keen to tell us exactly what to do and where to stand etc but he did show us a lot and, every time we got a question right, he gave us mosque tokens (which he wanted us to wear as jewellery!) The whole experience was quite surreal. The man 's English was dreadful and the moment when he made me film him standing next to Rachel singing the call to prayer was hysterical. The video will be released in the future, if we receive enough money to make it worth our while! He also gave us 5 books each about women and Islam and 2 CDs of the qu'ran and was clearly attempting to convert us. The books are weighing heavy in our bags but neither of us, as good Christians, feel that we can throw them away. They may get left in cafe or book exchange somewhere!

We thought we were ready to leave when we got our shoes back but this was a mistake! Actually we were going to climb about 150 steps up to the top of the minaret and to go outside and walk around the mosque roof and climb out of windows for more photos. The 'muezzin' spent the whole time shrieking with delight when he took a photo and calling me 'Principessa' so it was with some relief that we did eventually escape.

But things continued to be a little odd. We wandered into the market ,where I decided it was time to use the wonderful head covering my Mum bought me, and looked at the most beautiful displays of fruit and veg, unlike anything we have in the West. Then we wandered further and found a lot of raw Egyptian cotton for sale. We were immediately befriended again by a man who took us to see where the cotton was died and then to see where mother of pearl boxes were made. He took us deep into the bag streets of Islamic Cairo where the people were unhappy about me using my camera. We had to escape from this guy by inventing our tour group that we had to meet.

We then made it, eventually, to what should have been our destination for the morning - the market. After all our excitement this was just too touristy and tacky and we were very unimpressed. We found a cafe haven though and had a relaxing late lunch. We decided by this time that we'd had enough of Cairo and thought that a few hours in a female zone that wasn't the metro was necessary. Sadly we chose the Hilton hotel where they have a minimum cafe charge for non resident that was high enough to send us scrambling for the door. Shame on them. Another company for me to boycott. So we walked through the male-dominated crazy, dirty streets of Cairo to the internet cafe. We will soon head for out hotel to reclaim our bags and then Metro to Giza station and onwards to Aswan - it is definitely time for a new place!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Clare's clothes have been found

They are unwashed. She is now doing a good laundry job in the sink.
We hope they will dry in time.

Sent from my iPod

Today Clare has had her clothes stolen

As the title suggests, Clare has lost a lot of clothes today. In an
attempt to inject money into the Egyptian economy, she decided to hand
some laundry in to the hotel (the hotel Capsis). Sadly, they have
decided not to hand it back to her, and the whereabouts are unknown.
On the plus side, both Clare and Rachel did laundry of a personal
nature in the hotel sink, so Clare is not completely bereft, and this
confirms everything Clare's grandfather has ever told her about

On to the adventures of our day. The first point of note is that it
was overcast this morning leading us to hope that we might experience
one of the six rainy days Cairo has per year. Sadly, we got overcast
confused with smog (see previous post about pollution in Cairo).

We headed to the pyramids and did most of the journey on the wonderful
"women only" carriage on the metro. We had to take a taxi for the last
nine kilometers, and were joined in our taxi by a smooth talking
Egyptian who insisted on showing us his passport to prove that he
lived in the UAE and worked as a manager for Domino's pizza. He was
attempting to win the guidey award of the day, however, we soon became
suspicious as claimed to be coming home for a vacation but had no
baggage. Thank goodness Clare and I both speak French--we were
discussing the situation and planning a strategy should we not end up
at our intended destination. (this is why we should all learn French
boys and girls).

We were invited to the pizza man's home for refreshments and "Egyptian
hospitality" and offered a place to view the sound and lights show on
his roof. We declined, and were then taken to the horse mafia entry
point to the pyramids. This was the entry point the pizza man told the
driver to take us to. We are therefore going to boycott Domino's
pizza, whatever you guys decide to do is completely up to you.

We had plenty of previous experience with the Jordanian horse mafia at
Petra, and were able to extricate ourselves from the situation easily.
Thereby scamming the scanners--we got to the pyramids for a total of
3.5 pounds a piece, we did not ride any mad horses, donkeys, or
camels, we simply walked a few blocks through the chaos until we found
a proper tourist entrance (not the main gate though).

The pyramids were underwhelming, full of touts, trash and tourist
police who were trying to be guidey saying "statues ok, no climbing"
when we were several meters from the pyramids and infront of a
multilingual no climbing sign.

We found the main gate to get tickets to enter the second pyramid.
Clare felt claustrophobic and didn't end up getting to the middle.
Rachel did, and saw the empty Pharonic sarcophagus, got really hot and
sweaty and came back out. We then headed to the post office, which had
AC and helpful staff. They sold us a lot of very big stamps.

The return trip to the Giza metro cost us double our first taxi rate,
but we got him down from 20 pounds to 10, and he didn't pick up any
more people along the way.

We took the girl car to Coptic Cairo where we had a very beautiful
lunch in a walled garden, where the owner was genuinely friendly and
interested in giving us a good meal. He didn't even try to sell us on
a Bedouin massage (his other business). The name of the shop is Coffe
Shop (SAAD) on 14 Mar Gerges St. We'd definitely go back there.

We toured many Orthodox churches and a synagogue. The most beautiful
of the bunch was the hanging church. It was a delightful change to be
in a calmer and more peaceful atmosphere without the hard sale of
tourist trinkets.

We returned at 4 to have a siesta and search for Clare's clothes.
Sent from my iPod

Monday, July 27, 2009

Finding the Women

We used the Cairo underground tonight from the hotel to Cairo tower.
It is a clean and safe and quick way to get around. Tickets cost a
pound each and we negotiated a line change without trouble. There are
one or two cars on the train for women only, and we chose to ride
there. We were the only foreigners there and it was fine. It is nice
to see women. We spend the day dealing with men on the street, as
servers, and in stores. The women's car is so colourful and polite, and we are not hastled at all.

The tower cost 65 pounds but the guidey book said it should be 30
pounds. We are going to learn Arabic numerals to see what the local
price is for all these attractions. We think it looks like a place for

There was a nice windy look out platform. We saw the pyramids in the
distance, the Nile and many soccer fields and swimming pools. Our goal
was to see the sun set from the outside, but thought better of that,
and went to the cafe inside for cake. Yes...cake for dinner. It was

After cake and sunset we looked at the night view, then navigated the
metro to find a cafe on the street where shisha (waterpipe) is
smoked. We had directions that is women friendly. It was needed, as
many of the men tried to escort us to their shops and eateries by
saying things like "come and consume".

We found one and ordered mint tea. The waiter said that they had it
and then sent someone running to buy mint down the street. The tea was
great, the atmosphere was interesting. We could hear the call to
prayer from several loudspeakers, the street vendors were also calling
out. The traffic noise and honking was there as it always is, and we
were being leered at by some sleazy men. We were the only foreigners

We had a fun day. Cairo is busy, but not so scary. Tomorrow we go to
the pyramids and to Coptic Cairo.

I'm going to try and steal Internet from the hotel. They overcharged
me earlier today.

Sent from my iPod

Travel Dictionary

Secluded: road is only 3 meters away, not the usual 1 meter. Eg "
the beach camp is secluded"

Kebab: slab of flattened chicken on a plate, accompanied by potato
( see definition below). Eg " the hotel serves kebabs on the first

Potato: cold French fries, often served with kebabs.

Expensives: anyone not on a "basics" trip. Eg " the front rows of
beach huts have hammocks and are occupied by the expensives".

Guidey: providing helpful, useful, and correct information. Can apply
equally to books signs and people. Eg "Osama is very guidey"

Paradise: a barren and rocky outcrop with imported sand and dead
coral without any green in sight, populated by expensives.

Bedlam: A passportless group of foreigners amidst a chaotic grouping
of porters and travellers rushing about and yelling while others
slyly take pictures of blondes with their camera phones. Eg Nuweiba
was bedlam.

Guide panic: Rushing around to fix problems that have arisen, or
preventing those that may. Eg a hotel room that doesn't lock and has
no bathroom door incited a guide panic.

Bedouin yogurt: a warm soupy mixture that may or may not be goats
milk (or camel milk?) that appears curdled from sitting out in the
sun. Eg Clare and I did not eat the Bedouin yogurt that was served in

Catphobic: A state of being afraid of stray Egyptian cats that seem
to be at cave parties and searching for scraps all night after Bedouin
desert feasts.

Sheikh patrol: useful in a Bedouin camp.

Change: non existant small bills and coins that can be obtained only
by being very stubborn and refusing to pay in small bills. Eg change
is useful to pay at bathrooms subways and street markets.

Ticket price: At least five times the Egyptian price, and twice what
the 2004 guide book says. (this applies to food and water prices also)

Sunset: A magical collection of moments that hold memories of the
Cairo tower, the red sea coast, and our favourite--the Jordanian desert.

July 29th added

Lemon: Lime

Rain: dripping air conditioner units 15 floors above the coffee shop

Overcast: pollution

Sent from my iPod

560 minutes

Cairo by sunset up in a tower shows the extent of the sprawl and

Math question of the day: For each day in Cairo it is like smoking a
pack of cigarettes. If each pack has twenty cigarettes in them, and we
are in Cairo for four days, and alledgedly each cigarette takes off
seven minutes of life, how much shorter will our lives be?

Answer: Very short if we try to cross the road by ourselves.

Sent from my iPod

Taxis Mummies and more men.

This morning we woke up feeling cold! The air conditioner is set for something like 18 C and we cant seem to change it, not like we're complaining or anything.

After the hotel breakfast we set off to find our travel agent. Having researched her address yesterday at the internet cafe, and asked the hotel to write it in Arabic, we set off to get ourselves a taxi. This was the first time to take a cab this trip, and it will not be soon forgotten. We're not sure our driver was actually Egyptian....he only honked his horn once during the 45 minute journey.

We had asked him if he knew where he was going when he looked at the address, he nodded....and we agreed on a price of 10 Egyptian pounds to get us there. This is the equivalent of about 2.50 Canadian. He wore a seatbelt over his shoulder, but not buckled in. We didn't have any belts in the back seats, but the ride was pretty reasonable. It is amazing how sometimes there are 3 lanes and sometimes that changes to 4 or 5 depending on the interchange, and the number of double or triple parked cars there are. Add to this busses with people almost dangling out of the open doors, and sitting on laps. We decided taxis will cut down on the possibility being groped.

Our driver navigated the roadways, we crossed the Nile, and got to the travel agent neighbourhood (or so he thought). I'm not sure if the original english translation from Arabic was wrong, or if the hotel lady wrote the new translation into Arabic wrong, but we had a great deal of trouble finding the travel agency. The driver stopped and yelled out the window to several guys working on the streets, but nobody seemed to know....they were all trying to be very helpful, specially since there were two foreign women in the back seat. They came over to talk to us, and practice English as much as helping the poor driver.

Finally we got out the phone number of the agency, and the driver pulled out his phone, and passed it to the TNT (parcel delivery) guy who was helping us, and knew English. That man drew a map for the driver, and that eventually got us in the right direction.

We gave the driver an extra 2 pounds and asked him to stay and wait for us. He didn't, but that ended up being fine anyway.

The travel agency, although claiming to accept VISA and Mastercard did not, and we needed close to 4000 Egyptian pounds, which we didn't have on us. Their steward walked us to the nearest ATM about 4 blocks away (in the heat), and I had success withdrawing money. Clare is having trouble with her Nationwide bank card imposing ridiculous limits on cash withdrawl. Lucky for her, the Alliance and Leicester card she has IS working.

So, we now have tickets for our cruise, and our trains....and had a pretty fun taxi adventure to boot.

We caught another cab from the main street to go to the Antiquities Museum, which we knew was close, but over a bridge, and it was hot. The first cab wanted to charge us 20 pounds! We laughed at him and waved him on, by now a long line of taxis were waiting to get our business. The next was not much better, asking for 10 pounds. After waving him off, another asked for 9 pounds...but we talked him down to 5, since we told him it was close, and he had seen us wave off so many others.

The museum was very very very security conscious. We had to show passports to get into the area, then scan our bags....for weapons maybe, and then we were able to pay the 60 pounds to get tickets. We then tried to get a decent price for drinks--we had been ripped off in Sinai at 7 pounds per can of was MUCH worse here, they were charging 15 pounds a can. They must think tourists are stupid. Most were though, they were paying it! We enjoyed our smuggled water, and headed to the museum.

We passed the turnstiles, our tickets were tonr, but then at the next set of security gates, we had bags scanned again, this time they found our cameras and we had to check them at the front gate. We left through the turnstiles, checked our cameras (but we were sneaky, we took out the batteries and memory cards and brought them with us--if anyone wants to take our cameras, they will not be functional!)

The museum was amazingly full. We spent our time avoiding the large tour groups with their guides who waved them around pointing out different things in all sorts of languages. It was at this point that we missed our good buddy Osama, who always seemed to know everything that we were looking at, or at least could read the Arabic and make up the rest. There was actually quite a bit of English explanations written down, but as the museum is not air conditioned, and it is jam packed with artifacts, it is wearing. We got to the point of Pharoah fatigue, and took refuge in the air conditioned exhibits of King Tut, the Tombs of Tanis, and Jewellery.

I was excited to see ancient linen, and weaving, and spinning, and even an old knitting needle in use.

We paid the extra 100 pounds to get in to see the mummies. The guide book says it is only 40 pounds, but I guess they are trying to wring more tourist money out of us. It was well worth it though, when else can you come face to face with 11 authentic mummies. We saw Ramses, the old man with white hair, another one had battle wounds in his skull, another one was very manicured. Some were in their 30s when they died. It is amazing to see the skill of their preservation. This room was nice and cool--no tour guides allowed either.

After the mummies, we left the museum, practiced our street crossing skills, got some lunch at the restaurant we tried last night. We ate in the family section, for women, or families. Men can't go up there alone. That's not to say that the 10 servers there didn't pay lots of attention to us. One fellow was particularly keen, and gave us his name and his phone number and asked to go to America together.

We're planning to go to Cairo tower for sunset and a snack after a brief siesta.

Pyramids tomorrow!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Egyptian driving and stalkers

I am typing this from a keyboard where the keys keep falling off so apologies in advance for the inevitable typing mistakes!

Today we travelled all the way across the Sinai peninsular, up its Western side, under the Suez canal and into Cairo. Having recently passed my UK bus drivers test I reckon that I am very knowledgeable about the rules of the road and how to drive but our bus driver clearly hadn't learnt in central London so had some alternstive ideas. The Egyptians, like most of the world, drive on the right hand side of roads but we spent at least 50% of the time on the left hand side. This was because the rules for overtaking are something like this: pull out at least 10 minutes before the object you wish to overtake even comes into view, hoot the horn loudly to warn of your imminent arrival so that vehicles can swerve out of the way and only return to the right when forced to do so by an oncoming camel. This served us well on our journey.

We made a few stops for toilets and to be ripped off at drinks stands. We also got quite excited moving from Asia into Africa under the Suez canal. This is Rachel's first time in Africa but I'm afriad neither of us were immediatly impressed by it. Cairo is huge and started miles before we arrived at our hotel. The congestion encouraged even more extraordinary driving and the horn on the minibus was used with increasing frequency (i.e. approximately every 5 seconds!) We eventually arrived at the hotel which is AIR CONDITIONED! This was incredibly exciting and we had a quick sit down and enjoyment of the temperature before heading off for a walk to find an internet cafe. This place offers 'business man services' - we'll leave that up to your imagination!!

On the way back a man started talking to me and invited me to his hotel for coffee (a business man service??!!) I declined and we beat a hasty retreat. In the evening we were force marched to a big group meal. On the way a man decided to stoke my back - I don't think he'll be doing that again given my reaction to it! Food was great at the restaurant. Brash Australian company gave a lot to be desired... On the way back, we stopped to pick up some water to smuggle back into our hotel and my friend from earlier started talking to me again! I asked him if he was following me and told him to stop stalking and we crossed the road at full speed (quite an achievement in Cairo!) before heading back to our hotel.

We said goodbye to our group in the hotel and are now free and ready to take on Egypt!

Snorkelling, siestas and finding Nemo!

Funnily, I just posted for this but blogger lost it (it lost a few previous posts too!) so this is going to be a very condensed repeat of what I just wrote. Things we discovered in a day at the Red Sea coast:

1) Snorkelling is great fun but can lead to severe motion sickness.
2) Nemo is alive and well in the Red Sea.
3) Don't mess with lion fish (or even Rachel trying to mime that she has seen lion fish!)
4) Eating western food for the first time in a week (pizza) is great and should be encouraged.
5) Sitting, reading and chatting is very good for you.
6) Having at least 4 siestas a day is compulsory in hot weather.
7) The mountains of Saudi Arabia, when viewed as the sun is setting make it look like a very attractive destination for another trip....

I think sitting and doing very little has been good for us. But only in moderation!!

Burning Bush and Mt. Sinai climb

The burning bush has a fire extinguisher right beside it! 

We went to see the burning bush at St. Catherine's Monastery in the morning (it closes at noon).  It was really touristy for such a religious place.  We toured the Greek Orthodox church there, and browsed the gift shop, and saw the Skullery (a room with monks skulls and bones piled up in it).

There were sunflowers and a garden here, a welcome change to the usual scenery of bare rock (although it is beautiful rock, there is an awful lot of it).  What was not welcome were the peddlers who were much more aggressive than any we had met in Jordan.  They wanted us to buy books about St. Catherine, or something.  Even dark glasses, hats and putting your right hand up to your left shoulder (which means "thanks but no thanks") didn't seem to work with these few.

We went back to the hotel and had lunch and rested up for our momentous climb.  I sewed the screen shut so we wouldnt have flies bothering us all night.

We started at approx 1500 m and climbed up the 3700 steps on the "Steps of Repentance".  This wasn't the intended path, but we decided that walking behind a camel with people trying to get us to ride them would be less fun than torturing ourselves with a steep and rocky climb.  We were lucky to have Moussa (Moses), who must be part mountain goat, leading us, and our group leader went with the camel riders.  It was a painful climb for me as I kept worrying that lunch would make a return appearance.  It was pretty hot at 4:30 when we started our climb.  We made it up in about 2 hours.  The camel riders didn't get off easy, they still had to climb the last 700 steps with us. 

We watched the sun set from the top of Mt. Sinai (not the tallest peak, but maybe the second highest in Egypt).  It was a beautiful sunset, and it did actually get pretty chilly since we were tired and sweaty and suddenly sitting still.  We all delighted in the chance to wear long sleeves in Egypt!  Some even had hot chocolate at the top.  I saved my money for ice cream at the bottom.

On the way back down we followed the camel path and used our flashlights.  We were feeling a bit wobbly as we walked, but took our time.  I cracked out the glow sticks for this occasion, and gave one to each member of our group.  Moussa was excited.  He had never seen such things before.  I think he quite liked being included in such silliness.  He attached it to his headscarf on the way back down.  I think most of the group had decided to pass on their used glowsticks to Moussa, but we got accosted by tourist police who kept asking for "flash".  They liked the glowsticks too.  I showed them how to spin them around in a circle so the lights change colour, and they were astounded.  I showed Moussa this trick on the bus too (yes, a bus rave in Egypt!).  I hope he found some kids to show it too when he got home.

We celebrated the birthday of one of our group members at the hotel, and then crashed for the night, hoping that walking would be easy the next day.

To Egypt: Sawa Camp, Red Sea

We left the desert after a quick breakfast.  I was instructed on how to eat pita like a Jordanian--dip it in oil and then in herbs.  It was good. 

We drove out of the desert in the 4 wheel drive jeeps, the temperature reading showed 26 C and boy it felt pleasant.  We then headed to Aquaba, the port, where we would have to say good bye to our wonderful guide and driver.

After having some delicious felafel we went to explore the shopping and see the biggest flagpole.  Amman also claims to have the highest flagpole, but now we've seen BOTH of them, so we've covered our bases.  We passed many little stores selling nuts and clothes and then we headed to the beach area and past street stalls selling tourist trinkets and big rubber swimming rings with duck heads on them.  Many families were swimming, and the sea did look enticing, but with big ships in the background it was probably quite dirty water. 

We found a McDonalds and took full advantage of their bathroom airconditioning and internet (they are the only place we've found with free wi-fi).  We didn't buy a thing there.  Take that McDonalds!!  However, the blog post that we composed seems not to have found its way to the blog.  We'll try again if we can find another McDonalds.  It was about the lessons learned in Petra.

Clare and I then went to sit in a park full of men just to see what would happen.  Nothing much did.

The bus took us to the ferry port where chaos broke out.  We had to leave stuff on the bus, and get our Jordanian exit stamps in our passports, and then we went to another line where they stamped the stamps.  I had no trouble at all, the man just said..."Canada....good Canada" and let me go. 

After about 45 minutes we were all ready to get back on the bus to go to the ferry.  We needed to leave our big bags underneath the boat.  We locked them (thanks to the advice of Clare's grandfather from his experience in Egypt in the war).  We formed a line and made it up to the airconditioned deck of the boat.  It was another wait until the boat loaded after people, and things notoriously take more time than planned in Egypt.  We had to surrender our passports which would be given back in Nuweiba with the needed visa.

The boat set off, and we sat, enjoying the quiet--and the 4 year old behind us who was trying to be too cute.  Her brother befriended us toward the end of the trip.  He was practicing his English, and was welcoming us to Egypt.  I gave him a Canada pencil, and he gave me an egyptian pen (nothing special about it, but it works really well). 

When the boat stopped, our leader herded us to the lower deck against the better judgement of the official boat man.  It appeared that we would be stuck in the non AC section for another 30 minutes.  Clare was able to negotiate our way back upstairs to wait in the cool air.  We needed it, because the port at Nuweiba was absolutely crazy.

We got off the boat, picked up our stuff where we had left it (locks intact), and then rushed to go through a flu scanner room, then catch a bus which tried to pull away when only half our group was on it.  We all got on, with our heavy bags, and were sitting on the floor and bags and leaning on each other for a hot ride which ended up being only about 4 minutes.  We all got off the bus and went to sit down amidst the chaos.  There were workers with huge piles of baggage on carts.  Garbage was everywhere, lots of yelling and screaming, busses coming and going, and we were sitting without our passports.  Our leader went to get passports, and we went to withdraw money from a sketchy ATM.  I'm amazed at how they always know to put up English words.  I'm glad they do.

Passports all came back, and we went through the entrance security with our bags.  Metal detectors are here just for show.  They don't detect a thing, but we still have to put all bags through them.  Even if they beep, nothing happens. 

We met our bus and driver.  Bags were piled up on top, the biggest first.  Mine was small so I waited until I saw it loaded on before I got in.  I didn't know that the bus had room for 14 people and we were 15.  Luckily we had some small women on the trip that could squish in, and I was up front with our leader between me and the driver.  There was no AC, and the driver spent the entire time singing to his vehicle, much like you would sing to a camel to make it happy.  The first mission was to go to a beer store, and then to the camp (which doesnt sell alcohol).  The driver happily made up a beer store song as we went. 

Beer collected, we were off to the camp, which was advertised as "secluded".  I think that Egyptian secluded is very different from mine.  We were off the highway but could hear the traffic, and from the sea we could see the trucks go by.  There was not any green in sight.  Sand beach (imported we think) as far as the eye could see, with huts arranged in rows.  Each hut had a front porch area, and inside the huts there were 2 mattresses and hard pillows with a mosquito net (that had holes).  We had heard to sleep outside, and that advice was well taken.  It was 36 C when we went to bed, and we felt the breeze change as the sun set.  In the day it was a sea breeze, but after dark, the breeze came from the desert down from the mountains and was very very warm.

There was a main area where we could lounge under shelter, and eat our meals.  We had our dinner after dark by candle light at tables on the sand.  There were showers (4 of them for 35 people), and 4 toilets.  The facilities were immaculate, 3 guys worked from 6am raking the beach and levelling the sand for the volleyball court, cleaning bathrooms and sweeping sand out of every corner.  They also were the ones who brought us food and took our orders.  They kept working until late in the night.  I hope they are well paid, but I doubt it.

The night was hot, but we were tired.  We stayed up looking at stars (I now can find scorpio), and the lights of Saudi Arabia on the other side of the sea. With our beds outside, we managed to sleep pretty well until the sun rose at 5:45 AM. 

Sheikh, scorpian and snake patrol!

You might all be amazed to learn that Rachel and I discuss our blog on a regular basis and so, on Wednesday morning, it was decided that I would be in charge of the blog for that day. This meant two things to me. Firstly, that I would have to take extra special note of everything we did and secondly, inevitably, that things would probably take a turn for the surreal.

On Wednesday morning we all piled into the bus with Imran, our driver, and Osama, our marvellous guide to head for Wadi Rum and a genuine Bedouin experience. We arrived at the desert visitor centre at about midday and recieved a map of all the sights in the desert. One, rather amusingly, was described as having a lot of sand in it! Anyway, we admired the 7 pillars of wisdom (and I regretted for the hundredth time that I'd never seen Lawrence of Arabia!) and then we hopped into a very hot four wheel drives for our desert safari. Our first stop was for tea in a Bedouin tent, made with some amazing goat hair material, and then we moved over to the shelter of a rock face for a picnic lunch. After that we went to a few sights. I can't remember the order we went to them in but here's the general drift of things:

1) Lawrence of Arabia's house - not amazingly exciting
2) A gorge with a lot of wall carvings in which was really interesting and just made me want to strap on my climbing harness and scale the rock faces.
3) A sand dune which we trekked up, and then ran down.
4) Some more carvings, this time of camels, which were very well carved and probably useful to ancient travellers who would have been able to understand them.
5) A natural rock bridge which we were allowed to climb up and where Rachel marvellously conquered her fear of heights to pose in photos (which we'll post eventually)

After these sites we were taken to our campsite and had tea under a rock face in the shade. It was blissful. Half the group (the noisy half!) went to climb another hill but Rachel and I, lured by limitless supplies of hot sweet tea, stayed put and chatted with the Bedouin and some other group members. Eventually, it was decreed that we had to go and watch the sunset. It's very difficult to describe the desert and the vastness of the landscape and the peacefulness of the place but our photos and little video clips, when posted, should go part way to explaining.

The sun set, as is inevitable, and everyone else headed back for dinner, except us and out guide who were deep in conversation about intellectual things (yes, really we were!) and we stayed chatting in the peace and beauty of the desert for sometime. We made it back in perfect time for our best meal so far and we all sat around outside eating merrily and enjoying watching the stars rise into the sky. It was at this point that we met the Sheikh. I was already nervous about scorpians so had put myself (and my torch) on scorpian patrol but the sheikh gave me something else to worry about. He needed a new wife. Osama suggested that the sheikh give me 1 camel in payment which I could then sell back to Osama, who could sell it back to the Shiekh (making everyone a profit and creating me a husband.) I wasn't convinced that this was a fair price as I need two camels to start a camel farm so he offered to marry Rachel for 1 camel too - perfect!!

Lieing down under the stars to sleep was magical. I couldn't close my eyes because a) I was looking out for snakes b) I was looking out for scorpians and c) I was looking out for the Sheikh (particularly as he had informed me that he was off to drink some camel's milk and that it was widely know that this milk was Bedouin viagra!!!) I eventually dozed off and we slept well without any untoward events. Waking up in the desert and drinking more Bedouin tea was the perfect end to a wonderful 24 hours.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

cave party, bedouin ferrari, 850 steps

We went to Petra, we saw the main was a great day, hard to describe all the fun.

However, there were some highlights:
1) Osama's guidiness!! We were delighted with the amount and quality of information our guide knew and felt obliged to pass on to us. Who knew there were camels in the walls!?!

2) Meeting Marguerite, a friend of Jane, and getting her book signed. (Married to a Bedouin-- google it!)

3) Being offered rides in "air conditioned Bedouin ferraris" which turned out to be donkeys.

4) Realizing that the trend in young Bedouin men is to look like Johnny Depp in their pirate fashions.

5) 10 year olds can really sell fake jewellery, and can do it in 7 languages.

6) Climbing up 850 steps in 38 C is possible, and makes cave parties with mint tea all the more relaxing.

7) There are actually 2 "Grand Canyons", and one of them is in Petra.

8) Horsemen will charge 7 dinar for a horse you don't want. They will NOT pay 1 dinar to get their hat back, but seemed quite eager to pay for a kiss.

9) The Treasury is amazing in the morning light byt is even more impressive at night.

10) Walk down the Siq alone, whenever possible.

11) Beware of "mad donkeys" and their carts, specially if they turn out to be horses.

12) Mahmoud (real or fake) is not needed as long as you have Osama.

13) After 10 hours in Petra it feels great to lay down and put your feet up the wall.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Alive and well in Petra

We are both doing very well. We have not really stopped at all since we got here. Many many blog entries have been written en route on the ipod touch, and will be posted when wireless is available.  (most likely in Egypt)
Today was a full day in Petra, yesterday was the evening candle light walk into Petra after a trip to Mt. Nebo, the Dead Sea and Kerak Castle.
Before that we were in Amman and we saw the citadel and then drove to Jerash with Jane. (Thanks so much Jane!)
Tomorrow the desert--let the adventures continue!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Petra by night and fake Mahmoud

Tonight Clare and I were the only ones to go on the Petra by night
excursion from our group. If you ever go to Petra, you MUST take
advantage of the candle light walk to the treasury building. We
started at 8:30pm and walked 2km through a narrow rock canyon formed
by underground water erosion. The rock leading up to the canyon is
dotted with caves that were lived in historically by Bedouins. Only a
few caves are currently inhabited, and we did see one man perched up
on a rock face strumming an instrument near a cave entrance and people
singing from somewhere... We think it may have been a cave party.

The walk was supposed to be done single file and in silence with no
mobile phones and no photography, but people don't listen to
instruction or respect others in a group so they chatted away merrily
in many languages. We stopped to let them all pass by, and continued
on our own very near the back of the pack where it was peaceful.

It is impossible to put into words the feeling that you get when
surrounded by so much history and natural beauty, lit by stars and
candle light. It is a surreal and moving experience.

At the end of the canyon we walked into a large opening with the
treasury building on the opposite wall. Rent Indiana Jones to see it,
but even watching the movie you cannot appreciate the magesty of the
building. To see it illuminated by candles (and flash photography) is
something else.

We were treated to mint tea and entertainment. One man played the
flute, another played a different instrument, and Mahmoud told us a

We rembered that Jane had told us of a fantastic guide named Mahmoud
who could read Nebetean (sp?) inscriptions, and we were hoping to hire
him for the afternoon tomorrow. We approached the story teller Mahmoud
to ask him if he knew Jane, or if he could read Nebetean. He seemed
confused, and lacking in English abilities, which we thought the real
Mahmoud would have. He said he might know a Jane in Amman. But he said
she worked at the university. So we are left to wonder if he is the
real Mahmoud or an impersonator.

Upon our return there was a text from Jane saying that she had
contacted Mahmoud this evening and that we can hire him for the
afternoon. So we are left to wait and wonder if we did in fact meet
the real Mahmoud already. We will phone him in the morning to make

We went souvenir shopping and Clare modelled a headscarf. Picture to
Sent from my iPod

Mt. Nebo, Dead sea, Kerak Castle

We left the hotel at 8am after a breakfast of pita and boiled egg. We
headed to Mt Nebo in a minibus with our guide Osama. He is a
university trained tour guide and studied antiquities as well. He is
very funny and keeps us entertained on the driving part of the journey
with Arabic lessons, and a fashion show of head wear ( kufiya -sp?).

We got to Mt. Nebo, the site where Moses stood to see the promised
land. From there we had a great view of the dead sea and Jordan river
and across to Jericho in Israel. We saw mosaics on display as well.
There was a church there too dedicated to Lot, but it was being
restored so we couldn't go too close.

Next we drove to the Dead Sea to swim at a resort. It was actually
impossible to swim, it was so salty that you could only float. We got
positioned vertically in the water and were able to bounce up and down
in the water like on a trampoline. It tasted salty sour and bitter.
Someone said it is 30% salt. It is dropping by a metre a year since
people are damming the Jordan and it is hotter and evaporation is

We floated for a long time while others got slathered in mud by the
lifeguard (who was enjoying being around so many bikini-clad women).

We showered and ate a good big buffet lunch and tried a varity of
jello and strange custard desserts. By far the best was the watermelon.

We drove to Kerak castle next, a cruisader castle used by many
peoples before and after them. Osama toured us around and then let us
explore on our own. Having heard a passing French guide mention "un
tour" we knew that we'd have fun climbing up to see the view from the
top of the tower which was great. Clare and I joined up with Lauren, a
tour-mate of ours, for this further exploration.

Now we are driving across miles of desert. It's amazing how flat it is
in some places and how hilly it is in others. We are headed for Petra
where Clare and I have signed up for a candle light walk through the
canyon into Petra.

Sent from my iPod

Our group tour

> We met our group at 6 pm at the hotel caravan and our leader Chris
> toldus details of our adventures yet to come. We all introduced
> ourselves. I'm the only Canadian here-- there are lots of New
> Zealanders, Australians, and English people.
> We ate at the hotel. It was gross. "chicken kebabs potato and
> vegetables" turned into flat tough greasy chicken with the skin on
> it, cold yellow fries, and sketchy looking tomato/ cucumber salad.

> I was feeling tired so I went to bed. Clare stayed up to socialize.
> An early start tomorrow at 8 am. To mt. nebo the dead sea karak and
> petra.
> Sent from my iPod

Jerash, our day with Jane

We had such a wonderful and comfortable stay with Jane. We could eat
fruit and veggies without worrying about how clean they were, so we
ate our fill of cherries, peaches, grapes and salad.

We headed off to see the citadel in the morning, came back for lunch,
then went to Jerash in the afternoon.

We walked through the citadel and Jane explained what we were seeing,
and the historical significance of it all. The museum there housed
artifacts from many time periods in history, from paleolithic plaster
statues to clay pots to glassware and bracelets, to burial coffins and
marble statues.

The drive to Jerash was pretty with fertile valleys and barren hills.
It took 45 minutes to get there.

We entered through a large gate, past the hippodrome, where Romans
wrestled hippos. (and raced chariots). We then saw the temple of Zeus
which was under construction, and then to the theatre a semi circular
floor surrounded by stone seats. A man was there dressed in Arab
clothes and head covering wearing a Scottish sash and playing the
chanter. It was strange to be in ancient Roman ruins and hear the Skye
Boat song played as we clambered to the top to get a good view.

We experienced our first two wonders in the theatre. There was a focal
point on the floor that showed the sweet spot acoustically. Also there
were parabolic reflectors around the side that we could use to whisper
to eachother across the floor.

We saw a number of temples to various gods, Dionesis (sp?) which
became a church later, and a large temple to Artemis where we saw our
third wonder. A man selling drinks claimed to be able to push a column
and make it move. We put our fingers under the ehge of it, and it did
wiggle a bit. Jane put a pocket knife blade under the column to show
that it wiggled with the wind too.

Not far from that were three side by side churches that shared a
narthex area. They were the church of St. George, the church of St.
John the Baptist, and the church of St. Cosmos. There were some neat
floor mosaics, and we saw a walk in baptismal font in St. John the
baptist's church, which indicates that there were some kind of remains
of him there-- perhaps even his head, which is claimed by many

We walked through the street lined with columns, past the butcher shop
with a hacked up chopping stone and a sloped floor which was easily
washed off, and past a bath house.

We hurried back, got money exchanged and bid Jane a fond farewell. We
will really miss her company, expertise, and Arabic language support.
Thanks for everything Jane.

Our flight

We got to the airport and tried to arrange seats beside eachother but
there appeared to be only 6 free places. We chose the 2 closest seats
hoping that we could convince people to switch with us. Clare ended up
between two Texan missionaries headed to Ethiopia, and I ended up in
the middle between two teenagers, one who was very sad. The other girl
changed seats to be with a friend, so we arranged a switch so Clare
could sit with me.

The girl beside me, Zara, got off her phone, calmed down a bit, and
started talking to us a bit. Within 10 minutes she was offering us
candy, and gave some to the Americans too, who boldly asked for
seconds. We took off with Zara firmly grabbing my arm. She explained
that she always flew with her mom, and was leaving her family in
England for 9 months to stay with her grandparents in Ethiopia.

When the plane took off the Americans said "aaaah". I think that they
are not used to flying. It was a definite contrast from the usual
silent takeoff.

Zara fell asleep really quickly, and Clare and I were chatting, and
listening to the Americans. One of them was very excited about having
a new toothbrush for his trip. He was chatting with all the
stewardesses. He called them all by name, and asked Deepa where she
was from, and was astonisfed that she was from London.

There was a bit of turbulance during the meal service and the American
kept pushing the call button. Finally a stewardess came and was irate.
She was not charmed by his small talk or requests for seconds of

The rest of the flight was pretty good. Zara slept so soundly that we
had to fasten her seatbelt in preparation for landing. She woke up
once speaking some foreign language to me and slept again. She
grabbed my arm in her sleep, and woke up in time to say goodbye. We
wished her well, and as we left we saw the American sneak into first
class. Wonder how long Deepa let him stay there.

Sent from my iPod

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Arrived in Amman safely

Today was a long travel day. I left my hotel (which barely qualifies
as a hotel...more like a student residence) at 9:45, but they kicked
me out of the room at 9:30 to get the cleaners in. I ate leftover
groceries for breakfast and took their shuttle to Heathrow. I hung out
in the airport from 10ish until Clare arrived which was noonish.
Airport people watching is pretty fun.

We got onto our flight with minimal hassle, and had a very enjoyable
flight thanks to our new friend Zara who was headed to Ethiopia. ( "Hi
Zara" if you are reading this. Hope take off and landing were OK).

Clare and I will both sit down to compose a proper description of some
of the events and personalities on board, so stay tuned.

Clare's family friend, Jane, picked us up from the airport amid a
flurry of cameras and people drumming and general confusion. It was
great to get in a car, and even greater to get to her flat. It is
past midnight and people are still active outside, cars honking,
alarms going off, radios, bottles clanking and distant voices and
music. People were starting to picnic after 10:00 pm on the side of
the road with little cooking fires. Driving seems to have few rules
and fewer seatbelts, with many people piled into the back seats, on
laps and little kids roaming around. Jane's car was fully equipped and

Tomorrow we plan to go to Jerash to see Roman ruins. We hope to also
see the citadel in Amman, and we meet our tour and check into the
hotel around 6:00pm. It will be another busy day, but this time in
the heat.

Sent from my iPod

Reunited at last!!

Clare and I are together in Heathrow ready to fly to Amman soon.
nothing else to report.
tune in for more adventures in the next few days, internet permitting.
Clare and Rachel

Friday, July 17, 2009

500 stairs

After I last posted I started to walk because it wasn't yet raining,
and there certainly is a lot to see. I dropped off bags at the
station so I was not carting around the full 10 kg. I went to the
Wellington arch and buckingham palace, I watched 2 sentries change,
and then wandered in the park near by. There was a wide variety of
waterfowl there, from Canada geese to regular geese, from ducks and
ducklings to gigantic pelicans. One pelican stood as high as my
elbow, and stood still for people to pat it.

I walked to picadilly circus then to trafalgar square, then to st
Paul's cathedral. The walking started at noon and I was at st paul's
by 3:30. Since evensong starts at 5:00, they close the dome lookout at
4:15 to allow people to exit by 4:30.

There were stairs to get to the whispering gallery, the inside walking
space in the dome, and more stairs to get to an outer walk about, and
even more stairs to get to the highest lookout site. There seriously
were close to 500 stairs. Some had no rails, some had low ceilings,
shiny from being polished by all who accidentally rub their head on
the ceiling. Some stairs were a metal grid that let you see right
down to the bottom. They were all spirals and made me feel a bit woozy
from walking in circles and also being so high up.

After climbing down, I explored the crypt, much more polished than the
st. G's crypt, and on a much grander scale. Then it was 4:30 and
evensong was starting. The place really cleared out when it was
announced that church would be starting soon. Since we had paid to get
in we were first in line to sit in the quire. There are 2 sets of
choir stalls, one for the choir, and one beside it for the congregation.

The boys have a vacation from daily evensong for the summer, so it was
the mens choir singing tonight. There were 12 of them, and they sang
in 6 part harmony. The countertenors ( men who sing high) were
amazing. Actually the whole group was great. Even the priest sang
well! There was no organ or hymns, but no sermon either. I'm amazed
at the length of the echo that exists there.

After st Paul's I got a sandwich and walked down to the Southwark
bridge which is where the riverside walkway is. I followed that back
toward Westminster. It started to rain on that leg of my journey so I
walked under trees, but eventually settled on getting soaked but
seeing what I came to see. I got groceries for supper/breakfast then
retrieved my baggage from the station and learned how to use the
underground. I got out to Heathrow, and to my hotel by 10 pm. I ate
and showered and did laundry in the sink, and now I am not tired... Or
I don't realize yet how tired I am.

Tomorrow I might explore around the hotel before going to the airport,
if jet lag doesn't get me first.

Next post will most likely be from Jordan, with Clare.

Sent from my iPod

I have arrived in London

This morning...or is it yesterday morning...the 16th of July, I left at 11:30 AM. 12 hours later I was in the air over Kingston flying to England. The bus ride to Toronto was long, as it stopped at Napanee, Belleville, Trenton, Coburg, etc on the way to the Airport. There was a little boy traveling with his parents, and he was far too excited. He had a running commentary about all cars and trucks on the highway, and kept asking if this was the highway, and if we were there yet. I'm glad he was only going to Belleville, it would have been horrendous if he had continued all the way to the airport. Although, closer to Toronto, an older woman (dressed like a farmer--overalls etc) got on the bus, and was headed to the airport for her very first flight ever. She was very concerned about details like if she could bring her plant on the plane, and how much it would cost to get a cart at the airport, and why the bus had a TV, and if the driver could lend her money for the cart if she didnt have enough change, and if there are meals on the plane....Luckily I was not sitting beside her.

On the plane I got a seat on an exit row next to two guys who claimed to be soccer players for their part time job. They said they were in Toronto for a game. I asked if they were famous, and they said no.

It's amazing that the time it took for me to get all the way to London from Kingston is less than what it took for us to drive to Atlanta.

I'm going to explore around Victoria station today, and hopefully get to a cathedral for evensong.

Tomorrow (the 18th) is the day that Clare and I meet up and depart for Jordan.
Between now and then I hope I sleep a lot!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

11 lbs of baggage

My bags are packed! It took several tries (and lots of ziplock bags) to get everything into my backpack so that it fits within dimensions and the weight restriction of 5kg (11 lbs). Air Transat apparently weighs and measures all carry-on baggage. I'm glad I'm allowed a purse and camera--I stashed heavier things in there!

Knitting is allowed on Transat and British Air, but not Thomas Cook (my return flight), so I'm casting on for socks that I'll start at the Harry Potter midnight showing tonight. Hopefully I'll get them done while I'm gone.

2 more sleeps!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My first attempt at blogging!

Wow! This is the first time I have ever blogged. I hope it is going to work. Just thought I'd add a brief postscript to Rachel's itinerary. We have changed hotel in Aswan to the Memnon, because the other place failed to respond to email. And the temperatures in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan at the moment are as follows: 34 degrees, 39 degrees, 45 degrees. What on earth are we up to?!

More blogging when our journey gets started.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Pre-Adventure Details

General overview
July 16th/17th: I fly to England, and stay in a hostel near Heathrow airport.

July 18th: Clare and I meet at Heathrow and fly to Amman Jordan. A friend of her family will meet us there and we will stay with them for the night.

July 19th: We meet up with our tour group in Amman in the evening and stay at a hotel in Amman

July 20th: getting to Petra
Carved from rose-coloured rock, the ancient city of Petra is a truly spectacular sight.

We travel via minibus to Mt. Nebo to see the Dead Sea, and Israel (if it is clear), then we'll go to the Dead Sea--the lowest point on Earth and second saltiest lake, and swim/float at a private beach and a roll in the mud. Then we go to the castle of Kerak to tour the ruins, then on to Petra--one of the new Seven Wonders of the world

We stay the night of the 20th and 21st at a hotel in Wadi Musa.

July 21st: Full day in Petra

July 22nd: 2 hour drive to Wadi Rum. We explore the desert in a 4 hour jeep safari, eat food cooked in an earthen oven, and sleep in a simple Bedouin desert camp under the stars, or a camel hair tent.
July 23rd: Afternoon ferry ride (4 hours) to cross the gulf of Aqaba and arrive in Egypt at Nuweiba. We stay at Sawa Camp near the coast of the Red Sea in beach huts made from local palm trees. Snorkeling and beach activities for these 2 days

July 24th: Sawa Camp

July 25th: Travel in the morning to Mt. Sinai and St. Katherine's Monastery (where the burning bush was). We'll climb the mountain by evening or early morning. It takes 3 hours to climb. We stay in a hotel tonight.

July 26th: Early morning private minibus ride to Cairo (9 hours), we stay in a hotel in Cairo, and are left to our own devices after that.

July 27th: Tour ends. We'll stay in Cairo and see the sights for a few days

July 28th: Cairo

July 29th: Cairo, night train to Aswan

July 30th: Aswan, arrive in the morning, arrange our boat tour and see the sights. We're booked into the Hathor Hotel

July 31st: Aswan, possible trip to High Dam

August 1st: Boat cruise on the Nile to Luxor

August 2nd: Cruisin'

August 3rd: Cruisin'

August 4th: Arrive at Luxor and explore. Stay at New Pola Hotel

August 5th: Luxor

August 6th: Luxor

August 7th: Luxor and night train to Cairo

August 8th: Back to Cairo and stay at an airport hotel

August 9th: Depart Cairo in the morning, arrive in London where I'll say farewell to Clare, and stay in hostels

August 10th: Tour London, night in a hostel

August 11th: I fly back to Canada