Friday, July 31, 2009
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
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
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.
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
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
We returned at 4 to have a siesta and search for Clare's clothes.
Sent from my iPod
Monday, July 27, 2009
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
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
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
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
Rain: dripping air conditioner units 15 floors above the coffee shop
Sent from my iPod
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
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 pop...it 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.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
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!
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!!
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.
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 started...cars 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.
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
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
Monday, July 20, 2009
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
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
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
> 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
> Sent from my iPod
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
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.
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
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
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
Sent from my iPod
Friday, July 17, 2009
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
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
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
More blogging when our journey gets started.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
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