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