Thursday, May 27, 2010

Days 213 & 214 – South Africa

May 6 & 7, 2010 – Johannesburg, South Africa


Days 211 & 212 – Egypt to South Africa

May 4 & 5, 2010 – Alexandria to Cairo, Egypt to Johannesburg, South Africa

Our flight to South Africa is at 12:45am, May 5th. Sound familiar?

This is the exact time of our infamous flight out of Bangkok – refer to blog entry “The Bangkok Express”.

Luckily we’ve learned from our mistakes and triple-check our flight status, so we’re all ready to go. We catch the 3:00pm bus that goes from Alexandria to the Cairo Airport, which gives us plenty of time. And wouldn’t you know it when we arrive, we find out our plane is schedule to leave 15 minutes early.

Of course, as the night progresses this 15 minute advance, turns into a very uninformative 2 hour delay. And Cairo’s airport is lacking in entertainment options, so we end up playing a lot of Skip-Bo.

Eventually our plane takes off and despite the lack of in-flight movies, we finally arrive in Johannesburg, South Africa without any problems.

Our luggage arrives, immigration is a breeze – our customs officer was actually singing while stamping our passports – and our pick-up from Mufasa Backpackers is right on schedule.

We check in to our room and go to sleep… we’re exhausted.

Days 209 & 210 – Egypt

May 2 & 3, 2010 – Alexandria, Egypt

The city of Alexandria has a lot going for it. It’s nestled on the Mediterranean Sea, it’s relatively clean and it’s generally safe.

However, it doesn’t seem to have grown into itself yet, which basically means there’s really not a lot to do.

So we spend the next two days walking along the coast, investigating a few historical sites, sitting in coffee shops and watching movies – our room has a television.

Eric has really been enjoying tea since he discovered that sugar is an acceptable accompaniment. He’s also heard honey is good and looks forward to trying it out soon.

One of the things I do enjoy in Alexandria is its newly-built library. The city was once famed for having the greatest library in the world, but that was a few hundred years ago and it’s long since been destroyed and buried.

But they’ve built a new one and it’s pretty cool too.

The exterior alone is quite unique, but of course I’m not satisfied with just looking at the outside - I need to investigate further. So I leave Eric outside and I go inside to take a look around. But don’t worry – I make sure he has lots of water because it’s a scorcher out there.

Hmmm… I wonder if it has Stieg Larsson’s new book?

Time Change? What Time Change?

Robyn and I are tired of taking buses – in the past 7 months we’ve been on over 100 of them.

We’re also tired of taking planes, ferries, vans, motorcycles and tuk tuks, as well as walking. So that leaves us with only two options to get to Alexandria…

Train or camel.

And since camels stink, train it is!!!

Now given our previous history with taking the train – see blog entry “Maybe It’s Me” – we’ve made sure we know all of our options before making a decision… yesterday we went to Cairo’s Ramses Station and got the daily schedule for going to Alexandria. They leave almost every hour which means we can have a relaxing morning and, just in case we should miss one train, we can easily catch another.

So we wake up around 8:00am, enjoy a nice breakfast, have a hot shower and head on our way. It’s only a ten-minute walk to Ramses Station – no taxis for us this time, thank you very much – so we get there around 9:15am. We’re hoping to catch the 10:00am train so we can arrive in Alexandria by 12:30pm.

But according to the ticket lady, the tickets for the 10:00am train are all “gone”.

Now this is a bit perplexing because we were told at the information counter that the trains never completely sell out unless it’s a holiday weekend. So we try and re-clarify – “are you sure there’s no tickets left for the 10 o’clock?”

To which she says “the train is gone”.


Well, no worries – we still have a couple of options available to us.

We can either take the 11:00am “slow train” which will get us in Alexandria at 2:00pm or we can take the 12:00pm “fast train” which will get us there at 2:30pm. And since we’d rather kill time in comfortable train seats versus uncomfortable park benches, we opt for the “slow train”.

Of course now we have to hang out in a hot and dusty train station for 1 ½ hours, but that’s what you get for not booking ahead.

We grab our bags, find a place to sit outside and we wait.

And we wait.

And we wait.

It’s now 10:00am and time is not flying by. I’m bored so I decide to go for a walk.

And as I get up, I notice something…

The big clock in front of the train station says its 11:00am.

That’s odd.

I re-check my watch and yup – it still says its 10:00am.

Now I’m not quite sure what to make of this, so I mention it to Robyn. She checks her watch and hers says its 10:00am too.

Okay – now we’re confused.

I decide to investigate further and walk towards a group of men standing outside the station. They look like the kind of guys who wear watches, so I’m pretty sure they’ll be able to assist me. After all, they’re well-dressed, they have wrists and on their wrists, I can see they’re wearing watches.

Of course, the first thing I do before approaching them is to take off my watch and put it in my pocket.

Why do I do this?

Because I’d rather look unprepared, than stupid.

Well, think about it… if some guy came up to you and asked for the time and you noticed he was wearing a watch, you’d probably think “what a moron – he can’t even read his own watch”.

But if some guy came up to you and asked for the time and he WASN’T wearing a watch, the worst thing you’d probably think is “jeez buddy – buy a watch”.

So I go up to them and say “excuse me – do you have the time?”

Then I make the universal “what-time-is-it-point-at-my-wrist” sign to drive the point home.

They look at their watches and then say “it’s 11:00am”… but not in unison, ‘cuz that would be weird.


Oh shit.

I politely thank them and then I quickly walk over to Robyn and calmly say…

“It’s 11:00am. It’s happened again. Grab your bags. We’ve got to go”.

Like a pair of ninja-gazelle-hybrids, we throw our bags on and bolt into the station.

Yes everyone is staring at us, but more importantly everyone is getting out of our way.

We run through the boarding gates and head straight to Track 3, which is where our train is supposed to be. I think the security guard who’s supposed to be watching the gate – but isn’t – is chasing us and yelling for us to stop, but we don’t care. We just run to our train and hop on board… and notice that it’s not so much a passenger train as it is a mail train.

I find the conductor – or at least I think it’s a conductor. I’m not really sure, but he’s wearing an official-looking hat which is good enough for me. He tells us we’re on the wrong train and our train has moved to Track 2.

So we run through the train, out the other side and over to Track 2.

We can’t find an open door to go in, but the engineer sees us and waves us around to the other side of the train. He’s laughing and ironically, giving us the universal “you’re-late-point-at-his-wrist ” sign to drive the point home.

We hop on the train and this time it looks like a passenger train.

Once again, I find a conductor – or at least I think it’s a conductor. I’m not really sure – he’s not wearing a hat, but he is wearing a sweater-vest with a matching tie, which is good enough for me. He directs us to our seats and no sooner are we sitting down then the train starts moving.

Robyn and I are relieved, but puzzled. Both our watches say it’s only 10:00am and yet everyone else’s seems to be an hour ahead.

What the f***?!?!

We start thinking backwards – the last time we changed our watches was when we crossed back to Egypt from Jordan.

We left Aqaba, Jordan at 11:00am Jordanian time.

We arrived in Nuweiba, Egypt at 3:30pm Jordanian time, but since Egypt is 1 hour behind, we changed our watches to 2:30pm Egyptian time. And we know this was the correct time because we were able to catch the 3:00pm bus to Cairo.

So what the hell happened? Where did that hour go?

We’re now both dumb-founded.

I mean we’re intelligent people. We’re both university graduates. Robyn’s an architect and none of her buildings have ever collapsed and I can do the really hard Sudoku’s without having to write numbers in the corners…

And yet we almost missed another mode of transportation because of time.

Robyn finally grabs our guidebook and starts looking up “time differences” and lo & behold, we figure it out.

You see in Egypt, they go through daylight savings time at midnight on the last Thursday of April.

Well, wouldn’t you know it? At the same time the clocks were changing, we were sitting on a bus, oblivious to it all.

This explains what the ticket lady meant when she said the 10:00am train was “gone”.

Of course, this also means that for the last day & a half, Robyn and I have been operating an hour behind everyone else without even realizing it...

And I’m not quite sure how I’m supposed to feel about this.

Day 208 – Egypt

May 1, 2010 – Cairo to Alexandria, Egypt

Eric and I have three more days left in Egypt and we decide to make one more sightseeing trip – it’s off to Alexandria we go!!!

Refer to blog entry “Time Change? What Time Change?”

Day 207 – Egypt

April 30, 2010 – Cairo, Egypt

We spend our last day in Cairo wandering the streets, shopping for postcards and embracing the feel of clean laundry… all-in-all, a very uneventful day.

Day 206 – Jordan to Egypt

April 29, 2010 – Aqaba, Jordan to Cairo, Egypt

The time to leave Jordan has arrived.

Taking the ferry from Egypt to Jordan was a debacle, so Eric and I have done everything we can to make the ride from Jordan to Egypt as smooth as possible.

Egyptian visa? Check.

Ferry tickets purchased in advance? Check.

Helping the ferry ticket salesman with his correspondence course on critical thinking from the University of Oregon? Check.

Let’s do this thing!!!

We hail a taxi, negotiate a fare and head to the terminal, where we go through the first round of customs and are given “jump the line” status to get on the boat…

The ride isn’t perfect, but for the most part Team Jordan Ferry comes through and we arrive in Egypt at 2:30pm.

We hustle over to the bus station and are able to catch the 3:00pm bus to Cairo.

And this is when it all falls apart...

The bus ride should have taken about 7 hours. But since we’re forced to stop for 3 separate security checks, plus a bunch of coffee and dinner breaks, we don’t actually arrive in Cairo until 12:30am, 9 ½ hours later.

Thankfully Cairo never sleeps, so we have no problems checking into our chosen guesthouse where William, the former Montreal resident, makes sure our laundry is put at the front of the line… Jordan’s really dusty.

Day 205 – Jordan

April 28, 2010 – Madaba to Aqaba, Jordan

Today we’re planning to go from Madaba to Aqaba. All we need to do is catch the city bus to take us to Amman’s Wahadat Bus Station and then from there, we need to catch one of the buses that regularly go to Aqaba.

Normally this should take about 4-5 hours, but today it takes us over 9 hours because important bits of information aren’t given to us.

We start at Madaba’s bus station. We find the city bus we need – the number is right but just to be sure, we ask the driver “does this bus go to Wahadat Station?” and he says “yes”. But what he fails to mention is that his bus doesn’t go to Wahadat Station – it just goes to Amman’s central bus station.

So now we’re at Amman’s central bus station.

We find the city bus we need – the number is right but just to be sure, we ask the driver “does this bus go to Wahadat Station?” and he says “yes”. But what he fails to mention is that his bus doesn’t go to Wahadat Station – it just does a loop of the city and then goes back to Amman’s central bus station.

Therefore, even though we’ve specifically asked if the bus we’re on goes to Wahadat Station, both drivers fail to tell us that to get there we don’t actually take the bus, so much as we need to get off at a random street corner and then walk almost 2 kms to the station.

Thankfully some of our fellow passengers take notice of the two foreigners sitting beside them and help us out and we finally get to where we need to go.

But unfortunately, the next bus to Aqaba doesn’t leave for 3 hours and there are really no other options.

So even though we left Madaba at 9:00am, we don’t arrive in Aqaba until 6:30pm. Our 4 ½ hour trip has turned into a 9 ½ hour day of traveling.

The saving grace is that in Aqaba, the owner of the hotel we stayed at when we first arrived in Jordan recognizes us and gets us the same room as before…. and we finally go back to a city that serves us good shwarma.

It’s the little things really.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Days 203 & 204 – Jordan

April 26 & 27, 2010 – Madaba, Jordan

There’s a lot of history in and around Madaba, so today we hire a taxi to take us to visit the Dead Sea and Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan.

The Dead Sea beaches are not accessible without payment which is definitely not something we’re used to, but as it turns out the beaches are not so much beaches but little resorts. They have swimming pools, change rooms, showers, restaurants & bars and souvenir shops. It’s not quite what the two of us were expecting but we embrace the spectacle and jump in.

The visit to Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan is an entirely different experience. It’s a guided walking tour of the River Jordan, four churches, the border to Israel and of course, the site of Jesus’ baptism – or as Eric calls it “the place where Jesus had a bath”.

Our second day in Madaba we decide to take the city bus to check out the capital of Jordan, Amman.

We have no real plans for the day – maybe grab some lunch and wander around – but no sooner do we arrive than we turn around and go back to Madaba. Amman is just ain’t our cup of tea.

And speaking of tea, we go home and have a nice cup with Yousef.

Day 202 – Jordan

April 25, 2010 – Wadi Musa to Madaba, Jordan

Petra was amazing, but it’s time to continue on - today we’re going to Madaba.

There aren’t any direct buses to Madaba, so we have to catch a minibus to Amman, where we’re dropped off on the side of the highway so we can flag down a city bus to take us to Madaba.

We make it without any problems and then discover that Madaba is apparently a popular place to visit. Eric and I wander the streets with our backpacks to find out that guesthouse after guesthouse is full – there’s no room in the inns!

After some deliberation we finally decide to try the Pilgrim House, a Christian guesthouse attached to St. George’s Church. St. George’s church is famous for housing a floor mosaic of a map of the holy lands and even more importantly, they have space for us!

In the evening we begin to souvenir shopping and at one of the shops we meet Yousef, who just so happens to be good friends with some archaeology professors at McGill, Laurier and U of T. Because we’re Canadian and because of Eric’s Laurier connection, he’s very excited to have us in his store and invites us to share tea with him. He’s a very nice man and this becomes a regular thing for us at the end of each day.

Days 200 & 201 – Jordan

April 23 & 24, 2010 – Wadi Musa, Jordan

We wake up early and after a nice cold shower – our hotel sucks – Eric and I hike down to the Petra front gates. We weren’t able to buy our entry tickets yesterday, so we’ve arrived early to try and beat the crowds.

For the most part we succeed and by 8:00am we’re beginning our descent to the Sique. “The Sique” is a 1 km long canyon that leads you into the major portion of Petra.

At the end of the Sique is the Treasury, which is probably Petra’s most well-known structure. Anyone who’s seen “Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade” will recognize it.

The anticipation builds with every turn and when the Treasury appears, it literally takes my breath away. It is so beautiful and I can’t believe I’m finally here.

Eric’s finally able to tear me away and we take off to explore more of the site.

Petra has so many nooks and crannies, that you can’t see it all in just one day, so Eric and have signed up for at least two days. For day 1, we’re going to begin with an overview of the site, so we start by walking along the Street of Facades.

We then move past a cluster of tombs…

And up the side of one of the cliffs to see the Theatre from a different perspective.

With every step and turn we discover new places.

Petra seems endless!!!

The next morning we get there about 15 minutes after the gates open – about 6:45am. This time we’re way ahead of everyone else and Eric & I are able to enjoy the Treasury with just three other people… and a couple of camels.

We spend at least half an hour sitting there and taking it all in.

Once more people start appearing, we take off to hike up the mountain to see the Monastery. It’s rumoured to be comparable with, if not trump, the Treasury.

It definitely lives up to the hype and once again, it’s pretty much all ours.

We continue our trek and find a spectacular view of the surrounding landscape.

We find yet another route and make our way back to the main gate, past more amazing sites.

Day 199 – Jordan

April 22, 2010 – Wadi Rum to Wadi Musa, Jordan

After breakfast, the six of us return to the village to continue in our respective directions. Eric and I catch a minibus to Wadi Musa, which is the village adjacent to Petra.

Petra is the reason we’ve decided to come to Jordan. I have been waiting years to explore this heritage site, so you can imagine my excitement knowing we’re so close.

Day 198 – Jordan

April 21, 2010 – Aqaba to Wadi Rum, Jordan

Eric is feeling much better today, so we hop on a minibus to Wadi Rum.

The journey is painless and we arrive at the visitor centre midday. We arrange accommodation in one of the Bedouin desert camps and the owner offers to pick us up, so we grab a cup of tea to wait for his arrival.

Half an hour later he arrives and takes us to his house – where we have more tea – and suggests we walk from his home in Rum Village to the actual camp, which is a couple hour hike through the desert.

So with directions that consist of “go over the sand dune, past the canyon and around the mountain”, Eric and I begin our journey.

What an amazing experience!

It’s just the two of us alone in the desert… and by “alone” I mean us, along with a few goats and a couple of camels.

The silence is amazing and we wander the red sand dunes, eventually making our way to the canyon.

When we walk up to the camp, we find our host preparing – you guessed it – tea for us. So we sit down in the communal tent to enjoy our tea and wait for the other guests to arrive, before taking in the sunset and enjoying gallayah, a traditional Bedouin stew, for dinner.

Beside Me on the Bus

In no particular order…


Poultry feed

Laundry detergent

Some sort of squirrel-like creature in a cage

A man who thought it was hilarious to ask me for my sunglasses, then my watch and then my hat

A case of toilet paper


A little girl who thought my shoulder was better than a Kleenex



An old man who liked to try and spit sunflower seeds onto the floor beneath my shoes


Spare tires

A tourist who liked to snuggle

A motorcycle


An old woman who made sure I had enough treats

21 cases of Scotch

A chicken

Nothing. Literally nothing… no window, no door and no railing – just the ditch passing by at 60km/h

Days 196 & 197 – Jordan

April 19 & 20, 2010 – Aqaba, Jordan

Eric’s lungs took quite a beating from all the pollution in Cairo, so the next couple days are for recovery before we continue our adventure in the red sand desert.

We spend the time wandering the streets and waterfront of Aqaba, and of course playing Skip-Bo.

Oh – and after the debacle involved with getting our Jordanian visa on the ferry, we are proactive and arrange our Egyptian visa ahead of time through the embassy in Aqaba.

Day 195 – Egypt to Jordan

April 18, 2010 – Al-Milga, Egypt to Aqaba, Jordan

Today turns out to be a loooooong traveling day.

Our plan is to go to Nuweiba where we can catch the ferry to Jordan. We’ve been told it leaves around 1:00pm, but you’re supposed to arrive 2 hours early to go through customs, etc. So we’re hoping to catch the 8:00am bus to get us there with plenty of time to get organized.

Unfortunately there’s no bus that goes to Nuweiba, so we’re forced to hire a private minivan, which is both expensive and a pain in the butt. Eventually we’re able to find a couple other people to split the cost with us and we finally leave town around 9:00am.

We arrive at 10:30am but as it turns out, the ferry doesn’t actually leave until 3:00pm, which turns into boarding at 4:30pm, sitting in the harbour until 5:30pm-ish and then finally moving at 6:00pm.

We finally arrive in Jordan at 8:00pm, get through the cluster-f**k of a visa system at 9:00pm and check into our guesthouse at 9:30pm. And since there’s a time-change between Egypt and Jordan, it’s now technically 10:30pm.

So now we’re really hungry.

Solving this is the easiest task of the day – we walk down the street and grab a couple of shwarmas with two German guys we met while waiting for the ferry.

Day 194 – Egypt

April 17, 2010 – Al-Milga, Egypt

After ten jam-packed days of touring Egypt, Eric & I need some chill time. And of course, chill time for us involves sampling some of the local fare.

We enjoy a nice Bedouin lunch consisting of fuul, which is stewed fava beans mixed with onion & spices, as well as a tomato & cucumber salad, ‘aish / pita bread and melon.

We do have a laugh when the cook brings out the salad, to which he’s taken the liberty of adding tuna, and then tries to convince us that, it too is a traditional Bedouin dish…

Fuul? Yes. ‘Aish? Yes. Salad? Yes.

But tuna? Come on – we just saw you open the can…

Of course our down time only lasts a couple of hours, before Eric and I are eager to do something.

We chat with the camp owner about hiring a guide for a sunrise walk up Mt. Sinai and he points out that a sunset walk is nicer, warmer, a lot less crowded and if we want, he can get us a guide within the hour…

So we say “okay”.

Well, he wasn’t lying… the hike is spectacular!

Our guide Arif takes us the long way up, through valleys and over hills, and makes sure we have plenty of time to stop and enjoy the quiet.

And when we finally make it up the 700+ steps to the top and stare out over the desert, like Moses, the first words out of our mouths are also “oh my God”.

Of course, unlike Moses the only tablets we’ve carried to the top are anti-histamines.

And the best part?

Instead of sharing the experience with a 1000 other people like you would at sunrise, we share it with maybe 20 others, which is far more tranquil if you ask me.

What an awesome day…

Day 193 – Egypt

April 16, 2010 – Cairo to Al-Milga, Egypt

Tour Day 11 - Cairo – USA

Time to bid farewell to Egypt as your vacation must come to an end.

Some people’s vacations may be coming to an end, but Eric and I still have lots of time left in ours. In fact, today we’re going to Mt. Sinai.

We start off by enjoying breakfast with my parents before we say a tearful good-bye and Eric and I head off to catch a bus.

It’s often said that if you grow-up to enjoy your parents company than you’re lucky.

Well, I’m one of the lucky ones.

A Dad who brings two types of glue – for fixing Eric’s sandals – because he wants to be sure it works well and a Mom who brings you new underwear because she knows it’s needed after six months of traveling are people you want to keep around.

My parents celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in June and although I won’t be around for the day, I feel like I was able to celebrate it with them. We’ll be talking about this trip for years.

Thanks Mom & Dad!

Mom & Dad are catching their flight home in the afternoon, but with the Iceland volcano eruption everything is up in the air… except planes, that is.

Perhaps their vacation isn’t coming to an end either…

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Days 190-192 – Egypt

April 13-15, 2010 – Cairo, Egypt

Tour Day 8 – Cairo Sightseeing

Today we enjoy a full day of sightseeing which will include the Citadel, the spectacular complex dominating Cairo’s skyline. From here we make a visit to the Sultan Hassan Mosque and Mohammed Ali’s Alabaster Mosque with its highly decorated and ornate interior. In old Cairo we will visit the Hanging Church of St. Mary above the old water gate. Also we will visit the Egyptian Museum, home of King Tutankhamun’s priceless treasures, discovered by Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings in 1922. This evening, there is time on your own to do as you please. You may wish to take a dinner cruise on the Nile?

After having a good night’s sleep on solid ground, we wake up early – again – for another full day of sightseeing. What’s with these early mornings? I thought we were supposed to be on vacation!!

We begin with the Citadel.

It’s quite stunning on its own, but the view of Cairo from it is even more impressive.

Mom & I are goofing around for the camera… you’ll notice I’m raising my right leg – Mom is raising hers too, but you can’t tell.

We continue on to Mohammed Ali’s Alabaster Mosque, who is not to be confused with Muhammed Ali, the boxer.

Two mosques in one day… they’ve been waking us up for months, so I guess it’s time we checked one out.

Finally, we move on to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Ashraf is in his element – he’s almost giddy with excitement. Eric says I get the same way in a shoe store.

It’s very interesting and informative, but boy is it exhausting. And I must say, King Tut sure had a lot of bling.

We head home and chill out for a little while before Mom & Dad take off to see the light show at the pyramids.

While they’re out, Eric and I go searching for food. We cruise up and down the streets of Cairo before stumbling upon a cute little restaurant surrounded by auto-body shops…

There’s so much food, we’re able to bring the leftovers home for Mom & Dad to eat… aren’t we nice?

Tour Day 9 – Cairo – Pyramid Excursion

Today is full of amazing highlights. First we will drive to Memphis where we see the limestone Colossus of Ramses II and the giant Alabaster Sphinx. Next we continue to Sakkara where the Step Pyramid heralded the start of the pyramid age. From here prepare yourself for a breathtaking experience, as we marvel at one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Great Pyramids of Giza, and the Sphinx, which casts its enigmatic gaze across the sands of the desert. Your evening is at leisure.

This is the day we have been waiting for… Pyramid day.

These are one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and each of us has been looking forward to this moment long before our trip was even an idea… so you can imagine how excited we are.

And words can’t describe the experience – it literally leaves all four of us speechless… which is quite a feat.

We all take in the moment in our own special way...

We spend a couple hours just strolling around and enjoying the experience. Ashraf got us there just as they opened the area, so we’re ahead of most of the crowds, which meant at points it feels like it’s just us and them… the Pyramids, that is.

We then move on to the Sphinx which is equally as impressive, though to be honest, it is a bit smaller than I expected. Eric says it’s probably a lot like meeting Tom Cruise.

And once again, we seem to be more interesting than the actual attraction...

It’s our last day with Ashraf, so on the bus ride home Dad and Eric send him off in style. Dad gives a great speech thanking him for the experience. Ashraf truly made the trip for us and you can tell he’s touched by Dad’s words.

And Eric extracts his revenge for being made to run around the boat – he does a spot-on impersonation of Ashraf that leaves both he and most of the bus in stitches… which means the score at the end of the trip is a tie:

Ashraf = 1, Eric = 1

We stumble back into the hotel exhausted.

Poor Dad!

After such a fantastic day, the four of us decide to spend a quiet evening in playing Skip-Bo and chatting.

Tour Day 10 – Cairo at Leisure

Time to relax or maybe to visit the bazaar for some last minute shopping.

We said our good-byes to Ashraf yesterday, so today we’re on our own.

Eric and I need to do a bit of reconnaissance research in preparation for our return to Cairo in a couple weeks. We go out in search of a place to stay and the long-distance bus station, and Mom and Dad happily tag along.

Figuring out the logistics of traveling is tiring work, so afterwards we head back to Khan al-Khalili Souq and have one last falafel sandwich from our favourite stall.

We spend the afternoon taking full advantage of our 4-star hotel – we relax by the pool, play Skip-Bo, read our books, etc.

Eric goes out in search of a haircut and finally has success… he say it’s the best haircut experience he has had in over a year, including attempts in Toronto. The barber gave him tea – and kept his sideburns.

For our last dinner together, we return to the restaurant where we started our Cairo adventure…

And this time, they have the stuffed pigeon Eric has wanted to try.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Skip-Bo World Tour-Nament of Champions – Update #2

Well Skip-Bo fans… the second quarter of the Skip-Bo World Tour-Nament of Champions started out like a lamb, but ended up like a lion.

At the beginning of January, Robyn was losing.

Seriously losing.

Like Toronto Maple Leafs losing.

And this continued on until mid-March when she fought back and took over the lead. Sure, it was close a couple of times but she held on and now leads the series by 2 games.

Yes – that’s right. As of March 30, 2010 the standings are as follows:

Robyn – 78 games
Eric – 76 games

Can she maintain this lead? Or will Eric crawl back to the top? Both of these steel-hardened competitors have tasted the sweetness of victory and choked back defeat. Now it’s just a matter of who’s hunger is stronger…

Stay tuned!!!

Days 185-189 – Egypt

April 8-12, 2010 – Cairo to Luxor to Aswan, Egypt

Tour Day 3 - Cairo – Luxor – Nile Cruise (4 nights)

A morning flight from Cairo to Luxor on the River Nile. On arrival, the rest of the morning is free before we board our luxury cruise ship for lunch. Later, we visit the grand Temple of Luxor which dominates the town and also the gigantic temple complex at Karnak. Explore the mighty Temple of Amun with its mass of obelisks, pylons, colossi and courts. Plus marvel at the remains of the amazing Avenue of the Sphinx, which once stretched between the Temples of Karnak and Luxor. Later, we return to our cruise ship for dinner.

Today we meet our tour director, Ashraf, who happens to be the person Mom and Dad are hoping for… his reputation is THAT good. He’s an Egyptologist and is unbelievably proud of his country so we’re already feeling very lucky. Plus he has a good sense of humour, so Eric and I are happy.

We follow the schedule for the most part – we don’t visit the Amun Temple and we have no real free time except for a bit before and after dinner, but we’re okay with this because Karnak and the Luxor Temple more than make up for it.

The complex of Karnak is the first of many jaw-dropping experiences.

The structure is huge and makes everything look tiny – even Eric’s head!

Ashraf is a wealth of knowledge and a very captivating story-teller. He’s a strong believer in not only learning about a country, but also feeling it in your heart so he finds a great balance between filling us full of information and knowing when to let us enjoy things at our own pace.

Dad goes from being the teacher to the “teacher’s pet”.

We visit the Temple of Luxor near the end of the day so we get to experience the site as the sun is setting.

It’s located in the heart of Luxor. Of course now it’s surrounded by a modern city whereas the mud-brick houses that used to surround it are buried underneath centuries of sand.

One treat we get to experience is the Avenue of the Sphinx. It’s a very recent discovery and is in the process of being excavated – it’s so new in fact, it’s not in any of the literature.

After a long day discovering the wonders of the Nile’s east bank – sunrise, light & life – we board our ship and prepare for launch.

I think Eric and I could get used to this kind of treatment…

Tour Day 4 – Nile Cruise: Luxor – Edfu

Today’s highlight is a visit to the Valley of the Kings. Secluded in the Theban Hills, it is where the New Kingdom pharaohs were buried in dramatically shafted tombs built into the hillsides. Next we visit the Temple of Medinet Habou and on to the breathtaking Deir el-Bahri, Queen Hatshepsut’s impressive temple and the Colossus of Memnon on the West Bank. Later, we return to the ship and sail for Edfu.

Ashraf has been doing tours for so long that he has it down to a science. As a result, he changes our schedule a bit in order to avoid the crowds.

So now our first stop is Deir el-Bahri, a reconstructed temple cut into the cliff edge. We arrive bright and early and have the place all to ourselves.

The anticipation for our trip to the Valley of the Kings is building as we make our second stop at the Temple of Medinet Habou.

On my way out of the temple I am swarmed by schoolboys wanting a photo with me. It isn’t the first time either – I imagine Eric and I are all over Facebook by now.

Our last stop of the day is the most anticipated one – the Valley of the Kings.

Unfortunately no cameras are allowed in the site, so you will have to trust me when I tell you that walking into ancient tombs dug deep into the sides of mountains and decorated with paintings dating back thousands of years is pretty cool.

Before getting back on the ship, Eric and I take a small wander through the nearby village. Of course given our luck with transport as of late, we don’t stray too far…

We spend the rest of the afternoon cruising up the Nile…

Tour Day 5 – Nile Cruise: Edfu – Kom-Ombo

This morning we visit Edfu to see Egypt’s best-preserved cult temple, which was dedicated to the falcon god Horus. Then we continue our tranquil cruise along the Nile arriving at Kom-Ombo. Why not relax on deck and watch primitive villages on the banks of the river glide by? They have changed little in a thousand years. Tonight we don traditional Egyptian galabeas for a fun-filled Egyptian Dinner and Galabea Party.

This “cut & paste” style of blogging is really making our job easy…

Look – it’s me at the aforementioned Edfu Temple!

The ship arrives at Kom-Ombo at dusk and Ashraf takes us on a nice walk to visit the site. The temple is stunning and to be able to see it lit up at night is a special treat.

After feasting on a buffet filled with traditional Egyptian fare, we head up to the bar for some entertainment. We begin with the staff playing a number of different songs and leading the group around the boat dancing, then we move on to a number of games and activities, with a grand finale of watching Eric fall prey to Ashraf’s sense of humour…

He knows Eric is a good sport – the two of them have been having a lot of fun over the last couple of days cracking jokes, etc. – and he takes advantage of it. He sets Eric up in one of the games, so Eric ends up having to run around and around and around in circles, much to the entertainment of everyone else. It was quite amusing…

At the end of the night, the score is:

Ashraf = 1, Eric = 0

Tour Day 6 – Nile Cruise: Kom-Ombo – Aswan

We visit the roofless Temple of Kom-Ombo, which was built for the falcon and crocodile gods. From here we cruise to Aswan to take a memorable felucca ride across the Nile to see the Botanical Gardens on Kitchener’s Island. The felucca is the traditional craft of Egyptians who have sailed in them down the centuries. An amazing sight is a blood-red sunset, commonplace in Aswan, with the distinctive sails of dozens of feluccas silhouetted against the setting sun.

This is where the tour itinerary really breaks down. Since we visited the Temple of Kom-Ombo last night, today we start off with a visit to the High Dam.

Then we visit the Temple of Isis on the Island of Philae…

And the Unfinished Obelisk.

We also stop by an essential oils factory/shop. Eric and I are now knowledgeable about the aromatherapy qualities of the major Egyptian essential oils as well as the real combinations used to make brand name perfumes… oh the things we learn.

Eric and I decide to skip the afternoon felucca ride to the botanical gardens and instead we walk around Aswan and visit the Nubian Museum.

It’s our last night on the cruise and to be honest, I’m going to miss it a bit. So we finish it off in style…

We have a fantastic meal…

And a crash-course in belly-dancing.

Tour Day 7 – Disembark – Aswan – Cairo (4 nights)

We disembark to explore the High Dam. Then we visit the Temple of Isis on the Island of Philae and the massive Unfinished Obelisk. Afterwards, there is a once in a lifetime opportunity to take an optional excursion to the mighty Sun Temple of Abu Simbel, flanked by four giant stone statues of Ramses II. The temple was reclaimed from the dam and reconstructed in its present and unforgettable location. Finally, we transfer to the airport for the return flight to Cairo.

The High Dam? The Temple of Isis? The Unfinished Obelisk?

Yeah – been there, done that.

Instead the four of us wake up early and hop on a plane to fly to Abu Simbel.

And when we walk around the side of the mountain, this is what we see…

As you can imagine, it’s one of the highlights of the tour.