Monday, March 26, 2007

Let the Island Hopping Begin! Mykonos

We arrived in Mykonos yesterday afternoon after taking the very comfortable Blue Star Ferry. When we arrived at the port we planned on camping just outside the city (Hora) as the prices from accommodation here are exhorbitant. Turns out in low season you can have your pick of hotels and pay equivalent to what we payed for our hooker-surrounded hostel in Athens. Score one for us! We are staying in a beautiful hotel just off the main drag in Hora. Mykonos, of what we have seen, is absolutely beautiful. The "city" may be full of one too many want-to-be fashionistas (god knows where they think they are going), trendy clubs, and overpriced shops but it doesn't detract from its undeniable beauty. Today we spent the day at the beach - it isn't warm enough to swim but it was nice to just sit by the water and read. Mind you, the natives are in down jackets right now so there is no way for Daniel and I in our t-shirts and shorts/skirts not to look like tourists! It's that warm Canadian blood.

Tomorrow we plan on visiting the sacred island of Delos, birthplace of Apollo and Artemis and the centre of ancient Greek mythology.

Athens, Greece - A Bittersweet Affair

We arrived in Greece in the afternoon of Mar. 21. Our flight on Royal Jordanian Airlines from Amman was topnotch...two thumbs up for the official air carrier of The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan! Leather seats, tons of leg room and a delicious lunch.

As Greece is a real shock to the wallet after our travels through the Middle East and specifically Egypt we opted to stay in Athens in the cheapest place we could - a Hosteling International hostel in the Athens district of Omonia. Our Lonely Planet warned us that the area was seedy but honestly it was completely fine apart from the hookers that hung out on the corner just a few blocks away. But really, are we going to let a few hookers keep us away from budget accommodation? I think they add character to the area. We didn't have much day left once we arrived and got settled but we wandered a bit around the "bohemian" area of the city and had dinner there. It was very nice. Narrow streets, little independent shops and a nice casual air.

The next day we awoke to a sheets of rain pouring down. We thought we would be brave and tough it out so we donned our rain jackets and headed out. An hour later, soaked to the bone and freezing we succeeded defeat and headed back to the hostel. Mind you at this time a pesky pain was beginning to form in my stomach and I was having trouble forging on. We spent the rest of the rain filled day (it never stopped until 10pm that night) in the hostel room, me drifting in and out of sleep and clutching my stomach, Daniel reading and plotting our island hopping course. That night, once the rain ceased (and my stomach relented a little) we walked around the city a bit more. We were very pleased with what we saw.

The next morning we were determined not to waste the day and though my stomach was still killing me and I hadn't been able to eat since the morning before we decided to do the grande Acropolis/Ancient Angora/major sites in Athens tour. Everything we saw was very impressive and I can't express how beautiful the view is from atop the Acropolis looking down on the
Mediterranean, Athens and the surrounding hills/mountains. Unfortunately, in Ancient Agora my stomach got the best of me and I lost my cookies, beginning what would be a downward spiral for me. The rest of day and night I spent in bed with chills and a high fever. The next day we planned on leaving Athens for Mykonos but again I awoke very sick (day 3) and Daniel, very concerned insisted that we go to the hospital. Long story short, I picked up a virus somewhere and only today and I beginning to feel right again. Despite the stomach troubles Daniel and I both thought Athens was a beautiful, lively city. It was a sharp contrast to the Middle East as Greek women seem to have a penchant for anything tight, short or high-heeled. Talk about culture shock!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Petra and Amman

Sorry, I forgot my camera when I came to use the internet, so I can't put the pictures from Petra or what I saw here in Amman today. I will put some up next time.
Petra was really cool, although I think we were both expected to see a whole city carved into the rocks, meaning more like houses and things like that. There were about 10 plus really amazing buildings with facades that were still intact, and they were worth the trip there without a doubt. But from the look of it, most of the people of Petra lived in caves. The best part was the entrance to the city. We walked 1300 metres in a narrow, winding canyon, with the cliffs high above us. Then as you reach the end of it, you see the best preserved building in Petra, the Treasury. It starts to peak out as you get closer.
Amman is kind of boring, not much to see here for tourists. We're flying to Athens tomorrow, so that's why we came here, as well as to see what a Jordanian city is like.
That's all I got, pictures to come.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Wadi Ram, Jordan

After our three nights on the beach, we headed to the border and left Egypt behind. We walked across the border into Israel, took a cab for about 10 minutes, and then walked across the border into Jordan. From there we took another cab, about an hour, to Wadi Ram which is in the southern part of the country. It's also desert, except the sand is red, as are the huge peaks that surround the valley (wadi means valley). We arrived too late to really go exploring on the first day, so we just pitched our tent, walked around a little bit nearby and then had dinner at a restaurant in the village of Ram. The next day, we had the whole day to go hiking through the desert. The scenery was really beautiful, and once again the pictures don't do it any justice, but it was a really great day. The only downside was how cold it was there. Our tuques and many layers were much needed there.

We left Wadi Ram this morning and are now in Petra, an ancient city carved completely into the sandstone rocks of the desert, which was built around the third century BC. It's in the Indiana Jones and Last Crusade. We're planning to spend the day tomorrow walking/hiking around this amazing place.

Snorkelling and relaxing on the beach

The day after we climbed Mt. Sinai, we spent the whole day snorkeling in Dahab. The whole coast of Sinai is coral reef, and we both really enjoyed it. We snorkeled in two different spots, and the colours of both the reefs and the fish were really amazing. For me the highlight was seeing the lion fish. Unfortunately, we didn't have an underwater camera, so I can't share what we saw, you'll just have to believe me... or look up some pictures from the Red Sea on the internet.

After Dahab, we went further north up the coast to a place called Beir Sweir, which basically is about 10 different camps. It was almost deserted there, just a couple other people at our camp. So Tara and I had our hut and the almost to ourselves. We spent our days just laying around, reading and tanning, and going for walks along the beach.

Mount Sinai

As I wrote in our last post, we were going to Mount Sinai the following day. It seems like a while ago now that we were there, but here some of the pictures.

First we went to St. Katherine's Monastery, and then we started to climb. The hike to the top took over 2 hours, partly because we started at noon, and it was really hot making the climb to the top. Of course, Tara and I did not bring enough water with us, so it was a struggle. There were a couple of 'shops' on the way up, where we were able to pick up some much needed over priced water. Once we reached Elijah's Basin, a plateau close to the top where many people who climb to see the sunrise sleep for the night, we climbed the 750 steps to the summit. The views were amazing from the top, and because we climbed during the day instead of the morning when most people do, we were able to spend 2 hours just sitting at the top, having lunch with the people we were with. All of us agreed it was worth battling the heat just to enjoy that time alone at the top. We went down on other trail, called the Steps of Repentance, made up of 3000 steps. The steps weren't perfect of course, but it was a much faster easier trip on the way down.

Friday, March 9, 2007

The Luxor Temple, our lunch with the Nubian, and the beach

Well our lunch with the Nubian, his name was Hajaj, was kind of a bust. First of all, I was asked what a Nubian is and to clarify, the Nubians are a tribe that comes from the area in the south of Egypt and the north of Sudan. The lunch itself was great, we sat around with him on the floor in his house and had some rice, stewed vegetables and a couple pieces of dried beef with lemon that was reminiscent of jerky. While we were sitting around he offered to show us the nearby village and then asked if we wanted to ride a donkey or a horse. Tara picked a donkey, and I picked a horse. After riding around for about two hours and seeing the village, which was nice, but nothing really different from what we saw in Aswan. When we got back to his place, we had some more tea, and then we got up to leave, at which point he stopped us and said we had to pay him for the animals... we hadn't expected this at all, as he had seemed nothing but hospitable the whole time and the ride was offered the same way the lunch was, and he had explained to us a few times that he was against working for tourist money, preferring to be a farmer instead. Anyways we paid him some money for it, but were pretty bitter about being deceived yet again for the next day or two.
That same night we went to visit the Luxor Temple, which was really impressive to see at night due to the way it was lit up. I'm not sure if it was the lights or the temple itself, but we liked this one the most out of the temples we've visited here. After the temple we made our first stop at McDonalds... Big Mac combo = 23 Egyptian Pounds, about 4.50 Canadian.
The following day we went to the Mummification Museum, which wasn't very big, but it was cool nonetheless. We saw the tools that were used in the process, including the brain scoop and chisel. As well they had a mummified crocodile.
We had to waste a day and a night in a resort town on the Red Sea coast, called Hurghada, a pretty ugly town. From there we caught the ferry to come here, to Dahab, which is in the Sinai Peninsula, close to Mount Sinai. It's basically a scuba diving and snorkeling paradise, there are reefs around almost the whole peninsula. Today was our first full day here, and we decided really what this vacation needed was a day of doing nothing but lying on the beach and tanning. Over the next two days we're planning to go see St Katherine's Monestary at the base of Mount Sinai and to follow in Moses' steps and climb to the summit, as well as going snorkeling.

Monday, March 5, 2007

How Many Camels?

I just had to title our newest post, "How Many Camels?", as Daniel was asked two nights ago this very question by an Egyptian man. How many camels for me? We thought it was too funny not to post.

Yesterday, Daniel and I spent the day in the Valley of the Kings and visiting the Temple of Hatshepsut. You aren't able to take pictures inside the tombs at the Valley of the Kings as it degrades the interiors, so I have only posted exterior shots of the area. The valley itself is quite impressive with startling views of the desert and Nile surrounding it.

With the price of admission you are allowed to enter 3 tombs -- the 3 we saw we extremely impressive. It is amazing to think of the time and energy, planning and manpower that it took to build just one of these tombs. What I found most amazing is that even today the colours used on the hieroglyphs are still so bright and vibrant. After marvelling at the 3 tombs and taking a quick water break, Daniel and I began our 1 hour hike over the mountains that make up the Valley of the Kings to the Temple of Hatshepsut.
The views on our hike were gorgeous - we walked above the Valley of the Kings, looking down on all the history that lies there. Once we reached the peak, we were able to see the other side of the valley -- a view of the other ancient sites in the area, the Nile, the desert and the lush farmland surrounding. The Temple is partially carved out of the rock face and partially man-made but all around impressive. Today, we are off to our Nubian lunch with the kind farmer who invited us into his home. We are looking forward to it.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Aswan, Abu Simbel and Sailing to Luxor

We arrived in Aswan after taking a bus from the oasis and then a sleeper train all the way in the south of Egypt (they call it Upper Egypt). Not much to see here, it's a smallish city. we wandered around the town after we got there (and showering after going 3 nights without) and went out to Elephantine Island, just another Nile island, a 2 minute boat ride from town. There is an ancient Nubian village there, and we just walked around the island for a while, before sitting on some rocks and just watching the felucca's (sail boats) go by. We woke up the next morning at 3 am to go further south about 3.5 hours to Abu Simbel (just 40 km north of Sudan), site of Ramses II great temple and the smaller one he built for his wife Nefertari right next to it. They were really impressive to see, really huge statues, carved right into the rock, sitting along the shores of Lake Nasser. Then we got back onto the bus and drove the 3.5 hours back to Aswan. Don't ask about the ridiculous time we woke up, it was due mandatory police convoys they make the tourists stick to. These were put in place after about 60 tourists were killed by terrorists in 1997 in Luxor (where we are right now), and are mandatory for tourists all over upper Egypt. We spent the rest of the day in Aswan, again just wandering around the Souq area, getting hassled to buy all kinds of crap as usual.

In the morning the following day we headed down to the water, and boarded our felucca for a 2 night trip up the river to Kom Ombo. We were really looking forward to the trip, as some rest, relaxation and most importantly, escape from the shopkeepers was what we needed. Our trip, which we were accompanied on by 3 other tourists and 2 captains. We spent that day and the one after sailing for a few hours each day, mostly just laying about in the sun, enjoying the trip, and ignoring the cruise ships that also use the river. The food cooked by our captains was again delicious, and sleeping on the boat was also a fun experience. It's hard to complain when you get to enjoy the sunset and sun rise while floating on the Nile. Our trip ended this morning at a town called Kom Ombo, famous for another massive temple, this one dedicated to the crocodile god, Sobek. Then we got in a van with our other boat mates and drove another 60 km's north to Edfu, where there is yet another massive temple sitting on the river banks. After spending an hour there, we got back in the van, and convoy drove the rest of the way to Luxor.
Tara and I decided to stay at a hotel in the West Bank, where all the famous tombs are, because it is far quieter on this side of the river than in the main part of Luxor. We went for a walk this afternoon along the Nile, and met a very nice Nubian man, who invited us into his home for tea and we ended up chatting with him for a couple of hours, meeting his family, and having another cup of tea. Before we left, he invited us to come back and have lunch with family on Monday and enjoy some Nubian food. We're looking forward to it! Tomorrow we are going to spend the day seeing the Valley of the Kings and the other ancient sites here on the West Bank
Hope everyone is doing well.

Bahariya Oasis and sleeping in the desert

Been a while since the last post.... sorry about that. Hard to get internet in the desert!

After leaving Alexandria we had to go back to Cairo for a night, just before catching the bus south-west to Bahariya. We stayed outside downtown this time, on an island on the Nile, called Zamelek. Much nicer and quieter there, mainly due to many embassies and expats being in the area.

Once arriving at the oasis the next afternoon, we grabbed a ride to the camp where we were staying, outside of the big town there (big being about 12,000 people). The camp was great, very quiet, practically no one else there except a few of the staff and the neighbours. Needless to say we really liked it. After leaving our stuff in our reed hut, we walked to the mountain that was right there and hiked to the top (nothing major, just about an hour to the top). They call it Pyramid Mountain. The dinner we had that night was delicious.

The next morning we went into town to find ourselves a guide and 4x4 to go into the White Desert. We ended up sitting in some guy's living room, having tea with him and setting everything up. His buddy came over with his truck, we loaded it up and in a couple hours we were driving south. Along the way we stopped in the Black Desert, called so because many years back (millions?) a volcano erupted and covered the entire area with lava, turning into black rocks. So there's no black sand as we imagined, but it was still cool. Then we drove south for another hour or so and turned off road. It was awesome! driving in the sand looked a lot like driving in 2 feet of snow, except harder. we drove like this for about another hour, stopping at a few places for pictures, including a really small oasis with just one spring in the middle of the desert. The next stop was the white desert, and it was beautiful. Many millions of years ago there was a sea here, and it's long since dried up, revealing a huge amount of white limestone, that was it's floor. You can see some of the cool shapes that are left there today. We camped here for the night. Our guide made us some excellent Bedouin food, we made a fire, and fell asleep under amazing night sky with tons of stars. It was cool to see the Little Dipper upside down. Also, the half moon that night made the white rocks kind of glow in the darkness. A full moon is supposed to be the best time to be there, but what are you gonna do? lots to see...

The next day we drove back towards Bahariya, stopping at Crystal Mountain, which really was nothing like a mountain, but more like a bunch of very big rocks, made completely of quartz crystals.

We spent the rest of the day with our guides, seeing the sites that are around the oasis, and finishing the evening relaxing in a hot spring (30 Celsius). We slept in the desert again that night, although it was not as amazing as when we slept in the white desert.