Thursday, September 11, 2008
Middle East and Europe
After traveling through Africa to Cape Town here is what I have been up to:
After 12hrs watching movies overnight instead of sleeping and then an uncomfortable 12hr stop over in Heathrow airport I needed to sleep, but I love flying...hence more movies and British Airways great red wine selection on my flight to Cairo took precedence. Cario at 1am was just as lively as 10am or 10pm I found out, I immediately loved the city...it is polluted, overcrowded, stinks and really hot but then that is what makes is so much fun...the CHAOS. I fell into bed an passed out not giving John much more than a G'day nice to see you chat. I traveled Egypt with John, a scout buddy and his first time outside Australia, hence I think more a shock to him as I had experiences Africa to soften the impact of poverty and chaos!
The pyramids were great, as the museum but what I really liked about Cario are the taxi's! The taxis are crappy old cars that somehow make it through each day being driven by men who don't understand how to use the clutch or have any knowledge of road rules. Road and driving license is acquired by showing competent use of the horn! (aka overuse)
From Cario we did the typical route that a Contiki tour would take (far cheaper solo, but harder work) upstream along the Nile (downward on map of Africa) to the largest and grandest collections of Egyptian stone work/carvings and also the tombs. Seeing is believing...they are impressive in photos but to stand underneath the Abel Simbel or Luxor temples you really begin to appreciate the dedication and effort that went into making each monument.
We floated/sailed down the Nile on a traditional boat (faluca); enjoyed the Valley of the Kings (lotsa tombs) and the temples around Luxor are in most postcards of egypt when the pyramids dont figure! We then caught an 18hr bus across the country to the Red Sea where the most amazing coral grows just off the beach (the beaches havent yet compared to Australian ones) but the water is beautifully warm.We climbed Mt. Sini (with every other person and his ... camel!) where a guy out of a book heard something (go back to being PC Tim!) and then more snorkeling. From here I decided to go to Jordan while John went to Cario ->London (thanks for the company John, great to have someone to vent frustrations with rather than at).
What is it like to travel Egypt not on a tour? exhausting, but so many more memories and you also feel the culture of the country rather than simply take photos of it going by your bus window. It was Egypt in summer which made thing easier as less tourists around but it was hot...as hot as Alice Springs in the summer and to walk around without shade in the desert is hard work. I thought I might have caught 'Pharaohs Revenge' (gastro) after walking the pyramids but it was simply I was used to the weather in Cape Town, not Cario and had heat stroke. Without tourists we could bargain hotel prices down further, e.g 12.5 Egyptian pounds per night = less than $3 (normal was $5-10), we however were the amongst the few tourists to hound/beg/annoy therefore more of a target??? I cant say but you have to love attention when traveling Egypt! Enjoy the culture shock, see the positive in the 4.30am Muslim call to prayer, the city comes alive and a mixture of sound and mosque lighting (who sleeps then anyway!, sleep in the heat of the afternoon). Muslim women have very attractive faces...you cant see anything else! Egyptians will bend over backwards for you...just expect to be "back-sheesh'd" Pita bread at home is expensive...not in Egypt...10cents for x5, breakfast for <$1...BARGAIN!
Few things to make life easier are, learn the Arabic numbers (written) and choose want you want off the menu. You are guessing at what you will be eating but at least you know the price...some fun meals were had when we kept ordering liver for John...I was full and he hadn't even eaten! If you are a female don't travel the middle east alone, take a "husband"/bloke to keep the touch to a minimum. Have your passport at hand... so many check points! Dont take winter clothes for an Egyptian summer...(maybe a jumper for climbing Mt Sini) as I carried 5kg of parka, beanie, gloves, thermals, jumpers and pants through Egypt...that was stupid!
Crossing border an Egyptian border into Israel was an experience...lotsa "ladies in uniform" and more to the point I had my passport checked 20+ times across a single border! I spent 2hrs in Israel before crossing into Jordan so cant say much for the country expect it was full of..."ladies in uniform" and young guys (17yrs) carryiong guns.
Jordan was a huge contrast to Egypt (new fact Tim...just like all English speaking countries are not the same, not all Arab countries are the same). Here my/the Australian dollar was actually worse (first county on this trip) and there was organisation (less poverty also). I visited Petra for 2 days, Petra is the place out of Indiana Jones movie 'the Temple of Doom' where he rides through the narrow canyons to a temple carved into the rock face...yeah its amazing to see in the physical form! The other top moment from Jordan was swimming/floating in the dead sea.
Crossed through Israel again..."ladies in uniform"
Back in Egypt I went downstream (North) from Cairo. I visited the Port where the Suez canal connecting Mediterranean Sea to Red Sea was dug 100+ yrs ago. Then I caught a series of buses to get way over in the west of Egypt (the Siwa desert oasis). This is your typical oasis from cartoons, the Sahara desert dunes almost touch the water except for a ring of Date Palms and houses. Yes I swam in the Shara desert! Driving through the desert was also an experience...flat knacker in a beat-up old Toyota with it tires down was enough to make me fear for my safety as he jumped the 4WD off 30m high sand dunes and I couldn't help but egg him on!
I had one last night in Cairo where I saw the Pyramids Light'n'sound show (very touristy) and then walked around the city trying to find Stuffed Pigeon to eat/try...I dont speak arabic so it was 1+hrs of coo-ing like a dove/pigeon...maybe I should admit myself to a pshyic ward!
London, I stayed in Sheperds Bush...aka Australiana! Drank with Aussies, partied, stayed and everything with Aussies...nice for 3 days but next time in London I want to meet a British person! It was also sunny...go figure that one!
LOVED the food...cheese...mmmm Did the Paris thingy after meeting up with Anthony & Stephen from CSU Pharmacy. I went to France a pesimist thinking it was going to be a crapy tourist/photo moment (I did this) and it will actually blow you away. Catacombs are a must for anyone going Paris but also enjoy the Eiffel tower, Notre Dame and the Louvre (if "Mr. walk past a painting without looking twice" aka me can enjoy the Mona Lisa then maybe the artist did get something right...or was I looking at the crowds. Another point...the egyptian collection in the Paris's Louvre is beter than in Cario's Museum!
I then went wine tasting in Bordeux and St. Emilion. Felt slightly posh eating french cheese and drinking french wine then realised I was in short-shorts and hiking boots!
Would have liked to see more of France, but it really was a way to get to Spain, for the Tomato Festival. As was Barcelona! BUT I arrived in time for a festival!...The spainish know how to party, the fireworks were amazing and then they proceded then to do a parade with huge figurines and spainish dancing. What I will tick off as the most spainish experience I have/will have is that at the tail end of this parade they were lighting fireworks and waving them at the crowd. The crazy spainards would then try to dance around them without getting burnt or bursting there ear drums! The party went on til 7.30am for me...what a way to start Spain.
Next was the tomato festival in Valencia
This experience is not to be forgotten, the mass of people, lots of tomatos and permison for all out war...see the photos is all I can say or better still...go! Suprisingly out of 30,000+ people I managed to find my cousin...
Granada is currently where I am based and have been here for 2 weeks...thats 2 whole weeks of the same bed...WOW.
I am doing a spanish course...difficult, but hopefully it will make it easier to speak/communicate aka "to get what I want" when I get to South America and for travelling around Spain.
Plan for next 3 months is Spain, Portugal and Morocco (more chaos!)