A Travellerspoint blog

Exit from Egypt

I don't like Sharm el Sheik. My Husband will be so disappointed. He thinks it's the best place on earth, but he is a dive nut, and his memories of Sharm were made when he was young and single so I think I can understand the attraction. It's kind of like an Egyptian Ibiza. I suspect if he came back now it would ruin all his good memories. My first impressions of Sharm weren't helped by the fact the guide that met us at the airport was facetious and lazy. He did not get a tip.

Sharm el Sheik is like the worst parts of an American strip mall, except the shops are resort hotels and bad franchises of UK dance clubs, and there are cheap Egyptian trinket sellers on the street corners. We are staying at the Marriot, which is actually quite lovely, but no remarks were made on our booking to mention the lads so we found ourselves not only at the furtherst possible walk away from anything else in the hotel, but also on the second floor in a hotel that does not have an elevator. Difficult when you have a stroller. There were no cots. Not only that, but it transpires that there are two parts of the Marriot; 'Marriot Beach', and its poor cousin across the busy road out to the airport, 'Marriot Mountain'. Marriot Mountain is a hugely ambitious name as the nearest mountains are quite some distance away. We are, of course, staying in the Marriot Mountain. Package Holiday Fail. Thanks Wings Tours.

Things that ARE cool about Sharm:
1. My children love the water and spent most of our stay here in it, which they could do because the outside temperature is about 45 and the pool is about 30, so they didn't get a chill.
2. Despite advice to the contrary from the hotel staff, there are amazing fish 5m off the resort beach. It feels like you're snorkeling in a Tropical fish tank.

Our final day in Egypt was a marathon, and I can not put into words how awesome it is to leave stinky Egypt behind and be in lovely Jordan.

The tour included a trip to St Katherine's Monastery. Unfortunately, but not at all surprisingly, the monastery was closed for some reason we've yet to work out, so all we could do was walk around the outside and take a hike up the hill behind it to take some shots of the outside of what I've heard is a very pretty chapel, that contains the remains of St Katherine. I was a bit sad about not seeing her finger. I was also a bit sad to miss Moses' burning bush. But no matter. Leaving Egypt was almost worth it.

Getting out of Egypt proved to be the worst part of Egypt. If I had been alone, or just with my Husband, I suspect it would have been a whole lot more like an adventure. Unfortunately, it wasn't the kind of adventure that suits a party of five made up of my two small boys and parents-in-law. The ferry from Nuiweba to Aqaba was cattle class to put it politely. The waiting area was late 1950's decor, complete with cracked lino, no lighting save the high barred windows, two slat wooden benches, lazy ceiling fans and flies. My MIL likened it to the waiting area in Auschwitz, which was possibly a touch culturally insensitive, but it certainly had as much appeal. The bus from the terminal to the ferry lacked all but the back seat and the aircon was achieved by leaving the back door of the bus open as we drove. The passports were checked three times to get on the ferry in the space of about 80 meters, once involved standing the the beating sun for 15 minutes in a gaggle because Egyptians do not appear to be able to queue. The ferry aircon was rudimentary, and was not aided by the fact that the toilets were overflowing and creating a maliferous odor that permeated every corner of the interior. Most people added to the stench because they were wearing burka or dish-dash in 50 degree heat and sweating like they meant it. Some families bought their kitchens with them to have a picnic on the floor, including kettles and pots. We were on board from 12 till 6pm and the ferry only left dock at 2.30pm. The lads hated it and whinged for most of the trip. It was an experience. I'm quite pleased it's over and would not recommend taking children anywhere near it of you happen to be in this part of the world.

Posted by karicketts 08:51 Archived in Egypt Comments (2)

At the feet of Kings

sunny 46 °C

By far the longest, hottest day so far has been today's marathon excursion to the Valley of the Kings and Karnak. While both were crawling with tourists and it was by no means the 'Carter-esque' experience I had in my head (more tweed would have been required to achieve that), these monuments were just more evidence that the Ancient Egyptians really really wanted to live forever, and they had the technical expertise and artistic genius to get fairly close (I consider 3200 years pretty close to forever).

We left at 0600 for the Valley of the Kings and Hapsetsut's Temple. Luckily the lads are still on Lebanese time and waking up at 0430-0500, so this start time was easily achievable. It appears the Ancient Egyptians realised we were coming and thoughtfully made everything stroller accessible. This allowed lots of nap time in as much shade as I could manage with double layered muslin and umbrella. It also meant that what was a long hot day with lots of walking and being generally uncomfortable under the fierce sun for the big people, became just a long day of chilling out under a shade cloth being wheeled around awesome old stuff for the little people. I couldn't really do much about the 46 degree heat, but I think keeping them under damp cloth as much as possible probably made all the difference. Whatever the case, having seen the Valley and the Temple in the morning, after an afternoon nap we continued the journey to see the temple complex and Karnak. I think I'm just about templed out now. My head is so full of the correct layout of an Egyptian Temple and the hieroglyphics on the walls that I will probably be reading it in my dreams. I wish my dad was here. He would love all of this.

Tomorrow we're off to the Sinai Peninsular to Sharm el Sheik to look at some fish. Here fishy fishy....

Posted by karicketts 05:10 Archived in Egypt Comments (1)

River God

sunny 40 °C

It should be compulsory to travel the Nile on a boat. Having survived Cairo we were not convinced that the "Nile riverboat cruise" would be up to much. After Cairo, I had visions of 1970's decor and a lot of black smoke from poorly maintained engines. I have been pleasantly surprised. The Princess Sarah has a lobby that wouldn't have been out of place on the Titanic. There is a dinner bell, rung by a dude wearing a spiffy bellhop uniform in shades of pink. They service the room and make awesome animals out of the towels and leave them on your bed. My compact but well appointed cabin has a cute indoor 'balcony' with a sliding door that opens the whole wall to the incredible view. I could spend the whole time on board sitting watching the Nile glide by because the wildlife, palms and people that appear and disappear at 60 second intervals are each worth a decent poem or two.

I am enchanted. My favorite Wilbur Smith books are suddenly alive, and I wish I had Taita sitting beside me telling me his stories.

We arrived in Aswan and it was like the world shifted on its axis. All of a sudden I got it - 'it' being the desire to visit Egypt at all. The whole feeling was different. I have decided that I hate Cairo and it's a real shame the Pyramids are there else I would recommend missing it all together. In Aswan, the pace of life is slower. You can sail about on a felucca and watch the ibis in the river and while it's still damn hot, it's somehow peacefully hot rather than frustrating.

After the boat left Aswan we sailed to the Kom Ombo Temple, dedicated to Sobek - The Crocodile God - and Haroeris - the son of Osiris. It's right on the river so the boat just pulled up alongside and we walked up the temple steps to see another spectacular example of the ancient Egyptian wealth and engineering expertise. The mummified Crocodiles (the biggest one 4.2m in length) were pretty cool too.

At Edfu, Princess Sarah stopped again and we piled into Caleche that were certainly well older than I, drawn by ponies that looked like they were, and took a trip through the town to see the Temple of Horus, the largest and best preserved of the Ptolemic temples in Egypt. By far the coolest thing about a Caleche is the fact that they have sun shades. It transpires that it gets hotter the further down the nile you go, which is actually not surprising when you think about it as we're heading closer to the equator. For some reason, both of the temples we visited today were stroller accessible, which meant the lads had some respite from the sun and hot hands, and could be covered with damp muslin cloths. To give you an idea of the heat, the muslin was bone dry in about 20 minutes.

Sadly, while parts of Egypt rock my world, I really hate the hawkers and the touts. We keep getting told its just the way of life, and that the recession has hit everyone hard and they are just trying to make a dollar. But there is pushy, and there is shove something cheap and nasty into tourist's hands and then get angry when they try to give to back and won't pay for it. My 'wall' face is getting a lot of use, but I feel rude and I hate being the angry tourist who tells everyone to 'yalah' regardless of their good intentions - like trying to help with my kids - just in case they are a scam artist. Having said that, this morning I sat and quietly watched from my cabin a man in a dish-dash hold his little boy's hand and bend down to talk to him before the rest of the guests on the boat woke up and 'trade' started for the day. The little boy had the largest white grin. He was wearing an arsenal soccer shirt and cargo shorts, and he had a plastic bag full of trinkets to sell. I can't quite describe why it made me pause. Perhaps it was a reminder that even the pushy little shits that seem to be there just to annoy ME are children in some cases. I guess humanity takes all forms.

Posted by karicketts 04:52 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Walk like an Egyptian

sunny 39 °C

My poor wee men have been driven from pillar to post over the last week. My parents in Law arrived with us on the 19th, and since then we've covered the whole cross-section of Lebanese antiquities.

From Tyr to Byblos to Beirut to Baalbek… highways, mountains, vineyards and more old stuff than should be allowed in one country. The temples at Baalbek are mind blowing. Not only because they are very, very old, but because they have been continuously torn down and reshaped by successive conquerors and earthquakes. It's a miracle anything survived.

It's also a miracle we survived the trip. There were some fairly hairy Lebanese driving moments, like the one where I swear a ghost car traveling at the speed of light appeared from behind in the lane I was trying to merge into. There were centimeters between us and a big mess. Or the entire miraculous trip up and over the Mt Hermon ridge in the Lemon Car we managed not to overheat. It is, in fact, only due to the supreme mechanical skills of my Father in Law who found the appropriate wires (god knows how, most of them have been cut off apparently) and jerry rigged the cooling fan that we made it at all. Having a qualified New Zealand mechanic confirm our theory that we were cheated by the people that sold us the car was about as vindicating as it was heartbreaking incidentally.

So. After a lot of driving and upset sleeping schedules, all of which my boys appear to have taken in their stride (apart from the fact they woke up five times last night), we arrived in Cairo and were met by our guide.

It's hot here. I'm not sure why I'm surprised by this. I suspect after living in Lebanon I just expected Egypt to be a similar kind of place. I forgot about the desert. It's quite big.

First impressions. Cairo is dirty. Not just 'middle eastern' dirty, but 'go out of your way to dispose of rubbish in the nearest waterway' dirty. The people are Arabs in a way the Lebanese are not, and it feels like everyone wants a piece of you - or more to the point, a piece of your wallet. There is a quote that goes along the lines "from the Pharos to This… I just don't get it". I'm inclined to agree. The blood of Cleopatra and Ramses II seems very diluted in the 'baksheesh' attitude that prevails in modern Egypt. It is certainly not 'service with a smile', it's 'service with the hand out at the end because I deign to move my shiftless ass and do something for you, you worthless European'. It reminds me a little of the Afghani attitude to American soldiers.

We were promised both car-seats and cots in all our vehicles and hotels. Luckily I bought our car-seats, and when we arrived there were no cots. An hour after check-in at our first hotel, one cot appeared. Pointing at the two boys, who at this point were having their dinner, I asked for a second. The second turned up about an hour after that and I wouldn't be surprised if King Tut himself sleep in it.

But, there are the Pyramids and the Sphinx. I'm a sleep away from them now and I'm still a little shell-shocked that I've seen them at all - let alone climbed on them and been inside one. I've always been fascinated by them, and I'm almost surprised that everything I've read, or seen on the discovery channel meets the expectation. It's probably the only time in my life I've been as impressed by the reality as I have by the hype.

My sons were less impressed. I think the 40 degree dry desert heat probably had more to do with it than the fact they actually weren't impressed by the sights. I don't blame them. It feels like it gets hotter every day we're here, and when you're a little fella still developing your heat regulation, strapped to a big person radiating heat, it's not surprising if you get a little grumpy when the air is that hot as well. Thank goodness there was aircon in the car and we were able to retire to it with some degree of decorum for some of the talking.

For the rest of our trip we have umbrella's and damp muslin for helping to keep cool.

p.s. The Internet in Egypt is slow and expensive. Please excuse the multipost that follows.

Posted by karicketts 04:52 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

The Smell of Charcoal

You know how memories are often linked to a particular smell?

Play-dough is a good one. Probably because the memory it conjures up for me was formed before I could talk… and I'm not thinking store bought play-dough either, I'm talking the homemade kind that you were allowed to pick the colour of (in our house it was only ever Red or Green because that was the food coloring mum had). For me the memory is sitting in the kitchen table of our old house with my mum while she was busy in the kitchen, having to wait until it cooled sufficiently to be allowed to play with it. I also remember that the taste of it was peculiar, but it did contain a lot of salt. Despite threats of not getting more, I continued to eat it. I'm pretty sure it's why I still put too much salt on my food come to think of it...

I suppose the smell of two stroke mix makes a lot of people think of hot days in summer. For me the memory is boats. Small tin ones that became dangerously hot on bare skin in the sun. At the bach at Christmas.

Chainsaw oil and sawdust makes me think of my Uncle.

The damp smell of a forest makes me think of bush walks with my dad when I was very little.

Tar on a hot day makes me think of the walk home from primary school in bare feet.

I love desiccated coconut because the smell of it makes me think of baking with my Gramma'.

I hate Lilies because the smell of them makes me think of visiting hospital when my dad was sick.

Humans are such complex creatures. I find it fascinating that one smell can mean something different to everyone.

When I go home there will be smells that will always make me think of Lebanon.

The smell of charcoal on a brazier will be pushing the stroller along the pavement on a hot day.

The smell of Orange Groves is very early in the morning, standing in the kitchen with the sliding door open in my pajamas, listening to the call to prayer and heating the lad's morning bottles.

For all it's frustrations, I still love it here… and there are going to be some neat stories to tell my kids.

Posted by karicketts 11:20 Comments (1)

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