How I destroyed a coral reef and gained a scar

I know, I know I have been on the internet a bunch today, but I hadn’t really had a chance to catch up on things previously and besides I figure I should just say a little bit about my day. Basically I did something really stupid and dangerous, but yet it all worked out okay. Early this morning after arriving on the bus from Sharm, Z and I were talking about what to do today. I said I was thinking that I might go snorkeling, I wasn’t particuarly in the mood, but I figured what the heck else should I do when I am staying in a hippy beach town where the reef is only 30 meters away. Z said he might go kayaking and so we set up a time to meet, then I ran into Grace in the internet cafe (we had rode the bus together from Sharm) and after writing a bunch of blogs and bumming around I figured I really had to go snorkeling.

So I got ready (a process that involved multiple steps because we had to have already checked out of our hotel and I had to rent goggles and flippers) and headed off down the beach to find a place get into the water. I found a spot to store my stuff and headed into the ocean. I soon realized that getting out to the reef was harder than I realized, but I managed and soon I was floating along looking at amazing coral and fishes. Then I kinda thought to myself, hmmm the waves are kind of big here and um there is a current, and umm, I don’t have anyone with me and ummm maybe this is kinda stupid of me. Soon after this realization I decided to head back, then my decision was confirmed when a stray peice of coral teamed up with a wave and bit my hand. This started to bleed rather quickly, and remembering information about blood in water and predators, I decided it was definitely time to head back in. I managed to get myself back up to the beach and applied pressure to my hand (the coral also bit my leg).

When I got back to my clothes on the beach, a waiter from the resturant noticed my predicament and came over and got me some iodine and a bandaid and helped swab up the scratches on my leg. Then I got myself cleaned up and while I was doing this, he also brought me over some juice and made sure my hand was feeling better. All of this without one word about baksheesh or any slimy stares (I was wearing my bathing suit after all) and I have to say this one interaction with an Egyptian man totally makes up for a lot.

But anyways the realization of my stupidity was growing on me and then when I finally met back up with Z and Grace for dinner, Z filled me on the depth of my own silliness (he had assumed that I was snorkeling with Grace when we were making plans in the morning). So there you go Parents, yes I can be stupid sometimes, but I guess I am also pretty lucky, cause I am still in one peice.

Reaching the finish line

This morning I found myself almost crying in the shower, not because of any traumatic event, but I can just tell that I am getting close to the end of my traveling endurance.  Throw into that meeting really cool people and leaving them, seeing close friends hang out (I have really been missing my girls!), getting very little sleep for the past 3 nights running, having amazing first of my life experiences (scuba diving and go-carts all in the same day!) and you get one very emotionally tired girl. 

While I definitely wouldn’t change a bit of this summer, I have to admit it has been rather chaotic to have these three so distinct experiences all jammed together like this.  I have been noticing over the past few nights the moon is almost full again, and it I find it so weird to realize that the last full moon was back in Edinburgh, almost a month ago.  I haven’t entirely decided what kinds of things I am supposed to be learning during this trip.  Seeing 2 very different countries for the first time and seeing 2 ones again is of course incredibly educational in and of itself, but yet I find myself feeling like very much the same person. 

How exactly does travel effect a person?  I now know a few more phrases in Arabic, a few words in Spanish (mainly cuss words thanks to Roberto and David’s careful instruction).  I have seen Mt. Sinai, climbed hills in the Lake District, seen a black rhino from only 10 ft away, scuba dived in the Red sea, had hard cider in the Eagle and Child, slept under mosquito nets in Swaziland and heard animals foraging in the night, rode camels around the Pyramids and sailed the Nile.  I have met wonderful people from Holland, Los Angeles, Canada, Spain, Australia, etc.  I have spent too much money, taken almost 4 gbs of pictures, bought several halves of Africa, and taken ferries, buses, trains, cars, planes and even felluccas.  Maybe when I get home I will be able to sort through these experiences and tie them up in a nice little knot, but right now they sprawl all over the place and continue to remind me how radically blessed I am to have the chance to do these kinds of things.

Mt. Sinai

The mountain that supposedly produced the Ten Commandments, I knew that I had to climb it if I was coming all the way to Egypt.  So last night at around 11pm a van came to our hotel to pick Z, Grace, myself and several other backpackers up to drive us to the base of the climb.  We then were to ascend the camel trail to the top, sleep for a few hours under the stars and watch the sunrise.  And the bare-bones account of what we did was pretty much that, except the walk up was an obstacle course of dodging camels (both ascending and descending), almost running to keep up with our guide and being asked around 20 thousand times “camel? camel?” (this was even more delightful when one fell behind one’s group and the camel drivers would close in like vultures informing you that it was still very far to go and that it was very steep). 

But eventually we did indeed make it to the top where I was very glad for my fleece and knit skirt.  By this time it was around 4:30am, so the few hours of sleep were more like a few minutes of staring up at the starry sky while trying to prop my tired eyelids open.  One treat of the climb up was seeing (while taking a water break with Grace) the longest shooting star I have ever seen.  On the summit, the tourists were as thick as thieves and the vendors had changed their lines to “blanket, blanket, mattress?”.  Just as I was about to give in and “rent” another one I noticed that the sky was beginning to lighten in the east.  Soon we were all scrambling for position on rocks and walls all trying to get the best view of the sun.  As it rose it turned the sky a deep read and the mountains blue, a scene which quickly helped me forget the misery of the previous hours. 

After watching the sun rise, feasting on biscuits and nutella (hauled up the mountain by yours truly) we headed down although I took a detour to stand in the longest toilet line of my life.  This time we took the 3000 steps of repentance down which was a lovely change from the poo minefield of the camel trail and allowed us to travel almost entirely in the shade.  Plus it only took us an hour to descend, instead of 2 and half.  Once down though I quickly realized that my body had not missed the fact that it hadn’t slept in over 24 hours and we all crashed in the van for the 1 and 1/2 drive back to Dahib.

Next up is taking the bus down to Sharm El Sheikh tonight in order to do an introductory dive tomorrow morning and snorkeling off of the boat.  All this thanks to one of our Egyptian friends who is going to be able to get us a good deal at the dive center he works in.  Then it is back up to Dahib to continue our stay in our lovely hotel, snorkeling and then back to Cairo for the last few days of this crazy summer trip.

Saying goodbye to temples and hello to the beach

After going on a whirlwind tour of the West Bank temples and tombs in Luxor yesterday morning, Z and I caught a 5 hour bus to Hurghada (during which we entertained ourselves by watching the very strange dancing Arab man on the TV, playing endless rounds of continuous Solitare, playing the create a sentence game and not sleeping) and then this morning we got up and caught the ferry to Sharm and there the 1ish hour packed mini-bus ride up here to Dahib.  Despite our hotel not being beachfront, the beach is just a few yards away and we have air-conditioning, a swimming pool and most of all free time.

I have to admit as much as I have loved seeing the various temples and ruins that constituted the main part of our trip up and down the Nile I am looking forward to relaxing and hopefully meeting up with some of our new friends.  Proposed group activities include a night on Mt. Sinai in order to see the sunrise, snorkeling in Dahib and hopefully my first scuba diving adventure in Sharm El Sheikh.  So far the scenery on the Sinai peninsula is very different from the heat soaked lusciousness of nile-side Luxor and Aswan.  Here the mountains are jagged, reddish-brown and barren except for a few small shrubs that poke up in surprising green colors.  I found myself realizing that the Biblical Israelites must have had a much worse time of then I had previously imagined.  While obviously there is more to Sinai that just the small stretch that I have seen, but already I find the idea of living among its inhospital craggy peaks hard to imagine.  I think I would definitely want some manna.

Stories to note at a future time include:

  • the value of floating sunglasses
  • the columns of Karnak
  • descriptions of tombs
  • etc

Thanks again to all of you who have A) been reading this rambling notes this summer B) been commenting on them C) promised to give me great big hugs when I return.

Fellucca, Fellacca, what are you sailing now?

Ugh, the computer just ate my post, but I will soldier on here.
Okay we just arrived in Luxor yesterday after spending 2 nights and almost 2 days on a Fellucca sailing the Nile. Because I haven’t been able to post pictures (and probably won’t be trying again until I get home) I will just have to describe this for you. ASIDE: I should probably warn you that I know nothing of nautical terms and will therefore probably annoy any readers who do know something. Okay so our boat was around 25 ft long and around half of that was the part where we spent our time. Built by covering the shallow cargo area with board and then foam mattresses and covered by a tarp strung up at slightly higher than waist level, this little area quickly began to take on a kinda hippy feel with the reclining and the cushions (although we weren’t stoned, so a big difference there).

Despite its downsides such as no toilets (not even latrines), occassional lack of space, having a rather shady captain, this trip ended up being a big highlight of my trip so far, mainly this is due to the people. After booking (big surprise, we have realized in hindsight that we got majorly ripped off) our tour in Cairo we quickly fell in step with several other people who booked almost identical tours. Soon we found ourselves forming a group on our exhibitions to Abu Simbel, other Aswan trips and soon finding ourselves all on the same fellucca ride. While I am sure there are plenty of stories out there about bad experiences with the backpacking culture, so far it as been wonderful. It quickly became the norm to share what we each had to contribute and were soon joking around and telling each other stories from various travels.

Maybe this is where I should tell you a little bit about this ragtag group. Consisting of obviously Z and myself, there was also another guy from Chicago, a girl from California (Korean in background) and two Spaniards (one of whom has been working in Sharm for the past year as a diving instructor). This has lead to new connections (The diving instructer has pretty much convinced Z and I to come try diving in Sharm), new ideas (I really want to try some Korean food right now), new knowledge (did anyone else know that some bottled water is better than others because of the TDS or Total Disolved Solids?) and a renewed enjoyment of travel. Anyways I have to head off because we are meeting up with the group for lunch, then temple tours, and then maybe some more swimming and dinner.

aswan (or why no one but egyptians go south of cairo in the summer)

After our second day in Aswan (the furthest south our egypt trip will take us) I feel qualified to give you all a short quiz regarding the temperature of aswan.  Essentially the game will be to try to guess where the coolest parts of aswan are.  So ready to play, good. 

First guess: In your air-conditioned room
Sorry nope, good guess though.  One could easily be fooled that the big air conditioning unit in the corner of the room will actually make it possible to take a nap without waking up sleeping, but that would be wrong.  During the hours of 2-4pm even the air conditioning can’t compete against the suns rays on the roof and through the window facing west.   (This condition is not aided when your roommate decides that he should point the air-conditioning unit towards his drying clothes (which also included the general direction of his bed) while leaving your half of the room breeze-less.)

Second guess:In the wee hours of the early morning
Again good guess, but not a chance, even the complete absence of the sun is not enough to cool aswan down.  We discovered this truth this morning when we got up at 3am to catch the convoy down to the Abu Simbel temples (a 3 hour drive away).

Third and Final guess: um in the shade?
Actually this is the closest to cool I have found here in aswan.  This does seem to be true during the evenings and especially if there is a nice breeze off the Nile.  Then and only then does one begin to feel slightly cool.  (Alternate answer would be putting your pajamas into the mini-fridge to cool them down before changing into them)

Other than the heat, Aswan is a lovely town and I have to say preferable to Cairo’s craziness.  Small and Nile side, Aswan has manageable streets and less traffic.  Unfortunately the continual issues of doing our best not be ripped off and escaping the clutches of the street hustlers remains paramount.  Some of my favorite sayings of the hustlers include in no particular order:

“Come inside, everything free”
“Looking is free, no-hassle shop” (said while blocking one’s passage down the street)
“We have everything, vanilla Viagra” (not sure if there is supposed to be a comma in there or not)

After tonight we start our two day fellucca trip in the Nile before landing in Luxor where we have been promised a hotel with a pool, which let me tell you, we are very excited about.  This also means no Internet for a few days, so see you on the weekend.  (which is really weird to think about, because it has been over a month since the day of the week has meant anything too me)

UPDATE: A certain paragraph near the top should read “wake up sweating” not wake up sleeping” although as some people have pointed out that is an interesting thought indeed.

pyramids and camels

Today was pyramid day, lots of them, very high, very rockish, lots of sand, and some blue sky. Last night after discussing with a tour guide from our hotel and consulting various guide books and our own instincts decided to get an inexpensive tour that will take us to all the places that we wanted to go in Egypt, but without the unknowns. Essentially the tour pays for transport, hotels and guides and then we pay for our own meals and entrance fees. This feels like a nice option because we still get the freedom of deciding where to go, without the worry of negotiating in Egypt without Arabic and only our white take my money skin to help us along.

How to describe Cairo is a little bit of a puzzle it is all the obvious of loud, crowded and full of staring men. Yet what I find myself really longing for is a discussion with one of them women walking down the street or to have a family invite me to there house. It is clear that Egyptians are very friendly, even if often the warmth is directed more towards my wallet than to myself. Despite my modest (by Western standards) dress I often feel the need to put on more clothing after walking down the street. I get stares all the time, while Z has noticed that he gets more stares if he walks behind me than if he walks in front of me. People are everywhere, which is no surprise considering 95% of Egyptians live in 5% of its land mass.

Today was a whirlwind, with 4 sites and a carpet and papyrus shops as well. I will maybe try to write more late, but now food and some more water are calling.

A blast of heat

I just wanted to let you all know that Z and I have safely arrived in Cairo and have checked into our hotel.  So far the city seems full of people, cars and heat, but we shall see how our impressions adapt after we get some sleep. (I should probably point out to those of you who don’t know that this coming night will be our first in 3 days in which we will get a full nights sleep on actual beds).