Egypt to India

Posted Posted in Egypt, Round The World Trip

Cairo to Mumbai

So it’s 1:00 in the morning by the time we actually get into the terminal to wait for our 3:00AM flight to India.  We sat at the cafe and played cards.  We finally learned a new game – Gin Rummy – to which I downloaded the instructions a while ago but we just now took the time (because we had the time) to learn it.  Jon is a very good card player and picks up these games and their strategies very easily.  So I lose almost every hand, but it’s still fun!  At 2:30, we boarded the plane for our flight, and – because we had checked in so early – secured an exit row for ourselves!  About half-way through the 7.5 hour flight, the plane landed in Dubai to drop off passengers and pick up more.  We slept for the entire 45 minute stop.

Mumbai

The flight landed in Mumbai (Bombay) at 12:30 and had to pick up our bags and transfer to Jet Airways to get us to Delhi.  Our bags were – of course – the VERY LAST bags off the plane as we were probably the first people to check in.  But we’re starting to get used to this.  We found a Jet Airways shuttle bus to take us to the Domestic Terminal.  And thank God we did because how were we supposed to know that the Domestic Terminal is on the other side of Mumbai?!?!  Seriously, it took a half-hour to get to.  But we got to see Mumbai, the crazy rickshaw drivers, and the cows wandering the roads.  (Don’t forget that they’re sacred here).  So we feel like we got an extra little tour.

At the Domestic Terminal, we checked in, exchanged money, and checked out some bookshops that were so filled with books that they were literally piled in stacks on the floor at least 5 stacks deep.  It’s a wonder that the owners even knew what was in the deep stacks.  And while we’ve complained non-stop about being such obvious tourists, we actually realized a benefit of it at the airport: we “snuck” our way into the first-class lounge!  I say “snuck” because we didn’t have to be sneaky about it at all – we just walked right in and no one even blinked.  We sat down on some of the comfy chairs and let the waiters do their thing.  The lounge was run by Oberoi Hotels, which is a very nice hotel chain, so we were quite happy.

Jon enjoying the glory of the first-class lounge

So at 4:30 we boarded our 5:00 flight to New Delhi, which was no easy task.  We counted FIVE security checkpoints before we got on the plane:

  1. X-Ray when we entered the terminal
  2. X-Ray to get to the gate
  3. Hand-held magnetic detector (separated into “Ladies section” and “Gents section”)
  4. Hand search through our carry-on bags
  5. Frisking before boarding the shuttle to the plane (also “Ladies section” and “Mens section” which is good because they definitely got personal!)

After this, the US “has anyone unknown given you anything?” system looks like childs-play!

Delhi

Our flight arrived in Delhi at 6:30, and we waited for our bags which were – of course – last off the plane because we checked in so early.  We went to the pre-paid taxi booth and got a voucher for a taxi.  Our taxi driver tried to get us to another hotel other than the one we told him to go to because he wanted a commission.  But we told him we already had reservations which wasn’t true.  But then again we also told him we were Canadian and had been to Delhi before so what’s one more fib in the grand scheme of things?  (We’re quickly picking up on things to do to avoid getting the “dumb tourist” hassle).

For those of you who care for a re-cap of this 24-hour travel saga, our “commute” to Delhi looked like this:

8:00PM – 10:00PM sat in Sharm El Sheikh airport

10:00PM – 11:00PM flight from Sharm to Cairo

11:00PM – 3:00 AM sat in Cairo airport

3:00AM – 12:30 flight from Cairo to Mumbai, 45 min. layover in Dubai

12:30 – 5:00PM sat in Mumbai airport

5:00PM – 6:30PM flight from Mumbai to New Delhi

So this was a good 20 hour trip.  The good part is that we saved on one night’s hotel!  India, by the way, is 3.5 hours ahead of Egypt which means it’s 10.5 hours ahead of New York.  Very odd – the extra half hour – but I’m sure there’s a good reason for it somewhere!

Jukaso Inn

The Jukaso Inn is a bit pricey, but we wanted a place that was centrally located with A/C, and it’s got some charm to it so that’s not bad.  They showed us two double rooms: one was a standard double with two twin beds, shower, and A/C.  The other was a “deluxe” which means that it had a double bed, shower, A/C and carpet but was 100 Rupees more a night.  Granted, that’s only $2.00 but HELLOOOO!  Two twin beds versus an itty-bitty double?  We’ll take the two twins any day!  “Just like Ricki and Lucy” Jon says.

El Rodeo

I’m almost embarrassed to say this, but we went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner.  We had Indian for lunch in the First Class Lounge in Mumbai, and Jon’s been craving Mexican.  So there you have it – we went.  Get over it.  Besides, this place was such a riot!  The staff had uniforms of cowboy hats, jeans, chaps, guns, ammo – you name it!  One of them was walking around shooting a cap gun at the patrons.  There was dance music blaring and videos on the big-screen TV.  It wasn’t as good as Tortilla Flats (our favorite Mexican in NY), but it was good!

Then we went back and crashed because jet lag had gotten the better of us.

Egypt: Na’ama Bay – the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt

Posted Posted in Egypt, Round The World Trip

So tonight we catch our (very loooooong) flight to India.  I’m feeling better.  Not fabulous, but better.  But I’m ready to travel, which is really all that matters.  Despite the potential trauma of the hair-coloring episode last night, my husband Vidal Sasoon did an outstanding job on my newly blond hair.  It has just a touch of reddish tint to it, and I think it’s pretty cool.  Especially as I envisioned it coming out green.

We went down to breakfast, and I had some bread and juice.  Our flight to Cairo doesn’t leave until 10:00PM tonight, so we checked with the Falcon Hotel to see what kind of a late checkout we could arrange.  It turns out that they’re booked for tonight, so we can only have until 2:00PM to lay around.

Now – you may ask yourself – what does one do when it’s 100+° outside, an impending all-night flight in 8 hours, and no shower for at least 24 hours?  Well, you of course go to the air-conditioned Hard Rock Cafe!

For 3 hours.

I’m not kidding.  We sat down and ordered drinks and read.  Then we ordered an appetizer and read.  Then we ordered lunch and read.  And then we ordered a chocolate-brownie sundae and read.  The waiter didn’t mind – for a while we were the only customers in the place.  But it was air conditioned, comfortable, and the music was good so we were happy.  Around 6:00, we finally left and headed over to the Internet Cafe to waste more time (and money). Then we stopped by the Nike and Adidas stores to find me a new pair of Tevas because mine aren’t going to survive much longer.  But no luck.  By now, it was 7:30 and we still had a half hour to kill before we could rationalize leaving.  So we went to McDonald’s for a soda.  (Note that the presence of air conditioning is key in these dramatic choices of locations).

At 8:00, we picked up our bags from the hotel and caught a cab to the Sharm El Sheikh airport.  The taxi driver was very nice, and we’re honestly very sad to be leaving Na’ama Bay.  Our driver was trying to get us to promise to come back again, but who knows?  The Red Sea is glorious, but there are lots of other dive sites we haven’t been to yet.

At the airport, we were there two hours early for our flight to Cairo but that’s OK because Egypt Air (the pathetic airline that it is) doesn’t assign seats until check-in so at least we can be snag decent seats.  We boarded our 10:00 flight and landed in Cairo around 11:00 PM.  Then we had to pick up our bags, check into the flight to India, and clear customs.  Easier said than done.  As I was waiting for our luggage (which were of course LAST off the plane as we checked in so early), Jon went to ask about the international flight terminal.  The nice lady told him it was Hall #1.  So we exited Hall #3 and a whole group of us navigated our push-carts through the parking lot to Hall #1.  There, the security guard looked at our tickets to India and told us that we should be at Hall #2.  So – again – we navigated our way through the parking lots to get to Hall #2.  Despite the fact that it’s almost midnight, it’s easily 95° outside and I’m wearing pants out of respect for the culture…blahblahblah.  So we’re damn hot and slightly annoyed.

We cleared the security check in Hall #2, checked our bags, and made our way around to the customs booths.  There were about 10 booths, but no customs agents to be seen.  So we waited and waited until someone showed up around 12:30 or so.  Which means that we’ve now crossed over into tomorrow so you’ll have to go to the Next Page!

Egypt: Na’ama Bay – the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt

Posted Posted in Egypt, Round The World Trip

Special guest appearance by Jon:  So Heidi is sick again today and here I am with all of this responsibility again!

It has been a pretty quiet day.  First was a trip to the post office over in Sharm El Sheikh where I was going to send yet another shipment of curios and extra clothes in an effort to lighten our packs a bit.  As much as we try to keep the excess weight to a minimum, we never really seem to notice the difference!  But I digress…the cab ride over to the post office was fine and the driver even offered to stay and wait while I was inside so he could take me back to Na’ama Bay – the price was right and the meter wasn’t running so I figured what the heck; he was happy to have two fares back-to-back.

Blah blah blah, I finally get the package approved by the guy behind the counter and he tells me he needs a copy of my passport.  I was lucky to have even brought my passport to the post office (who knew it was necessary to show a passport so your curios and stuff could leave the country?), but did not have a copy.  I went next door to the bank and they happily make a copy for me, with everyone seeming to know that you do, in fact, need a passport in order to send a parcel overseas.  Eventually all is in order, and after about an hour I finally get the package along its way.  Did I mention that it ended up costing $50?

I report the morning’s events to Heidi in the hotel room, where she is in bed resting.  She enjoys the story but probably the company most of all since she’s not feeling well.  Since she needs her rest, I head off in search of the beach.  It’s not far, really, it’s just on the other side of the hotel and one would think that the first entrance outside the hotel would be for guests of our hotel.  Well, 20 minutes later I end up at the front desk of the hotel asking where their *#@$ beach is!  They seem to get this question a lot it turns out and he kindly points me in the right direction.  After 2 1/2 hours I decide it’s time for lunch and bring lunch back to the hotel.  Heidi is of course starving by now because it is 2:45 and the poor girl hasn’t eaten much since I brought her some bread from breakfast.  She has had at least 3 liters of water though, since I continually remind her to keep drinking – this is the role of the healthy person while we travel, they take care of the sick one by reminding them to drink more fluids!

After a bit of rest, it’s off to the internet cafe to check email and post updates to the website.  We’ve added a section for listing all of the books that we read while on the trip.  It’s a pretty good list right now, and you’d be surprised at what you’ll read when faced with the limited selection of some of the bookstores we’ve been in!  Check out the list so far.  So far no Homer or Dickens, but there’s no telling what we’ll find in the next bookstore and I’m going to need one soon!

It’s not New York, so this will have to do

After the internet cafe it was siesta time.  It turns out that during today’s siesta Heidi was busy mentally preparing herself for colouring her hair by herself!  Let’s take a step back for a second…Heidi went from being a beautiful redhead to a beautiful blonde three days before we left on our trip, and that was two months ago.  So her hair got longer and her natural colour was starting to show, which is apparently a no-no.  The longer-than-usual hair was remedied in Luxor by a visit to a very clean hair salon (see July 20) and when we got to Na’ama Bay we managed to find some hair colour that seemed to be the right shade of blonde (the search was made that much easier since this is a tourist town and apparently this is a product that is in fairly high demand).  We bought the dye four days ago and it has taken Heidi this long to finally work up the courage to try doing this herself.  Being particularly eager to play the role of mad scientist, I offered my services while making some evil, cackling, laughs.  Ok, they weren’t so evil but they certainly served their purpose of nearly scaring Heidi out of trusting my help in this process.

After being briefed on the process that her hair stylist in New York uses, we mix the dyes as per the instructions and Heidi contemplates the situation one last time.  Apparently if this is not done correctly there is the likelihood that she will come out looking like a calico cat, which I think could be the next big craze but she disagrees.  Watch, in 3 months EVERYONE in New York will have a calico-coloured hairstyle!  Anyway, Heidi bites her lip and steels herself for the long-run; I don my very nice looking surgical gloves (thanks to the drug store guy, who threw these in at no cost) and get some last minute instructions from the victim, I mean customer, and go to work.

First of all, being a guy, I’ve never even witnessed the hair colouring process since this usually takes place within the confines of a strictly non-male environment – the hair salon.  I get my hair cut in New York at this little place with one of those real candy cane poles outside the shop.  It probably used to spin but it’s so old that its rotating days are long since passed.  I also get my haircuts from whichever of the three barbers is ready first.  There is very little talk with the barber because he wields the electric razor and/or scissors, followed by a straight-razor to the neck.  Very much the opposite of some high-falutin’ hair salon, there is always hair on the floor and when there is too much one of the barbers sweeps it outside.  My kind of place.  And the haircut costs $12.

Sorry, where was I?  So the first thing I notice is that the hair dye is sort of a kelpy, greenish-brown sort of colour.  Heidi says that this is normal as the dye is never the same as the intended shade.  OK, I can handle this.  I can’t show any weakness or Heidi will cave and back out, so we both bite the bullet and get started.  After spending about 45 minutes applying the colouring, I can really only assure Heidi that whatever colour her hair turns out it will at least be uniform in that colour.  Although I still think she has something with the calico thing…

When I was finished and it was time for Heidi to let the colouring set (or whatever it does for 45 minutes) we both look at her head in the mirror and decide that there is no way this will actually turn out to be blonde.  It looks like it will probably be red again or maybe even chestnut, but certainly not blonde.  I decide that I can’t be around for the unveiling and take a quick shower to see if I can still catch our British friends Ian & Shelly for happy hour.

Ian and Shelly are nowhere to be found and happy hour has ended so I grab some dinner and head back to the hotel to survey the damage.

I walk in the door, and there to my surprise is my wife with her hair the exact same shade as it was when she last had it done at her salon in New York!  Now I have to question why those stylists demand hundreds of dollars for a haircut and colouring, and I still don’t think in the nearly three years that we’ve been married that I get a straight answer about how much a woman’s haircut costs!  In my mind though it’s money well spent, just so I don’t have to be subjected to that sort of pressure again – let’s leave that to the professionals 🙂

Stay tuned for the unveiling of the new hairstyle.  Heidi is still a bit under the weather so the pic will likely be tomorrow or the day after.

Egypt: Na’ama Bay – the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt

Posted Posted in Egypt, Round The World Trip

Special guest appearance by Jon:  Well, it’s Heidi’s turn to be sick today so I get to take over the journal for the day!  Hmm, where to begin?  We think we have narrowed down how Heidi got sick – probably from the lunch she ate on the boat after the second dive on the Thistlegorm.  After a superb seasickness performance for which I reached down deep for inspiration, I thought it best not to eat lunch while we were still at sea.  Who knew that would be such an important decision??

Heidi says that my journal entries tend to be a bit gross.  I think I did a good job of not mentioning that breakfast was even better the second time around!  Actually, after the seasickness episode I’ve decided to keep track of how many times we puke – so far it’s up to two times for each of us, the altitude sickness on Mt. Kilimanjaro and the seasickness due to the thick swells on the way to the Thistlegorm.  I will be making every effort to keep this tally current, but Heidi’s sense of good taste may prevail.

So anyway, here I am with all of this responsibility.  We haven’t actually done much today.  We managed to run a few errands such as buying about 9 more liters of water (we tend to drink about 4 liters apiece because it’s so hot here) and exploring the shopping area in search of a dive logbook.  You’d think that finding a dive log would be easy enough, and we have seen several but they all look like colouring books with all of the cartoon figures and pictures of shells and fish and stuff.  Heidi’s filled her first logbook and doesn’t want to be stuck with some silly thing for the next diving sites (which we think is Thailand).  We found one that looked serious enough, even though she really wanted one like mine (dive log envy) and we scurried off in the mid-day heat for some lunch.

After lunch was naptime.  Egyptians take their siestas seriously.  Pretty much everything closes, and despite the fact that some places stay open (shops in the bazaar, etc.) the person working there may just pull out a rug and curl up to go to sleep right there in the shop.  They must be paid by the hour!  We napped for a few hours then made it to Egyptian Air to reconfirm our airline reservations for Friday.  It seems that despite the fact that we have bought a ticket for travel, we still need to drop by the ticket office within 72 hours of our flight to actually reconfirm our intention to fly on the ticket that we bought.  As though paying all that money wasn’t enough of a sign of our commitment!  And they don’t even give you a seat assignment until you get to the airport on the day of the flight!!

I spent a little time at the internet cafe trying to catch up on world events and emails, and saw that the Dodgers are riding a 4 game win streak and are within 1/2 game of first in the NL West.  Of course, now that I’ve actually written that they will be cursed and will end up finishing in last place at the end of the season…

I brought dinner back to the hotel since Heidi was still feeling pretty bad, and that was about it for the day 🙂

Egypt: Na’ama Bay – the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt

Posted Posted in Egypt, Round The World Trip

Today we dove the Thistlegorm Wreck, which is 3 1/2 hours away from Na’ama Bay.  So we met at the dive club at 4:45AM, took a jeep to the docks, got on the boat, and promptly curled up and fell asleep again.

Sunrise over the Red Sea

Once we left the protection of the reefs and headed out into the deep blue the waters got REALLY rough.  The swells were about 3-4 feet high, and many of us were feeling it in our stomachs.  When we finally got to the site, there were about 4 other boats there – all of us pitching and swaying in the swells.  One of our dive group got sick, and the rest of us were fighting it.  For future reference, the “look at the horizon” trick really does work.

Dive #1: Thistlegorm Wreck

Depth: 27 meters

Bottom Time: 34 minutes

Visibility: 10 meters

The Thistlegorm is a famous World War II freighter that was discovered by Jacques Cousteau.  It was a British ship that sank with a full consignment of war supplies, including tanks, jeeps, motorcycles, locomotives, bombs, spare airplane wings, and rifles, after being bombed during WWII.  It is currently the wreck to explore in the Red Sea (though it has sadly been stripped of a lot memorabilia).  It was amazing, and also one of the hardest dives I’ve ever done.  The swells were so large that we submerged as soon as we went in the water and followed the lead line down to the wreck.  Our first dive was supposed to be around the outside of the wreck, but the current was so incredibly strong that Geoff immediately took us inside Hold #1.  Now I’ve dived wrecks before, but never INSIDE one so this was incredible for me.  And the holds were quite eerie because of the light and shadows and all the gear.  It was so incredible.  There was a minimal amount of coral, but we did see tuna, lionfish, thousands and thousands and thousands of “baitfish”, barracuda, parrotfish, surgeonfish, and angelfish.  We also saw some of the bombs that are still intact.  We were only down for 30 minutes because the strong current made us use our air much faster.

 

We surfaced for an hour on the rough, rough sea – where many of us succumbed to sea sickness, including Jon and me.  That really is no fun, so we were anxious to go under which we knew would be gentler on our stomachs.

 

Dive #2: Thistlegorm Wreck

Depth: 25 meters

Bottom Time: 34 minutes

Visibility: 10 meters

This time we spent a majority of the dive exploring the inside of the ship.  Geoff took us into the Captain’s bridge where we cruised through his old bathroom and went down into the storage rooms.  We saw motorcycles, jeeps, rifles, train cars, and tons of Wellington boots.  Leave it to the Brits to send a cargo full of Wellington Boots to WWII.  Outside the ship, we checked out some of the coral and amazing fish life.  We saw a scorpion fish, tuna, batfish, a little pipefish, trevally, Red Sea anemone fish, and – apparently – sergeant major fish.  I say “apparently” because I didn’t actually SEE the the sergeant major that took a bite out of the back of my leg.  Oooh, but I felt it and it was definitely a big nibble.  Here’s a website that shows a picture of this pretty fish with (who knew?) sharp teeth:  http://www.btinternet.com/~nigelspencer/sea-sergeant-major.htm

 

My “war wound” fish bite now looks like a hickie on the back of my leg.  Not that I would know what a hickie looks like, but this is what I’ve been told.   🙂

 

Between dives we had lunch which was a bit difficult since none of us felt like our stomachs could handle it.  But as we left the deep blue and headed back toward the reefs the ocean became a little calmer.  It was about a two-hour ride and many of us napped on the way.

 

Dive #3:  Ras Mohammed National Park – Shark Reef and Yolanda Reef

Depth: 22 meters

Bottom Time: 45 minutes

Visibility: 30 meters

Ras Mohammed National Park is considered one of the best reef diving spots in the world.  It’s fiercely guarded by Egypt, so you have to have an Egyptian Visa to get into it and must pay the $5 per person entrance fee.  OK, there’s no entrance gate or anything but the Red Sea Police will board the boat and ask to see passports and an entry receipt if they believe that a transgression has occurred.  Not with Camel Dive Club though, they’re strictly by the book.

 

For this dive, we did another drift dive (we’re getting good at these) and went down Shark Reef.  We swam around a HUGE school of 300+ snapper to continue along the reef.  We saw schools of unicorn fish, and some curious batfish came up to see what we were up to.  After we passed shark reef, we swam across the saddle to Yolanda Reef.  The Yolanda Reef is named Yolanda because a boat sank there many years ago that was carrying hotel supplies.  The boat has long since sunk to further depths, but the cargo of toilet bowls remain in the saddle between the two reefs.  This is where we saw some blue spotted rays.  Then we continued to the Yolanda Reef where the current was very, very strong.  I didn’t realize this, but some of the best fish we saw are in the strongest parts of the current.  So we saw tuna, peacock groupers, lionfish, moray eels, and butterfly fish.

 

It really was a spectacular dive, and a wonderful way for us to end our diving experience here in the Red Sea.  As much as we’d like to continue diving, this is getting expensive and Jon and I are both craving a day on solid ground.  As we boated away from the reef, about a dozen dolphins came to greet the boat.  We were so excited, and wanted to jump in to play with them.  But Geoff said no, and that “the only shark attacks that ever occur in the Red Sea are from snorklers who jump into the blue to play with dolphins”.  He said that the sharks often swim just below the dolphins.  So as much as I wanted to play with the dolphins, I’ve already had one bite taken out of my leg today and I think a shark would probably do a bit more damage than a sergeant major fish.

 

On our way back to shore, our skipper tossed in a fishing line (you can fish in the blue, but not on the reefs).  About an hour later he stopped the boat to reel it in:

 

Mmmm…. dinner!

Falcon Hotel

Back on land, we settled our bill with Camel Dive Club (ouch!!), and checked into the Falcon Hotel.  For those of you playing at home, this is hotel #3 for us in Na’ama Bay.  Our last and final stop in this resort town.  As much as all this moving around is a pain in the bum, it’s been kind of neat to experience 3 different hotels.  Maybe we could write a Lonely Planet of our own.

Even after we got back onto land, Jon and I both felt as if the ground was moving.  Jon says that, when he was in the shower, he would close his eyes and lose balance because it felt like the tub was moving like a boat.  It’s quite weird.  I have this sensation of an out-of-body experience and I can’t quite get the room to stop spinning.  I think that my problem is related to heat exhaustion.  So when Jon went to go meet Ian and Shelly for drinks tonight, I stayed in the room to sleep it off.

Egypt: Na’ama Bay – the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt

Posted Posted in Egypt, Round The World Trip

Today was another big, fabulous diving day.  We met our transport to the dive shop at 8:00AM in the lobby of our hotel.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t secure a room at the Gazala Hotel tonight, but the Camel Dive Club Hotel had a room and gave us a discount.  So we loaded all our bags onto the bus and took off to the dive shop.  We were all quite excited because today the boat took us into the Straights of Tiran where there are some beautiful reefs and hammerhead sharks!

Dive #1: Jackson Reef – South side of the reef

Depth: 31 meters

Bottom Time: 52 minutes

Visibility: 20 meters

The boat moored up on a line attached to the reef, and we all jumped in.  There are more fish than I can possibly count or know.  I’m starting to think that scuba diving is much like bird-watching, only without the binoculars.  I really want some sort of reference sheet underwater because I forget which fish I saw by the time I surface.  Geoff has a great book on the boat, but I can never remember what I saw.  Anyway, what I CAN remember are these: jackfish (trevally), lionfish, cornet fish, and a HUGE Napoleon!

 

We surfaced for an hour with the boat in the same place.  Our next dive was going to be on the other side of the reef where the boat cannot moor or anchor so we prepped to do a drift dive.

Look closely at this picture – over my right shoulder you can see dark blue.  These reefs are smack in the middle of the ocean surrounded by 800 meter depths.  The reefs seem to rise up out of nowhere and reach within inches of the surface.  It’s amazing!  So here’s what happens when you’re out for a joy-ride and not paying attention:

D’OH!  Bet the skipper of this one felt kind of stupid.  Especially since these reefs have been on the map for decades.

Dive #2: Jackson Reef – North side of the reef 

Depth: 24 meters

Bottom Time: 37 minutes

Visibility: 15 meters

The north side of the reef is quite rough and has very, very strong currents.  So our boat couldn’t get too close to the reef or it would be washed up.  So this was a drift dive – where we jumped off and hurried over to the reef where the current was less strong.  Then we descended to about 20 meters.  The sole purpose of this dive was to find the school of Hammerhead Sharks that live there.  Geoff says there are around 100 of them, but he will only guarantee that we will see water.  So we completely ignored the reef and swam out into “the blue” which is quite surreal because there are no landmarks to use for navigation.  We were all looking everywhere for anything.  After about 10 minutes, a hammerhead finally found us, looked around, and then swam quickly away.  Sadly, that was the only one we saw.  The current was so strong that it pulled us even further away from the reef which means further away from the hammerheads.  When we surfaced, we were so far away that our boat didn’t see us or our inflatable marker for a good 10 minutes.  So we just hung out on the surface and floated until the boat sighted us.  It was difficult to climb up the ladder into the boat because the swells were so big.  But we finally made it and were on our way to the next reef.

 

Ice Cream Boat

 

We stopped at a flat reef for lunch, along side some safari boats.  We were all laying around the boat talking after lunch when out of nowhere someone yells, “Ice Cream!”.  The ice cream boat had arrived.  It was a little speed boat with ice cream pictures on it, and the only thing missing from the picture was the tinkling music.  The ice cream man grabbed a cooler and boarded the boat, offering ice cream to everyone.  Because supply was low and demand was high, the price of an ice cream was ridiculous.  So as much as we wanted one we waved him on.

 

Dive #3: Thomas Reef

Depth: 24 meters

Bottom Time: 56 minutes for Heidi, 39 minutes for Jon

Visibility: 30 meters

This was an incredible dive!  Thomas Reef is a small circular reef, and I made it all the way around it.  While we were down, we saw some huge tuna, Napoleon fish, parrotfish, barracuda, surgeon fish, and unicorn fish – just to name a few.  Our breathing skills are getting better with every dive.  Here’s the way it works: Geoff sends us up to the surface as we reach 50 bars on our air gauge or 60 minutes – whichever comes first.  For this dive, I was the last diver up because I was breathing efficiently.  So for about 10 minutes it was just me and two dive masters down there.  This is kind of like having your own personal tour guides because they see things that I would never see.  Every once in a while, I just hung out in neutral buoyancy and stared at the reefs.  There are SO MANY things to see!

 

After we got back on land, Jon and I checked into the Camel Hotel and went for a quick dip in the pool.  Then we showered and went out to meet our new friends Ian and Shelly for drinks.  We sat at a bar on the beach and talked and laughed and had a very good time.  The beers went straight to our heads because we were so exhausted and hungry.  We left at 10:00 because we all have to get up early tomorrow to go to the Thistlegorm Wreck.

Egypt: Na’ama Bay – the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt

Posted Posted in Egypt, Round The World Trip

Today was brilliant!  We woke up and had breakfast, and met our Camel Dive Shop ride at 8:45.  We have a group of 16 of us on the boat, some from America, France, Holland, Norway, the UK, and Canada.  Our dive master, Geoff, is from Australia.  On the way out to the first dive site, there were dolphins playing in the wake of our boat.  Silly dolphins!

Dive #1: Ras Katy

Depth: 22 meters

Bottom Time: 49 minutes

Visibility: 20-30 meters

Sighted: Many, many fish and lovely coral

 

We stopped by Sharm El Sheikh to fill up the tanks as the boat is small and we only had room for one tank each.  Then we had lunch on the boat in a little cove and we all jumped off the top of the boat and played in the water.

 

Some of our fellow divers, frolicking in the water

 

Dive #2: Far Garden

Depth: 24 meters

Bottom Time: 58 minutes for Heidi, 31 minutes for Jon the air pig

Visibility: 30+ meters

Sighted: 2 huge tuna, stingray, angel fish, and schools and schools of fish that I can’t possibly name.

 

The amazing thing about diving the Red Sea is that the fish are absolutely everywhere and are SO beautiful and colorful!  The reef is so close to the shore and in such shallow water too.  It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  We have something beautiful to look at no matter what depth we’re at – even on the safety stops!  It’s amazing.  We will never dive more than 30 meters here because Egyptian law forbids it – too much diving tourism is bad for the reef.  This is fine, because the diving will only get better – today was a “get acquainted” day for Jeff to assess all our skills.  Tomorrow and the next day will be more complex dives and we’ll see a lot more stuff.

 

We got back to the hotel at 6:00, showered, and then rested for a while before hitting the bazaar again for dinner (delicious Indian food).  But we were in bed early because tomorrow we’re diving the Straights of Tiran so we have to wake up at 6:30.  Eww.  I thought I was on vacation!

 

Egypt: Na’ama Bay – the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt

Posted Posted in Egypt, Round The World Trip

We woke up, had breakfast, and caught our compliments-of-American-Express ride to the airport at 8:15.  Our flight to Sharm El Sheikh left at 9:10 and – while crowded – it was an easy 50 minute flight to the Sinai Peninsula.  Sharm El Sheikh is on the southernmost tip of the peninsula, and we are staying in a place called Na’ama Bay which is 6km from Sharm.

We currently have reservations at two hotels: the Gazala Beach from 21-23, and at the Falcon from 24-27.  This means that we have no place to stay on the 23rd, but hope that this will clear itself up for us while we’re there.  This is an Egyptian holiday weekend so we picked a poor time to be here!  At any rate, the Gazala had a shuttle from the airport which we boarded and rode through the town.

Na’ama Bay

15 years ago, Na’ama Bay was pretty much empty.  In 1999 when Lonely Planet published its last Egypt book, it said “Na’ama Bay is a resort that has grown from virtually nothing since the 1980s”.  Now, today, it has blossomed into a huge resort town that has yet to finish growing.  Most of the places we could see aren’t even listed in the book and there’s plenty of more construction along the cliffs.

The Gazala Hotel is very nice, even though we’re in one of the “cheap” rooms which means we don’t get a view and are in one of the rooms WAY far from the beach.  But the complex is long and narrow, with a large pool in the middle and many little bungalows nestled into trees.  Of course we don’t have a bungalow – just a room – but we’re quite happy with it.  The resort also has one of those life-size chess boards where you use your whole body to move the pieces.  OK.  Way too hot for that!

We strolled into town to check out the sights.  I imagine that this is what the French Riviera looks like, although I have no basis for that assumption.  The boardwalk stretches the beach in front of all the big resorts, and ends up in the shopping district/bazaar which is a sprawling area closed off from car traffic.  The shops are a combination of “beachy” and Egyptian, which makes sense because everyone who is vacationing here is European or something of the sort.   We checked out the supermarket, and stopped by Camel Dive Club where we had faxed reservations to dive.  (www.cameldive.com).  Everything was cool, so we had lunch and left to go back to the Gazala.

The Red Sea

View from the beach outside our hotel

We picked up some beach towels from the cabana boy and snagged some lounge chairs in the shade.  Then we hit the water.  The Red Sea is gorgeous – turquoise blue and warm!  As soon as we stepped foot into the water we could see coral and beautiful fish.  The water is very, very, VERY salty which Jon enjoyed because he could easily float on it.  So we played in the water for a while until our fingers started to shrivel up, and then we went to nap on the lounge chairs.  I pulled mine into the sun, but was back in the shade within a half hour because the sun was so strong.

Jon relaxing on the beach

After a few hours of laying around, reading and napping, we headed back in to shower.  We walked into town and had dinner at a place called Peking Chinese because we were in the mood for Chinese food.  Then we went to McDonald’s to get a sundae for each of us.  McDonald’s, by the way, has a special meal called the “McFalafel” for 3.99 Egyptian Pounds (about $1.00).  How funny is that?  A McFalafel!  Jon thinks we should try it but I think I’ll steer clear of it.

So by 9:00, the bazaar was hopping with people and families who were out shopping, people-watching, and sitting on Egyptian cushions smoking hookas.  We walked around for a while and found a long sarong for me, which I will need for India.  Then we went to the supermarket to stock up on water and some other items before we went back to the hotel.  We were asleep by 11:30 – early morning tomorrow for diving!

Egypt: Luxor

Posted Posted in Egypt, Round The World Trip

We woke up at 5:00 to have breakfast (again – the yummy buffet!) and to meet Mostafa at 6:00AM.  Everything here opens early and closes late, but usually closes for a few hours in the afternoon during the worst of the heat and this includes the tourist sites.  We drove across the Nile to get to the West Bank and by the time we got to our first site, it was already teeming with tour buses.

The difference between the East Bank and the West Bank is this: the East Bank is close to the rising sun, and thus means life.  Therefore, the temples for the living were built on the East Bank and this is what we saw yesterday in the Luxor Temple and the Temple of Karnak.  The West Bank is the location of the setting sun which symbolizes death.  This is where the ancient Egyptians buried their dead and erected temples to honor the rulers who passed away.  So today we visited the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, The Temple of Hatshepsut, and the Valley of the Queens.

Valley of the Kings

I could try to explain the brilliance and significance of these tombs in my own words, but I think that Lonely Planet gives a better summary and I want to save it for future reference: “Once called the ‘Gates of the Kings’ or the ‘Place of Truth’, the canyon now known as the Valley of the Kings is at once a place of death – for nothing grows on its steep, scorching cliffs – and a majestic domain befitting the mighty kings who once lay there in great stone sarcophagi, awaiting immortality.

The isolated valley, behind Deir al-Bahri, is dominated by the natural pyramid-shaped mountain peak of Al-Qurn (the Horn).  It consists of two branches, the east and west valleys with the former containing most of the royal burial sites.

All of the tombs (except the newly discovered Tomb of the Sons of Ramses II) followed a similar design, deviating only because of structural difficulties or the length of time spent on their construction.  The longer the reign of the pharaoh, the larger and more magnificent his tomb.  Two groups of workers and artisans would live, in alternating shifts, in the valley itself for the duration of work, which usually took many years.

The tombs were designed to resemble the underworld, with a long, inclined rock-hewn corridor descending into either an antechamber or a series of sometimes pillared halls, and ending in the burial chamber.  Once the tomb was cut its decoration was started; this dealt almost exclusively with the afterlife and the pharaoh’s existence in it.

The colorful paintings and reliefs are extracts from ancient theological compositions, or ‘books’, and were incorporated in the tomb to assist the pharaoh into the next life.  Texts were taken from the Book of Amduat – ‘the book of him who is in the netherworld’; the Book of Gates, which charted the king’s course through the underworld; and the Book of the Litany of Ra, believed to be the words spoken by Ra, the sun-god, on his own journey through the caverns of death.”

So first we went into the tomb of Ramses IV which was beautiful!  The walls and the ceilings were covered with artistry from the Book of the Dead and pictures of Ramses IV with various gods.  It’s amazing that every line that was drawn had a significant meaning.  Even more amazing was that Mostafa knew absolutely every detail of the tomb.  Jon was in heaven because Mostafa could answer every obscure question Jon could come up with!  This tomb was never really ‘hidden’, and its whereabouts were known even to the Ptolemies and the Coptic Christians.  This is obvious because of the graffiti on the tomb dating to 278 BC and there is early Christian drawings such as crosses and pictures of Christ drawn in red in random places.

Beautiful Walls in Tomb of Ramses IV

After Ramses IV, Mostafa took us to Ramses IX, which was a smaller tomb and partially unfinished because of Ramses’ early death.  A pharaoh began the design and work on his tomb as soon as he came into power.  If he died before the tomb was completed, the workers had 72 days to finish the tomb – which is the amount of time the mummification process took.  In the case of Ramses IX, the tomb was clearly a JIT project, and the burial chamber was very rough looking and the pictures were haphazardly drawn.

Finally, we went into the tomb of Ramses III, which was a large tomb with a long corridor and many storage rooms.   The storage rooms were filled with things that the pharaoh used in life in addition to the things his priests thought he would need in death.  (I, for example, will need to be buried with my Palm Pilot).  Anyway, the interesting thing about this tomb is that the corridor suddenly cuts to the right and around a corner which is unusual.  During the construction of the tomb the workers ran into another unknown tomb and had to make a detour to the right.  I suppose that this made it harder for Ramses III to find his way to the netherworld.  But this is notable because they took such pains to hide the tombs from thieves, future pharaohs and workers had no idea where the older tombs were.

We saw the entrance to King Tutankhamun’s tomb, but it costs extra to go into it.  This is kind of silly, because it is not nearly as large or as brilliant as the other tombs we saw.  It’s just that it’s the most recently discovered and least plundered of all the tombs.   Mostafa told us that Tutankhamun’s tomb is considered the richest, the poorest, and the smallest of the great tombs; the richest because all of it’s treasure was discovered intact, the poorest because it has so little decoration (the King died at a relatively young age), and the smallest because it is, well, small!

Temple of Queen Hatshepsut

Queen Hatshepsut ruled for 30 years during a time of peace.  She was one of the few female pharaohs and liked to portray herself as a man to prove that she could do just as well.  Therefore, she had her temple built in the Valley of the Kings.  The temple is very large and beautiful, with ornate drawings on the wall depicting her trip to Somalia.

At the Temple of Hatshepsut

From Lonely Planet: “The partly rock-cut, partly freestanding structure is one of the finest monuments of ancient Egypt, although its original appearance, surrounded by myrrh trees, garden beds, and approached by a grand sphinx-lined causeway, must have been even more spectacular”.  

For those of you who are fans of current events, this is where the terrorist bomb exploded in November of 1997.  But, as Jon pointed out, probably the safest place you can be is a place where a terrorist has already hit.  No self-respecting terrorist is going to blow up a bomb in a place that another terrorist has already used.  It’s considered unoriginal and lacking in creativity in terrorist social circles.

Valley of the Queens

The Valley of the Queens is where the Queens and their children (less than 18 yrs old) were buried.  Young children were buried near their mother’s tombs because it was believed that they needed their mother’s assistance to find the netherworld.  While the tombs are not as spectacular as the Valley of the Kings, they are interesting because their artistry takes on a different flavor.

The Tomb of Amunherkhepshep is the tomb of a son of Ramses III – Amun – who was nine years old when he died.  “The scenes on the tomb walls show his father grooming him to be pharaoh by introducing him to various gods.  Amun’s mother was pregnant at the time of his death and in her grief she lost the child and entombed it with Amun.  A five-month-old mummified fetus was discovered there.  Wall paintings also show Ramses leading his son to Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the dead, who then takes the young Prince Amun down to the entrance of the Passage of the Dead.”

Colossi of Memnon

Before we left the West Bank, we stopped for pictures of the statues of Memnon.  There’s an interesting legend about the statues that I think is worth saving:

“The massive pair of statues are all that remain of the temple of the hedonistic Amenophis III.  Rising about 18m from the plain, the enthroned, faceless statues of Amenophis have kept a lonely vigil on the changing landscapes around them, surviving the annual flooding of the Nile which gradually destroyed the temple buildings behind them.

The colossi were among the great tourist attractions of Egypt during Graeco-Roman times because the Greeks believed they were actually statues of the legendary Memnon, a king of Ethiopia and son of the dawn-goddess Eos, who was slain by Achilles during the Trojan War.

Colossi of Memnon

It was the northern statue that attracted most of the attention because at sunrise it would emit a haunting, musical sound that the Greeks believed was the voice of Memnon greeting his mother each day.  Eos in turn would weep tears of dew for the untimely death of her beautiful son.

Actually, the phenomenon of the famous vocal statue was probably produced by a combined effect of a simple change in temperature and the fact that the upper part of the colossus was severely damaged by an earthquake in about 30 BC.. As the heat of the morning sun baked the dew-soaked stone, sand particles would break off and resonate inside the cracks in the structure.  Certainly, after a well-meanting Roman governor repaired the statue some time in the 2nd century AD, Memnon’s plaintive greeting to his mother was heard no more.”

Bad Hair Day?

We did all of the above and were back at the New Winter Palace Hotel by 11:00AM.  So we went to grab a bite to eat and relaxed and napped for the rest of the day because – of course – the heat was horrid and everything is closed in the afternoon anyway.  In the evening, we walked around town and looked for another Internet Cafe because the one we went to last night has no power (bummer).  On the way to another Internet Cafe, we passed a clean-looking barber shop.

I knew it would have to happen…. it’s been 7 weeks since I last cut my hair and it’s starting to drive me nuts.  So we knew that I would need to get it cut and we figured we’d wait until Egypt or India to do it.  Now looked like the best chance, seeing as the barber shop looked clean and friendly.  So we walked in and said hello, then said, “Do you speak English?”.  The answer was yes.  “Will you cut my hair?”  They found this a bit funny, but agreed.  Understand that in a traditional Muslim country like Egypt, women wear their hair long and natural.  So a western woman with short blond hair is a bit of an anomaly.

I was very nervous and quite concerned that he would muck it up.  I sat in the chair very tense and was sweating like crazy.  Jon found it all quite amusing.  But all in all it turned out all right.  It’s a little too short on the sides and a bit short on the top, but it’ll do.  My roots have really really grown in and the haircut got rid of a majority of the blond, so the color is a little wacky.  So I was slightly traumatized by the whole experience, but it will grow out quickly.

Guest appearance from Jon:  The haircut looks fine!

We had dinner at a place called “The Kings Head Pub” which is a crazy British pub just outside of Luxor.  It was a nice little place and it was great to dine among tourists again (we’ve been hanging with the locals for quite some time).  Afterwards, we went back to the hotel to pack up our stuff for our flight to Sharm El Sheikh tomorrow.  I’m so sad to leave this spectacular hotel, but we can’t wait for the diving on the Red Sea!

Egypt: Luxor

Posted Posted in Egypt, Round The World Trip

IT WAS 112 DEGREES TODAY!!!

Breakfast

Oh I love this hotel.  It’s divine.  We went down to breakfast early so that we could enjoy it.  Oh my – what a variety it was!  Eggs, pancakes, fruits, veggies, breads, rolls, muffins, juices.  Yesterday we had bread for breakfast – today we ate like kings!  After breakfast we rolled our very fat tummies over to the American Express office to meet our tour guide.  We decided to do the “short tour” of the East Bank of Luxor today, and to wake up early tomorrow to do the longer West Bank Tour before the worst of the heat hits.

Temple of Karnak 

Our guide Mostafa is about 50 and knows his Egyptian history.  What an amazing day we had!  He could answer any question we had about anything, and knows almost every inch of these ruins.  The Temple of Karnak was a huge, beautiful complex of sanctuaries, kiosks, pylons, and obelisks, all dedicated to Theban gods, who were also Egypt’s rulers.  From Lonely Planet: “Everything here is on a gigantic scale: the site measures about 1.5km by 800m, large enough to contain about 10 cathedrals, while the first pylon is twice the size of the one at Luxor Temple.  Built, added to, dismantled, restored, enlarged and decorated over a period of nearly 1500 years, Karnak was on of the most important place s of worship in all Egypt during the height of Theban power and was called ‘The Most Perfect Places’ (Ipet-Isut)”.

We walked around Karnak, with Mostafa pointing out the beautiful inscriptions, colors, and significance of the ruins.  He also told us which king put up which wall and columns and when.  We learned so much information that I can’t even remember most of it.  Suffice it to say that it’s incredible to imagine that a temple of this size and structure must have taken years and years to build – but that it was probably also absolutely beautiful.  Some of the original colors were still visible over 6000 years later.  It’s unbelievable that this temple was once partially buried under sand and people lived on top and around it.  There is graffiti on many of the walls from the 1700s and 1800s where men carved their names as if it were a bathroom wall.

Here we are at the Temple of Karnak

Luxor Temple

After Karnak, we went to the smaller but just as incredible Luxor Temple.  “Built by the New Kingdom pharaoh Amenophis III, the Luxor Temple is a strikingly graceful piece of architecture on the banks of the Nile.  Originally joined to Karnak by an avenue of Sphinxes, the temple sits on the site of an older sanctuary dedicated to the Theban triad of Amun, Mut, and Khons.”  At the front of the Temple are two huge statues – two of six according to Mostafa.  We know there were six because one of the walls inside the temple has a carving of the front of the temple with all the statues intact.  I’m starting to think that – to be an archeologist – one has to like jigsaw puzzles.

At one part of the temple, Alexander the Great rebuilt a shrine to include himself as one of the Egyptian Rulers and therefore a deity as well.  The shrine depicts reliefs of himself being presented to Amun, and has his name in hieroglyphics.  The detail was incredible, and I thought this was particularly interesting that Alexander – as a conqueror – would actually embrace a culture instead of trying to destroy it.  Mostafa said it was because he found the religion so much like his own Greek religion and Gods that he decided to use it to unify his various kingdoms.  This place is so cool.

Here we are at Luxor Temple

It’s 100 times nicer to do this with a guide.  First of all, he knows much more information than we would get from the 3 pages of Lonely Planet text.  Second, we have an arranged car ride to and from the sights.  Finally – and most important – we don’t get hassled or cheated with Mostafa around.  He knows all the guards at the sights and they all tell us how great he is (which is true).  So despite the extra money it costs to have a guided tour, there’s NO WAY we would have enjoyed these sights as much without Mostafa.

AmEx To the Rescue (Again)

Afterwards, we went back to the AmEx office to talk to Emil about our trip to Sharm El Sheihk.  When we first got to Cairo, Jon and I strategized our trip through Aswan and Luxor and into Hurghada via bus, where we will catch a ferry to Sharm El Sheihk.  I say strategized because the ferry only runs 3 times a week so we had to figure out how many days we wanted in Aswan and Luxor versus days of diving in Sharm.  We opted for more time diving and thus the whirl-wind tours of Aswan and Luxor.  We also had to plan around train schedules and bus trips, but all-in-all we did a pretty darn good job and were quite impressed with our own ingenuity and frugality.

Well, we were wrong about the ferry trip.

Apparently, our plans cause us to miss the ferry by an entire day because of different summer hours.  Lonely Planet didn’t have this information so we were going to be quite bummed when we arrived there.  So it looks like we have to bite the bullet to fly to Sharm, or else miss 3 days of diving and go on a later ferry.  Which we’re not willing to do.  So we hung out at AmEx with Emil and made our arrangements.  Despite our cash and exchange issues with AmEx over the last month, the company is back in our graces!

Kushari Lunch

Lunch was at a nearby place called Sayyida Zeinab, which is one of Luxor’s best kushari joints.  Kushari is a mix of noodles, rice, black lentils, fried onions and tomato sauce.  The ingredients are served together in a bowl (small, medium, or large) for sit-down meals or spooned into a plastic bag for takeaway.  Jon and I opted for the sitting meal and were quite surprised at how good it was.

The Pool

After running around doing stuff (Internet Cafe, bookstore, etc) we hit the Winter Palace Pool.  Oh why can’t we travel like this all the time?  The pool came complete with a swim-up pool bar, fountain, and a cabana boy to lay out our towels for us.  (Clearly, we can’t possibly do that on our own, daaaahhling).  We swam for a bit and then lay around on our cushiony lounge chairs.  Then we made our way into the room to shower and to get an early dinner before the Karnak Light Show.

Ali Baba Cafe

We were the only people at the Ali Baba Cafe, which is understandable because it was 6:30, the cafe is outside, and no rational person is out in this god-forsaken heat but the stupid Americans.  But we wanted an early dinner before the light show because we’re getting up early tomorrow morning for the West Bank tour.  Anyway, while we were sitting there waiting for dinner, our spirits getting lower and lower because of the oppressive heat and the ants crawling on our feet.  So I looked at Jon who wasn’t talking and said, “You know, we’ve already seen 2 light shows and we did Karnak this afternoon.  I could be swayed against doing the Karnak Light Show.”  5 minutes later we decided to bag it.  So we ate our rather awful food and ran away from the ant-infested garden.  Then we hit an internet cafe again and did some shopping.  I got a beautiful Egyptian scarf and Jon got ice cream (that’s fair, right?).  We were asleep by 10:00.