Archive for March, 2008

Last of Egypt

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

The drive to Dakla was long and boring the next morning. First we drove with the partially deflated tires through the rest of the white desert for over an hour to get to a highway on the other side. It was a pretty cool experience to see. Then we traveled on pavement a few kilometers before hitting a town to repair a flat and fill the running tires. We went through so many police checkpoints in the middle of nowhere in that desert that it made my head spin. How these guys posted there survive in such abject isolation and loneliness is incomprehensible to me. Some posts were nicely made up with tiny little (but well maintained) gardens out front of the building. Most all had solar panel / battery systems for power generation, and a couple were so remote that they even had SBX radio antennas for communication. We did see a few cell phone towers in the middle of nowhere with solar power systems as well. These had microwave dishes to rebroadcast the transmissions.

An hour or two before Dakla was a huge modern ghost town that looked very much like very small single family condos. Row upon row of them in orderly loneliness stood there without any vehicles visible, curtains over windows or clothes hanging outside to dry. Barely one kilometer away was another modern ghost town of ten to fifteen story apartment buildings. This was a little further from the highway, but still appeared to be rather empty. The guide books described these places as modern built towns where people just didn’t want to come to. There was also a rail line and a phosphorous mine close by, so we suspected it might have been planned employee housing. Either way it just looked weird! My personal theory is that it was some sort of military installation. Possibly an existing secret research base of some sort.
Or, more likely, a large permanent barracks base in case war breaks out with Lybia. The roads in all this Western area of Egypt were in spectacular shape as well. That I also would attribute to war readiness to help ensure the quick deployment and mobility of the defense forces should the need ever arise.

We had plans to take the public bus from Dakla to Luxor, and then on to Hurgatta where we planned to catch a Ferry to Sharm in the Sinai area. I had been calling the ferry to make arrangements several times over the last few days and as we arrived in Dakla someone finally answered. He told me that the Ferry was down for two weeks of service, and the only way across was private Faluka or small motorboat charters. The Red Sea has a reputation for being quite volatile regularly and typically only has fifty “calm” days per year. Some days the huge fast Ferry won’t even go across due to rough seas. These facts made us less than enthusiastic about attempting the journey in a much smaller boat. We then agreed to phone Egypt Airlines and made arrangements to fly from Luxor to Sharm. This was for only about double the money than a bus and ferry ride combined, but we would have needed to stay in other hotels along the way more which wouldn’t have been near as nice as staying at the rsortish towns along the Red Sea. We arranged a van to pick us up at the airport and went directly to Dahab, thus skipping out on Sharm. Ron & Jenine had told us that they were basically the same in terms of snorkeling, but that Sharm was more packed and with smaller sections of “Beach”. The term beach here at the Red Sea really only refers to water access though, since there is minimal amounts of sand in the classic sense that the word is typically used.

I had strongly made up my mind that I would never willingly return to Egypt again before coming to Dahab. The hassle from all vendors, a frustrating and unnecessarily long negotiation for every little thing, and the dual pricing system ((Aran people pay 1% to 10% of the prices considered acceptable for tourists) on almost everything was driving me to the brink of insanity. Dahab was a pocket of tranquility and genuineness in a country seemingly hell bent on screwing the tourist out of every little drop of money possible. The hotel we managed to select from one of the tourist books was fairly nice and entirely reasonable at about $32/night per double room. It had a nice couple of swimming pools with a waterslide and was raised a little over one meter from the waterfront promenade sidewalk to give a tiny bit more privacy from everyone walking by. On the other side of the main waterfront sidewalk from all of the hotels were the restaurant sitting areas. These varied from having ceilings glassed in protection from the wind with nice tables and slate floors, to cushions on blankets, on the sand around a short legged table. The latter inspired many hippies (and occasionally me) to order a beer and just lie around enjoying the sun and gentle sounds of the smaller surf lapping at the shore. some of these shore front lounging places even had free WIFI internet access for patrons.

Everyone I spoke to spoke of the wonderful reefs accessible to shore and of the lovely fish they encountered. I never seemed to get around to snorkeling myself though. The two days in the middle of our stay when I really felt like it, the water was pretty rough. In the end I reassure myself that as beautiful and accessible as it might be, it surely couldn’t compare to The Great Barrier Reef or snorkeling around the Galapagos Islands. I priced out intro and advanced scuba lessons again though. It was still about $550 to to both in about five to six days. This was pretty much the price as Phuket in Thailand, and only a tiny bit less than in Australia. The Aussie ones were larger classes though, and only on specific days when they had enough people. Here they would take one person and run you through it. Plus they all seemed quite reputable though in offering top notch gear and advertising enhanced air mix ect. I had heard of some hokey places in Indonesia that just used standard atmosphere air which included germs fed straight to ones lungs. Never good. All of the dive shops here and in Thailand seemed to be run or owned by Westerners though. Be it North Americans, Europeans or Aussies, they all had a caucasian face when it came time to crunch the numbers.

We continued to enjoy the company of the McBride Family in Dahab. After a week we would be parting ways, and so we made the most of relaxing and doing not much together. Every day we would try different restaurants along the waterfront to eat at. Swimming, lounging, chatting and many a game of cribbage all filled our time there. We seemed to all go through a day or so of queasy stomach syndrome in the last two weeks as well. I found a cool souvenir t-shirt that struck me, and bought it almost without negotiations. We also grabbed a nice sunset beach sand scene in a bottle with “Dahab” on one side and “James’” on the other. Luke and I watched the make it and he was incredibly quick as well as very talented. Camels and horses were banned from the area our hotel was at so walking amidst mounds of poop wasn’t an issue as it was in other sections in the area that we had heard about. After a week or two of early mornings, extensive tours and a brain completely full of Egyptian history this week of visiting and relaxing was just what all of us needed. We all got along really great, and it was very nice having a bit of a break from just the four of us. Luke even met and played with some other boys his age while Alex and Alana conspired together and Connor burned through a few books poolside. As a very meager parting gift of thanks for their company, I felt compelled to introduce the McBride’s to a new deck of cards in the hopes that their old grungy worn pack would find it’s way quickly and unceremoniously to the trash! Hopefully the front desk guy passed it on to them since we left at 6:00 AM and they stayed sleeping to await the arrival of Janice’s brother and wife to spend a few more days there. We’re hoping to possibly meet up again in Nice, France since our visits there coincide by a few days. We also pick up our rental car in Nice, (since I was too slow in booking to get it in Italy.

While lounging around at the New Sphinx hotel in Dahab we also met up and chatted with a young engaged couple. She was from Mexico and he was British, and they lived in London. They were both VERY well traveled for being barely a quarter century old and were a hoot to swap stories with. George & Monica crazily invited us to stay in their tiny flat in London when we were talking about how expensive England and especially London are reputed to be. I let that comment sit for a day and then approached them with the option to take back offering a family of four with occasionally scrapping adolescent kids to intrude on their serenity and occupy their living room day and night for our last few days in Europe. In between chuckles at my mock serious warning, they once again extended the offer to sleep on their living room floor for a few days. Bonus! Never mind the fact that we very much enjoyed visiting with them, Monica also works at the most exclusivest, awesomest chocolaterie & retail store in all of Europe! George says that there’s an abundance of free samples that normally cost a few Euros ($3-$4!!!) per truffle! Gadzooks, we can’t wait! We have bought our trans-Atlantic flight tickets already too. We’re flying to Marc & Wendy’s on May 14! It’s all coming to an end so fast…

A lot More Of Egpyt 3

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

The continued (and elaborated) backtracking adventures from a few weeks ago.
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Today We took a train ride to Luxor. On the train ride they served us supper and breakfast. I was dead asleep during supper and barely awake for breakfast. We arrived in Luxor at 5:30 6:00 in the morning. We met the manager for the company (for Luxor) and he took us to the hotel. The hotel was o.k it had a pool but the room’s we got had A LOT. I mean A-L-O-T A LOT of horn honking from the window. Plus it was more expensive than the other rooms so we got the other rooms with no horn honking the second time we were there. We had just seen our rooms when our guide said “time for a tour”. We had been up until 9:30 P.M and had to get up at 4:00 A.M. But he still didn’t care how tired we were. The rest of the day went on with the guide showing us things and us being tired. Once he was describing us things that were written there and dad saw that we were tired and did not hear him so he repeated in a little less complex words. when he was finished the guide said “O.k you know more than me lets go” dad seem a little astonished by his comment because the guide was very smart and seemed nice. I on the other hand did not like him from the start (not that that is good or bad) I am happy that he can not read this. The square’ that leaded to a temple I did not like also because it had a very powerful smell of CAMEL POOP (Puke). When we finally got back it was 1:30 A.M (just kidding) We ate lunch which was not very good but all I ate was rice the waiter was very lazy he did not bring the entire menu and said that was all there was. We finally got some rest. Mom, Dad and I slept while Alex played a game on the M.P.3 mind you I did not sleep as long as Mom and Dad. But mom did not sleep as long as dad but who cares. The rest of the tour (with that guide) went on pretty much the same way only one new thing happened other than experience. It happened at the valley of the king’s before we had seen any tombs our guide pulled us over to a rest stop. He started showing us picture’s. There were a lot of flies there so I started rubbing my hands up and down my legs and the guide told me stop and pay attention. So I stopped soon more flies were landing on me than everybody else put together so I stood up was going to walk around a bit than sit down again but I stood up took 2 steps and he grabbed my arm and tugged me back into my seat and told me to stay. As we walked to the first tomb dad pulled me behind and told me next time I should sit by him. Mom came behind and told me to go ahead so I did. Later I found out that we were firing him. He showed us all 3 tomb that we were to look at (one ticket meant 3 tomb’s) we later found out that your guide was only suppose to show you 2 tomb’s you picked the last one (proves what kind of guide he is). later that day the guide was having trouble explaining something once he was done he said he only got 3 hours of sleep that night so he was tired. When I heard that along with the rest of the family I thought B-A-L-ony we were tired ad did you give us sympathy and plus he did not look at all tired I think he did not know. He just was making a baloney excuse. To make a longer story short we fired him.

Thanks everyone for comments made on previous blogs. They made us happy and make me know that you are happy for us! 😀

A lot More of Egpyt 2

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

O.k if you look at the title it says A lot more of Egypt 2 because I am doing them out of order. Meaning the last “A lot more of Egypt” post was about the great pyramids.

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We left to go to the airport at 2:00 in the morning and our plane at 3:00 and got into Cairo at 4:15 and got on our second plane to Sharm at 4:30 then got into Sharm at 5:30 then finally We took a van to Dahab got to our hotel and got ready to relax we found out that we had a little problemo. The room’s we booked had been at the other side of the resort. me and Alex had our own room at the same side of the resort as conner and Alannah.At the other side of the resort all the parents had their rooms. We re-booked so our rooms to be at the same side of the resort. Our rooms were now closer to the nice pool. We were very lucky that breakfast was still running because it was 9:30 when we ate. Then we finally we got to our room and had a nap.

Less-Touristy Egypt

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

While Cairo and the main Southern tourist routes were interesting and informative; Exhausting is also a prominent word that jumps to mind. Not just the whirlwind schedules that generally “happen”, but the incessant barrage of tout’s and hassled by vendors at every turn of our head. We had met up with the McBride family a couple days ago, and have been sharing many stories and enjoying new experiences together. Part of the story swapping naturally involved good and bad aspects of Egypt so far. They had selected Egypt as a country to do an external (Intrepid) organized tour in and obviously had a much better experience for it. I have immediately pinpointed Egypt as the one country (so far) that I never wish to return to again. The sights and treasures are completely amazing and worthwhile. The general attitude of most all people that come in contact with tourists (in any way at all) is disheartening at best, and deplorable at worst. Luckily none of the McBride’s share in my opinion.

We did agree on the many missed opportunities related to tourism in Egypt though. For anyone to stand out and garner all sorts of extra tourist business would be incredibly simple. An quick example would be breakfasts. Most all hotel rooms include a basic breakfast. These have typically been slightly more substantial than the sparse continental breakfast offered in North America. These breakfasts include omelets or eggs as a minimum extra. Even after barely a week of these standard breakfasts one gets pretty tiring, (never mind a whole year!!!). In India there are many other choices you can order separately; French Breakfast, German, Dutch, English, American. All of these have different combinations of breads, eggs, sausages, bacon and fruits as suits each country’s typical eating habits. In Egypt though, there is no choice at all. All options are the same, sadly. Similarly, any store that actually had prices written on tags for items would be inundated with business just for the lack of having to negotiate.

Two things that Warren, Janice, Claudette and I all agree on is: India is by far the filthiest country we have visited so far; and the Delhi International (& Domestic) airports is by far the worst airport any of us have been to yet. They (unfortunately) had to spend considerably more time there than we did though. We only arrived at the international terminal and departed from the domestic terminal. They weren’t even allowed in to the international terminal until just a few hours before their flight departure. Instead, they had to go across the road to the “waiting” terminal. Even better, they had to pay by the hour to sit in terrible and inadequate seating over there.

We arranged to initially meet up with the McBride family at the “new” Cairo bus station early one morning. The station itself was still under construction and was only just recently partially operable. This place will be very spectacular and a fine showcase for Egypt when it fully opens in the next few months. A pretty nice piece of infrastructure, especially compared to the distinct lack of any other notably adequate buildings.

We took the public bus down to Bawahti over a four hour trip. It was less time of actual travel, but we made a few stops for bathroom breaks and for even more vendors to try and sell us crap. Upon arrival we were harranged pretty badly by tout’s wanting to take us to their “partner” hotels or wanting to “help” us book a desert tour. The town was pretty small but nice though. Janice, Connor and I trekked off to find the hotel we had booked from the Lonely Planet, and left the other five on the side of the main road with the bags. Usually the Lonely Planet maps are pretty good, but this time we had a little difficulty following along the narrow, twisty streets. Instead we headed off in the general direction that the map showed, and stumbled upon it (by dumb luck I’m sure!) about 15 minutes later. The OLD OASIS HOTEL was reasonable and decent looking. He had really nice rooms for $58 and crappy old air conditioned ones for half that. Needless we took the old crappy ones, but spent most of our spare time relaxing in the nice grassy garden area playing crib, reading and swapping stories. There was a swimming pool (so to speak) available but it was a hot spring fed, mineral laden murky pool and the kids chose to run around and play tag or hide ‘n seek instead.

After a “down day” of relaxing we headed out into the dessert for some interesting stops and a night sleeping out under the stars. The sights along the way were pretty amazing. We stopped at the black desert, which was an archipelago of volcano’s with broken black rock everywhere lazily interspersed with sand. We climbed one particularly large one which gave us a spectacular view for quite a distance with all the little black “bumps” (former volcanoes) spread in the foreground and all across the horizon. Next on the road was the “Crystal Mountain”. It was a large outcropping of calcite crystals. They were all over the sand as we approached from 20-30m away. Warren was formerly a geologist and was a phenomenal asset (and a friendly one too of course!) to have along. He described many things for us along the day, (indeed, along the trip so far) which was great to have that technical and historical perspective. The last stop was the white desert, which turned out to be a vast expanse of chalk. There were many 3-8m odd shaped formations as well as flat areas not covered by sand. The formations were wind carved into all sorts of wonderful and amazing shapes. It struck me as something right out of a Dr. Seus book. Perhaps his regular illustrator had previously visited the area and had been inspired…

After walking around the area just off the main highway and taking all sorts of incredible pictures, we ventured into the white desert. The two Toyota Land Cruiser drivers first deflated the tires a bit before driving through the dessert like maniacle teenagers without a care for the passengers they forgot were with them. About five or ten kilometers of swerves into it we stopped at a brilliant place to set up camp. The two guys weren’t very communicative (no tour guides or organizers seem to be in Egypt; getting information is worse than pulling teeth!) about what we were doing or when the entire day. Setting up camp was certainly no different. We just explored around a bit and took all sorts of more photos while waiting for the open campfire cooked meal. While the food was good, the chicken was served with the guys fingers. Yeach! And seconds on the potato stew mix was served with the guys spoon that he was eating with from his own plate. Even bigger Yeach!

One of the most interesting things we all noticed was the snowdrifts. The white chalk rock is spread across the plains with the very cool upshooting white rock formations and sand spread around the white. This makes it look like white snowdrifts and infrequent patches of light brown “ground” (the sand). This was really a reverse montage, and if one tried driving at a high speed through a foot high white drift, it would launch the vehicle and likely rip out the undercarriage. The white chalk rock is not as soft as it sounds either. It was certainly not granite, but was considerably harder than the chalk that Paul used to whip at me in Grade nine science.

That night, it turned out to be an almost full moon night and the scenes all around us were completely spectacular over the next several hours. Warren even managed to wakeup in the middle of the night and catch some shots of the moon setting. We woke up the next morning to a fairly sparse breakfast and then five hours of long, boring travel and a bazillion checkpoints to get to Dahkla Oasis.

A lot More Of Egpyt 1

Friday, March 21st, 2008

Oops we have already met the mcbride’s and as you know I have not written a blog since the great pyramids. One thing I can not forget is a GREAT BIG Happy Birthday to a five year old girl, named Gracie so HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY GRACE (sorry for not calling). Now on to Egpyt. The next thing we did was the Cairo museum. At the Cairo museum We went to the first floor first.We saw a lot of things. One of the first things We did was look at the rosettea stone, a differnt stone saying how the Egyptians concord the Indian, statue’s and some piller’s. Then We went for Lunch. After Lunch We went Back in to the museum to look at the second Floor on the second floor was what I came to egpyt to see King tut / tutincomen (sp) things mainly the Golden mask. We waled Through his Things and saw a head rest about 9 centimeters off the ground our Guide said was a pillow. Alex making a joke about it said so thats why they walk like an . Later
On our first boat ride it was confermend to be only for the mummies. Then finally We saw it the mask of king tut / tutincomen (sp) They had it in a glass container in the middle of the room with his jewelery and coffin”s .Our guide said that the mask represented a young man because he was 18 or 19 when he died.It had some hieroglyphics’s (sp) on the back. The coffin’s of king tut / tutincomen (sp) is a funny story he had a big movable room with a smaller movable room inside and inside that was a smaller movable room inside and inside that was the smallest room inside the smallest movable room was a big coffin inside that was another and inside that was the smallest coffin inside that was (finally) the mummy of king tut / tutincomen our Guide left us there because know all We had to see was mummy’s the first mummy’s We saw were animal mummy’s the first intact (sp) one We saw was a crocodile there were plenty more but I will just bring up a few of them. A dog, the dog was one of the mummy’s that was not wrapped and was not rotting.after seeing the dog I pinched my arm for a few min’s. Another one was a bird the bird was not wrapped and not rotting, it was now just a model (sp) made out of it’s bones. The final one was wrapped a bit and rotting. This one is a cow. The cow did not die naturally (if you are under 10 do not read this) there was turpentine inserted to the cow though it’s penis to eat out the inside’s and then (under ten year olds may read again starting here) the cow was mummified and put into the kings tomb. The final thing We did that day was look at royal mummies I have picked out three royal mummies. Number one a mummy that was so very old that it had green skin this mummy I found it scary so when I walked ahead and saw it I ran back to dad. Mummy number two this mummy was not N-O-T a favorite (sp) When they were talking the brain’s out something went wrong so the nose was split in half and she had brown and a bit of blue skin for my final mummy was my favorite her face was B-e-a-utful her nose could not look any better her skin was in between brown and white and her hair looked very smooth one of the other reason’s I liked her was she was buried with what looked like a baby but x-rays show it was her pet baboon.

Forty-One is OLD!!!

Sunday, March 16th, 2008

We woke up this morning (early! ) on a sleeper train from Luxor to Cairo. Lo and behold, I looked below me (she made me take the top bunk, ) and there was this REALLY old, (but still good look’in) woman there. Unbelievable how quickly Claudette’s “WAY Over The Hill” birthday snuck up on us while traveling.

I managed to get our tour manager in Luxor to buy a cake and bring it with us to the train. I tipped him lots and asked for it to be a secret. I suggested he could give it directly to our train car waiter who could surprise serve it up for breakfast. Unfortunately, the word “Secret” didn’t come across properly to him and he handed over a big bakery box to me when he picked us up to take us to the boat. Claudette seems to hate surprises anyways, but it still would have been nice and the kids & I would have certainly enjoyed springing a quick early morning celebration on her. Oh well…

The cake was fantastic, and since the standard train breakfast was well below desirable, we all had chocolate cake for Breakfast! (Just like the Bill Cosby story from the “Himself” album.) We had an arranged ride to our hotel, but they switched reservations on us and we ended up being waaayyyyyy out by the Giza Pyramids. We are only a few km away and can see them really well from our hotel. It’s a long (and expensive!) taxi ride to downtown where we are taking the bus to the Bawati Oasis tomorrow morning.

If anyone wants, they can send a quick birthday greetings as a comment to this message or by sending Claudette an e-mail. She probably won’t read this post for a few days or a week or so and will be pleasantly surprised… 😀

The Ship that Didn’t Move.

Friday, March 14th, 2008

It seemed rather a nice idea, at first. Then we had word it was “delayed” somehow. The next day we drove about 90 minutes upriver to meet the ship on the “other” side of a major lock on the Nile River. It was an alright looking ship, but certainly not FIVE STAR as we consider it. I suspect that the upper deck cabins are reserved for self booking (read: much higher paying) tourists. Of the four floors, ours was the bottom one whose cabin’s window were around 20cm above the river water line from the outside. Bummer… I suspect that the tour agencies provide “filler” bodies to the cruise lines for the ships at a much lower cost than the walk-ons. Our entire six day South Egypt adventure, (including van rides, guides, accommodation and four days of ship meals) worked out to be only $55/day/person. When we looked into booking ourselves on a ship, the charge for just that (not including the guide to accompany us) was $125 to $175 per person per day! Huge difference…

That first night on the ship we still didn’t move. The ship’s crew gave the guides all kinds of excuses and reasoning. First they had a “slight” engine problem, then we had to wait our turn among the twenty odd ships waiting to head upriver. The next day when we were the only ones docked the reasoning down the pipeline came to us as “waiting for the government authorization that it was our turn to leave”. This was the first semi-truth told I think. Late that second day the five independent tour guides began collaborating and looking for the Captain, (called the ship’s Manager). He had been missing for a few hours and the the pressured crew eventually admitted that the ship couldn’t leave and the captain had ran away, heading North to escape the embarrassment. The five Egyptian tour guides made a quick trip to the local police station, and ‘poof!’ a few hours later there was the crying Ship’s Manager at the police station. The authorities had set up road blocks, tracked him down, and driven him back to face the music.

The only wonderful part of that was meeting and befriending the only other English speaking passengers on the ship. We actually rode in the van with them from Luxor to Edfu to join our stranded ship. Little did e know that the six of us would be the only English speaker’s on a boat full of Romanians, Bulgarians and Russians. They were a wonderful couple from a rural area near Sydney, and we all got along famously. Even after we both departed to seperate ships for the remainder of our Nile cruise, we managed to meet up again for a lovely afternoon of relaxing in Aswan. Now Alex and I have two fantastic family friend’s to visit in Brisbane and near Sydney when we return to Australia in a few years.

Ron and Jenine also had their own personal guide traveling with them (like we were supposed to). He was also a recent university graduate with an Egyptian Tourism degree and he was young, quite knowledgeable and very friendly. He actually helped us quite a bit since our guide was stuck waiting for us at the next monument up the river a little ways. As young and advanced in thinking as he was though, he still had some HUGE problems wrapping his head around the freedoms his fiance’ was pushing for in her own life. They had been scrapping for a few days by telephone while he was away.

I should interrupt here with a quick story of one of our previous guides in Cairo, for the museum. She was nice and relatively knowledgeable and had been a guide for a few years. She grew up further South but lived in Cairo with her sister and older brother. She was about late twenties and was expressedly forbidden from taking any guiding jobs that would leave Cairo, or where she would have to spend a night away. Her brother strongly enforced these draconian wishes of her father to guard against any indiscretions she might partake in I suppose. The traveling guides are all given rooms to themselves, or occasionally bunked with another guide of the same sex. When she told us this Claudette had to pinch me (and HARD!) in order to keep me from vehemently protesting such horrible and unnessesary controlling measures.

Now back to Ron & Jenine’s guide. His fiance was also a guide and was permitted to go with tour groups that travel. He was disturbed by the tight clothes that she wore along with the make-up that adorned her face. These were large parts of what initially attracted him to her, but now he desperately needed her to change to help control his jealous fears. This was a pretty good kid all in all, up to this point. He was having an incredibly difficult time dealing with the fact that she resisted his control. Now that they were engaged, it was only a tiny step away from marriage where his every word and manly whim would rule the day and her life. He came out with these little gems one afternoon while he was sitting with Ron, Jenine, Claudette and I. Three of us were instantly incensed by such callous old style disregard for the rights of another human being. Claudette saw the horrified angry expression on my face and almost ran from the room as the other three of us began a possibly feeble attempt at educating this fine young Muslim man about the ways of the modern world. He agreed that women were in fact their own persons. Then he easily acknowledged that of course women shouldn’t be “controlled” by their husbands or fathers, or men in their lives in general. When the discussion came around to her respecting and conforming to his wishes though, all the previous logic was blown away like crumbling foundation dust in the winds of thousands of years of indoctrination. After running a circular conversation for awhile he admitted that maybe his thinking might be a little incorrect. I offered to type out a semi-conciliatory message on his phone that he could alter and send to her. It basically (and pointedly) described his inner turmoil and how he cared for her and didn’t like fighting. It went on to semi acknowledge his realization of being unreasonable and suggested that he would work on overcoming these controlling feelings. Ron and Jenine proofread and then we made him understand that he would have to read it several times over and truly believe EVERY word written before he could send it. In the end he reluctantly agreed with the conclusions written and said it to her, knowing that he was embarking on a pretty difficult path. I’m sure his Muslim “brothers” will be very disturbed by his acceptance of a woman as a genuine person, but he seemed to recognize the inevitability of such a concept.

Sadly though, this was the same guy whom the day before had come up with a few other way out there political statements. During what seemed to be a very intelligent and reasonable conversation with the five of us a waiter came and brought Ron a coke. Ron offered one to their guide, which was rapidly declined. He went on to say that he couldn’t possibly support the American while the oppression of his brother’s continued on. We were all stunned and silently tried to digest this until one of us asked for further clarification. He said that Coke was an American company. He then suggested that it is a well known fact that Israel is practically just the 53rd state of the United States, (we all pretty much agreed to this point). Now since Israel is doing all sorts of bad things to his Muslim Brother’s in Palestine (very true as well) this made Israel pretty much his enemy. This doesn’t even consider the military attacks by Israel on Egypt a few decades ago. While we were all astonished at such extreme thoughts by a (mostly) otherwise seemingly reasonable man, we also had to explain how corporate America (and Canada) works. Even though the US contributes finacially to Isreal on a massive scale, (we left out the hundreds of millions they give to Egypt as well) NONE of that money actually comes from the Coca-Cola company. We went on to further explain that private companies in North America want nothing more than to keep every red cent they make all for themselves and their investors. Corporations would hardly pour money down the drain to another country’s government in the hopes of promoting their own ideals in that region. The next day he ordered a coke, but we didn’t rib him too much.

Once we left our broken ship, we took a van from Edfu to Aswan stopping at three temples and the Aswan dam on the way. We then took a very early morning three hour (only one way!) trip to Abu Simble. It was fairly impressive, but we are all split on whether it was worth the six hour return craped van ride for about 55 minutes of incredibly crowded viewing. We had to travel in a security convoy with about 45 large tour buses and around 30 fifteen seater vans. That makes for a whole huge whack of tourists that arrive there at the same time and that only have the 105 minute window to see everything. Trying to funnel everyone through the small entrance all at one time and then further huge lines to get inside one of the two temples was exasperating to say the least. Most of the Europeans we were alongside with had no concept of “personal space” and had clearly missed out on all the lessons of common decency in grade school that we clearly take for granted. The extreme lack of common decency among fellow tourists has been a common theme throughout our trip so far. The large crowds in Egypt have certainly amplified this huge problem though. (I plan to write and hypothesize on this much more in a future post.)

After one night at the Isis hotel in Aswan and our whirlwind tour to Abu Simbo, we were taken to our new ship in the early afternoon. It was actually on a week long cruise from Luxor to Aswan and back for one week. We just jumped on into a couple of spare cabins in Aswan for the last three days. Not only was this boat a fair bit nicer, it had much better food as well, (not to mention how pleasing to us it was that this new ship actually MOVED! ). The food on the previous one was OK, (when you weren’t getting elbowed or budded in front of by the Eastern Block tourists) but this ship cooking staff made wonderful concoctions from scratch that are to almost be expected froma cruise. The only disappointment on any food in general that I’d have so far in Egypt is with the soups. It seems irrelevant if we are at a dumpy restaurant or ship; or in a super deluxe trendy cafe or five star cruise ship; all of the soups we’ve had here so far are entirely bland and boring. This is surprising really in a country where so many other delightfully spicy and flavored dishes are well noted.

We have just arrived back to Luxor and will spend one more night on the ship before taking the night train back to Cairo tomorrow (Saturday, March 15) evening. This means that Claudette will wake up as a forty-one year old on a train in a couple days… After spending another night in Cairo we plan on heading a little ways North to Bahiwi (sp?) Oasis to meet up with the McBride family again. Once there, we’ll take it slow and relaxing and work our way to Siani (Eastern Egypt) within about 10 days. There the McBride family will meet up with some visiting relatives and we will head further East into Jordan for a week or so before heading to Rome.

Wow, a Real Cruise!

Friday, March 14th, 2008

Today we are officially on our cruise! It left today around 2 (pm). There is only (!!!!) 3 kids on board! I think they are German, but their English is good. We have been playing Tic, which is like tag. Today was the dress up party, and I’m conveniently having to write this log. 🙂 I don’t have a costume, or anyone to talk to this time. I slipped away after supper. S’all for now!

Luxor

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

The tour we booked included two connecting cabins on an overnight train. Sadly, overnight actually only translated into a 4:30 AM wakeup for a basic breakfast and waiting for our 5:30AM arrival at Luxor. We were due at 5:00, but ended up being behind schedule somehow. At least we finally rode in our own cabins on an overnight train. We were supposed to have the remainder of that day to rest before touring Luxor’s monuments the next day. Unfortunately our guide decided that he wanted to go through a few of them that day and work two half days in Luxor instead of one long day. This would have been OK if we had been well rested, but we were all pretty bushed still. Nonetheless we headed out with smiling, tired faces.

I won’t relate all the stories here, but our guide (Hysam, but called “Sam”) turned out to be a highly knowledgeable yet absolutely intolerable and an arrogant pain in the butt! It started with us all swatting house flys (there were about 30!) that were incessantly bugging us during Sam’s explanations. He actually stopped, grabbed Luke’s arm and gave my poor son heck for not paying attention! At the end of the first day of touring Claudette and I were pondering if we wanted to be with him for the next five days! We wrote it off to our tiredness and figured things would be better tomorrow. The next day though was more of the same. Ooozing arrogance at every step. The breaking point for Claudette came when he waved his hand in front of us while repeatedly snapping his fingers, yet again demanding our attention. Apparently, snapping of fingers makes my wife see blood red, (as I have woefully found out a few times in the past when I was only joking around….(Honest!)).

This guide was also forcefully suggesting crazy high tips for everyone we encountered. He even went so far as to call a van driver on the cell phone and tell him to come back in front of me to get a higher tip. After driving us to three monuments over a five hour period, Sam explained to me, “I TOLD you to give him $24 but your wife only gave him $5!!!” I quickly became incensed and related that my wife and I agreed that a $5 tip was even excessive for what the driver actually accomplished during his few hours of driving us around while getting paid a salary to do so by the tour company. He rebutted that I would have to give more since the van driver was returning. I couldn’t believe this little PICK (with an “R”). He then said, “OK, OK… just give him another $12 and that will be good for today”. Before walking into the hotel I insisted that the only way the driver was gonna get ANY more money was if Sam paid it himself. We contacted the tour company and related that Sam was no longer welcome as our guide, and could they please try and find another one on short notice for the remaining three days going up the Nile River. All guides are freelance, and luckily the tour company was very receptive to our concerns and fired the guide. A new guide would join us at our first monument they told us. Whew!

In the meantime I should relate a bit about the visits we did accomplish in and around Luxor. There were two large temples in the town (Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple) plus a short (half hour) drive to the Valley of the Kings, Hat Chep Sou (sp???) Temple and the Valley of the Queens. The two temples in town were both pretty cool and distinctive for their own reasons. One was very intact while the other had the painted colors more visible and a more colored history. The Luxor Temple had one portion half buried in sand, and the Muslims built a mosque on top of one section several hundred years ago. Then came those nasty Christians who defaced all the faces and bodies of the hieroglyphics and story walls the Egyptians had made. Hearing about how the horrible Christians of old came and defaced their ancestors majestic works with abject disdain in the guide’s voice became a very common theme over our tours in Egypt. I gritted my teeth and neglected to point out to any of them that there is practically NO ancient Egyptian blood left, and most of the current residents are from Muslim conquerors who also razed and defaced many of these prized showcases. I think I shall write a letter to the Tourism departments of the Universities and ask that they educate their tour graduates with some of their own ancestory facts along with extensive Egyptology and how to manage tours.

At Karnak Temple were two standing obleisks which were pretty impressive. Most temples are added on my successions of Kings (Pharos) but this one had a large portion done by Hat Chea Sou, and when her step-son took over power from her he destroyed most of her works because of his deep hatred for taking his throne for so long when women were not really entitled to rule. This included raizing some buildings and scraping clean many walls of stories at that temple. He left the obelisks though since they were firstly a pretty impressive feat and secondly because he was afraid of offending the Sun God Ra whom they were erected for. At night there was a “Sound and Light” show at the Karnak Temple. This is one of three where guests walk through in stages and different portions of the temple are lit up dramatically while up to four voice actors relate specific stories through strategically placed loudspeakers. It was pretty cool to see, but VERY expensive. While daytime admission to the temple was only about $10, the evening Sound and light show was $18.

The Valley of the Kings was pretty amazing, but we were sadly rushed by our guide (Sam) who seemed to want to be finished for the day by 1:00 PM? The Kings built many pyramids over the years, but they eventually realized that it might be easier to just sink a shaft into a mountain and make a tomb in their to protect their afterlife riches from thieves. The valley was easily guarded, and so many tombs were built there over a large span of years. As soon as a king gained power he would initiate building his pyramid or a tomb shaft and rooms in the Valley of the Kings. These would typically take 20-50 years to construct, but as soon as the King died the new King would start his own rather than spending time and money finishing off his predecessor’s. At the entrance visitor’s center there was a clear acetate sheet showing the relief of the area’s hills along with mapped out 3D clear acetate shafts where all of the Kings tombs were. It was VERY cool, and I explained to our guide that this was the type of thing I did as a job back home.

The Valley of the King’s was where Tut’s tomb was found. The entrance had been covered by the excavated ruble from newer tombs close by. Tut’s tomb was actually very small and with a very short shaft because he died so young and didn’t get to finish much of it. His was most famous simply because robbers had never discovered it and the possessions and treasures in it were all intact. That gave archaeologists a thorough glimpse into what was burried in the tombs without having to rely solely on the wall scripts describing the process.

Hat Chep Sou temple was built by a woman who took control of the throne from her step-son. She had many impressive acheivments to her name, and this grand stair-ridden throne to worship the gods was large with many incredible statutes and architectual work. It was built a few km away from the valley of the King’s & Valley of the Queen’s, and was built into the side of a mountain. Our guide said that locals and tourists can walk through the hills in between these ancient places, but anyone seen in the hills after dark is shot. I figured that they’d send a reconnaissance troop out first, but he insisted that no, anyone up there in the dark is assumed to be a robber and will be automatically shot. I’m still unsure of how absolute that truth is, but it’s worrisome even to consider.

The Valley of the Queens was obviously far less impressive than the Men’s valley of course. I say this with such an assumption because of the still strongly apparent extreme lack of respect for women in this area of the world. In the VOTQ there was a tomb for some Prince that died quite young. His passage and rooms at the end were entirely average compared to the others except for the colors. While all of the tombs origianally had an abundance of strong and beautiful colors painted throughout, very little has remained. This princes tomb’s wall and ceiling scene’s were still very colorful and extraordinary to see. Every where we went, every turn of our bodies, or glance in any direction the Egyptian tomb “guards” tried extorting money from us in the form of tips. I have grown VERY weary of this behavior and respond in kind to them now. Similarly for the shopkeepers and tout’s that attack people walking down the street. Luke even took up my tactics the other day to combat being hassled. The shocked horror on these guys faces at being told to buy a battery or a small stick for “best price!” in an incessant barrage of decreasing (yet very outrageous) prices with barely taking a breath. It was sweet justice, and in the end most of them have gotten a good laugh knowing how much of a pain in the butt they are when they do that to us.

You can’t walk on us forever!

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

We have been notoriously cheated, for many things. As dad puts it, “they see us as walking banks, they think we are only here to help the economy”. That is exactly (for lack of a funner word) pretty much true. I won’t tell you every time we got cheated, because I’m sure dad will put in a very detailed account of each time. But my favorite is our Nile “cruise”. We were stuck on the boat for 3 days. They continually lied to us and everyone else, saying “oh no, we will move in 3 hours (or so)” and it just went on and on like that. Some of the guides ferreted out the truth, and they actually took the manager of the boat to the police station! We made some good friends on the boat, Ron and Janine and Lora and Alex. Once we left we all went our seperate ways, which wasn’t fun. Then once we got on our new boat, dad found Ron and Janine (actually they were looking for us, he hid behind a tree and scared them!) and it was really nice because we got to chit chat for a bit. We were on our boat for a while, then we went over to there tiny (and so cute!) cruise boat. Lora and Alex and their parents were on the same boat as them! Sadly, as it turns out, Lora and Alex had checked out, 5 minutes before we went onto the boat to visit! What bad luck! About half and hour later, we had to go have supper. We are now on a cruise, that is going somewhere (in fact, we are moving at this very moment) and it is much nicer. On this cruise we have polite French people, and not a single pushy Russian!
S’all bout bad luck for now!

Cairo, Memphis, Saqarra & GIZA!

Monday, March 10th, 2008

Luckily, it wasn’t too warm in Cairo for our few days there. We started at a decent hotel on the island with a two day booking. It was a bit too expensive for us, but it was the district where Claudette wanted to be. To say that Cairo is huge is of course an understatement. Picking a neighborhood to find a hotel in is difficult enough, never mind deciding on a specific hotel. We wandered around the neighborhood and enjoyed a relaxing few days and some fantastic restaurant food.

We booked a guided tour in a private van out to see Giza. This turned out to be the last stop on our tour that day though. First we stopped at Memphis, which was the first capital city of Egypt. There were a bunch of smaller yet impressive statues and stone coffins on display. There was also two huge one’s of Ramsee’s. One was claimed to be the largest statute in the world (of Ramses) but was missing it’s legs. The government had built a protective building around it, and the “half” statute was laying down on it’s back. There was also a large sphinx carving made from alabaster stone which was pretty impressive.

The highlight of the day was our second stop, at Saqarra. This was the original pyramid, and the only fully intact burial “complex” so far discovered in Egypt. VERY much worth a visit, but only with a guide so they can describe to you the full scope of what you are seeing and how it originated.

Giza was similarly quite impressive, with much larger crowds spread over a much larger area. The main Giza sphinx in my mind was a bit overrated (shhhh, don’t tell Luke!) and I liked the smaller, but better carved alabaster one at Memphis. That one was still about 9m long and maybe 4m high though.

We head South on the train to take in the many ancient sights there.

Wowwy wow, wow wow!

Monday, March 10th, 2008

Wow! The other day We went to the pyramids of Giza. They were huge! We also went to the first ever pyramid built, which was quite by accident. The great pyramids of Giza where amazing! It was made by a grandpa, father and son. The grandpa made the biggest of all the entire pyramids in Egypt. I don’t know if the father and the son were second and and third in Egypt though. We went into the tomb of the father’s pyramid. It was very stuffy in there. Last was the sphinx. I actually thought it was bigger then it is. But of course it was still very impressive, even with no nose. S’all for now!

EGPYT RULES!

Monday, March 10th, 2008

As I said earlier Egpyt RULE’S. We took a tour of the great pyiramds and the spinx today. Tommorw we are going to the Museum. The first thing We did today Was get up Than We ate breckfast than We met our guide. (We are going to five place’s today by the way) Than We went on our tour. Our first stop was a small place with very few monuments our guide said That We should save our time and camera film for later He said ther were only 3 monuments We should look at number one was a small spinx. Not the famues spinx infront of the great pyiramds But a small one. It had a small moat with grass growing in it no water. The next thing was a staute I’m not going to tell you who it was. Post your ansers on coments and I will tell you when someone gets it right. here are some choice’s
.king tut
.moses
.Alexander the Great
.Ramses the 1 or 2
or Alexander Mackenzie

Choose wisely.

And the final staute was the same person as the last one so I can not tell you But it was humengus When it was found it had no legs And the legs remain lost to this very day. The second acticaty 2%5 We went was The first pyiramad ever built I will tell you the story because you can not watch it on the camera. Well egpytions beleaved in life after death So when someone died they would put them in a hole the hole could be from 30 meters deep to 5 meters deep depending how rich or poor you were there was two rooms one for you to go to and one for thing’s you would need in your after life. but thiefs would break into the tombs and steal your stuff So the bult mud wall over but they could destroy it very easiely this desturved a arcatecter very much so he bult a tomb the very same way but after the mud he layed stone and this became the first ever stone tomb 3 years later he thought whey not add another layer so he did. Another 3 years later he thought why not add another layer he thought this was sush a good Idea that he made many more layers and so became the first pyiramad. The pharo thought this was such a good Idea he said only pharos could have this as beareal chambers and so it was done. Wow this is getting to be a big blog.Activaty 3%5 next We went to a papyiras (sp) factorey were they make and sell papyiras (sp) drawings We were loking at buying one but We could not agree on one so WE did not get one. 🙁 activeaty number 4%5 it is now lunch and it is very good activaty number 5%5 final acticatey The only Achent (sp) wonder standing Guess what it is I will finesh my blog once you guess……

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Just kidding

So on to THE GREAT PYIRAMADS (Opps I told you what it was he he) Well the first thing out of three things We saw there Was (drumroll please ) The tallest pyirmad out of them all The Great Pyiramd When We got there all We saw was a bright ligh on top of the pyiramad. So It was hard to see how tall it was. But it was preaty tall When We got to the other side You could see how tall it was. We got to the second pyiramad I found a gold stone (I will send a pic of it) outside of the pyiramad. We could go into the second pyiramad and Boy was it hot H-O-T hot Well it was not really hot it was humid but it does not matter. We should have brought a fan that would have made it cooler. The final thing We went to was The bigest oldest coolest Sphinx (with no nose and no false beard) also the most crowded. There was a fence around it so no one could get in if they did not pay. One man put all his things inside the fence and was selling things to people inside.
Well thats all today.

Kenya by Alex

Saturday, March 8th, 2008

On the 1st we left to Kenya, and we stayed in Nairobi for one night. We lucked out and got a really nice hotel, because its low season, we got the good price. It cost $100, but normaly, in high season it costs $300! I think about $200 would e a fair price for it in high season. The restaurant was very very good! Fair prices for the food, and it was delicious! The first dinner I had Crocodile and dad had Ostrich. Luke decided not to be adventurous, and had a medium-rare sirloin steak with a garlic sauce. It was almost as good as when dad makes it. 😀 My crocodile tail was good, the ostrich was better but Luke’s meal was best! For dessert, I had a strawberry melba, which consists of strawberry’s, vanilla ice cream, whip cream and a strawberry flavored syrup. It was veeeery good! Dad had a chocolate mouse (which was the real, and very yummy thing), Luke had apple pie (not NEARLY as good as Joanne’s or Anne’s!) and mum had a caramel custard. The next supper me Luke and dad had medium rare steak with garlic sauce. We went to the airport at about 9:00 pm. Our boarding time was 4:30 am. We had to leave so early, because we were told that no taxi driver would want to get up and drive us at 1 in the morning! When we got there, Luke and I played for a bit ( with a foldable frisbee) until half an hour to an hour later when the girl who was sleeping near us, woke up and we all just started playing stuff together. At first it was don’t let the balloon touch the ground, next we played with the frisbee for a bit, and then we played entirely pointless (but very fun!) baseball. We used the frisbee as a bat, and one of the balloons as a ball. First base was a thing too measure if your carry on was to big, second base was some seats, third base was a table and home base was some check in counters. It was very tiring too. Then at about 2:30 am, they let us go into security, but when we got to our gate 5 minutes later, we weren’t allowed in there! So we had to wait until 3:30 or so, until we could go in. Me and Luke didn’t sleep until we got on the plane, and by that time we were long gone!!! I was a little under slept when we got here, but, we’ve sort of adjusted. S’all for now, bye-bye!

Leaving Kenya, and a Nice Hotel

Saturday, March 8th, 2008

Wow! And to think I did not want to go to Kenya. First of all were not dead, second of all were in the airport so we are safe. As I was saying earlier, (in the title) we left an very nice hotel. The rooms were fantastic and very cheap but the were only cheap because not many people were coming to Kenya now. There was a pool and GIANT rooms for the price it was at.

When we got to the airport it was 8:00 PM. We made some friends and we played until it was time to board which was at 4:00 AM and I hadn’t had a minute of sleep. Of course when we got on the plane I was asleep before we took of. When we arrived, it was 9:00 AM and we got to the hotel it was 12:07 after lunch and we fell asleep. Goood night

Kenya; Ever So Brief…

Friday, March 7th, 2008

The bus ride up from Arusha in Tanzania to Nairobi was fairly uneventful. At the border crossing there was naturally a large carving (and general souvenir) market. There was a tall hardwood giraffe there similar to the one we’d seen in Thailand. This one was a little bit bigger, a nicer wood, but had huge, out of proportion ears. The price was also a little crazy at $1,500 versus about $125 for the Thailand one!

Kenya was pretty OK, especially considering the recent country-wide strife. The day before we arrived a massive strike was planned by the opposition. Many journalists insisted that this would quickly become a civil war because the corrupt president just wouldn’t give in. In the end, they came to an agreement just the day before the planned strikes and protests.

The country side was obviously similar to Tanzania, but with one HUGE difference. Fences… There were organized livestock fences almost everywhere along the highway and roads. In Tanzania (not to mention India, and all of SE Asia!) all domesticated animals were free range. The kids played with about a 12 year old girl in the main terminal for five hours. There were only a dozen seats in the main area, and they were all terribly uncomfortable. Off to Cairo we then went, for a morning of rest before touring the ancient Egyptian Civilizations remarkable sites.

Nairobi seemed like almost any regular Western city, except for the car names. It was sorta clean, had sidewalks etc, but many people still drove a bit like maniacs. The bus arrived just a little after lunch and the hotel it stopped at was just barely OK. Rooms were only $25/night, but they wanted a whole extra $25 for a 6:00 PM check-out the next day instead of the standard 60%. I figured I could do better and left the other three in a restaurant for a bite while I walked around. Up the street a block was another place that Lonely Planet suggested. It was a slightly nicer room, but a suite for four of us with breakfast was $114/night. After a few more I hit up a high class place thinking that they’d be empty and would have a smok’in price. Oooops! “Not a chance” that rooms would be discounted I was told in so many words. Can’t blame a guy for trying I thought. My last stop was the NAIROBI SAFARI CLUB which looked like a typical elegant Four Seasons kind of joint. They gave me a rate of 7000 shillings which I promptly transformed into only $100!!! These were normally $3565/night rooms that included breakfast and pool use. SCORE!

Late the next day we went to the airport to wait for our 4:00 AM flight, . It was OK except they wouldn’t let us check-in and get through security until 100 minutes before the flight.

Around The World In Eighty Days

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

About a month or two ago we had bought a three disc set of this BBC documentary. It stars one of the former Monty Python guys, Michael Palin, re-creating Phileas Fogg’s fictional Journey in modern times and with modern transportation modes & routes. This of course means no airplanes. While this may seem to be an enormously easy venture, it turned out incredibly difficult. While many ships certainly travel faster than the great steamship liners of a hundred years ago, there are very few options in passenger liners anymore. I REALLY suggest that anyone even slightly interested in a very unique perspective on other places in the world try and watch this documentary series. That recommendation goes TRIPLE for any other people or especially families in the middle of, or planning to travel the world.

Similar to Fogg’s rollicking adventure, Michael finds himself with very little time to enjoy the places he visits, but with altogether almost too much time for relaxation and reflection on long train or ship journey’s. The addition of a camera/sound crew also makes many aspects more complicated. There were many scenes which we had only just recently enjoyed ourselves, around various ports and parts of the world. The most haunting scene was of Michael in a taxi in India. A little girl comes begging for food to his window. He obviously feels terrible for her, but still refuses to offer her money for fear of perpetuating such begging in the streets. His very real reaction is that of us as well, and most other travelers we’ve met. One would be overwhelmingly inundated if you allowed yourself even just one offering to these sweet yet filthy faces. Michael’s journey was in 1988 (he walked across Tienanmen Square just BEFORE the student riots). The begging and his embarrassed yet appropriate reaction to it have not changed at all in the last twenty years. Sadly, only the faces change…

Picture Updates.

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

We’ve made some new uploads of pictures from Alex’s camera. The connections I’ve tried with pictures in Tanzania and Kenya so far are remarkably slow though. All I’ve gotten done so far are some extras from India and the ones from Dubai, (along with some new section divider images that are small). We leave for Cairo at about 4:00 AM late tonight, after arriving at the airport at about 10:00 PM since we can’t arrange a taxi in Nairobi much after that. I guess that means we’ll be sleeping in the airport chairs… Ugh!

Anyways, I’ll be looking for a fast internet connection somewhere in Cairo in the next few days to upload the remaining 115 images like crazy!

Tours, Tipping and Our Lack of Wealth

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

I was discussing begging and money a while ago with another Canadian we met up with. He proposed that no matter how modest our actual means were, most people in other countries view us as walking banks. This is naturally shocking to think about, but is also sadly, very true. While most travelers are certainly NOT overly wealthy in their own countries, beggars, touts and vendors see us only that way. It doesn’t matter how many years of special coffee’s someone did without, or how many brown bag lunches they ate instead of joining their friends at restaurants. Even those such sacrifices that enable us to travel are unfathomable to these people. We are therefore, “Walking Banks”, and it is fair game to try and extract as much money from us as they can. As frustrating to us as this is, they really can’t be blamed for their perception’s I suppose…

After multi-day tours the client is expected to tip whatever staff were involved with your “wonderful experience!”. After paying typically very extensive amounts of money in the first place, this is starting to annoy the heck out of me. I can see that it probably started thirty or forty years ago as an occasional way of expressing even more gratitude to guides or drivers who are extra helpful or frequently go above and beyond the call of duty. Once workers observed or experienced this cycle they would likely do even more little special things for the client, to get even larger tips. At some point company owners realized the large amounts of extra money their workers were getting as tips and felt left out. Naturally they then conspired to slowly degrade the wages of their workers more than the pitiful amount they were already paid. The end result is that after a while the workers NEED those tips to barely sustain their families. This of course made tips expected rather than earned (typically, but probably not “always”). As a result, all of those little “extras” that clients previously enjoyed slowly degraded to a “base” service level yet again. Meanwhile the base fees never really decreased too account for the now necessary tips. The client certainly enjoys their trip, but ends up paying considerably more than the original advertised price.

Roughly expected tips for a driver or guide are about $10-$15/day/person. This basic little formula naturally quadruples everything for us! A cook, or ships crew typically garners 60-75% of the main persons tip. So, for our five day Galapagos tour the main guide was expecting a minimum of about $200 (or up to $300!). The crew were expecting another $150 for doing their jobs and helping us on and off of the boat, and being courteous to us. In India we only had a driver for a week with only a few daily guides. Still the driver “needs” a $350 tip from us… Geesh! Lastly now is the example from our African Safari. At $3,400 for our family (of only four! and not eight) for five days and four nights we are needed to give a huge tip to the driver (the four of us were the ONLY passengers in his Land Cruiser) and also give a significant sum to our cook. The cook was actually shared among two touring vehicles from the same company, so he gets double the bang for his buck. Worse even, was that this guy stopped a few times to buy little trinkets and a necklace for the kids and Claudette. When I expressed thanks but that he REALLY shouldn’t, he replied that he can get it as a Tanzanian for MUCH less money than us tourists could ever negotiate it down to. While this is a sad but very true fact, it doesn’t negate the fact that we wouldn’t really be buying this crap for ourselves in the first place. Really he was just “investing” in these things to make sure we fondly remembered him later at “Tip Time”. Emotional blackmail is what this really amounts to.

For our African safari we came up with slightly more unique solutions. We gave the cook a little tip (about a third of the standard minimum) and a gift. He had expressed great fondness for Canada and knew several of the major cities. My now slightly cynical nature strongly suspects that this is also just another ploy to garner a large tip at the end. He probably knows some basic geography for the US, Australia and Germany along with most other European countries that breed many many travelers. We hadn’t encountered any other “helpers” or guides yet that wore hats, and I had brought one along. It said “Northwest Territories, Canada” and had an outline of a polar bear on it. I made a big deal out of describing how rich we really weren’t, and that I had carried this single hat along on our whole trip so far waiting for the perfect recipient to give it to. I made a slightly bigger production out of it than that, but everything I said was true. I did neglet to tell him that I woke up with bad stomach cramps on our last morning and that I spent a half hour on the toilette that morning expelling my entire insides out, (and that I felt him to be entirely at fault for said gastronomical disruption).

Our driver Thomas on the other hand was a little different case. While he was equally helpful and very adept at his job, Thomas is a very genuine guy. As a freelance driver/guide, he gets paid a little more per trip and can work for any number of companies. Typically a freelance person in any industry would get less frequent work than cheaper salaried employees. Thomas’ top notch skills and extensive experience however ensure that he works very regularly and often. He spoke of some of his previous clients and how they wistfully talked about corporate partnerships with him and setting up web pages etcetera. I quickly picked up on this and threw together a quick basic web page for him while we were driving late on our forth day. I first asked him to stop and pose for a couple of pictures with the vast Serengeti plains in the background. Then I made up a bit of text for the page lightly describing his services and capabilities. Lastly I put down his cell phone number and e-mail address.

I finished just as we got back to the campsite. I spoke to him about how much we sincerely appreciated his skills, helpfulness and friendliness. I explained that we believed that he genuinely deserved a big tip, but that we were not very wealthy like many of his clients and couldn’t really afford to give what we thought he deserved. I then showed him the web page and suggested that if he liked it, I could have it up and running at his own domain within two days. He was excited at the web page and then even more thrilled at the possibility of actually having it up and running, (for real this time) and within only 48 hours. He made a couple wording changes from what I had, and then we drove 15 minutes to a local (expensive!) lodge with a generator fed satellite internet connection. There I made the domain registration request (usually a twelve hour wait) and e-mailed my brother the web page and pictures to FTP upload for me once the domain was ready, (THANKS JEFF!). It was ready and working when we arrived back at Arusha the next evening. During the drive he talked and drove describing to me what information he wanted and I redesigned the site to upload in a few weeks. The next day he came by our hotel to get a picture of Thomas in front of his 4×4 mini bus that some other clients had helped finance for him to run his own tours with.

Then ‘poof!’ He’s thrilled and very happy, while we feel we have shown our appreciation in an appropriately quantitative manner. I explained to him that the domain name registration was about $10/year and that his share of the hosting package would be about $20/year. On top of that I emphasized that he should feel free to e-mail me new pictures, updates or textual changes periodically as he sees fit. I think that he’s just ecstatic to have even a basic presence on the web since that’s what many of his customers (that don’t already know his extensive experience and professionalism) look for to establish the genuineness or seriousness of a freelance guide.

India No Match for Africa !!!

Saturday, March 1st, 2008

Day 1

Hi everybody its me again. I have to say that Africa is FANTASTIC. We just started our safari this morning and we have already seen two giraffes. They were very young. Our guide said one was 5 and the other he did not say. If the other was 5 than this one was most likely young too. It is about 15 minutes to lunch, so two o’clock in the morning at home. The African landscape is just as I thought it would be but it has more mountains. It’s pretty much just a wide open space with BEAUTIFUL trees. Every now and then we pass a small farming town and a few herds of sheep or cattle. Other than that, there is hardly any life outside of vehicles before we entered the park, Not including plants. If I were including plants, there would be a LOTS of life.

Entering the Park

We are just starting our tour. We entered the national park and the first animal we saw was …… (drum role please) baboons!!! They were so CUTE with their little red bums sticking out and the little babies holding on to their parents bellies. We saw one baby hoping from rock to rock across a creek at a baboon paradise. He was about 4cm wide, 17cm tall but only 12cm tall when he was crawling.Then we saw our second type of animal, 3 elephants. They were throwing sand on their backs to keep them cool. Animal number 3 was giraffes. There were only two but later there were 13 in one place. Next we drove by a river and found the most dangerous mammal in Africa, a hippo. In cause you did not know, a hippo is the most dangerous mammal in Africa. I was very happy to see a zebra because most other people we talked to said they did not see one. We are now on animal number 5, which is Pumba (a warthog). Sadly we did not see Timon (a meercat). Finally, my favorite animal on the tour so far was 2 dik diks that we saw at different times. As I thought you do not know what a dik dik is, it is pretty much a under sized gazelle about a foot tall. Both were males because they had antlers. Well, that is pretty much all for today.

Day 2

Today we went to a HUGE volcano crater that is inactive and we saw all kinds of animals. Some of these are: zebras, wild boars, ostrich, spotted hyena, jackal, thomson gazelle, birds (I do not know the names), lion, dead zebra, leopard, lion cubs. There were 5 lions lying around the dead zebra, resting after the kill. We did not see the kill but there were birds and other animals waiting for spare grub. The lion cubs we saw later on were VERY CUTE. All in all the best part was the vehicle ride. It was SO bumpy that if you stood up on the ride to the top of the crater you were practically flying out of the car. I stood up for almost the entire time !!

P.S. The zebra’s guts were coming out all over the grass. The tail and one of the eye balls was missing. Nummy eh?

Day 3

Not much happened today. Unless I heard the other talking about an animal I had not seen before, I would not look. The exception is if it was a lion because they are so cool. Im looking forward to seeing another dead zebra but I will not get my hopes up. The only new thing that happened was that we saw a warthog up close (Pumba). We also saw some mongoose’s (sp?) They’re like meercats, so close enough to Timon (from the Lion King movie). Last night we met some kids our age. Their names were Zack and May. We stayed up in their tent until 10 to 9. We told jokes and sang Mika (very off tune and at different times). It was a LOT of fun. Later we exchanged E-mail addresses. The sad part was they had to get up at six in the morning the next day and their tour ended that day so we did not get to see them again. 🙁 Well that all for today.

Day 4

Today was not much different than yesterday. We did not see any new animals, but we did see a lion up close. It was right beside the road. We are staying at the same campsite as yesterday, so we have 2 safaris today. We have only taken one and there is no new people at the campsite yet. I can not wait until we see the McBride family again in Egypt. We’re going to party till were purple (just kidding).

Skipping to the afternoon now… WOW! Forget what I said earlier, the afternoon was fantastic. We (finally) saw a male lion behind a few bushes. We would not have seen it if we had not seen another tour jeep taking pictures of a tree. When we saw them doing this, we went to see why they were taking pictures of it. As we got closer, they pulled away. So we were looking around for what they had been taking pics of. Then Dad said “what were they looking at?” Mom, staring at the bushes said, “maybe that lion”. Sure enough, hidden under the bush was a VERY well hidden male lion. We took a lot of pics of him. Shortly after that, we saw a dead baby buffalo (close enough to a dead zebra) hanging on a branch in a tree. The guide said it was probably put there buy a leopard. He also said they eat their food in trees so the lions don’t steal it because the lions are bullies. Other than that, the day was like any other with zebra’s, wild boars and birds.

Day 5 Final Day

Today we are heading back to Arusha. During our last safari we did not see any new animals but on the way to Arusha we saw 4 leopards. Yes leopards, NOT cheetahs. We also saw a camealean (sp?). It walked very funny. When it walked it walked like a rocking chair. It would swing 4 times before putting its foot down, then repeat for every footstep. When it was in the grass, it turned green. When on the road, it was a reddish brownish. The ride was long and very bumpy. We took the long way so we could see a volcano. While we were there, it had a mini eruption!! There was ash everywhere, it was very cool. Well actually hot but it does not matter. There was also mini lightning or lava, we’re not sure. You could see a flash every now and then. It was hard to see because it was bright and not very cloudy. About 10 mins later we saw a mini twister, that Dad said went up about 40m. It was not as cool as the volcano, but still cool. That is two more things for our natural events list. When we got to the hotel it was 8:00 PM. We ate supper at 8:30 PM and when i had a shower my hair was leaking dirt. Now its SO soft. Well that’s about all. But I’m writing a kids chapter book about me and Ian in a fairytale land. Once I’m done, I will put it up as a post on the ”friends” Blog. I am writing chapter 2 right now.

Sianara, Luke 🙂