April 11th, 2008

Skype is awesome; it is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. I would like to get an account of my own. It has become an every time thing on the Internet. I have been chatting with Leesa on it. I have not chatted with her lately because there has not been much Internet and if there is dad or mom is on it.

From the canals of Venice

April 10th, 2008

Yesterday we drove to Venice in our rental (car). It was very cool! I think the first thing I noticed (that I liked, that wasn’t part of the scenery) was all the mask shops! I almost got one, but in the end I decided not too. I did get a picture of a mask though (not like the one I had chosen out, but still veeery nice) on Grandma Vi’s camera.
Basically We walked ¾ of Venice (the long part I think). We walked to a square place with tons (!!!) of pigeons. We but some pigeon food and fed them, which was so fun! At first I was just putting my hand down on the ground (with the bird food, which was dried corn) and just letting them eat of my hand. Sometimes I would touch hem, because they got so close! It was a very funny feeling them eating off my hand, like mini vacuum cleaners! But after a while, I got bored of that, and stood up so they would fly on my arm! That was even more fun! They would fight for my arm! Mom was the unlucky tenant of a tired pigeon, on her head. It was such a laugh, until Luke (who wasn’t with us while that was happening) came running at us and scared it away. >:(
Once we ran out of food, we had to leave. We walked back a little ways, then dad took a while, because he negotiated a ride on a gondola (because they normally go in a circle for 50 minutes) , and in the end we got 25 minutes closer to our destination, and had to pay for that and the 25 minutes for him to get back. Bit of a ripoff if you ask me. after that we walked back to the parking garage and drove back to our villa ( 😀 ) for 3 hours and fifteen minutes. Once we got back home we all went to bed (it was 9 ish)

The Romance City: Venice

April 10th, 2008

I am sure most of you have heard of Venice The love city. Well we went there yesterday. It is not really the city of love. It is a big touist atraction. There is 2 restaurants every 100 meters on popular road’s. It is also a pigeon attraction there are many tourists (and pigeons) in a big square. There is 3 vendors selling dried corn for you to feed the pigeons. You can put the corn in your hands and the pigeon’s will sit on your arms and eat or you can bend down with the food in your hands and let them eat from your hands but they are not on you. Last but also least you can throw the corn and watch them swam around you. I liked tossing it and when they were surrounding (Sp) you jump. Well thats all for now t.t.f.n (you know what it means).

Good Bye to the Middle East, Hello Europe!

April 10th, 2008

Well it’s been a while since I’ve posted a new message, so here goes a quicky update.

We spent our last bit of time in Egypt in the desert and then the Sinai with the McBride Family from Ottawa. Our adventures in the desert were very fun and interesting. You’ll have to take a look at the pictures of us in the Black and then White Deserts. After the desert we spent about six days relaxing by the Red Sea in the town of Dahab. It was so nice to spend a few days with another Canadian family. (i.e. other adult conversation other than your spouse, and we generally all agreed at how we didn’t like been the “tourist” in India.)

After saying goodbye to our fellow travellers, (Thanks, Janice, Warren, Connor and Alannah we had a blast!!) we headed for Jordan. We spent the next few days in Petra, which was spectacular, to say the least. For sure it ranks up in the top 2 or 3 spot for places we have visited this year. I won’t go off in a big tirade of adjectives, I would just highly recommend visiting if you get the chance. Our last highlight of Jordan was realizing that this would probably be the last country in which we were awakened by the 4/5 AM Muslim prayer calls as it seemed like most of our hotels since Malyasia were right across the street from a mosque. (-;

We arrived in Rome on April 2nd, where Grandma Vi (Rick’s mom) and Grandpa Ray (my dad) surprised the kids at our B&B. They are spending the next few weeks travelling with us. After touring around some of the manditory sites such as the Vatican and Colloseum, then we took the train to Florence. We have a villa in the Tuscany countryside booked for a week. Yesterday we drove to Venice for the day where we walked around the city and took a small gondola ride down a few of the back canals. Tomorrow we are going to go to Pisa, before heading to Nice, France on Saturday.

Take care for now, Claudette


April 8th, 2008

Well, Rome is nice. On our first day here we had just arrived I looked at the side of the door and saw mail. The first thing that popped into my mind was – is this where Grandma Vi was sending us dad’s client card. I was right but not the way I thought I was right. As Dad knocked on the door a voice that sounded like Grandma Vi answered the door saying come in. As we walked in dad made me go first at the end of the hall (this is an apartment with 3 room’s) there was a sign that said James’ As I walked in to the room it was very dirty. (dirty with somone else’s stuff) I looked in the mirror. There was Grandma Vi’s head behind the door. I turned and screamed and ran to hug her – Dad got all this on camera. As we started chatting she told me you should go to the bathroom. My reply was, oh it is o.k I went at the airport. Then she said no you should go to the bathroom because you are about to puke. I was shocked when she said this but that is when I started expecting someone we knew to pop out but instead Grandpa Ray popped out as I screamed again and went to hug him dad was laughing but still filming.

Grandma Vi brought us some Purdy’s McNutty’s They were very good. It was some of the best chocolate I have had since home. She also brought us from Auntie Florence some easter chocolate with little basket’s and a sticker with the easter bunny on it. That was also very good. We went out for dinner shortly after.

We wandered off for a while looking at restaurants but in the end we bought store meat and some buns to eat the next day. Dad went back in as soon as we were done shopping. So he went and got his own sandwich from a bistro for dinner and the rest of us ate at the first place we saw that evening.

The next day we went to a temple; it was very cool. It had a slight view of the colleseum/collesso. It also had a good view of the Bascillica. On the way up I slipped on a step then twisted my ankle at the other step. It hurt a lot. We went to the Bascillica next and looked around. We did not do much there. The next day we took the metro to the spanish step’s/spanga We also went to a book store in the train station were I got a book called “The Secret Country” it was a very good book. When I was reading it, it said that if you took the wrong wild road you went back in time and that you could go to the killings at the Spanish steps/spanga. That is when I found out some Spaniard’s came and killed people on those steps. Cool. We also went to the colleseum/colesso. Where I got another book (i am done both) called “tiger tiger” It was not really about tiger’s – it was about a princess in old rome/roma with a pet tiger. and the pet tiger had a brother who was a colleseum/colesso tiger.

The next day (our final day) we only did one thing – that thing was going to the bascillica again. We climbed up to the dome it was a three flight elevator ride (very long flights) and than 347 steps to the top – it was fun. The next day we took a three hour train ride. I did not play the PSP, instead I finished reading my books. Then we took a 30 minute taxi ride to our hotel. The hotel is an apartment but I call it a hotel – it looks a lot like our cabin at Germain lake and I like it a lot. Well t.t.f.n (ta ta for now).

The Last of Jordan.

April 7th, 2008

There seemed to be many worthwhile sights in Jordan, but we just didn’t have the time to see much else. We had to arrange our own chartered van from Wadi Mousa (the modern day town adjacent to Petra) to Aman via the Dead Sea. Public buses only went direct to Aman, and didn’t make the detour West to the Dead Sea. On our way we drove through some harrowing canyons and along very precarious cliff edges before connecting up with the main highway. We had to pay almost $10 each at a picnic site that included a small park area, swimming pools (currently empty) and change rooms with freshwater showers. That was critical to rinse our bodies after floating in the mineral intensive “lake” waters separating that portion of Jordan and Israel. We only spent a half hour or so floating around in the Dead Sea. It was pretty cool and a little difficult maneuvering around without rolling accidentally and getting our faces wet, or trying to make sure not to splash the extra salty water into our eyes or mouth. Even our driver went in for a quick dip, before we dressed to leave. There was an expensive buffet on site so I loaded up a huge “to go” close-able three tray styro-carton for all of us to eat from. The rice, beef and salads were OK, but the roasted lamb were REALLY good. Even Claudette was smacking her lips and she traditionally doesn’t like mutton at all.

The remainder of our drive to Aman was uneventful. We were flying to Rome mid morning the next day and so just wanted to wander around a bit and relax. There were a few decent looking places to eat and even a movie theater. I stayed up late uploading pictures from McBride’s Egypt and our Petra shots to the gallery. The place was decent enough, but difficult to find and had lots of stairs. We look forward to Rome and Italy, and hopefully meeting up with the McBride Family again in France. We also REALLY look forward to our hotel rooms not being so close to Mosque’s and the requisite prayer call at 5:00 AM every morning, (not to mention again at 6:00 AM just in case you got back to sleep and several other times throughout the day). It’s a shame in this case that they have readily adopted the technology of using HUGE loudspeakers at the tops of the towers instead of a guy climbing up and shouting/singing which would have much less volume than the thousands of watts they crank out of the powered public address systems…

Goodbye Prayer Calls, Hello Pasta

April 7th, 2008

Sorry I am behinde here is what happened

Finally our curse is over. No more 5:00 in the morning until 7:00 in the morning and 6:00 at night until 8:00 at night prayer calls. You have no idea how tired I am. I am so tired my eyes are itchy and I feel like I am going to cry. I want to go to sleep but my eyes hurt so much I can’t.

The day so far was pretty Ruff. I mean R-u-f-f RUFF. First of all I went to bed at 8:45. Aex played the P.S.P until mom came in at 9:30, then when mom left she played the P.S.P until 10:30. I fell asleep then so I do not know how much longer she played. I woke up 7 times that night and each time I had to move the blankets. then at 6:00 I was fixing them when I was finally done and getting in the bed I heard ring ring and Alex got up thump thump Rin….. “Who is it” said Alex “Mom time to get up put on pants” she said so I stayed in bed. Alex was lying in bed telling me to get up and when I got up she stayed in. Then someone knocked on the door and Alex was like a rabbit being chased by a wolf Boing right out of the bed as I unlocked the door she was rushing to find her clothes. When mom and dad answered the door she was putting on her shorts. I was still in my underwear and my reply was I can not unlock my bag as Alex stopped for a split second and twitched. When I found out there was a heater and above the heater was a sign that said “turn on heater.” We went off to the airport just after (They did not have breakfast for another 15 mins.) we were dressed and started to check in then a problem occurred. My ticket had something wrong with it so we had to buy a new one. While mom and dad were doing this they put our bags on the plane and I was not checked in. So while this problem was happening dad found out he left his visa at the hotel so he phoned them up to come bring it no problemo Right? Wrong the hotel was 40 min”s away. So we went and got though immigration while dad stayed behind and waited for his visa. The next bad thing that happened was we got to the first immigration desk number 8 and he told us to go to immigration desk number 1. So we went there. He told us to go to Immigration desk number 2 so we went their. He told us to go to another desk because our tickets said we were a group. In the end we had to pay 10$ each to get past. To top that off we had to wait another 50 mins for dad to get back so we could tell him that he had to pay 10$ to get past 🙁

The flight went as planed but the airport did not the luguage was not there for an hour. I was panicking the first thought that oh no they put my luguage on before I was checked in and that our luguage was taken off the plain well I was wrong. When I was waiting for the luguage I started righting this post that is why it is very disceptive. Bye Luke.

Villa Life ;D

April 7th, 2008

We have left Rome, and now we are in a villa like place in Florence (Firenze in Italian). It very muchly reminds me of Germane Lake (in the winter)! It was freezing cold when we got in and it took a while to get the air warm and the floor (even though its the next day) is still cold (but it has a few warm spots. Luke and I built a fort (on the fold out couch, which I share with Grandma Vi) and it wasn’t folded out, and we both could lie down inside. We just used blankets, 3 couch pillows (they are smaller then pillows you would normally sleep with) and a chair. Inside, Luke watched me play on the PSP and it is much warmer than outside. The adults played crib, and dad lit a fire, it’s much homier for us, and gas (for the furnace) is 4 euros for a cubic meter of gas (home gas, not car gas), which we have to pay for once we leave. But we still are using the stove (which uses home gas, just not as much). We are only using it to heat up water for coffee (and hopefully hot chocolate later) so by the time we leave (in five daysish) we will probably only have to pay 4 euros total (for the home gas).

Rick’s Petra

April 7th, 2008

We barely knew what to expect going to Petra. We’d all only really seen pictures of the “Treasury”, an extraordinary building cut into a tall face of sandstone rock. We’d heard from others that the “city” and general site was far more expansive and even more impressive than just that one iconic representation. No words could prepare us for the vast amount of work that had obviously gone into creating such a “wonder” as Petra. After two days of walking around, constantly open jawed in abject shock and appreciation, I really believe that Petra should be reconsidered as the Eighth wonder of the ANCIENT world. It is every bit as remarkable an achievement as the original seven.

We booked a guided tour for our first half day, which was invaluable. Not only did he describe what everything was and how the society had lived, but he took us to some outstanding out of the way places. He not only showed us some great places off the main paths, but positioned us for many great pictures and unique photo frames of parts of the city and/or ourselves. His insights and little “side” stories were very worth the extra $75 for us four to join the 10 person tour.

After our tour we wandered around by ourselves for the latter half of the day. It was nice and relaxed, but still our feet all hurt by the end of the day. I know it’s a good day when our feet hurt… The entire city “site” is very extensive and clambers up and down and around a few valleys in the area. There are a huge amount of caves all over the place. The entrance of the city is called the “Siq” and is a long (1.5ish KM) twisty, narrow rift or canyon. The sandstone colors and swirls are absolutely spectacular, not to mention the carving of a water trough all the way down to supply the city. The Siq comes to a “T” intersection at another canyon right at the treasury. The Treasury “building” is most widely associated with Petra and was the final scenec of the third Indiana Jones movie. It’s use is still hotly debated today. Only two floors show, but the canyon floor is said to have about 7m of silt & sediment washed down the canyon by a breach in the dam at the start of the siq that was left unrepaired for about 100 years. Our guide from the morning had been a senior archiologist several years previously and detailed the lower excavations of a couple of tombs in front of but below the existing floor of the Treasury. This is one of the few large buildings that was carved into the cliff face with a large countersunk distance into the face to protect the facade from water runoff during the rainy season. It was shocking to see recent (in the last several years) photographs and videos showing huge rivers of flash flood water running down the wider canyon in front of the treasury. That wasn’t half as surprising as seeing pictures of snow in the city! This included in front of the Treasury and even all throughout the city.

The central area of the city is just a little past the exit point of the main canyon that houses the Treasury and several other equally tall and majestically carved buildings. From this sort of central point we could see cave holes littering all of the mountainsides in every direction. There seemed to be no end of them if we zoomed in with the camera or used the binoculars. Many more large carved buildings into cliff faces could be seen all up and down this valley, as well as into two adjacent valley’s. There was only one “built” building still standing due to centuries of earthquakes in the area. This was only because it had horizontal wood beam “buffers” built in to the walls every 4m or so up the stone block face. Most all of the caves and large rooms carved into the mountains were still in remarkably good condition though.

The Bedouin people were all moved out of the caves in the mid 80’s by the government. A whole new town was built for them only a few kilometers away to live in. Many still make the daily trek into ancient Petra to sell animal rides, or all sorts of trinkets, or to just beg.

We spent a few hours off the regular beaten track hiking around a small mountain and exploring the incredible sights. We used one 1.4GB disk in the camera each of the two days we were there. That fact alone speaks to the spectacularness of this ancient city, never mind the fact that I was really restraining myself. Many vendors and four ridiculously expensive restaurants lined the wider valley. Some locals were offering donkey and camel rides for outrageous prices as well. A two minute ride in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza near Cairo was only $2. In Petra a two minute ride was $15!!! I knocked them down to $7 each for the two kids, but still felt badly for missing out on the (shockingly) much more reasonable prices in Egypt. Additionally many local Bedouin kids were found along various trails with an interesting collection of rocks picked up around the area that they were only too happy to sell to any passing tourist. We also passed by a few Bedouins living there who offered us to sit down and have tea. This would probably necessitate a tip afterwards, but the offers were very friendly and genuine unlike in Egypt. One vendor was selling a book about his mother who was a New Zealand tourist in the 70’s who married a local Bedouin guy. She settled down into cave life, cooking all meals over an open fire and they had two children together over the years. He supported them by selling trinkets and souvineers to tourists. Claudette bought the book and is quite captivated by it so far. Alex will read it next and then we’ll send it home.

Quick update

April 7th, 2008

Yes, we are again behind a few posts… We met up with Claudette’s Dad & Rick’s Mom in Rome on April 2 as a surprise for the kids. We spent a few days seeing the local sights, (and uploading many Petra and some remaining Egypt photos). On Sunday April 6 we took a train to Tuscany, near Florence where we rented an apartment for a week to relax and see Venice & Piza from. As incredibly beautiful as the are is, it unfortunately, it has terrible public transportation and I came back to Florence today to rent a mini-van for the duration of our stay. We have all written some posts which we’ll upload in the next week when we get net access for a everyone for a few hours. The town we are in now barely has sketchy cell phone access, never mind internet. We are all well, and still don’t have a clue on how we’re gonna end the trip! (Either driving across Canada in two weeks or spending more time in Nova Scotia, The Rock, and BC and flying across the country…)

Bonjourno! (from Italee)

April 5th, 2008

Hi everyone! Well I’ve learned since flying from Jordon to Italy, that Luke is not the best panic person! First off It was really only minor things, he just has no hope. When we got to the airport in Jordan, we realized that dad had left his Visa (credit card) at our previous hotel (the one we had just come from) and they would have to find it, then send it on a 40 minute taxi ride to the airport. Then Luke’s boarding pass, was non-existing. So, dad went out of the preliminary security and waited 50 minutes (the taxi driver had other Issues, that dad will tell you bout, one example, the security guards ((outside)) started wondering why he didn’t have any passengers, etc) then let out a big WHAHOO (which we heard from where we were, just past the check-in place. I forgot to mention, we had to go back and forth (between two counters for different things) a few times but, in the end, Luke’s ticket worked out ok. Also, they sent our luggage in (before) Luke ticket checked out ok. WHOOT WHOOT, HUGE disaster potential there! Anyways, fast forward a bit. We (om Luke and me) are sitting in a area after all the check in counters (basically you are separated only by a cubicle like wall, same goes for the preliminary security and everywhere) and we have been there for about half and hour (5 hours Luke time) and we are all just about to give up any hope on seeing Italy, (this is where the Luke is not a panic person part comes in) ESPECIALLY LUKE who is saying “I can’t believe we don’t get to see Italy and Europe!!!!” In the end, we heard dad’s Who hoo a minute later, and we got through Immigration. THEN when we got here (to Italy) We had to wait about (FOREVER!!!) 45 minutes, because our baggage was in the very back of the plane, and got lost or something! We were not the only people (on our plane) who had to wait for our luggage (thankfully). Luke was also telling me “I can’t believe I’ll have to just where this (we didn’t know how warm Italy was going to be, so mom got us to wear pants and long sleeves, instead of shorts), I’m really (too) hot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Like the past situation, we got our bags 5 minutes later. After that everything went totally smoothly (except grandma vi telling Luke he has to Puke 🙂 ).
I was very surprised (!!!) when we came to our apartment and found Grandma Vi and Grandpa Ray here! When we came in, we found Grandma Vi in the first bedroom. The following conversation sounded like this. Grandma Vi starts. “go to the bathroom, you probably have to go. I don’t, I went at the airport. Well you’re so suprised, you might puke!!!!” Luke went into the washroom, only to find grandpa Ray!
The next day we had settled and started to explore a bit. The girl who lives here has a Jack russel and she pretty much looks exactly like Pete! So far we have been to Saint Peter’s Basilica twice, The Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museum. And I think the very good Chinese place where we had supper the other night deserves to be on that list (just kidding).

Alex’s Petra Report

April 3rd, 2008

Written for March 30th & 31st

We just left Egypt yesterday and we saw Petra today and are all very tuckered out! Petra was amazing! It has about 3000 visitors a day, but that hardly seems real, because the whole site is very spread out. To put it another way, You’d never know there was that many people. To describe Petra in one word, WOW! They have done amazing stuff there. Pretty much all the town was carved directly from the mountain, and majority of it is still connected to the mountains. The colours of the rock are amazing! There is blues, greens, reds and a few other colours. If you went exploring, and you weren’t careful, you could easily get lost and have your camera batterys empty, and your camera card totally full of pictures, never mind videos! Breaking news, boths cameras aren’t really working. In mine it still works, but the pictures button is stuck. So if I turn it on, it will take a picture, then get frozen on that picture, and you have to turn it off again. But I’m not sure whats wrong with dads. S’all for now!

Petra #2

Monday March 31 2008

Today we saw a bit more of Petra. We found out that the little sand bottles that they make is actually sand from Petra. I would love to buy one though. We got a very good video of me throwing a colored chalk rock on a real rock, and it looks very neat. We also met up with George and Monica again in one of the resturants. We went up quite higher then we did yesterday. I think we went up to the crusaders castle, which was quite high, and had no railings. Imagine how skakey mom was! Also we did a little circle on a camel, which was very scary, but fun! They don’t seem very tall, but once you get on one, you can see for miles and miles (sorry, kilometers and kilometers). And when you are going down it is quite a dramatic angle! I thought I was going to fall off of my camel! And once I got off, someone came up, gave my camel some water (it drank right from a bottle) and gave the man a kiss afterwords (it twas a tourist)! When we were leaving, my dad got a good price for some donkeys, and Luke and I rode one for a while (we both had our own donkey)! I think I cost 7 JD (about 10 canadain dollars). It was very fun and well worth the $10. Mine was dark brown and Luke had a white one. The owners were boys, probably not much younger then me. I think Luke’s donkey was partially blind, because he would sometimes get to close to the edge, and scrape Luke’s leg. Both the boys were steering my donkey, so Luke was kinda on his own.

Yay, other kids!

April 2nd, 2008

Written on March 20, 2008

We met up with the Mcbrides! We met in Cairo and took a bus too an oasis and spent 2 days in a hotel. It had a pool, but the water was from some kinda hot springs, so it was warm and can stain your cloths. On the second nigh, Alannah and me made a potion! It consisted of onions flower petals and water. We mushed everything together, then drained some of the water in an old water bottle. It stunk!!! We considered using it as a bug repellent, but it wasn’t that strong! So it is a potion that cures happiness and stuffed noses. Minor side effects include a runny nose, and tears, and awe of the colour made by the flower petals. Then we spent last night in the desert. It was very nice, we got to see a little fox with HUGE ears and a big beetle. We also had an almost full moon. We are in the white desert, it was very light outside all night, because the moon reflected off all the white chalk rocks. The camera couldn’t see anything but our eyes could see pretty much perfectly. Alannah and I stayed up until about 12:40 talking. We had lots of fun, although I still can’t find my bag for my sleeping bag. I think we only have 2 or 4 more days with them though. I really wish we could stay together longer. I think we go to Luxor tomorrow. Then maybe onto another oasis.

Petra: A lot like Machu Pichu

April 1st, 2008

As I just said Petra is A lot like Machu Pichu. It was like being in peru again the site was a lot bigger than the machu pichu site but still had the same amount of people vist it per day but I felt safer at machu pichu because if you hit Machu Pichu it would not break but if you hit petra it would break because it is made of sand stone. Sand stone is sand grains stuck together to make a sand stone. pretty simple eh? The first stop was a temple in which I saw on the drive to wadi Mousa (the modern day town beside ancient Petra). As we were looking at the view I saw it and asked what it was. The driver said horse’s. I looked down and people on horse’s were passing by it. When I said “no, that” he said “yeah horses” so in the end I did not find out what it was until we saw it up close. As we neared it I saw it first and said “hey that is what I saw from the view in the car”. We got near the dam and our guide explained that about 9 years ago the dam broke and 13 French women and their guide died. So they made a new dam and that lasted a few years then they blocked of the water and the dam became a wall then a hill to get to the bottom. The path leads to a canyon and you walk a mile until you get to a treasury. The treasury is said to be the most amazing sight in Petra. Then you walk though a much smaller canyon until you get to Petra city. Petra city had a population of over 35,000 they built caves that were rectangular. What amazed me was that they could have saved a bit of carving by making the corners curved but no they had to make them at a 90 degree angle’s. We ate lunch at 1:30 and then traveled a bit on our own We went around a small mountain And met a mother and her son still living in a cave. We met the son first he was herding goats as we chatted (he knew good English) while walking up the road he asked if we wanted tea we replied no thank you sorry he nodded and continued chatting until we got to there cave his mother came out of the cave and asked us if we wanted tea we replied the same as before and then she asked if we wanted to buy souvenir’s we also replied no dad was thinking about giving them a bit of money until the mother pulled out

A. a whack load of money
B. a bottle of coke for her son
C. Cigarette’s

Please send your comments as your reply

When he saw this he thought if she can afford ( your answer here ) she doe’s not need my money.
That was that. We went on like that in the end It was as I said earlier Just like Machu Pichu.

Day 2

Today We did not get a guide instead we traveled around at our own pace. It went on the same as yesterday until we got to the treasury. We had a bit of negotiation and finally me and Alex got a camel ride. It was very Scary. S-c-a-r-y scary. They have triple joints so you get on them there front legs go up whoop. Then there back legs go up wooo. Then there front legs go up more waaaa. Finally there back legs go up more weeee. But faster So Whoop wooo waaaa weeee. pretty scary Ay. We ate lunch at a cliff and stayed there for an hour and a half. by now it was 1:03. then we explored a bit getting pics we did not get yesterday We went back to the mountain we walked around the day before and walked to the top where the crusaders castle was it was the highest we got at Petra. finally We started climbing down When We had no path We found a path of our own. That made us the first torist’s to go into the theater. it was blocked off so no tourist’s could get in but not blocked good enough. We were neaing the end so we dicied to get a donkey ride back once again me and alex were the luckey winner’s it was fun but sad the kid’s that owned them were whiping them and pulling there tails so they would go faster. My donkey was funney it took the path with it’s eyes close. When we got off I huged mine he was Sooooo cute. We walked the rest of the way And said goodbye to Machu Pichu….. I mean Petra

Alex’s Petra Summary

April 1st, 2008

We just left Egypt yesterday and we saw Petra today and are all very tuckered out! Petra was amazing! It has about 3000 visitors a day, but that hardly seems real, because the whole site is very spread out. To put it another way, You’d never know there was that many people. To describe Petra in one word, WOW! They have done amazing stuff there. Pretty much all the town was carved directly from the mountain, and majority of it is still connected to the mountains. The colors of the rock are amazing! There is blues, greens, reds and a few other colors. If you went exploring, and you weren’t careful, you could easily get lost and have your camera battery’s empty, and your camera card totally full of pictures, never mind videos! Breaking news, both cameras aren’t really working. In mine it still works, but the pictures button is stuck. So if I turn it on, it will take a picture, then get frozen on that picture, and you have to turn it off again. On the family video camera, the lens cap was having problems opening sometimes. S’all for now!

Petra Day Two

Today we saw a bit more of Petra. We found out that the little sand bottles that they make is actually sand from Petra. I would love to buy one though. We got a very good video of me throwing a colored chalk rock on a real rock, and it looks very neat. We also met up with George and Monica again in one of the restaurants. We went up quite higher then we did yesterday. I think we went up to the crusaders castle, which was quite high, and had no railings. Imagine how shakey mom was! Also we did a little circle on a camel, which was very scary, but fun! They don’t seem very tall, but once you get on one, you can see for miles and miles (sorry, kilometers and kilometers). And when you are going down it is quite a dramatic angle! I thought I was going to fall off of my camel! And once I got off, someone came up, gave my camel some water (it drank right from a bottle) and gave the man a kiss afterwards (it twas a tourist)! When we were leaving, my dad got a good price for some donkeys, and Luke and I rode one for a while (we both had our own donkey)! I think I cost 7 JD (about 10 Canadain dollars). It was very fun and well worth the $10. Mine was dark brown and Luke had a white one. The owners were boys, probably not much younger then me. I think Luke’s donkey was partially blind, because he would sometimes get to close to the edge, and scrape Luke’s leg. Both the boys were steering my donkey, so Luke was kinda on his own.

Last of Egypt

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

March 27th, 2008

The continued (and elaborated) backtracking adventures from a few weeks ago.

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

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.


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

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

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!!!

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.

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!

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!


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!

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!

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!

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!


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
.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

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

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…

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

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.

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

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 !!!

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 🙂

You can’t not do a safari in Africa and you can’t go to Africa and not do a safari!

February 29th, 2008

Saturday Febuary 23rd Day One

Its day one on our five day safari and it was absolutly amazing! New creatures we saw include;
– A wild elephant
– A hippo(matatamus 🙂 )
– A giraffe
– Tons of Baboons
– A vervet monkey
– Warthogs
– A Dik dik (which is a tiny gazelle)
– Some mongeese
– And a couple different kinds of birds
The giraffes were very tall! And cute in their own extended way. I just can’t get enough pictures of them! We took a TON (!!!!!) of pictures. It was lotsa fun because we were in a jeep with a raised sunroof thing so we could stand on our seats (in the park only) to get a veiw and pictures. I spent 95% standing up through the sunroof. I think most of my pictures are of the giraffes, they are just really pretty.

Sunday February 24th 2008 Day Two

Today we took a very bumpy tour of a HUGE ( the crater!!!) national park, which is in a crater. Today we saw our first,
– Close zebra
– Close Water Buffalo (wildebeest)
– Lion(ess, no guys)
– Lion cub!! (so cute!!)
We also saw some Zebra babies, and found out that the younger the zebra, the lighter there fur. The babies have brown stripes and the older ones have black stripes. The lion cub was soooooooo cute (even though it would love to snack on your leg!). We only saw one dead animal which was a zebra, near our first Lion(ess’ not one male showed up, except for maybe the cub, but we don’t know). The guys actually stay home and let the ladys do all the hunting. I’m pretty sure. We are very lucky to be able to charge things in the car, I’ve been using about 3 batteries a day! Back to the dead zebra (just for a moment) I think we spent a lot of time “studying” (shall we say) it. I made sure to get lots of pictures and video on the guts coming out and of where the tail USED to be. (WARNING!!! not for the squirmish! the video). Riding without the roof in the jeep is fun, its a free rollar coaster!

Monday February 25th 2008 Day Three

Today we saw a leopard! We only could really see the legs and part of its body, but we still saw one. We also saw more mongeese and got closer to a warthog, and a HUGEMONGUS (hehe I made up that word) herd of wildebeest. I kinda feel sad because they were kinda doing a practice run, but one of the babies got separated. Which means that it is going to die. Most likely a lion (so we were told). We also saw some more Giraffe. Last night we made friends (after we wrote our log), a Zack and May from France. We had TONS (!!!!!) of fun! We sang lots of songs (mostly badly 🙂 ) and exchanged jokes until 9 pm (ish), when we could delay our bedtimes no longer.

Tuesday, February 26th 2008 Day Four

Today we saw our first male lion! He was hiding behind a tree and a bush, so you could only see him from one side and the front. I got a really awesome picture of him looking right at me! We also saw the remains of a baby wildebeest up in a tree. The leopards will do that to keep their catch away from everyone that wants it except the scavenger birds. there was a lot less animals, even though we were safariing twice as long. We also saw the usual, Zebra, giraffes and wildebeest. When we got back there was lots of new people and Luke immediately went around to see who to make friends with. In the end we were chitchatting to 2 girls and a guy, Amanda, Dezz(aray) and Jim (don’t put everything in bold on the blog) an we had tons of fun! It was kinda funny because I let it slip how spaghetti is Luke’s favorite and when he finished his supper, he went to talk to them, and in the end he got to have spaghetti. What made it even more funny, we had something Luke doesn’t like that night! They had marshmallows, but in the end we couldn’t have a fire, so no marshmallows or smores. We even had crackers and this really good chocolate which has milk chocolate on the bottom layer and white chocolate on top.

Wednesday February 27th 2008 Day Five ,final day

Yay! This morning we got to roast marshmallows. No time for smores though. We are now on the bumpy ride back to Arusha. We didn’t really see much Wildlife, but thats just because we were heading back. But we did see a big(ish) herd of zebra. But on our way home we went by a volcano, and it started to have a mini eruption! There was lots of ash coming out of the top, and every once in a while the ash would break and we think we could see lava! It looked more like lightning, but we’re not sure what it was. It was waaaay awesome! Then a little bit after that we saw a HUGE (!!!) sand devil (aka mini twister, mini tornado). Now to our list of natural Disasters we have experienced (harmless, no damage inflicted) we have: tsunami warning, 2 earthquakes (in the same city), an erupting volcano and a mini tornado. Thats a pretty good list! Then we sat through the rest of the ride, occasionally saying “dad the charger is unplugged, AGAIN”. Once we got back it was dark. It was very nice though, because dad booked us into a different hotel then the one we were in before. And it was much nicer! Luke and I don’t have to share a bed! The pillows are also very comfy. Well I guess ANYTHING would be comfier then sleeping on an airplane pillow, like I did on the safari!

S’all for now, bye-bye! Alex

Claudette’s Safari Experience

February 29th, 2008

February 23rd, 2008 Safari Day 1 = Maryana Lake National Park

We were picked up from our hotel in Arusha at 9:00 AM by our guide/driver Thomas. on the way out we stopped at the grocery store to pick up water. I didn’t go in with Rick & the kids but I think I should have as they spent $90 on apples, carrots, potato chips, chocolate bars, 30L of water, and 2 bottles of wine.

We then travelled to a small village, Mto Wa Mbu, which is just outside Lake Manyara National Park. We are staying in tents on the grass of one of the local hotel/guesthouse. We had a quick box lunch after dropping off all the tents, food, luggage etc. We then left for our afternoon safari drive through the national park where we saw baboons, elephants, giraffes, impalas, hippos, warthogs, and dik-diks. One of my greatest fears before agreeing to go on a safari was that I feared the animals may have been fed or corralled into central areas so that the tourist could have a good look at the animals. It was with great satisfaction that in my opinion these animals do indeed look wild and unhasselled by the tourists driving by.

The scenery on the drive to and around the park was fantastic. It was surprizingly very calming and soothing. I can only hope that the next few days will be more of the same.

February 24th, 2008 Safari Day 2 = Ngongorororo Conservation Area (Ngongorororo Crater)

Today we left Lake Manyara NP at 9:00 AM for NCA. We stopped ATM in the village of Kanuta so we could get the final 400,000 to pay for the balance of our safari. Rick also asked if we could stop at the local internet cafe so we could transfer some money to cover the VISA cash advance.

The drive took about 2 hours when we reached our campsite we unloaded the truck again, and then took off for the bottom of the crater. We stopped near the bottom so that we could eat our boxed lunch before proceeding. We toured the crater for about 4.5 hours. We saw zebras, wildebeests, lions including 2 lion cubs, a leopard, thomson gazelles, elephants, and numerous kinds of birds.

The view from our campsite at the top of the rim of the crater is spectacular. I can’t wait to see what more lies ahead.

February 25th, 2008 Safari Day 3 = Serengeti National Park

We woke this morning on the rim of the crater at about 2400 metres. Needless to say in was a little chillier than we are used to. We all got a fairly good sleep, eventhough I was woken up in the middle of the night by an animal (assume it was a Zebra) eating grass right outside our tent.

We hit the road shortly after 9:00 AM again, after a quick stop at one of the local stores for more TP (toilet paper for those of you who weren’t sure). On the way we saw a herd of Wildebeest that must of numbered in around 5000ish, that was crossing the road in front of us. Our second stop was a few kilometers into the park at the Naabi Hill Gate Park office, so that the driver could pay our entrance fees. After a long delay we decided to drive straight through to our campsite near Seronera.

After lunch we did our afternoon safari drive. One of the first animals we saw was a Warthog which was just on the side of the road. We saw many more of the animals we’ve seen on the past few days, however the new animals we saw included a topi, waterback, mongoose and a leopard up in a tree.

Seeing the animals has been a great experience although I think that the grass plains are even more spectacular. I expect that the great plains of Alberta must have looked exactly the same 150 years ago.

February 26th, 2008 Safari Day 4 = Serengeti National Park

We have been spoiled a bit on this tour, as Richard, our cook, has insisted on letting us sleep for the kids. So again this morning almost all of the other safari tours have left before we’ve gotten out of bed. We did 2 game drives today. The morning drive we saw more of the same animals we’ve seen on other days, however the afternoon drive was another story. We finally got yo see our first male lion up close.

Camping has been reaaly nice although we can’t shower here in the SNP as they don’t have enough water, and now that it’s been really dusty on the roads my hair is like straw (Yuck!!!).

February 27th, 2008 Safari Day 5 = Serengeti National Park/Mt. Lengai (Volcano)

We hit the road fairly early this morning, which was good as we saw quite a few more animals on the road as we had on earlier safari drives. I’m sure it’s because it’s cooler in the morning, and the animals are more active at the time. Before leaving the SNP we saw 4 cheetahs lying on the side of the road, and a serval cat cross the road far ahead of us. I have now seen every animal I could have hope for.

Our driver Thomas has agreed to take us by a volcano which has been active on and off for the past few weeks. In order to do that we have gone north through the SNP, and the road out of the park it not even on the map. Truth be told I’m not even sure it’s a road as in places it looks more like a dried out creek bed. The road/trail is very rough, dry and dusty. After about 5+ hours on the road we stopped for lunch. We could see the mountain, but the locals said that it had erupted earlier in the morning but that it was dormant now. We were initially disappointed but after about half hour back on the road as we were approaching the volcano, it erupted again. The eruption must have lasted almost 1 hour as we followed the trail which skirted the base of the mountain. What a spectacular sight, I have added this to my list of natural wonders we’ve experienced.

Overall, I will have to admit that I was very wrong, as I intialled did not want to come to Africa. I have really enjoyed our time in Tanzania and the safari experience was worth ever penny. I would say that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.

Rick – Five Day Safari Log (long, but really interesting and insightful!)

February 28th, 2008

SAFARI, DAY ONE – Lake Manyara National Park

We had planned for a 9:00 pickup by our safari driver and managed to make that. We had booked the tour through WILDABEAST TOURS in Nairobi (Kenya) that is run by an Aussie couple. They advertise the ability to take VISA or MC, and then sub-contract all Tanzanian tours to Arunga Expeditions & Safaris based out of Arusha, ( ). Unfortunately they changed their minds about remote charging on our credit card and we found out the night before leaving that we had to come up with US$3,400 in cash. The ATM’s only allow $400 per transaction, (each one with a lovely $5 Royal Bank fee of course) and $1000 per day maximum withdrawal. So last night we got a bit, this morning we got a bit more, and tomorrow we’ll have to get the remainder. The extra fees involved with this wound me to the very core of my being. Adjacent to the ATM was a supermarket where we were asked to go and buy our own water and any booze or other treats we wanted. Naturally the kids stopped off at the produce section first and we loaded up with carrots, grapes and apples before proceeding on to chips and chocolate bars. At the till I put the grapes back when I saw the price of $8.50 for jut under 1 kg! I managed to grab a couple bottles of wine too, but skipped out on the Bailey’s figuring that would put us over the $100 mark and make Claudette poop! Many other tourists were in there loading up as well, but mostly with cases and cases of beer. It was almost like Uncle Den & Terry going out to Germain Lake for three days with a dozen flats of beer and leaving some essential food behind.

After shopping we drove for about two hours further North to a village just outside the Park and dropped off our gear and the cook, before heading into the Park. There were some huge birds at the entrance a few dozen baboons just inside the gates posing for pictures. When we’d stopped at the camp area the guys had also popped the top up of our Land Cruiser. The rear has four bucket seats, and a cap that pops up to allow us to stand and get a great view of everything around us without actually interacting with any animals that would want to bite Luke. Or in the case of the kids and Claudette they can stand on the seats.

All my previous years of watching Loren Green (or even watching some of the current animal planet shows with the kids) did nothing to prepare me for the stunning vistas and exotically abundant wildlife all around us. Of course we an elephant about 80m away downstream at a creek crossing and stopped for fifteen minutes for all kinds of pictures and video. Then about 15 or 20 minutes later we rounded a corner with a small herd of seven or eight elephants right on either side of us, and incredibly close. Several minutes of more pictures naturally ensued. The same thing occurred with Giraffe’s. There was one alone on a section of the plains that we were (well, especially I was anyways) enamored with and shot and videoed from every different angle possible. Then of course a half hour later we were on a treed road just on the edge of the plains and we stumbled upon a herd (? I don’t know if that’s the correct term with Giraffe’s?) of about seventeen all around us. This allowed for some amazing video and close-up shots, not to mention wondrous gazing (again, possibly mostly on my part). We saw many other incredible animals, (which hopefully the others will mention more thoroughly) but my main purpose in wanting to take a safari was to see some giraffe in the wild. These first couple of hours fulfilled that fantasy of mine in spades. Later at the camp, others were talking about looking forward to getting to the Serengeti where they could get to see some Lions, but I quickly vocalized my fulfilled desire to mainly see giraffe.

So today was absolutely worth the money as I was worried about yesterday. An amazing experience really indescribable with words. And best of all, there’s four more days of these incredible experiences to come!


SAFARI, DAY TWO – Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area

What an incredible second day! First though, I should breifly relate a bit of last night for my own journal’s sake. they (our cook and driver) had set up tents with a thin foam mattress and sleeping bag for us. The tents were heavy canvas, but fairly small. Only slightly larger than a pup tent, this one I could just kneel up in. We split up as girls and boys into the two tents. Disparingly, the cook had a concrete hut to sleep in along with our gear that they wanted locked up. There were rooms all around the parking lot and a grassy area for tents. These room’s only seemed to house the various driver’s! All of the tourists were housed in tents oddly enough. Even worse yet, there was a swimming pool adjacent to the grass with all the tents, but it was empty. We settled in anyways, and Luke fell into an immediate sleep while Alex and Claudette followed an hour or so later. I was unfortunately kept awake until about 3:00 AM by a bar playing fairly loud music a few blocks away.

After waking up we drove barely a couple of hours to the next park. We had to stop on the way to get the remainder of the money from an ATM. I also spotted an internet cafe and asked for a fifteen minute stop to transfer money around. Since we had done a bunch of cash advances on the VISA, I desperately wanted to put an excess of money on my VISA before the bank started killing us with daily interest. I also took the opportunity to send off a quick e-mail to my RRSP manager asking for another $15,000 I don’t know how much I actually have left, but we’re burning through it pretty quickly before even getting close to Europe! I would’ve liked to have made a blog entry but everyone was waiting in the truck to carry on. This remote village was the most expensive we’d been to yet! Most have been around 50 cents to a dollar per hour, but this place was $4/hour! Fortunately it was also the fastest net connection we’d encountered since Zanzibar, and WAY faster than any place we’d been to in Arusha or Moshi. Luckily the night before I’d given Tim a quick call asking him to throw up a short update on the website.

Driving to the crater’s rim from the main highway system was quite a ways up. Then we came to a balcony and saw the view of the whole crater…. ABSOLUTELY BREATHTAKING! It really was quite a stunning view across the entire22 by 26km expanse. Thomas pre-warned us that there would be no giraffes in the crater at all. The crater’s sides were too steep for the giraffes to be comfortable walking up and down. Even female elephants di not venture into the crater. They had to stay behind and mind the young ones. Navigating the sloping sides were too treacherous for the younger elephants apparently. As soon as males were large enough, the older adult males would lead them to the crater and show them this awesome oasis of food and water.

Among all the spectacular animal sightings we were privy to, was a recently killed zebra near the top of a small hill. We saw a couple of female lions resting in the shade beside a small creek at the bottom of the hill at first. That lead Thomas to suspect a possible kill nearby and continued driving (after we took a bunch of pictures first of course!) around the area looking. The zebra was only partly eaten with it’s innards spilling out on to the grass. It was obviously a very recent conquest and they were all still resting after the tough chase. There was one lion at the top of the hill keeping watch over their food. Many buzzards were sitting and waiting at a safe radius away for the lions to finish eating so they could swoop in for some scraps.

During the rest of the day we encountered lots of great wildlife. Among these were many close up (and VERY large) elephants. There was also a 200 or so head or wildebeests wandering along. Three mischeivious hyenas were periodically chasing some of them, seemingly just for the fun of watching them run scared. that’s the way it looked to us anyways. After a little while eve they grew tired of chasing and lay down to relax and catch their breath as the rest of the herd of wildebeests sauntered past. Lastly of note we saw some jackles. They were interesting because they were so small compared to the jackals and what size I (also we) expected them to be.

Near the end of the day’s tour we saw a couple of lions just sitting and relaxing in the grass adjacent to the road. While stopped to take pictures and video, we saw a small cub come out from the shade of a culvert about 5m away. They did look very cute and cuddly as the kids high pitched voices chimed from the back seats. We still refrained from exiting the safety of our nice jeep.

At camp that night we met up with an American woman and her French (from France) Husband plus their two kids that were roughly Alex & Luke’s age. The kids got along great and we ended up eating dinner adjacent to each other. I had joked earlier while talking to the Mom about the US not being a great place to be from for a few more months until Obamma got elected. She readily agreed. Later at supper though the kids were talking about some zombie movie, and one questioned the others about what kind of horrible monster they each thought the people would turn into once affected by the disease. I quickly interjected with my guess and burst out, “George Bush!?” and a simultaneously quizzical and sarcastic tone. The kids laughed (even hers) but she quickly berated me that I “should be more careful about making jokes about George Bush in public like that for want of possibly offending someone:. I was naturally rather stunned, but quickly defended myself by saying that “I would happily debate the merits of either George Bush with anyone in the room.” I was about to continue by saying that I would even go so far as to look forward to a debate over ANY Republican government in the US in the last thirty years. Before I could though she replied to my offer of a George Bush debate with an excuse that maybe no one would openly support George Bush now, but barely a few years ago things were different. Clearly this poor woman was trapped in a Republican supporters body, but knew in her heart that the leaders she looks up to are completely indefensible. That must be a hard pill to swallow, and I felt pity and remorse for her blindly following ideals that make no sense, “just because”. I therefore let the topic end at that, much against my yearnings for a good “conversation” with her though.


SAFARI, DAY THREE – The Serengeti

Last night was a little quieter, after all the other campers settled down by about 11:00PM. Our safari company actually has two different 4 person groups out right now, and the other group stole two of our sleeping bags. Well, we found out afterwards that the cook’s helper had taken one each out of our two tents and put them in the German guy’s tent. This was going to be our coldest night since we were at a fairly high elevation at the rim of the crater. We discovered the missing bags too late, (only right before bed time) and didn’t have a clue what tent our driver and cook were sleeping in to find out where the missing bags were. instead we just jumped in our very light equatorial bags, snuggled up close (Luke & Rick in one tent with Alex & Claudette in the other) and draped the single heavier sleeping bag over top of us. The previous night I didn’t even bother closing the canvas flaps over the screens to keep warmer. This night we certainly did though. We had climbed about 400m up to the crater rim, and I was fairly surprised by the temperature difference that created. It was another 600m (that sounds too much to me, but that’s what the brochure said) to the floor of the crater below.

Today’s drive between parks was only a little over an hour and a half, but it was a bumpy gravel road the whole way. In between the central areas of the two parks we came upon vast herds of wildebeests. They must have numbered about three to four thousand, and was a pretty cool sight to see. When we got close to some at road crossings, it was difficult for me to look at them and not chuckle. All I could think of seeing them was Captain Kirk’s foreboding voice planning world domination. Shatner did that role (from the movie, “The Wild”) so well that it is completely ingrained in me it seems. We talked to the driver and the cook about our own herds of a few thousand bison back home. We showed them pictures from the tourist pamphlet Claudette had brought along and they both enjoyed seeing the close up, and aireal views. Both guys seemed more impressed by the pictures of dogleds though. They couldn’t fathom that they were just normal North American dogs, and figured they must have been crossbred with water buffalo somehow to enable them to pull so well. Bringing the book along was a really great idea. Most guides and people we’ve met are keenly interested in learning a little more about our cultures, backgrounds and home environment. Every single person we’ve shown it to have shuddered in visible horror at the pictures of snow though. Well, except for in the +43 degree desert conditions of Dubai where they are a little more used to it though. For Craig or any others reading, make sure to do this, (bring along pictures or tourist brochures of your home cities or areas). Make sure they showcase cultural aspects rather than historical ones though. these guys in Tanzania are most interested in the wide variety of animals we have and in the pictures of aboriginals and their anthropological origins.

There were no giraffe’s in the crater park due to the difficulty of climbing down. The first day on the Serengeti made up for the previous day’s deficiency though. I am unable to get enough of watching these incredible majestic creatures walking around in the vastness of their home plains. Their distinctness is truly captivating. I recall someone when I was quite young telling me that giraffes would starve if they lived on grass plains since their necks couldn’t bend down that far, and they could only eat the leaves from trees. I was probably always a tiny bit skeptical of this but that person was my elder and I was compelled to respect the information they were feeding me. I am now deliriously happy to report that this was a complete load of mis-information! They easily bend their necks down to eat grass or from shrubs low to the ground. Most all the trees they eat from have long (8cm or so?) very pointed needles all along the branches which must make leaf retrieval rather difficult. I seem to recall reading somewhere (a long time ago of course) that their tongues are incredibly tough to account for this though. I took some pictures closer up of a dead branch with only the needles, and another of a live one with the leaves still on it.

One really interesting thing we noticed was the stages of coloring for zebra’s and giraffe’s. Young zebras have white bodies with brown stripes, and as they get older the brown turns to black. Giraffe’s however start out with black patches on a light beige base. As they got older the patches turn to brown. And yes, for those of you still wondering about that first sentence, Zebras really are white with brown/black stripes. On the underside of the body, the darker port6ions dissipate to a point before the hair color is solid white. That’s certainly something I’ve always mildly wondered about, and am now happy to now know the answer to.

After supper this evening I asked Claudette to come on a short little nature walk with me, but she was leary of the beasts that might jump out at her. Thomas heard me ask her to go for a walk, and reminded me that we weren’t supposed to leave the campground area at all since a lion (and some poisoniss snakes) could easily e hiding in just a meter of grass. I explained to him that I didn’t plan on taking her far; just on the other side of a tree at the edge maybe, and then he caught my meaning. he chuckled, and then still said “No, it’s still not a good idea even just there”. Bummer…


SAFARI, DAY FOUR – The Serengeti Part Deux

Last nights campground was actually inside the Serengeti park. We’re staying two nights here and the park fees per head are $50 per day. Vehicle permits are an extra $40 per day and to camp inside at a park campground is an extra $10/day a head. Most other campers and guides are incredibly rude though and carrying on full volumed conversations until at least 10:30 to 11:00 at night. Worse to me though is the abundance of loud conversations that start at about a quarter to six every morning irregardless of their fellow campers who don’t have to be up for another hour and a half. Claudette refuses to allow me to speak to any of these mostly Europeans or try and shame them into having just a bare amount of common consideration. I suspect our first night back in a hotel room in Arusha will involve an early night to bed, coupled with a pretty late sleep-in.

The company we ended up choosing has been pretty decent so far, (other than the cook’s helper “misplacing” (I think he was bribed by the German guys though) two of our four sleeping bags on the cold night adjacent to the lip of the crater). It certainly wasn’t the most expensive company, but it seemed to be a little up from the bottom too. We were constantly asked in Dar es Salaam and in Arusha we were bombarded by tout’s promoting safari trips. Many seemed rather shady and I’m very relieved to have had a good recommendation from Patti. The only complaint that I have is we are eating on camp stools instead of a full backed folding chair which would be so much more comfortable. Companies with full backed folding chairs seem to offer everything else in a pretty deluxe manner though, which would probably make the overall cost out of reach. So, the lesson here is to check beforehand, and they don’t supply them, just go and spend $10 each yourself on the camp chairs. The benefit of comfortable eating will easily outweigh the determent of leaving them behind when you jump on a plane to go home, (or to your next destination).

Another Canadian young couple we met from Winterpeg had just completed several months of volunteer work in Ghana, and arranged a “budget” safari. The jeep that picked them up on that first day took them out into the Park, found another jeep from the same company and transferred them to it. Then the new jeep barely spent another half hour in the park, before driving to town to take two other passengers to the bus station. After that they simply returned to the campsite rather than getting some more touring in. Bummer for them that first day. Then the next morning they discovered that their jeep had a dead battery and needed a to be pushed by another vehicle to get started. This meant that during animal sightings the driver couldn’t shut the engine off, and the diesel engine would be shaking quite a bit. That shaking makes decent zoom photography pretty near impossible and they were skunked on two accounts. They had tiny, flimsy little nylon tents as well, and overall they were pretty un-thrilled about the company they had chosen. They were still paying $140/day/person for this though!, (versus our $170).

Our driver, Thomas, is a great guy who is 51 years old, and has been guiding for just over 21 years now. That’s the huge benefit about touring with kids, we are often given the most experienced guides. For whitewater rafting, driving the crazy hectic roads of Northern India for a week, or out here on safari this seems to have held true. Many (sadly, most) of the other driver’s we have seen drive too fast such that they would miss things, or scare animals away, or have rollovers (apparently). A few years ago the government began lightly regulating the qualifications for safari drivers since companies were grabbing any old idiot off of the street and paying him peanuts to be a guide. As would be expected, many unhappy tourists and accidents ensued, not to mention quite a few drivers getting lost and needing more fuel and a ranger escort out of the park after dark. Thomas has the intelligence (or some would say maturity) to just do simple smart things like turning around at night in the parking lot so he is facing “out” and can leave the parking lot without hassle the next morning. Most other drivers just pull straight in to get close to the kitchen in a big semi-circular fan formation. That naturally makes for a very chaotic departure for everyone but us the next morning. This company is also quite professional in other simple things like our vehicle maintained confidence factor. Some of these rust buckets with practically no suspension left would make for an incredibly uncomfortable ride. Yet another thing that speaks to how well (or how luckily) we picked a safari company is how our crew works together to make things happen quickly and efficiently. Something as simple as unpacking and packing the vehicle including setting up and taking down camp is done by our crew very well. Other groups.. well it’s a bit funny for us to watch them go about these simple but necessary tasks, but is probably pretty frustrating for their clients. Some of them would be arguing about how to position bags, or how tight the straps should be. Meanwhile the clients stand waiting, sometimes helping to hoist tents and luggage up to the top of the vehicle just to get things moving.

The Serengeti itself has given us far less animal concentrations (and thus sightings) than the previous two parks. The incredible vastness of this huge ecosystem is still incredibly worthwhile seeing unto itself. While we’ve heard from other tourists that they seem to be driving in areas with many other jeeps close to the campground, they are seeing less animals than us. Thomas claims to thoroughly know all the roads (and even little dirt tracks) in this expansive 14,850 square kilometer area. We easily believe him. The “new breed” of guides are hesitant to learn new things, and prefers to stick to a few main areas it seems. Thomas has taken us all over the far reaches of the Serengeti with only a couple encounters during the day with other jeeps. Lastly I should mention that the park pretty much has full coverage of cell phone service, even though we have seen no towers at all except for one at the campground, and another beside the research center. There are a few 40-70m bedrock hills that spring up here and there. These would make excellent locations for stubby cell tower antennas that would be difficult to see, and thus would be nicely disguised. It’s only a theory of course… 🙂

I believe that the kids are more so relating specifics of animal sightings than I have been. I should mention here though that we’ve seen a bunch of ostriches at different times and they are HUGE! They are certainly bigger than even the ones we have seen on ranches at home or even at the Australia Zoo. They are not only taller, but very round and large in the body. Their food sources in the Serengeti must be quite abundant. We asked Thomas about them sticking their heads in the sand and he acted very puzzled by such a crazy question. We also asked him about Rhino’s stamping out campfires as the self appointed Smokey Bear’s of the Serengeti (as “taught” to us in The Gods Must Be Crazy). This bizarre question he treated with complete disbelief that we were even being serious! I guess we can rank these ones right up there with the great Lemmings Leaping documentary shown in so many North American schools as kids that lied to us.


SAFARI, DAY FIVE – A Volcano! & The Long Drive Back

Our final night camping was a little more peaceful than the previous ones. We had scheduled our first early morning (breakfast at 6:30 AM!) since we had a long, round-a-bout route to travel back to Arusha. Instead of heading straight South we are going North to a park gate, and then around to a road South that runs parallel to the one in the park. This was take us by Mount Ol Doinyo Lengai (Mountain of God) a recently re-active volcano. It is actually spewing lava, and we are hoping to get to a vantage point to see it. On the way, and just out of the Park a little ways we stopped for a commelian crossing the road. It was gently springing (nice use of an appropriate oxymoron eh?) back and forth, while occasionally moving its legs a little bit, one at a time perhaps every forth or fifth swing forwards. This made its overall progress painstakingly slow, but very enjoyable to watch. As we crept closer in the jeep to within about 3m, it changed its mind about trying to disguise its movements and just scurried to the road edge where it began the forward and backwards swaying motion once again. ( There must be a better word to describe the movement they exhibit, but nothing comes to mind right now.) As per its species name it changed color as soon as it entered the sparse grass on the very edge of the road. A little further in to the grass and it became completely green to blend in fully. VERY COOL!

We spent the morning heading North with more wildlife sightings than the previous day and a half. That was of course most likely due to our early morning departure as anything else. The previous three days we’d only left camp by almost 10:00 AM, well into the heat of the day when practically all of the animals are much less active. There was one point where a very large giraffe was standing in the middle of the road, squared off and directly facing us with his legs slightly spread out in a very firm, braced stance. We stopped, watched and waited. He simply stood and stared us down for a few minutes, unmoving. It was really the coolest thing, and we were too far back (about 40m) to be afraid or anything. Eventually, a slightly smaller giraffe beside him ambled across the road from one side to the other. As soon as she (well, presumably a she?) was safely on the other side of the road, he straightened his stance, turned, and followed her across the ditch and into the tall grasslands.

Just before leaving the Park we saw a huge herd of zebras which was very cool. It probably numbered at a little over one hundred head. After leaving the park we drove by a couple more herds of around fifty. Later in the afternoon once we had looped around South and were back in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area again (this time on the other side of the mountain rage) we saw another large herd. This one was really spread out over the plains and probably numbered over three hundred. It was really amazing to see.

In order to drive by the semi-active volcano, Thomas asked for an extra $40 in gas money for the extra distance we would have to travel. Either the Land Rover we are in has way better gas consumption than North American Models or he underestimated the extra distance a bit I think. We were on the road by 7:15 AM and didn’t pull in to Arusha until 8:00 PM! If traveled directly this route should normally take only five to six hours. That’s a lot of extra kilometers! When we rounded the corner of the valley with the Volcano, it was quite a site to see. A broad, wide beautiful valley with this gorgeous monstrosity almost in the middle, (in truth the valley turned at that point we later discovered). It was very impressive to see up close, but I still secretly wondered if all the extra time traveling was actually worth it. We had lunch at a campground about 5km away. After lunch when we started driving again I asked Thomas to stop so we could take a few pictures of the five of us in front of it. He found a decent spot and we started piling out. Just then, the cook’s apprentice (who was riding to Arusha with us) exclaimed that it was erupting! We all turned to look, and then I quickly grabbed the camera. The ash plume grew very quickly and we got some incredible pictures and video footage. It was yet another amazing event we were fortunate enough to witness. It’s unclear to me how many more times on this trip I can get away with using the word “incredible” to describe something, but that word truly applied here this time. Nightly news reel footage of Mount St. Helen’s spewing huge ash plumes and then later erupting once again did little justice to the real thing. As we climbed back into the jeep and continued to drive closer the ash plume became simply massive! Luckily the prevailing winds were blowing to the opposite side of the mountain that we were traveling on. We all stared at the ash cloud at the top and frequently saw flashes of light. at first we assumed it was breaks in the ash cloud showing spurts of red hot lava inside. The more we gazed though, the more it looked like lightening. There were these huge static electricity zaps within the ash plume, about twenty meters up from the crest, and there were NO OTHER CLOUDS IN THE SKY! This was a really bizarre phenomenon that I’d never heard of before and will have to research further. Luckily I did capture some video footage of these “strikes” on the video camera for future reference. Simply amazing… I’m unable to think of any further words to describe it. The pictures will have to do the job once I finalize the disc and get about 8 hours straight to do all our African pictures uploading.

It was a very long day of driving, (not to mention over absolutely terrible, rough roads for the most part) only made better by stunning scenery everywhere and great tunes. Thomas had mentioned that he really liked regee music. When I asked why he never played the newly installed in-dash cassette deck, he quickly replied that they’re not really allowed to with clients in the jeep. For today’s ride I asked this morning if he wanted me to play some of my reggae tunes, to which he enthusiastically replied in the affirmative. I started off with two double albums. One was called “Regatta Mondatta: A regae Tribute To The Police” and the other was called “Mellow Dubmarine: A reggae Tribute To The Beatles”. After those were done he expressed a fondness for the Beatles that he hasn’t heard in quite awhile. I told him that I had every Beatles Album ever, and offered to play those. He readily agreed and I had the rare opportunity to not just listen to one or two albums, but the entire 200+ song collection! I say rare simply because The Beatles are not very thrilling to Claudette. she’ll listen to a few songs sometimes, but not as her first choice. I think everyone should listen to 90% of the Beatles collection (at different times of course) once a year. That’s just me of course… Anyways, it made for a great ride back.


African Safari Summary

Without any doubt, I am VERY glad we chose to choke back the extra heavy costs and make a trip to Africa (not including Egypt) and do a safari. The sights, sounds, smells and incredible experiences were beyond comparison to any documentary I’d ever seen or any Zoo I’ve visited. Not to say that those things aren’t absolutely valuable of course. Just that experiencing the real thing greatly intensified those other experiences, and was even more valuable than I would have thought possible. While the Edmonton Zoo probably does its best with limited resources to showcase a bit on the animal kingdom to it’s citizens, the very large Calgary Zoo easily eclipses it. The absolutely massive sprawling San Diego Zoo similarly blows the Calgary Zoo out of the water. Nothing can come close to comparing with seeing these magnificent creatures in their expansive natural habitat though. I am sure that this is hardly an original thought for most people out there who want to travel. For anyone who wanted to travel even just a little bit, I would urge you to place Africa at the very top of your priority list. There are so many things in this world that are worthwhile to see, but prioritize your list and work them off from there.

I am not a huge bird fan by any means, (except for the Fort Smith Family version of course!). As a matter of fact, the intense devotion that the Mark Bradley’s of the world exhibit towards bird watching rather mystifies me. In our Peruvian jungle tour there was a strong emphasis of getting up early to see birds (and a “little” bit of other wildlife) in action. While it was mildly interesting to me, they all sort of blended in together after a while to my unsophisticated mind. Africa however has sparked a few appreciative synapses in my brain a bit. The colors are really fantastic to see on a wide variety of shapes and sizes of birds that we have seen. What makes it more interesting than ever before to me I think is the closeness that they come to us. They fly adjacent to and within a few meters of the jeep sometimes. Other times, when we are stopped they come very close, and don’t seem to mind us at all. This far outweighs having to search for and watch them through binoculars. The only other place where I found the birds generally this interesting and accessible was in the Galapagos islands.

The Massi are the Tanzanian people that still live in dirt huts and herd livestock. I’m not sure how their economy functions, other than not needing money for daily life, and still giving animals as a dowry for a daughter’s marriage. Sadly, (VERY sadly and shockingly in fact) female circumcision is still practiced by most of these tribes. The Federal government has officially outlawed the practice, but it continues on anyways. The government has also offered fair sized monetary rewards to the “people” (monsters???) performing this “genital mutilation” if they hand in all of their “instruments” and promise not to “practice” anymore. All of this as described to us by Thomas, but it is unclear how successful the amnesty reward program has been. On our first day, as we drove he pointed out a Massi village on the hillside with a bunch of huts. Some women were out working in the fields and kids were hanging around by the roadside watching the tourists go by. Apparently this one village was only for the chief of the region. Each of his 38! wives had their own hut, and he had 168 (or so?) children.

Thomas did not speak fondly of the lifestyle practices of the Massi Tribes. Apparently the women are virtual slaves all their lives. They go through the ritual clitoral circumcision (an amputation really) just before puberty and thereafter do chores for their chief (or father or local male elder) until death. It sounds absolutely tragic, but there are various groups working to eradicate the practice. In one restaurant in Moshi we saw a poster of the Mount Kili Climbing society who was putting on an informations session regarding the modern day genital mutilation of thousands of Tanzanian women. Later, on our second day while entering the crater there were some Massi men selling various handicrafts and trinkets to tourists at the entrance gate. A couple of them (and some of the shepards we’ve passed by) are wearing cheaper store bought sandals on their feet. Most however have homemade sandals with animal hide bottoms or tire treads with two straps coming around the top of the foot. Probably about half of the men we saw have recycled cut up tyres (local spelling of course) for footwear. The kids are almost always barefoot.

The men at the gate were selling all kinds of stuff, and one even seemed to know English very well. He had a cowhide mosaic wall hanging (very similar to ones I’ve seen Inuit do from two different colors of sealskin) of a giraffe on the plains with one tree that really captivated me. The work was very artistic and sweetly done. Just as we were driving away he came down to my price of $10, but Thomas did not stop again. He later explained that the women would have made all those crafts, but the men sell the items and use the money to go to town and buy booze. They don’t share anything with the women or children apparently. Females have to work and simply fend for themselves (and their children) to survive. This all sounded so harsh and foreign to us, but it is indeed current practice in these very parts of the country. It actually strikes me as more harsh and urgent than even all the poor and cripples begging in the streets in India. Completely overwhelming really…

Tanzania, Week One

February 24th, 2008

While Dubai was nicely warm, landing in Tanzania was immediately oppressingly hot and very muggy again. This was to the extent that we haven’t experienced since Singapore, or maybe even Fiji. Most all guidebooks and other travelers that we’ve met have given the advice to get out of Dar es Salaam as soon as possible in order to see the “Real” Tanzania. Amid 48 hour rotating fevers from me to Luke, then Alex, we took a ferry over to Zanzibar and spent a few days there. We didn’t really get the opportunity to branch out from Stonetown to other parts of the island though. After everyone was well again we did take a “Spice Tour” for a half day, and then went to a beach on the West shore, just a little North of Zanzibar Town.

The spice tour was enjoyable and very informative. There was an incredible variety of plants and trees and shrubs that either were or smelled like their originals. These included: Lemon Grass, Ginger, Tumor, Cinnamon Tree, Chocolate Fruit, Coco seeds, nutmeg bark, vanilla beans, and sweet curry leaves. Sadly though, nothing we encountered was indigenous to the Island (or even the region for that matter). Everything was introduced from India & South America by Portugese or British settlers from the 1500’s and up. all along the walk there were several boys weaving and making all kinds of leaf adornments to give to the tourists for money. I accepted a leaf wrapped as a cone, and stitched closed with a narrow gauge twig to hold my samples in. Our children however were wildly enthusiastic about accepting all kids of neat (but un-keepable) things like rings, weaved buckets, a huge hat, a tie, and a intricately done frog on a string necklace. When I reminded them that we would have to be paying in tips for everything, they started slowing down in readily accepting everything thrown their way. Alex was still a little more discerning than Luke though. I gave them each a LITTLE bit of money to give to the children for when collection time came though. In the end, Luke gave most of his items away to some much younger children we encountered in a small poor village, much to their great delight.

After the spice tour we proceeded to a beach near where a Muslim Maharajah had a large plantation and a few hundred black slaves. When the British took over governing Zanzibar from Zanzibar town not too far away, they outlawed slavery. The evil king by then had heard about this large cave in heavy tree cover on his property. He then mandated that all slaves be kept in this cave unless working to keep them hidden from the British. There were a few hundred of them in a cavern that was only about 30m wide by 100m long covered in very uneven broken ground. There were passages at each end that one “could” get out from, but both involved swimming underwater for a little ways. Several slaves did escape but apparently most people of the era were disinclined towards dark, airless cave swimming. One passage was about 500m to another exit point (with extensive belly crawling involved) while the other was 3km of twisty turning passages. The main hole over the cavern did not have walls adjacent to it, so the guards merely had to leave some food (never enough for all) down below and pull up the ladder for the night. Thankfully there was a freshwater pool in the main cavern that everyone could draw from, but I have no idea what they did with the waste of three to four hundred people in such a small place for the five years that it was their home.

A ten minute walk from the cave entrance was a gorgeous beach with only a few other tourists. There were 20m high cliffs along this area, but stairs and a passage down through the rock had been cut (probably by those same slaves sadly) to the amazing stretch of sandy beach. Since we were on the mainland side of the island, the waves were nicely small and the water was very pleasantly cool. With the extreme heat and mugginess we had so far experienced in Tanzania (with only one reprieve in a pool thus far) it was very refreshing to be immersed in cooler (in a relative way only of course) water. After an hour and a bit of frolicking, we went next door to our hotel and bought plane tickets to Moshi for the next evening. A 55 minute flight was a welcome alternative to a 2.5 hour “fast” ferry ride for $35 each (the slow one is 4.5 hours!) back to Dar es Salaam and the mainland. After that, (and entirely depending upon the schedules meshing up) we needed to take a $15 public bus for a 10-11 hour ride North to Moshi. Thrown in there somewhere would be an extra night’s accommodation, likely in some dusty bug infested place along the way. I think Claudette finally became convinced of the preference of a flight when she kept hearing other travelers refer to the bus trip North as “The Suicide Route” referring to the irresponsible manner in which the drivers guide the 20 tonnes of metallic coffins along the highways, crazily weaving in, around and through other traffic and general obstacles.

The kicker about flying is that the Kili International Airport is roughly halfway between Arusha and Moshi, and in the evening we got soaked $60 for a 35 minute drive to our hotel in Moshi. It was a fairly new and nice place, not to mention pretty reasonable at $55 per night per room, (we needed two). It had a pool and internet in every room, but the internet connection in the office barely worked never mind the room ones. Still it beat the $65/night we paid in Stone Town which didn’t have a pool. From this hotel and walking around town a bit we caught some incredible views of Mount Kilimanjaro at various times when it was un-clowded. They moved in and out incredibly fast, because I would often go to get my camera after seeing it on a walk to an internet cafe, and ‘poof’, I’d be too late. I don’t think that Alex or I got a decent shot of it for the three days we were there. We made arrangements in Arusha for one night in a hotel before our genuine African Safari was scheduled to start. I have no doubts that this will be very spectacular, but at $670/day for the four of us it had really better be! (To compare, the 15 day Peru, Machu Picchu, jungle stay, Galapagos Islands GAP tour was $934/day for us. One more comparison: to climb Mount Kili costs $680/day for four. It’s almost the same price as the safari cause you’d simply use a bunch of human porters instead of a petrol vehicle.)

PS: I snuck this post in on a $10 per fifteen minute satellite connection at a lodge when I had to come in for something else. Don’t worry, we have all been typing daily logs on the safari and there will be TONNES! of stuff to read in just a few short days!


On safari and out of touch

February 23rd, 2008

Hi folks! Tim here reporting for the Jameses who are in so wild and remote an area that Internet access is spotty at best, so by way of a hurried phone call they asked me to write a quick post and let everyone know what they are up to.

As I write this shortly after noon on February 23, the Jameses are on safari in Lake Manyara National Park, which by its website looks like a very spectacular place. Here is how it is described:

Stretching for 50km along the base of the rusty-gold 600-metre high Rift Valley escarpment, Lake Manyara is a scenic gem, with a setting extolled by Ernest Hemingway as “the loveliest I had seen in Africa”.

The compact game-viewing circuit through Manyara offers a virtual microcosm of the Tanzanian safari experience.

From the entrance gate, the road winds through an expanse of lush jungle-like groundwater forest where hundred-strong baboon troops lounge nonchalantly along the roadside, blue monkeys scamper nimbly between the ancient mahogany trees, dainty bushbuck tread warily through the shadows, and outsized forest hornbills honk cacophonously in the high canopy.

Contrasting with the intimacy of the forest is the grassy floodplain and its expansive views eastward, across the alkaline lake, to the jagged blue volcanic peaks that rise from the endless Maasai Steppes. Large buffalo, wildebeest and zebra herds congregate on these grassy plains, as do giraffes – some so dark in coloration that they appear to be black from a distance.

Now the phone call from Rick was rushed and the connection was poor, but he did say they saw pretty much every type of animal there is to see, with the exception of lions. He said they saw tons of hippos, giraffes, zebras and a fascinating little creature called the dik-dik.

After Lake Manyara, the Jameses are off to Ngorongoro Crater, the largest caldera in the world. Until they can give you a first hand account when they get back to someplace with a connection, you’ll have to be satisfied with this description from the website:

The Ngorongoro Crater is one of those sights you really have to see to believe; It’s the largest caldera in the world; the remains of a massive volcano preserved as a perfect bowl some 18 km across. The ground area is just over 260 square kilometres and within this relatively small space most of the major east African habitats and mammal species are represented. What’s more you have an incredibly good chance of seeing them here on your safari.

Game viewing can begin on the crater rim, where often you come round a corner to find a solitary bull elephant feeding absent mindedly and inadvertently blocking the road and even leopard are occasionally seen shooting across the track on the eastern rim into the dense woodland. From the rim and often from your lodge window you can sit with a pair of binoculars and watch the game far below you.

And it really is a long way down. The Crater is over a third of a mile deep and the scale and perfection of the thing is staggering. Once in the Crater floor, most of the animals at Ngorongoro, whilst totally wild, are very used to vehicles. This means that they all but ignore them (which at time must be very hard to do) and as a result they can be approached fairly easily. This makes the Ngorongoro Crater an ideal first place to visit on your safari and an excellent place to take children as intervals between animals are generally short and the game is often close enough that you won’t need to look with binoculars (don’t leave them behind though).

After that, they are off to the famous Serengeti Plains, where I am sure they see all the wildlife one could possibly hope for. Here is a quick desrciption of what awaits them:

A million wildebeest… each one driven by the same ancient rhythm, fulfilling its instinctive role in the inescapable cycle of life: a frenzied three-week bout of territorial conquests and mating; survival of the fittest as 40km (25 mile) long columns plunge through crocodile-infested waters on the annual exodus north; replenishing the species in a brief population explosion that produces more than 8,000 calves daily before the 1,000 km (600 mile) pilgrimage begins again.

Tanzania’s oldest and most popular national park, the Serengeti is famed for its annual migration, when some six million hooves pound the open plains, as more than 200,000 zebra and 300,000 Thomson’s gazelle join the wildebeest’s trek for fresh grazing. Yet even when the migration is quiet, the Serengeti offers arguably the most scintillating game-viewing in Africa: great herds of buffalo, smaller groups of elephant and giraffe, and thousands upon thousands of eland, topi, kongoni, impala and Grant’s gazelle.

After the Jameses are back online, they can let us know if the real thing lives up to the tourism literature! Anyway, that’s it from your snowbound Northern correspondent. I am sure we will be back to proper updates from our favourite world travellers soon enough. Suffice to say, all is well and they are having a great time!

Not Yet the “Wilds” of Africa

February 19th, 2008

Well we’ve been in Africa for almost a week and we have yet to see anything remotely wild animal-ish except maybe a stray cat or two. Our first 2 days we spent in Dar Es Salaam, which is the major economic city in the country. Luke wasn’t feeling well and on the morning we were taking the ferry to Zanzibar, I took him to the hospital to make sure he didn’t have Malaria. Good news was that he didn’t have Malaria, and we made our 10:30AM ferry departure for Zanzibar.

We’ve now spent 4 nights In Stonetown on Zanzibar Island. Everybody in finally healthy as Alex was sick for 2 days after arriving here. Yesterday we took a spice tour and went swimming at a remote beach north of Stonetown. Today we are heading to Moshi, which is at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Originally I wanted to take the ferry back to Dar Es Salaam and then a 10 hour bus ride to Moshi, however Rick finally convinced me that the 55 minute flight was more worthwhile than the 2 days of travelling so we fly out of Zanzibar at 7:55PM tonight.

We are just making the finally arrangement for our 5 day safari through the Serengeti and a couple of other places. The price basically works out to $170/person/day or $850 each for 5 days. I’m sure it will be worth it, and we will finally see the wilds of Africa.

Take care for now, we miss you all.


February 19th, 2008

Now we are in Tanzania! It is quite hot here! We spent 2 days in Dar el Salaam and now we are on an island called Zanzibar. We had to take a ferry to get here. Now we have all gotten sick in the past few weeks with the same thing! I think I almost had it the worst. It stills pains me now even though I “recovered” a day ago (or 2?). we went on a spice tour today which was lots (!!!!!) of fun! We first stopped at a few spice farms and saw (and smelt), cinnamon, lemon grass, ginger, coriander, mace, nutmeg, cloves, and a few others. And they was some village boys who didn’t have school then, so they kept following us and making really nice things out of huge leaves. I got a very nice ring, that had an add on so I could put in some stuff, put in some cinnamon and lemon grass (which turned out to be the best combination!). And a basket, bracelet and a few of the spices (that I couldn’t manage to be the last one smelling). In the end they wanted money (which we did give to them) But they really took advantage of Luke, he just couldn’t say no! He got one of everything (except for a ring to put things in like mine and some corriander). He has thing really funky hat, a weaved frog, a basket, a tie (weaved) and tons of other spices and stuff!

After that we went into a cave called the “slave cave”. It is where one of the kings kept his slaves when the British were in Tanzania. It was very hot underground!! I thought it was going to be nice and cool, but it was almost as hot as above ground! Our guide said he (the king) had 200 slaves in their! I couldn’t believe it! Maybe 100, but not 200! There was a little pool of water where they would take drinks. at both ends of the cave they are these big kinda holes (except they are really wide, maybe 50 meters) and you could escape from there. On one side it was impossible for anyone to survive, because it was so hot, and if you didn’t go at the right time, the high tode would kill you. But on the other side some slaves actually made it out(the ones that knew how to swim. It takes about 3 hours ands it 30 km (I think) when above the cave it takes about 15 minutes! But there was a guard above the cave. Then we went for a swim an it was so nice! The lady who was sitting at the back of the bus with mom let me borrow her goggles and I got some very neat shells! I got on that would be awesome for a necklace, and one that was the beginning of a conch shell and two other ones. S’all for now! Buh-bye!

Tanzania Up Close

February 19th, 2008

When we got into Tanzania I thought this was nothing like India and I was right there is not as much horn honking just as much as fort smith and the Tanzanian aren’t as crazy drivers as the Indian there is not as much pollution as India and definitely not as much dogs I have only seen three !!! We stayed in an O.K hotel for our first two nights in Tanzania the second night we were there I got sick I was having the same symptoms as you would if you had malaria ( dun du dun )
worst of all a very high fever 38.26 . I was having a lot of diarrhea I had to go 27 times in one night mom took me to the hospital the next morning and I got two needles one to help my fever another to test my blood the one to test my blood hurt more . We went on a ferry to get to another Island about a half an hour after I was at the hospital the ride was not smooth but not bumpy. I Had trouble finding the toilette when I did find it I just sat down and went not looking for toilet paper as you probably guessed there was none and yet I only noticed it half way though my poop. Luckily mom had some in her bag and dad brought it to me when we arrived All i wanted to do was lie down to make a long taxi drive short I did . I ended up being sick for a day and a half after the trip to the hospital and still have the sniffles .As I got better Alex got sicker and when I could finally go out to eat Alex could not . my first day I had a meal with mom and dad was breakfast I got a brownie I saved one bight for Alex who was stuck in the room mom had got Alex some toast that alex said tasted like bannock Alex also said that it was the best meal she had had in a while that night we called a few family members and Tim to say hi we gave a little update on what was happening we went to the spice area the next day there were a few boys making leaf crafts for the group We saw cinnamon trees lemon grass coco beans and a lot more the funny thing was the boys just continued giving us stuff I got a hat a tie a frog a necklace a ring and 3 bracelets all for one dollar total in the end I only kept the hat and the tie ( I lost the frog wa wa wa it was really nice ) The hat Is something Ian would LOVE and the tie is just cool anyways I think I’m starting to blab on and on and on like dad so see ya : ) : )


February 18th, 2008

With not a little regret we departed India. Yes the filth, societal attitudes and chaotic life there were daunting to live around. But there is such a long, incredible, historical past integrated with India that makes her so majestic to travelers. Not to fear though, since we quickly discovered that there are an abundance of friendly Indians (men only of course) working and living in Dubai. We knew hotels would be outrageous when we decided to stretch our four hour flight layover between India and Tanzania to three days, but still decided to have the experience. We managed to find a semi reasonable eight story hotel close to the “action” and the airport. It still cost us $699.53 for two rooms, for two nights each. There was another one for about $80 less per room per night, but it was about another 45 minutes (outside of rush hour) taxi ride away to the far East of Dubai near the secondary airport. It also had several very bad ratings on the trip adviser web site. This one even had a roof top pool which we never had time to make it to for the two nights we were there. That evening I bought some milk and disposable bowls to go with the boxes of honey nut corn flakes we still had leftover from India. Mmmmmm. Sure beat paying $15 each for toast and eggs downstairs!

That first afternoon, after checking in we headed to the “Mall of the Emirates” to try and go skiing for a two hour block. It turns out that strong proficiency is a must before beginners are allowed on the hill at all. Those who have never skied before (like Alex & Luke) MUST take a one hour “discovery” lesson first, and then work their way up through five additional 90 minute lessons before they can go on the chair by themselves. Worse yet, we discovered that all lesson slots for that day were full up until about 9:00 PM. Thus we promptly booked a discovery lesson and then a successive (and expensive) private lesson for the kids. We spent the remainder of the evening having a meal and fighting our way through rush hour traffic back to our hotel. We planned on seeing (and taking pictures of) the 7 star sail hotel and the new tallest building in the world in the daylight tomorrow.

The next day we had planned to leave by 10:00 AM for some daylight pictures before needing to be at the ski hill by noon, but it just didn’t seem to happen. Yet another lazy day found us getting out the door barely in time to have a quick bite for lunch at the mall, before needing to get the kids geared up for their introductory “discovery” lesson. After they were good to go and waiting for the instructor, Claudette and I went to get outfitted. All equipment was supplied except for a toque and gloves, which we had to buy. Claudette and I didn’t bother with hats, and Alex still hat her hat and gloves from China that she kept forgetting to send home in parcels. Luke and I had simply (and intentionally) left ours behind at Jim & Letty’s place since we couldn’t fathom needing them again. Alex kept hers cause she liked the colors and style, and wanted to use them at home next winter. The “ski” store had cheap little fleece children’s gloves for $5 or full size adult ski gloves for $22. Claudette could fit the kids ones, and I bought some for myself as well. There was no way my fingers could fit in, but there was also no way I was gonna pay that much for full sized gloves for only a few hours! Thus, after paying, I borrowed some scissors and cut all the tips of the fingers off. The guys behind the till were shocked and then understood what I was doing. The Aussie guy even suggested that he was gonna do that too since his fingers just got too warm and sweaty in the regular gloves. My only reply was that, “Yeah! It’s a great idea and the Chicks really dig it!” gave them an even bigger laugh.

I should make a note here for posterity’s sake about Claudette’s “fears”. “Some” women’s irrationality really astounds me sometimes, (and my wife’s asound me on a regular basis). The evening before we were going to go skiing, she was Hmmming and Hawing and generally fretting about possibly joining in the beginner lesson herself! Simply CRAZY!!! It took extensive convincing on my part (with an incredulous voice at first, that I slowly tamed into a soothing, convincing tone by the end of the discussion) before she agreed to give it a try on the hill first. She was worried that after almost fourteen years of not skiing that she would have completely forgotten how. Geeeessh!

I had forgotten the larger video camera, but Alex had remembered to bring her waterproof, shock resistant one along. So Claudette and I took a few runs while the kids were getting prepped and used to their ski legs. We took a bunch of photos and some video of their first forays on skis and going up the conveyor belt lift on the bunny hill. After that first lesson (one hour) we were all even a little cool, (but in a very refreshing way for Claudette and I). The kids private lesson wasn’t for another half hour, and their previous Austrian instructor allowed them to stay on the hill with me until the next lesson. Luke was a little combative about me making him work, but we practiced some more for the next twenty minutes before they had to go and meet their next instructor for the private lesson. That one went REALLY well, and both kids excelled dramatically. With ten minutes left, the instructor suggested we take Alex on the chairlift on the big hill while he stayed with Luke to get his left leg working better. By the end of the formal lesson I stayed with Luke on the bunny hill a bit longer to make him practice, but he was very frustrated with being left behind by Alex’s methodical skill at having mastered turning while in a snowplow.

When the kids cards would no longer work to get them into the lifts, Claudette had already decided to go along with Alex after a few trips to the top of the chairlift. I then managed to take Luke for two runs up the chairlift to get him a better chance of practicing that terrible right turn. On the second run, he got off the chairlift half way (nice and smoothly I should add) and I continued on to the top for the last run of the day. The “last run of the day” for skiers is notorious for including an injury, and this first “last run of the day” for me in over a dozen years was no different. As I was doing something that perhaps maybe I shouldn’t have, I fell in a spiraling cartwheel down the hill. I quickly got up and skied down the rest of the way to where Luke was waiting for me. At this point moving my legs was excruciating! and I barely made it the rest of the way down the hill with Luke, never mind carrying our ski’s in to get changed and leave. By this point, I realized that I had pulled my groin muscle HUGELY, and could barely but one leg in front of the other. When I explained this to Claudette her immediate reaction was not quite support. She lambasted me for doing something so stupid as she was now going to have to do so much more, and work harder carrying things. Ugh!

So after a hot soothing bath that night, I felt a little better. My family (some of them openly, some of them secretly) still snickered at my waddling around the room though. At the airport the next morning after checking in I asked and found out that the check-in gate was a twenty minute walk away. I causally inquired about borrowing one of the several wheelchairs sitting there and then was asked to wait a few minutes. About fifteen minutes later a man came up and got me in one, took my boarding pass and proceeded to wheel me away. I protested saying that my family could push me and that I didn’t need the “attendant” but he insisted that I wasn’t allowed to have a wheelchair on my own. Thus we were sped through a “special” line in security and taken to an elevator just beyond. Upstairs we all boarded an electric cart and rode most of the way though the terminals and gates to a special disabled waiting to board room. There was a sign asking family members of the crippled to wait outside, but the room was empty and so Claudette and the kids came in with me. There we enjoyed a free wifi connection, comfy seats and a distinct lack of noisy crowds. Mmmm… I managed to sneak out of the room and propelled myself across the great hall to the washroom. At the time of boarding I was pushed all the way to the gate while Claudette and the kids rode the moving sidewalks and we boarded. They had arranged a special elevator bus for me too, but I insisted on taking the regular bus and climbing the stairs from the tarmac to the plane myself. Whew!

The flight was not too bad, and I managed not to cramp up too badly. When we landed in Dar Es Salaam I tried to grab a wheelchair just inside the terminal but was firmly rebuffed! Only if I had made arrangements with the flight crew before landing could I possibly enjoy such a privilege I was told. So I sighed and waddled on shaking my head at the grand inequities of a world-class port like Dubai and the backwoods firm rules of Africa. The general friendliness and desire to accomodate in Dubai was very refreshing. This of course reminds me of a little story that one taxi driver had told us. Dubai seems to be a long narrow strip of land adjacent to the ocean. there are about six or seven major 6-8 lane roadways running parallel to the oceanfront at different intervals. Unfortunately there are still just too many cars on the roads. That fact coupled with the generalization that most people work in one half of Dubai and live in the other half make “rush hour” traffic crazy at best, and a two hour almost standstill at worst. This rush hour begins at 4:00 PM and goes until about 8:30 PM though.

So, as we were stuck for an hour and a half trying to take a trip we had previously done in 23 minutes, the driver told us about the sheik there. Apparently he’s a very down to earth kinda guy. We already knew about the sheik’s incredible vision in creating an incredible upscale tourist destination and a fantastic trading/port economy with the tax free zone. The Sheik also drives around in his own car, by himself. No driver, no bodyguards, no escorts, nothing. The only way the “people” know it’s him is from the Dubai license plate, simple “1” instead of the five digit number everyone else gets. There were a few other quaint stories that were interesting as well. the last one though involved the Sheik dressing up in old, dirty clothes. He had arranged for an old beater car, and often went driving around the town at 3:00 AM to see what tourists, the “common man” and his police force were up to. Apparently he’d made this foray into the nightlife many times, and once had caught a policeman taking a bribe or doing something bad. The policeman was fired, and all others were generally on their toes following the news. Sounds like a fun place to live, if one could afford it!


February 17th, 2008

In all the hubbub about my last log I totallyy forget to actually really write something about Dubai! It was very nice, but quite expensive! I had just the best time at ski Dubai, which (as I found out) is actually attached to a mall. The mall is very big and I think its almost bigger then west Edmonton mall! After just one visit, Cinibon became my absolute favorite store there! MMMMMM! I had one that was sooooo good, it had melted vannila icing, with nuts, and the cinnamon bun itself was warmed up just perfectly! I almost bought a blue (tsk tsk me and my blue things!:)) PSP, that was a slim version. I decided not to because “it is a bit of a waste of your money” (I’m quoting mom) and because I was tired of having my forehead being burnt right through with moms eyes. In the end I feel I regret it a bit, but I’d never hear the end of it.

One we were finished with our daily shopping ( The only thing we actually bought ((and didn’t return))was stuff for ski dubai and for the movie and something else ((I think))) we took a last minute tour around to see a few building in the city. We stood just outside the gates of the sailboat hotel, and got a nice night veiw, and saw a bit of a laser show. It was very pretty, even though we couldn’t get the best pictures (for example, the entire thing, it during daylight, ect).
We also saw what is going to be the tallest building in the world! It was very neat, because they built it to be the tallest for 20 years. If someone trys to beat their record they just wait, then once the other building is done, they have built it so they can build it taller!
S’all for now, bye!

Slaves in the World Today

February 17th, 2008

The snobbish class system we’ve encountered has been startling and frequent within Indian society I’ve noticed. Hotel managers or owners are constantly referring to their “Boys” doing this or that, and it felt like they were speaking of owning their workers. Time and time again I felt as though I was in the deep Southern States a hundred years ago. The poor are REALLY poor, and semi-content to be that way. There is an obvious aloofness or superiority with much of the portion of Indian society that we delt with. Educated tour guides would show open disdain to the poor or beggars that seemed to maraud us starkly caucasian tourists. Only one other situation stands out along similar lines outside of India, (the occasions were too numerous inside India to even discuss further). On our Laos tour, our tour guide was reasonably well educated (but a former Buddhist Monk Novice of twelve years!) and treated the hill tribe villagers we visited with seeming disdain. I was cautious about taking many pictures or walking off the beaten path, wanting to offer these people some semblance of privacy in their grass huts. He somewhat gruffly insisted that I take as many pictures of whatever I wanted, and go wherever I wanted. The exception of course being that I shouldn’t enter any huts. He did insist that I should take and pictures or video that I wanted through open doorways into their private lives. He would also portray slight arrogance as he calmly swept aside villagers in his way while walking, not even addressing them, just calmly carrying on his informative lecture and pushing them aside to walk through. It was a little weird and certainly disconcerting.

Back to Indians now for a moment. I got into a bit of a discussion upon arrival at the Dubai airport with an Indian couple in their sixties. As soon as the plane comes to a stop at the terminal people spring up and push up the isle as much as possible to get a better “spot” to get off the plane first. This means standing and waiting while crushed by a throng of others for at least ten minutes before the door at the front is even opened! I often don’t take kindly to such ridiculous line jumping, (as some of you might imagine). So, when I need to stand up and get our bags out of the overhead compartment, I simply look the person in the eye and kindly say excuse me. Not being used to direct shaming, they will invariably back up and reluctantly make room. When I hold the entire line up for an extra seven seconds to let my family out of the row, people further back seem to become incesnsed! This minimal description is ALL planes outside of North America so far by the way. Simply astounding the degradation of society elsewhere… (Not to say that North Americans are better in every way of course, I would never say such things about a continent that has produced a lying, thieving scumbag like Jean Cretin or an idiot puppet warmonger like George Bush.)

Now back to older Indian couple. Before waiting in the customs line at Dubai, I had changed our Indian currency for UAE money. They wouldn’t take several of the smaller bills however, and I was left with them. In the line, I turned to the couple beside me and offered them the money (it amounted to about $3 in several smaller bills). They were behind me previously on the plane I think, and still upset, and therefore couldn’t possibly entertain such a ridiculous thought as taking money from me. I was completely surprised by such behavior and then tried to give it to the woman who was closer to me and clearly in charge of the relationship. She tried to hand it back, and for fun I refused to hold out my hand to see how far she’d go to get rid of it. The money dropped on the floor and she lashed out at me that I should really have given it to the poor people in India! I insisted that we did indeed give abundantly to the poor throughout our trip around India. She was becoming more incensed with the money just sitting there on the floor as I continued by saying that perhaps the poor in India would do much better if the arrogant wealthier society took more care to look after them. Oooogh! I hit a nerve indeed. She suddenly took me back to an elementary school playground war of stupid words as she came out with this beauty, “at least our poor people are content in the ignorance and we need not waste any more effort on them!” My gawd, and she actually meant it too! This attitude had obviously rubbed off from several decades of British rule, but even in current day England I would sincerely doubt that such strong attitudes are still that pervasive in society. This I found absolutely depressing, similar to reading “Black Like Me” several years ago and the insurmountable obstacles he encountered with peoples attitudes.

PS: Yes, I do know I’m behind in my posts. I’m almost finished my Dubai one, but we’re already three days into Tanzania!

Housekeeping & Old Posts

February 14th, 2008

We try and keep blog posts in some semblance of chronological order. Even though they’re written out of turn occasionally or we have to wait a few days for internet acess to post them. And so with this series of catch-ups there are a couple of posts place previous to newer ones, that some people might have already gone through.

So, if you’re really bored; go back a little ways (February ninth-ish) and read everything!

Unlucky Luckouts!

February 13th, 2008

Thats what we have been having! For example, in Mumbai mom and dad messed up on the day of our flight, so we got there one day late!! On the (very) lucky side, We got to meet the Mcbride family and have dinner with them! And we got to buy new tickets for the same time (next day) when we got there for a very reasonable price! Example #2: When we got to Dubai we decided to go to Ski Dubai earlier, and how lucky we were! It turns out that unless you book ahead no lessons are left! We found this out and immediately booked lessons for the next day. In the end we got very lucky! We had to book lessons by the way because they don’t let anyone on the big hill who has no experience (Even though I am a ski instructor! as dad had to point out). In the end we got one group lesson and one private lesson. Just a sec I’m getting ahead of myself! There is 6 levels (I’m pretty sure) Discovery, Beginner then 1 through 4. Me and Luke have never skied before so we were discovery. They told us you have to AT LEAST (and they really stressed it!) Level 4 before you can go on the big hill. Me and Luke aced the first lesson had a bit of a challenge on Beginner but still aced it. and in the end I got to go to the very top! I still went on the non pro side but, I t was very fun and a challenge! What I do is I lightly brake most of the way down and do a little bit of maneuvering, and whenever I felt I was going to lose control, I try and regain it but if that didn’t work then falling on my bum always does! I guess you can understand why I’m sore! I really feel sorry for dad, because he pulled a muscle. Hes been limping and hobbling around ever since! On our way here he got special treatment because of it, riding around in the wheal chairs and the cars. But it was kinda funny Because when we arrived here he tried to sit in one but immediately was told he had to get out. I think he was very sore after that! We are now in Da rel Salom (I hope thats right!) and it is the hottest we’ve been since about Thailand! Actually were are in Tanzania. S’all for now bye-bye!!
PS it is ONLY minus 4 in Ski Dubai, we were ready to just go in our t-shirts!

Where was your first ?

February 13th, 2008

Where was your first time down hill skiing ? Mine you ask ? Dubui .
it all started when we were buying the tickets. we had a little trouble getting them because mom and dad had a two hour lesson and Alex and me could only get one hour ones so we had to book a discovery and a beginner lesson but the day we were there the beginner lesson was all full so we pre-booked it for the last day we were there( better late than never )so we went around the mall to buy some stuff in the end we ended up returning the only thing we bought(not including food)
We went skiing the next day it was SOOOO COLD ( – 4 ) we took our lesson and then dad took us on the BIG hill . dad and Alex went around the entire mall his legs were hurting a lot today so when we were at the airport dad got a wheel chair ( I mean come on ) so now were here in Tanzania !!!!!! see ya : )

Mumbai and the End of India for Us

February 12th, 2008

My intestinal disorder had more or less cleared up and we were excited to be in what was formerly Bombay, and also sad that this was it for India. Our booked hotel (Ugh, I don’t even know if we could call it that!) was the diviest of the dives. All of the “midrange” places ($50-$125) were solidly booked when we had called them from Fort Kochi. The Hilton’s, et all at $150/room at two rooms! were right out of our budget. Especially since we knew that Dubai was going to be in that price range for just a moderate quality place. So, we were stuck with the Volga. At least it had bathrooms in our rooms for $31 (or a shared bathroom for $18). Unfortunately our two rooms were on different floors and this wasn’t the kind of place we felt comfortable with the kids being that far away from us in. Thus Claudette and I split up to the two different rooms for a couple of nights. There were lots of street vendors set up all day long down the main road we were on and there were a couple of pretty good restaurants nearby that we ate at. Mumbai has to be the cleanest city in India that we encountered. Not to say that it’s citizens didn’t just dump crap wherever they wanted, just that the municipality tried to keep up with it more I think. Outside of our room window and one floor down was the rolling fiberglass roof (the stuff we use on greenhouses) of a second floor building below. The apartments on the other side of it from us had been tossing their rubbish out the window for quite a while it seemed and I’m surprised the roof hadn’t caved in. It was incredibly disgusting, but I still forgot to get a picture in the daylight.

We were in Mumbai for three nights and two full days before flying to Dubai. On our first day we walked about ten minutes to the India Gate and had a look around. The shady tour operators gave me some ideas of stuff I wanted to see and do around town. The next day though things seemed to be off to a slow start. Eventually Alex and I took off at about 3:00PM to just get out and do something. We grabbed a taxi to go to the “Hanging Gardens” Park, about 25minutes away. There were no hanging vines or plants in the end, but it was still a pretty nice park to walk around in and escape the massive chaos of 16 million people living together in a city with not near enough roads. (That can describe all cities in India though.) There were many young couples and families having a nice relaxing afternoon, and many hedges were trimmed in the shape of animals that Alex and I tried to guess at before reading the signs. There was an incredibly huge Banyon tree there as well, about 450 years old we were told.

Just down a little ways from that park was another one offering spectacular views of the city and bay below. We had driven up quite a hill to get to the parks and both Alex and I took a bunch of great pictures of the spectacular views. This park had a cool little Bonzai section and kids playground equipment at one end. Following that tour, we grabbed another taxi down the hill and got dropped of at one end of the beach. We leisurely walked along the length of the beach and enjoyed watching all the locals relaxing and enjoying their day of leisure. There was a storm drain outlet about 30cm deep that many people were washing themselves in or with. Yeach! This is after we’ve seen losta people urinate and defecate and dump out all sorts of toxic stuff into the sewers. The one other sad thing we noticed was the cutest little puppy diligently chewing on some sort of food scrap partially buried in the sand and surrounded by crows. Those nasty birds were taking turns walking close and nipping at his tail before running away from his wildly gnashing little puppy teeth. We got close enough to scare the crows away for a bit and give the puppy a little reprieve.

At the other end of the beach was a little fair going on with some small rides. We started noticing the little “ride-on” cars and motorbikes with transistor radios blaring and guys pushing kids around in them. Then as we got closer to the far end we noticed the jumping pillow, circular “vehicles” rides, (separated into cars, planes, and motor bikes) as well as a mini ferris wheel. We were horrified to see a bunch of guys climbing up the structure and grabbing a car (with passengers inside!) and riding it down to the ground about 4m below. This kept on happening and we wondered how the safety police could possibly let such a travesty happen, even in a sociaety which didn’t really value human life that much. This ferris wheel was going so fast (and partly because it was so small, only about ten cars) that some cars were tipping backwards and going almost upside down. That is to say that they were tipping backwards at about 160 degrees! Of course as we got closer I realized something odd about all of the ride equipment. There were NO hydraulic lines, ANYWHERE. The turning rides were completely human powered! Then I looked closer at the Ferris Wheel and it to was completely human powered! Those guys weren’t “riding” it down on the outside of the car, they were in fact PROPELLING it!!! This was rather a shock to my somewhat restricted modernized “Western” thinking I suppose. But they had come up with a novel concept and adapted it to their capabilities. Inginuitive more than anything really I would think. To slow it down they simply started grabbing the spokes and held them a bit until it slowed down. truly unique and bizarre at the same time.

After we grabbed an ice cream from a beach vendor, we hopped a taxi and asked to go to the museum. We’d read and heard from other travellers that it was a fairly good one, and we figured that we could walk fast through the boring parts. (My apologies to all our friends that are history teachers.) We ended up getting dropped off in a huge crowd and he pointed out a doorway that was the museum. The crowd was due to a big organized show/fair in the small park right in front. I think that we concluded in the end it was some sort of arts festival. People could help out a potter and make their own tiny little bowls, and there was a big coloring/drawing station set up for kids. As we continued down the closed off street, there was all sorts of modern artwork on display. Most was pretty cool and we both took a bunch of pictures. There was a pretty neat multi-artists display along a 100m section of sidewalk of addictions. When I noticed we were running out of time, we headed back around to the museum entrance. It turned out that it was actually the Modern Art Gallery of Mumbai, so I guess the driver didn’t really have a clue. Admission was free and we went in anyways. There was actually lots of very interesting and cool displays, but it was so crowded from the gathering of people outside that made the whole experience intolerable. We caught a taxi back to our hotel, which was only five minutes down the road and around a few corners.

Traffic conditions were superior and far more sane than anywhere else in Indi that we’d been to as well. There would only be four cars and one motorbike wide across three lanes, instead of five cars and four motorbikes across in Delhi and most other places. It was interesting to pick up a local (English) paper every week or two as well. The South has problems of North Indians coming down and stealing jobs and causing problems. In a country of 1.2 billion that has a crapload of states, I guess the long line of tribal tensions still run deep. This is a lesson difficult for most Canadians to grasp.