A Tanzanian Road Trip: The Kilimanjaro Region Edition. (Day 1-3)

DSC_0489 copyAfter our grueling journey from Cairo to Kilimanjaro International Airport, which include nearly 4 hours of layover time in the Nairobi Airport, just enough time for a nap and meal, we were in Tanzania, outside of Arusha. We hit the ATM at the airport to get all the cash we could, because despite setting money aside for the car from day 1, we had to pay $250 USD cash to Tanzania’s immigration department for our Visas. NOTE: when we visited Zanzibar in 2016, we were able to pay with card, but since then their payment terms have changed.  With this unexpected issue, we had to visit the airport ATM to get more cash, however it was still not enough for our rental car. When we met up with our car provider, for our rented 4×4 Land Cruiser for this leg of the adventure, we had to strike a deal with him to pay with credit card when we returned the car because even with the ATM withdrawl we did not have enough cash for him and what lie ahead. Thankfully, he was flexible on this issue.

It wasn’t long before Brad was behind the wheel on the opposite side of the car & the opposite side of the road, cruising. We were warned by the owner of our vehicle to not exceed the speed limit because of photo radar (aka a man hiding in the bushes of Tanzania with a radar gun). Well, somehow, despite not speeding, we were pulled over on the side of the road by a Tanzanian officer dressed in all white. He claimed that they had a picture of Brad (it was on the officers cell phone) & that he was exceeding the speed limit. Brad had a choice.. fight it and possibly be taken in and have to fight it in court, or be quiet, pissed, and pay up $15 USD. Well, Brad paid the man… and got his very first speeding ticket… haha. (don’t worry I have a copy)

Anyways, we continued on to Moshi. We stopped in the small town in hope of picking up some snacks, and we did find a small convenience store but the options were very limited, but we were able to get a large pack of water and KitKats.  From there, we continued onto our hotel at Lake Chala. On our way down the incredibly rough dirt road, we had to stop at the Wildlife Management Area office to register. Not just register, but pay a fee. My weaselly and stingy husband (who works in the Congo, mind you), who knew about this ahead of time because of my research, was trying to get out of it. He tried every way he could claiming that hotel covered it, the hotel said it was covered, blah blah blah. Meanwhile, I was just sitting there so aggravated and slightly taken aback at how far Brad was willing to go to try and get out of giving the Tanzanian government any of our Tanzanian shillings …which they didn’t even want. (They wanted US Dollars.) NOTE: Do I blame Brad for wanting to get out of it, absolutely not. African governments can be astoundingly shifty. …but I was exhausted, sweaty, and just wanted to rest. I WANTED TO GO. Finally, Brad had no choice but to surrender more of his hard earned shillings to the man.

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DSC_0372With Brad feeling even more irritated and ready to lose it, we got our paperwork, continued on our way & finally arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon. We were the only guests staying there (now I know why). The place was very clean, and the view over Lake Chala was stunning, but this was easily one of the most poorly run hotels we have ever stayed at (we’ll get more into that later). Before showers & dinner, we decided to take the hike down to the lake since we were already covered in travel grime. It was a bit slippery from the recent rain, but it was a beautiful short jungle trek with gorgeous views over the turquoise water below. We spent a short while on the dock overlooking the deep jewel toned waters & watching the locals a little ways down the water’s edge making a fire.

We headed back to our tent which had a deck that overlooked the lush plains below. We stood there for a little while hoping to spot some wildlife, but there was little to see.

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After washing hours of travel grime off of ourselves and changing into clean clothes, we headed over to the “lounge” for dinner. It was basic, not just basic, but dry… It was not the first meal I was hoping for in Tanzania which was a bummer since food in Africa is typically always mind blowingly delicious, and something I always miss. Not only was IMG_1741our meal not great, but the staff was telling us how horrible their boss was which made our meal a little uncomfortable. We were the only ones there for dinner and it began to rain as we ate. We made a game of counting the geckos that had joined us. Itwas their turn to feast.  They shut the area down early, before the daylight was even 100% gone because we were the only guests and the rain. We headed back for a quiet nights sleep. It seemed there was no big game in the area, and not even the baboons kept us up.

The next morning we had our bags packed early, and grabbed our breakfast. Then we headed to the main house to pay for our stay. Well, what we found out when we got there was shocking. They didn’t accept credit cards, only accepted cash. We were trying to find ways around this but there was nothing to be done. They had no way to process a credit card, The internet didn’t even work,  so wiring funds at that moment proved impossible. We weren’t willing to hand over cash because it was going to take up the vast majority of it, and holding onto cash in this country was already proving to be more challenging than anticipated. So, after probably an hour of dealing with their mess which included bad communication from the time of booking, and Brad trying to help get their internet up and running,  we left with an agreement to wire money when we returned to the states.

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Once we were back in the car, we headed back through the Wildlife Management gate, and went on towards our next adventure. We stopped back in Moshi for lunch and cash, and were going out of our way to avoid the police. We found the bank, but getting money there was a hassle. Our car had to be inspected, we had to park a certain way, and getting cash naturally was a challenge.

Needing a break, we stopped at the Coffee Union Cafe for lunch to hold us over until we got to our next hotel. The food was decent, and it was nice to have a quick meal that met our expectations, as well as a break from the Tanzanian roads where it felt like anything goes in terms of being pulled over. NOTE: …I got pulled over while driving so that the could inspect the vehicle, and verify our credentials… crazy

We had to face the roads again at some point, and once we were far from the city and reached our off road point we finally felt like we could breathe again. We were in Maasai territory, and I was in heaven. We were headed to the Maasai Lodge, a 5 star heaven in the middle of nowhere. I have nothing but praise for this hotel. For starters, the drive in was a blast! There was so much to take in… Villagers, rock scapes, livestock… I was in my African heaven. When we got there, we were greeted wit dance and song which was enchanting. They got our bags to our room for us, gave us a run down of the place and showed us to our incredible mud hut.

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It wasn’t long before we were back outside with a couple of other women who were recovering from climbing Kilimanjaro. They were a riot, and in Maasai costume, and we had a great time talking to them while we all learned about Maasai culture and got to learn spear throwing and experience the Maasai dance and song for hunting (it gives me butterflies). We were all like a bunch of little kids with huge smiles on our face as we raced the rains to the main house. We had to outrun the downpour. It was so fun. A little while later was dinner. ..and it was exceptional. We were fed a wonderful 3 course meal of soup, meat and veggies, and dessert. The perfect African meal and completely worthy of the 5 stars the hotel bares.

IMG_8176We were so lucky because the next day they let us check out at 3PM because they didn’t have anyone coming in after us. We made the most of it. We had breakfast, did a walk through the plains with Jeremiah, our Maasai guide, took in the views and rested. Then after lunch we decided to get out of their hair, but I was definitely sad to go. We were suppose to visit Arusha National Park that day, but because of the number of days we had coming up in National Parks, we opted to take it easy. NOTE: A big part of this decision was also the cost. The planned cost between park fees & conservation area fees was in the thousands, and we thought it would be wise to reduce this a bit, since we just wanted to relax anyways. Our drive back was just as exciting, we had to cross the shallow ponds created by the rains, and wait for herds of cattle to move. We met some of the local kids, and chased by others. We watched a storm move through, and embraced it.

IMG_1851When we got back to Arusha, we went straight to our hotel, Mount Meru Game Lodge. So while the rooms and bathrooms were just alright, the location was AMAZING! The outside was like a giant garden. With towering trees that monkeys going from end of the property to the other in a flash, towering cactus, and water buffalo. Yes, buffalo…. They were on the other side of a low wall, but you could get within feet of these giant beauties. There were also several species of birds. It was awesome! This hotel was far more exciting that I anticipated when booking. Despite the constant light rain & the mob of mosquitos, I couldn’t not keep myself inside. I wanted to be with the animals. Naturally, I was speaking to them constantly.

Eventually, though, I had to give into the idea of dinner, so I ordered a nice piece of Chicken Schnitzel with chips (French fries) which was a funny change of African eating. With bellies full, after the long, but restful day, we decided to retire to our room to prepare for day 4.

After a decent night’s sleep at the game lodge in Arusha we packed up our bags, again, and grabbed breakfast. We hung out a little bit longer so that I could get some additional pictures of the resident animals & then we checked out to head to our next stop…. We stopped and loaded up on snacks and water again for our next drive. It was about 3 hours to the Tarangire area, but we were ready. We are road trip champions after all.

…to be continued.

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Egypt: Closing Statment.

IMG_1494Egypt was one of the only countries that I feel truly defeated us. There were missing phone, relentless hassling by men in carriages and on the backs of camels, an exhausting illness that really held me back.. it was a mess, but lately, I have been missing it. I miss the peaceful views from the balcony of our room at the Old Cataract, floating down the Nile and seeing the gorgeous views from our river boat,  and, of course, the history.

Egypt is in no way an easy country, in my opinion. Unless you have a 24/7 guide, I would say it is for the more seasoned traveler. Even Brad & I who travel pretty frequently got a couple hard slaps from Egypt reality. They operate/sell/scheme on another level there.

As much as I hate saying that I was done before our 10 days was up because it really was more intense that I ever expected, it’s the truth. It wore me down. ..but now I am back up, and in a way, I feel like I want to give it another go. I fear, I’d have the same results. …but I feel like there was so much we missed. Egypt is full of so much opportunity for tourists. The food is delicious, there is so much to see and do, and its incredibly culturally rich.

YOU JUST HAVE TO BE READY FOR IT. …so I hope that if you are considering visiting Egypt, and have read all my posts on Egypt, that you will feel more prepared and aware of what it really is like because in case you haven’t noticed, I am not the travel blogger that just post pretty pictures and tells cute stories.. I tell you the truth. I tell the whole story, not just bits and pieces. …because travel isn’t always glamorous and fun. Sometimes it is flat out stressful, difficult, and aggravating. sometimes, it takes a lot of work even for a small glimpse of sanity… it’s still life.

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Egypt: The Luxor Edition.

 

So now that we were free of the boat, permanently back on solid ground in Luxor, and loaded up into our driver’s car, we were off to Karnak Temple, one of the largest temples in Egypt left to visit. While we drove through the city, I notice how thick the air had become with smoke, from all of the burning in the fields (you can see this more in the photos from our hot air balloon ride the day before). Not only was the air heavy, but it smelled of burnt debris.

We stopped along the way so Amir could show us part of the excavation of the avenue of SphinxFACT: The avenue of Sphinx is, at least, a  mile and half long road (roughly 3 km) lined with over 1300 human headed sphinx that connected Luxor and the Karnak Temple.  

When we got to Karnak Temple, we did the usual, waited for Amir to purchase our tickets & then headed in. Amir gave us the rundown of the place, but I was too in awe of the size & beauty of the place to really listen… Again, here we were standing in one of the most beautiful temples I have ever seen (which has been partially restored) amongst the massive pillars that felt a bit like a maze. I wanted so badly, for all the other people to disappear, to be there alone with just my love. No tourist, no locals to haggle us… just for us to exist in this magical spot all on our own. The temple grounds are huge. I mean, acres and acres of grounds to explore… or should I say hectares??

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DSC_0624 (2).jpgFACT: One of the cool things about Karnak, is that it is one of only two temple in Egypt that still have Obelisks standing in their original positions. One of which was recently re-erected. Others had been damaged in natural disasters, others had been removed and taken elsewhere. There are 21 total still in existence, 17 of which are outside of Egypt. Rome has 13 all taken during the Roman period (it’s amazing that they never destroyed them), one in Paris, one in New York, one in London, and one Istanbul. The other two are located in the Heliopolis of Cairo, and one still stands at Luxor Temple.  

We spent a good amount of time at Karnak, at least two hours. I loved being able to just observe, take video and photos. ….but eventually it was time to move on to Luxor Temple.

We made our way back into town, familiar territory from the day before. Our driver dropped us off at at the foot of the Mosque that was built on top of a church that was built on top of part of the temple, and I was excited to visit. haha. When we entered the grounds we were greeted by towering statues just outside the gateway of the temple. It was something. One of the statues was covered, concealing the workers who were reassembling a once crumbled statue.

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DSC_0656 (2)We spent near an hour here at Luxor temple, taking in the splendor, in awe and shock of the frescos that Roman Christians painted over the Egytians’ decorated walls… laughing how Alexander the Great redirected himself into the stories carved on the walls of the Barque Shrine. It was one of the most fascinating temples for these reasons alone. It was hard to imagine, again, how a group of people could come into this place and desecrate its original beauty with their own views. …but that it is the world we live in, and without those historical acts, the temple of Luxor may not be the intriguing place that it has become. As we left, I stopped to photograph what was the start/end of the avenue of Sphinx, leading right up to the grandeur of the temple gates.

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From Luxor temple, our driver and Amir brought us to our hotel, Pavillon Winter Luxor.  We said our final goodbyes and tipped the men who had been our escorts. Upon arrival, we went through security, and proceeded to the front desk, then were directed to our room. We waited for our bags to arrive, and rested for a bit. We needed our body temperatures to cool down. It was quite warm in Luxor, especially for someone in jeans.IMG_1514  Our hunger began to take control. We wanted a break from the city, and decided to take a stroll through the gardens to grab lunch by the pool. It was fantastic. I got a pizza, which by Westerner standards would be deemed fair to good, but I didn’t care… at that point time… it was a GREAT pizza. I enjoyed watching the people come and go from the water. The late afternoon sun lit things in the most glorious way. Looking back it feels like it was just a dream. I enjoyed this little hotel who neighbored it’s bigger historical sister, Winter Palace Luxor.

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DSC_0741 (2).jpgEventually, after enough down time, Brad & I headed back out, but through the Winter Palace Hotel. The man wanted to find some Shisha to smoke & I wanted a treasure to take home. On our way through we were approached by a family of cats… A momma & her shy babies. It was nice to interact with some sweet critters, as I usually am missing mine by the end of day one. We couldnt stay long though since technically Brad & I are both allergic to kitties. So, we hit the streets. We first stopped at a small cafe and sat on the street corner while Brad ordered the pipe. It wasn’t flavored, just plain tobacco, and so he wasn’t enjoying it as much as he hoped. So, we moved on. We found ourselves strolling through the central souk where the vendors tried to coax us into their tiny shops full of miscellaneous finds.

I’m not the type of girl to go in every shop. If I know what I am looking for, I glance in and out of every shop for what I am looking for, and on occasion, I get lucky. This night, I was once again looking for a bluish-green Canopic Jars (I mentioned them in the last post), but it had to have right head. We went into one shop filled with the jars, but there were no bluish green ones. The shop owner ended up running up and down the street looking in the other shops for one for me, but it was the wrong color. While the shop owner was out, Brad did find a tiny perfume jar that was in the color I wanted. It was a beautiful shade of teal, engraved with hieroglyphics, and had a beautiful wooden dropper stick with a beetle carved on the top. Brad didn’t even ask me if I wanted it, he just negotiated for it. For $3 Brad got me a sweet gift that now sits on my bedside table. (…and yes, Brad getting me a gift is a big deal… even if it was only $3. I always buy my own gifts…)

IMG_1558Out of luck, we decided to grab dinner and a proper Shisha. We settle on Chez Omar’s. it was a wonderfully decorated large patio where they played great music, and we were able to sit in peace and enjoy each other. We had a great time making videos of us smoking the fruit flavored tobacco, and we really enjoyed the food too. There was just one problem. Chez Omar… at least, I assume he was Chez Omar. Chez kind of took advantage of us with the bill. Chez kept bringing me fresh fruit juices “on the house”, but they were all on the bill. There were a couple other issues with it too… but at this point, we were so over the nonsense, that we just paid it and left.. We figure that in the grand scheme of things, it was only a few dollars.  …normally, we wouldn’t let this happen because it isn’t good for anyone, but we were fried. Egypt really had worn us down.

After dinner, we were beat.. our lungs were exhausted from all the smoke, but we had so much fun. We decided to call it a night and walked back to our hotel.

The next morning we headed down to enjoy breakfast. The Pavillion Winter hotel had a great breakfast, not the best we had, but far better than what was on our river cruise. Once again, I found myself loading up my plate with pomegranate seeds, and cheeses. I was happy.

IMG_2469-2We headed back to our room & got packed up. This was our last day and Luxor, and I can’t say that I was entirely disappointed. I was ready to escape Egypt, with less than 48 hours to go. …but despite having our bags packed, we still had time to kill. So we did what we always do. We just walked. We wandered the hotel gardens, the hotel, and wandered around Luxor… We felt like we were leaving satisfied.

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IMG_1593 2We spent lunch at a cafe just across from Luxor Temple. We went up to the covered roof top, and ordered some lunch to share. Chicken & Rice, a tahini dip and flat bread. It was, as usual, really good. We spent over an hour just relaxing in the heat. Admiring the view of the Valley of the Kings in the far distance, and watching the locals down below interact. One man was giving horseback rides in the square.

We headed back to the hotel where we wandered into one of the souvenir shops, again. They had Canopic jars – not exactly like what I wanted… but close. Brad did some tough negotiating to get the man’s price down, and finally I had my treasure. I could leave Egypt a happy woman.  ..but we still had a bit.

We wandered even more. We went into an antique store with some truly gorgeous pieces with breathtaking and heart stopping price tags. Then, we found our way into the old bookstore. The oldest bookstore in all of Egypt, I believe. My favorite part of this, was being able to see all the old black and white photographic prints that had been taken by the bookstore’s founder. They were beautiful. There is something about black & white photographs of Egypt that just feel so right. sooooo right. I didn’t buy any, even though I wanted to. I left the shop, as I had found it.

Brad & I headed back to the hotel lobby to collect our bags, and headed out to the main street to grab a cab.. We had to walk a little ways again as a negotiating tactic, but it didn’t seem to be working, so we just took the best deal we could get and headed to the airport.

…to be continued…

Egypt: The River Boat Cruise Edition.

…continued.

When we arrived at the boat we were greeted with cool wet towels and free juice upon check in. Our large luggage was put in the grouping with the other passengers and was tagged with our room number. We were given our key and directed to our room.

When I booked our passage, online, aboard the MS Amwaj Living Stone Nile River Boat, I was so excited to travel down the Nile on a 5 star boat. I googled the boat, looked at all the pictured and thought it looked great. However, as you should never forget, pictures can be deceptive.  When we walked in the door to our room, we were a little shocked by how small the room was and how big the bed was. haha. …or maybe the room just made the bed seem big. I knew straight away that furniture would have to be rearrange a bit just to make suitable room for our luggage. We looked around and I noticed the handprints on the windows looking out, the rotting fruit in the basket, and the simplicity of the bathroom. I knew at that point…. It was Egyptian 5 star (which equates to about an American 2.5). haha. I was just happy that the room got very cold & there was a kettle for me to boil water to make a tea.  Amir, our guide, had given us an hour and a half to settle into our room & grab lunch before we met back up. So we did just that. We secured our valuables, I did a breathing treatment concocted of mint oil and hot water (also drinkable), and we were on our way back out.

DSC_0055When I booked the cruise, I made some special tour requests, one of which was to visit the Nubian Village. So, Amir took us there. First, we headed down the main road once again to hop on board a boat. It was a comfortable and beautiful ride down the Nile to the village. We climbed onto the roof of the boat for pictures and beautiful views, and stopped along the way for some Nubian coffee.  This was the first time in my life I ever drank a full serving of coffee, and it was IMG_1164not what I expected. NOTE: I think it tastes better than regular coffee, hence why I never drink coffee in the first place, but I think I will still stick with tea. We sat under a large tree decorated with hanging baskets, and sat on large blankets on cushions on the ground. It was exciting, although the heat was wearing on me.  After some fun conversations, we headed back to the boat and onto the village. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. The boat pulled up to the steps of the village, disembarked, and made our way up. We walked along the dirt road through the stalls of merchants hoping to lure in the tourist with witty and friendly comments. We first walk along to the Nubian school, where the first lesson was to learn a little Nubian… and I did terrible. haha. But we had a lot of fun, and had some good laughs. We climbed up the stairs of the school and found our way to the roof top where you could look out over the Nile and see the Old Dam and a bit of Aswan. It was beautiful at sunset. After school, we headed to a traditional Nubian home, where we learned how the Nubians keep crocodiles as pets for good luck, and stuff them and save them once they have passed. We were able to hold them, and we both opted for the smallest (I was sick in the picture, don’t judge my face too harshly, please.). Then, we sat and talked with Amir about life and had some delicious mint tea. It was delightful… except for the sweating part.

DSC_0124We didn’t have much of an interest in buying things, so we had back the boat. on our way back, we across a pack of camels running free through the village. Something that took us all by surprise. Amir directed us to stand back as the camels flew stomping by.

The boat ride back was surprisingly cool. The breeze created by the moving boat was enough to give you chills. We all walked back to the boat together, in time for dinner. The food was fairly simple, and by no means five-star, but it sufficed. It was pretty much a variety of concoctions consisting of meat dishes and vegetable dishes. It was the Egyptian take on international cuisine. …and each night they had a small Egyptian food section as well.

The boat had a cocktail & dancing night with a belly dancer happening in the lounge, and I was so excited to share it with Brad, but once again… we were beat. The illness and time change once again were winning, and we found ourselves in bed before nine.

The following morning, when I awoke, it felt as if the boat was moving, but I was convinced we hadn’t left Aswan. However, the view out my window disproved my gut feeling. It was definitely not Aswan. We met Amir, after a low-key breakfast, in the lobby to head to our first stop of the day. The Temple of Kom Ombo was just a short walk down the cobblestone path from our boat. We passed by many merchants who were rather pushy trying to get us to look at their goods. We did as Amir instructed us, and ignored them & looked straight ahead. We did not even acknowledge them (it felt so rude, but so good).

IMG_1511 3We waited by the temple entrance while Amir purchased our tickets, and then we were in. Thankfully, it was still early, and so the air was still cool as we explore the temple. Fact: Kom Ombo temple was known for its healing powers and people made pilgrimages to Kom Ombo to be healed. On the back wall of the temple is the first known representations of precise surgical tools. Also, here, Amir informed us that to knock out patients, they would inhale the steam of hot vinegar. Interesting!

IMG_1099We wandered around in complete awe, once more. To be in a place that held such knowledge in ancient times was truly incredible. I wish we could have seem the temple complete, with its colorful murals & strong pillars. Before meeting up with Amir again, we headed into the Crocodile museum (included in the ticket) which housed several mummified crocodiles. We were in and out within a few minutes as the exhibit is quite small, but not to be unseen.

After Kom Ombo, we were back on the boat. We had the morning and early afternoon to ourselves.  Time to take in the views while cruised the Nile River. It was truly extraordinary. You could see locals in their canoes posing along, and birds and cattle along the riverside drinking. The sandy dunes were complimented with immensely lush greenery. We passed by towns, and small houses, and ancient sites (I imagine tombs) along the way. It was truly beautiful. We snacked and had drinks, and rested in the warm air under the canopy. It was like a dream.

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That afternoon, after lunch, we headed for our next temple. The Temple of Edfu. Amir made it very clear, that here the local merchants were the most aggressive, and to make ZERO contact.  We boarded a horse-drawn carriage, and were pulled a fair distance to the temple. Brad’s allergies began to flare up, and I had to start handng out my precious tissues! When we pulled up, we were brought through a long line of stalls filled with horse carriages, and from there proceeded on foot to the entrance gate. Once again, we waited for Amir as he got our ticket & then we all proceeded together. The temple, was large, very large. FACT: One of the best parts was that it was far more intact than some of the others, since for a while, back in time, it had been completely buried and preserved by the desert sand. (COULD YOU IMAGINE THAT DIG!?). The main temple still had the roof on, and the columns were still in fantastic shape. Even some of the colors remained. Amir guided us through and shared much information about Edfu temple. Then Brad and I were able to explore for a little while which was mostly just me taking pictures… and Brad wanting to get out of the heat.  One of the cool things about Edfu, and the fact that it was buried, is that you can see where people built their homes above the previous buried site, it really added an element of interest, that many other sites did not have.

So, we headed back to the carriage, where inevitably, and again, Brad started to have a major allergy flare up. I realized it was from being in the dirty carriage behind a dirty horse with the dust on the street being kicked up at us. It was no good, but thankfully, he was able to recover once we were back on the boat. Once again, we were free to be. We headed back to the room so that we could refresh. Then we were back on the roof of the boat to enjoy more of the Nile views. Note: I think seeing the river by boat, was truly one of the best parts of Egypt.

After dinner, there were cocktails in the lounge, and everyone headed to the top deck to watch the boat pass through the locks. From there, we passed on to Luxor.

DSC_0485 (2)The next morning we awoke with a new agenda, and a new city to conquer. but first, we had a hot air balloon ride to get too.  We had a pre-packed breakfast waiting for s in the lobby, and were picked up and brought to a boat to cross the river. We sat on the boat for at least 20 minutes waiting for other passengers, and then were motored across to be shuffled into another van and brought to the Valley of the Kings. I won’t lie to you, we were off to a late start, and I was a little frustrated. The package I purchased was for a sunrise balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings, and when we arrived, the sun was up. IMG_1191We were one of the last balloons to take off & I wasn’t very happy to be in a cramped balloon where cameras were not allowed (cellphones were though) with 11 other people whilst fighting off the brutal sickness. The whole reason I decided to do the balloon ride was to get great pictures in addition to the great views. None the less, I ended up feeling much better about things once we were in the air. You could see Hatshepsut’s temple, all of the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, the farm lands just to the west & all of Luxor, or what wasn’t hidden behind smog. The view of the barren desert beyond the royal burial grounds was incredible. The fact that I couldn’t get better photos kills me a little inside.

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Once we landed, I was so relieved to have free space. NOTE: I wouldn’t recommend the hot air balloon ride to people who are claustrophobic, unless you are guaranteed a private ride. They took us back to one of the main areas just outside of the Valley of the Kings to meet up with Amir. Our first stop, the Colossi of Memnon. Two large statues of pharaohs that sit in the Theban Necropolis. FACT: Both statues are approximately 60 feet tall, and intended to be guardians of the pharaoh’s mortuary temple. DSC_0490 (2)

 

We weren’t there long. Probably 15 minutes …and then we moved on in a private car to the Valley of the Kings. Again, Amir got our tickets, and then we were in. Amir gave us a run down of each tomb we visited prior to entering, as Brad and I went in alone. We visited the “Three Tombs” (as our ticket calls them because there are several to choose from) which, for us, were composed of Ramses IV’s, Ramses IX’s, & Ramses III’s. All were beautiful in their own right, but I think the first one we visited, that of Ramses the IV, was my favorite.

In addition to this, we purchased tickets to visit the tomb of Tutankhamun (cameras/photos were not allowed). This, I would say,  is technically not worth the extra money, but at the same time it is… because it’s King Tut’s. The tomb is remarkably small in comparison to the others, but this is because he had a short life. The baboons painted on the wall are beautiful, and one thing I can say about this tomb that I can’t say about the others is that there is actually a mummy in this one… Yep, Tut’s still there, and being cared for properly which, I think, is why you have to pay extra.

IMG_1600After Valley of the Kings we headed on to Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple, better known as the Temple of Hatshepsut. This seemed so much smaller in person, and I wish it hadn’t been so hot or crowded. The Temple of Hatshepsut is, like Abu Simbel, one of those places you imagine yourself discovering on your first big excavation. You wish it could be the same in real life as it is in your head. You want it all to yourself, to take it in without the distractions of other tourists… None the less, it was beautiful, but not as grand as I hoped.

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From here, we began back toward the boat. We stopped off at an Alabaster shop where they demonstrated how they make alabaster vases or souvenirs, and then allowed us to shop. I found a beautiful Canopic jar that I wanted to take home, however they refused to sell me a single jar. FACT: Canopic Jars come in a set of 4. Each has a specific use. One for the stomach, one for the intestines, one for the liver, and one for the lungs. The organ removal was done prior to the embalming and mummification… Don’t forget they pulled the brain out through the nose!! Also, the asking price was way high, and they weren’t willing to budge much, so we walked away in hopes of finding one else where. NOTE: I had found one I loved in Aswan for a good price & he was willing to just sell me one but Brad was telling me to wait… so I did. WHY DO I LISTEN TO MY HUSBAND!?!? haha. Don’t wait if you find what you like at the start of your trip if you will be visiting other places. 

Afterwards, we headed back to the boat for a late lunch, and rested for a short while before heading back out into Luxor on our own. We had the night to ourselves, so we wandered around and through the nearby areas. We walked through the market, passed by Luxor Temple, and along the walk of sphinxes. It was nice to have the time to ourselves again, but we still had one more day with Amir. We headed back for dinner, got ourselves packed, and hit the hay.

The next morning we were up bright and early. We had our breakfast then headed to check out. Our bags were brought to the street, and our driver loaded them into the car…

We were officially through with the Cruise, and were ready to see what else Luxor had in store for us.

…to be continued.

Egypt: The Aswan Edition.

We had landed in Aswan after a short hour and half flight. My condition was deteriorating as I felt my sinuses burning in the Sahara Desert, and what felt like a mild fever… although it could have been the 100 degree weather. We headed into baggage claim where I took a seat and waited for the carousel to start moving. I dabbled on my phone while Brad wandered off. As the carousel began to move and bags became visible, Brad reappeared and I put my phone down to help keep an eye out…

IMG_0846Thankfully, Brad was on retrieval duty while I sat in suffering. Finally, our bags had arrived & we made our way outside to find a taxi to our hotel, The Old Cataract. Note: This was one of Winston Churchill‘s favorites. They even have a room named for him. Brad was set on getting a good deal. As he worked on negotiating, I stood back refusing to move until we had a car. I would have paid just about anything to get to the hotel… to be in air conditioning, and have a stock pile of Kleenex and ice water at my side. Finally, Brad worked something out, and I began to walk again with luggage in tow, slowly. I passed on my bags to be loaded up and climbed into the elevated back seat of the worn down white car. There was no A/C and the windows were slightly cracked. I was sitting in the sun for at least 30 minutes, trapped somewhere between misery and excitement.

When we arrived at the hotel we were greeted by the bell hops who took our bags and sent us through the security checkpoint. Which was a metal detector overseen by a man who just waved ya through with a smile.

When we got into the lobby, we were ushered to the back lounge and offered a welcome drink made of fruit juice… We were asked for our passports & while our documents were being processed I began looking for my phone since I couldn’t find it while we were in the taxi. I had assumed it had just fallen to the bottom of my bag. However, despite removing 90% of the contents of my bag, I could not find my phone and I was beginning to panic. Brad asked the hotel manager if there was any way we could contact the airport to see if it was found. The manager suggested we get to our room, and then head to the airline offices just down the road.

When we got to room, I dumped out my bag on the bed, it was 100% empty at this point, and still there was no phone. I went through my backpack, knowing it wasn’t there, but I just wanted to be sure. Nada. So, we headed to the office… We walked down the road and just on the right was the Egypt Air office. We went into the dimly lit lobby and told one of the gentlemen there what happened. He was quick to communicate with his co-worker, and shortly after they were on the phone with his colleague at the airport. They hung up the phone, and let us know that the airport team was looking and asking around. Shortly after, a supervisor at the office came ou and was calling the airport back, had a quick conversation, and then hung up. The phone calls back and forth were sporadic, but finally we had our had our answer. They told us a janitor had turned it in, and it was being held by the head of security.

We were so surprised that it had been found, even that someone turned it in! We were freaking out. We were so incredibly grateful to the men who helped and quickly headed back towards our hotel to get another taxi. Brad suggested he go alone so that I could stay back and rest since I was not feeling well, but since I was the one who got us in this pickle, I felt that I should definitely be going with. We pre-negotiated our rate with the driver for a round trip ride. The car was thankfully air-conditioned, which made the drive so much easier.

When we got there, we told the men at the security checkpoint why we were there, and we were told to sit and wait near the metal detectors. We sat patiently for a few minutes before someone came back and led us through the security checkpoint to the managers office. He had me describe the phone, and handed it over. He was very serious, but very nice. It was an oddly intimidating scenario, but I thanked him profusely before we walked back out. We found our way back to our driver, and he took us back to our hotel.

With our minds at ease, we were finally able to enjoy Aswan. We went back to the room for a quick break since our luggage had been delivered while we were out, then headed downstairs to explore the grounds and for an early dinner at the main restaurant since we didn’t have lunch that day.

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We fell in love with The Old Cataract that day. Everything about this hotel transports you into a different time, a different place. It’s flat out gorgeous. After taking some stunning photos of the Nile and views across, we headed back to the room to unwind. While Brad was in the shower, I crawled into bed to rest. There was just one problem with that, I could not keep my eyes open. I was asleep before the sun was even completely down. The respiratory infection was kicking my ass…poor Brad.

The next morning, I was awake before the sun, which wasn’t surprising since I was asleep before it was completely down. I woke with the 4 Am call to prayer which was both haunting and beautiful. I found my way out onto our balcony to listen and watch the Nile glide by. The lights around us sparkled. With the call to prayer coming to a close, I headed back in to lay down. I tried to sleep, but it wasn’t happening. So, instead I jumped in the shower to get a jumpstart on my day… since it was a big day.

After Brad had finally gotten up and ready, we headed down stairs for breakfast. It was  a buffet. A big beautiful buffet. We had a stunning view of the river & a delicious meal… but as we neared the end we started eating faster and faster since we had a meeting time with our tour guide for  the temples of Abu Simbel.

We made our way through the lobby, and back to the drive where we were waiting for a bit, and then it was brought to our attention that the driver was there waiting but that the guide was inside. A call was made, we got into the car, and the guide joined us shortly after.  Prior to fully departing the city, we stopped off to grab some water and such. I watched an altercation take place in the middle of the street as a man in his truck exchanged yelling with a man on foot. I wondered what they were yelling about, but I realized it was no matter to me.

IMG_0818It took over two hours driving through a barren desert to reach the temples. When we pulled into the parking lot we pulled up to a food stand, and the people started coming at us, trying to get us to buy souvenir post cards and cheap scarves. We politely turned them down over and over. Our guide led us to the ticket counter, where we were able to purchase our tickets with cash. …we also, had to pay to use our cameras, but it was totally worth it! The temples were so beautiful, humid inside, but truly incredible. If you don’t know, the temples are carved into the hill with towering statues on the outside. To be honest, I thought they would be bigger… but that may have been too much to ask of the kings of the past. FACT: The temples of Abu Simbel are comprised of two temples. The temple of Ramses II & the temple of Nefertari. The temple of Ramses II was truly incredible, probably my #1 favorite from the trip. You can see a quick video I made walking down the main hall of the temple just below.

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Before we headed back we stopped at the small food counter for some lunch… chicken, rice and veggies. It was delicious. We tried to eat somewhat quickly in order to escape the heat… and I was definitely ready to get back to town. the car ride back was rough… my nose would not stop running and once again, I felt exhausted. I tried to rest in the car with my head back to try to keep my nose from running so much.

When we got back we went and dropped things off, and changed our clothes before we headed back out in Aswan. We wandered down the main road that runs alongside the Nile. After a while were doing our best to avoid a single man driving his horse & carriage. He was basically harassing us to ride with him, and no matter how much we tried to turn him down, he just wouldn’t have it. We wandered into a funny little mall that had a children’s game area and stores that sold birkas and that had what we would classify as winter wear in the shop windows. We decided to wander back out in hopes that the man and his carriage had given up on us. We found a market for the locals. There were spices, clothing, kitchenwares… It was so fun be in that environment, especially because we were not the usual customer. We found our way down onto a back road where we overlooked an illuminated mosque on the hilltop. We weaved our way through the city completely at peace with our environment. While we walked the main street along the river back to the hotel, we were joined by a child who just kept begging us for money. We kept telling him “no” over and over, but it started to become a game. I would say “goose egg” (another way to say zero) instead of no, and he started to copy me.  We both kept saying “goose egg” back and forth for quite a while, and I had a fun time laughing. He eventually gave up on us, and moved on to the next pair of tourists behind us. We also, had a group of teens asking to take pictures with us, we declined. Apparently, they don’t see many Americans/westerners there because this happened several times.

When we got back to the hotel, we did what we always do. We went back to the room & dropped things off. Then we headed back downstairs to the outdoor restaurant that sits along the rivers edge & offers a more traditional Egyptian meal. The food was incredible. We had the best time soaking up the evening air and listening to the live music near us. It was perfect… except for the illness, of course. Once again, I was exhausted. We headed back up to the room once we finished our meal, and settled in for the night. Once again, it wasn’t long before I was fast asleep.

The next morning was again a big day. I was up early, as usual, and tried to stay in and rest, but it wasn’t going to happen. I was up in a hot shower trying to get my sinuses to cooperate. Then I was dressed & ready for another big day. We had to pack up all of our belongings, as today was the day that we were beginning our river boat cruise.

After breakfast, we still had some time to just hang out, so we goofed off on the hotel grounds. We wandered a bit and took more photos & just enjoyed each other. Eventually we got our bags, and checked out. We were incredibly bummed to leave The Old Cataract. It was hands down one of the best hotels we have ever stayed at. We met Amir (our tour guide for the next 4 days) in the lobby, and he led us to the car, introduced us to our driver, and we were off.

Before, we headed to the boat we had a couple other places to visit. We were first taken to High Dam. FACT: The High Dam took 10 years to build and sits on the Nile River. It aids in creating electricity, preventing flooding, and irrigation, as well. The dam is massive & also creates the reservoir to the south, Lake Nasser. Lake Nasser is one of the largest man-made lakes & stretches from Aswan into northern Sudan. On the property of the dam is also the beautiful friendship monument for Egypt & the Soviet Union (now Russia). FACT: the monument was built to honor the friendship because Russia aided in funding the build of High Dam. We explored this briefly, as the beautiful structure was truly something to admire.

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DSC_0867From here we headed to the boating docks for Philae Temple. The second temple we visited thus far on our trip. Our guide got us a boat driver who took us across the river to the small island that was home to the relocate Philae Temple. Yes, relocated. FACT: Prior to the High Dam, the Nile was frequently flooding, and many temples and villages were casualties of these natural events. So, eventually, Philae Temple was taken apart stone by stone & relocated to its new island. This beautiful river-surrounded temple was truly special, though not our favorite.

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While there, we had some interesting things happen. After Amir did the informative walk through, we were approached by one of the guards. He took us down the side of the temple to show us a secret spot. This was where you could see where the water levels would hit. The next thing we new, he was having us sit on a rock and insisting on taking our photo… He had Brad put his arm around me and kiss me over and over… and honestly, due to Islamic manners & tradition, it was sooooo awkward and I was incredibly uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure where it was going. ..but that ended up being all it was. We headed back up, but the man wanted a tip.  NOTE: Egyptians wanted to be tipped for everything. Nothing is ever free. Remember that. Brad took care of that, and we just kept on exploring after that, keeping an arms length from anyone working there, and ignoring any information that anyone (aside from our guide) tried to give us because they just wanted money. This was even told to us by our guide as well.

DSC_0926After Philae, we headed back to the boat. Our guide told us that we would need to tip the boat driver which surprised us a bit, as everything else was included in our tour package, but we did as Amir told us. We got back in the car, and Amir offered to take us to a couple of shops. We turned down the Alabaster shop since we had been there the day before ( nothing overly noteworthy), but decided to go to the perfume shop since, well, why not. We had the time.  They first showed us how they make the decorative glass perfume bottles, and then it was off for a smelling extravaganza. It wasn’t all perfumes, much of it was actually just essential oils. It was great. There were some truly magnificent scents. …but what’s next I still can’t believe happened. So basically, they offer a very heavy oil that they say is great for massages. Then they offer you a quick massage. I didn’t want a massage, and funny enough Brad didn’t want one either. Neither of us wanted to outright say “no”, and it sort of turned into, “well, do you”, “sure, why not” sort of thing. Once again, as things happen it Egypt, things got awkward and weird (cultural differences). First, we were separated. I was led by a woman in her Islamic garb up stairs to another room in the shop. I was taken behind a partition where there were one or two other Egyptian woman sitting. I was instructed to take my shirt off and lay on the padded bench seat that lined the partition. First, I should mention, I am a bit of a germ-a-phobe, and I really had to tell myself it was going to be okay laying on that old bench seat. Next thing you know I have this old Muslim woman rubbing the thickest oil onto my bare back, down along the waistline of my skirt, and then pulling my bra straps down to get my shoulders. When she was finished, I sat up to put my shirt on, and she pulled out a small bag of money….  basically, telling me that I needed to tip her. I pulled out my wallet and gave her $2 USD which was alot by Egypt standards. I was so excited to leave that room, I basically ran out. I was so sticky. I could smell the sweet oil on my skin, and hated the feeling of having my shirt glued to my back. We ended up buying a bottle of mint oil to help with my illness, and bottle of perfume for me to take back to the states.

When I talked to Brad about it later, he too explained that his scenario was uncomfortable. Apparently, he didn’t even get a partition. The man just had him take his shirt off & lay on the bench seat in the area we were sitting. haha! Those were not the dreams that massages are made of.

After our slight nightmare of being rubbed down in a cultural fashion, we were back in the car, relieved it was over, & escorted to the river cruise boat.

…to be continued.

Yosemite National Park: The Tourist Edition.

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There is no point in me going on and on about our day to day visiting the main attractions of Yosemite… so, I’m just gonna hit you with the highlights and cover the various activities that are available…  Ready? Let’s do this.

Yosemite as a tourist (not a backpacker) in the month of June may be one of the most frustrating experiences I have had. Though Yosemite is very beautiful, and I enjoyed my time there… I have no desire to go back during the height of the tourist season. The place is packed!!! To the brim!!!   Hotels are booked solid, there is no parking and everywhere you look there are people…. in my opinion it defeats the purpose of being in nature…. You know what I mean?? That time to immerse yourself in God’s beautiful creation, find your center, and just unwind and relax.  If you think your time in YNP will be relaxing in June, you may be mistaken… It’s like Disneyland. …but there are no churros. Thankfully, it is more spread out, but the parking is an absolute nightmare, traffic is backed up, and the buses are maxed out with people trying to get from point A to point F, and the bus lines require waiting for possibly an hour.

So if you can go, go before kids are out of school, or when they are back in. Maybe, when it’s cold. The waterfalls may not be in their full glory, but there will be more room for you to enjoy them.  Winter, when the ground is covered in snow, also, sounds magical.

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 Here are some of the things we did while in the park.

  • latest iphone 138Walk around Yosemite Valley. We were fortunate enough to find parking outside of the Village store, which was almost as difficult as actually backpacking through the park. We headed through the shop full of souvenirs and groceries where we later picked up a variety of souvenir tees & camp cups.  The walk around was really enjoyable. In June it was quite warm, but nice to be out of the car. We walked down the bike/walking path stopped into the Ansel Adams Museum, visited the Visitor Center while we continued our walk toward Yosemite Falls. It was lovely & the oncoming mist was incredibly refreshing in the warm air. However, I was very excited to get past the falls. Once again, there were just too many people for my liking.  (I should note that I don’t thrive in crowds. They make me uncomfortable and can give me anxiety – so take my notes with a grain of salt if you are the opposite.)  We continued on our nature walk around the grounds and eventually headed back to find a place for lunch. We stopped in at the Mountain  Room Restaurant & Lounge. It’s safe to say the food was subpar in the lounge. I actually sent my chili back as it wasn’t even hot enough to melt the cheese on top. I was greatly disappointed, and instead of ordering anything else, I just nibbled off everyone else’s plates & decided to hold out for dinner at the hotel. The food my mom had gotten from the Yosemite Valley Lodge Food Court when we she picked us up post-backpacking was far better, and seemed fresher. …but that also, may be because I was dying for real food when I got in the car.
  • latest iphone 177.jpgVisit The Majestic Yosemite Hotel. If you aren’t staying here already, this is a great place to stop in for lunch at the Majestic Yosemite Bar or dinner at The Majestic Yosemite Dining Room. The food is far superior to that in the valley. The interior is very cabin-tastic, historical, and interesting to wander through. The grounds are beautiful & it’s easy to walk through parts of the park from there. We found our way toward Mirror Lake across from Half Dome. We were able to wade in the water to our knees to cool down our body temperatures and shrink our feet before wandering back.

  • Explore the great Sequoias. There are 3 groves within Yosemite NP that you can explore. Tuolomne Grove ( this is the one we visited), Merced Grove, and the biggest and most famous Mariposa Grove.  These light nature hikes are a great way to get some quieter time, a little work out & time away from the crowds and, of course,  marvel at some of the largest and oldest trees on the planet.

  • Just drive. See what Yosemite National Park has to offer, with miles and miles of winding roads, scenic views, and possibly some great wildlife sightings you can’t go wrong with a packed picnic lunch & a little wanderlust.

  • yosemite & cartagena 723Technically, we hiked past Vernal & Nevada Falls on the last leg of our backpacking excursion, but it’d make for a great day hike too. Be forewarned, the Mist trail is very packed. However, the closer you get to the top, the less crowded it is. The bulk of the people stop between Vernal Falls (lower) & Nevada Falls (upper) sunbathe on the flat rocks and take in the scenic views near the railings. This hike up is probably pretty tiring as it has a lot of steep steps covering the incline, but the way back down is fun. …and Vernal Falls does provide a nice cool down of mist along the way.
  • Enjoy dessert with a view. At the Mountain Room Restaurant you can sit in the dining room enjoy a sweet treat or a full meal with the possibility of watching Yosemite Falls in it’s fully glory. One of my dad’s favorite things… preferably with apple pie (they no longer serve it). latest iphone 128

There are other things that you can do while you are in the park such as climbing the rock face of El Capitan or Half Dome. You can, also, attempt the rigorous hike up Half Dome’s backside, feel free to be just an onlooker of rock climbers, get a massage at the lodge, camp in one of the camp’s campsites, day hike some of the many trails. The list probably goes on and on with things like bird-watching… but that’s the most I can come up with right now.

Hopefully this will be helpful for planning your upcoming trip to Yosemite. And hopefully you will enjoy it’s beauty as much I did… maybe even more!yosemite & cartagena 881

Spain: The Ronda Edition.

Day 23 continued:

iphone update 1674We made our 2 hour (roughly) drive through the Spanish country side toward the mountainside town of Ronda. Ronda is home to the Puente Nuevo Bridge & free-flowing wine, or so we thought.

The drive was fairly simple. We passed over bodies of water, through rolling hills, and made one emergency bathroom stop for my sister, where I picked up a pack of Pringles to much on along the way.  We were there fairly quickly, and navigated our way through the town towards the main road which thankfully was also home to a parking garage.

iphone update 1672With our car parked, we headed out on another adventure. We began our walk toward the beautiful bridge, but were distracted by the bull fighting arena, that was quite petite in size. We don’t have an interest in bull fighting, so a tour was simply out of the question, but it was fun to walk around the exterior, and snap pictures of the statues & each other. From here we stopped at a very small park line with sweet trees adorned in pastel pink flowers where we were able to take in the spectacular views of the town below the cliff. Despite the little bit of haze in the air, we could see for miles. It was amazing!

We headed back toward the main road, and made our way onto the tourist filled bridge. We grabbed a couple photos of the outlying views, and then followed the road toward the trail that headed down the cliff. From here we were able to grab a bunch of gorgeous photos of Puente Nuevo. IT was a fairly steep climb down, and I was dreading the inevitable drudge up. However, we took our time wandering the cliff side with the other tourists. We climbed up on boulders and walls, and down small pathways. It was very enjoyable, and the weather made it quite tolerable.

As I followed my little sister’s lead up the mountainside, we decided that it was a good time to grab lunch so we stopped at the first place we found, Cafe de Ronda. iphone update 1683We both went with simpler choices, and were not overly impressed, but it was enough to get us through to our next stop.

Neither of us were ready to go, we still had to find the free-flowing wine, and I wanted to stop in a shop that was right across the way. They had a bowl on display that I had been eyeing all through lunch.  After our check was paid, and bathroom break had, we headed across the way. I decided to hold out on the bowl because I anticipated finding many more ceramics along our journey.

ipad update 2656Meanwhile, my sister was trying to find her way to the wine. She inquired with the shop keeper, but she didn’t know. Next, we headed into a hotel just off the bridge, and the concierge directed us toward Parroquia Santa Maria la Mayor…. We searched, but found no wine. So, Erica popped into another shop using her best Spanish, but the man had no clue what she was talking about. We decided to back toward the newer part of the city, in hopes that it was there, but on our way we decided to stop at a small shop that appeared to be full of delightful treasures. I do not know the name, but here is the address: 2 Plaza Duquesa de Parcent. I got a beautiful piece of pottery here, and the shop owners were very friendly, and the man spoke great english! With that said, he informed us that there was no free-flowing wine in the city, and that it was probably part of a wine tasting at one of the vineyards in the area. It was safe to say that Erica was incredibly disappointed, as that was a major part of why she wanted to visit… So, it is safe to say that Pinterest can be misleading.

iphone update 1685With one heavy heart & one joyous heart, we began our light trek back toward the car. We crossed the tourist filled bridge, once again, and popped into another shop that we noticed had oil paintings, we sifted through the large the pile, and my sister ended up purchasing two beautiful pieces. Ironically, the two that I would have picked. We had fun looking at all of their woven baskets and wall art, but knew we had all we needed.

We made one last bathroom stop before starting the car, and paying for parking. Navigating our way out the town was far more difficult than finding our way in, but one way streets can do that.

We back tracked a little ways through the hills and over the water before beginning our journey north to Cordoba.

…to be continued…