Egypt: The Cairo Edition (Part 2).

We got back to Cairo that evening, and this time to decided to hire a cab. As usual, Brad did the negotiating, and I stood back. When we had a driver, we were transported back to the Ritz Carlton. It was after 8PM  when we were checking in, and unfortunately our room was not ready. We were asked if we minded waiting, and of course we didn’t. We just wanted to get dinner because of the room situation, we decided to eat at the hotel. We opted to try out the Italian restaurant in the hotel which happened to have a Michelin star…. We told the man at the front desk we were going to be eating, but never told him which restaurant. We felt kind of bad that he had to track us down, but he was successful. We got out room key after we ordered. Our food was all delicious… I was in a state of not wanting to commit to pasta, so I got a pizza in addition to the minestrone soup and Brad got the ravioli which were incredible!

I was so excited to get settled into our room after dinner. It had been a long drawn out day, and I was ready to go to sleep since tomorrow was going to be another long day. Little did I know what I was really in for!

The next morning we were thrilled to be back at the Ritz buffet. They had just about anything you could want. Something for everyone. We didn’t want to spend too much time at breakfast because we had big plans for the day, but first we had to go get repacked. .. so we did. We packed up and headed back down stairs to get checked out, and booked an Uber to Giza.

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We were finally seeing the pyramids. You could say that we saved the best of Cairo for last, but we didn’t really see anything else in Cairo. I was so excited to see it from the street on the drive in. They were massive… It was clear why they call it the GREAT Pyramid. There was heavy traffic heading into the “compound”. Our driver looped us around the parking lot and dropped us off right by the ticket booth where we had to first figure out which line was the right line to be in. NAILED IT! We followed the street up to the main entrance. Our tickets were checked and we headed on through. We walked straight up the Great Pyramid & I can say, I don’t know that I have ever felt so small in comparison to the sheer magnitude of a structure, possibly because this one was ancient. We were able to climb on the giant stones and take pictures, but this proved to be more challenging than anticipated.

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We walked everywhere, all around the grounds. There was no spare cash for camel rides, but I was okay with that since we had to catch a flight that night and had no way to really get cleaned up. We were approached several times by carriage and camel owners who did not want to take “no” for an answer. I felt like I was trying everything to get them to leave us be… silence, just “no”… but the most effective was to bust out the mom verbiage “no means no”, “because I said so” when asked why not.. GOLD! That’s usually when they give you a snippy reply and wander off. … I admire their persistence and drive, but man it’s like taking a beating after awhile.

DSC_0047 (2)-2After passing by this stunning, photographic beauty, we wandered out a ways into the desert following the camel and horse tracks. I wanted to see the pyramids from the distance. It was only in the 80’s (Fahrenheit) so it was a tolerable walk… but walking in the deep (at times) sand did prove to be challenging… but I was determined, and when I am determined there is no stopping me. The result was worth the push. You could see all of the pyramids, small and great. … all of the tourists had disappeared from view & in the distance was crowded and smog-filled city. It was truly something to behold. I was truly captivated in the moment imagining how these giants were built in ancient times, which is still a bit of mystery. We headed back toward the front of the grounds, and opted out of going inside of the pyramids because I just didn’t feel like I would enjoy (it cost extra too)… We had already been inside the tombs in the Valley of the kings, and from what I knew about the pyramids, it was pretty much just a steep, dark, tight stairway. I figured it would trigger a bit of anxiety… and that just wasn’t worth it to me.

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DSC_0282 (2)Also, we technically did not visit the Great Sphinx. We only viewed the giant statue from the outer gates. RANT: Something I didn’t realize is that they put the creature in an enclosure. What is this a zoo??? I always thought the Sphinx was sitting out in the open, but it’s not… every movie I have ever seen is a lie! haha  …you have to pay extra, of course, to go in. So, with the lack of funds and the lack of truly caring, we decided to admire that big Pharaoh head from outside the walls.  It was just another testament to the true majesty of ancient Egypt. It made me realize that I need a time machine. Anyone know where I can get one?

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Anyways, after spending a couple hours in the sun we wanted to head back to the hotel… There was just 1 problem, no service for wifi to get an Uber. We tried to negotiate with one taxi driver to pay the same amount going as we did coming, but he wanted a lot more, so we said “forget it”. We went into a restaurant, right next to the Pizza Hut, and decided to get lunch and use the wifi. The problem with our plan was that the wifi wasn’t working. We ordered lunch anyways which consisted of our usual Egyptian chicken and a big mediterranean salad. …and I think something else. Anyways, we may not have had a ride back, but at least we were fed.

We headed back out to try again, and this time was much easier. We found a man to take us back to our hotel for $10 USD which was literally all we had.  He was incredibly friendly, not pushy at all; just a easy going guy who was happy to help.  After we survived the intensive traffic jams crossing back into the heart of Cairo, we checked to make sure we had all of our things and began our short to head back toward the security entrance to the Cairo Museum… As I was rifling through my bag, I realized, once again, my phone was not there. I did not understand how this happened again. I mean, I checked the taxi!!! Somehow, it must have fallen out of sight. Brad and I were a bit frazzled knowing that our taxi driver was already gone. While we talked to the security guards of the Ritz Carlton outside our hotel, I knew my only option was to pray to God my taxi driver was down the street. I left Brad at the hotel, just in case. …and I began my incredibly fast paced walk down the road. A few minutes up the way, after begging God for help, there was our taxi pulled over, and a Egyptian family was in the process of loading in.  I explained what happened to the driver, and he was very eager to help me look for it in the back seat. I went around to where I was sitting, and felt so rude, rifling around while this Arab woman was sitting there with her baby looking so confused and caught off guard (fair). Her husband came around to see what was going on. The driver explained to him that I had lost my phone, and sure enough the man had it in his hand, and gave it back to me. It was literally a miracle. I thanked the driver and the other man profusely, I apologize to the woman again, and headed back to the hotel with a spring in my step.  Rushing with the biggest smile on my face, I was so relieved. NOTE: Since then I have changed my phone case from dark green to brighter colors so that I can actually see it all the time.  When I got back to Brad, he told me they were basically starting to create a task force to help me track down my phone. haha! I LOVE the Ritz Carlton in Cairo…

After the drama had settled, it was official. We were not going to the museum, not now possibly not ever. We had missed the entry time window, and it was all my fault. I was so disappointed as this was part of why I picked the Ritz Carlton to stay at.  I was so baffled how so much felt like it went so wrong in Egypt, and Brad & I both couldn’t wait to leave to get a fresh start on our vacation. We were not sure what else to do with our time, since we still had almost 8 hours til our next flight. we just did our best to kill time. We walked around the hotel, and then back out into the city to see if we might find something interesting, but the people just wanted us to visit their shops… see this…. see that… …and if I didn’t tell you already, every Egyptian has a relative or friend living in the US. …or so they say. haha.

We were done. We were spent. Somehow, we ended up back in the hotel lounge. I got coffee and dessert, and we rested. We called our family to let them know we’d be moving on.

Finally, we were ready to head to the airport. We got there pretty early considering, but we had no more money to spend in Egypt, and therefore, nothing more to do.  so we took an Uber, and went. To be honest, I don’t remember the Cairo Airport at all. ….I was checked out before I even left.

…we were off to Tanzania on the 11:50 PM flight!

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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.

Morocco: The Tangier Day Trip Edition.

**I don’t have as many photos as usual, perhaps because I was out of my comfort zone**

Day 26:

We woke really early, around 5 AM. We were dressed and ready within close to 30 minutes, and headed down to the garage. I was driving that morning. We were headed south two hours and fifteen minutes to the port town Tarifa, and wanted to catch the 9 AM ferry to Tangier, Morocco with time to spare. The drive was fairly easy as we followed the directions on our phone. Thankfully, we made it there without any issues.

iphone update 1769The sun was finally up, and we were starting to gain some energy as we parked our Alfa Romeo in the paid parking just outside the terminal. We walked in to buy our tickets which took no longer than 10 minutes.  We purchased the 9AM ticket with an open return time that evening, which was convenient because it meant we could take our time.  From the ticket counter, we headed toward the cafe where we were able to grab our tea & coffee and a couple of pastries before boarding. Slowly, but surely, we were getting more and more excited.

iphone update 1771The time finally came to board the ferry.  Once we were on, we realized that we needed to line up to get our passports stamped since we were technically leaving the country. We made our way from the back of the boat to the front as they processed each person quickly.  With our newest stamps added to our passports, we grabbed a couple of seats next to the window, towards the back of the boat. We laughed and had a great time talking and bonding as the boat began its crossing of the Straight of Gibraltar. The ride was a little over an hour, and fairly smooth. The boat did rock a little, and there were some Islamic women dressed in their traditional veils that were struggling. One of them was vomiting into the nearby trash can, and the other sat there with her eyes closed trying her hardest to hold it together, as one of her children was climbing all over her lap, and her other sat right next to her. Another little American girl, who was traveling with her parents and her little brother (who was passed out on the bench without a care in the world) was crying from sea sickness & her mom spent much of the ride with her in the bathroom. It was all hard to watch, and I was definitely feeling for them, as well. It brought me back to Cancun from the year prior when we were doing our Scuba training. We encountered some rough waters there, and i just didn’t know if I would be able to finish the day.

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Finally, we arrived in Tangier all intact, with some others weighing a little bit less. We headed through customs which was effortless, a quick glance and a stamp and we were through. As we emerged from the building, it was very cold & there was a very light rain beginning to ensue. Suddenly, Morocco didn’t seem like the greatest idea, especially as we began being hounded by the local taxi drivers trying to give us a ride. We did our best to shoo them away in foreign languages… Our goal was to not let the locals know that we were American, but that didn’t last long. haha.  The locals wore us down, after turning down several drivers, we had one that approached us & made us an offer than seemed reasonable, especially because my sister seemed uncertain about which direction we should be heading & didn’t want to take any risks. We told our driver, after agreeing on a price, that we wanted to head near the Medina.

As we road along in the back seat, discretely counting out our Euros to pay with, our driver repeatedly offered us the scenic city tour. We on the other hand, continually turned him down. Once we were in the vicinity of the Medina, he made his offer one more time. Upon our refusal he stopped the car so we could get out, and threw his hands up in the air in his frustration.  At this point, we were a little overwhelmed and completely out of our comfort zone.

iphone update 1773We wanted to grab breakfast & found a small cafe just in front of us. I don’t recall the name, but I remember the way it felt when we walked in. It was a building full of Moroccan men who stared at us so intently as we walked through, it was almost as if you could feel their eyes piercingly judging us wild American woman (who were modestly dressed). The man working there led us to a table in the back of the building on an screened in patio. We were inhaling the strong smell of the cigarette smoke from the Europeans just one table over. The menu was in Arabic & English, but didn’t seem completely clear. We went with the first option since it seemed the safest for breakfast. Upon arrival we were pleasantly surprised. It was toast with goat cheese & honey, olives ,and their mint tea which is very sweet and delicious! We ate all that we could, and did our best to drink up our tea that seemed to be made of pure sugar. Our breakfast maybe costs us a couple US dollars, which was incredibly exciting. We made our payment & headed to use the restrooms, which were fairly sketch. The man who tended them was very kind & attentive in getting us tissue to dry our hands.

From here we headed out in search of the Medina. We began our way through a calm area, and up a large hill. We had a man following us, continually offering us a tour, but we learned that it was important to try to avoid the locals offering tours because you can unintentionally end up in a dangerous situation. We did our best to shake him off which was incredibly difficult and somewhat unnerving, but it eventually worked. TIP: The people there are incredibly persistent, and it can be very exhausting. You just have to stand your ground & be aware of your surroundings. We tried to laugh these situation off and not let them overwhelm us too much.

We officially had escaped 2 people trying to wear us down into their overpriced tour that could possibly turn into a robbery (you never know over there) and we were now trying to find the Medina. Little did we know, we were inside, and at the very top. We wandered around a bit, and found ourselves near a couple of small shops in the street markets. They had opened earlier than the rest, and the owners were very pleasant and polite, and just wanted to show us their items for sale. We looked briefly, but wanted to continue on our way since they didn’t really have what we were looking for: POTTERY!

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From here we began wandering the streets in all directions… We took in the beautiful views overlooking the ocean, and we wandered the markets. We both wanted to pick up some artwork while we were there, and found some in one of the shops. We also found a sweet little vase to bring back for our mom. However, once we were ready to make our transaction, the shop owner told us that our total was going to be 90 USD (881 Moroccan Dirham) for a small vase and 3 small paintings. We were taken aback by the high price, and we didn’t know who should take the lead on the negotiating, so naturally we panicked. We decided to create a diversion, because we knew we were getting “scammed”. This was our first attempt at purchasing stuff here, and we didn’t know what to do. haha. We decided that we needed to go to the ATM.  The shop owner instructed his son to guide us. Our problem was, we wanted to ditch this guy, but also, actually get cash. When we got to the ATM, Erica waited to get the money, and I tried to communicate to the guy that we would meet him back at the store. It took a couple tries, but finally he understood that our plan was to head back to the shop shortly, once we had the money.

Once we were free, we headed over to the center of a round-a-bout to very discreetly count our funds, and then we headed back into the market. We wandered into a small well-lit shop right off the main road, where we were able to find a small & beautifully painted white and blue vase to bring home for our mom.  We negotiated the price down 5 Moroccan Dirham which is the equivalent of 50 US cents. It cost us $2.50 USD.  From here we spent the rest of the afternoon shopping. We were in and out of several shops looking over all of the beautiful ceramic pieces & browsing the large stacks of old rugs looking for new homes. Everything was so beautiful & colorful! It was hard to say “no” to all of the lovely treasures surrounding us. We were in and out and found ourselves lost in the market while buying our goodies to bring home. We had hand-painted bowls, bone-inlay boxes, and I picked up a beautiful rug. We stopped in at a cafe where we got another glass of hot mint tea. We drank it slowly as it was searing hot. While we were sitting in the warm and wore down cafe, a young Moroccan boy came in trying to sell us Fez hats. We continually told him “Nein” (German for “No”), until he left  frustrated and somewhat yelling. We were uncomfortable from the situation of a child trying to force us into buying souvenirs, and the strong aroma of cigarette smoke from a couple tables down.  We decided to wrap it up fairly quickly, as we felt slightly choked from the smoke.

iphone update 1793We headed back out into the market and wandered aimlessly for a while, popping in and out of additional shops & enjoying each others company and the bold adventure we were on. We wanted a new way to carry all of our new belongings, and decided that we should buy woven basket totes to carry instead. We wandered into one of the shops and made inquiries about the prices on the plain tan straw baskets. The price he wanted was too high to justify, so we walked out toward the shop next store where a man had baskets with a hints of purple woven through out. As we were working on making a deal, a man on the street knew what we were looking for & decided that he wanted to sell me his baskets. He started to put everything I had in his baskets, and it created an uproar since we were already in the process of making a deal with another shop owner. All of a sudden, the men were all yelling at each other over selling us baskets. We took the ones from the street owner, the ones with hints of purple, and put our things inside, and left as quickly as we could to avoid the uncomfortable drama.

iphone update 1778We didn’t know what else to do, so we headed toward the wall of the city, and found ourselves making our way down to the main road that sits right next to the docking point for the ferry. (Yes, we were only minutes away this whole time, which we had laughed about earlier that day when we first were taking in the magnificent ocean views.) We found ourselves staring at a wall infused with a  small hotel & private homes, with immaculate views, that extended back towards the markets. It was truly awesome. Still plagued with uncertainty of what to do next, we climbed back up the wall part of the way and took a seat on a ledge overlooking the street and the water. We were wishing we could drop off our bags so we could explore the beach, but with the amount of weight we were lugging around from our previous purchases, it didn’t seem practical.  Instead, we sat for a while immersed in conversation about what we had been experiencing.

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After 15 minutes or so, and after the fear of a local wanting to come & try to sell us some form of tour or souvenir, we decided that we wanted something to snack on and headed to the Continental Hotel which was up a set of stairs along the outer wall. It brought us up onto a small patio which led us indoors. We requested a table, and were informed that no food was available to order, but we could get drinks, so we just got a couple of waters & relaxed on the balcony. We enjoyed the time to sit in an actual chair as the weather began to turn once again. At one point we had the lightest drizzle interrupting our break, and the temperature began to drop once again, but it didn’t last long, thankfully.

iphone update 1789We spent about 45 minutes hanging out and talking to another tourist couple who was heading over to Spain the following day. We informed them of the present cold front that had been viciously attacking our trip, and that they needed to be prepared for the weathers brutality. Eventually, though, the time to move on came again. We tried to maneuver our way out the front of the hotel to the market streets, but that didn’t seem possible because  a man came after us quickly and ushered us back out the way we came.

iphone update 1796Finally we were on the main streets, but didn’t know which way to go. We were hungry, tired, and our hands were full. We wanted a good meal since we knew we wouldn’t be able to get one in Tarifa, nor on the road back Sevilla, The task was difficult since we hadn’t seen many nicer restaurants or cafes along the way. As we tried to navigate our way back through the city, which seemed impossible, we ended up stumbling upon a small Moroccan restaurant called Restaurant Rif Kebdani. It is highly ranked on TripAdvisor, and I can attest that everything we got was exquisite!!! I, now, am always wanting to eat Moroccan food. haha. We each ordered a soup and we shared chicken couscous. The flavors were amazing & the appetizers which they bring (free of charge) were so tasty… I couldn’t get enough. It comes with bread and the dipping dishes were unforgettable.  If you are going to make a stop in Tangier, check this place out. The food is on point, and the atmosphere is truly enchanting. It will make your vacation so much more exciting!

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The time came for us to start making our way back to the boat for the 7 PM departure. We had plenty of time, but we were unsure of what it would be like trying to get back on the boat, and unclear on how to find our way back down and out of the “walled” city.  So, we started out and, sure enough, we felt a bit like we were going in circles until, finally, we were able to get a vantage point & maneuver our way down. Once there, we watched the cars & found the perfect time to cross over to the port.  We headed in and showed our passports & tickets and then were shuffled into the customs line where if felt like it took way longer than it should to have our passport processed. From here, we headed into a waiting area where we took a seat for a short amount of time before they called everyone out onto the tarmac.  The clouds had mostly taken over as the sun was setting, and it was windy and became cold again. We were ready to board. However, protocol had to be taken, and we were required to wait until the boat was cleared & they checked our documents.

Once we were back on board, we were able to grab a seat without any further document processing (unlike on the way there). We grabbed a couple of seats by the window where we crammed in with our baskets full of finds and my new old rug. We were able to watch as the storm progressed over the ocean. The water was far rougher as we sailed from one continent back to the other. We both tried to rest a little bit before the drive we had ahead of us.

It was raining and much colder when we reached Tarifa. We got inside the building & waited calmly for our passports to be stamped. My impatient little sister, left me behind as she made a quick run to the car. In the heat of the moment she slipped on the slick sloped ground exiting the building, and, from inside the building, you could hear her brand new ceramics inside smack the ground along side her. I was in the process of preparing my own exit as I saw this happen, and thankfully a couple of guys were quick to help her up and collect her things. She was perfectly fine, with nothing more than a big old bruise on her leg. But her brand new hand painted bowl from Fez & her fun aqua vase that she fell in love with had broke. While she was discovering this tragedy, I was attempting to pay our parking ticket. TIP: Trying to pay for parking on a machine is a foreign, non-English speaking country is usually a challenge, even when you use the English setting because it still doesn’t always translate properly, so be prepared to take your time figuring it out.  When I got back to the car, Erica showed me her damaged bowl & I assured her that it could be repaired. It would never be perfect, but it could be repaired.

Finally, it was sorted. Between both of our frustration & our exhaustion the drive back was off to a rough start. and didn’t get much better. It didn’t help that our GPS was slightly lagging, so we kept missing turns and having to reroute.

We eventually got back to our hotel very late. Erica attempted to pull into the parking garage and park, but ended up gently grazing the side of the car along the wall. It clearly happened on a regular basis based on the amount of paint and marks in that area. It was a tricky bend to navigate, especially for an American since everything is bigger.

iphone update 1842.jpgWe were in bed well after midnight, and were fast asleep within minutes. We had an incredibly spontaneous journey that day, and despite the small hick ups & uncertainty of what to expect, it was probably one of our favorites. We had many laughs about our time in Morocco.

For instance, I tried to help my sister buy her pretty aqua vase (the one that broke) by negotiating the price down. I was being very reasonable buy trying to drop off about $1 USD  to 50 cents, but the man claimed that I was insulting him when he “has a nice shop full of nice things”.. or that time the man who sold us our stunning bone inlay boxes joked about trading me for camels, and my sister, misunderstanding what he was saying, said she would be willing to take one camel for me… Yes, apparently, I am only worth one camel. haha.

Despite the headaches and frustrations that come with being in such a country, we met some truly lovely people while we were there & it was an absolutely pleasure to able to partake in their culture & their food for just a day.  I cannot wait to visit Morocco again!

…to be continued…

 

Victoria Falls: The Road Trip Edition (Part 1).

I should forewarn you.. Zimbabwe caused us quite a bit of frustration from the start, so prepare yourself for some honesty, and to probably feel some of my inner-rage come through….

Day 11 continued:

As soon as we crossed into Zimbabwe territory (in other words the customs office), it felt like we stepped into another world. The office was a complete mess. There was no sense of order, no lines… It was a shove your way to the front & do your best to make it happen. We were looking all over the counter for forms to fill out, but we could not find them. Thankfully, a representative from Pack Clearing Company was there. He got us the forms from the service counter, and we filled them out quickly. He then directed us to one of the agents and willingly helped keep other nationals, who were trying to push their way forward, at bay. We  gave them our visa credit card to pay for our entry visas. The process to run the card took forever, but it may have been because while we were waiting, a massive and thunderous rainstorm began to assault the building.

Funny enough, because running our card was taking so long, the building began to fill up with other people hoping to get through. I don’t know if we beat the crowd or caused the crowd. Finally, with both of our entry visas paid for, we could move onto the car. For some reason, that chair was empty for an extensive period of time. We stood there waiting around, until finally our rep from PCC started to take control into his own hands… (Africa…) He began to fill out the paperwork, and finally had us back on the move, so when the rep showed up, it was just a matter of payment again. Another charge on the credit card, and $50 USD cash for the PCC guy.. and we were back in the car.

When we got the gate, we were not sure who was working. No one seemed overly attentive, but that may have been because of the rain. Finally, a man came up to the car, and decided to just climb in the back seat (Africa…). He was trying to avoid the rain, as he asked for our proof that we had paid our fees and gotten or stamps. However, we didn’t have what he wanted. We showed him all that we had, and without much hesitation, he let us through.

Thankfully the rain had quit as we approached a police stop not even a quarter mile up, just along the Zambezi National Park. The officer asked us how many safety triangles we had, if we had safety vests, and walked all the way around our car. At this point, he had Brad get out of the car to show him that our car didn’t meet their requirements because we did not have two red reflective stickers on the back of the vehicle (instead we had white). He told Brad that he would have to fine us $100 USD.  NOTE: The funny thing about this was that there was no paperwork, he just expected us to give him $100 USD, and be on our way. In our eyes, and realistically, he would probably just pocket the money because it was obvious that we were tourists in a South African car, and had no clue about Zimbabwe road rules, not too mention, it wasn’t our car to put stickers on. If Zimbabwe wanted to fine us, they instead need to fine the Britz. We had the money, but we were not going to give it up because we obviously needed it… We were not going to give into what could potentially be organized crime behind the badge (haha). When we told him that we didn’t have it, he tried telling us that the total fine was now $200 USD. (too funny). We told the man that we had 27 Pula (Botswanan currency) & some change from a couple other countries. We had no problem giving it to him, but the funny thing was that at this point, he turned it down. Apparently, it was all or nothing, and he sent us on our way.

Zimbabwe was off to a very rocky start. It was just flat out ridiculous.

As we drove through Zambezi National Park, we were able to see the mist from the rains move through the jungle. It was truly beautiful. As we continued to drive, the sun had set. Traffic was practically non-existent until we got closer to the city, in which case we ended up in a small traffic jam due an elephant blocking the road. We were sitting completely stopped, unsure of what was going on until he walked more into the light. No one was doing anything (because the last thing you want to do is piss off a large elephant) until Brad turned on the brights. The elephant apparently didn’t like the blinding spot light, and decided to clear off the road. Finally, we were in motion again.

When we made our way into town, the small buildings began to slowly turn into a cluster. We did our best to find our way into the hotel, but the car was moving faster than the dot on our iPhone map, but we eventually figured it out. When we reached A’Zambezi River Lodge, we were somewhat shocked to find out that they could not find our reservation, they even called their reservation department (one man) to verify, and nothing. I had obviously booked through Hotels.com (gotta get those free nights), and paid in advance for the room, but they still showed nothing.  This required me to log into their wi-fi to dig through my email, and get on the website, just to get them the confirmation information. NOTE: I was frustrated because I had read in the hotels reviews that this had happened a few times before with other guests, and I didn’t think it would happen to me, but that’s probably why it did. When it was all worked out, they put us in a room, but what we realized is that they put us in a garden view room, when we had paid for a river view room.

We figured we would deal with specifics in the morning because we were already frustrated and mentally exhausted. We decided to go grab dinner. We got the menu, and only had a few options to order from because they were out of several ingredients. So, I got the schnitzel and Brad got fried crocodile tail, which is like eating chewy chicken.  Dinner was mediocre, and we were wiped out. It was the type of exhaustion that you can see taking over in the eyes, so we just headed to bed.

Day 12:

We had our bags packed and ready to be moved. While, I finished getting ready, Brad went to the front desk to have things sorted out. When he got back, he told me that they wouldn’t have any rooms available until that afternoon because they had to wait to check someone out. They were also unwilling to issue us any credits for the price difference between the two rooms or apparently comp meals, even though they screwed up.

iphone update 1247.JPGWith that slightly out of the way, we headed to The Lookout Cafe. A beautiful cafe/activity venue that overlooks the gorge of the Zambezi River. From here, you can also see the Victoria Falls Bridge, and the mist rising up from the crashing water. It’s absolutely beautiful. We were here for breakfast, and we both ordered a poach egg dish that has had me craving poached eggs ever since! We wanted to sit along the railing, but it was a cool and windy morning so we moved further in behind the partition. We watched the other tourist as they cheered on their friends who were more daring than they, as they jumped off ledges and slid across cables. The Lookout Cafe was the place that makes you want to retire in Victoria Falls.

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We had decided that we wanted to head to Zambia, so we ran back to the hotel to grab all the things we thought we may need, and then headed to the border. It was much more orderly there than it had been at our initial crossing into Zimbabwe, but it wasn’t until after the man had stamped our passports that he told us that we would be paying multiple fees to get the car in and out of both Zambia & Zimbabwe and that we would have to get a new entry visa every time (this was not what we were told at the hotel, shocker!).

iphone update 1260.JPGThis felt like a devastating defeat. A true blow. We were frustrated beyond measure, and didn’t know what to do since we didn’t want to spend a couple hundred dollars just to spend the first part of our day in Zambia. We ended up just heading back into town to wander around. We figured that we would check out the shops and grab some lunch. So we did just that. Most of the shops just offered the same old things that did not excite us at all.  After wandering aimlessly for a little while, we stopped at Lola’s Tapas & Carnivore Restaurant, which offered exotic game meat like giraffe and zebra to name the weirdest two. FACT: Turns out that Brad loves giraffes so much, that it’s the one game meat that he won’t eat. I opted for pasta (not the best choice), and Brad chowed down on a burger. We enjoyed each others company and tried our best to not let Zimbabwe get us down and rebuild our spirits.

After our refreshing lunch in the warm Zimbabwean air, we headed back down the street to the out door curio market. We were on the hunt for a mask to put with our one from Zanzibar. The market was a decent size, and had a lot of touristy trinkets to take home family, and some fun things for yourself including large carved sculptures. We didn’t buy anything that day, as we figured it was best if we just left it as a browsing day. I think we were both, also, so frustrated that we didn’t feel like haggling with the shop keepers, let alone have them continually follow us trying to get us to buy things that we don’t want.

We stumbled into another shopping center just up the street, The Elephant Walk, that actually had stores where hassling and negotiating was not allowed; everything had a set price. It was just passed the crocodile cage diving facility where you could actually cage dive with crocodiles… It looked about as exciting as it sounds (I didn’t think looked exciting at all).. Basically… It’s a shallow curvy swimming pool that can’t be more than three feet deep with only one or two crocodiles. They put you into a cage & lower you down, and you can use oxygen if you want… but I don’t think you actually need it. Then they use bate to draw the crocodile near. NOTE: When we exited the shops we walked back by, and I touched the crocodiles foot… I was feeling bold.. I ‘m a real wild child! haha.

The shops were really nice, but the one that had real tourist stuff was extremely over priced. We have some of the same stuff here in Arizona, at one of my favorite shops, that is cheaper. It was insane, so naturally, we skipped it.

After that, we headed back to the hotel to hang out for a while, after all… we were supposed to be moving rooms that evening. We just wandered the grounds in attempt to find the river walk that our hotel claims to sit on…. We walked from one end of the grounds to the other, but there was no path… Turns out, it doesn’t sit on the river walk (which makes sense since it is quite a distance from the falls)… just another disappointing blow. All we could find were boat ramps with tour boats, pretty flowers, and bright insects… We didn’t know what else to do, so we decided to sit at the room for a while until they called. I ended up on the patio, and as I sat there waiting I watched the staff. One member walked along the sidewalk opening every room door of the river view building as he walked along. I thought this was kind of strange. As he disappeared, I got up to inspect because I was fearful that it could be a security issue for other guests that may be in those rooms; or if they were empty, I was curious why we weren’t already in one. Sure enough every one of those rooms was empty and I was flaming mad at this point. There was no reason why one of those ready rooms wasn’t provided to us that morning, especially since they weren’t going to reimburse us for the difference, or comp our meals.

Anyways, we finally got transferred to our new room overlooking the central grounds and a “view” of the river. (I would, also, like to note that a big part of why I picked this hotel was for the wildlife that visits.. warthogs, a hippo, and all the monkeys.. We only saw monkeys during our time there.)

We ended up heading back into town for dinner, but for the life of me, I cannot remember where we ate. Neither can Brad. so on that note… After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and proceeded to hang out and watch TV before we fell asleep.

Day 13:

Since we had pretty much seen all that we had seen, we decided that we wanted to try and head to Hwange National Park. We were running behind and didn’t feel like trying to track down breakfast, so we decided to eat at the hotel. This, once again, was a frustrating dilemma (but partially our fault). Prior to being seated, we were offered the option of three breakfast “directions”: the buffet, the continental, or order from the menu. That was all that was said. Not thinking much of it, we chose the buffet. We had our fruit, toast, and omelettes, tea and coffee. ..and tried to relax while caffeinating for the day. When we got the check, we were incredibly shocked that the bill was $70 USD for our breakfast because we go the buffet. We were frustrated that no one or nothing pointed out the extreme price differences, but we also, should have though to ask (lesson learned) .

Once again, we were both in a funk of disbelief, and got in the car to head to the park. There was just one problem. The road was blocked off. We immediately, were feeling the defeat… again. Frustrated, we just turned back around to figure out a plan.

iphone update 1269.jpgOur plan ended up being to visit Victoria Falls. So, with our water resistant jackets in hand, we drove back toward the border (Victoria Falls is a dividing point for Zimbabwe & Zambia), parked the car, crossed the street & bought two tickets. Brad had heard rumors of people getting drenched, but at the first stop it was just a light mist, and didn’t seem too bad.  The sights were so beautiful. Everything was so green. It was like being a rain forest. It was a beautiful walk along the paved paths. It wasn’t very crowded which was great because it made me feel more at peace with nature.  This was the first time that I actually began to feel love for Zimbabwe. The paths were lined with giant trees encased in vines and tall grasses and shrubs. At one point a small antelope stood next to railing eating the grass that lined the cliff. We wondered how he found his way there.

iphone update 1329.JPGAs the path progressed, so did the mist. Eventually, as you reach the long line of falls, you begin to get more and more wet. You end up drenched, from head to toe. My water resistant shell was, indeed, not water proof. It had become useless as my tank top began to grow lengthwise. But it was incredible. It was the type of experience that makes you feel more alive. You can’t help but laugh as the water streams down your face as if you are in a rainstorm. We now understood why the locals rent out raincoats across the street from the entrance.

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I think it was the first time in Zimbabwe that Brad and I were truly having fun. We were laughing at the situation and at ourselves for once again underestimating the situation, while simultaneously hoping that my Fjallraven Kanken, kept my Nikon from getting wet (it did!) . It was great fun to watch as the mist would clear out to present the beauty of the water collapsing over the cliff’s edge, and then watch it fill back up again as if you are staring a cloud in the face, should a cloud have a face…

We made our way toward Victoria Falls Bridge where we were able to get a beautiful view, and see the people and cars crossing. As we began our departure from the park, the mist/rain began to clear. We could finally see the sun shining through again, and the we were able to enjoy the beauty of the park.  We were able to see some fuzzy orange caterpillars, and there were monkeys running amok through the park, as well.

FACT: When the rivers are at their highest and the waterfall is pouring at its most, The intensive level of mist that rises from the falls actually will create rain in the town of Victoria Falls. It creates an environment all of its own for a brief time in the year. 

ipad update 5563After having a nature shower, it was time for a man-made shower. So we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up.  I, also, got to spend some time on the patio, monitoring the monkeys that were running circles on the lawn & rough playing with each other, and jumping into the trees for snacks. All, while Brad waited for hotel maintenance to fix the hot water that went out (If it wasn’t one thing it was another with this hotel. Seriously, I haven’t even mentioned that the toilets in both rooms looked as if they hadn’t been cleaned – thank the Lord for antibacterial wipes, i just did it myself). I had a great time photographing the little lunatics, and was even able to get in a long phone call with my parents before we headed to dinner.

We headed back down by the markets (that I mentioned above), to an Asian restaurant called Nam Took (I’m pretty sure). It was really good. I got a spice chicken & noodle dish, and Brad got some other noodle thing… We enjoyed a little bit of each other’s while we engaged in meaningless chatter & perused social media. For the most part, it had been a really good day, and things were looking up. We even decided, after careful deliberation, and thought, that we would go to Zambia the next day.

After dinner, we needed to get some cash for the next few days, so we went in search of an ATM. We drove around in search of one (which took a while, and a few stops), and there happened to be a few ATMs behind the big grocery store. When we got to the ATM, we were trying to get $100 Zimbabwe Dollars. We tried a few times, and then the security guard told us to try a lower amount. It finally worked, at about $30.00. We ended up having to go to 3 ATMS (all in one area) to get the money we needed, and ended up having to use all of our free international ATM transactions that our bank gives us. (Could Zimbabwe, make life anymore difficult? haha).

Finally, with cash in hand we headed back to the hotel so that we could have our adventure the next day.

to be continued…

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