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: 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!

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 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.

Egypt: The Cairo Edition (Part 1).

It is definitely easy for me to say that visiting Egypt was always been a dream of mine since I was a child. How could it not be? Stories of pharaohs in their elaborate temples decorated with colorful murals of different gods and goddess shaped like animals. Golden sarcophaguses shimmering brightly from text book pages. Why on earth would you want to go to Tennessee when you go to Egypt?

Brad & I went back and forth on the idea of Egypt for quite a while. We both really wanted to go, but had reservations due to the more recent life threatening occurrences, shall we say? I did my research. I was visiting the US Department of State travel website reading up on all of the safety advisories and visiting many social media outlets to see how many tourists seemed to be visiting & also, just general online research through travel sites and blogs (like this one!). It seemed that while our Department of State was suggesting strong vigilance, many tourists were saying it was perfectly fine. (Now it’s about level with France.)

I don’t know if I talked Brad into it, or strong armed him…. but one way or the other I got him onboard. …but really, how could he resist walking in the footsteps of so many great historical figures?

It wasn’t long before I had our three week long itinerary mapped out (it included Tanzania), and I was in the air crossing over to Egypt. I had a couple of stops along the way which were Chicago, Illinois & Amman, Jordan. The Chicago airport clearly wasn’t memorable unlike my experience in Amman.

Since we were headed to Tanzania, obviously to safari, I had my Fjallraven Kanken packed so perfectly & full with all of my camera gear. The Amman security was very unsure of why I was packing so much “heat”, we will call it. Apparently, they aren’t fond of excessive camera gear there. They had me basically empty the entire backpack so they could examine everything. They asked me where I was going, what this was, what that was, and why I had it. It was nothing short of the 3rd degree all over my Nikon equipment. Finally, when they asked me my nationality… I answered American, they quit caring. Apparently, Americans aren’t much of threat to Jordan. Who would have thought?

 

IMG_0582-2Finally, after a short flight across the Sinai, I was in Cairo. I made my way through all of the customs checkpoints (oi vey!!!)  and my way outside to find my driver that I had hired prior to arrival. If you still aren’t sure what to expect after reading this, I would suggest doing the same. You can make arrangements here. It was $12.50 from the airport to the Ritz Carlton which was a 30-45 minute drive. TIP: They do have Uber in Cairo, so if you have service or wifi at the airport, you can make arrangements, & it is also, insanely cheap) 

I made prior arrangements for two reasons: I knew I would be exhausted, and I had no clue what to expect, especially as a woman. I had done my research on hiring a car while at the airport, but I knew it would be too overwhelming when I got there. So, that night, my drivers (yes, there were two. lol) took me all through the city to The Ritz Carlton – Nile River. NOTE: This is probably one of the few places in the world where you can crash at the Ritz for under $250 a night. When we arrived at the hotel gate, the car had to go through security. The driver popped the trunk, and the armed guard and his German shepherd made a trip around the car.  Once we were through, the door man helped me out. I was such in a tizzy with 2 doorman helping me & 2 drivers that I overtipped my drivers, $5 US a piece, $10 total (I think). … and then I did the same with the man that delivered the bags to my room. As soon as I was in the calm quiet solitude of my room I could think clearly… I did the math, and damn, was I generous. haha.

Once I was in the room getting cleaned up. I don’t know what came over me, but after a quick shower & change of clothes, I felt so revived. I was hungry, so I decided to head back down stairs to find food. I headed to the main restaurant, and was pleasantly surprised to find it packed at 11 at night. Everywhere I looked, people were smoking shisha (hookah) & enjoying the environment which included some great live music and belly dancing on the patio.

After feasting on hummus, kababs & rice…. I knew it was time to retire. The staff had been incredible… shifting me from point A to point B to get a better view of the entertainment, but sleep was beginning to call. I couldn’t believe it was after midnight when I got back to the room. In no time, I was in bed & passed out.

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IMG_0593The next morning, I was in no rush. I took my time. I slept in, got ready at a leisurely pace, and headed down stairs to wait for Brad. I knew his flight had landed, so it was just a matter of time before he would waltz into the lobby. I grabbed a fresh orange juice (so sour) and a chocolate croissant in the small pastry shop, and posted up in a chair by the front door. I watch the people come and go through the metal detectors. Women in birkas floating across the floor and the men (so many in sweat pants)  doing what they do all throughout the lobby.  I was fascinated, and so ready to see my main squeeze. I really wasn’t sure what was customary. But when Brad arrived, we had a good strong hug, but saved our kisses for the privacy of our room. I didn’t want any dirty looks downstairs.

I had Brad hustle to get ready so that we could find a place for lunch. We talked to man at reception who pointed us in the direction of a couple different places on the island just across the bridge where the Cairo Tower is…. so we walked, we looked. All that we could find seemed to be places that were closed or were private for members only. We were hot, hungry, and I could feel it…. a respiratory infection coming on quick.

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We had no choice. We had to go back to the hotel for lunch or starve. haha. Sooo, we wandered into the lounge for a nice relaxing lunch. It was soups and salads and sandwiches, all was tasty. We were satisfied. …or as satisfied as we could be.

We wanted to wander more, and one of the things we were dying to see was the Egyptian Museum. They have a large collection of Egyptian antiquities that we were desperate to see. Unfortunately when we got to the exterior entrance, the armed guard at the metal detector informed us that they stopped letting people in at 4PM. His english was very broken so it took a bit to translate it. It was only a few minutes past, and we were incredibly disappointed especially since this information was not provided online. So, we decided to walk on.

It wasn’t long before we ran into the man we met earlier on our way to find lunch. Apparently, he owned a shop & a 7-11. He wanted to show us his shop. For whatever reason, I was thinking he meant his 7-11, and I was excited thinking we could get some bottled water for the room. Brad & I had no idea where we were going or what was happening. haha. As it turned out, the man meant his souvenir shop full of papyrus paintings.   As soon as we were all in, he introduced us to the man & woman that were working there…. getting ready to work us.

The man who brought us in picked a painting from the stack and said it was a gift for me, he asked my name & next thing you know they are painting it on there in arabic and hieroglyphics. They offered us hot tea, and began talking to us about our life and why were in Egypt. They start showing us more paintings & and asking us which we like. As we picked, the man painted our name on each and continued to make conversation. For whatever reason, probably because of time changes, sleep deprivation & the true pleasure of this couple’s company, we let this go on for 6 paintings…. (WHAT THE HELL WERE WE THINKING!!!) Brad and I just kept looking at each other through out the entire process unsure of how to get out of this or how to process it, which now we find hilarious. Such travelers as us, should have never ended up in this mess… but it happened.  Eventually, we had to a stop to it, despite the mans continued efforts to keep putting our names on more and more paintings… he would have gone through the entire cabinet stack, if you ask me. We said we wanted no more… we already had too many… sure enough the man was trying to sell us all 6 for like $200 US. We were able to get him down to $120, which was still way too much money if you ask me… When we closed the deal on our paintings & had finished out sweet mint tea, we were saying our goodbyes… Then something interesting happened… They separated us. I went with the wife, and Brad with the husband. They initially began trying to sell us on different items. For instance, the woman was trying to sell me perfume, or so I thought… she let me smell different ones & telling me about a few and why they were special.. ..but I didn’t expect what came next. She had asked me what type of phone case I had, and when I told her that it was for an iPhone 10 (an apple case, mind you)… She asked if she could have it to give to her brother who was in need of a phone case. Naturally, I declined since I actually needed a phone case too.  When we left, I told Brad she wanted my phone case, and as it turned out… the man had wanted Brad’s. Our theory…. They made up stories to get us to give them our phone cases for free, so that they could turn around and sell them for a profit…. We were completely dumbfounded by how the Egyptians operate. It was on another level.

…and I realized after, we should have only paid for five because one was supposed to be a gift. haha!  It was safe to say we realized quickly (on day one), that Egyptians are relentless and tricky. They want your money and they will make it happen if you are not on your game.

We were not on our A- game, and were kicking ourselves all the way to our hotel room. Even in the hotel room we were so frustrated, but we were laughing about it as we unwrapped and unrolled each one. We were duped, we were idiots… we were the epitome of Americans.

IMG_0605With exhausted bodies and bruised travel-egos, we pulled back the covers for a nap…. the nap last for a couple hours & when we woke back up, food wasn’t enough of a reason to go back out. We decided to keep sleeping until the next morning.

When we woke up, we got cleaned up, started to pack and then headed downstairs for breakfast. It was a buffet. The most elaborate and beautiful breakfast buffet I have ever seen. We were in heaven. There was free flowing honey, fish, cheeses, omelettes, croissants, pomegranate, Egyptian cuisine…. we were not without. Bottle water, tea, coffee, assorted juices were all brought to us & we were so happy. …Well, I was trying to be, despite my nasal suffering.

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I was hoping the respiratory infection might have just been a glitch due all the travel and exhaustion, but it was not. It was the worst case scenario. We were in Egypt, a third world country where the smog is so thick (in Cairo) you can only see a few miles ahead of you, and I had a full brewing respiratory infection. I had no way to find medicine. It was just me, that I had to rely on. Thank God, I packed plenty of Kleenex. I  was holding it together as best I could as we finished preparing to head to the airport. We were Aswan bound.

 

Colombia: The Cartagena Edition.

Our trip to Cartagena wasn’t a big dream of ours. Honestly, there were other places in South America we preferred to visit, but with a limited amount of time (8 days), we didn’t want to spend too much time in the air. To be honest, I think we mostly went simply because I wanted to get in my 6th continent.  It would have been easier to book a trip to Cancun for some great diving & good food, but we both agreed we needed and wanted to continue visiting new places.

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From Phoenix to Cartagena took approximately 10 hours with Delta, through Atlanta, which was incredibly reasonable considering. …and it was even better when we were upgraded to first class from Atlanta to Cartagena. Because of traffic below we had to circle several times for close to 45 minutes before we could land. This is when disappoint began to set in.

I had done all the research that I thought was necessary on the city & the things we could do & places we could stay. One thing I took note of was the beautiful crystal clear blue waters that are shared with the bahamas, the Caribbean Sea. As we circled through the air & I stared out below from my first class seat, I notice that the water wasn’t nearly as blue as I thought. In fact, it was brown …dirty murky brown. I hoped we were staying in a different area and that, maybe, what I was seeing wasn’t our beach destiny.  Those dreams were quickly crushed.

When we arrived at our hotel, Hilton Cartagena, we got checked in and laid down… It was lights out in the middle of the afternoon. What was supposed to be just a quick siesta turned into a major snooze fest. (Our flights left at midnight Phoenix time, so we really never slept.)  When we woke up… hunger set it in & we knew we needed to head out to search for food.  We walked off the grogginess in the intense humid air. We made our way down Carrera 2, a main road, and found ourselves at what would be a favorite for us, Carbon de Palo.  There, we were serenaded by a group of older Colombian men, we feasted on international cuisine like pasta with an incredible bolognese sauce & the best fried beef empanadas I have ever head. It made the damp heat tolerable, and put our bodies at ease.

7.22.17 446Because we were still tired, we decided to head back to the hotel. We felt like our meal at Carbon de Palo had made up for the oversleeping & missing out on the culture on day one. But… on our way back, we spotted one of my favorite things, CREPES!!!! How could I not… Nutella crepes and I were made for each other. I had googled where to find crepes, and I had found Crepes & Waffles. However, what we had found on our journey was Mr. Crepe (now permanently closed). …and Mr. Crepe understood my needs & fulfilled them… and my tummy.  With bellies satisfied, we stopped at the convenience store for a few liters of water, before we headed back to bed.

Day 2:

We awoke at a reasonable hour with enough time to hit the breakfast buffet… It was your typical buffet with a bunch of Colombian fare as well. I myself, went with the omelettes and fruit.   Once we were fed, we headed back to the room & readied ourselves for the day ahead. Which meant, I loaded up my bag with necessities & Brad put on sunscreen.

7.22.17 0787.22.17 079We headed downstairs & grabbed a taxi that could take us to the old city of Cartagena about 5 km away. We wandered aimlessly for a while. While we walked, Brad decided that he wanted a hat. It was the first time, in our travel history that he had decided he wanted to buy something before me. So we searched for a Panama hat for Brad in some of the small shops along the North wall of the old city. He walked out a happy man, and slightly more protected from the sun. As we headed back towards the center of town, we went in search of an antique shop I had found online prior to visiting, El Arcon Anticuario. After hours of wandering & trying to follow the GPS on our phone, we found it. The whole reason to visit was for a door knocker. The store was a decent size & filled with all sorts of miscellaneous things (pictures were not permitted). They had ample amounts of beautiful door knockers in all sorts of different shapes. However, since we still had another 5 days, we decided to hold off on buying in case we found anything better.

By this time we were hungry again, so we headed back to where we started at the Plaza Fernandez de Madrid, searching for a place to grab lunch. We walked by cafes, one after another, looking at the menus for something that sounded interesting. Our choice, Atahualpa. Although Google labels it as Caribbean food, I believe it may have Peruvian influence, partially because every picture on their wall is of Peru in some capacity.  Our food was really good.  I had a rice and chicken dish, similar to Paella, that came with long fried potatoes that were like long tater tots & Brad had steak with what I think were fried plantains. YUMMY! Each of our dishes were preceded with a delicious soup. …but to be honest, it was way too hot for soup.

7.22.17 089After wandering a little more, and enduring as much sweating as we could handle for the afternoon, we headed back to our hotel to unwind & check out our beaches. Unfortunately, this is when I discovered the unpleasantness of our beaches. Although they were clean & private, the water was very murky from the up swept sand due to all of the seasonal weather (so I was told). Also, just because it was private doesn’t mean they don’t permit the locals from trying to sell you boat rides across the water, massages, and other miscellaneous things.  We tried walking along the south beach near our hotel, which seemed a little better. But I just have no desire to be in murky ocean water… Jaws! lol.  In this direction, people were also trying to sell us things, and the beach was a bit dirty due to it being public. We felt our only option was to turn around.

As the day wore on we made plans for dinner. We showered & got cleaned up, and then Brad led the charge to a Mexican restaurant he had found, DF COMIDA MEXICANA. To be honest, I had completely forgot about this meal. I don’t even remember what I ordered…which I think speaks for itself. I remember thinking it was decent food, but I think for Mexican I will stick to eating it here in Arizona. With the night still young, we headed on to just walk. Our walk, naturally, led us to Mr. Crepe where I indulged in my usual.   With that, we just headed back to the hotel.

Day 3:

This day was a challenging one. I think it was the only day we really thought that we didn’t like Cartagena & it was because we felt like we had been duped.

After breakfast, we were ready for something new. We had decided that we wanted to go diving, and had found a place just up the way along the lagoon. We were impressed with what they had to offer & booked three dives the following day. We were really excited to get back to it.

As we began our walk into town, we were talked into a trip across the water to another beach, Buru. We were so enticed by the beautiful photo we were shown of candy blue waters and bright white sand. We were told it was just a boat ride away for a set price (I think $20 each). We were sold. We went back up to the room to change & grab all of our beachy needs. We headed back down & met the guy who directed us to the boat. We loaded on & then were pushed out to sea. It took between 20 & 30 minutes to cross the bay, and to our dismay it was exactly the same as the other side, except worse. We were directed out of the boat and shuffled along the beach & shown a “cabana” where we could sit and set our stuff.  We were unsure about what to do at this point, so we tried to make the best of it. The water was warm, we had semi-cold beers to drink, 7.22.17 099and that was kind of it. I couldn’t get over how murky the water was here too. The air smelled of gasoline from all of the boats, there was load music blaring, it was full of people, there were jet skis screaming by & other water activities happening that just did not suit the relaxing mood we were looking for. Our dreams of just lounging on a picture perfect beach where we could relax and drink cocktails had been smashed.  We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t want to be under the cabana because really it was just a long tent crammed with plastic chairs and tables and other people & we didn’t want to be in the water because you couldn’t see what was going on… We opted to leave, less than an hour after getting there.

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We found our guide, and told him we wanted to go back. We asked him where the place was that he showed us & he then told us that it was another 40 minutes away. That the weather had made Baru all murky. He proceeded to tell us that we had to pay for the table we had been sitting at in addition to the beer.  7.22.17 107Brad started getting very upset at this point because none of this was communicated to us. We told him we would only pay for the beer, not the table. …and it turned into a whole debate that we finally ended up winning. It took another 20-30 minutes to get back on the boat since it had to come back from the other side. This time, they packed it full of people.

When we were off the boat outside our hotel, Brad paid the guy for everything. We were both frustrated at this point & had to just shake it off. We knew we would laugh about it later, and with beaches out of the question, we opted for the hotel pool. The area was clean & there was a swim up bar… (I should make a mention that I don’t typically use hotel pools, especially beachside ones.. so that should really tell you about the ocean water here.)

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We decided it would be a good night in for us after all of the craziness, so we made a reservation at the hotel restaurant, Tinajero Steak & Seafood House. This was probably the most low key moment of our trip. There was no pressure to find anything, deal with language barriers,  minimal sweating, and we didn’t have to go far. The food & vibe were great & we finally were able to laugh about what had happened earlier.  We enjoyed the setting of an old-fashioned Cartagena style home with loads of Spanish influence. It made the meal that much more enjoyable.

Day 4:

7.22.17 126It was scuba day!!!!!!!!!! We were so excited to dive & were at the dive shop, La Tortuga Dive school, bright and early.  We were loaded into the vehicle with another family, and we did our best to squeeze in. It really was a tight squeeze. They drove us a little ways to a dock around the bay where we boarded the small boat & headed for the open water. We  had two separate dives planned off of the Rosario Islands. We first headed toward an island where we dropped the first group who were doing a shallow dive.  Then we headed to our location. The first  dive was around a large sunken boat, we were able to swim all around it’s surface which was truly neat because this was our first time diving around a wreck. There were many little colorful fish & the boat was covered in colorful coral & large clams. When we were finished we boarded the boat, stripped off our gear, and headed back toward the other group.

Once the other group had boarded they parked the boat & we all jumped back in and swam to shore. It was so fun! This was another first. Usually, you are never close enough to an island to do such a thing.  This little event added to the adventure. We all rested on the white sand, some of us shade and others not. We had little snacks & just enjoyed the warm water rushing up onto our legs.

7.22.17 177Before long, it was time to head back to the boat. We swam for it. After we all climbed abouard, we headed to our next dive location. It was around a reef. There were loads of colorful fish, but nothing I found to be truly noteworthy. One way or the other, I was in my happy place, the ocean.

When we arrived back to the mainland, the guys unloaded the boat, and we were taken back to our hotel. Brad & I got cleaned up and headed back out. We wanted to get some food & in our American shame knew exactly what we wanted. Domino’s. Just off of Carrera 2, was our pizza paradise. A nice cheesy pizza with garlic crust was calling out to us!  We feasted.

7.22.17 185With our stomachs full, we decided to just walk. We walked, and we walked, and we walked. We walked in the rain a little ways, but as it started to come down harder we took cover inside of Juan Valdez Cafe. Brad sipped down some coffee, and I just hung out until the rain seemed to slow. As we continued on our way down the road, we did make a pit-stop for crepes… But this time we stopped at Crepes & Waffles7.22.17 191I ordered my norm, while Brad ordered nothing (a mistake). He insisted I share, and I did involuntarily, as usual. I enjoyed my sweet treat, but I assure you that it was not has good as Mr. Crepe (RIP). We returned to the street once again to dry skies and kept to our path. We walked all the way into the old city which was approximately 5 kilometers (from our hotel). It was necessary considering the pizza we had just scarf down… and the crepe. 

We spent the rest of our day here. The late afternoon turned into night. We explored the streets in the dark with the city lights shining bright. We encountered a musical performance and dancing in one of the squares, and were wandered in and out of small shops. In one of them, I bought a beautiful water color painting of the old streets of Cartagena. We ate skewers of grilled meat and vegetables and had salted corn on the cob from street vendors. We even tried the arepa con queso, a cheese stuffed corn cake (it is incredibly salty). It is safe to say that the meat and veggie skewers were our favorite since they cook their corn a little less than Americans.

It was a really fun night. I think possibly one of my favorites. I love wandering & discovering new places, things, and food. …but maybe not the arepa con queso.

With the night coming to a close for us, we decided it would be good for us to head back to the hotel. It had been a busy and active day for us. The heat had worn us down & we knew we would sleep well.

Day 5:

yosemite & cartagena 1333With a tinge of uncertainty of what the day would hold for us, we decided over breakfast that it could be a good idea to visit Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. So, we grabbed a cab back to the old city & started from there. Brad grabbed a snack & a local food cart, an amazing arepa con pollo (maybe), and snapped some photos of more of the lovely buildings. Even though our walk wasn’t extensive, the humidity on this day was insane. It was mostly cloudy, but we were dripping sweat. It was the Colombian Cleanse! Thankfully, I always carry an umbrella, which Brad used to guard himself from the peaking sun. …and I just managed. We wandered up to the top of the Castle (fortress), and through the winding tiny hallways throughout. To me, it seemed that Colombians were a smaller people (There is no way that vikings would have ever fit down the narrow corridors). After exploring for maybe an hour, we couldn’t take the heat anymore. We were melting & Brad was riding the struggle bus. (He should’ve brought his hat.)

Before we crossed back over the bridge, we both new we wouldn’t make it without water. We found a small grocery store & made our way in to the air conditioned mecca quickly. We tracked down the refrigerated liter bottles of water & checked out. Within minutes, our bottles were half empty. We were quickly restoring our bodies lost water contents.

Then came our desire for lunch. We made it back across the bridge into the Gethsemane side of the old city. We stumbled upon an Indian restaurant, Ganesha Restaurante, and thought, “why not!?”. We sat down in the cool restaurant & ordered chicken korma & naan. A perfect combination for the sweaty day. It was exactly what was needed. By now, the sun was out with a much stronger force. It was a brutal day as we pressed on.

I found another great shop full of imported goods and antiques, Casa Chiqui, they had beautiful things. However, alot of things I could buy here at home, and for some of the more local pieces the prices were way to high to be justified. It was a fun place to look, maybe dream, but not to buy… and definitely not with Brad by my side.

Instead, we ended up buying a brass iguana door knocker from the man on the street. Unfortunately, when we had gone back to the antique shop from a few days before, they were closed.  The one we had bought was very nice, and the price was fairly reasonable. It wasn’t my ideal situation, I don’t even know if it’s an antique (extremely unlikely).

yosemite & cartagena 1385-2.jpgAgain, we needed a break. So we headed up the stairs of a small cafe called El Balcon. We just got a couple of drinks, and tried to regroup, but it felt impossible. We sat on the balcony overlooking the street below and taking in the breeze, we did our best to let our bodies cool. Finally, with Brad tipsy and me hydrated, we hit the streets again. We were spent. We began to try to find our way back towards the outskirts of the old city to grab a taxi back. The inevitable heat had us stopping for gelato on the way at Gelateria Paradiso.

When we reached the outer wall, we found a line of kiosks that offered boat rides & a day on a private island in the Rosario Islands. We were very intrigued. We knew the water near the islands was far better than what we had by our hotel, and we were running out of things to do. Not to mention, a day of just chilling on a luxurious beach sounded great. We booked it for the next day, and went to grab a taxi back to the Hilton Cartagena.

7.22.17 325Once we got to the hotel, we decided to head back down to the pool for a bit to cool off. We spent maybe an hour goofing off in the water again. Then we did the usual showering before getting ready to head to dinner. We knew exactly where we were going, which felt rare. The restaurant was Kiosco el Bony, a beach side restaurant (it sits on the sand) serving up fresh seafood.  We grabbed a table near an open window in the muggy building and watched the sunset over the water. It was a gorgeous view in a fun spot. Since I am not a huge seafood person, especially in foreign countries, I let Brad order the fish, and I opted for a chunk of beef and a pile of fries. Safe… and worth it. We both enjoyed our meals immensely. It was a great recommendation from diving guide the day before & I would definitely recommend it to anyone else in the future.  After dinner, we wanted to stay out a little bit  loner & what better way than with crepes!? …That’s right we went back to Mr. Crepe,  wandered a little, then grabbed our bottled water at the market & headed back to the hotel.

Day 6:

7.22.17 353Once again, after breakfast we were out the door early to head back toward the old city. We made our way to the docks where we were instructed to wait with the large group of people heading to our tropical paradise with our own private cabana & luxurious beach.

We got our wristbands, made our payments and waited patiently before we were all boarded onto the full boat one by one. The large number of passengers made it somewhat uncomfortable, but I didn’t care. Paradise was waiting. As we began to slow down and made our descent into the small stone built dock my dreams, once again, began to slowly be dashed. It wasn’t quite what I was thinking of, and the pictures we were shown, once again were slightly misleading. Although we did each have our own private cabana on a private beach, the water was still a little ways away down a rocky set of steps, or from a small ladder off the dock that was down a set of stairs. The beach was littered with small sharp rocks and broken shells that made walking in slightly like torture. It was more pleasurable to swim around and exhaust your muscles than it was to walk in and out. I knew I had to make the best of it, this was as good as it was going to get. Hey! At least the water was crystal clear!

7.22.17 399The other bummer is that I anticipated a bit nicer of a facility. What they didn’t tell us was that our meal would be served at picnic tables on the much more 2nd world appearing behind-the-scenes facility.  I should preface that the whole situation wouldn’t have bothered me if I truly knew what I was getting into before booking. They made it seem so much more glamorous than it actually was.  I will say that the lunch (I chose chicken) was very delicious!

After lunch, Brad made friends while swimming & I sat on the beach for a little bit looking for shells that weren’t broken (there were none) before I joined him. We both donned our hats in the water trying to keep any further UV rays from turning us pink while we waited for the grey clouds on the horizon to push in further.  I think we were both happy to be in the beautiful aqua waters despite the rough entry. Sunburns or not…  “Deception” or not… It was a good way to spend the better half of the day.  NOTE: I feel like I may have made it sound like I was very unhappy with the whole experience, and I wasn’t, just caught of guard to be truthful. This was a far better experience than what we had in Baru.  

The boat ride back was a little different than the one going. Instead of just going straight back to the mainland, we made several pit stops to pick up additional passengers and their luggage. They crammed them in the best they could, and then we continued on our merry way. At this point, the weather was stirring and so were the waters. The boat ride became quite choppy and little more exciting than some may have wanted. However, we made it back safe and sound while taking in the lovely views of the old city.

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7.22.17 431Once on dry flat land, we made our way back across the street to grab a cab & head back to wash up. When we got to our room the rains had hit & it became a waiting game. When we walked out the door we had no idea what we were in for and headed along our usual route. We noticed the roads had flooded and anticipated a slightly more challenging excursion than usual. It wasn’t long before a set of cars made their way through (nearly a whole tire deep in water), pushing the waters over the curb and onto the side walk, drenching the lower portions of our legs. We were partly amused and partly disgusted thinking of having the dirty Cartagena street water all over our shoes and clothes.  We quickly turned back to the hotel to change, laughing along the way.

All changed up & re-rinsed, we headed back out, but decided to take the back way around the lagoon. We were in the process of looking for a place where I could get dumplings. We found a place not too far, Maii Sushi. This worked out great since Brad’s favorite food of all time is sushi.  He stuffed himself with sushi rolls & stuffed myself with chicken and pork dumplings… It was great. NOTE: That was the nice thing about Cartagena is that they have all sorts of different types of cuisine to enjoy!  

Afterward, you guessed it… Crepes… and then a leisurely stroll back to the hotel.

Day 7:

7.22.17 450It was our last day in Cartagena & once again we were unsure of what to do. We went back and forth until after breakfast when we decided that we should just go to Aviario Nacional de Colombia. We didn’t do much research on it. I just kept seeing it on all of the tour cards in the taxis. We aren’t huge bird lovers, but we love nature & wildlife and figured there was nothing better to do. We were a little surprised at the cost to get there & back, I think $60 or $80 USD, but the driver said he would wait for us. Because of the remote location there were no taxis there to bring us back.

7.22.17 457When we pulled up to the Aviario, I still wasn’t sure what to expect. We saw the quaint but nice, entry set up with a large hang out area for a bunch of Macaws and other types of parrots. We said our hellos to the birds, and followed the arrows leading us in to the first exhibit.  The very first exhibit was a large walk-in aviary full of beautiful exotic colorful birds. Many of them were not shy and loved chatting with us. Others played coy and we had to admire from afar. As a whole, we easily spent over half an hour in this one enclosure. It was that exciting. NOTE: I can tell you this now, what we experienced at the Aviario Nacional was hands down the best experience of our trip & possibly one of the top 10 in all of our travels. This was the best “why not, we have nothing better to do” decision of my life! 

We continued on our way down the path and saw many other stunning birds including more parrots in all the colors, large cranes, emus, flamingos, etc. The last encounter we had was with a bunch iguanas near the water that mingle with the ducks. There were bright green and deep brown and had no interest in being too close. They were truly something to behold though.

On our way out we stopped at the main parrot encounter near the entrance. We were having a lot of fun with some very interactive and quite cheeky small green parrots. They were not at all shy, and had no problem hopping all over at us, biting us, and just being flat out impertinent .

7.22.17 511As we were headed toward the exit, I couldn’t resist one more stop on the big enclosure we first enjoyed. We spent several more minutes inside snapping last minute photos, and Brad said goodbye to his favorites. We didn’t want leave.  As we made our final exit our two green parrot friends were now sitting on the railing out side the entrance of the large enclosure. They stalked us, so Brad decided to start talking to them again, and within a moment of my arrival one was on my shoulder and biting at my ear. I was at a loss, and Brad had to help me free. I said my last goodbyes to these little monsters, while Brad headed on without me. As I made my way behind Brad, I suddenly felt an impact with the top of my head. No joke…. There was a parrot on top of my head. The little fella loved me & wanted to come with. All I could think to do was call to Brad. “Braaaad….. Help!” When Brad turned around & saw what was happening he couldn’t help but laugh at what had unfolded.  (I think it will be one of his favorite memories of me until he dies, and I don’t blame him.)

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I was parrot-free when we got in the cab, but the last thing I wanted to do was leave. However, I was looking forward to escaping the mass amounts of mosquitoes in the park. TIP: If you visit the National Aviary bring bug spray or buy it at the window because you will get bit over and over if you don’t. Brad was craving pizza again, and I couldn’t blame him. He can’t get Dominos in the Congo, so we had our driver drop us off outside of the restaurant. We ordered, we sat, we soaked in the humidity… actually, it soaked the water out of us, and we chilled. We enjoyed the savory meal for a little while, but the wind was picking up & there was a light rain happening on and off and we thought it might be wise to head back to the hotel for a little bit. My feet were filthy from wearing flip flops at the Aviary (all the paths are dirt), and I wanted to just get cleaned up & start packing. It seemed reasonable.  We made our way back on foot. 

A little while later we were ready to go back out for our last supper in Cartagena. I was ready to go, but also, not. I would miss the great food & the Aviaro, but I would not miss all the sweating. We made the conscious decision to have our last meal back at Carbon de Palo. The same place we ate our first night. We figured with empanadas like that, how could we go anywhere else. The atmosphere was great and the food was good. It was all we needed to close out our trip. We enjoyed the singing of older men & feasted in the intense heat while praying the fan get stuck in our direction.  We talked about the women’s wrestling that was playing on the tv & soaked in our last night alone together.

We walked along the streets listening to all the sounds. Brad wanted ice cream so we stopped at a shop along the main road & then headed back toward the hotel for my nightly crepe. …and finished up our last night in the hot tub talking about life.

Day 8:

We woke up, ate breakfast zipped up the luggage, and headed to the airport a little early. We had plenty of time until our flight left & it felt like it never would. The Cartagena airport was fairly small, and getting out was challenging. Literally…. They did last minute random passenger checks while the flight was boarding and I was one of the lucky few. We were all grouped together and escorted to another room off to the side of the terminal. I thnk all of the Americans were a little sketched our and people were pretty upset to be missing their boarding groups for this. Brad boarded the flight without me& thankfully was able to ensure that our seats and baggage were all set, while I had my personal carry on sorted thru (again) and answered random questions. ….there was no coccaine to be found. haha. Once they had their way with my bags, I was sent on my way & thankfully got to cut the line for the plane since I had priority boarding. Finally, I was on the plane & and headed home.

There is no place like home… but those empanadas were the bomb!

Cartagena Travel Tips: Don’t go with overly high expectations… I feel like that was my biggest mistake. Cartagena is a neat city, but 7-8 days was too long for me. I could have settled at 5. Also, Cartagena isn’t a great beach city… Not like Phuket or Cancun… I, personally, wouldn’t go back to go the beach. As a whole the beaches were dirty, crowded, and full of muggy water… Unless you want to take the long boat ride to the islands… but even then there are better beach options. Go to Cartagena simply for the culture, and the Aviario… & get the empanadas at Carbon de Palo. Bring bug spray, sunscreen, and be ready to sweat!

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