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.

Thailand: The Chiang Mai Edition.

It was a long journey from Phoenix to Chiang Mai. Iiphone update 160.JPG had stops in both Los Angeles & Hong Kong. By the end, I felt I was in desperate need of a shower, and some personal space.  I arrived in Chiang Mai around 14:30, and was settled into my hotel,  around 16:00. (I had a driver pick me up and drop me off.) I figured the best thing I could do was freshen up, and get some fresh air. So, I changed my shoes, washed my face, put makeup back on, grabbed my purse, and put some of my things in the safe. I was going to be on my own.

iphone-update-175Not 100% sure of where to go, but just remembering a little bit from studying google maps, I headed toward the night bazaar. From their a couple of left turns led me on a journey through souvenir shops, and Buddhist temples. I pushed on knowing that I had to wear myself down and go as long as possible before I could go to sleep. I probably lasted about two hours on the streets. Not feeling bold enough to sample Thai food yet, partially because I didn’t feel like making the effort to figure out what to order, I ended up ordering Pizza Hut because it was literally right outside our hotel.  I did my best to eat all I could despite the fact that I felt like I could pass out at any second. With a full belly, I took a quick hot shower, then waited to hear from Brad when he was in Phuket. I didn’t last much longer. I was trying to stay awake until he got there, but it wasn’t possible. I could feel myself dosing off, and immediately grabbed my phone to let him know that I wouldn’t be awake upon his arrival. Seconds after sending the text, I was gone. I remember, a little while later hearing the hotel room door open, and the sound of my husbands voice. We were finally back together.

The next morning we had to get our own breakfast, so we found a Starbucks. It was a nice choice because it gave us a little bit of our normal cuisine while we got “wild” with the Thai food. …and it was just a nice relaxing routine way to start our mornings together.

Our first day, we just stayed in the city. We wandered all over looking for fun treasures, and popping in and out of the small temples. As we wandered along the city walls, and near the river, we ended up finding John’s Place, this restaurant had the best Pad Thai in all of Thailand…. Here are some of our beautiful photos from that day, click to see where:

Tip: Make sure you have the appropriate attire for entering temple grounds… Some places may supply you with it, but not all… Shoulders should be covered, and often knees…

After a day of wandering through the city, we were tired, sweaty, and couldn’t wait to relax. We ended up wandering through the Night Bazaar, enjoying food & checking out the local vendors. Eventually though, it was time for bed, I had hung in there as long as possible.

iphone-update-247The next morning we woke with only one one activity in mind. Elephants. Our first task was to wander upstairs to the concierge to try to book an event. We ended up booking with Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, mainly because it was within our time frame, and they don’t offer elephant rides.  They were picking us up late that morning to take us to the Sanctuary, so with the time in between we went to Starbucks to get our breakfast, and then did some light wandering through the city, a different area than usual. We ended up finding a fun temple with mother of pearl inlaid pillars, and mirrored mosaic detailing. We also, had fun taking pictures mimicking the Buddhas.36.JPG

We got back to the hotel, packed the back pack, and waited downstairs for our driver. It was an extensive drive in an open back vehicle with a group of about 10 other people. It was easily about 1.5 hours of driving, with a stop at a gas station for snacks. The drive was very scenic, but towards the end I was starting to experience some motion sickness from not being able to see out completely.

34Once we were out of the truck, we were instructed to put on one of the festive “ponchos”. Then we were shuffled over to the picnic tables for our orientation. Our guide/instructor walked us through the timeline for the afternoon & shared information about Thai elephants and the organization. Eventually, it was time to play. I was so excited to interact with Asian Elephants. Fact: Asian Elephants are significantly smaller than African Elephants. Take a look here: iphone 2 121.jpg

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We started off our interaction with handfuls of small bananas. Elephants love bananas! After probably 30 minutes of loving the beauties, we headed up the hill to meet the mama & her 5 day old baby. It was such a treat! We watched the little baby slowly wander around near its mom & practice using its trunk and ears. It was so cute! We all watched in awe wanting to love on the baby, but eventually it was time for everyone to have a mud bath. Our group scurried back to our belongings & readied themselves in their swimwear.  Here is some of our fun, click for a larger view:

The Thai employees had already begun working the elephants toward the mud, and were not far behind. Within moments there were 5 elephants and approximately 20 people in a giant pool of muddy water. The elephants began jubilantly rolling around, and the people gathered round throwing mud on the elephants and giving them mud massages.  It was so fun… At one point it became a bit of a mud fight as patrons began lobbing large wads of mud back and forth towards each other. No one was safe.

About 15 minutes after, we all made our way towards the river for our baths. We all grabbed old bowls and buckets & began rinsing each other and the elephants, splashing one another like children. It was one of the best times that I have ever had in a river.  Once play time was over, and everyone was “cleaned off”, we headed back up the hill to the outdoor showers, where we were able to rinse off river debris and remaining bits of mud.  Then it was snack time.  Elephant Jungle Sanctuary provided us with some amazing Thai dishes & some watermelon. It was all delicious, and great to get something before our long drive back.

Eventually, we arrived back at our hotel, which meant it was time for real showers before we headed back out.  We wandered a little bit, not fully sure of what to do. We explored the area a bit more, and ended up deciding to eat at one of the local restaurants, Pizza Hut. We couldn’t shake the “lame” away, and for some reason we were both craving it. So we went with it. It was surprisingly expensive compared to the Thai food, but really hit the spot.

We headed back to the hotel in an attempt to get some cool, dry air. We also wanted to scout out a potential zip-lining company. We found one. Jungle Flight Chiang Mai. I booked us for the JF3 package, with arrangements to be picked up in the morning.  We were so pumped.

I wasn’t ready for bed just yet, I wanted a little more time on my feet, so we headed back out for about an hour until Brad was worn down. The extensive rows of street vendors and tourists were quite overwhelming, and seemed like they went on for miles and miles, probably because they did. Finally though, the weather overtook us and we were back in our room with a movie before getting some rest for a very fun day ahead.

It was zip-lining day! We headed out to grab a quick McDonald’s breakfast before our big adventure. Next thing you knew, we were in an air-conditioned van headed for the bumpy Mountains outside of Chiang Mai.  Upon arrival, we were issued a locker and basically asked to leave anything that couldn’t be firmly secured to our person. We filled out our paperwork and then were geared up and broken into our groups.

They took us down to the starting point, and from there we were off! It was incredible! Especially the 1000M line…. The view of the canopy was so amazing that I wish I could do it every day. We didn’t see any wildlife, and the only loud noises you hear are those of other thrill seekers near by. It was a really fun afternoon… except maybe the “roller coaster” you are latched in & hold onto two handles over head and basically get voluntarily whiplash… It was truly thrilling, but also a bit painful at times. It is possible to get flung, but you are still attached and still make it to the end. We eventually ran out of lines to zip, and were led down the road to a local restaurant that had some cuisine prepared for us. Honestly, it was good, but it sketched me out a little bit so I didn’t go hog wild for it like I did at the Elephant Sanctuary.

When we got back to the hotel, we quickly rinsed off the jungle sweat and then headed out to wander and to grab an early dinner. We were thinking about going to Doi Suthep the next day, and I needed something to cover my shoulders so that I wouldn’t have to wear my lightweight pullover again because that was brutal. I had found something at one of the souvenir shops, but it was a little pricier than what I wanted, but I didn’t want a traditional Thai silk sarong… I wanted something that I could wear at the beach or wherever. …anyways long story short, I thought about it, looked at other places, but went with the one I like best.. Tip: Ladies – pack something lightweight to cover your shoulders with if need be, and that can just be tossed in your bag while you explore. It’s a game changer.  For dinner we went to a restaurant that sat along the river, The Riverside Bar & Restaurant (it doesn’t get more straightforward than that!). We had a great view, and great service. I went with Chicken Fried Rice, and Brad got something a little more exciting. It was a calm & a fast meal, but it was all I needed at the moment.

iphone 2 123.JPGWe headed back to the hotel after so that I could change into something more comfortable given the weather…. A dress and humidity just don’t go hand in hand when your thighs stick together. I’m not one of those stick leg model types…  Anyways, we then headed back out to explore more of the markets. We wandered for several hours, wanting to try several things and just experience Chiang Mai. We tried some of the hummus from the middle eastern couple, we tried Pad Thai from one of the local ladies (it was exquisite)…. We ended up at another market where we wandered for a little while, and then Brad ditched me to find Thai beer… While we were separated, I considered it a perfect time to buy a few pieces of fun jewelry.  With my purchase complete, and my first “negotiating” sale done, I went back to find Brad. He had  pitcher of Chang, and I couldn’t help but assist him with it. We enjoyed sipping our beer and watching the tourists and locals mingle and mix.

Then it was time for something new. Brad wanted to try another dish, so we went across the way to one of the restaurants and got a small table where we both proceeded to order soup. I’m pretty sure that may be part of why the Thai people are so skinny — soup and hot humidity just make you sweat even more…  I enjoyed mine as it was basically a chicken noodle, and Brad hated his… I think it was like a seafood soup that he said had a very strong ginger taste.  It was pretty funny to watch him try to suffer through it, but eventually he just couldn’t do it, so we got the check and left. We wandered on a bit more…. and found another market for Brad where he was able to find another snack…. Finally, we were both full. We were both exhausted, and we headed back to the hotel. We were leaving the next day, so we packed the bags the best we could, and headed to bed.

iphone-2-139The next morning we finished packing our bags, and got ready to head to Starbucks for breakfast. While we were eating we decided to go to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a temple on the mountain. Once we were finished eating we needed to find a driver. The trick was finding one for a reasonable rate. Once we had our guy, we headed up and up and up. He stopped at a picturesque spot where you can overlook the city. This is also a spot with several street vendors offering food and souvenirs. We were able to snap a pretty great selfie, and then were quickly back in the car. We finally arrived at the top, and our driver agreed to wait for us until we were finished. We bought our tickets, and took the tram up. It was packed with people, and honestly… the stairs wouldn’t have been a problem. Anyways, when we got to iphone-2-133the top, we found the spot where we had to remove our shoes & we headed into the temple. It filled with tourists and locals paying their respects to Buddha, and many dressed in black to honor their late king. It was decadent and beautiful. Although I personally am not a follower of Buddha, nor do I understand Buddhism, I find it to be a very beautiful and peaceful religion. We spent probably about and hour to and hour and half wandering the grounds before we found our way out and back down the stairs.We wandered across the street and headed down hill past the street vendors. We grabbed some meat skewers, and perused.  Without souvenirs we crossed the street once again to find our driver. He found us first, went and got his “tuk-tuk”, and drove us back down the mountain, and dropped us off at our hotel.

We immediately regretted having this as our drop off point because we wanted to go to John’s Place again for lunch, and neither of were dressed for that journey. I was in jeans… It was a miserable, hot and humid walk. We drank through our water quickly, and scarfed down our Chicken Pad Thai once again, and then headed back to our hotel to grab our bags, get checked out, and just sit. We had a driver scheduled to pick us up early that afternoon to take us to the airport.

LESSONS LEARNED: 

1) For countries where religion enforces a dress code, make sure you have something comfortable for covering your shoulders

2) The best Pad Thai is in Chiang Mai – it isn’t overly saucy

3) Mud is way better when it involves elephants