Tanzania: The Ngorongoro Crater Edition.

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Despite the extensive driving, once again, we made good time. We stopped for cash near the turn off for Gibb’s Farm, and then proceeded to the long dirt drive. We followed the signs and were pleasantly surprised by the tailored gardens of the hotel entry when we pulled up. We were greeted with cool towels and iced beverages, and our bags were carried off to our gorgeous suite by the staff.

We were in disbelief over our suite. It was complete with a private garden view, a sitting room, and a fire place in our bedroom that connected to the shower. Yes, the shower had a fireplace. It was extraordinary, and it was our for less than 24 hours.

We were desperate to get out to the hotel terrace that overlooked the plantation and the valley below. We sat in large comfy chairs while we were brought refreshments and snacks: nuts, olives, and popcorn. It was the first time we felt we could really relax, and it didn’t hurt that we were being waited on hand and foot. The temperature dropped with the sun, and while I could have fallen asleep there, I, also, was eager to get to dinner.

We ended up on a private patio for our meal, something Brad had arrange while we briefly separated earlier. We enjoyed an incredible 5 star meal next to a fire on a cool night in Tanzania. …and to top it off, I was serenaded with a birthday song and dessert. We still had a few nights to go, but this was so special.

DSC_0676.jpgAfter an amazing night’s sleep in a chilly room, thanks to the air conditioning, we learned that we could check out late. We spent the morning grazing on the breakfast buffet, and after packing we wandered the grounds. We walked through rows of coffee bushes and found a small but tall cactus garden. Everything seemed just as it should.

Relaxed, we decided not to head into Ngorongoro. It would cost us over $350 USD per day to visit the park, and we didn’t want to keep blowing through money. Instead, we decided to just take our time and continue enjoying our day. However, it ended up being a short lived joy.

We had a hard time finding our next hotel. According to the maps that I had seen and the descriptions I had read, I was under the impression that our next hotel was within the confines of Ngorongoro National Park. However, the people at the gate, had no idea what hotel we were talking about. Everyone was confused, and Brad & I were back to being frustrated. When we figured out where we were going, we got back in the car, and headed a different direction. It took nearly 15 minutes to get to the turn off point toward our hotel, and from there it was probably another 20+ minutes on a rough and narrow dirt road up the mountainside. When we got there I was livid while feeling completely deceived. We found out that we were the only guests staying there, and no other guests had been there in 10 days, which meant that internet was not available. If we wanted internet we had to drive back down to town.

I was floored and ready to have a meltdown. I could not believe that we had hit another speed bump in what had already been a turbulent and trying vacation. It was hot, there was absolutely nothing for us to do at our hotel, and we were literally in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere near where I had planned on us being. So, we drove 30ish minutes back into town to find a place that had internet. We stopped at a small coffee shop run by a very nice man who served us coffee and sprite (the sprite was for me). Once he got the internet working for us, we started looking for hotel options, justifying the change and additional hotel cost with what we had planned on spending on Ngorongoro for two days anyways. We were incredibly limited, but I worked fervently to rework our itinerary. We decided to only stay at our current hotel one night. We decided that tomorrow we would do Ngorongoro for a half day, then drive immediately to the Serengeti and spend the night there.  We knew it would take a lot of hustle, but we knew it would be better than staying where we were at.

With a plan in motion, and absolutely nothing left for us to do that day, we headed back to our lodge, and just tried to kill time with conversation and antics. The only saving grace that this lodge had was its dinner. It was absolutely delicious, but it wasn’t enough to change our minds. We headed back to our room, packed everything back up, and made sure our hotel knew that we would be leaving before the sun was even up. We were eager to get into Ngorongoro, and wanted to be in by sunrise.

DSC_0722Checked out after breakfast at an unGodly hour, we headed down the bumpy dirt road in the dark, and headed for the park. It took us a while to get the park permit because of all the other tour groups, but thankfully we were able to pay the hefty fees of over $350 with our card. NOTE: Ngorongoro NP claims you can only enter with a guide. We found this rule to be very lenient. Not only did we get in on our own, but we weren’t even questions until we reached the second gate at the edge of the crater.

We drove up the climbing mountain side into the fog over rough red roads lined with lush jungle trees. I was in heaven. We reached a look out point that gave a glimpse into our future. A green gleaming paradise, and I couldn’t wait any longer. We ran back to the car, and cruised. We reached the second gate at the edge of the crater. Brad jumped out to use the restroom, and I dealt with the guard, whose only question for me was if we had been there before or not, after showing our permits.

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Once we had the all clear, we began our descent. The sun was up at this point, but fresh morning light was warm. We escaped the tree line, and were greeted with almost immediate sights of buffalo and zebra. Our eagerness grew as we continued down the road.

DSC_0684It wasn’t long before we were in the flatlands. We had a full 360 view of the massive crater. Animals, appearing as small dots, were everywhere. It was a half day of bliss. We had great sightings as we drove almost the entire span of the crater in many different directions. We saw, hyenas chewing on bones and resting. Jackals. Gazelle. Cranes. Wildebeest. Zebra. Baby animals. Monkeys. Elephants. Lions. Lots of lions. I could not believe how many lion sightings we had We were ecstatic. We had close ups of lions. Lions nuzzling. Lions walking. Lions napping. It was fantastic.

We felt that we had covered the grounds well, and figured we should start our drive, so we found the road that led us out, and we left with slightly heavy hearts. We couldn’t believe how amazing the crater was, but with such unbelievable success here we were curious how the Serengeti would be.

The drive between Ngorongoro & Serengeti, was truly spectacular. The land was littered with migrating Zebra & Wildebeest, and the hills along the outer edge of the crater were visited by loitering Giraffes, and we even a camel sighting.

It took nearly two hours to reach the Serengeti National Park gates, and we were so excited to get to the other side.

…to be continued

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Tanzania: The Tarangire Edition.

It was a long drive in. As we got closer to our turn off point, we realized we needed to stop for petrol because we wouldn’t be able to get any for a couple days. The problem… There was not a petrol station anywhere in sight. We had to turn back. At this point, we were ready to kill each other. It was just one of those days… I felt Brad didn’t listen to me or think things through, so here we were rerouting, wasting time, etc. It was nothing short of classic marital nonsense.

So with our journey slightly rerouted, we searched for a petrol. We found a spot, but they didn’t accept credit cards, so we decided to check one more station… …and, naturally, they didn’t accept credit cards either.. We were at a loss and just decided to bite the bullet and fork over more of our cash. We didn’t have a choice. We were burning through our cash faster than we knew was possible. This was a major unexpected problem we were having in Tanzania.

Back on track, we followed the long dirt road back to the Wildlife Management Area which was further back than the GPS made it seem. We wondered if we were on the wrong road, but decided to press on because we had no idea where else it could be. Our perseverance paid off, and we got there around 3PM, but we were not ready for the headache that we were about to experience. Brad got out to speak to the guard who insisted that we were supposed to get our permit back in Arusha. He refused to take payment there, and told us the only way for us to get through was for us to go back to Arusha for the permit. We were flabbergasted, given our experience at Lake Moshi, where the man took our cash without hesitation. NOTE: I wonder if the man at Lake Moshi, just pocketed it…  We wondered, could this day get anymore frustrating?

Young WarriorWe waited patiently as possible, and Brad insisted the man call our hotel to work out the details. After constant back and forth phone calls, the manager of our next hotel worked out a deal wit the guard that the hotel would pay for the permit, and it would be delivered the following day by a colleague in Arusha, but the guard had to let us through. He agreed. NOTE: Thankfully, this time wasn’t totally in vain; the silver lining to this mess of a situation was the pictures I was able to get of the Young Maasai boy dressed in his warrior costume. I was able to trade these photos for a bottle of water 1000 Tanzanian Shillings.

Finally past the gate, feeling agitated and simultaneously relieved, we pressed on. We thought we made it through all the obstacles for the day, and were finally ready to dropped our bags, relax, and unwind so that we could enjoy tomorrow. Unfortunately, an even bigger obstacle lay in our way. A river. IMG_1871-2I wish it were a joke, but it’s not. At this point, swear words were flying from my mouth, and we were feelng defeated and disheartened. We could literally see our hotel on top of the cliff across the river. We were envisioning the worst, such as a night without dinner and breakfast and sleeping in our car. Quickly, I tried to pull it together and plan. We got out of the car to try to examine the depth, thinking it might not be as bad as it looked. I was throwing in rocks the size of my head and sure enough it was a hard plop and they were gone… Brad volunteered to wade in and see how deep it was, but I was strongly advising against it because if I lost him to the river, there was absolutely nothing I could do. I had seen a sign for a hotel a little ways back and decided we should head there to try to call our hotel. We did just that, however, we hit another snag. IMG_1874When we pulled into the parking lot, we were dumbfounded. The place had burned down (I am cracking up while I write this, by the way). Was this situation real, we were wondering. It was straight out of bad dream. Brad took the lead, and headed to speak to the workers who were working on rebuilding the place. They sent for the manager, while Brad and I waited restlessly for about 15 minutes. We still hadn’t heard from anyone so Brad wandered off in search of someone who could help us. Finally, two people came over, and we were able to explain our dilemma. They tried to call our hotel, and while this was going on some of the construction workers ran off to the river to check the depth. We followed along in our 4×4 with the hotel management in the back seat.

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When we pulled back up to the river side, one of the workers was wading his way across the river. He was able to navigate all the way across on foot, and it never went past his hips, so we knew we would probably be fine. Our path was determined.

Once that man was back on our side, a car came charging down the hill to the water, and pushed its way through to us. A British chap hopped out of the vehicle and gave us the run down. He was the manager of our hotel, and came to our aid. He informed us that they had been yelling to us from the hotel, but we were never able to hear them.  Brad and I thanked the locals & hopped back in the vehicle, and followed our new guide across the river, to be led to our next restful location.  As we wandered up the hill and into the tall grass we were delighted to see elephants right by our hotel… NOTE: This meant there were rules… like, don’t walk anywhere alone at night. Stick with your Maasai guide. 

When we got there, the Tarangire River Camp, we followed our rescuer to the lobby area. We had a good chat about the river (it had appeared just a couple of days earlier because of all the rain), Tanzanian politics and tourism, and how difficult it is to do your own self-drive tour in that country,  then filled out our forms…and, next, we were ushered to our tent. The Maasai carried our bags for us, and led us down the dirt path to our little piece of heaven. We unpacked a bit and got ourselves organized before we went to wander the grounds.

IMG_1884We found our way to the viewing deck which overlooked the river we had to cross. We couldn’t believe the day we had. We were so grateful to be at camp and be able to let loose. We wanted drinks with dinner to help take the edge off, but with our cash situation being slightly dyer we kept it light. We enjoyed the incredible meal, and turned in early.

It was a great night’s sleep followed by an early morning. We were eager to get a jump-start on our day. We got our bags back to the car, and enjoyed a simple breakfast. We had to pay cash (cards weren’t accepted) for the remainder of tab which included our fee for the WMA gate and our beverages with dinner.

With everything loaded and ready to go, we were ready to cross the river again, and take on the challenges of the day. Thankfully the water level of the river had lowered over night, so navigating the water wasn’t quite as challenging.

DSC_0214.jpgWithin 20 minutes we were back at the WMA gate. Brad got out to see if we were okay to exit, but sure enough the guard would not let us through. We were beyoooond frustrated. Brad had the guard call the hotel and speak to the manager, who assured the guard that his guy was on the way with the permit. …but that still wasn’t enough. We were required to wait until the man with the permit arrived, despite showing him the proof that we paid the hotel for the permit. We discussed just going around the barrier and taking off, but we didn’t. We waited about 30 minutes, Brad kept going in and out of the office hoping the man would cave, but he was resistant. Brad contacted the man with the permit who assured him he was on his way and would be there soon… but “soon” seemed to be a loosely used term in this country. Finally, Brad called the hotel manager himself to see what his take was. His advice was exactly what we wanted to hear… just go… haha. So, we did. Brad told the guard we were leaving, quickly got back in the car, and we took off around the barrier. We were not going to keep playing the games. We had shown proof of payment and he had assurance, from multiple people, that it had been taken care of. It was out of our hands; we had to get on with our day.

Luckily, it was a short drive to Tarangire National Park. We got out of the car, had one last bathroom break, filed our paperwork, and paid the fees (they took card). We took the map and high spirits, got back in the car and went through the gate.

DSC_0543Tarangire took us completely by surprise. We were in the park for several hours. We took turns driving, and went down many differentroads in search of lions and leopards and cheetahs. That portion was all standard, but what got us was the insane amount of elephants. We saw hundreds!!! That is pretty much the only thing I even remember seeing in Tarangire: elephants. Old elephants, baby elephants, bulls, females, families, pachyderms… it was absurd. Several hours of our life were spent invading herds of elephants. I would stand out the sunroof filling, photographing, and of course, speaking to these beautiful, powerful, majestic animals.  There was one time we were even threatened by an elephant to back off. Don’t worry, we did.

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Thanks to you pictures, I can tell you that in addition to the elephants, we saw zebra, antelope, springbok, a variety of birds, giraffe, vervet monkeys and more. But, elephants were the only animal in the Big 5 group that we saw. Aside from the quantity of elephants we encounter, Tarangire wasn’t quite what we were hoping for, but we were, also only there for maybe 6 hours. I think with the right amount of time, we could of tracked more.  Here are additional images from the park:

We eventually decided that it was crucial for us to make our way out of the park, and get back on the road. We had to make our way to our next overnight location Gibb’s Farm, which sat on the exterior mountainside of Ngorongoro Crater.  It was about a 3 hour drive, and we wanted to make it in time to relax before the sun went down.

…to be continued.

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.

 

Morocco: The Tangier Day Trip Edition.

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

Day 26:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…to be continued…