Archive for the Egypt Category
Who knew that Christine was famous in Egypt? Kids here love saying hello to foreigners and asking “What is your name?” It’s got to be page 1 of their English textbook. But for some reason Christine got extra special treatment. Whenever I would leave her alone, she would get swarmed with young girls, asking her name and even wanting her to write something in their notebooks. Unfortunately I didn’t capture one of those moments, but here’s a slightly tamer group saying hello.
“La means No in Arabic. Learn it. You’ll need it.”
This is the most accurate piece of travel advice you will ever be given in Egypt. The reason is that shopkeepers in Egypt will try and sell you stuff, and they will try and sell you stuff harder than anyone has ever tried to sell you stuff in your life. It’s unbearable, and unavoidable too since every major attraction empties out to a stretch of 100 yards of souvenier stands. Think of it like a football field, with sand. You’re the punt returner and there’s 11 players from the ‘Galabeya Packers’ in between you and your goal, the minibus. The first few are easy to avoid.”Hello my friend…” They come racing at you, but you can see them coming a mile away, easily sidestepping them. The next group tries to seperate you from your blockers…your fellow tourists. Divide and conquer. You slow down, letting your companions take the hits and break away from the pack. The next guy comes at you, “Come look at my Bedouin scarves.” Girl stuff, excellent. He goes for Christine. You cross midfield and there’s only 1 man left to beat. “Welcome to Egypt my friend. Where are you from?” ‘Nothing today thank you.’ “American? Great country. Come look at my shop. I have many things. Buy this Sphinx snow globe. 20 Egyptian pounds. (About 4 dollars). “No? Why not? In Cairo it’s 3x as much.” ‘La La La.’ “Ok my friend. I like you, 10 Egyptian pounds. Hand made in Egypt by Bedouins.” (I can see the ‘Made in China’ sticker). ‘La La La.’ “5 Egyptian pounds. Best price.” ‘La La La’ The bus is right in front of you. “My friend, why? 1 Egyptian pound. Special price.” That’s 20 cents! Is he serious? Why even bother? You’ve reached the endzone but he won’t let go. Surely this is uneccessary roughness. Your fellow travelers start to trickle in . A cacophony of “La La La” and “Best price, my friend” fills the bus as each has their own tout attached to them. Finally, the last one arrives and the door shuts, the whistle blows and the game is over. Unfortunately, most days it’s a double header.
I thought we were the only ones doing this trip.
Christine got a lesson in carpet making today. Check out how fast the guy next to her is going.
It better be worth it. I said it when we were driving in a cramped van for an hour and half. Then I said it again walking through dark unpaved trails, using one small flashlight for 3 hours. And again, as we climbed the final 750 steps to the summit, making it to the top of Mt. Sinai at 4:30am. It better be worth it, I thought with each chilly gust of wind that hit my face. Oh, and did I mention it was 25′F. And again as I was laying under foul and putrid smelling blankets (but I was so cold I didn’t care), and huddling for warmth with Mike. The wind cut right through the blanket with still nearly two hours until sunrise.
We shared the top of Mt. Sinai with many other tourists who seemed unfazed by the cold. But many of them came prepared with fur hats, trenchcoat length leather jackets, hats and gloves. I had jeans with a skirt over it, a pair of mike’s dirty socks over mine, 3 tops, one sweatshirt and one wind breaker, plus fingerless gloves. Not nearly enough to keep warm.
So. Was it worth it? Despite the 3 hour climb, not sleeping a wink, the below freezing temperatures, and risking possible frost bite, yes, it was. At night, the number of stars out was exceptional, and the sunrise was beautiful.
What was once considered a hippie hangout, Dahab still maintains a more laid-back atmosphere than Sharm El Sheikh, but long gone are the true vagabonds. Instead the town is full of young travelers looking for inexpensive accommodations, cheap food, sun and sand, and a party. I can hear the rave music blasting through our hotel window, as I type this now.
Dahab also boasts some excellent dive sites. The blue hole, a vertical canyon about 100 meters deep, being it’s biggest attraction. Most divers only go to about 30 meters, and only a few as deep as 60 meters. But without an advanced PADI certification, Mike and I were shut out from diving altogether. That said, one good thing about diving in the Sinai is that most dives are shore dives, which means the coral/sealife is accessible from the shoreline (ie. you don’t need a boat to get to the dive site). So instead, we rented a 5mm wet suit (it was cold, windy and overcast today), walked into the water and snorkeled the reef.
Dahab was supposed to be a quick one night stop, before heading to St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai. Unfortunately, it turns out the monastery is closed Friday, Saturday and Sunday this week. So, we’re going to hang in Dahab a few more days, maybe do some more snorkeling and enjoy the bedouin lounges (photo).
The last time I tried snorkeling without a life vest was in Jamaica about 12 years ago. I nearly drown my friend and I in my panic, mind you, it was in 4 feet of water. Since then I’ve always stuck to the life vest. Yesterday, though, Mike and I snorkled (without a life vest) in the Red Sea at Ras Mohammed National Park. We were told snorkeling and scuba are both outstanding there. And it’s true; the main beach and Yolanda Beach have amazing reefs.
Basically, the water is about three feet deep for about 50-100yards, and you can snorkel the whole way seeing fish and coral. But then all of a sudden the ocean floor drops down immediately to about 30 yards, and all you see is a “wall” of coral that follows the coastline. It’s quite spectacular to see the shallow water plunge down into an abyss. Due to the large amount of plankton in the water, it’s said there are over 1100 species of aquatic life at Ras Mohammed which is at southern most tip of the Sinai. I’m not so sure we saw quite that many different types of sealife, but no doubt we saw at least a hundred.
Between the scuba diving and snorkeling, some of the fish we saw were barracudas, box fish, surgeonfish, blue spotted stingray, lionfish, rabbitfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, clownfish, raccoon butterflyfish, and my favorite, the masked puffer fish (pictured here).
The Sinai peninsula has some of the best diving in the world, so we decided to check it out. From Cairo we flew to the Sharm El Sheikh, which from first impressions is much like a developing Cancun or Las Vegas and filled with German and Russian tourists. We weren’t so thrilled with the way this town looked, but after a few days, we settled into the convenience of having everything readily accessible to us. Not to mention, Cathy and Walid knew the general manager at the hotel we stayed, and we were upgraded to a suite. While we were on our Nile cruise we met a nice Canadian couple who just happened to be heading to Sharm and even staying in our same hotel. So, after a day of scuba diving, we met up for a beer and some apple flavored shisa.
We asked for a taxi, but somehow we ended up sitting with a travel agent creating an itinerary for our two weeks in Egypt. After twenty minutes of discussion, somehow we were able to leave without booking anything, but it was a close call. I guess this is what happens when you arrive in a country with absolutely no plans.
Other than that, our first night in Cairo was not so eventful, but that changed quickly. We contacted a friend of a friend, Cathy and Walid who live in Cairo and have a beach house outside the city. The next morning they sent their driver out to bring us to their beach house for the night, which was a great introduction to Egypt, and a nice escape from the heavy pollution and hustle of Cairo.