A Travellerspoint blog

Home from the Desert

sunny 22 °C

Day 14

Woke up after a cold night in the tent to a beautiful sunrise and a very quiet morning. We ate a breakfast and then packed the car up and basically took off....after we had our car jump started by one of Ahkmed's mates who camped nearby.

Ahkmed took off like he needed to be back in town in 45 seconds, but when we hit the road, it was in very poor condition and Ahkmed slowed to a suitable speed. This was a good thing. Unfortunately, as soon as the road improved, Ahkmed Schumaker-Brabham-Alonso III also returned and in no time we were traveling well in excess of 125kph. Before the roof could cave in we asked him to slow down, and he did. Like most drivers here, it is very interesting to see them go over speed humps. Given that they drive like there is no tomorrow, you would expect them to hit speed humps, Evil Knieval style. They actually slow down to such an extent that they'd be overtaken by a snail with a bad hip.

We got back to Bahariya in about 2 hours but alive. Bought a few souvenirs and then headed back to Cairo, some 350 Kms away. When we got to the outskirts of Cairo we stopped at a KFC. What excitement! We bought two large popcorn chickens, one hind leg, a foreleg and a paw, and two large chips for $11 AUD!!!

Back at the hotel we had a few welcome showers after all of us hit the gym. I met a guy there who shared dinner that night. He was Irish and was missing the Christmas feeling and we all had a good night together. He is a CNN bodyguard who has been filming the Tahir Square situation. He had many good stories, including being in Libya for the revolution and chasing Gudaffi down gutters. A strange story at Tahir Square a week or so back was where the camera man couldn't handle it anymore when the tear gas came out, so he took the camera. He had a gas mask but the tear gas was really heavy. As he looked behind him he saw a guy selling popcorn at this stall, wearing a mask you might sand a wall with and a pair of swimming goggles.....talk about poor working conditions!

We set up our 30cm Christmas tree, downloaded about 300 photos from the desert and then hit the sack. What a strange Christmas it will be for all of us.

Posted by mljjs 01:11 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

The Desert

sunny 21 °C

Day 13

We met our new driver and our 4WD, a Toyota Landcruiser at 9:30 and then headed off for the White Desert, "Sahara Beida". It was a struggle fitting in all our bags, even though we had left our 5 main bags back at the hotel in Cairo, and were traveling light.

We left the road after about 30 minutes and hooned around the dunes, which was good fun. We then joined the road again, but this time we were driving In excess of 120km/h, with all the camping equipment on the roof, and deflated tyres to cope with the sand driving. Ahkmed Schumaker seemed to be in a hurry, and none of us were enjoying it. We thought the White Desert was named after the white rock or chalk formations that are everywhere, but with Ahkmed at the wheel, it must be due to the color of your knuckles as you hang on tight to whatever is nearby.

About 10 minutes later, unfortunately Ahkmed's pit crew weren't around as the roof of the vehicle caved in at around 130km/h! We called into the pits immediately, assessed the damage, and lifted the roof off Louisa and Jessica's heads. It was deemed to be just the inner shell and not the roof proper so after a couple pokes, prods and bangs, we were back on our way, albeit a tad slower.

We pulled up at a hill that we could walk up, about a 30 minute round trip and the 360 degree views were amazing. We also pulled up at a 30 million year old Volcano in the Black Desert, or "Sahara Suda". Am pretty sure it is a natural structure and the Egyptians didn't build it. There was black volcanic rock everywhere and a nice little walk.

We were now heading to the White Desert proper and the first stop was a walk around the Crystal Mountain and then stopped at a spring for lunch. Whilst we were there, out of the desert came about 60 camels with their guides. I thought it might have been pay day, but Jessica and Jacinda took to the car. I was later informed that they weren't camels, they were Dromedary's, from Morocco and only have one hump. The girls can wait till later.

We drove off the road (intentionally) and took to a sandy track, up a hill and then before our eyes was an elevated view of what could easily be a view of Mars. In fact earlier I am sure I saw Neil Armstrong's footprints....and he was wearing Nike! Proof that the Apollo missions were a fraud.

Not long after we got a puncture....go figure. We were driving at a million miles an hour on tyres deflated to allow us drive on sand, yet Ahkmed Schoemaker did the same on rocks. Anyway, we were soon driving through these weird structures made from chalk formed in the days that this was a huge sea. You make out all sorts of shapes such as rabbits, chickens, mushrooms, dogs, you name it. Quite spectacular and we were fortunately using a digital camera and not the old 35mm variety. Reckon we fired off around 300 photos.

We made camp inan exposed area but Ahkmed had it all figured out and had camel blankets to block the breeze and even a coffee table on the roof! He then cooked up a fantastic meal. Ahkmed, give the driving away and be a chef!!!

It was strange watching Ahkmed doing the dishes. He washed them very well and then looked to dry them on his shirt.....he couldn't find a tea towel and it was on his head the whole time.

The stars that night were amazing with a lot of the constellations new to me. It was getting really cold too so it was off to bed. What a sensational location and atmosphere. Looking forward to see if Ahkmed Schoemaker will be driving under MACH 1 on the way home......

Posted by mljjs 14:31 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

From Nile to Desert

sunny 22 °C

Day 11

Waking up on the Crown Jewel and having our final breakfast feast was a sober affair but the show must go on. We were to be picked up and taken to Aswan airport at midday so we had a few hours to laze around the boat or wander around Aswan. Louisa, Jessica and I thought we would take on the Felucca, carriage, taxi, and store holders for one last time and try to make it to the closest Vodafone shop with our money intact. It was a brave challenge but after being followed by men and horses for over 400m. They finally got the message that if we don't want to buy something, it doesn't matter what price they are offering....but it took a while.

We flew from Aswan to Cairo and jumped back into the Cairo traffic and the crazy driving system. It occurred to me that I have not seen any advertising for car rentals. Then I thought, who in the hell would drive in this chaos, and could a rental company make any money with high number of collisions. It took me a good half hour to find a car with no obvious panel damage.....even the car I did see may well have had damage on the blind side.

I think the system relies on every driver taking the same risks. If a newbie jumped on the road, there would be massive mayhem. Cars joining from a side street do not so much as hesitate to join the main road. They just drive straight at a car knowing a gap will appear....it mostly does.

After driving around Tahir Square, we noticed a lot of water lying around with the drains struggling to cope. Apparently this was still left over from the previous night when the military used hoses to disperse the protesters. When we finally got to our hotel, the outside lights were mainly off, and the ground floor windows were screened. There was around 15 police cars outside our hotel ready and waiting for the nightly carnage to unfold during the night at Tahir Square around the corner. It seems such a waste of good young lives, but the passion for outing the military form their presidential role is almost unanimously shared across the population.

Day 12

07::00 departure for the 350km driver to Bahariya Oasis. Breakfast was in the usual spot at the hotel but without the magnificent view of the Nile due to the windows being boarded up. Bummer.

When we eventually got out of the Cairo traffic and hit the desert, it was amazing. The camel colored sand went forever and was as flat as a shit carter's hat.... as they say. I reckon if a three year old built a sand castle out here, it would become a major navigational aid. There was one tree on the side of the road but by the time I got the camera out it was too late. The driver said not to worry, there'll be another one in about 200km!

We stopped at a couple of roadside stops to freshen up and they were no McDonalds. It must be pretty intimidating for the girls to be the only ladies amongst 30 - 40 guys sipping coffee and basically ogling. Unfortunately there were no offers of camels, chickens, bananas or oil refineries so we moved on. Noticed though that petrol was 2 EGP/liter (~0.30 AUD). Diesel was ~0.20 AUD!

When we got to Bahariya, it was weird. It was a reasonable size town, with no obvious signs of wealth, in fact the opposite but there were trees and date palms everywhere. Given the desert we had just driven through, this was not to be expected. We checked in at the hotel which was simple but very well presented and in a great setting next to some cliffs and plenty of shady trees.

We then we went to a local house for lunch. Cripes, it took us a while to find it as no streets have signposts and all houses look the same with mud brick and dusty roads. We eventually got there and a local welcomed us into his house. We sat in what appeared to be a lounge room with a long coffee table in the middle. He then brought in various dishes, salads and Arabic bread. We sat on the floor (well I didn't as they didn't have a crane to get me back up) and then ate. The main dish was hot and seemed to be made from egg, tomato and various mashed beans. With the bread it wasn't too bad.

We had three touristy things to do before we could get back to the hotel, but as this was essentially a stop to get to our desert camp, we weren't terribly motivated. Wow, what a surprise. The first stop was a museum that took us ages to locate. We asked around 5 or 6 locals for directions and eventually zoned in on it. This was a classic case of "don't judge a book by it's cover". They are still building the museum and there is crap everywhere outside, but inside there are about 7 or 8 mummies, only found in 1996 locally.

They did not follow the typical Egyptian method of mummification but used linen, wood, and then covered them in gold. We were not allowed to take photos but here, 50 EGP can make a guard look any direction you choose. The museum was quite fascinating and the mummies are considered to be around 2,400 years old.

We then went to two tombs just around the corner that also dated back to around 300BC. They were discovered about 1930 and there is a very steep staircase down to both of these tombs. When you get down there is a very small (well I reckon it is) opening to crawl through and then wammo, there is a great tomb system with original artwork that looks like it was painted yesterday. I was assured that it hadn't been. The stories that the artwork depicted were very interesting and very vivid. No treasure was found in the tombs, as usual, due to tomb robbers. It is interesting now that a lot of ancient tombs are being found by locals just doing their work. In these instances they have a choice of handing it over to local authorities, or seek up to $40M USD on the black market for trinkets. Fair to say, this stuff won't be finding it's way to museums anymore if they are discovered in this manner. The guard here couldn't give a Tutankhamun whether we took photos or not, but did offer our guide 200 camels for Jessica. Things are looking up.

We then saw an ancient chapel that had been buried for thousands of years. An extremely interesting afternoon where we had no expectations.

On to the desert proper tomorrow and camping under the stars.

Posted by mljjs 14:13 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Damn the Dam

sunny 28 °C

Day 10.

Started the day with a visit to the High Dam. The Nile used to flood every year due to the rains in central Africa so the Egyptians decided to build a dam to control the water flow to Northern Egypt. The first dam was built in around 1902 and was a great relief to the Egyptians living on the Nile, at least until the floods came and went straight over the top.

So they raised the dam wall, which was much relief to the Egyptians living on the Nile, at least until the floods came and went straight over the top.

So they raised the dam wall again, which was much relief to the Egyptians living on the Nile, at least until the floods came and went straight over the top.

Time to go back to the drawing board. This time with the help of the Russian government in around 1960, they built a new, higher dam, which they have called, The High Dam. This was much relief to the Egyptians living on the Nile and when the floods came, all was good.

The massive expanse of water behind the dam is called Lake Nasser, and it is said that if this dam wall was to break, not only would it wipe out townships on the Nile, but the Mediterranean Sea would rise by enough to wipe out some of the Greek Islands! That would be enough to really spoil your day. Fortunately the security there is top notch. Semi automatic weapons all over the place and metal detectors you have to pass through....which we did, and the thing beeped like a Cairo cabbie.....and they did nothing. We just walked through and onto the wall to set our explosives. If you are sitting at a cafe in Mykonos, best you move upstairs or risk getting some water in your Ouzo!

From the High Dam we visited our last temple, known as the Temple of Light. This temple was relocated from behind the old dam to a location above the new water line. You would not know it by looking at it. Once again the Christians have defaced some of the art so as to prove to the non-Christians that the gods they worshipped, would not take retribution for defacing the temple, and therefore the Christian god is the way forward.

We had to catch a small boat to the temple as it is on an island and this was a very pleasant 20 minute trip.

It was then back to our main boat for lunch and a laze around the pool for a couple of hours, and then it was a Felucca sail to the Botanical Gardens. The Felucca sail was so quiet as we floated across the Nile....until out of nowhere, a kid who would have been no older than 9, paddled up to us on a plank, hung on to our boat, and started singing a blend of songs from Happy Birthday to the Maccherina. We gave him a small tip that he seemed happy with as he yelled out to his mate who was also doing the same thing about 80m away.

The Botanical Gardens were quiet and cool. We wandered around for about 20 minutes but when Jacinda sat down on a bench, two guys came up to her and asked for a photo to be taken with her sitting next to him. He sat there and Jacinda basically told him to go and do some pruning. Not a great step in Australian/Egyptian international relations and may have contributed to the unrest in Cairo. Our guide (in jest) said Jacinda should have obliged and she got a bit grumpy, and when Women get grumpy, they shop. She went off and bought the first thing she saw, which was a scarf.

From the Botanical Gardens we caught another small boat to a Nubian Village. This trip was very quiet slipping through some narrow water passages and seeing plenty of water birds. At the village it was nice and the people would start to hassle you to buy things but if you said no, that would tend to leave you alone. Nubians apparently only have a spoken language, not written. We visited their school which was beautifully presented and there was Arabic on the whiteboards, so they have both languages.

We visited one house that had live crocodiles in it. These poor things have been caught when they were very young, and kept in relatively small concrete pens....with cages on top. One crocodile was 15 years old and very grumpy. The other two were much younger, around 5 years old. The guy took one out and Sam held it. It was obviously a lot more placid than the big one. All a bit of a shame really to see these creatures housed for their lives in quite confined pens.

The boat trip back to the main boat took around 15 minutes and got us back onboard at around 5:00pm. At this point it was starting to get cool but those boys who were paddling around to boats and singing random songs, were still at it. Back onboard it was time for a couple of quiet beers in our room looking out at the sunset over the Nile and across to the Sandhills (and the tombs hacked into them) on the other side. Our Nile cruise has gone far too quickly......

Posted by mljjs 11:21 Archived in Egypt Comments (1)

A Lovely Day on the Nile

sunny 28 °C

Day 9

6:30 wake up call for a 7:30 departure to see our 27th temple. Don't mean to be blasé about a temple that is more that 2000 years old and Egypt's most well preserved, but you start to take these things as everyday landmarks. Getting a bit like Flinders Street Station, Federation Square, and Visy Park.....well not quite like Visy Park. This is the Temple of Horus at Edfu, and was remarkable for it's stories etched into the walls, and how in some parts, Christians have defaced carvings.

We got horse and carriage rides to and from the temple and it was all pretty laid back until we got through the gates and then it was on for young and old with people trying to sell you everything from Egyptian clothes, postcards, carvings, scarves, bracelets, and bloody cigarettes. When I told the guy he was out of luck with the cigarettes, he just dropped his price. I said I didn't want any (of course that excuse never works), and then he dropped the price again. I said that I don't smoke, to which he replied, "you name price, what price you pay". Bloody hell. We even got hassled by a guy telling us that he doesn't hassle! BTW, I was offered 3 camels by a guy holding up 2 fingers for Jacinda this morning....looks like it is a different market in Edfu from Cairo and Luxor. May have held on to my cargo too long. The price is dropping....

When we made it back to the relative safety of the carriage drivers, we were able to relax a bit. No joking, at times we would have up to 10 different guys hassling us for products that we already had, didn't want, or had no time to look at.

Back on the boat we lay around the pool and generally relaxed in the beautiful sunshine. The boat isn't always a refuge though. Last night as we were sailing up the Nile, we could here some guys from the river yelling out, "on board, hello, hello. On board, hello, hello". This went on for about an hour, but when we docked at a lock, I thought it would be interesting to open my cabin sliding door and have a look. "Hello, hello" from above me and there was this guy waving a scarf at me saying, "20 pounds, 20 pounds". I tried ignoring him for as long as I could but our boat was rising and next thing you knew, we were at eye level....and then about 5 others noticed me. I shut my door as I had had enough of this stuff.

The afternoon was spent lying around the pool and having a swim. Very relaxing but another temple loomed at 5pm. This is the Kom Ombo Temple. Fairly interesting to see that the Egyptians, some 2,000 years ago had surgical instruments such as forceps, stethoscopes, saws, needles and all sorts of stuff. All these instruments were carved into the sandstone.

We were back on the boat by 6:30 to sail on to Aswan. Tonight we had a Gumbaya party or some such thing, which basically meant you are supposed to dress up in local gear and get smashed. We all bought various things over the past day or so to wear on the night and it is fair to say, the Anderson's kicked butt. We were also the best at having a crack at the "smashed" bit, but our rivals took off to their cabins.

We have been off air for the past two days, Sam is doing it tough! In the meantime though we have heard about the trouble in Cairo, that I reckon Sam started on our last night there. Whilst it is terrible that a soccer ball kicked towards some military guys can result in severe injury and worse, the trouble is very isolated. Everybody related to tourism is doing it tougher than Sam without Facebook, and really want potential tourists to start coming back to Egypt. We have another few nights in Cairo scattered over the next two weeks and as far as we are aware, we will be staying in the same hotel and our plans won't change. Everyone is extremely welcoming in the areas that we are traveling at the moment.

8:30 start tomorrow, woohoo! A temple in the morning and in the afternoon, a Felucca sail to the Botanical Gardens. Now that we seem to have some Internet coverage, may look to upload a few more photos tomorrow as well.

Posted by mljjs 13:39 Archived in Egypt Comments (1)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 19) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 »